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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. DUP leader and ex-enterprise minister Arlene Foster returns to inquiry hotseat
  3. Inquiry set up after public concern over scheme's huge projected overspend
  4. Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Patrick Coghlin chairing inquiry at Stormont
  5. Public evidence sessions expected to last until well into 2018

Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for now...

    Another eye-catching day of evidence at the RHI Inquiry, we're sure you'll agree.

    And hopefully more of the same tomorrow when Mrs Foster returns to tell us more - join us from 09:45 for our live coverage.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    Now, we're off to escape from the depths of Parliament Buildings and get out into that nice sunny evening.

    Goodbye for now!

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News NI

    Arlene Foster dismissed as "nonsense" a claim by the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service that notes of ministerial meetings were not taken due to concerns about freedom of information requests.

    Video content

    Video caption: Arlene Foster says she "never" demanded secrecy from officials when she was a minister

    David Sterling had made the claim in evidence to the inquiry last month but Mrs Foster said she didn't accept what he'd said.

    The DUP leader said that in all her time as a Stormont minister she had never asked officials not to minute meetings.

  3. 'It's for inquiry to decide what I should have done'

    Mr Scoffield puts to the ex-minister that the document from June 2013 outlining the future of the RHI scheme said it was important to introduce cost controls.

    He says "nothing happens" about it in the "in the next 23 months" to the point when Mrs Foster left the department in May 2015 and he asks is that's something she bears responsibility for.

    Mrs Foster

    "I accept that that period of time did pass but I wasn't receiving anything that was causing me alarm," she replies.

    "I suppose it's for the panel to decide what if anything I should have done in relation to all of that,."

  4. 'I wasn't aware of 'cash-for-ash' rumours'

    Mrs Foster says she "wasn't aware of rumours going around" in 2014 that the RHI scheme was offering a "cash for ash".

    Biomass boiler firms were advertising their products through the scheme at trade fair organised by Stormont's enterprise and agriculture departments and were using slogans such as "burn to earn".

    Burning wood pellets

    Inquiry Sir Patrick Coghlin asks Mrs Foster what communications she had with then agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill "as to what was actually happening on the street... with 'burn-to-earn', 'cash-for-ash'".

    She says she didn't know about that and adds that she was not engaging with farmers about what they were doing in relation to with the scheme.

    "I know that may sound rather strange given that I am a Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, but it's the truth," she adds.

  5. 'Mixed messages from officials about RHI'

    Mrs Foster claims that she was "getting mixed messages" from her DETI officials about the RHI scheme.

    She says that while they told her that uptake on the scheme was beyond what had been anticipated, they also told her that they would be continuing to promote the scheme.

    Arlene Foster

    "There was still this view that we were continuing to promote the scheme, which would've sent me a message: 'Well, is there really a problem in terms of issues around cost?'"

    Therefore, she asks, "why would an alarm bell be ringing" that cost controls would need to be added to the scheme "imminently".

  6. 'Don't know when controls were to be introduced'

    Mr Scoffield asks a question

    Mrs Foster is asked when she thought the cost controls would be introduced to the non-domestic RHI scheme if they would have to wait until after work on the domestic scheme was finished.

    "I don't know - there's no point in me saying I do, because I don't," she says, adding that she can't remember if she was ever asked.

  7. 'Officials didn't tell me of scheme concerns'

    The assembly's Enterprise Committee was told in spring 2014 that the uptake on the RHI scheme could "experience a higher volume of applications" than the similar initiative in Great Britain.

    It was also told that demand was more than double what had been anticipated.

    Burning wood pellets

    On that basis, Mr Scoffield asks whether Mrs Foster should've considered adding cost controls to the scheme "rather than putting them off into the future".

    Mrs Foster says there were no signs of a potential overspend on the scheme at the time and officials "were not saying to me this is something we need to be concerned about".

  8. 'Deferral of controls set no alarm bells ringing'

    Mrs Foster received a submission from DETI officials in May 2014 in which they said the introduction of the domestic RHI scheme was being prioritised over the changes to the existing non-domestic scheme.

    Just to make it clear, it was the non-domestic RHI scheme that turned out to be so problematic.

    Alarm bells

    The minister was told: "Technical changes to legislation will be addressed once the domestic scheme has been agreed," the minister is told.

    She agrees that her understanding would have been that cost controls were being deferred but "there were no alarm bells ringing" as a result of that.

  9. Sorry for the fault...

    We're been having some problems bringing you the live commentary.

    Please bear with us while we sort out the fault - in the meantime the live stream should be OK.

    It turns out that the inquiry is having its own technical difficulties and there's a short adjournment while microphones are sorted out.

  10. 'No alarm bells ringing over need for cost controls'

    The need to add cost controls to the RHI scheme wasn't "ringing alarm bells" with Mrs Foster in summer and autumn 2013, she says.

    She tells the inquiry that DETI officials didn't raise it with her and therefore she didn't consider it.

    Sterling cash

    Mr Scoffield suggests that it's "another one of those issues" on which Mrs Foster hasn't "done anything wrong but there is perhaps more than you could and should have done" to make sure the issue was at the "top of the agenda".

    If she'd been "starkly warned" about the need then it "would've been at the forefront of my mind".

