Public Inquiry on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 3:45 pm, 24th January 2017

I thank the Chair of the Finance Committee for her question and for calling into my office earlier, where we had a short discussion about the statement and the terms of reference.

I return to my earlier point. The Member contradicts herself: if she wants me to go back to Sir Patrick Coghlin and demand an interim report, she is green-lighting interference in the RHI inquiry. I am absolutely steadfast in refusing to go down that route. That said, I take the Member's other points. She is right: under a different type of inquiry — it is interesting that the Irish word for inquiry is fiosrúchán and the Irish for investigation is fiosrúchán — we might have had the opportunity to look at costs and time. I know that that is something that she tackled with regard to the historical abuse inquiry. They are flaws in the Inquiries Act 2005. That said, Sir Patrick Coghlin knows from his engagement with my officials and from the terms of reference that the public will have an eye to the costs and he is encouraged to be cognisant of them.

I think that Sir Patrick Coghlin will also be aware of the fact that people would like to reach some conclusions. We have just finished the historical abuse inquiry, which was a massive, wide-ranging inquiry, involving many continents and hundreds, if not thousands, of people. The RHI issue is fairly specific, and much of the relevant material is available to this Government, never mind to anyone else. We can, I think, be hopeful that the number of witnesses called will be circumspect, but, of course, it is a matter for the chair. I share the hopes of the Member that we will expeditiously get a report. That said, these are matters for the chair. If pressed, I would think it appropriate for us to have a report six months after the inquiry starts, but that, in my view, is a matter for the chair.