More than 320,000 pages of documents, the equivalent of approximately 1000 lever arch files, have already been processed as part of the extensive gathering of evidence by the public inquiry into the non-domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme, the Inquiry Chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin said today.
He told a second preliminary hearing in the Senate Chamber at Parliament Buildings, Stormont that over 320 notices had been issued to persons and organisations compelling the production of documents and witness statements. Those receiving the notices include civil servants, government departments, former ministers and special advisors.
“The Inquiry is committed to getting the job done as quickly as possible.”
The Inquiry was also in the process of seeking information from some Whitehall departments and the European Commission. Sir Patrick said the Inquiry had also written to 1058 applicants to the scheme.
“Some witness statements received by the Inquiry are in excess of 100 pages each, which indicates just how seriously many of those involved are treating their engagements with the Inquiry.”
The Chairman said:
“It will be some further time before the Inquiry is able to say what the total volume of documents is which are relevant to the RHI Scheme, and thus being considered by the Inquiry. The Inquiry is continuing to receive significant amounts of information on a daily basis from a variety of sources. All of this needs to be recorded and processed; and then read, assimilated and acted upon further, where necessary.”
Commenting on departmental funding for some witnesses, Sir Patrick said:
“It is in the interests of the relevant department that the Inquiry uncovers the truth about the RHI Scheme without fear or favour; and that nothing in those terms should in any way inhibit anyone from giving the fullest cooperation to the Inquiry, and providing full and honest evidence to it.”
Arrangements were also being made to provide appropriate counselling support to witnesses who found the giving of oral evidence to be stressful.
The Inquiry has made three restriction orders to protect the personal information of individuals which it is not necessary to place in the public domain.
Sir Patrick said:
“As each of the restriction orders make clear, any breach of a restriction order is a very serious matter with potentially serious consequences for the person responsible”.
Sir Patrick confirmed that anonymity would not normally be granted to witnesses. He said:
“The Inquiry is most reluctant to see this happening, but I recognise that there might be circumstances in which, as a matter of law, an individual might be entitled to protection of their identity before the Inquiry.”
Sir Patrick said the Inquiry had not been made aware of any criminal investigations by the PSNI, or criminal proceedings with any relevance to the matters to be investigated by the Inquiry.
He announced that the Director of Public Prosecutions had provided an undertaking so that the possibility or suggestion of potential criminal prosecution could not be used by anyone as a reason for not fully assisting the Inquiry. He went on to explain that this undertaking does not, and will not, apply to anyone who gives false evidence to the Inquiry or interferes with the Inquiry process.
The Chairman said a third preliminary hearing would take place in September, in advance of oral hearings starting in the first two weeks of October. In the meantime, the Inquiry team would continue to work throughout the summer.
Notes to Editors
- This is the first time the Inquiry will use the Senate Chamber and it will be the venue for subsequent oral hearings.
- The Redaction Protocol, Undertaking from the Director of Public Prosecutions and the three Restriction Orders can be found on the Inquiry’s website – www.rhiinquiry.org
- The RHI Inquiry has been set up to investigate fully and report on the non-domestic renewable heating incentive scheme (the RHI Scheme). This includes investigation of the original design and implementation of the RHI scheme; the initial operation of the scheme; the circumstances relating to the imposition of cost controls in the scheme in late 2015, as well as the circumstances relating to the suspension of the scheme to new applicants in early 2016.
- The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry, which were announced by the then Minister for Finance, Mairtin O’Muilleoir in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 24th January, 2017, are included on the inquiry website.
- Dame Una O’Brien is the other member of the Inquiry Panel. She is a former Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health in England. She has previous experience working on public inquiries, including acting as secretary to the Kennedy Inquiry into the NHS and children’s heart surgery in Bristol.
- Dr Keith MacLean OBE is the Inquiry’s assessor and will provide advice and guidance on the technical aspects of the Inquiry’s work. He has extensive experience in the field of renewable energy, and has acted as an advisor on energy to both the UK and Scottish Governments.
- An audio-video feed to the broadcast media outlets will be provided by Pi Communications. Organisations requiring access to the feed can contact Norah-Anne Barron – email@example.com
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