Former DUP special adviser made ‘sales pitch’ for NI chicken producer

Arlene Foster’s former special adviser proposed a “sales pitch” for Northern Ireland chicken producer Moy Park during a botched green energy scheme, an inquiry chairman said.

Dr Andrew Crawford suggested a change to tiered cost controls to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), due to be introduced in autumn 2015, which would have advantaged heavier users.

Officials at Stormont’s Enterprise Department wanted a 1,314-hour threshold for running biomass boilers before payments would be reduced. Dr Crawford suggested 3,000 hours.

The chairman of the public inquiry probing the matter, retired judge Patrick Coghlin, claimed: “What this is, is a sales pitch for Moy Park.”

Dr Crawford had three relatives with 11 RHI boilers, who produced chicken for Moy Park.

Poultry farmers were major subscribers to the scheme and legitimately used biomass energy to heat their chicken houses.

Dr Crawford said he wanted to ensure Stormont Assembly members accepted the cost controls.

His intervention was rejected by civil servants.

Dr Crawford resigned last year after a senior official accused him of influencing decisions surrounding the scheme.

He gave evidence to the RHI public inquiry at Stormont.

Powersharing at Stormont collapsed after revelations about the RHI scheme (Steve Parsons/PA)

The late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP’s alleged handling of the scheme, which led to the collapse of powersharing last year.

Repeated rounds of political negotiations have failed to resurrect the institutions.

Civil servants wrote a submission surrounding budgetary problems affecting the scheme in 2016.

Dr Crawford removed a reference to the poultry industry’s uptake of the scheme being a reason for the overspend.

Mr Coghlin asked: “Why remove something that was true?”

The former special adviser was working in the North's Department of Finance at the time.

Dr Crawford said: “My concern was the narrative it was creating, the implications it could have on the wider economy.”

He added: “I removed that particular line, but there was no malice intended by doing that.”

Major hotelier Howard Hastings forwarded allegations that the scheme was being abused, which he received from a boiler installer.

There was no evidence Dr Crawford passed on the message to the North's Enterprise Department, the inquiry was told.

- Press Association

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