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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. 'Whistleblower' Janette O'Hagan, who told Arlene Foster of flaws, gives evidence
  3. Inquiry set up after public concern over scheme's huge projected overspend
  4. Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Patrick Coghlin chairing inquiry at Stormont
  5. Public evidence sessions expected to last until well into 2018

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

That's all for now...

It's been a very revealing couple of days at the RHI Inquiry - thanks for joining us.

Stormont's Parliament Buildings
AFP

The inquiry won't sit next week, but will return on 20 February, when it'll hear from two of the DETI officials who were referred to over and over again today - Fiona Hepper and Peter Hutchinson.

Until then, it's goodbye from us!

What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News Northern Ireland

A businesswoman who tried to draw Arlene Foster's attention to a major flaw in the RHI scheme said it was a "complete disgrace" that one of her emails was published by the DUP on Twitter, the inquiry heard.

The party was given Janette's O'Hagan's correspondence to the former enterprise minister by a Stormont department when the scale of the scandal surrounding the scheme emerged in December 2016.

A radiator on a wall
Getty Images

Mrs O'Hagan, who's been described as a whistleblower after contacting Mrs Foster in 2013, felt she had been made out to be "a liar" by the party and the department.

The inquiry also heard that she met civil servants who were running the initiative and told them it was so lucrative she was surprised firms were not putting radiators on the outsides of their buildings.

'Cost controls absent from DETI policy paper'

Mr Aiken draws the inquiry's attention to a draft DETI policy response from February 2014 to a public consultaton on proposed changes the RHI scheme.

A biomass boiler
BBC

The consultation document of the previous year made reference to "biomass sustainability, metering arrangements and cost controls".

However, in the February 2014 document the references to biomass and metering remain, but cost controls are absent.

'Domestic RHI scheme never approved by EU'

DETI was intending to open an RHI scheme for domestic users in spring 2014.

It had believed that the initiative didn't need approval from the European Union under regulations about providing state aid for businesses, but that was incorrect - it did.

The department made that discovery in February 2014 when it noticed that the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), which had been running a similar scheme for domestic users in Great Britain, had applied for European approval.

A man arranging an union jack and an EU flag
Reuters

DECC told DETI civil servant Peter Hutchinson that the scheme was open to landlords and was therefore "likely to constitute state aid".

Mr Aiken describes that as an "important moment", explaining that one might expect Mr Hutchinson to have raised the matter with any number of key figures in his department, including the minister.

But the inquiry has found no evidence of that happening.

Asked by the inquiry panel if the European Commission was ever told of the domestic RHI scheme, Mr Aiken pauses and says: "I don't want to create another inquiry... no."

'Custom and practice not to minute Foster meetings'

It "had become custom and practice" the there to be no minutes of meetings between DETI's energy team and the minister Arlene Foster, the inquiry has been told.

Mr Aiken refers to one particular meeting in which the RHI scheme was discussed in February 2014, which was also attended by the department's then permanent secretary David Sterling and the minister's DUP adviser Andrew Crawford.

A boardroom
Getty Images

The lack of a written record raises a "whole series of questions", he says, including who decided it wouldn't be minuted and why that was allowed to continue.

He questions how such a meeting could take place "without there being any record" of what had happened or what instruction had been given, adding: "How could anyone remember what had occurred?"

The barrister says the issues he's drawing attention to are of a "potentially serious nature that the inquiry will need to look at".

'No mention of whistleblower concerns in briefing papers'

Mr Aiken's presentation is heavily laden with documents relating to internal DETI meetings.

He demonstrates that the briefing notes relating to an energy division heads-of-branch meeting at the end of January 2014 contain only three bullet points relating to the RHI scheme.

A man wwith a folder of documents
Getty Images

Those concern work with the initiative's administrator Ofgem.

There is nothing to indicate the concerns that had been expressed by the whistleblower Janette O'Hagan, who the inquiry heard from earlier, during her meeting with DETI officials three months previously.

