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Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

  1. 'Foster and Bell will give evidence'

    Civil servants and consultants involved in the creation and running of the RHI scheme will provide evidence between now and Christmas, Mr Scoffield tells the inquiry.

    Precise details as to who will be called after that and when are yet to be determined.

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    But both Arlene Foster and Jonathan Bell - former enterprise ministers - will appear next year, as will a series of current and former DUP advisers.

    Those will include Timothy Cairns, Dr Andrew Crawford (above), Stephen Brimstone, John Robinson, and Timothy Johnston.

    Witnesses will appear in sequence - that is, they will give evidence in the chronological order of their involvement in the scheme - in order to make its work as efficient as possible.

  2. 'Hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence'

    The inquiry has gathered evidence by issuing notices ordering bodies and individuals to produce relevant material, says Mr Scoffield.

    A document file

    He says that in some cases hundreds of thousands of pages of documents were presented as a result of a single notice, particularly by Stormont departments.

    Civil service email accounts, telephone records and other resources have also been opened up to the inquiry.

  3. 'Rights for those who may be criticised'

    Mr Scoffield explains the concept of enhanced participatory rights for key participants in the RHI Inquiry.

    Enhanced rights may include access to witness statements and the right to be represented by counsel at certain hearings.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Crucially, those offered enhanced rights include people and organisations who "may face criticism from the inquiry".

    There are also three "core participants" - Stormont's Department for the Economy, the Department of Finance, and the regulators Ofgem, who effectively ran the scheme.

  4. 'Taxpayers have questions over RHI failures'

    The RHI Inquiry will be "independent and impartial", Mr Scoffield says.

    He adds that it will also be "comprehensive and inclusive" and anyone can provide evidence that they believe could be relevant to the inquiry.

    Mr Scoffield speaking

    It is "hard to find a taxpayer in Northern Ireland who does not have questions to ask" about the RHI scheme and how it threatened public spending on issues like health and education, he goes on.

    Not everyone will be "content" with the inquiry's ultimate conclusions, he says, but they should be satisfied with the fairness of its work.

  5. 'Particular attention on ministers and advisers'

    Mr Scoffield moves on to the terms of reference of the RHI Inquiry, and says its scope is "broad" both in terms of timespan - from the scheme's set-up to closure - and the amount of people involved in the saga.

    The RHI Inquiry

    He says "particular attention" will be paid to the role of ministers, special advisers, civil servants and consultants to "determine whether their actions complied with professional standards and standards in public life".

    But he adds that anyone hoping to see the inquiry panel determine that someone is "civilly or criminally liable" for their role in the RHI scheme will "inevitably be disappointed".

  6. 'Bell's BBC interview was gripping television'

    Mr Scoffield says the RHI scheme did not really come to the attention of the public until a BBC Spotlight programme that was broadcast on 6 December last year.

    A short clip of the programme - presented by Conor Spackman - is shown to those present in the chamber.

    Jonathan Bell

    That is followed by a clip from another BBC programme, this time presented by Stephen Nolan, which features an interview with former enterprise minister Jonathan Bell (above), who made allegations about the role of DUP advisers in the scheme.

    The advisers have denied the claims.

    Mr Scoffield describes the interview with the then DUP MLA Mr Bell as "gripping television", adding that it could be viewed as "explosive".

    He adds that it was probably unprecedented in Northern Ireland for a former minister to turn on their party in the way that Mr Bell did.

  7. 'Political jousting over drip-fed informaton'

    Mr Scoffield touches on the Northern Ireland Assembly's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) inquiry into the RHI scheme, which ran throughout the autumn last year.

    Robin swann
    Image caption: Ulster Unionist Robin Swann chaired the PAC inquiry into the RHI scheme

    He says "new and interesting information" was drip-fed into the public domain and became the subject of "political jousting".

    He details an exchange of text messages between two top civil servants that appears to suggest that some of those details were also only emerging to the Department for the Economy at that time, causing concern to its permanent secretary.

  8. 'Financial implications up for argument'

    A "major milestone" in uncovering the problems of the RHI scheme was the Northern Ireland Audit Office's report into it in the summer of 2016, says Mr Scoffield.

    The Audit Office monitors public spending, assessing whether it has been done for the purposes it was intended.

    £10 notes

    He quotes from the report's conclusion, in which the auditor general said the scheme was "vulnerable to abuse".

    The auditor general put a £1.18bn cost on the RHI scheme at the time, and Mr Scoffield says that, based on the figures in that report, there was a shortfall in money to fund the scheme of more than half a billion pounds.

    But he adds that the financial implications for the scheme are up for "debate and argument".

  9. 'No parade of guilty parties'

    There will be no "parade of the guilty parties" in Mr Scoffield's opening statement, he says.

    The scheme's failures and who was responsible for those will emerge at the end of the inquiry.

    The RHI Inquiry

    He warns that this opening "will not provide all of the answers which the public legitimately want to hear" about the RHI scheme.

