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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. Moy Park executive David Mark and former boss Janet McCollum face questions
  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 into autumn 2018

Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

That's all from the RHI Inquiry for this summer...

Stormont's Parliament Buildings
AFP

Mr Lunny's high hopes of cramming both Moy Park witnesses into one day comes crashing into the buffers of Sir Patrick Coghlin's unbreakable rule that the inquiry knocks off early on Fridays.

Ms McCollum will have to come back another time and so will we but not until the inquiry reconvenes on 4 September.

Time to rush out the door and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Have a great summer!

What happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News NI

Poultry giant Moy Park got an "indirect benefit" from the RHI scheme, the inquiry was told.

It allowed a "significant gap" to emerge between what its suppliers were spending on heat and the fuel allowance it provided them.

A Moy Park sign
BBC

And that meant it did not have to make up the difference straight away, to the advantage of the company.

Mr Lunny suggested the company had viewed the farmers' RHI payments as an income "safety net".

But senior executive David Mark denied that and said Moy Park had tried to encourage "responsible" use of heat by their suppliers.

'Moy Park bosses never discussed RHI scheme'

Janet McCollum
RHI Inquiry

Moy Park's executives didn't ever discuss the RHI scheme and the assistance it offered to the company's farmers in modernising their heating systems, says Ms McCollum.

She says that the modernising of suppliers' new heating systems was a factor in increasing the firm's overall performance.

the witness says she first became aware of the tension between the company and its farmers about the shortfall between the fuel subsidy it offered and the fuel they were using - as discussed at length with Mr Mark today - in early 2017.

New witness Janet McCollum gives evidence

Janet McCollum takes the oath
RHI Inquiry

With the close of play approaching, it'll be a short appearance before the inquiry for Janet McCollum, the recently departed chief executive of Moy Park.

She was with the firm since 1993, rising to chief financial offer and then becoming chief executive at the start of 2014.

You'll find her witness statement on the inquiry's website here.

'Harvesting RHI subsidies rather than growing chicken'

One prominent poultry producer was referred to as a "top class RHI farmer!!!!!!" by Mr Mark in an internal Moy Park email in 2015.

The comment was made in relation to Tom Forgrave (below), who appeared before the inquiry last week.

Mr Lunny says the comment could be interpreted as a suggestion that "their primary purpose" was "harvesting" RHI subsidies rather than growing chickens.

Tom Forgrave
RHI Inquiry

Mr Mark says he couldn't see the justification in installing small and expensive biomass boilers in a shed rather than one biomass boiler and a cheaper gas-powered boiler.

When it's suggested by the inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin that the reason might've been that it was done "to make money from RHI, the witness says he "couldn't see any other explanation to it" but he had no evidence to support his "concern".

Mr Forgrave told the inquiry last week that he was "shocked" by the comment and said Mr Mark had made an "awful assumption... to label me the way he has".

'Mr Mark's contacts with DUP adviser Andrew Crawford'

Mr Mark is asked about his engagements with Andrew Crawford.

He met the DUP adviser at Dr Crawford's brother's farm in late July 2015.

Neither of them recalls any discussion of RHI.

"It was really pleasantries and then we moved on," the witness said.

Andrew Crawford
RHI Inquiry

On 4 August, just a few days later, Mr Mark forwarded internally within Moy Park, information that he said he got from "a contact in government".

This was a warning from from a boiler installer, BSH, that DETI were proposing to change the tariff to tackle abuse of the scheme - effectively encouraging customers to hurry up with their applications.

The BSH warning had been sent to Dr Crawford on 3 August, the day before Mr Mark forwarded it within Moy Park.

Mr Lunny asks if it was likely that Mr Mark received the document from Dr Crawford.

The witness says he can see the logic of that but he has no record or memory of it.

The alternative government sources would have been Stuart Wightman or Seamus Hughes.

'Thanks for influence in holding off RHI closure'

The RHI scheme was due to close on 16 February 2016 but there was a two-week delay to that and it eventually shut at the end of that month.

In an email, Moy Park's then chief executive Janet McCollum wrote to Mr Mark and his colleague Mike Mullan: "Thank you for all your encouragement and involvement in securing this extension - well done."

An email inbox
Getty Images

Asked what role he had in extending the scheme, Mr Mark says: "I honestly have no recollection."

