Key debate on RHI scandal resumes in bid to reduce £490 million overspend


The Stormont Assembly has resumed a key debate on a botched green energy scandal that has ultimately forced the looming dissolution of the devolved institutions.

At the start of the last week of business before the Assembly is wound-up ahead of March's snap election, MLAs continued to scrutinise plans to reduce the eco-boiler scheme's projected £490 million overspend.

Democratic Unionist Economy minister Simon Hamilton is seeking Assembly approval for proposals to clamp down on the costs.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) furore triggered the collapse of the powersharing institutions when Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at his Democratic Unionist partners-in-government's handling of the affair.

Mr McGuinness's move forced DUP leader Arlene Foster from her role as first minister.

Mrs Foster, who oversaw the development of the RHI when economy minister, had previously refused to stand down pending a preliminary investigation into the ill-fated scheme.

DUP members have raised concern that businesses signed up to the scheme "are going to be slammed" when their details are made public.

Christopher Stalford warned of a "fevered atmosphere."

"Good people who haven't done anything wrong have had their reputation damaged," he said.

His party colleague Paul Frew agreed and said "the media have a lot to answer for".

"These are businesses who have been doing good work and now they are going to be slammed. We in the Northern Ireland Assembly are trying to make businesses grow. Don't attack the businesses, just because you want extra air time. Please resist," he said.

Mr Frew added: "Let's look at sensationalising. Sinn Fein's resignation has cost this country £600 million come July. Where is that in the news reels?"

The SDLP's Sinead Bradley said the public "deserve to know who is abusing it (the RHI sheme) and who is using it."

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn, a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said the committee had been advised it was not possible to disclose all details of the scheme's recipients.