Arlene Foster has revealed she made enquiries about whether the introduction of RHI cost controls could be delayed, following representations from a Fermanagh constituent who was fitting RHI boilers.

The former First Minister is due to give evidence before the RHI inquiry this afternoon.

The botched green energy scheme, which was implemented without costs controls, has the potential to cost the public purse up to £490 million over 20 years. The row over how the scheme operated led to the then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigning in January 2017, effectively collapsing the power sharing Executive.

In her lengthy written statement which was published online yesterday, the DUP leader said that she asked the Enterprise Minster’s Special Adviser Timothy Cairns if the cost controls could be delayed on behalf of Stephen Harron, who she first when she was a solicitor in Cooper Wilkinson and he was her client.

Arlene Foster rang Mr. Harron from her Fermanagh constituency office on November 13, 2015.

She was Minister of Finance and Personnel at the time.

Mrs. Foster’s statement says: “Following a telephone conversation on 13th November 2015 with a constituent, Stephen Harron, I telephoned Timothy Cairns and enquired about the possibility of moving back by a week or so the introduction of the tiered tariffs. However, on being briefed on costing dimensions around such a possibility I accepted matters should proceed as planned.”

When pressed by the inquiry Chairman, retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, as to the details of the conversation and her relationship with Mr. Harron, Mrs. Foster said: “Mr. Harron had been due to come in to see me at my constituency office but later provided a mobile number for me to ring him, which I did.

“He told me that he was now working fitting boilers and that he had clients who had ordered boilers that hadn’t yet arrived.

“He explained that he would not be able to get these boilers fitted before the Scheme changed and asked me when the Scheme was changing and if anything could be done.

“He did not mention the names of his clients or the business he worked for. I undertook to enquire on his behalf.”

She continued: “Stephen Harron was a constituent and former client of mine when I was a solicitor in Cooper Wilkinson. I attended the funeral of his nephew who was sadly killed in a road accident and know other members of the Harron family as they are from Fermanagh. When Stephen Harron contacted me in November 2015 I had not heard from him for quite a while.”

Asked why she called DETI Minister Jonathan Bell’s Special Advisor, rather than the DETI Minister himself, Mrs. Foster replied: “I didn’t want to bother the Minister with a constituency enquiry. I felt that the Special Adviser would be able to get an answer and get back to me quickly, which he did. My understanding was that Timothy Cairns went away, asked the question, the answer was no, and I accepted that.”

She told the inquiry that she was not aware of the funding position in relation to the scheme or the extent of the over-spend at the time of contacting the Special Advisor, stating: “If I had been aware, I would not have enquired about the possibility of moving the introduction of tiered tariffs back.”

Later, when she was First Minister, Arlene Foster was visited in her constituency office by a constituent, George Gallagher, who left her a note “containing serious allegations.” The contents of the letter prompted her to pass it on to the Head of the Civil Service Malcolm McKibbin, in his role as Permanent Secretary to the Executive office.

Her witness statement says: “As Sir Malcolm McKibbin was the most Senior Civil Servant in Northern Ireland, I was assured that the matter would be dealt with appropriately. In fact, Sir Malcolm McKibbin escalated the matter quickly, and raised it directly with the DofE Permanent Secretary, Andrew McCormick. I did not consider that there was a need for me to take any further action in relation to the note.”

In her evidence, Arlene Foster also reveals that she asked the DETI Minister to delay the closure of the RHI scheme in 2016 by several weeks.

The non-domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme was introduced in November 2012 and was part of Northern Ireland’s aim to achieve 10 per cent of our energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. However, a lack of cost controls and weaknesses in its implementation meant it was open to abuse, with RHI owners legitimately earning more cash the more fuel they burned. This led to it being dubbed ‘the cash for ash scandal’.

The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded that the RHI scheme has the potential to cost the public purse up to £490 million over 20 years.

The inquiry has the power to investigate the development and roll-out of the RHI scheme by the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment; the signing off of the scheme by the then Department of Finance and Personnel; the issue of cost controls and tariffs; the delay in implementing cost control measures before November 2015, which led to the spike of autumn 2015; and the closure of the scheme in February 2016.