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Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for now...

    Another intriguing day at the RHI, with Patsy McGlone becoming the first of quite a few politicians to take to the hotseat.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    We're away home through the freezing fog to throw a few wood pellets on the fire and warm ourselves.

    But we'll be back tomorrow morning from 09:45 for the last inquiry hearing of the week, so do join us then - goodnight for now...

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News Northern Ireland

    Information was "withheld" from a Stormont scrutiny committee by departmental officials bringing in the botched RHI scheme, a senior MLA said.

    Patsy McGlone

    The SDLP's Patsy McGlone said he had become "angry" as he watched evidence emerge at the public inquiry into the scandal.

    He said he now has "multiple concerns" about how the flawed green energy initiative was managed.

  3. 'No pressure put on me to approve RHI scheme'

    In December 2016, the TUV leader Jim Allister wrote to Robin Swann, who was the chair of Stormont's Public Accounts Committee's inquiry into the RHI scheme.

    Mr Allister said he had been told by a finance department "insider" that an official, probably Mr Stevenson, should not have approved the RHI scheme business case on the basis that it was "not value for money", and that it was "likely he was pressurised to pass it".

    Jim Allister

    Mr Allister, who has given a statement to the inquiry, told Mr Swann that the question should be asked whether there was any contact from Stormont ministers' special advisers urging approval of the scheme.

    Mr Stevenson has dealt with the matter in his witness statement, saying that "no influence or pressure was ever exerted on me" during his involvement in the scheme.

    He says he was never in contact with any minister, advisers or politicians in relation to it.

  4. 'Scheme would've been rejected if true costs known'

    Finance department officials consider three questions when assessing business cases, says Mr Stevenson. They are:

    • Could I justify this course of action to an MLA?
    • Could I argue why we need to do this to the man on the street?
    • Would I do this with my own money?
    A rejected stamp

    In the case of the RHI scheme, he says that if he had been presented with the true, increased cost of more than £300m he would have asked DETI to withdraw its submission, take a "fresh look at it".

  5. 'Finance officials missed business case mistake'

    Mr Aiken puts it to Mr Stevenson that there were mistakes in DETI's business case for the RHI scheme when it was seeking approval for it.

    He says it was not accurate for DETI to have told the finance department in March 2012 that the cost of the scheme was £242m.

    The RHI Inquiry in session

    In fact, Mr Aiken says, no-one knew what the figure was but it was likely to be over £300m.

    Mr Stevenson says there were two branches of DFP that were considering the case and "both should have picked it up".

    "I would have to concede that, yes, clearly this was missed," he says.

  6. 'No evidence of teamwork over RHI approval'

    Picking up on where he left off on Mr Stevenson's previous appearance, Mr Aiken (below) raises the point that a letter sent to DETI confirming approval the RHI scheme from the finance department's supply team appeared to be a copy-and-paste job.

    The letter contains a direct lift of suggestions by DFP economists about the scheme after they assessed the 800-page business case, but nothing from the supply teams itself.

    Joseph Aiken

    Mr Aiken asks "is it really the case" that supply team officials raised no issues of their own about the scheme.

    Mr Stevenson says the economists work as a team and compare their views, but Mr Aiken says "there's no evidence at all of that occurring".

  7. Finance official returns to give more evidence

    Mr Scoffield has finished his questioning of Mr McGlone and the SDLP MLA leaves the Senate chamber.

    Stuart Stevenson

    We're rejoined by Stuart Stevenson, the former Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) official who gave evidence to the inquiry on Monday, and his written witness statement to the inquiry can be found here.

    Questioning him this afternoon is inquiry counsel Joseph Aiken.

  8. 'I would've seen college boilers proposal as positive'

    The Desertcreat police, prison and fire college was to be based in Mr McGlone's Mid Ulster constituency - he asked an assembly question about the potential use of biofuel at it and forwarded the answer to Mr Hood.

    Asked why he did that, given that he's told the inquiry he didn't know Mr Hood, he says he has no memory of it but answers were often forwarded to people with an interest "as a matter of course".

    Patsy McGlone

    Sir Patrick says the letter to the justice department, which Mr McGlone was copied in to, was a "very clear indication from an ordinary stakeholder outside that the subsidy was higher than the cost of the fuel".

    Mr McGlone says he would have initially viewed the letter as "an opportunity" to make the Desertcreat college a "reality" and a "success".

    "Hindsight is a wonderful thing," notes Sir Patrick.

  9. 'Stormont department stood to make £900k RHI profit'

    One of the reasons why Mr Hood's correspondence is of "significant interest" to the inquiry is that it shows that within a month of the RHI scheme opening firms that already discovered that it could be worked "to make a profit", says Mr Scoffield.

    Mr Hood explained to the Department of Justice that it could collect a profit of almost £900,000 over the initiative's 20-year term.

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    That is a "very early indication" that some firms realised "how generous the scheme could be" and how it could be "exploited" to earn money "without doing anything unlawful".

    The email was copied to Mr McGlone but he says in his written statement to the inquiry that he can't remember seeing it and his office staff have not been able to find it in his email archive.

  10. 'Justice department could make profit on heating'

    Mr Hood ran a boiler installation firm, Sheridan & Hood, and in Novembr 2012 he sent a letter to David Ford, the then justice minster with a proposition.

    The Department of Justice was planning a major new college for police, prison and fire officers in Desertcreat in County Tyrone.

    Artist's view of the proposed community safety college

    Mr Hood said his company has been unable to bid for the contract for a biomass energy centre due to the specification, which was much more expensive than the system he could deliver.

    Mr Scoffield says Mr Hood proposed that the heating needs of the college could be met with "a variety of 99kW boilers" that would be eligible for one of the higher subsidies under the RHI scheme.