    In fact, it is likely to "raise as many questions as it answers".

    One thing that has emerged from the evidence gathered so far, he adds, is that there is "precious little within the scope of our terms of reference that is wholly uncontentious".

  10. 'Set the scene, sharpen the senses'

    David Scoffield QC begins his opening statement, saying that the team has worked "assiduously" since it was set up.

    He says he has the "dubious pleasure" of being appointed the inquiry's senor counsel and his job to present the evidence that has been gathered.

    David Scoffield QC

    Mr Scoffield says he apologises in advance of for "any episodes of tedium" in what will come from him over the next couple of days but stresses that the purpose of his address is help the public to better understand what is about to unfold.

    "It is not to merely whet the listener's appetite - although I hope it might do so - but rather to set the scene and sharpen the senses for the oral evidence to follow."

  11. 'Inquiry set up after media and political turmoil'

    Sir Patrick concludes his statement by addressing the political atmosphere engendered by the RHI scheme.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    "This inquiry was established in the wake of a media and political turmoil, during which strongly-worded allegations and repudiations were exchanged," he says.

    "This inquiry was set up to provide a measured, objective and publicly transparent investigation of the facts in accordance with the terms of reference."

  12. 'Media should consider emotional distress'

    Sir Patrick outlines the inquiry's mode of operation - phase one will cover the original design and implementation of the RHI scheme.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    He warns the media that coverage of proceedings in the chamber is at his discretion.

    He says media outlets should "bear in mind the anxiety and emotional distress" that may be felt by some witnesses in giving evidence.

  13. The inquiry begins...

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin kicks off the proceedings with a brief opening statement.

    The lawyers we will become familiar with over the coming months formally introduce themselves to the chair - they include those representing Stormont departments and the DUP.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Sir Patrick says the oral hearings have been preceded by several months of "long hours of close analysis" of over one million pages of documents.

    He introduces his fellow inquiry panel member Dame Una O'Brien and assessor Dr Keith MacLean.

  14. What will happen at the inquiry today?

    Today is the opening day of the RHI Inquiry's public hearings and they will take place in the Senate chambr at Stormont's Parliament Buildings.

    First of all, we can expect a short statement from Sir Patrick Coghlin, the inquiry chair.

    The Senate chamber at Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    The inquiry's senior counsel David Scoffield QC will then give an opening statement, which is expected to continue for most of the rest of this week.

    He will outline the context in which the inquiry was set up and its terms of reference, as well as detailing how the inquiry has been working so far and what themes have emerged in the evidence it has gathered.

  15. What is the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News Northern Ireland

    Today marks the opening day of public hearings of the independent RHI Inquiry, which was established in January by the then finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

    He ordered the inquiry in the wake of the huge public concern and what was then a developing political crisis surrounding the scheme.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    Sir Patrick Coghlin (above), a retired Court of Appeal judge, was appointed as the inquiry's chair and was given full control over its scope and execution.

    It will look at:

    • the design and introduction of the RHI scheme
    • the scheme's initial operation, administration, promotion and supervision
    • the introduction of revised subsidies and a usage cap for new scheme claimants in 2015
    • the scheme's closure

    For more information on the RHI Inquiry, you can read our handy Q&A.

  16. RHI scheme - the fallout

    When the scale of the overspend emerged, public and political concern rocketed.

    As the minister in charge of the Stormont department that set up the RHI scheme, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster (below) faced calls to resign from her role as Northern Ireland's first minister in December last year.

    Arlene Foster

    She resisted, and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness then quit as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of what had by then become a full-blown political crisis.

    That move brought about the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive, and as we near a year on from that Northern Ireland remains without a devolved administration.

  17. RHI scheme - the flaws

    There were critical flaws in the way the RHI scheme was set up that left it open to abuse and that later saw its budget spiral out of control.

    Crucial cost curbs that existed in a similar scheme in Great Britain were not replicated and claimants could effectively earn more money the more fuel they burned.

    Burning wood pellets

    That was because the subsidies on offer for renewable fuels were far greater than the cost of the fuels themselves.

    As a result, the scheme racked up a huge projected overspend - £700m at the most recent estimate - and the bill will have to be picked up by the Northern Ireland taxpayer.

  18. RHI scheme - what was it?

    The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme - or RHI for short - came to the fore of the Northern Ireland public's knowledge in autumn last year.

    Few people, if anyone, would have expected it to have the consequences it has done in the months that followed.

    A biomass boiler

    It was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2012, as a way of encouraging businesses to switch from using fossil fuels to renewable sources for generating their heat.

    Those who signed up were offered financial incentives to buy new heating systems and the fuel to run them.

  19. Good morning

    Welcome along to the first session of BBC News NI's live coverage of the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry.

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    It's a crisp autumn day up on Stormont hill but the heat is on inside Parliament Buildings, where the long-awaited inquiry will begin at 10:30 GMT.

    We'll have a live stream of proceedings as well as a text commentary throughout the day, so do stick with us and we'll keep you informed.