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Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

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

    There's no RHI Inquiry hearing tomorrow, which is probably just as well if the weather forecast is to be believed.

    It could get windy up on Stormont hill so we're off to batten down the hatches ahead of Storm Callum.

    The view from Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    We'll see you on Tuesday when the inquiry will hear from the Ulster Farmers' Union.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI politics reporter

    A code Stormont ministers should have adhered to was a nothing more than paper exercise that had no real force, claimed a senior civil servant.

    The inquiry was told that a key meeting in August 2015, in which a decision was taken to delay cost controls in the RHI scheme, had not been minuted.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Dr Andrew McCormick said that was not unusual because civil servants were concerned that there was an "extremely leaky system" with confidential government information.

    "Part of the culture was: 'If you write something down, it'll probably appear in the newspapers'," he said.

  3. 'Confusion at first minister's office in fog of war'

    There was "confusion" in the "fog of war" between DETI and the first minister's office as to how the closure of the RHI scheme was being handled, says Dr Andrew McCormick.

    In late-January 2016, the then head of the civil service Sir Malcolm McKibbin sent Dr McCormick a memo to say Arlene Foster was "quite clear" that it was the DETI's responsibility to "mitigate costs".

    Sir Malcolm McKibbin

    But the matter had been taken out of DETI's hands when Jonathan Bell's approval of the scheme had been rescinded by the first minister's adviser Timothy Johnston.

    Dr McCormick says Arlene Foster maybe wasn't aware of her adviser's actions and he believes there was nothing "suspicious or malicious going on".

    "It's a bit odd but it ultimately resolved itself... nothing bad happened as a consequence."

  4. 'DUP had to steady heads to get RHI closure agreed'

    There was a "failure of either communication or trust" between Jonathan Bell and his DUP colleagues in January 2016 about the process to get the RHI scheme shut down, according to Dr Andrew McCormick.

    On 22 January, the enterprise minister gave his approval to close it but that was rescinded about 20 minutes later - his adviser Mr Cairns later revealed that the decision was "in the hands of DUP party officers".

    Jonathan Bell

    Mr Bell told the inquiry that he wasn't informed his approval had been overturned.

    Dr McCormick says that the minister thought it was his decision to take but in reality it was "at a much higher level of sensitivity" and needed to be signed off by the first minister and deputy first minister as well.

    "For the DUP to steady their heads together sensibly, adopt a position and then engage with Sinn Féin - that's part of how this form of government has to work."

  5. 'With imagination, RHI could've been closed earlier'

    Once the decision was taken in January 2016 to close the RHI scheme, officials recommended that it should be shut down in mid-March.

    Officials were in "crisis mode" and the "accelerator was firmly to the floor", says Dr Andrew McCormick.

    The RHI Inquiry

    But he believes the process could've been done more quickly by speeding up progress through the Stormont executive and cutting out the approval process in the assembly's Enterprise Committee.

    Officials didn't focus as clearly as they might've done, he says, and it was "the familiar problem of not thinking with sufficient imagination or internal challenge".

  6. 'Whistleblower's allegation was a game-changer'

    A whistleblower's allegation in January 2016 that the RHI scheme had been "abused by many" was a "game-changer" in how officials were handling the it, says Dr Andrew McCormick.

    The whistleblower gave examples of some claimants "heating empty sheds" and running their biomass boilers "24/7 all-year round" with the aim of collecting huge sums of RHI money.

    Burning wood pellets

    "It [was] introducing a whole new dimension of concern," he tells the inquiry.

    There was a "pretty confused few days" as a result of it - the minister Jonathan Bell, his adviser and Dr McCormick were in the United States at the time.

  7. 'Unusual to conduct government business over personal email accounts'

    It became an expedient to send government papers to ministers' personal email accounts rather than through proper Stormont IT systems, says Dr Andrew McCormick.

    The question of the use of a personal Hotmail account by the former enterprise minister Jonathan Bell has been raised before at the inquiry - he denied that he used it to carry out official business.

    An email inbox

    But Dr McCormick says that was the only email account he ever used to correspond with the minister.

    Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien says it strikes her as "unusual" to conduct government business that way and she asks Dr McCormick if he was comfortable doing that.

