Ten senior DUP figures are to be represented at the RHI inquiry by one prominent solicitor, the News Letter can reveal.
John McBurney, who has represented senior party figures such as the late Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson in the past, will be the legal representative for four former ministers, five former special advisers (Spads) and the party chairman – virtually the entire high command of the party.
One of those represented by Mr McBurney is Stephen Brimstone, a former Spad to Arlene Foster when she was first minister and someone who the TUV leader Jim Allister alleged – under Assembly privilege – “ripped off” the RHI scheme by removing a nearly new wood pellet boiler from his new home in order to replace it with one which allowed him to claim under the non-domestic RHI scheme.
Mr Brimstone has never responded to that allegation but at the time the party distanced itself from him, with Mrs Foster saying that he was “now a private citizen”.
Mr McBurney, who has extensive experience of public inquiries, including the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, confirmed to the News Letter that he is representing:
• Lord Morrow (in his capacity as DUP chairman);
• Arlene Foster (former enterprise and finance minister);
• Simon Hamilton (former finance and economy minister);
• Mervyn Storey (former finance minister);
• Sammy Wilson (former finance minister);
• Timothy Johnston (former Spad to Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster);
• Richard Bullick (former Spad to Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster);
• John Robinson (former Spad to Simon Hamilton);
• Andrew Crawford (former Spad to Arlene Foster) and
• Stephen Brimstone (former Spad to Arlene Foster).
The inquiry, which will spend most of the summer gathering and assessing a vast pile of written evidence, is not expected to hold public hearings to take oral evidence until mid-September at the earliest.
Mr McBurney said that he had been engaged by the individuals “to assist throughout the inquiry process” and confirmed that relevant documentation was being assembled for lodgement with the inquiry along with “various other particulars being sought at this preliminary stage”.
He added: “Undoubtedly, the documents to be studied at the inquiry will be voluminous. Issues may be capable of being narrowed somewhat by a process of questioning in paper form much of the peripheral material and aspects in advance of the oral hearings, which would then be able to concentrate on the key aspects of each of the relevant time periods.”
However, Mr McBurney is not representing either former DUP minister Jonathan Bell or Mr Bell’s former Spad Timothy Cairns, each of whom is understood to have engaged their own solicitors.
Last week the inquiry judge set out the possibility that some witnesses will be granted “enhanced participatory rights”, including the right to have a lawyer designated as that witness’s legal representative and to attend hearings on relevant days in that capacity.
However, the inquiry told the News Letter that “to date no individuals have sought or been granted such rights”.
Meanwhile, the inquiry has confirmed that it has already employed 18 administrative and legal staff but that its staffing requirements “will be kept under review”.