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Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for now...

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    After three hours in the hotseat Mrs Foster has safely negotiated her first appearance before the RHI Inquiry but there's much more to come tomorrow.

    We'll be back from 09:45 tomorrow for more live coverage from Stormont's Senate chamber.

    Thanks for joining us and good evening for now!

  2. Analysis: 'Not a burning issue' for Foster

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI Politics Reporter

    Day 54 of the inquiry saw its star witness make her long-awaited first appearance for questioning.

    Behind Arlene Foster in the chamber where the inquiry is being held sat rows of lawyers tapping away on their laptops.

    Burning wood pellets

    In spite of the huge public interest in her evidence, in the gallery sat just two or three students visiting Stormont for the day and several journalists.

    Thursday afternoon's session was quite technical and focused in on the very beginnings of the scheme, when Mrs Foster was enterprise minister.

    But when asked if she'd been on the same page as her officials in terms of wanting to introduce a Northern Ireland RHI scheme instead of adopting the Great Britain version, a relaxed Mrs Foster replied: "It wasn't a burning issue for me - if I can use that phrase."

  3. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News Northern Ireland

    The DUP leader Arlene Foster said she does not think she bears personal responsibility for the collapse of the RHI scheme.

    Arlene Foster

    She made the comments at the start of her evidence to the inquiry and she was glad to have the opportunity to counter "malevolent" and "misinformed" commentary about her role in the debacle.

    She added that the fallout had been a matter of "deep regret for me politically and personally".

  4. 'Why would I have gone for worse value scheme?'

    DETI's energy team sent a submission to Mrs Foster in June 2011 outlining the options and recommendations for the RHI scheme.

    In the submission, it was claimed that an ongoing subsidy scheme was the "preferred approach" and offered the "highest potential renewable heat output at the best value".

    £50 notes

    But that was not correct - CEPA's expert analysis found that an up-front grants scheme was actually a better option in that regard.

    Mrs Foster says: "If that had been pointed out to me why would I have gone for [an ongoing subsidy scheme]?"

  5. 'No memory of seeing key RHI report'

    Mrs Foster tells the inquiry that she wouldn't have read technical reports about the RHI scheme, saying that was the responsibility of her ministerial adviser Dr Crawford.

    The key report in the context of the RHI scheme was one provided by the specialist consultancy Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA), which was engaged by DETI at a cost of £100,000 to draw up an economic appraisal that the initiative was ultimately based on.

    Wideshot of the inquiry in session

    Mrs Foster signed off the RHI scheme at a meeting in June 2011, before DETI had been provided with CEPA's final report - the decision was based on a draft report.

    She says she has no memory of whether or not her DETI officials showed her the draft report at the time.

  6. 'RHI went through lots of checks and balances'

    Arlene Foster

    There were "a lot of checks and balances" that the RHI scheme went through when it was being set up that Mrs Foster "took comfort from".

    She says that numerous civil servants and external experts "looked at the scheme and then we pressed the button and it went live".

    "Was it enough? I don't know?"

  7. 'Clear direction of travel towards more expensive scheme'

    A key question for the inquiry to find an answer to is why DETI chose to turn down a model for the RHI scheme that would've ended up hundreds of millions of pounds cheaper than the one that was adopted.

    There were two options on the table at the outset - a scheme offering a single up-front grant to applicants or another providing ongoing subsidies to claimants over 20 years.

    The grants scheme - known as a challenge fund - was rejected because the initial administration costs were £5m while the subsidy scheme cost £1.5m.

    Pound coins

    The subsidy scheme - which was what was running in Great Britain - was chosen, even though its total cost was £300m higher than the alternative.

    Asked if there was a "predisposition" to the subsidy scheme before any economic research was carried out into both options, Mrs Foster says there was a clear "direction of travel" towards it but it "wasn't a burning issue for me".

    She would've "listened very carefully" to any advice that would've suggested that another scheme type would be a better option for Northern Ireland.

  8. 'I regret that we didn't just join GB RHI scheme'

    The RHI scheme was set up by DETI in 2012 even though a nearly identical-initiative was already running in Great Britain, operated by the UK government's Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

    Some witnesses - including David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service - have told the inquiry that that was a bad idea because DETI's resources were simply too limited.

    Burning wood pellets

    For example, DECC had 77 people working on the GB scheme but in contrast DETI had just two and one of those was part-time.

    Asked if it would've been safer to join the GB scheme, Mrs Foster says it's a "regret that we didn't buy into" it and with hindsight that's what should've been done.

    She adds there wasn't any "philosophical reason" for a Northern Ireland-specific scheme to be drawn up - advice from her officials were simply that time was too short to join the GB initiative.

  9. 'Adviser's political Post-It notes were innocuous'

    In his evidence yesterday, Dr Crawford also said he sometimes attached Post-It notes to submissions when he forwarded them to the minster- they concerned "small-p political" issues related to the papers.

    The fact that they were not kept has caused the inquiry some concern, with inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin saying it meant there was therefore no record of what was discussed and what decisions were made.

    Post-Its on documents

    Mrs Foster says the notes were innocuous, usually instructing her to call Dr Crawford to discuss a the contents of the submission.

    She says that the "political" advice could have been something like: "X will not like this'... - there were some people [in the DUP] who were not particularly keen on renewable policy."

  10. 'Not highest standard of governmental practice'

    Dr Andrew Crawford (below) was Mrs Foster's ministerial adviser when she was leading DETI, and he also worked with her in other Stormont departments - he gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday and this morning.

