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RHI Scandal

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson ‘promoted Jonathan Bell despite allegations’

A former special advisor has described Mr Robinson’s decision in promoting Jonathan Bell despite his “explosive personality” as “incomprehensible”

Former first minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
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A former Stormont special adviser has claimed ex-Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson promoted Jonathan Bell despite complaints.

Timothy Cairns, who advised Jonathan Bell when he was enterprise minister in the Stormont assembly, has claimed Mr Bell “had an explosive personality”.

The allegations were made in a witness statement which Mr Cairns gave to a public inquiry into how the costs of a renewable energy scheme in Northern Ireland spiralled.

In his witness statement to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry, Mr Cairns alleged that DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen and DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly made complaints to Mr Robinson about Mr Bell.

Emma Little Pengelly (PA)

In a section of his witness statement titled “pinned a woman against a wall”, Mr Cairns said: “This was in reference to the widely known story that he cornered Ms McIlveen at the party conference and had berated her for some time until she broke down in tears. It is also a reference to his behaviour toward Ms Little-Pengelly.”

“I believe Ms McIlveen and Ms Little-Pengelly reported the incident concerning themselves to Peter Robinson, who took no action,” Mr Cairns said in his witness statement.

Mr Cairns makes allegations in his witness statement that Mr Bell threatened him with violence twice.

Mr Cairns claims Mr Bell threatened to break his finger.

“Jonathan was enraged by what he saw as disrespect. While I was making this comment I must have been wagging my finger, Jonathan reached to grab my finger, I pulled it back from his grip. In an aggressive tone, Jonathan said ‘if you wag your finger at me again I will break it’,” Mr Cairns said in his statement.

Mr Cairns claimed on another occasion, he had been in a room with Mr Bell when he “went into a rage”.

“He stood up and walked towards me in an aggressive manner. I felt physically under threat. He was in a rage with fists clenched. I stepped back to the door. He kept walking … He stood, using his bulk, and proceeded to shout aggressively at me for some time. I felt physically threatened. I believed he was going to physically assault me and I left the room,” Mr Cairns said in his statement.

Mr Cairns claimed the then DUP leader and first minister Mr Robinson protected Mr Bell.

“Peter Robinson had, in my opinion, protected Jonathan in the face of allegations for many years,” Mr Cairns said.

“I felt the truth could not be told without Mr Robinson being exposed for having done nothing to protect those of us who had brought bullying allegations to him.

“Mr Robinson, rather than take the allegations seriously, promoted Jonathan Bell to higher, and yet higher office.

“My belief is Mr Robinson’s behaviour in the face of allegations and violence and bullying is inexplicable.”

The rules of the DUP state that all matters of discipline are within the discretion of the party officers.

Former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell (PA)

Mr Bell was minister at the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment from May 2015-May 2016, which oversaw the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The scheme was intended to encourage businesses to switch from fossil fuels to green alternatives such as biomass.

By the summer of 2015, the cost to the taxpayer was beginning to spiral as firms realised how lucrative the incentives on offer were.

It caused a political row which culminated in the resignation of deputy first minister Martin McGuinness in January 2017 and the collapse of the powersharing government at Stormont.

A public inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong with the RHI scheme.

Last week, Mr Bell appeared at the inquiry and made allegations that he had been kept in the dark over the costs of the scheme spiralling.

Mr Bell also claimed that he was the victim of a “smear campaign” and that Mr Cairns and the DUP would attempt to “fit him up”.

Mr Bell also denied he had ever threatened Mr Cairns during his appearence at the inquiry.

In Mr Cairns’ witness statement, which was published on the inquiry’s website on Monday, he claimed that Mr Bell “rarely read briefing documents”.

“The minister rarely read his ministerial papers or briefing notes, to the point that he often boasted to me that he only ever read the summary sheet,” Mr Cairns said.

“This made the administration of the department exceptionally difficult for senior civil servants and myself.

“At no stage were any documents or changes to documents concealed from the minister. The minister would have had any opportunity to read all papers passing through his office and suggest any amendments to those.”

Press Association

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Former first minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

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Emma Little Pengelly (PA)

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Former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell (PA)