Controversy over renewable heating scheme

The political fallout continues following revelations about a renewable heating scheme which could cost taxpayers £400m over the next 20 years.

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RHI judge to give update at preliminary hearing

A preliminary hearing will take place on Thursday next week. Credit: UTV

A preliminary hearing into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme will take place next week.

Chairman of the probe, retired appeal court judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, will outline details about how the inquiry is gathering evidence.

He will also introduce his panel team and outline the work undertaken by the inquiry team so far.

The hearing will take place at Stormont at 11am on Thursday.

List of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) companies published

The Department for the Economy has published the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) companies list.

This list includes the names of all limited companies and limited liability partnerships that have received support payments under the scheme above a threshold of £5,000, for the period from the opening of the scheme in 2012 to 28 February 2017.

The application of a threshold and the publication of this list is being carried out in line with the judgement issued in the High Court on 1 March 2017.

A statement said work is progressing on a separate list which will contain the names of the individuals who are in receipt of payments of £5,000 or more under the non-domestic scheme.



Finance Minister outlines terms of RHI inquiry

Credit: Pacemaker

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has outlined the details of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry including the Inquiry Chair and its terms of reference.

The Minister said: “I now have in place an independent Inquiry Chair, distinguished retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Patrick Coghlin, who was nominated to chair the Inquiry by the Lord Chief Justice.

“I am very pleased Sir Patrick has agreed to lead the Inquiry and I know that he will be unflinching in his pursuit of the truth and scrupulous in his analysis of the evidence.”

Sir Patrick will be assisted by two panel members and independent assessors as needed.

There is no intention to publish an interim report.

The RHI scheme was designed to encourage businesses to use green energy instead of fossil fuels but ended up paying out around £1.60 for every £1 spent on wood to fuel biomass boilers.

There have been allegations of empty sheds being heated in a "cash for ash" scandal.

  • The probe will investigate:
  • The development and roll-out of the scheme by the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, under minister Arlene Foster.
  • The signing off of the scheme by the then Department of Finance and Personnel.
  • Cost controls and tariffs.
  • Delays in implementing cost control measures before November 2015 which allowed a spike in the number of applicants that autumn.
  • The closure of the scheme in February last year.

“The independent investigation will have the powers to compel witnesses and evidence and I pledge that as minister I will ensure the inquiry is free of ministerial control or interference. I call on all parties to make a similar pledge in relation to any future Finance Minister,” Mr Ó Muilleoir continued.

“There is an urgent need to get to the facts of the RHI Scheme, to identify negligence, incompetence, alleged corruption and abuse, and to hold those responsible to account.

“I am aware that the RHI issue goes beyond financial matters to questions of governance and probity. By getting to the truth of the RHI scandal, this inquiry team, led by the distinguished Sir Patrick Coghlin will, I believe, address those wider issues, and, therefore, go some way to rebuilding the shattered public confidence in the institutions.”

Work is due to get underway on 1 February and will report as expeditiously as possible.

Interim injunction on publication of RHI boiler names

A judgement is expected next week. Credit: UTV

The judge in the RHI case has granted an interim injunction preventing the Economy Department from publishing the names of 300 boiler owners who are in the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland.

It will mean the department cannot release the names of RHI boiler owners who are also in the RH Association by 5pm on Tuesday.

The list was due to be published by the minister on Wednesday.

In meantime the judge in has reserved judgement in application for leave for judicial review.

A judgement is expected next week.

Speaking in the Assembly, Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said he regretted that an injunction had been awarded.

“It prevents full transparency and obviously I will take the time to consider what can now be done in the circumstances,” he said.

Boiler owners in court to prevent publication of names

The minister plans to make a list of names public later this week. Credit: UTV

A lawyer has argued that if the economy minister publishes the names of owners of RHI boilers, there will be a "feeding frenzy by the media".

Owners of biomass boilers who are in the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme have gone to the High Court in Belfast on Tuesday to try to stop the publication of their names.

A lawyer for a group of 300 RHI participants has told the court that none of the publicity around the scheme so far, has "been concentrated on legitimate use of the scheme."

The court also heard that no where in the RHI policy documents does it say the name and address of a participant would be made public.

The group of participants in the flawed RHI scheme are seeking leave for a judicial review to prevent the Economy Department releasing their names.

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton has said he plans to make a list of those in the scheme public on Wednesday.

The lawyer representing the Economy Department told the court that the cost exposure of RHI was expected to deplete the NI block grant by £490m over the next 20 years.

He argued that the matter was "of profound public interest".

The economy minister's barrister also said the problems in the RHI scheme by the "diligent work of the NI Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the media".

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