RHI public inquiry due to publish findings

A public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme which brought down Northern Ireland’s Government is due to publish its findings later.

Sir Patrick Coghlin’s investigation into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was established in early 2017, in the final days of Stormont devolution.

Handling of a scheme which threatened to overspend by millions of pounds created acrimony and ultimately estrangement between powersharing partners the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry
Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry

It was designed to encourage businesses to burn more sustainable fuels like wood but flaws in its design meant it cost more than originally intended.

Sir Patrick’s final report is expected to cover the role of First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster, her special advisers and officials.

In 2016, Northern Ireland’s Audit Office predicted it could cost millions for Stormont to make up a deficit in the public coffers due to the potential overspend.

This was because there was no cap on subsidy payments designed to cover the extra cost of buying wood-burning boilers and running them.

The more you burned, the more you earned.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

The scheme was set up by Ms Foster’s then-enterprise department in 2012.

It was overseen by former DUP minister Jonathan Bell when it was closed after a spike in applications.

Mr Bell claimed efforts were made to delay the closure.

By that stage it had become well-known that the subsidy was overly generous and the scheme was flooded with applicants, senior civil servants have alleged.

The tariff rates have since been cut for boiler owners and this prompted a legal challenge and a war of words with officials.

Sir Patrick’s report could lead to reform of how powersharing politicians, their advisers and civil servants at Stormont conduct their business.