  11. 'I wasn't told key energy target would be missed'

    The RHI scheme had been set up to help Northern Ireland hit a target of producing 10% of its heat through renewable sources by 2020.

    But in report about the scheme in June 2013, drawn up at DETI's request by external energy consultants CEPA, said that by that stage nothing the department could do would allow it to meet the target.

    Wood pellets

    Mrs Foster says she wasn't made aware of that.

    If she'd been told she may have "revised the target" and she explains that it "wasn't unheard of" for Northern Ireland Executive targets to be changed but that usually resulted in "a lot of criticism" from Stormont committees.

    Another option, she says, is that she may have considered another way of achieving the 10% target.

  12. 'Need for cost controls not highlighted to me'

    Adding cost controls to the RHI scheme "wasn't front and centre" in discussions Mrs Foster was having with her civil servants who were working on the initiative in 2012, she says.

    She says that "it wasn't something that was a constant source of conversation or discussion".

    A biomass boiler

    A number of important documents about the scheme issued in the second half of 2013 don't highlight the issue.

    The former DETI minister says that had she been told about the legal risks regarding the scheme in June that year -which was discussed at length before lunch- she would've expected cost controls to have been the first bullet point in those documents and more focus would've been given to them.

  13. I didn't push committee to approve scheme legislation'

    Arlene Foster

    Mrs Foster says she didn't "push" the Enterprise Committee to approve the subordinate legislation regarding the RHI scheme.

    But she says that she made MLAs on the committee aware that if it wasn't given the green light then "the consequences were that we wouldn't have a scheme for another year".

  14. 'Ofgem concerns not raised with Stormont committee'

    Returning to June 2012, Mr Scoffield explains that it was hoped the regulations regarding the development of the RHI scheme could be approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly's Enterprise Committee before the summer recess that year.

    There's nothing to suggest that Ofgem's concerns were raised with the committee.

    David Scoffield

    Mrs Foster says she wouldn't have expected something like that to be raised with the committee.

    If she had decided to take a different route then it would have had to be notified, given that approval for the scheme in relation to EU state aid rules had already been granted, she explains.

    But in deciding to go ahead with the scheme as she had been advised then there was no need to bring it to the committee.

  15. 'Sterling's evidence particularity contentious and sensitive'

    Before returning to his questioning of Mrs Foster, the inquiry's senior counsel David Scoffield QC addresses some issues with the evidence given to the inquiry by Northern Ireland Civil Service boss David Sterling.

    Mr Scoffield notes that what Mr Sterling "did or didn't say" about the minuting of ministerial meetings - which was referred to at length before lunch - has proven to be "particularity contentious and sensitive".

    Mr Sterling did say that the fact that there was no minute of an important decision by Mrs Foster about the RHI scheme had not been "reflective of the wider practice" in the civil service.

    The inquiry barrister says Mr Sterling's evidence should be "looked at in the round".

    David Sterling

    He also draws the inquiry's attention to report that has emerged in today's Irish News that Mr Sterling told Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill that he was never asked not to take minutes of meetings by any of the ministers he worked for.

    Mrs O'Neill had said Mr Sterling's remarks to the inquiry had ignored "inconvenient facts and lacked objectivity".

    Mr Scoffield says the inquiry will assess whether that is "consistent" with what he told the inquiry last month.

  16. Inquiry proceedings resume after lunch

    The RHI Inquiry

    The afternoon sessions begins and it'll run through until 16:45 - we'll have all the action as DUP leader Arlene Foster faces more questions so stick with us until then.

  17. Time for lunch...

    A sandwich

    That was a fairly lively opening session of the day.

    Plenty more to come at 14:00 when Mrs Foster and the inquiry team return after the lunch break so do join us then.

  18. 'Were officials under pressure to open scheme?'

    A biomass boiler

    Mr Scoffield wants to know if officials would have felt under pressure to get the scheme up and running in summer 2012.

    Mr Foster has already told the inquiry she didn't want to fall behind the similar RHI scheme that was running in Great Britain and that she had conversations with her team at DETI to get the Northern Ireland initiative open.

    She says she would have emphasised this at weekly meetings: "I don't think there was anything wrong with asking officials where we were at with the scheme."

  19. 'I'm tougher than most politicians'

    Mr Sterling said civil servants had "got into the habit" of not recording minutes of meetings with ministers because the DUP and Sinn Féin were sensitive to criticism.

    The DUP leader says she "did smile when I read that".

    Arlene Foster

    She doesn't believe any politicians are not sensitive to criticism and "given what I came through last year I think I'm tougher than most".

    "All politicians know they're going to be criticised on a day and daily basis," she says, adding that "you have to ask if you're in the right job" if you are sensitive to criticism.

  20. 'I never ordered secrecy to hide information from public'

    Mrs Foster insists she "never gave a direction" for officials not to take minutes of meetings with her in order to prevent the public from seeing what was happening in her department.

    Northern Ireland's most senior civil servant Mr Sterling admitted to the inquiry that meetings were not minuted in order to frustrate freedom of information requests.

    A boardroom

    But Mrs Foster says the RHI scheme was not a "contentious" project with political rivals so she doesn't think Mr Sterling's view is "tenable".

    She points to "considerable commentary" in the media on the back of Mr Sterling's comments and says his view is "not the case and I couldn't be clearer on that".