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Summary

  1. Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry examining botched energy scheme
  2. Tim Cairns, former DUP adviser to minister Jonathan Bell, 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 hearings entering critical phase with high-profile witnesses giving evidence

Live Reporting

By Iain McDowell and Robin Sheeran

All times stated are UK

  1. That's all for today...

    That was one of the longest days at the inquiry to date but Tim Cairns won't have to come back to give evidence again.

    Stormont's Parliament Buildings

    Returning to the witness chair tomorrow is Dr Andrew Crawford, Arlene Foster's former adviser - join us from 09:45 for all the action.

    Good evening for now...

  2. Foster adviser claims he was 'expendable' to DUP

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI politics reporter

    A former DUP adviser who resigned at the height of the RHI scandal has told the inquiry that he may have been "expendable" while other party advisers may not have been.

    Dr Andrew Crawford (below) was an adviser to Arlene Foster in the enterprise department when the RHI scheme was set up but he resigned after claims he had exerted influence to delay cost controls.

    Dr Andrew Crawford

    The inquiry has heard claims that he and fellow DUP adviser Timothy Johnston were involved in seeking to delay the introduction of reduced subsidies.

    Ahead of his appearance at the inquiry on Thursday, Dr Crawford says in his witness statement that he never suggested a delay to anyone and that he would not have felt it appropriate to do so.

  3. What's happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    BBC News NI

    There's an "irreconcilable difference" between two former DUP advisers and their accounts about which of them sought to delay the addition of cost controls to the RHI scheme, said the inquiry chair.

    The remark came from Sir Patrick Coghlin (below, centre) during Tim Cairns' second day at the RHI inquiry.

    Empty senate chamber

    Mr Cairns claimed that he was told by Dr Andrew Crawford to seek the latest possible date for cost controls to be imposed.

    But Dr Crawford has said that the decision to try to postpone their introduction was Mr Cairns' alone.

  4. 'DUP advisers have sense of affinity to party'

    Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien (below) wants to know who Mr Cairns thought he was working for when he was a ministerial adviser.

    She puts it to him that normal practice is for advisers to display loyalty to the minister and to work for the department and for the minster as a whole but she observes: "You were effectively working for a fourth group, which was the party."

    Dame Una O'Brien

    Mr Cairns says the unofficial way that the DUP appoints advisers gives the role a much stronger sense of party affinity.

    "I tried to do the best that I could do in what were probably less than ideal circumstances," he says.

  5. 'Document claimed all was rosy in RHI garden'

    Just before the closure of the RHI scheme was being put to the MLAs for their approval in an assembly vote, civil servants drew up a document for the minister that stated that the initiative "had a positive impact" on the Northern Ireland economy.

    It said the "largest net benefit lies in keeping the scheme open".

    Mr Cairns says the sudden sense of positivity "jarred" with Mr Bell because there had been a "cloud of gloom" about the RHI.

    Sir Patrick Coghlin

    "It was a bizarre approach that was being taken - on the one hand we'd spent months in doom and gloom and suddenly now we were saying RHI was all rosy in the garden."

    Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin can't get his head around it and says the document "beggars belief".

    Nevertheless, Mr Bell signed and approved the paper - Mr Cairns says that was only done because there was no time for any further delay to debate its contents and the scheme's closure had to be secured as quickly as possible.

  6. 'I amended document for Foster's benefit'

    After Mr Bell's BBC interview in December 2016, the Stormont executive's press office issued a statement about the alterations to the submission.

    It stated that the "redrafting" was "not done on behalf of or to the benefit of first minister Foster".

    Burning wood pellets

    When it's put to Mr Cairns that it had been his intention to benefit Mrs Foster, he admits that was the case but says he hadn't mentioned that to anyone else.

    Mr Lunny reminds the witness that he had sent copies of the amended version to fellow DUP advisers and Mr Cairns accepts that had they read the revised submission they would've been aware of the changes.

  7. 'I edited document to get brownie points from Foster'

    In his witness statement, Mr Cairns explains that there was the "prevailing view" within the DUP was "to defend" Mrs Foster "as much as possible" and that's why he changed the submission.

    He insists that he made the change without being asked to do so by anyone else in the DUP.

    Dr McCormick suggests in his evidence that the changes to the paper could've been made as part of a strategy to build a narrative that all responsibility for the RHI debacle rested with Mr Bell - his deputy Mr Stewart gave the same view to the inquiry in June.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Mr Cairns says that "absolutely isn't what was going on".

    But when asked if he felt that by doing it he would win "brownie points", he gives an embarrassed smile and says: "Yes, I did."

