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Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for this week...

    Inquiry counsel Donal Lunny wraps up his questioning of Janet McCollum in double-quick time and that's it for today.

    If you were poised for a gripping afternoon session we're afraid you'll have to wait until Tuesday for what will be the biggest week of the RHI Inquiry so far.

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    It starts with the return of the DUP leader and former first minister Arlene Foster, while Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will all feature current or former senior DUP advisers.

    We'll bring you everything as it happens so join us from 09:45 on Tuesday.

    Have a terrific weekend...

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News NI

    There was a "missed opportunity" to raise early concerns about critical flaws with the RHI scheme, the head of Invest NI admitted to the inquiry.

    Energy experts working for the economic development agency told it that the lucrative subsidies on offer were driving some people to install boilers simply to "grab the RHI money".

    The RHI Inquiry

    But that message was not passed on to the Stormont department running the scheme.

    Alastair Hamilton accepted that Invest NI "had evidence... that clearly showed the scheme was not operating as it was intended".

  3. 'Moy Park lobbied for RHI closure to be delayed'

    The RHI scheme had been due to close on 16 February 2016 but there was a two-week delay to that and it eventually shut at the end of that month.

    An email inbox

    Ms McCollum emailed Mr Mullan and another Moy Park executive David Mark saying: "Thank you for all your encouragement and involvement in securing this extension - well done."

    Asked about what they had done to help extend the deadline, she says they were lobbying with the Ulster Farmers' Union and the Confederation of British Industry on behalf of farmers who had invested in biomass boilers but had yet to get their RHI applications submitted.

  4. 'Final push needed ahead of RHI closure'

    Moy Park manager Mike Mullan sent a "confidential" in January 2016 to colleagues informing them of Mr Crawford's warning of the impending closure of the RHI scheme.

    Boiler

    Another executive Alan Gibson responded to the email, saying "in absolute confidence - final push needed on our own farms and contract growers in NI".

    Ms McCollum says she would've been aware of that push to ensure the applications were through before the scheme closed.

  5. 'DUP adviser told Moy Park that RHI was closing'

    Moy Park was kept well informed at various points in 2015 about the progress of the planned changes to the RHI scheme that would make it less lucrative.

    DETI officials gave Moy Park "hot off the press information" about what was happening before it had even been signed off by the enterprise minister, says Mr Lunny.

    The scheme was ultimately closed at the end of February 2016 and again Moy Park was given a heads up on the plan.

    Andrew Crawford

    On 15 January 2016, the then finance minister Mervyn Storey and his DUP adviser Andrew Crawford (above) - who has given evidence to the inquiry - met Moy Park executives, including Ms McCollum.

    She "specifically" remembers Mr Crawford's telling them that the scheme would soon be closing and felt there was an "impetus" about he said.

    Mr Crawford denies that he tipped off Moy Park about the scheme's closure.

  6. 'I didn't hear of impending RHI subsidy cuts'

    The overgenerous subsides offered by the RHI scheme were cut in November 2015 after it had gone vastly over its budget.

    The changes had been planned from the summer of that year and some people at Moy Park had been told by DETI about what would be happening.

    Burning wood pellets

    Ms McCollum says she wasn't informed at that point and only became aware of the changes in December that year.

    She also says that she wasn't aware of a "big rush", as one Moy Park figure put it, to get its farmers signed up to the scheme before the subsidy cuts came into effect.

  7. 'Couple of million a small amount for Moy Park'

    Ms McCollum accepts that benefit was accruing directly to Moy Park from the RHI scheme, not just to its poultry growers, but says it would've been a small one.

    The RHI Inquiry

    "If it's a benefit of a couple of million pounds a year that might be a small benefit to an organisation the size of Moy Park but it's still a very significant amount of money," says Mr Lunny.

    The witness agrees.

  8. 'RHI made up for Moy Park's slashed allowances for farmers'

    Moy Park paid an allowance to its poultry farmers to help pay for fuel, based on the fuel usage on their farms from the previous year.