    He says he has a "similar trail of emails" to a personal email account Simon Hamilton, Mr Bell's successor as economy minister.

  8. 'Query from Foster over RHI delay caused us anxiety'

    There was a request by the DUP's Arlene Foster about whether the Northern Ireland Assembly debate on passing the cost controls for the RHI scheme could be delayed by a week in November 2015.

    She put her query to Jonathan Bell's ministerial adviser Tim Cairns, who referred it to Dr Andrew McCormick at DETI.

    Dr McCormick says it "caused us a bit of anxiety" - officials worked out that delaying the cost controls by just a week would've added at least £2.6m a year over to the cost of the initiative over its 20-year lifetime.

    Arlene Foster

    In his written evidence, he says Mr Cairns referred to a concern that "not enough businesses in Fermanagh" - Mrs Foster's constituency - "had been able to apply" before the cost curbs would take effect.

    Reflecting on that, he says he might've taken it "more seriously than I should've done".

    Mr Cairns told the inquiry that he "didn't seriously believe" it would result in a further delay - the request ultimately came to nothing.

  9. 'Would Treasury ride to rescue for RHI?'

    There was a "hope beyond hope" that the Treasury would come to the rescue with extra money for the RHI scheme in late-2015, says Dr Andrew McCormick.

    Dr Andrew McCormick

    He makes the comment when he's asked how DETI officials viewed the prospect of financing the scheme into the future.

    He says there were varying degrees of optimism among the officials and he was "probably at the more sceptical end of the picture".

  10. 'Befuddled by big data and frying mic'

    There was a short break in transmission there due to hissing noise you may have noticed on the video stream.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin says it's amazing what you can pick up at an inquiry: "I'm already befuddled by big data and algorithms but a 'frying mic' is something I haven't come across before!"

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    "Every day's a school day," says David Scoffield.

    It's not just the legal teams and civil servants - we broadcasters have a fondness for jargon too.

  11. 'RHI business case a work of complete fiction'

    The business case for the changes to the RHI scheme in the autumn of 2015 was a "work of complete fiction", says Dr Keith MacLean.

    He says it contained numbers about job creation that were "beyond belief" and the figures it included to back up the claims that the RHI was value for money were "very, very unusual".

    A man using a calculator

    "It really does question the process and the system that it had gone through," he adds.

    Dr Andrew McCormick finds it "very, very disturbing".

  12. 'Officials too blinkered to consider RHI suspension power'

    Giving DETI the power to suspend the RHI scheme should've been considered in the summer of 2015 when officials were drawing up their proposals for the changes to the initiative, accepts Dr Andrew McCormick.

    It probably wouldn't have been a popular measure and some witnesses have said it would've created uncertainty in the renewable heat market.

    A hand pushing an emergency stop button

    But Dr McCormick accepts that it could've been done if it had been thought about at the time but officials had "too blinkered a view of what was possible".

    Sir Patrick Coghlin says he "can see no reason why this was not included".

  13. 'Policy for subsidy cuts not sufficiently scrutinised'

    Biomass boilers that were registered on the RHI scheme before the subsidy cuts came into effect on 18 November 2015 were being used for just over 44% of the hours in a year.

    Those registered after the cuts had a usage time of just under 15% of the hours in a year.

    The average cost for each unit of heat before the cuts was 6.3p but after 18 November that was 5.9p.

    Cash in a hand

    What those figures show is that it appears the amount of wasteful heat was reduced but the heat that was being produced was costing the taxpayer much the same as it did before the cuts.

    Asked if that minimal change in unit cost shows that the subsidy cuts actually had limited effect on budget control, Dr Andrew McCormick accepts that the policy "was not as clearly analysed and scrutinised as it should've been".

    "Urgency and expediency have prevailed over rigour and proper analysis," he adds.

  14. Inquiry resumes after lunch break

    The RHI Inquiry

    The plan is for the inquiry to finish early today - 15:45 is due to be the finishing time.

    Inquiry counsel David Scoffield QC is hoping to get through all of Dr Andrew McCormick's evidence today.

  15. Time for lunch...

    We're off to grab a snack - join us at 14:00 for the day's second session.