Inquiry counsel outlining inquiry's second phase

We're up and running again after a quick lunch break.

The inquiry's junior counsel Joseph Aiken pops up to resume the gallop he began this week through the written evidence for the inquiry's second phase, which deals with the initial operation of the RHI scheme.

Joseph Aiken
RHI Aiken

He's looking at January 2014, when John Mills replaced Fiona Hepper as head of DETI's energy division.

With full respect to Mr Aiken, we can't promise that this bit will be as gripping as what we heard from Mrs O'Hagan before lunch...

'Important for ordinary people to be heard'

Chair Sir Patrick Coghlin gives fulsome thanks to Mrs O'Hagan for the evidence she's given to the inquiry.

"I know that earlier in this saga you were quite concerned about giving evidence," he says.

Wide view of senate chamber
RHI Inquiry

"It's terribly important that ordinary people from outside do get a voice and are listened to."

That session ran on a bit, so it's time for a quick lunch break - we'll be back at 14:10.

'I would blow whistle on RHI scheme again'

Mrs O'Hagan "wouldn't want to do" what she did about the RHI scheme again but "I would have to".

"I would have to, given the holes that were in the process, the issues that weren't picked up and the money that was wasted," she adds.

A microphone at Stormont's Great Hall
BBC

She says some journalists "did a really good job" in reporting the RHI catastrophe when it emerged to the public in December 2016 but others left her less than impressed.

"I never wanted any of the publicity in it - I just wanted to do the right thing."

'Inquiry will consider political control of civil servants'

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin says that Mrs O'Hagan feels "understandable resentment" that she believed she was dealing solely with the Department for the Economy.

He says her email was "then either released or spoken about by a purely political person" - the DUP's Nigel Dodds (below, centre) - "or a standpoint that was purely political"

Nigel Dodds
Reuters

Mr Scoffield says the inquiry will be looking at the position of the economy department and its officials under the direction and control of the minster, "who obviously is a party political figure".

He notes that at that stage the minister was the DUP's Simon Hamilton.

'Worries about impact on young family from RHI storm'

Mrs O'Hagan said she didn't want to be identified by the DUP or the economy department because she had a "young family and a young business and I'm trying to protect both".

She was worried about "any adverse impact that could've came from me being linked to the downfall of the RHI".

Janette O'Hagan
RHI Inquiry

She said it was a "really, really anxious time" when she was "thrown into that media storm" and people were even calling at her office.

She "buried my head" when newspapers contacted her because "I didn't know what to do", but journalists were "respectful" and were trying to help her remain anonymous.

'DUP and Stormont department made me out as a liar'

In what she describes as a "very angry" email to Stormont's Department for the Economy (DfE) - formerly DETI - Mrs O'Hagan said that it and the DUP had made "me out as a liar" about the RHI scheme.

She told a DfE official that "you did not ask nor get my consent" to allow the DUP to release her email.

"I clearly added that if anyone was going to release my correspondence that they had better protect my identity," she said.

Stormont's Parliament Buildings
AFP

She accused the DUP of "very poor redaction" and said she had been contacted by "all sorts" as a result of it, adding: "It has put me in a very difficult position."

Mrs O'Hagan said she took "great offence" at some of what the DUP and the economy department had said about her and she demanded that their statements would be "publicly retracted".

"I have not and will never lie about what has happened," she added.

'DUP release of my email a complete disgrace'

Mrs O'Hagan said it was a "complete disgrace" when the emails she had sent to Arlene Foster in 2013 were published on Twitter by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in December 2016.

The party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds published one of the emails, saying it "nails the myth" that Mrs Foster "failed to follow up on whistleblower concerns" about the RHI scheme.

View more on twitter

He said the email "raised no concerns" about the scheme and he claimed it was the "only contact with the minister".

But that was incorrect - as we heard earlier, Mrs O'Hagan sent two emails to Mrs Foster.

