Detail is Important: Who benefitted from the scandal that is Arlene Foster’s Cash for Ash RHI Scheme?

Arlene Foster was Minister at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was introduced. She was responsible for implementing and managing the scheme when it was brought to Northern Ireland, having been previously rolled out in Britain.

While she was in post as Minister, a conscious decision was made to alter the funding programme model so that, unlike the parent scheme rolled out in Britain, tiering was not introduced and there was no cap on the subsidy payments.

From Conor Spackman’s BBC report:

 ….[The] department missed important cost controls introduced in Great Britain.

Firstly tiering – or paying two different rates. In Britain, the rate paid each year starts off high to incentivise customers to switch to a wood-burning boiler. Then it drops off significantly to less than the cost of production – avoiding “the more you burn, the more you earn” issue.

Tiering was not introduced in Northern Ireland. Here, there was one flat rate which was too high.

Subsequently, a whistleblower made direct contact with Arlene Foster to outline real concerns about the scheme. Arlene Foster passed information to officials but utterly failed to fulfill her ministerial responsibilities to ensure these concerns were addressed in a manner that would not end up costing the rest of us over £400m.

Two of the most important questions which need to be answered by the DUP First Minister relate to why the British scheme was deliberately altered to leave it vulnerable to abuse, and who exactly benefitted from this development? (Further to Brendan’s point in the Comments below: That is not to suggest that the revised Northern Irish scheme was devised with abuse in mind, but clearly there needs to be a transparent investigation to establish the ‘how’ and ‘why’ that led to this state of affairs.)

Arlene Foster is, at the very least, likely to be found guilty on the charge of incompetence (asleep at the wheel, in the words of Jim Allister) in the public’s eye. But another source for serious embarrassment for the party, and Mrs Foster, could be if it is discovered that a pattern of interest in the scheme is confirmed.

Of course, that would require the names of the beneficiaries to be released to the general public. This is something which the DUP appear very reluctant to do.

The identity of the “hundreds and thousands of people” who benefitted from the scheme (according to Simon Hamilton) should not be concealed by a DUP party who appear very anxious about revealing the names of the individuals.

Mark Carruthers nailed it during his interview with a clearly under pressure Simon Hamilton on Thursday night’s The View:

Your reluctance to put that information in the public domain could be because there are names on that list that could be embarrassing for your party.

Some of those names are starting to make their way into the public domain.

Sam McBride is reporting in today’s Newsletter that a Free Presbyterian Church is due to benefit handsomely from the RHI scheme, to the tune of £270,000 over the 20-year period.

One of the church’s elders is DUP MLA Mervyn Storey who, as Sam notes, was a DUP Minister in the last Executive.

Mr Storey told the Newsletter that he had no role “whatsoever” in the application and that he hadn’t alerted the church to the scheme’s existence either. There is no reason to doubt what Mr Storey is saying.

Much more damaging for the DUP and Arlene Foster is the news that the brother of her own Stormont Special Adviser (SpAD) while she was introducing the RHI scheme, Andrew Crawford, is one of the beneficiaries of the RHI scheme.

As Sam McBride wryly notes, the role of a £85,000 a year SpAD is to spot problems such as the RHI scheme. Mr Crawford now works alongside the DUP Agriculture Minister, Michelle McIlveen.

The Irish News’ John Manley has been out in front with regard to this story for some time, and he intriguingly noted earlier today how, in the 10 weeks between talk of closing the RHI scheme and actually doing so, there was a spike in applications.

The identity of those particular applicants should make fascinating reading.

The cost of the failure of the Minister and her Department to properly implement the RHI scheme is one which will be felt by all in this society for years to come, as Conor Spackman has pointed out:

Actions were not taken and the NI taxpayer has been left with a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds.

Enough to pay for the new Omagh hospital, converting the A26 at Frosses in County Antrim in to dual carriageway, the Belfast Interchange Project and the Belfast Rapid Transit system – with £15m left over.

This story can only grow legs, and the stand taken by the DUP’s partners in government, Sinn Fein, will be crucial to ensuring that a transparent investigation is conducted capable of securing the confidence of the wider public.

