Northern Ireland

DUP adviser Robinson has RHI boiler family link

Mr Robinson Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Mr Robinson (pictured) said his father-in-law applied to the scheme in August 2015, before he was married in October

The father-in-law of former DUP director of communications John Robinson runs two green energy boilers under a botched energy scheme.

On Monday, Mr Robinson, who now advises the economy minister, denied any family links to the Renewable Heat Incentive.

MLA Jonathan Bell said he was told he could not challenge the scheme because two DUP special advisers had "extensive interests in the poultry industry".

Mr Bell made the allegation on Monday, speaking under parliamentary privilege.

The DUP said the claims were "outrageous".

But on Tuesday, Mr Robinson told the Press Association his father-in-law applied to the scheme in August 2015, before he was married in October.

'No benefit'

"I have never had any personal financial interest in the RHI Scheme," he said in a statement.

"At no point have I ever advised anyone to join the Scheme or sought to benefit in any way from it.

"Neither my wife nor I have ever had any role in the business nor have we received any benefit, financial or otherwise, from the business.

"I was appointed as an adviser in the Department for the Economy in June 2016. I was not involved in any aspect of the RHI Scheme prior to taking up the post."

The other adviser named by Mr Bell, Timothy Johnston, also denied his claims.

MLAs were debating the RHI scheme at Stormont.

The RHI scheme was set up by former first minister Arlene Foster in 2012 when she was enterprise minister.

Its aim was to increase consumption of heat from renewable sources.

However, businesses received more in subsidies than they paid for fuel, and the scheme became heavily oversubscribed.

It could lead to an overspend of £490m over the next 20 years.

Image caption The RHI scheme could lead to an overspend of £490m over the next 20 years

Mr Bell said when he was enterprise minister his special adviser, Timothy Cairns, told him "he will not be allowed to reduce the tariff on (the RHI) scheme" because of Mr Johnston and Mr Robinson's "extensive interests in the poultry industry".

He added that he has "kept the records in many, many formats" and that he had been suspended from the party for "telling the truth".

He also claimed that Mr Robinson and Dr Andrew Crawford, a DUP party adviser, had issued instructions to "try not to get Arlene called to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)" and "under no circumstance allow Jonathan Bell to be called" over their roles in the RHI scheme.

On Monday the DUP said that neither Mr Johnston nor Mr Robinson have interests in the poultry industry, and added that Mr Robinson's "family home farm have chicken houses but are not part of the RHI scheme and never have been recipients or applicants".

'No personal interest'

Mr Johnston, the special adviser to Arlene Foster when she was first minister, said: "I have no family connections to the poultry industry and I have no connection to the RHI scheme.

"These are unsubstantiated allegations. I have two brothers-in-law in the poultry industry. They have no connection to RHI."

Mr Robinson, special adviser to Economy Minister Simon Hamilton, said: "I have no personal interest in the poultry industry. Two of my brothers are poultry farmers but they have no connections to RHI."

Dr Crawford, a former special adviser to the Department of Finance, told the BBC last month that his brother is the director of a company which successfully applied to the RHI scheme.

He said: "I never sought to keep the RHI scheme open at the original higher tariff against the wishes of the minister."

Overspend

Mr Bell broke ranks with his party and made serious allegations against the DUP over the scheme's operation in a BBC interview in December.

He claimed that DUP advisers had attempted to remove Mrs Foster's name from documents linked to RHI.

Mr Bell was later suspended from the DUP.

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