'Really shocked when my email appeared on TV'

Mrs O'Hagan was "really, really shocked" when an email she'd sent to DETI appeared on the BBC's Spotlight investigation programme about the RHI debacle that was broadcast in December 2016.

The presenter Conor Spackman read from what he described as "a previously unseen email from a whistleblower that was ignored by Arlene Foster's department".

Mrs O'Hagan says she'd sat down to watch the programme "with a cup of tea and a biscuit" and was astonished when she saw words she'd written years earlier appear on screen.

The BBC Spotlight logo
BBC

She adds that Spotlight had not been in contact with her about the programme.

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin notes that "this email could only have come from a government source".

Mrs O'Hagan believes the email Spotlight had obtained was one she'd sent to Mr Hutchinson.

'I was raging when DETI said it hadn't changed scheme'

Mrs O'Hagan was "raging" and it was "like a red rag to a bull" when she was told by DETI that it hadn't implemented changes to the RHI scheme two years after she raised her concerns about it.

In a forthright reply to the department, she said that it was "really disappointing" and she was having an "uphill struggle".

Burning wood pellets
Getty Images

She tells the inquiry that "they were being told time and time and time again about this".

She felt at that point that she was going to give up because "I can't change it - it's outside my control".

'More and more obvious scheme hadn't changed'

In spite of the assurance from DETI in June 2014 that it was aware of her concerns, Mrs O'Hagan says she saw no changes to the RHI scheme in the months that followed.

That prompted her to get in touch with the department again in March 2015, when she asked what had been happening.

Janette O'Hagan
RHI Inquiry

She said the subsidy on offer through the RHI scheme was having a "huge adverse impact" on her business and there needed to be a "motivation to save" energy, adding that she was "passionate about this issue".

She tells the inquiry that she had to make those points again because it was "more and more obvious" that she'd seen no "appetite on the ground" for people to save energy.

'Hope when DETI said concerns on its radar'

After not hearing back from Mr Hutchinson, Mrs O'Hagan says that in her "persistency" she decided to contact his former boss Mrs Hepper in June 2014.

But she was told that there had been an overhaul of the staff on DETI's energy team, and all three of the civil servants she'd met the previous October had moved elsewhere.

A risk flow-chart
Getty Images

She says she was relieved and hopeful when she was told by the department that the issues she'd raised were "on our radar" and that she would be kept "up to date".

She tells the inquiry: "I almost thought: 'I can let it go now... I don't have any more responsibility to raise this.'"

'Not a dickie bird in reply from DETI official'

In May 2014, Mrs O'Hagan sent another email to Mr Hutchinson to reiterate the concerns she'd expressed about the RHI scheme at the meeting with DETI the previous October.

In the email, she said "there is no incentive at all to be efficient" and the "heat in buildings is on all year round with windows open everywhere".

View across the senate chamber
RHI Inquiry

"When we had spoken you did not believe this, but please believe me, this is happening with almost everyone we approach," she added.

Mrs O'Hagan says that by the time she sent that email she was "really, really certain that this was happening".

But she got "not a dickie bird" in reply from Mr Hutchinson.

'Blind man on horse would've noticed errors'

A man on a horse
Getty Images

A "blind man on a galloping horse" would've caught on to the concerns that Mrs O'Hagan was telling the DETI officials about the RHI scheme.

She says it was their responsibility to keep an eye on the scheme - it was "their nine-to-five" - and to talk to people in the industry about it and pick up on how it was being promoted.

'Civil servants had evidence at their fingertips'

Mrs O'Hagan says the DETI officials' have emphasised in their evidence to the inquiry that there was a lack of proof to support the claims she was making about the RHI scheme, but she says it wasn't her job to find it.

"Effectively, I was raising something - it was their job to follow it up, they had the evidence at their fingertips."