    But a question the inquiry has raised is whether Moy Park slashed the allowances because it knew its suppliers had a separate, substantial income from the RHI scheme that would cover the drop.

    A hand holding sterling cash

    It was understood in 2015 that poultry farmers in Northern Ireland were using an average of 420kg of fuel for the growth of every 1,000 birds - Moy Park was offering a fuel allowance of just over half of that.

    Mr Lunny says there's a "big shortfall there" and it "doesn't take a genius to work out" that farmers could only bear that because the RHI income was "more than making up" for it.

    Asked if it was obvious to Moy Park, Ms McCollum says it wasn't and nobody brought it to her attention.

  9. 'Benefits for Moy Park from RHI scheme'

    The inquiry counsel Mr Lunny returns to his line of questioning from Ms McCollum's last witness session in June.

    Poultry farmers made up a significant portion of the claimants on the RHI scheme.

    Out of the 1,526 poultry houses in Northern Ireland that supply Moy Park 943 - about 62% - are on the RHI scheme, according to figures from August last year.

    Chickens in a shed

    Mr Lunny suggested that Moy Park had benefited from the RHI scheme in two ways - firstly by assisting with its expansion plans in converting poultry sheds to hot water heating.

    And there had been an indirect benefit in making up the shortfall between the fuel allowance the company paid to farmers and the actual fuel cost.

    Ms McCollum said back in June that during the life of the scheme she was unaware of both of those benefits.

  10. Witness Janet McCollum returns to give evidence

    Next up is Janet McCollum, who until recently was the chief executive of the major poultry producer Moy Park - it's one of Northern Ireland's biggest companies.

    She held the role from the start of 2014 until her departure this year.

    Janet McCollum

    Ms McCollum appeared before the inquiry in June but her time in the witness chair was brief and she's returned to conclude her evidence this afternoon.

    You'll find her witness statement on the inquiry's website here.

  11. 'I was recruited by Paisley purely as business expert'

    Mr Hamilton is asked about his appointment as an adviser to the then first minister and DUP leader Ian Paisley in 2007.

    He explains that he was recruited purely as an expert adviser on economic and business matters and had "no political background".

    Ian Paisley at Stormont

    "I'm not involved with political parties directly, I'm not a member of a political party," he says.

    Mr Hamilton says he was interviewed for the job by Dr Paisley and his son Ian.

    Bringing his evidence to an end, Mr Hamilton says he thinks "the government needs expert advisers at all levels".

  12. 'No conflict of interest over wood pellet firm'

    There was "no conflict of interest" between Invest NI's activities related to the RHI scheme and its involvement with a County Fermanagh-based wood pellet manufacturer, insists Mr Hamilton.

    The vast majority of the biomass boilers registered on the scheme are fuelled by wood pellets.

    Wood pellets

    Invest NI holds shares in Balcas, purchased in 1994 by the Department of Economic Development, a predecessor of Invest NI.

    Mr Hamilton says while Invest NI wants a return on equity but explains that the shares are preference shares and "the better Balcas does we don't get any more back on our equity investment".

    "There is no activity that happened within Invest NI that disproportionately focused any of our work to very positively impact on a single client that we were providing support to."

  13. 'DETI wasn't sent Invest NI's biomass guide'

    Invest NI published a biomass guide in June 2014, written by the energy consultant Alastair Nicol, who gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday.

    He included his opinion that the RHI scheme was distorting the the renewable heating market.

    A biomass boiler

    DETI says it didn't receive a copy of the guide until Mr Nicol sent them one in 2017.

    Mr Hamilton accepts that the department should've received a copy earlier and says it should've been common practice due to the volume of work carried out by Invest NI.

  14. 'We missed opportunity to flag up RHI flaws'

    Invest NI "very clearly" missed an opportunity to tell DETI about some critical flaws in the RHI scheme, admits Mr Hamilton, who says he's accountable for it.

    The economic body "had evidence... in reports that clearly showed the scheme was not operating as it was intended", he adds.

