Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus
“ An article from BBC NI and Irish News on the findings of the RHI inquiry.”
—Fr. Sean McManus
RHI ‘should never have been adopted’
Corrupt or malicious activity was not the cause of what went wrong with Northern Ireland’s failed energy scheme.
BBC NI. Belfast. Friday, March 13, 2020
The findings into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme were published on Friday.
It found the scheme was a “project too far” for the NI Executive and “should never have been adopted”.
The scheme, which opened in 2012, paid businesses to switch from oil and gas to environmentally-friendly heating.
The 656-page report said that while there was “unacceptable” behaviour by some officials, ministers and special advisers, what went wrong was a “compounding of errors and omissions over time and a failure of attention”.
Set up to encourage the use of renewable energy sources, the RHI closed to new entrants in 2016 amid concerns about the potential cost.
Those boilers used wood pellets, but the subsidy payment was higher than the cost of the fuel, creating an incentive to use the boilers to generate income.
It became known as “cash for ash”.
The scheme was introduced by then Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster.
Mrs Foster, now the first minister, told the inquiry that she did not read the regulations before bringing them to the assembly.
The inquiry found: “The minister, in presenting the regulations to the assembly and asking for their approval, should have read them herself.
“Not least because in the inquiry’s view to so do is a core part of a ministers job.”
RHI report: ‘Totally unacceptable’ behaviour from Arlene Foster’s former spad Andrew Crawford
Claire Simpson. Irish News.Belfast. Friday, March 13, 2020
While there was no corrupt or malicious activity on the part of officials, ministers or special advisers (spads), Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin’ has found, there was “unacceptable behavior.”
In a series of damning findings, Sir Patrick Coghlin’s report, which runs to more than 650 pages, said the scheme was “highly risky” but that those risks were not understood by everyone involved in the Northern Ireland government.
The inquiry made some criticism of current DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster’s role in developing the ill-fated RHI scheme and also highlighted “unacceptable behaviour” by several of her party’s special advisers.
But the probe, chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, said it would be wrong to blame specific individuals or groups for the design flaws that saw applicants “perversely incentivised” to burn excess heat to turn a profit.
This is what the report had to say about indivduals at the heart of the scandal:
Former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford gave confidential information to his family and other “external parties” about the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
In one of the strongest lines in the report, chair Sir Patrick Coghlin said it was “totally unacceptable” that Mr Crawford had given out the information.
The report found Mr Crawford should have written to the head of the Department of Finance, saying that he had family members involved in the scheme and he had close links to the poultry industry.
Given his conflict of interest, Mr Crawford should not have been involved on advising on a key DETI document about the “poultry industry’s significant contribution to the overspend on the RHI scheme”.
Mr. Crawford, a special adviser to finance minister Arlene Foster, was strongly criticized for not telling her in July 2015 that there would be a “massive spike” in applications and for not making her aware that the tariffs were being exploited to earn money.
“The Inquiry finds this unacceptable considering the potential financial impacts that would very clearly be of interest to Ms Foster as Minister for DFP.”
Mr Crawford was also criticized for suggesting an amendment to cost controls in July 2015 which, if implemented, would still have made the scheme “overgenerous to participants, and to poultry farmers in particular”.
The report found that Mr Crawford’s suggestions were aimed at benefiting poultry farmers and indirectly poultry giant Moy Park “an industry in which Dr Crawford’s family was clearly involved”.
However, despite conflicting testimony from senior civil servant Dr. Andrew McCormick and Mr. Crawford, the report found the Spad “did not deliberately delay the introduction of cost controls”.
Arlene Foster or her former special adviser Andrew Crawford should have asked for a draft 2011 report carried out by a consultancy firm into how best to run the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, a landmark report has found.
The CEPA report highlighted one approach as the best option. But subsequent reports contained “substantial errors”. RHI inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin found that senior civil servant Fiona Hepper did not properly explain to Mrs. Foster that the scheme posed a risk to the DEL block grant.
And that this lack of clarity meant that Mrs. Foster would not have properly appreciated the need for budget controls.
However, he found that either Mrs. Foster or Mr. Crawford should have asked for a copy of the draft CEPA report.
Sir Patrick also found that Mrs. Foster and/or Mr. Crawford should have asked more questions and Mrs. Foster should not have signed a key document without seeking all of the information needed.
But that the minister should also have been told in March 2012 that the predicted cost of the scheme had risen from £334 million to £445 million.
She was also not told that in trying to save a few million pounds in administrative costs, there was also an alternative scheme which could have saved up to £300 million in subsidies.
Jonathan Bell and Timothy Cairns
A breakdown in trust between DETI minister Jonathan Bell and his special adviser Timothy Cairns made resolving problems with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme “more difficult”, a report into the botched scheme has found.
While Mr. Bell’s testimony was among the most striking of all the witnesses to the inquiry, his role in the scheme only merited a few paragraphs in the inquiry’s findings.
Sir Patrick said he was satisfied that the former minister and his spad Timothy Cairns discussed holding back on an initial submission to close the scheme on January 23 2016, despite Mr Bell’s assertion to the contrary.