Peter Hutchinson
RHI Inquiry

Mrs Hepper and Mr Hutchinson (above) have told the inquiry that the information Mrs O'Hagan provided to them was "anecdotal or hypothetical", says counsel Mr Scoffield.

But Mrs O'Hagan says that she was outlining actual experiences she had on the ground, and neither civil servant asked her for evidence that they could follow up on.

"I didn't think they were hungry for the evidence, to be honest."

'I didn't meet DETI to bad-mouth boiler firms'

Mrs O'Hagan says she's unhappy about how she was "portrayed" in the evidence given to the inquiry by two of the DETI officials she met.

She says that Mrs Hepper and Mr Hutchinson have claimed that her "main driver" was to "bad-mouth" to them that biomass boiler firms were trying to "put people off energy efficiency products" like hers.

A biomass boilr
BBC

"That was never, ever said... I didn't like that," she tells the inquiry, explaining that one such firm - BS Holdings - wanted to find a way to work with her to promote her product.

She describes their view as "inaccurate" and a "sweeping statement".

'Consultation left no room to voice concern'

Mrs O'Hagan was advised by DETI to make her views about the RHI scheme known through the public consultation on the initiative.

When she looked at the consultation document and discovered it was primarily concerned with the new domestic RHI scheme she felt there was no place for her to make a response.

A woman working on a computer
Getty Images

Mr Scoffield asks Mrs O'Hagan who did most of the talking at the meeting she had with DETI.

She says it was her and she presented her concerns "animatedly so and passionately".

'Flaw blatantly obvious if DETI had looked'

Had DETI looked into her concerns about the RHI scheme it would've been "blatantly obvious" what the flaw was, says Mrs O'Hagan.

She says she doesn't know "how they could've missed the point" of what she was trying to tell them about the flaw in the RHI scheme.

A magnifying glass
Getty Images

"I question myself this a lot, and again and again I just don't understand."

She felt she "didn't really achieve anything" when she came out of the meeting.

'I came away thinking they didn't believe me'

Delving deeper into the events at the DETI meeting, Mrs O'Hagan says she had no sensation that the officials were pushing her for more information.

"I came away from that meeting thinking: 'They don't believe me; they don't take on board what I'm saying; I've been kind of dismissed'," she adds.

The RHI Inquiry
RHI Inquiry

Inquiry panel member Dr Keith MacLean asks if there was "a united front" among the DETI officials.

"Oh, definitely," says the witness.

'Windows open everywhere in RHI buildings'

Mrs O'Hagan told DETI that businesses she visited had the "heating kept on all year round with the windows open everywhere" due to the RHI scheme.

According to a record of the meeting that she put together in 2016 from emails from 2013, she also said that scheme claimants were "using more energy than before because it pays them to do so".

A smoking chimney
Getty

She also pointed out that there was "no incentive for them to be efficient".

She says she also told DETI that she was surprised some people weren't "mounting radiators on the outside" of their buildings in order to claim the scheme's overgenerous subsidy.

But those concerns were dismissed by the civil servants.

'Official's dismissal of RHI abuse will stay with me until I die'

Janette O'Hagan
RHI Inquiry

Mrs O'Hagan told the DETI officials of the "potential abuse" of the RHI scheme but she says Mrs McCutcheon told her: 'We don't think people will do that.'

That statement will "stay with me to the day I die", says the witness.

'Meeting energy team was important for me'

DETI's energy team that was working directly on the RHI scheme met Mrs O'Hagan in October 2013.

She says she wanted to highlight DETI's error in making the scheme so lucrative.

people looking at charts
Getty Images

Along with Mrs Hepper, the meeting was also attended by the two most hands-on civil servants dealing with the scheme, Peter Hutchinson and Joanne McCutcheon.

Mrs O'Hagan says it was an "important meeting for me" because "its not every day you get invited up there... and get an audience with the energy team".