    Asked about his role, she says he would've read submissions and related reports that were provided to her to pick up matters that she needed to be aware of.

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    Dr Crawford has told the inquiry that he didn't read in detail crucial reports on which the scheme was based.

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coglhin tells Mrs Foster that it "concerns me" that Dr Crawford didn't go through the papers in detail given the complexity and massive cost of the scheme.

    "That just seems to me to be perhaps not the highest standard of governmental practice," he adds.

  11. 'Renewable heat wasn't a personal priority'

    Mrs Foster says she didn't find renewable heat to be an interesting aspect to her ministerial portfolio.

    "It was there because a directive had been visited upon us from Europe and we had to comply with that," she ads.

    Wood pellets

    Asked if it was a high- or low-priority issue, she says it "wasn't a personal priority of mine" but given the European targets that had been set for Northern Ireland it "had to be dealt with".

    As a result, the Northern Ireland Executive set itself two big targets in 2011 on changing the way the region generated its heat - it wanted 4% of heat consumption to come from renewable sources by 2015, increasing to 10% by 2020.

  12. 'Energy was complex and I relied on my officials'

    DETI was a "heavy department" with a broad portfolio and she found the energy aspect of that "to be a very complex area... if not the most complex area".

    She lists tourism and economic development as two of her "favourite" parts of the ministerial work at DETI, and energy was "one of the more challenging".

    A biomass boiler

    Renewable heat - under which the RHI scheme was classified - was a "new area" for her.

    She praises the work of some of the officials in that area, saying she "probably did" rely on officials working in that part of the department to help her understand it.

  13. 'I'd have acted differently if I'd known about problems'

    Dr Keith MacLean

    Inquiry panel member Dr Keith MacLean (below) notes that Mrs Foster says she didn't do anything wrong and he asks: "But did you do all the right things?"

    Mrs Foster says that's for the panel to decide, but makes the point that she would've acted differently if she'd known some of what she knows now.

    When pressed to give examples of things she didn't do but should or could have done, she says"none that spring to mind at present".

  14. 'Don't think I did anything wrong on RHI scheme'

    Mrs Foster believes she did not do anything wrong in relation to the RHI scheme and she says there has been much "malevolent" speculation surrounding her role in it.

    The fallout from the debacle is a "matter of deep regret for me politically and personally".

    Arlene Foster

    She says it was a "useful excuse" for Sinn Féin to bring down the Northern Ireland Executive in January last year but was not the real reason.

    Mrs Foster says there were "a lot of unknown unknowns" regarding the scheme and if "things had been brought to my attention things may have been a lot different".

  15. Inquiry's in-depth list of questions for Foster

    The RHI Inquiry

    There are a number of areas that the questioning of Mrs Foster will cover. They are:

    • her role as DETI minister, in particular with reference to the RHI scheme
    • her role in choosing the model for the scheme
    • the decision to introduce the scheme without some of the cost controls that existed in the GB scheme
    • the reason that cost controls that were consulted upon were not taken forward
    • why a review planned of the scheme in 2014 was not held
    • the emails her from the the so-called whistleblower Jeannette O'Hagan
    • what she knew about how beneficial the scheme was to claimants
  16. Why is Arlene Foster at the RHI Inquiry?

    Mrs Foster was the minister at Stormont's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) when it set up the RHI scheme in 2012 and in that role she signed off on the project.

    A key question for the RHI Inquiry panel will be whether or not she was aware of key information regarding the scheme when she approved it.

    Arlene Foster

    When the scale of the scandal emerged in December 2016, there were widespread calls for her to resign to allow an investigation to be carried out into what went wrong.

    She refused and the Northern Ireland Executive - a coalition between her party, the DUP, and Sinn Féin - collapsed.

    Mrs Foster has consistently denied any wrongdoing in relation to the scheme.

  17. 'Heightened interest in Foster's appearance'

    There'll be "heightened interest" in Mrs Foster's appearance at the RHI Inquiry given her high profile, notes Mr Scoffield (below).

    For that reason, he points out that this inquiry is inquisitorial rather than adversarial - that means she'll be asked "probing questions but she won't be cross-examined in an adversarial manner".

    David Scoffield QC

    In an attempt to manage expectations of onlookers, he explains that Mrs Foster will only be giving evidence on the early stages of the RHI scheme and not about the conflict she had with her DUP ministerial colleague Jonathan Bell over its closure in late-2015 and early-2016.

    She'll have to come back in September to answer questions about that.

  18. New witness Arlene Foster gives evidence

    Arlene Foster takes the oath

    The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster places a Bible in her right hand and takes the oath.

    David Scoffield QC, the inquiry's senior counsel, will be asking the questions.

    You can find Mrs Foster's written witness statement on the inquiry's website.

  19. Time for lunch...

    The RHI Inquiry

    That's the end of questions for Dr Crawford's for the time being - he'll be back again next week.

    Join us after lunch at 14:00 for as Arlene Foster begins giving her first evidence to the inquiry.

  20. 'No way Foster would sign off RHI if she'd known true cost'

    There is "no way" that Mrs Foster would have signed off the RHI scheme if she'd been given accurate figures on what it would have cost, says Dr Crawford.

    The model that was ultimately chosen - the ongoing subsidy scheme - was at least £200m more expensive than a rejected option, an up-front grants offer.

    Sterling banknotes

    The options for which model to adopt were "so stark and so much contrast with each other", he adds.

    Mrs Foster's background as a solicitor means she "has a legal brain" and meant she wouldn't have just signed off on something that was "completely at odds with what we were being told we were looking at".