Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: DUP SPAD 'stepping aside' from further involvement

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 economy minister's special adviser is stepping aside from any future involvement in the flawed RHI scheme after failing to declare a family link.

John Robinson's father-in-law receives payment from the energy scheme for two boilers.

In a statement obtained by the News Letter, the DUP said Mr Robinson had no role in his father-in-law's business.

It added he was stepping aside to avoid the "accusation or perception of a conflict of interest".

John Robinson is a key member of the DUP's backroom team - formally as the party's director of communications and now as special adviser to the economy Minister Simon Hamilton.

He was accused in the assembly by the former DUP Minister Jonathan Bell of interfering in the RHI scheme - an accusation he denied insisting he had no link to the scheme.

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

The DUP said the claims were "outrageous".

Image caption John Robinson is a special advisor to the Economy Minister Simon Hamilton, pictured

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

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.

The DUP has now confirmed that Mr Robinson did not inform the department of his father in law's involvement in the scheme as he felt there was no conflict of interest.

It said Mr Robinson regrets that this has allowed a situation to develop where there is a "perception of conflict".

"John has fully supported the minister's position for maximum legal transparency around the scheme," the statement added.

"Minister Hamilton and his special adviser have been fully focused on investigating alleged fraud and abuse of the RHI scheme, investigating why warning signs were not heeded and introducing cost control measures."

The DUP added that Mr Robinson "fully supports the establishment of a thorough inquiry into all aspects of the RHI Scheme" and said that when such a probe is established he will "co-operate fully with it and he is confident that his integrity will be upheld in any such investigation."

'No benefit'

In an earlier statement on Tuesday, Mr Robinson said: "I have never had any personal financial interest in the RHI Scheme".

"At no point have I ever advised anyone to join the Sse 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 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

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