'I didn't feel DETI did due diligence'

Many people wouldn't know the correct procedures for complaining when grievances raised with public bodies aren't investigated, says Mrs O'Hagan, and a more effective route is to "go to the media".

DETI logo
DETI

"If somebody came to me in my business with concerns like that... I would certainty look into what that person was saying and I would do my due diligence."

She criticises the DETI officials, saying: "I didn't feel that was being done from them."

'Foster offered meeting with RHI scheme team'

In reply to one of the initial emails, Mrs Foster sent a letter back to Mrs O'Hagan, saying that she couldn't meet due to a busy schedule, but she invited her to meet DETI energy boss Fiona Hepper and the team that was working directly on the RHI scheme.

There was no more contact between Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Hagan.

David Scoffield
RHI Inquiry

Mr Scoffield notes that Mrs O'Hagan became increasingly frustrated in her dealings with the DETI officials, and he asks her why she didn't go back to the minister with her concerns.

She says she had other priorities - trying to build her business and see to her family - and she felt she had already brought the issue to the minister's attention.

"That's their job [to investigate it] - I can't really do any more", she adds.

'Foster didn't forward on email detailing RHI misuse'

Explaining the difference between the emails, Mrs O'Hagan says that because she was writing to the minister in the second one she wanted to "really add a bit more meat to the bones" and get her to "pay attention" to it.

But before receiving replies to the first two emails, she sent a third at the start of September 2013 - again directly to Mrs Foster and again requesting a meeting.

A biomass boiler
BBC

In that email she said that potential customers were not only losing interest in becoming energy efficient but RHI "pays them to use them as much as they can".

"In fact the incentive to use more is leading to misuse in some cases."

Crucially, that email was not forwarded by Mrs Foster to her officials at DETI, like she had done with the previous one she received.

'Foster told that people not interested in efficiency'

The inquiry moves on to the key aspect of Mrs O'Hagan's involvement in the RHI scheme - her emails to DETI and Arlene Foster.

She says she got "fed up one day" and needed to say something so she sent the emails.

An email inbox
Getty Images

The first was sent to DETI's general information address in August 2013, and she asked for a meeting with the minister to discuss how her product could work alongside the "sustainability" of the RHI scheme.

On the same day, he also sent a broadly similar email to Mrs Foster's constituency address, again asking for a meeting.

She also explained to the minister that the benefits of the scheme meant "many of our potential customers are no longer interested in becoming more efficient".

'Boiler firm's promotion at odds with our product'

Mrs O'Hagan contacted a boiler manufacturing and installation firm called BS Holdings to discuss the RHI scheme.

As the inquiry heard yesterday when its boss Brian Hood gave evidence, the firm produced promotional material marketing its products through the RHI scheme.

One of the slogans the company used was "20 years of free heat", and some of the material outlined how claimants could collect almost £1,500 from the scheme for every £1,000 they spent on fuel.

Wood pellets
Getty Images

BS Holdings sent some of the material to Mrs O'Hagan and she says she wasn't shocked when she saw it because people were well aware of the scheme's benefits.

She tells the inquiry that BS Holdings was keen to discuss a potential business partnership but that "never really came to anything because what we did was at odds with what they were promoting".

Asked if she showed any of the promotional material to DETI when she met its officials, she said she didn't but there was "no appetite" from them for evidence to back up her claims.

'Bee in my bonnet about lack of cost control'

There was a "bee in my bonnet" about how lucrative the RHI scheme that prompted her to email DETI and its minister Arlene Foster about her concerns, says Mrs O'Hagan.

She did her research on the similar heating initiative that was running in Great Britain, which had a crucial cost control in place called tariff tiering.

Cash
Getty Images

That works by dropping the subsidy rate on offer once a certain limit of heat usage has been reached, with the intention of preventing a claimant from overusing their heating system to collect more cash.

She says she knew the scheme needed that mechanism because without it people "were burning for profit".

