And Arlene Foster (now DUP Leader x propping up the Tories) now conveniently can’t remember what she said about a shady project …
“The head of Northern Ireland’s civil service has admitted meetings were not minuted in order to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.
David Sterling was giving evidence to an inquiry into a botched green energy scheme on Tuesday.
In 2009 he was permanent secretary of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, which implemented the renewable Heat Incentive. It offered financial incentives if firms switched to renewables. But critical flaws meant its claimants could earn substantial returns, far greater than intended.
The issue of minutes was raised in respect to a meeting between senior Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment official Fiona Hepper and then-minister Arlene Foster, about whether to proceed with RHI in the absence of cost controls introduced in Great Britain.
Ms Hepper has told the inquiry she clearly flagged a warning from Ofgem about the risk of going ahead and introducing the controls later. Mrs Foster has said she has “no recollection” of the conversation.
Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.
Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have it all recorded”. He said the DUP and Sinn Féin were sensitive to criticism and in that context, senior civil servants had “got into the habit” of not recording all meetings. He said this was done on the basis that it was sometimes “safer” not to have a record which might be released under Freedom of Information.
But he agreed with the inquiry panel that when it came to ministerial decisions on matters of public money it should be recorded.
Mr Sterling also said he only got involved in projects day-to-day if three potential trigger points were reached.
These included a request from staff or his minister to take a closer interest, or if he considered it necessary himself.
He said none of those triggers had been reached in respect of the RHI scheme.
Inquiry counsel David Scoffield QC said the public might be surprised to learn that a complex scheme that involved a large amount of public money was one in which the permanent secretary of the department seemed to have had “limited involvement” and this was not considered unusual.
Mr Sterling said he could understand why the public or commentators “might think it strange”. …”