‘Cash for ash’ report to be published on March 13th

Controversy around the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme led to the collapse of Stormont

The report into the calamitous Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is to be published on Friday, March 13th, a spokesman for the independent inquiry headed by Sir Patrick Coghlin confirmed on Tuesday.

Sir Patrick, a retired senior Northern Ireland judge, will make a statement about the so-called "cash for ash" inquiry at Stormont when the report is published.

It was estimated that potentially the botched eco-friendly wood pellet burning scheme could cost the Northern Ireland taxpayer up to £490 million.

Rows between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the renewable energy scheme led to the late Martin McGuinness standing down as deputy first minister three years ago, thus collapsing the Northern Executive.

The RHI scheme was introduced in 2012 when first minister Arlene Foster was the minister of enterprise, trade and investment.

It was shut down in 2016 while cuts to the subsidies were introduced in 2017 and 2019.

It was designed to encourage firms, businesses and farmers to switch from fossil-fuel heating to biomass systems such as wood-burning boilers.

But under the Northern Ireland scheme for every £1 that users spent they got back £1.60 in subsidies.

Close to 2,000 people in Northern Ireland availed of the scheme which because of its generosity was known as “cash for ash” or “the more you burn the more you earn”.

Between 2013 and 2015 whistleblower Janette O’Hagan made a number of fruitless attempts to warn politicians and civil servants about the botched system.

In one instance it was estimated that a farmer stood to make £1 million over the 20-year term of the scheme for heating an empty shed.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times