Public Inquiry on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 24th January 2017

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as Doire as a cheist. I can certainly assure the Member of that for the five or six weeks, or however long it is, until the election, because I will be Minister until that date. I get the sense that everyone else, with the exception of the Ulster Unionist Party, believes that there should not be any interference in the time ahead and that the pledges that I have made will be delivered on by any future Finance Minister.

Let us go through some of the ways in which, under the 2005 Act, the Minister could interfere, tamper or mess with the inquiry. In the next six weeks, it is possible for me, as Minister, to amend the terms of reference, appoint members of the panel and restrict public access to the inquiry. I can prevent publication of evidence placed before it. I can prevent publication of the inquiry's report, and I can suspend or terminate the inquiry. You can understand, Mr Speaker, why some people have doubts about the efficacy of the 2005 Act. To address those commitments, I have appointed a judicial figure, who was selected by the Lord Chief Justice, to chair the inquiry. I will appoint, as necessary, additional inquiry panel members as agreed by the inquiry chairperson. It is his choice absolutely. If the chair asks for assessors, I will appoint those also. I will amend the terms of reference only on request from Sir Patrick Coghlin. I will not exercise the power to restrict public access to the inquiry under section 19 of the Act. It would be invidious for any Minister to do that. If public interest or other issues arise under section 19(3) of the Act, the procedure for seeking a restriction order through the inquiry chairperson will apply. As we go forward, I am ceding all power in this matter to Sir Patrick Coghlin.