    He points out that his position as a DUP adviser at the time "probably wasn't secure" and he felt he was in line to be replaced.

  8. 'Untrue that Bell closed RHI without input from other ministers'

    One of Mr Bell's central allegations in his December 2016 BBC interview about the RHI scandal was that DUP advisers tried to "cleanse the record" by removing references to Arlene Foster from a paper about the RHI scheme.

    That paper was a submission from the start of February 2015 about the decision to close the scheme without a public consultation.

    The original document stated that the decision had been reached after the minister had discussions with the first minister and the finance minister.

    People looking at a document

    Mr Cairns accepts that he removed the references to other ministers and says he told other DUP advisers what he had done - none of them objected.

    Mr Cairns sent the changed submission to Chris Stewart, DETI's deputy permanent secretary, saying that it was Mr Bell who had "made the decision" to close the scheme without consultation "and no advice from other ministers or departments played a part in that".

    He admits to the inquiry that the suggestion that Mr Bell received no input from other ministers is untrue.

  9. 'Involvement of DUP advisers led to delay in RHI changes'

    Mr Lunny cuts to the chase, asking whether the involvement of DUP advisers led to the cost controls being added to the RHI scheme at a later date than DETI officials had recommended.

    "That's correct," says Mr Cairns but he adds that no pressure was put on civil servants and they could have said no.

    Tim Cairns

    The witness had an "open and honest conversation" with DETI permanent secretary Dr Andrew McCormick when they were on a trade mission to New York with the enterprise minister in January 2016.

    His impression is that Dr McCormick believed that Dr McKibbin and Stormont's finance department permanent secretary David Sterling were blaming DETI for the RHI disaster.

    "I think there's evidence of that," says Mr Cairns.

  10. 'Civil service boss said Foster better not implicated'

    The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service said that Mrs Foster "better not (sic) implicated" in the RHI debacle, according to an email between DUP advisers.

    Sir Malcolm McKibbin

    Sir Malcolm McKibbin's (above) view is recounted in an email at the end of January from senior DUP adviser Richard Bullick to his colleagues.

    It read: "[Sir Malcolm] seems very concerned about spending out of control. Says will be huge audit issue and AF better not implicated."

  11. 'Evidence shows Bell received key ministerial emails'

    Mr Bell claimed at the inquiry last week that he didn't know that his approval for the closure of the RHI scheme had been overturned.

    Jonathan Bell

    Mr Cairns sent an email sent to the enterprise minister's Hotmail email account about the rescinding of the approval but Mr Bell claimed that he didn't see it because he didn't use that account.

    But the inquiry has been trawling through email records that show Mr Bell did use the account - emails about ministerial business were sent to it and he issued replies from it.

  12. 'No chance of getting RHI closure approved quickly'

    In winter 2016, there was a sense of desperation at DETI about the need to get the RHI scheme shut down.

    A submission was sent to the minister Mr Bell on 19 January, advising that a public consultation on the matter should be approved for issue the next day - it was marked as needing "immediate" attention.

    An email inbox

    It was approved by Mr Bell but that approval was rescinded after an intervention from the senior DUP adviser Mr Johnston.

    He emailed Mr Cairns to say that there was "no chance" of getting the approval cleared quickly because it needed "to be discussed with the wider [DUP] group".

    "I won't be in a position to get Arlene's and [the] party's view until Monday," wrote Mr Johnston.

  13. 'Seconds of silence as budget realisation set in'

    It became clear in December 2015 that the "funding situation was not a happy one", says inquiry barrister Mr Lunny.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Officials discovered that the bill for any RHI scheme overspend wouldn't be covered by the Treasury and would instead have to come from Northern Ireland's block grant.

    Mr Cairns says that came up at a meeting with officials: "There wasn't an audible gasp but there was certainly silence for a few seconds."

  14. 'Would've been shocked if Foster request for delay was approved'

    DUP leader Arlene Foster asked Mr Cairns to find out whether an assembly debate on passing the RHI scheme's cost controls could be delayed by a week or two.

    Mr Cairns put the question to a senior DETI official Dr McCormick after Mrs Foster had received a query from a scheme applicant in her Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

    Dr Andrew McCormick has told the inquiry that Mr Cairns referred to a concern that "not enough businesses in Fermanagh had been able to apply" before the cost curbs would be put in place.

    Arlene Foster

    Officials worked out that delaying the cost controls by just a week would've added at least £2.6m a year over to the cost of the initiative over its 20-year lifetime, so the request ultimately came to nothing.