  16. 'Quelle surprise! We created new gaming opportunity'

    Inquiry QC David Scoffield introduces a chart that demonstrates how the uptake of the RHI scheme altered after the introduction of the subsidy cuts to the RHI scheme in November 2015.

    The pre-November figures show 74% of the boilers registered on the scheme were smaller than 99kW in size, making them eligible for the most lucrative subsidy.

    Due to the high amount of subsidy on offer for boilers of that size or below, some people had installed multiple smaller boilers instead of a single larger unit for their heating needs in order to get the maximum amount of money from the scheme - that's referred to as the gaming of the RHI.

    A biomass boiler

    Once the new regulations were introduced 68% of new installations were 199kW - that meant people were installing larger boilers once the lucrative subsidy for smaller units was cut.

    "Quelle surprise!" says Dr McCormick, adding that the department had "created a new perverse incentive".

    Dr Keith MacLean says that was a "new gaming opportunity".

  17. 'DETI cut and pasted bits it liked from RHI economic analysis'

    In its business case for the changes to the RHI scheme in the autumn of 2015, DETI was still insisting that the initiative was offering value for money, even though that clearly wasn't the case.

    The inquiry heard lots about that on Tuesday, when senior finance department official Emer Morelli gave evidence.

    Dr Andrew McCormick

    Dr Andrew McCormick admits it was "not appropriate" to portray the scheme in they way DETI had done so.

    Inquiry panellist Dr Keith MacLean says he's concerned that the advice given by DETI's energy economist hadn't been followed in full - instead, the department "cut and pasted the bits that [it] liked" without important warnings.

    Dr McCormick says that's "not good - can't defend that" and adds: "The civil service needs to do these things well - in this case we clearly didn't."

  18. 'No attempt to withhold RHI information from committee'

    Civil servants at DETI "missed a trick" by not keeping the Northern Ireland Assembly's Enterprise Committee in the loop about how the RHI scheme was running out of control, says Dr Andrew McCormick.

    The inquiry heard from former Enterprise Committee Patsy McGlone (below) last week, who said the RHI had been presented to the committee members as the "all-singing, all-dancing, new green energy future".

    He also complained that DETI had kept industry better informed about what was happening with the scheme that it had done with MLAs.

    Patsy McGlone

    Dr McCormick says there wasn't a great relationship between his department and the committee.

    Asked if there was a "reticence" on the part of officials to tell the committee about what was going on, he says there was no deliberate attempt to keep information hidden.

    But he accepts that officials should've been more up front about the scheme with the committee.

  19. 'Officials took too long to get RHI ducks in a row'

    There was a further slippage in the introduction of the cost controls for the RHI scheme from 4 November to 17 November 2015.

    Dr Andrew McCormick puts that down to DETI taking too long to "get our ducks in a row".

    Rubber ducks

    The extra two weeks was due to delay in completing the draft regulations for the changes, a delay in receiving approval for them from the finance department and the logistics of getting the regulations approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly's Enterprise Committee.

    "Officials were not concerned about the scheme as they should have been," he admits in his witness statement.

  20. 'DUP's rolling resignations didn't have effect on RHI'

    Dr Andrew McCormick told the then head of the civil service in February 2016 that the DUP's policy of in-out ministers had a delaying effect on getting legislation for the RHI scheme's cost controls passed.

    But in his witness statement, he rolls back on that view and he tells the inquiry that it just doesn't stand up.

    Just as a reminder as to what all that was about - in the autumn of 2015 DUP ministers at Stormont adopted a policy of rolling resignations - quitting office before returning for a day or two continually over several weeks.

    The political crisis was sparked by allegations that Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Belfast man Kevin McGuigan Sr that August.

    Peter Robinson and DUP colleagues

    Arlene Foster remained in post as acting first minister through that time to act as a "gatekeeper" to protect Northern Ireland from "rogue Sinn Féin and renegade SDLP" ministers.

    Dr McCormick admits to a "superficiality" in his original thinking the rolling resignations did have an effect but he was later "put through my paces" on why it didn't by the senior DUP adviser Richard Bullick.

    He says his DETI officials "weren't ready" to proceed with the RHI legislation at the time.

    And he accepts that Jonathan Bell was available during that time if he'd been needed to sign something off - he told the inquiry yesterday that the minister cleared 10 submissions in 10 minutes at one point.