‘Cash for ash’ scheme left in hands of low level officials, inquiry hears

NI Renewable Heat Incentive could result in an overspend of up to £500m

Sir Patrick Coghlin who is chairing the inquiry into Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was not overseen by senior staff and instead left in the hands of lower level officials, the chairman of an inquiry into the green energy iniative has said.

Sir Patrick Coghlin made the remarks while questioning the first witness to appear before the inquiry.

Alison Clydesdale was a member of staff in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, who was involved in the initial work on the initiative, which became known as the ‘cash for ash’ scheme.

Following her evidence to the inquiry about how the scheme was set up, the chairman said: “I see no senior hand involved at all. I see it being left to people who were doing their best at a lower level, with a lack of information and a lack of continuity.”


He asked Ms Clydesdale: “Is that unfair?”

She responded: “No, that’s not unfair.”

Ms Clydesdale also told the inquiry that one of the reasons that costs had been difficult to manage in a domestic version of the scheme, was due to people delaying their involvement in the scheme to match different seasons.

“We had quite some difficulty in forecasting the expenditure on a yearly basis and managing it within the year. Just because of the purely unpredictable nature of when the consumers would claim their money, she said.


“We were impacted if people were changing heating systems, they quite often didn’t want to do it in the winter, they wanted to do it in the summer. So the predictability of at what point in the year the spend would come in was quite tricky.”

The RHI scheme was designed to encourage green energy use by giving businesses a financial incentive to switch to using renewable energy sources.

However, concerns have since been raised that the scheme was badly flawed and gave greatly inflated subsidies, meaning scheme users could actually benefit from needlessly burning energy.

It has been estimated that the scheme could run up an overspend of more than £500 million.

In January, Sinn Féin pulled out of powersharing citing concerns that DUP leader Arlene Foster may have overseen some of the errors while she was minister for enterprise, trade and investment. Ms Foster has denied any wrongdoing.

The RHI inquiry began earlier this month and is expected to continue into the New Year.

Further officials and civil servants involved in the scheme are scheduled to be questioned by the inquiry in the coming weeks.