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Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today...

    Parliament Buildings at Stormont

    There was been slightly diminished feel to proceedings today as the inquiry reconvened in its new quarters in Committee Room 29 at Parliament Buildings.

    Tomorrow looks promising with final statements from lawyers representing the DUP and some of its former ministerial advisers.

    Join us at the usual time of 09:45 for live coverage of all the day's business.

    We're off to try to find our way to the Stormont car park in the pitch dark... anyone remember the summer?

  2. What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    Conor Macauley

    BBC News NI agriculture correspondent

    A senior lawyer in the organisation that was administering the RHI scheme advised a colleague not to share some information with police who were investigating a DUP adviser for fraud, the inquiry was told.

    Ofgem's John Jackson told a colleague that under data protection laws she should not give the PSNI an audit report on an RHI-registered boiler belonging to Stephen Brimstone (below), who was an aide to DUP leader Arlene Foster.

    Stephen Brimstone

    His advice came after an anonymous allegation led the police to open an investigation into Mr Brimstone, who had fitted the boiler in a shed at his house but it was mostly used to heat his home.

    His application suggested that heat was also provided to the shed, which was sometimes used agricultural purposes.

    The Ofgem audit found little or no evidence to substantiate that claim but after further information supplied by Mr Brimstone it ruled that his installation was compliant with scheme rules.

  3. 'Finance officials should've sought RHI funding clarity'

    There was significant uncertainty within two Stormont departments that were dealing with the RHI scheme about how the initiative was being funded, the inquiry has heard over the past year.

    Barrister Christine Smith "accepts entirely" that when DETI asked in 2015 for assistance in understanding how the scheme's budget worked, the finance department's own officials didn't know and couldn't help.

    Sterling banknotes

    And she says that finance officials "ought to have sought formal written clarification" from the Treasury about how the funding mechanism for the RHI.

    She says it's hoped that "greater cooperation and improved communication" between Stormont departments will help to make sure that "some of the problems evidenced in this inquiry will not be repeated".

  4. Finance department begins making its closing statement

    It's time for the final closing statement of the day and this time it's from Stormont's Department of Finance.

    Christine Smith QC

    Its barrister Christine Smith QC begins by saying that she'll be "very brief" in what she has to say!

    The finance department, like other bodies, has already submitted a closing statement in writing, which you'll be able to find on the inquiry's website.

  5. 'Were civil servants being intimidated by ministerial advisers?'

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin raises an issue about ministerial advisers.

    They are civil servants, he says, "albeit a rather exotic or unusual form of civil servant".

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    Sir Patrick asks if there was "a real problem in intimidation of civil servants".

    DETI's barrister Neasa Murnaghan prefers to give that one a by ball: "I certainly have no instructions on that and it would be rather foolish of me to speculate in the absence of specific instructions."

    Further prompted by the chair, she accepts that "some compromises were unfortunately made".

  6. 'Solid leadership needed from top to bottom'

    DETI has learned many lessons from the RHI scheme debacle, says Neasa Murnaghan.

    It has "taken steps to ensure that in the future there is an appropriate levels of expertise" in the department.

    One consistent criticism of the civil service throughout the inquiry has been that many of the staff working on the RHI had little or no experience of energy matters or of the commercial world.

    A man with a briefcase

    "Having skilled and commercially aware staff will permit those same staff to identified the instances when it is appropriate for the department to obtain expert or even external appropriate recruitment to help in particular projects," explains the barrister.

    There is also a need to improve leadership within the economy department, she adds.

    "What is required is solid leadership... from the permanent secretary down to the most junior official and that will be demonstrated by the right attitude."

  7. 'Failures to keep records goes right across civil service'

    Failure to keep adequate records within the civil service was raised as a problem on an almost daily basis during the inquiry's oral hearings.

    Problems with Stormont's electronic archiving system also became painfully obvious.

    A boardroom

    DETI's barrister Neasa Murnaghan says those problems had "resonance and relevance for the entire Northern Ireland Civil Service".

    The department is taking part in a civil service programme to look at record keeping on a priority basis, she explains.

  8. 'Complex web of actions of DUP advisers unravelled'

    DETI's actions to cut the cost of the RHI scheme in 2015 after the big cracks in the budget appeared were "bedevilled with delays" and part of that was down to "the political side", says Neasa Murnaghan.