He denies meeting any DUP advisers at that time: "They're not areas in which I would have mixed."

'Set boiler up to heat small radiator'

In January 2016 it was rumoured that the RHI scheme would close in March that year - by January cost controls had come into effect and the scheme was less generous that it had been.

Mr Mark wrote in an internal email that his "best guess" was that its farmers could get "150 to 200 boilers fitted in this window".

A radiator
Getty Images

Mr Lunny says it looks like Moy Park was "pulling out all the stops" and it also fitted four boilers at its own premises - two in broiler houses and two in hatcheries.

In an email, Mr Mark instructed that because time was tight the boilers in the hatcheries should be quickly set up to "heat a small radiator" in order to get them qualified for the RHI subsidy and the full heating system could be set up later.

'Can we exert influence to soften closure of RHI?'

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ministerial adviser Dr Andrew Crawford (below) told Moy Park in January 2016 that the RHI scheme would soon be closing.

Moy Park executive Alan Gibson sent an internal email - marked "in absolute confidence" - that stated that a "final push [is] needed on our own farms and contract growers" to get farmers signed up to the scheme.

Dr Andrew Crawford
BBC

Mr Mark and Moy Park executive Mike Mullan discussed by email what "influence we can exert to soften the blow of future plans".

Mr Mullen suggested that they "could go up and see Mr Crawford!" - a reference to the DUP adviser.

'Moy Park farmers made up almost third of RHI spike'

Internal emails from Moy Park show that there was a push from the firm to speed up farmers' applications for the RHI scheme.

In one, Mr Mark wrote: "If we delay and they miss funding it will be bad for morale and a missed opportunity for [Moy Park].

David Mark
RHI Inquiry

The firm's own calculations show that its farmers - 298 in total - accounted for 31.3% of the spike in applications to the scheme in the last five months of 2015, which caused the vast projected overspend on the scheme.

The inquiry barrister Mr Lunny says that's a "significant portion" of the spike but Mr Mark sees it a different way, noting that about "70% of the spike is not Moy Park".

"While we were very much a contributor to the spike we didn't feel we were the driver of the spike."

'200 boilers due to be installed in two months'

Moy Park was anticipating at the end of July 2015 that about 200 poultry sheds would be fitted with biomass boilers on the RHI scheme in August and September that year.

At the start of July the firm had told DETI that it was expecting 180 installations across the whole year.

A person operating a biomass boiler
Getty Images

The changes to make the scheme less lucrative were due to take effect in October and Mr Mark says that once people knew that "it was clear" that they "were going to try and get in before" the deadline.

He tells the inquiry that he "didn't think" to inform DETI that the numbers of its suppliers who were about sign up to the scheme was going to increase dramatically.

'Contacts between Moy Park and DETI'

Moy Park had interaction in 2015 with DETI - the department running the RHI scheme - about planned changes to the initiative in autumn that year that would make it less lucrative.

In February, Mr Mark informed DETI official Stuart Wightman that Moy Park was expecting the owners of 200 new poultry houses to join the RHI scheme, each with 99kW boilers that would qualify for the most lucrative subsidy on offer.

Stuart Wightman
RHI Inquiry

The next month, Mr Wightman told him that no changes to the scheme were expected until October and that the new legislation would allow for a reduction in the subsidies.

In April, Mr Mark gave another DETI official Seamus Hughes details of Moy Park's poultry sheds, the number that were operating with biomass boilers and those planned for the future.

In early July, Mr Mark had another conversation with Mr Wightman - his note of the meeting contains the words "over-budget".

Time for lunch...

Mr Lunny is about to launch into another area of interest when Sir Patrick butts in to remind time that it's time for lunch.

"Time flies when you're having a wonderful time," he jokes.

We'll be back at 14:00.

'Moy Park didn't discuss knock-on benefit of RHI'

There was a "potential indirect benefit" for Moy Park if the RHI scheme was making up for the shortfall between what the firm was offering as a fuel allowance as the amount of fuel its suppliers were using, says Mr Lunny.

But Mr Mark denies that the firm discussed that.

Pound coins
Getty Images

He insists that it didn't want to overcompensate its farmers and therefore it had to reduce the allowance because it had no firm evidence of how much fuel they were using.

"Genuinely... we were trying to ensure that we got this thing right and we didn't inadvertently inflate heat."

