DUP adviser ‘thoroughly regrets’ not stepping back from RHI conversation

A former DUP special adviser has said he “thoroughly regrets” that he did not step back from a conversation about a botched green energy scheme.

Stephen Brimstone said there was a “real perceived conflict of interest”.

Mr Brimstone successfully applied for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme in 2015.

The scheme hit the headlines in 2016 over spiralling costs.

There have been allegations that scheme participants ran biomass boilers 24/7 to generate higher subsidies.

The RHI Inquiry on Wednesday heard that Mr Brimstone’s biomass boiler usage was low – that he ran it on average for just four hours a day.

Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry
Former DUP special adviser Stephen Brimstone appears before the public inquiry on Northern Ireland’s botched green energy scheme (handout)

“There was no way I was out to try and milk the system in any shape or form,” Mr Brimstone told the inquiry.

“I was trying to run it as efficiently as I could… I never considered running a boiler 100% of the time.”

Mr Brimstone does however regret not stepping back from a conversation with fellow DUP special advisers (spads) about the RHI scheme in 2015.

“I thoroughly regret not putting my hands up and withdrawing myself from even the initial conversation that happened between myself and Timothy Cairns and Andrew Crawford back in July 2015,” he told the inquiry.

“I should have said, ‘guys, I need to take a step back from this conversation, there’s a real perceived conflict of interest here’.”

Mr Brimstone served as a spad in a number of Stormont departments.

He said he first heard about the RHI scheme when he was at the Department of Social Development (2011-14), looking for ways to heat social housing tower blocks.

He told the inquiry he could not recall exactly how he heard about the scheme, but said he had not been told about it by Dr Crawford.

Mr Brimstone had had a biomass boiler to heat his home since 2007.

But he told the inquiry that by 2014 he was considering other options, including an oil boiler, to replace the original biomass because it had been acting up.

He told the inquiry: “I wish I had gone back to oil now.”

He also said he wished he had never come across the RHI scheme.

Mr Brimstone will return to the inquiry on Thursday morning to resume giving evidence.