A senior member of the DUP has spoken out over the handling of the botched and costly Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) – and has indicated that his political career could now be at an end as a result.
The Nolan Show has said on Thursday morning that Jonathan Bell, DUP MLA for Strangford and former minister, has given an interview to the BBC in which he reveals the “truth” of what he knows of the colossal cash-wasting blunder.
The full contents of the interview is set to be broadcast tonight.
However, in a preview clip this morning, Mr Bell said speaking out was “one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life”.
READ MORE: Foster: Bell has crossed the line with DUP
He suggested that it was a possibility that he could be “ruined” as a result.
However, he said he felt compelled to help “shine a light” on the scandal.
“People tell me that if you step out, if you step outside of the box, if you put your head above the parapet, it will be shot off,” he said.
“I believe God doesn’t punish people for telling the truth. So let’s see how it plays out.”
He added: “It’ll not be easy.
“But my wife told me this morning – Jonathan, tell the truth...
“Because hospitals in Northern Ireland will not be built.
“There’s a ward in the Ulster Hospital, the Maynard Ward, is closed.
“Do you think I can sit back and not tell the truth? Not when God’s told me to tell the truth.”
The clip revealed that he had tears in his eyes at the time of the interview – which the Nolan Show describes as a “blockbuster” – and that he had prayed before conducting it.
Its full contents, including whatever revelations he has about the scheme, will be broadcast on BBC1 at 10.40pm this evening.
The RHI scheme essentially paid people to use renewable heating systems, offering a subsidy for generating heat by burning wood pellets, for example.
However, a report into the running of the RHI earlier this year outlined how one farmer is allegedly in line to receive £1m of public money over the next 20 years for heating an empty shed, due to failures to control the how money was handed out.
Unlike in the rest of the UK, no cap or payment tier system was placed on the money that could be claimed in proportion to the size of boiler in Northern Ireland.
In effect, that enabled a business to use unnecessary heat just to make money.
It is thought that overspending on the scheme will run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
The News Letter reported on the scheme in the summer, when it was branded “catastrophic, shocking, and incredible”.
The RHI was run under the auspices of the Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI), which Mr Bell had been placed in charge of last year.
The department has since been axed, and he is no longer a minister.
Even before he took charge, the department had been in DUP hands since 2007 – including being run by Arlene Foster.
She has faced calls to resign over the matter, and will appear before MLAs to give an account of the handling of the scheme on Monday – click here for more.