'RHI never intended to subsidise poultry production'

The RHI scheme was never intended to be a subsidy for the poultry industry, notes Dr MacLean.

Mr Mark had said in his March 2014 email that a significant drop in income for a farmer's poultry was "not an unrecoverable disaster" because the money they would earn from the scheme would cover much of it.

Dr Keith MAcLean
RHI Inquiry

Dr MacLean tells him that the scheme was therefore subsiding renewable heat production - as had been intended - and also poultry farming as a whole.

"That's surely not what the RHI was ever designed to do."

'RHI income a big safety net for farmers'

There was an ongoing tension between Moy Park and its farmers about what the fuel allowance should be, agrees Mr Mark.

But he says the firm never had any discussion about how farmers were making up for the shortfall between their allowance and the cost of the hat they were using in the poultry production.

Chickens
Getty Images

And nor was there any talk about how the RHI scheme could be making up for the shortfall or how it could be used as a safety net for farmers in that context, he says.

But in an email he wrote in March 2014 he referred to the income from the scheme as a "big safety net" for farmers in terms of reduced income for birds for inefficient farmers.

He explains that that's a different context to the fuel allowance and had "nothing to do with the amount of heat they were using".

'Moy Park knew it was pitching low fuel allowance'

Evidence suggests that Moy Park knew there was a real risk that what it was allowing its farmers for fuel costs was significantly less that what was being used, says Mr Lunny.

And Sir Patrick Coghlin says he can't "see any escape from the fact" that the firm decided to do that to benefit itself.

Burning wood pellets
BBC

Inquiry panellist Dr Keith MacLean asks if Moy Park was consistently pitching its fuel allowance to farmers "much, much lower" than the level of heat they were using because it believed the heat was being used wastefully.

Mr Mark says the firm was trying to "guard against" irresponsible use of heat.

'Moy Park wouldn't encourage inflation of heat'

Inquiry panel member Dame Una O'Brien gets to the nub of the discussion of fuel price calculations.

She asks whether Moy Park believed it could slash its fuel alloances for farmers to the "absolute minimum" because the firm knew its suppliers had a separate, substantial income from the RHI scheme that would cover the drop.

Dame Una O'Brien
RHI Inquiry

Mr Mark rejects that, saying that his view was the direct opposite.

"We can't be seen to encourage inflation of heat because we saw that was one of the issues on the RHI scheme," he says, adding that the firm wanted to see responsible heat usage.

'Gap in Moy Park's fuel allowance for farmers?'

Moy Park paid an allowance to its farmers to help pay for fuel, based based on the fuel usage on their farms from the previous year.

Before the introduction of biomass Moy Park supplied the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) - the firm knew how much was being used and how much poultry was being produced by each farmer.

But the firm did not control the supply of biomass pellets and Mr Mark says farmers refused to give Moy Park details of their use of biomass, therefore leaving it without the same evidence base for that fuel as it had for LPG use.

David Mark
RHI Inquiry

Fueling a hot water heating system was more expensive than the old gas boilers.

Mr Lunny asks Mr Mark whether he agrees that since biomass systems have been introduced there has been a significant shortfall between the fuel allowance and the cost of the fuel farmers have to use.

The witness accepts that there is a possibility that there was a shortfall.

'Firm's pricing structure drove farmers to RHI'

Moy Park's poultry farmers had to switch to modern heating systems for their sheds if they wanted to stay competitive, which drove many them to the RHI scheme.

The firm's pricing structure was a complex one based on an industry costs average - as production efficiency improved on more farms and costs reduced, the price growers were being given for their chickens was reduced.

Chickens in a shed
Getty Images

Farmers who hadn't updated their heating systems were therefore earning less because their production costs were higher - they were then under pressure to make the switch.

Mr Mark accepts that's true, saying that the industry has "relentless requirement for efficiency" and the drive was to "keep people making investment" in their farms.

'Moy Park warned that burning to earn was illegal'

Panel member Dame Una O'Brien raises a point made by poultry farmer Tom Forgrave when he gave evidence last week.

Concerns were raised about the working conditions of the catchers whose job was to remove poultry from the sheds - it appeared that the boilers were still set to high temperatures when they should've been switched off.

