Arlene Foster ‘will weather any criticism in energy scheme inquiry report’

Arlene Foster has expressed confidence she will be able to weather any criticism that may come her way in a public inquiry report on Stormont’s botched green energy scheme.

The DUP leader, who has seen the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry’s findings in respect of her role in the controversy, said she hoped the publication would bring closure to the affair.

Ms Foster said there would be lessons to learn from the report to enable Stormont to adapt and move forward.

“As regard to my position, I’m confident that we will be able to deal with all of those issues when it comes out,” the DUP leader told the PA news agency ahead of her party’s annual conference in Belfast.

A row over the RHI scheme triggered the collapse of powersharing at Stormont in January 2017 when Mrs Foster refused to accede to Sinn Fein calls for her to step aside from her role as First Minister while the furore was being investigated.

The RHI was designed to encourage businesses and farmers to switch to eco-friendly wood pellet boilers by offering a subsidy to buy the sustainable fuel.

But errors in its design meant applicants were paid more than it actually cost them to buy pellets, creating a “burn to earn” incentive which left Stormont facing a multimillion-pound overspend bill.

Ms Foster was the minister in charge of the scheme during its inception and implementation.

There is no confirmed date for the publication of the findings of the public inquiry, which was chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, but it is widely anticipated before the end of the year.

Under the Maxwellisation protocol, Ms Foster has been given a chance by the inquiry to respond to its findings on her prior to publication.

“Those of us who are in involved in the process will have had our Maxwellian letters – that’s the process of giving just to our particular issues where we’re involved – so I don’t know what the overall inquiry report is going to be,” she said.

“But there will be learnings from the inquiry report. I actually think when it comes out, at least we will have closure on this issue.

“It’s been hanging around the administration and politics here now for a number of years, it’s important to have closure on it.

“It’s important that we take the learnings from that and we adapt in whatever way we need to adapt to move forward.”

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