Sinn Féin calls for ‘cash for ash’ scheme to be scrapped

Conor Murphy says his party hopes to have ministers in place at Stormont by April 1st

Sinn Féin has called for a scheme which aimed to reduce carbon emissions in Northern Ireland but ended up collapsing powersharing at Stormont, to be scrapped.

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy described the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme as a "sorry episode".

The scheme hit the headlines in 2016 amid concerns over a potential overspend running into the hundreds of millions due to flaws which meant applicants ultimately received more money than they spent buying fuel.

This created an impetus on participants to “burn to earn” and led to the scheme being dubbed “cash for ash”.


The fallout from the botched scheme saw Sinn Féin apportion blame to the DUP, whose leader Arlene Foster was minister at the Department of Enterprise when the scheme was introduced.

The then deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned from his position in January of last year in protest at the DUP’s “handling” of the scheme, effectively collapsing the Stormont administration. The North has been without a functioning administration since.

Speaking at Stormont on Thursday, Mr Murphy, along with party colleagues Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Caoimhe Archibald, said they believe even with more cost controls, the scheme remains vulnerable to abuse.

‘Bad scheme’

Mr Murphy said the funding for the RHI scheme should be redirected into another scheme that would be more effective in cutting carbon emissions.

“RHI is not a good scheme that went wrong, it was a bad scheme that was made even worse,” Mr Murphy said.

“We are now aware that before the RHI scheme was set up, a report commissioned by the department showed that compared to an alternative scheme, this scheme was less effective in reducing carbon emissions and nearly £200 million more expensive.

“Despite this evidence the minister then responsible, Arlene Foster, opted for the less effective, more expensive option of RHI. The original error of establishing RHI was then compounded by incompetent design.”

An independent inquiry into how the scheme went so wrong is ongoing and the RHI scheme continues to run but with more cost controls in place.

The Department of the Economy ran a public consultation in June over the future of the scheme. Sinn Féin said in its response that the scheme should not continue in any form as it is not effective in reducing carbon emissions.

Mr Murphy said his party believes there is a risk that the scheme could be abused in the future if it continues and should simply be shut down.

“Spending more public money on a scheme that is at best ineffective, and at worst counter productive to the goal of carbon reduction, cannot in our view be justified,” he said.

When asked when Stormont might resume, Mr Murphy said his party intends to have ministers in place by April 1st next, the start of the new financial year.

“Our intention is to have ministers in place by April 1st, our intention is not to sit back here and allow the timetable of drift to be dictated by the British government and the DUP in terms of their own Brexit interests,” he said. - PA