Timeline of the key events in Northern Ireland’s flawed RHI scheme

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was a flawed scheme established to encourage businesses in Northern Ireland to switch from burning fossil fuels to wood and other sustainable sources.

Here is a timeline of key milestones.

– November 2012:

The RHI scheme was launched while DUP leader Arlene Foster was enterprise, trade and investment minister to encourage businesses to burn renewable sources of energy and reduce emissions of carbon.

Those who signed up received a promise of payments at a certain level lasting for 20 years to subsidise the extra cost of the equipment and fuel.

The RHI scheme was launched while DUP leader Arlene Foster was enterprise, trade and investment minister (Jonathan Brady/PA).

– 2013:

Claims were made that a whistleblower had written to Mrs Foster, who is now Stormont’s First Minister, warning about abuse of the scheme.

The former enterprise minister’s department established the scheme.

She told a public inquiry she learned about the contents of the note in January 2016 and passed it on to a senior civil servant.

– January 2015:

The Enterprise Department was due to seek re-approval of the scheme from Department of Finance colleagues but this was overlooked.

That year the number of applications to the scheme increased.

– September:

There was a spike in applications before cost controls were applied in November.

A public inquiry later heard that applications increased by 100% in six weeks.

– Early 2016:

Former DUP enterprise minister Jonathan Bell said he intended to close the scheme to new applicants but there was a delay.

He has told the inquiry DUP advisers intervened to prevent its closure.

Mrs Foster and the advisers have denied any wrongdoing.

– July 2016:

The Audit Office, in a report covered by the PA news agency, predicted it could cost £140 million to make up a deficit in funding due to the potential overspend.

That was because there was no cap on subsidy payments. The more you burned, the more you earned.

– December 2016:

Mrs Foster said Stormont would write to claimants to seek permission for their names to be made public and maintained she had nothing to hide.

That month the Assembly was recalled to discuss the deepening crisis.

– January 2017:

The First Minister rebuffed calls from Sinn Fein to stand aside.

– January 9:

Former Stormont deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP’s handling of RHI, triggering the collapse of the ministerial Executive and Assembly.

– January 19:

A former adviser to DUP leader Mrs Foster, Andrew Crawford, resigned after claims he influenced the decision to keep it open.

– January 23:

Stormont Assembly members passed regulations to cut the cost of the RHI scheme by lowering the tariff paid to claimants.

The regulations were expected to save £30 million in the 2017/18 budget.

– January 24:

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir announced a public inquiry into how the scheme operated.

– March 2:

Fresh Assembly elections caused by the resignations saw Sinn Fein enjoy a bounce at the polls as they focused their criticism on the DUP and its handling of RHI.

Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry
The first hearing of a public inquiry at Stormont led by Sir Patrick Coghlin was held in April (Colm Lenaghan/RHI inquiry/PA).

– April 27:

The first hearing of the public inquiry at Stormont led by Sir Patrick Coghlin.

– May 24:

A full list of companies which received payments was published.

– October:

A legal challenge by RHI claimants against the decision to reduce tariff payments began in Belfast.

– November 7:

The public inquiry began hearing oral evidence.

– March 13 2020:

RHI inquiry publishes its final report.

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