Burning wood pellets
BBC

Mr Mark says Moy Park was aware of the potential "weakness" in the scheme "that it gave that incentive to overuse" heat.

The witness says the company warned farmers that they needed to be responsible in their use of heat.

It also reminded them that the scheme could be policed and that generating heat for the primary purpose of getting payments was illegal, he adds.

'Swag bag outside makes for perfect chicken house'

An idea of the "perfect chicken house" was laid out in a Moy Park presentation given to poultry farmers in February 2013.

In an image on one of the slides, a bag labelled "swag" sits outside a poultry shed next to a plump chicken.

A bag of swag
Getty Images

The inquiry barrister Mr Lunny suggests it could mean the rewards on offer from the RHI scheme were very high.

"You could certainly say that," replies Mr Mark, "or you could also assume it's saying that there's a lot of money being pumped into big landowners who are getting the benefit of some of these schemes."

'More money in burning pellets than raising chicken!'

Wood pellets
PA

Mr Mark wrote in an internal Moy Park email in July 2014: "More money in burning [wood] pellets than raising chicken!"

It became clear that the returns from the RHI scheme were much greater than Moy Park had set out in its promotional material - the £10,000 a year estimate the firm had made in 2013 was a very conservative one.

The witness says that factors such as the increase in the amount of heat farmers needed to use in their poultry houses and a drop in the price of biomass fuel "improved the performance" of the scheme for claimants.

'We thought big RHI rewards wouldn't last'

Moy Park could see that the RHI scheme wasn't going to last because the firm believed the rewards it offered would be dropped as more people signed up, says Mr Park.

Newsletters issued by the firm to its farmers urged them to get on board early.

One read: "The RHI scheme is still open for new applicants but there's no guarantee this will remain open indefinitely so those who go early will ensure they get the 20-year contract!"

A biomass boiler
BBC

In November 2013 Moy Park began giving presentations encouraging the switch to biomass heating - those invited included farmers, banks and Invest NI, Northern Ireland's economic development agency.

Invest NI - a non-departmental public body - was even sent an email explaining the short payback times available through the scheme.

In a presentation that Mr Mark gave in Ballymena in County Antrim and Dungannon in County Tyrone in October 2014, he said the scheme offered "great payback".

'Moy Park actively encouraged farmers to consider RHI'

Moy Park's first analysis of the RHI scheme in 2013 gave an indication that the cost of installing a biomass boiler could be recouped within three years.

Mr Mark tells the inquiry that a boiler may have typically cost about £30,000 and a conservative use of it gave the potential to earn £10,000 a year from the scheme.

Moy Park
BBC

The firm was "actively encouraging" its farmers to consider signing up to the scheme, he says.

"We saw it as a bona fide scheme; we saw it suited the poultry industry; we felt it was something we should advise them to look at."

'Farmers flocking to biomass just after RHI opened'

As early as March 2014 Mr Mark observed in an internal Moy Park email that poultry farmers were "flocking" to biomass-powered heating systems.

He said that the move to biomass "enhances returns" and as such "we encourage this as it is a sound thing to do".

Wood pellets
BBC

Asked about communication with Stormont departments at this time, Mr Mark says he wasn't in contact with the Department of Enterprise, Tade and Investment (DETI), which was running the scheme, but officials later contacted him.

He says he had very little contact with the agriculture department, mainly in terms of training the farmers, although he's sure other parts of Moy Park were in touch with it.

'62% of Moy Park suppliers on RHI scheme'

Out of the 1,526 poultry houses in Northern Ireland that supply Moy Park 943 - about 62% - are on the RHI scheme, according to figures from August last year.

Mr Lunny says it's fair to say that Moy Park's expansion has led to "caused or contributed to " a large number of farmers installing heating systems that were eligible for the scheme.

Sterling banknotes
Getty Images

It determined in 2013 that all new poultry sheds built by its suppliers would have to be heated by hot water systems and the it funding its farmers to make the switch.

It repaid the vast majority of the of the cost of building new sheds, minus the cost of boilers to heat them, over a 10-year period.

'Were farmers interested in growing chickens or earning RHI money?'

Moy Park received significant interest from farmers who approaching the firm with an interest in becoming poultry growers, says Mr MArk.

But often their sites were unsuitable - maybe there were houses close by or the land wasn't level - and typically out of seven or eight expressions of interest only one would be suitable.