    The suggestion, according to Mr Scoffield, was that the RHI income "would mean that rather than paying for their heat, they would be able to make a profit".

  11. 'Lobbyists people have tendency for over-familiarisation'

    In September 2012, Mr McGlone received an email from a PR company containing a press release by Brian Hood from construction firm BS Holdings, who called for Stormont ministers "to urgently announce the launch" of the RHI scheme.

    Mr McGlone says it "wouldn't be unusual" for people to contact MLAs to discuss items of relevance to their committee work, but he didn't know Mr Hood or Julie McCabe, the PR professional who sent the email.

    An email inbox

    Mr Scoffield points out that Ms McCabe begins her email by saying, "Hi Patsy, I hope you are keeping well," and he says that the "familiarity" of her greeting suggests that he might have known her.

    But as Mr McGlone explains there is a "tendency among a lot of these lobbyist PR people to attempt at familiarising themselves with you" on "first-name terms and the likes".

    Ahem... we've all been there, Patsy.

  12. Time for lunch...

    Mr McGlone will have to return after lunch for another half-hour or 45 minutes or so, says Mr Scoffield, as time has beaten him.

    A sandwich

    "You can probably blame me for that," says Sir Patrick.

    "I wouldn't dare to, chairman," replies the QC, and with that it's lunchtime, so we'll be back to 14:00.

  13. 'I wish we'd asked for details of scheme review'

    Sir Patrick McCoghlin asks why the committee did not asks for an explanation of what DETI meant when they said the scheme had reviews "built in".

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    That could've meant once every six months or every year, he suggests.

    "In retrospect now I wish we did," Mr McGlone says, conceding that the chair makes "a fair point".

  14. 'Costs observation was somewhat prophetic'

    In Sepetmber 2012, DETI told the Enterprise Committee that they recognised the need to set the subsidy rates at the correct level.

    David Scoffield

    It said that a tariff set too high would create a "long tail... soaking up money".

    Inquiry counsel Mr Scoffield describes that as an observation that "turned out to be somewhat prophetic".

  15. 'Multiple references to reviews of the scheme'

    DETI gave a commitment to the Enterprise Committee to keep the RHI scheme under active review, according to Mr McGlone.

    "There were multiple references to a review, which should have taken place in 2014," he says.

    The RHI Inquiry in session

    Mr Scoffield notes that there was no legislative obligation for a review contained in the regulations, and he asks if the committee not raise that with the department.

    Mr McGlone says that if someone in a professional role assures that a review will be conducted "you would anticipate that would happen".

  16. 'Confidence in civil servants layered with cynicism'

    The level of confidence in details provided to MLAs' by civil servants has been "severely layered with doses of cynicism" as a result of the RHI scheme, says Mr McGlone.

    A document that reads: Strictly confidential

    In his evidence, he has been fiercely critical of DETI officials, saying they did not provide the full information about the initiative to the Enterprise Committee when it was considering approving it.

    He reiterates that MLAs on committees have to cover such a broad range of issues and therefore depend on civil servants to give them complete and sound details about specific policies and legislation.

  17. 'Energy experts warned scheme could be exploited'

    So-called "gaming" of the RHI scheme is one of the major issues the led to the initiative's catastrophic overspend of a projected hundreds of millions of pounds.

    Some businesses installed several smaller boilers rather than a single larger boiler in order to obtain a higher subsidy that was on offer for smaller installations.

    A biomass boiler

    The issue was pointed out by Action Renewables, a team of energy experts that the Enterprise Committee had asked for advice about the scheme.

    It said a situation could arise where claimants could "exploit" the scheme and it also warned that the tariffs on offer could result in "distortions in the market".

    Asked what the committee did in response, Mr McGlone says he can't remember but he does say that Actions Renewables' view would have been shared with DETI.

  18. 'Department sold scheme to MLAs in positive light'

    MLAs on the Enterprise Committee were given an oral briefing about the legislation for the RHI scheme in September 2012 and were asked if they were content with the policy.

    Mr Scoffield asks whether the committee considering holding a separate meeting to specifically discuss the scheme, given that it was new, novel and complex.

    People looking at charts

    That would've happened if there had been "concerns about the scheme", says Mr McGlone, but at the time it was being presented "in a very, very positive light".

    "[It was] something that was new, exciting, which was creating jobs and was beneficial for the environment.

    "That's the professional sell that we were getting from the department."

  19. 'Meeting with Foster would've been good practice'

    Mr McGlone says he can't recall at meeting with the then DETI minister Arlene Foster shortly after he took up his role position as the chair of the Enterprise Committee in 2012.

    Records show that it was set up by Mrs Foster's department.

    Arlene Foster

    A briefing note for the minister, detailing some of the issues to discuss with Mr McGlone is outlined to the committee, and the RHI scheme was one of the topics on the agenda.

    He acknowledges that the meeting "probably did" happen and it would've been "good practice" for it to have taken place.

  20. 'Did MLAs consider issue of tiered tariffs?'

    The Enterprise Committee was given a briefing paper from DETI that included the details on tariffs they had requested.

    Mr Scoffield says it is evident from that document that there was tiering of tariffs included in the Great Britain RHI scheme, and asks if that was considered by the committee.

    "I don't remember if there was any consideration given to it at the time at all - I genuinely don't remember," says Mr McGlone.

    Mr Scoffield asks a question

    Mr Scoffield points to a familiar explanation contained within the DETI briefing - that tiering was not included because "the subsidy rate is lower" than the cost of the fuel that was being subsidised.

    So, to what extent was this "probed" by the committee?

    Mr McGlone says he doesn't know, but it could perhaps be discovered from an audio or visual record of the committee meeting.