‘Cash for ash’ inquiry delayed until November

Renewable Heat Incentive scheme investigation had been due to open next month

Chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive  inquiry Patrick Coghlin speaks about its revised timetable at the latest preliminary hearing of the inquiry at Stormont. Photograph: PA Wire

Chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry Patrick Coghlin speaks about its revised timetable at the latest preliminary hearing of the inquiry at Stormont. Photograph: PA Wire

 

The start of an inquiry into an ill-fated green energy scheme that triggered the collapse of powersharing in Northern Ireland has been delayed.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry being chaired by retired judge Patrick Coghlin, which had been due to open next month, will now commence hearings on November 7th.

DUP leader and former first minister Arlene Foster, whose role in the scheme was at the heart of the political row that triggered the collapse of powersharing at Stormont in January, is not anticipated to give evidence until the new year.

Sinn Féin has repeatedly indicated its unwillingness to return to any coalition government with Ms Foster as First Minister until her actions in relation to the RHI are examined by the inquiry.

Mr Coghlin outlined the revised timetable at the latest preliminary hearing of the inquiry at Stormont.

The volume of evidence being examined - now standing at 880,000 pages - was one of the reasons he cited for the delay in commencing formal hearings.

“Clearly it is a mammoth task to review and assimilate this documentation,” he said.

Covering costs

The state-funded RHI was established to incentivise businesses to shift to renewable energy sources by offering a proportion of the costs to run eco-friendly boilers.

But in Northern Ireland the subsidy tariffs were set too high and without a cap, so the state ended up paying out significantly more than the price of fuel.

This effectively enabled some applicants to “burn to earn” - getting free heat and making a profit as they did so.

Ms Foster had a central role in establishing the scheme during her time as Stormont minister for enterprise. She has insisted she acted correctly throughout the process.

Her refusal to accede to Sinn Féin’s demand that she step aside as first minister pending the outcome of an inquiry into the scheme prompted the late Martin McGuinness to resign as Sinn Féin deputy first minister, precipitating the collapse of powersharing.

PA