    Giving his account, Mr Cairns says it was nothing more than a "courtesy call" that he "raised with the relevant official" and he "didn't seriously believe" that it would result in a further delay.

    "I just thought it was a fairly straightforward constituency query," he adds, saying that he would've been "shocked" if another postponement had been allowed.

    He admits that he didn't tell his minister Mr Bell about it.

  15. 'DUP tried to protect Johnston from RHI fallout'

    The DUP was trying to protect Mr Johnston after Mr Bell's blockbuster BBC interview, according to Dr McCormick's (below) evidence to the inquiry.

    The DETI permanent secretary says the party was "very concerned to deflect or discredit any possible reference" to the senior adviser.

    Video content

    Video caption: Dr Andrew McCormick named Dr Andrew Crawford while giving evidence to Stormont's PAC

    At a hearing of the Northern Ireland Assembly's Public Accounts Committee in January 2016, Dr McCormick subsequently named Dr Crawford as the adviser who'd exerted influence on how the changes to the RHI scheme panned out.

    Dr McCormick says in his evidence to the inquiry that the DUP "ultimately acquiesced in" the naming of Dr Crawford as the "instigator of the delay."

    Mr Cairns says he concurs with the senior official's analysis but he doesn't have any evidence to back it up, adding: "I may or may not be right - I could be completely off beam."

  16. 'Johnston shut conversation down when I mentioned his RHI role'

    Mr Cairns had a phone call with DUP leader Arlene Foster and her two advisers Mr Johnston and Richard Bullck the day after the explosive interview that Mr Bell had given to the BBC's Stephen Nolan in December 2016.

    During that call, when asked about Dr Crawford's influence on the RHI scheme cost controls delay, Mr Cairns says he told Mr Johnston: "Timothy, you directed that."

    He says that Mr Johnston "shut the conversation down" and the call ended.

    A conference call

    He and Mr Bullick spoke on the phone that evening, when they discussed that "awkward" moment - he explains that it had been "the first time Timothy's name had been raised" in connection with the RHI.

    "[Mr Johnston] had been fairly adamant that he'd had absolutely nothing to do with the scheme," he adds.

    Mr Cairns had a "reluctance" to say anything about Mr Johnston's role after that, he acknowledges.

  17. 'Foster adviser happy with RHI postponement'

    Tim Cairns

    Arlene Foster's DUP adviser Dr Crawford was "content and happy" that the addition of cost controls to the RHI scheme had been delayed by a further five weeks until November, says Mr Cairns.

    Mr Cairns also told senior DUP adviser Mr Johnston about the delay, who he says was "glad the process is at an end".

  18. 'Bell went along with cost controls delay proposal'

    At the meeting, Mr Bell agreed with the proposals made for a further delay to the RHI scheme changes, says Mr Cairns.

    The minister turned to him and asked if "others" would be happy, he adds.

    A boardroom

    The witness says he took that to be a reference to DUP advisers Dr Andrew Crawford and Timothy Johnston.

    Mr Bell has told the inquiry Mr Cairns said to him meeting: "We can clear this if we get another four weeks or so." The witness says he did not.

  19. 'Official suggested RHI delay after I posed softball question'

    It was decided at a ministerial meeting on 24 August 2015 to approve the cost controls for the RHI scheme but a decision was also made to delay the changes from from the start of October to early November.

    There are differing accounts about who suggested the one-month delay.

    Mr Cairns says he asked a "softball question" about whether 1 October was the "latest date" the officials would consider for the changes.

    John Mills

    He claims that DETI's energy boss John Mills (above) reflected on it and suggested 4 November and insists that it wasn't himself that put the new date forward.

    Dr Andrew McCormick, DETI's permanent secretary, who was also at the meeting, has told the inquiry that he was "a bit surprised at the willingness of John Mills to volunteer an extension".

    In his evidence, Mr Mills argued that he didn't make the suggestion but acknowledged that he didn't resist the delay and thought it "was a concession worth making".

  20. What's happened today at the RHI Inquiry?

    Jayne McCormack

    BBC News NI politics reporter

    There's an "irreconcilable difference" between two former DUP advisers and their accounts about which of them sought to delay the addition of cost controls to the RHI scheme, said the inquiry chair.

    The remark came from Sir Patrick Coghlin (below, centre) during Tim Cairns' second day at the RHI inquiry.

    The RHI Inquiry

    Mr Cairns claimed that he was told by Dr Andrew Crawford to seek the latest possible date for cost controls to be imposed.

    But Dr Crawford has said that the decision to try to postpone their introduction was Mr Cairns' alone.