Vicki Hawthorne: The RHI legacy - who cares?

The RHI scheme brought down Stormont

Only one civil servant has been disciplined in the wake of the RHI debacle at Stormont.

Less than half of the recommendations made in the public inquiry into the whole costly affair have been implemented.

That’s the latest findings of the Northern Ireland Auditor General in a report into how things have progressed or changed at Stormont since the RHI Inquiry.

It was confirmed to MLAs late last year that only one person had been disciplined in connection with mistakes made around the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

But for it to now be officially recorded by the Audit Office along with confirmation that just 18 of the 44 recommendations made by the RHI Inquiry have been fully implemented, it highlights the legacy of the scheme Stormont and the civil service is still living with.

Improvements have been made around the appointment of special advisers and record keeping but still the Audit Office says the progress is “disappointing”.

The RHI Inquiry delivered its findings exactly two years ago this month, just as the pandemic hit. What was uncovered at that time became less important in the wake of Covid-19.

The question is has anything changed since then? Does anyone care now?

A commitment to close the non-domestic RHI scheme down completely was made by the political parties as part of the deal to get Stormont back in early 2020.

However, the scheme continues to run for 1,990 boiler owners who signed up to it. Many of them are in despair over the now significantly reduced tariffs they receive for operating biomass boilers they were encouraged by the government to invest in.

The Executive has failed to agree on what to do with the scheme which helped collapse Stormont in 2017. That’s despite a consultation on its future last year.

The Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said earlier this month that he had tried to bring a proposal on the future of the scheme to the Executive but was blocked.

Sinn Fein says instead of proposing the closure of the scheme, the minister wanted to increase tariff payments to boiler owners.

UTV revealed last week that due to the cost cutting measures implemented in the RHI scheme, £660 million available from Westminster for green energy schemes in Northern Ireland over the next 15 years is set not to be used.

Dealing with Covid has of course dominated the work of ministers at Stormont, but RHI was the single biggest issue which contributed to the 3 year hiatus of the assembly and the Executive until 2020.

The public was incandescent with rage about it.

In 2022, people are worried about Covid, their health and the cost of living. The RHI scheme isn’t a priority.

However, for all the inquiry recommendations not to be implemented 2 years on means it’s being left to fester for yet another minister and another Executive to manage, whenever that is...