'Snowball of things happening around RHI'

Mrs O'Hagan sent an email to the then DETI minister Arlene Foster on 26 August 2013 after she had detected "a snowball of things happening" regarding RHI scheme.

View across the senate chamber
RHI Inquiry

She had been noticing those things since the early part of 2013, and she tells the inquiry that something had emerged that "broke the camel's back", but she can't remember what that was.

"I would have talked to anybody about it and I did... right thorough from consultants to installers to general people within the energy industry," she says.

'I spotted RHI scheme's generosity immediately'

When she was promoting her product in 2013, Mrs O'Hagan went to trade fairs and noticed that her "target market" had a "distinct lack of interest" in saving energy if they were installing biomass boilers through the RHI scheme

She says their attitude was: "'What would I do that for? Sure I'm getting paid to heat.'"

Burning wood pellets
BBC

That prompted her to look on DETI's website to check the subsidy the scheme was offering, and she "immediately" saw that it "can't be right".

She says she's "passionate" about energy efficiency and was "worried" about what she saw because it appeared to incentivise wasteful use of heat.

'Didn't consider myself a whistleblower'

Mrs O'Hagan explains that she didn't consider herself to be a whistleblower because she understood that term to mean a person in an organisation who has "insider information about something that is done wrong within" it.

But in the case of the RHI scheme, she says the information was freely available to the public.

Janette O'Hagan
RHI Inquiry

She says that she went directly to the Department of Ehterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), which was responsible for the scheme, rather than going to the media, like a typical whistleblower may have done.

"Because it was public knowledge it didn't feel [I was a whistleblower]."

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin says the term is "meaningless" as far as he's concerned.

New witness Janette O'Hagan gives evidence

Mrs O'Hagan runs a County Antrim firm called Okotech, which specialises in developing energy-efficient heating controls.

Her product, called Heatboss, allows companies to wirelessly control heating in different rooms, the idea being to make commercial buildings more energy efficient and therefore reduce heating bills.

Janette O'Hagan
RHI Inquiry

She was trying to market her product shortly after the RHI scheme was introduced and became interested in the scheme because it appeared to disincentivise energy efficiency.

That was the basis of her contact with DETI between August 2013 and March 2015.

You can find Mrs O'Hagan's written witness statement on the inquiry's website.

What happened yesterday at the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News Northern Ireland

On a lively day at the inquiry, a biomass boiler buinessman claimed that civil servants want to spread the blame for the disaster of the RHI scheme so that it doesn't all fall on them.

The RHI Inquiry
RHI Inquiry

Brian Hood's companies sold heating systems, and he rejected a Department for the Economy claim that there was a "conspiracy of silence" in his industry about the flaws in the scheme.

"They want to spread the net out and spread the blame to everybody as much as they can," he said.

What is the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News Northern Ireland

An independent inquiry into the RHI scandal was established in January last year by the then finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

He ordered it in the wake of the huge public concern and what was then a developing political crisis surrounding the scheme.

The RHI Inquiry began in November and Sir Patrick Coghlin (below), a retired Court of Appeal judge, is its chair and has been given full control over how it will operate.

Sir Patrick Coghlin
Pacemaker

It will look at:

  • the design and introduction of the RHI scheme
  • the scheme's initial operation, administration, promotion and supervision
  • the introduction of revised subsidies and a usage cap for new scheme claimants in 2015
  • the scheme's closure

For more information on the RHI Inquiry, you can read our handy Q&A.

RHI scheme - the fallout

When the scale of the overspend emerged, public and political concern rocketed.

As the minister in charge of the Stormont department that set up the RHI scheme, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster faced calls to resign from her role as Northern Ireland's first minister in December 2016.

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster
PA

She resisted, and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness then quit as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of what had by then become a full-blown political crisis.

That move brought about the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. Now, more than a year on from that, Northern Ireland remains without a devolved administration.

You can find much more detail on the RHI scheme in our need-to-know guide.