    The inquiry has "managed to unravel the complex webs" of the actions of DUP advisers and the impact that activity had on civil servants.

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    It has seen and heard evidence that suggests some party aides had a hand in delaying the introduction of cost controls at a key time when the budget was spiralling out of control.

    The claims have been rejected by Dr Andrew Crawford (above) and Timothy Johnston, who both advised Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and former first minister.

  9. 'Officials should've pressed Bell for quick action'

    Officials who had responsibility for the RHI scheme in summer 2015 had a "limited appreciation" of how it worked, says DETI's barrister.

    Jonathan Bell

    "More urgent action" should've been taken at that time to get the scheme's budget in order, adds Neasa Murnaghan, and civil servants should've pressed the then enterprise minister Jonathan Bell for action.

    The department's attempts in 2015 to obtain more money to fill the budgetary black hole of the scheme were "misguided" and "incorrect".

  10. 'If Ofgem saw a bear trap it should have warned DETI'

    DETI barrister Neasa Murnaghan contests some of the claims made by this afternoon by Ofgem's counsel Jason Beer.

    She says some of the warnings offered by Ofgem were not so clear cut as the administrators' QC had made out.

    The RHI Inquiry

    "Others are not absolved of a responsibility where they perceive a bear trap to warn us about it," says Ms Murnaghan.

    She says responsibility for the failure to set up an RHI oversight board should be shared between the department and Ofgem.

    Ofgem was also at fault for not passing on information gleaned from the similar RHI scheme that was running in Great Britain about the problem of claimants installing multiple boilers to maximise their subsidy income, she says.

  11. 'Misleading to only blame DETI for RHI disaster'

    The "lion's share of the failings" in the RHI scheme lie with DETI but it's "misleading" to only look at the department's role in it, says Neasa Murnaghan.

    There was a "very significant design flaw" in the initiative from its outset, she tells the inquiry.

    Cost and budgetary controls "should have been built into the scheme" from the start and DETI "missed many opportunities to correct the initial flaws" in the RHI.

    Burning wood pellets

    But an expert consultancy firm that received about £100,000 of public money to provide advice on setting up the scheme also needs to take some of the blame, according to the barrister.

    "Significant issues arose" from the advice provided to DETI by Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA), says Ms Murnaghan, and she refers to one senior figures at the firm accepting that its work on the scheme "could have been better".

    The department "relied very heavily" on that advice, adds DETI's legal representative.

  12. 'RHI failure has tarnished all civil servants' reputations'

    The catastrophic failure of the RHI scheme has "resulted in the work of all civil servants [and their] reputations being denigrated", accepts Neasa Murnaghan.

    But the economy department "hopes its candid admission in respect of its multiple failings" over the RHI and its "earnest promise to do better" should "assist in the restoration of public confidence" in the civil service, she says.

    The department's initial view, says the barrister, was that the problems that emerged with the RHI were the result of a systemic failure and that there had been a "series of independent and discrete individual human errors" that happened in such a sequence that the usual normal checks were "unable to prevent this scheme careering out of control".

    Peter Hutchinson

    But that view changed when DETI encountered emails from the whistleblower Janette O'Hagan, who warned that the scheme was open to abuse, and the RHI handover note written by civil servant Peter Hutchinson (above).

    She says "the spectre of future potential disciplinary action" has added to the pressure on a number of civil servants.

    The department has provided as much support as possible for its staff who have been affected, she adds.

  13. Economy department begins making its closing statement

    Neasa Murnaghan QC (below) is representing the Department for the Economy (DfE) - formerly known as the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

    She says the department has "strived... to cooperate fully with the inquiry".

    Neasa Murnaghan QC

    The inquiry has already received the department's written closing submission and if you're so inclinedyou can have a look through its near-200 pages here.

    The department reiterates its "very fulsome apologies that have already been made" by two of its former permanent secretaries, David Sterling and Dr Andrew McCormick, says Ms Murnaghan.

    And she says that DfE's current permanent secretary Noel Lavery accepts that the department "could have done more and should've done more".