A biomass boiler
BBC

Sir Patrick suggests that the interest from farmers who weren't quite unsuitable "suggests to me that their drive was not so much the production of chickens as opposed to the income from the RHI".

The witness says he didn't see it that way and that when Moy Park looks to expand "we always look to our existing growers".

'Moy Park planned to grow poultry production by 50%'

Moy Park had an eight-year plan from 2010 to grow the UK poultry business from producing four million birds a week to six million.

Northern Ireland produced about 45% of those birds with 55% coming from farms in Great Britain.

Chicks gathered under a heater
Getty Images

Part of that expansion plan involved updating the heating technology used in poultry sheds to a hot water systems - effectively central heating - rather than old-fashioned direct gas heaters.

The new systems were generally powered by biomass boilers.

The firm's growth plan involved the building of 400 new poultry houses in Northern Ireland - by December 2015 a total of 230 had been constructed, with 100 more being built or in planning and another 100 in the pipeline.

New witness David Mark gives evidence

David Mark takes the oath and settles into the witness chair to face questions from inquiry junior counsel Donal Lunny.

Bit of background - after a lengthy career in the agri-food sector Mr Mark joined Moy Park in 2013 to help the firm's growth in expanding its poultry growing facilities in Northern Ireland.

Mr Mark'switness statement is available for you to read on the inquiry's website.

David Mark takes the oath
RHI Inquiry

The six board areas that Mr Mark will face questions on. They are:

  • the recent expansion of Moy Park's poultry growing facilities
  • Moy Park's promotion of the RHI scheme and awareness of the high rewards on offer
  • Moy Park's pricing system for its contract farmers
  • interaction with the Stormont department running the scheme
  • his interactions with DUP adviser Dr Andrew Crawford
  • abuse of the scheme in the poultry sector

'How can you enjoy yourselves without RHI inquiry?'

At the start of business inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin has a few words about the end of term, filling us in on what's going to be happening over the next two months.

There will be no witness sessions until Tuesday 4 September but the inquiry will take stock of the written and oral evidence and continue its investigations and new witnesses will be invited to give statements.

Sir Patrick Coghlin
RHI Inquiry

"So while you're all away enjoying yourselves the inquiry will continue its work," he says.

"How can you enjoy yourselves without the inquiry?" panel member Dr Keith MacLean chips in.

What happened yesterday at the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News NI

Arlene Foster
PA

The inquiry has been told that there was an attempt to "protect" Arlene Foster during the closure of the RHI scheme, it emerged.

It was revealed by senior civil servant Chris Stewart that a former DUP adviser has made a reference in his witness statement to protecting the former first minister from blame.

Mr Stewart also said there was a "desire" in the DUP to make it appear that former enterprise minister Jonathan Bell had sole responsibility for what was an unpopular decision to shut down the scheme in 2016.

What is the RHI Inquiry?

BBC News NI

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, a year-and-a-half 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.

RHI scheme - the flaws

The budget of the RHI scheme ran out of control because of critical flaws in the way it was set up.

Claimants could effectively earn more money the more fuel they burned because the subsidies on offer for renewable fuels were far greater than the cost of the fuels themselves.

Burning £20 notes
BBC

The most recent estimate for the overspend was set at £700m, if permanent cost controls aren't introduced.

The massive overspend bill will have to be picked up by the Northern Ireland taxpayer.

RHI scheme - what was it?

The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme - or RHI for short - came to the fore of the Northern Ireland public's knowledge in late-2016... and the fallout from the scandal attached to it is still being felt in the region's politics today.

A biomass boiler
Getty Images

The scheme was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2012, as a way of encouraging businesses to switch from using fossil fuels to renewable sources for generating their heat.

Those who signed up were offered financial incentives to buy new heating systems and the fuel to run them.

Good morning

Ahhh, summertime! It's the last day of the Renewable Heat Incentive before everyone can head off on their holidays.

Yes, the inquiry is due to finish its public hearings for a little while to give those involved a summer break.

Stormont's Parliament Buildings
BBC

But there's still the significant matter of today's inquiry question time with the poultry production giant Moy Park to get through.

Its former chief executive and another senior representative from the firm will be facing the inquiry panel shortly - you can watch it at the top of this page and we'll bring you all of the key details throughout the day in our live text commentary.