    Wood pellets

    Sir Patrick says that Invest NI's intention was to help businesses save money and generate income but it's a "bit of a worry" that that "might've been seen as your driving objective" in not flagging up the scheme's flaws.

    "I can assure you it wasn't, Sir," replies Mr Hamilton.

    "The cost-saving did not translate... into a make-money initiative that would be driven by my officials."

  15. 'Assembly question was another missed opportunity'

    In October 2013, DETI minister Arlene Foster received a Northern Ireland Assembly question asking "whether subsidies for biomass disincentivise energy efficiency".

    Invest NI officials were asked for their opinion as part of the process of preparing an answer but their replies did not reflect the concerns raised in the reports they had received from energy consultants.

    Donal Lunny

    Instead, Invest NI supplied a long list of things it was doing to encourage energy efficiency.

    Mr Hamilton concurs that that was a potentially significant missed opportunity to inform DETI about issues with the scheme.

    Inquiry barrister Donal Lunny (above) notes that if the Invest NI officials had passed on the consultants' concerns both DETI energy team and the minister would have been made aware.

  16. 'Surely to goodness Invest NI should've raised RHI concerns'

    As the inquiry heard yesterday, Invest NI employed expert energy consultants who spotted problems with the RHI scheme in its early stages.

    They worked with Invest NI's client businesses on finding ways to improve their energy efficiency but some of the firms wanted to install biomass boilers through the scheme even when those heating systems were "inappropriate" for their needs.

    The consultants reported back to Invest NI that the lucrative subsidies on offer were driving some clients to install boilers simply to "grab the RHI money".

    A biomass boiler

    But Invest NI officials didn't point out the problems to DETI and assumed the big financial returns on offer were part of "government policy".

    Sir Patrick tells Mr Hamilton that his Invest NI officials were "well aware" that the RHI was "encouraging ineffective energy use".

    "Surely to goodness that was at least something they should have raised."

  17. 'Not enough overlap between DETI and Invest NI'

    Mr Hamilton admits that "there is not enough strategic overlap" between Stormonyt's economy department and Invest NI.

    Inquiry panel member Dame Una O'Brien (below) sees it at a more basic level.

    Dame Una O'Brien

    She says she can't help reflecting on how useful it would have been if energy consultants who were hired by Invest NI had been working with DETI's energy team.

    "Absolutely," says the witness.

  18. 'Complete communication breakdown over RHI'

    There was a "complete breakdown" of communication between DETI and Invest NI over the RHI scheme, according to Sir Patrick.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    He says it could be a down to "failure" on the part of either body or a "degree of competition" that DETI might have felt in its desire to run the scheme itself.

    Safe to say he's not impressed.

  19. 'Invest NI bosses didn't know RHI existed until 2014 or 2015'

    Invest NI had "very, very little interaction with" DETI's energy team, which was running the RHI scheme.

    He says that's one possibility as to why Invest NI was not asked to deliver the scheme.

    Invest NI's headquarters in Belfast

    Asked by Sir Patrick if Invest NI ever put itself forward to help DETI with the scheme, Mr Hamilton says he and other executives weren't aware it existed until 2014 or 2015.

    "But definitely never at the development stage of the scheme - there was never a conversation that took place with me," he says, adding that Invest NI's capabilities of running schemes weren't "tapped in to".

  20. 'We should've talked about Invest NI running RHI'

    Some witnesses - including DETI civil servants - have suggested to the inquiry that Invest NI might have been better placed to run the RHI scheme than the economy department itself.

    Mr Hamilton says he agrees with yesterday's Invest NI witness Jim Clarke on the matter and he points to the body's work on the development of schemes, contractual arrangements and the monitoring of claims.

    Alastair Hamilton

    "You would make an assumption there's a lot of capability of knowledge and experience there," he says

    Mr Hamilton says he doesn't know enough about the scheme to a definitive answer "but it strikes me that we should have had that conversation".

    He agrees with inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin that his staff would have had greater commercial experience and awareness of the profit motive than the civil service generalists who were running the initiative.