  14. Inquiry resumes after lunch break

    The RHI Inquiry

    More closing statements to come this afternoon - press play on the video at the top of this page to watch the proceedings.

  15. Time for lunch...

    The inquiry will resume at 14:10 - join us again then.

  16. 'Police assistance advice an extraordinary development'

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin says Jason Beer's reference to Ofgem lawyer John Jackson as a "junior lawyer" may be a "straw in the wind" as to how the administrator responds to the questions it faces about how far it went to assist the PSNI.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    Mr Beer, the QC for Ofgem, says Mr Jackson's title was actually "senior legal adviser".

    Sir Patrick says that the information the inquiry heard this morning about Ofgem's response to the PSNI's request for information is a "rather extraordinary development".

  17. 'Can you draw broad conclusion from junior lawyer's advice?'

    It's over to the panel now and Dame Una O'Brien says she wants to know much more about how Ofgem handled a request from the PSNI for information about a former DUP adviser's RHI scheme application.

    The inquiry heard plenty about that this morning - long story short, an Ofgem lawyer advised a colleague against giving detectives some of the information it held about the ex-adviser's RHI boiler.

    Dame Una O'Brien

    Dame Una tells Ofgem's legal representative Jason Beer that she wants an answer to the question of whether Ofgem felt its handling of the police request "was an appropriate way to deal with" it.

    Mr Beer suggests it may not be appropriate for the inquiry to "draw broad conclusions" about Ofgem's "attitudes and cultures" on the basis "of a relatively junior lawyer's emailed advice in one case".

  18. 'DETI should've taken action to cure RHI flaws'

    The "speed and the volume" of applications to the RHI scheme during autumn 2015 "overtook the speed" at which the necessary legislative changes could be made to the initiative to cut its costs, says Jason Beer.

    A huge spike in applications came as news spread that the scheme's lucrative subsidies were being cut - people wanted to get signed up before that change came into effect and that caused the budget to burst.

    Janette O'Hagan

    Mr Beer says the leaking of the news of that change to the scheme was nothing to do with Ofgem.

    He also points out that DETI received information about the scheme's flaws from a "wide range of sources" - among those was Janette O'Hagan (above), who spoke directly to the department and who has been described as a whistleblower.

    He tells the inquiry panel: "We invite you to conclude that this ought to have caused it to have taken action to address or to cure the scheme's flaws."

  19. 'RHI scheme fundamentally flawed from outset'

    Ofgem sees several key problems that caused the projected vast overspent on the RHI scheme, says Jason Beer.

    "The design of the scheme was fundamentally flawed from the outset," he says.

    The first flaw - which is well known by now - is that the subsidy on offer "was set at a level which led to overcompensation and incentivised the burning of fuel".

    That was exacerbated by the absence of cost controls in the scheme, he says.

    A biomass boiler

    And there was an absence of any requirement regarding how the heat produced should be used - Mr Beer refers the panel to an Ofgem proposal that installations should produce useful heat.

    He also touches on the absence in the scheme's regulations of a definition in of heating system, which led to some claimants installing multiple boilers in order to maximise their subsidy income.

    Mr Beer says DETI was responsible for drafting the legislation that led to all of those problems.

    Ofgem reviewed the draft legislation and warned the department of the dangers of scheme exploitation, he adds.

  20. 'Our communication not as effective as it should've been'

    Ofgem accepts that it didn't communicate with DETI - the Stormont department that was running the RHI scheme - as "effectively as it should've done", accepts Jason Beer QC.

    He says Ofgem failed to share key material with DETI that about how the scheme was operating.

    And he admits that a failure to set up a joint board consisting of officials from Ofgem and DETI that would've had oversight of the scheme meant there was an "absence of governance" of the RHI.

    Mr Beer pins the blame for not setting up that board on the Stormont department but admits that Ofgem never insisted that it should be formed when it should've done so.

    Wood pellets

    But he rejects a suggestion by DETI that Ofgem didn't tell the department about its concerns about the scheme's weaknesses.

    DETI "failed absolutely" to act on early warnings from Ofgem - dating back as far back as autumn 2011, about a year before the scheme opened - about the design of the scheme.

    "We say these are not failures by Ofgem to communicate concerns... they are failures by those to who the concerns were communicated to heed them and act upon them."