Sinn Fein’s public position must reflect the gravity of this situation.

The absence of Deputy First Minister and the party’s Stormont leader, Martin McGuinness, can partially explain the muffled response from the party to date.

But that can’t last.

Any sense that the republican party is closing ranks in an attempt to spare the DUP’s blushes will be immensely damaging for Sinn Fein, further feeding the narrative that they are the diminutive player in an unequal partnership at Stormont.

As Arlene once said, detail is important.

This time, Sinn Fein must hold Arlene’s feet to the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

  • ElephantPark

    It will be interesting to see SF reaction, if they do nothing it could be they are complicit in the “fraud” as the w/blower has it.Maybe it’s time to pull the shutters down to avoid any more Red Sky, NAMA, this and £600k for a half acre at Ballykelly.

  • the rich get richer

    It will cost a fortune to keep Arlene’s feet to the fire…..

    Will it be subsidised and will there be a limit of the overall cost ….

    Cui Bono ?

  • Zig70

    Which is more damaging for the NI project? SF to hold Arlene to account or letting the public despair of Stormont even more. What does it take these days for a politician to be culpable?

  • Croiteir

    Who would let her loose with a chequebook?

  • AntrimGael

    The entire Stormont circus is rotten to the core and this is just another layer of that particular stinking onion; I would pull it down tomorrow. Most ordinary people struggle to put in an honest day’s work and the vast majority of us haven’t had a pay rise in 8 years. We try and be truthful to ourselves and families and raise them the right way and this is the crowd that governs us. RED SKY, NAMA and now this scandal on top of the Shinners non existent research ‘community groups’.
    Stormont is an elite club that exists to feather the nests of a select few as they laugh at the rest of us. The DUP have a lot of questions to answer about ALL of the above and their close contacts with Loyalist paramilitaries in groups like Charter NI but Sinn Fein will NEVER hold them to account BECAUSE they are protecting their own interests as well. The DUP and Sinn Fein have a pact that as long as they don’t question each other then it’s carry on regardless and whatever you are having yourself.
    However hell slap it up as all because we have the government we deserve. We voted in both these two crowds of balloons so much of the hot air and fury amongst the populace is self inflicted. The fact is that the DUP and Arlene WILL get away with as Nelson McCausland did with Red Sky and the glazing fiascos and it will be move on. So long as sectarianism, bigotry and ‘themmuns’ dictates politics here this is the normal way it will be for ever and a day. It’s no good yapping and moaning if we go into the next election and put an X beside these two parties.

  • AntrimGael

    I have said before that the relationship between Sinn Fein and the DUP is the same as that portrayed by Spitting Image of David Owen and David Steele in the 1980’s. A fawning, worshipping in awe David Steele (Sinn Fein) telling David Owen (the DUP) that they are ‘so wonderful and that we (the Shinners) are just not worthy of them’. It’s just gone beyond embarrassing now, it’s total humiliation and the Shinners wear their sackcloth and ashes very well.

  • Blade Sprinter

    Surely this contract would be voided by re-unification?

  • notimetoshine

    The worst of this is, it seems like a simple case of pure incompetence and lack of ministerial oversight. As much as it is right to look for the potential for impropriety, I doubt they will find any.

    I think I would prefer corruption to this sort of rank stupidity.

  • Brendan Heading

    Chris, I think we need to be careful here :

    While she was in post as Minister, a conscious decision was made to alter the funding programme model so that, unlike the parent scheme rolled out in Britain, tiering was not introduced and there was no cap on the subsidy payments.

    and

    Two of the most important questions which need to be answered by the DUP First Minister relate to why the British scheme was deliberately altered to leave it vulnerable to abuse, and who exactly benefitted from this development?

    To be scrupulously fair, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that there was a “conscious scheme” or that it was “deliberately altered”, as opposed to having been redesigned from the ground up – poorly – without paying particular reference to the checks and limits imposed elsewhere in the UK.

    It is of course the point of devolution that allows us to do things in a way which accounts for regional variations or practices rather than copy and pasting the procedure from elsewhere in the UK. I am sure this is not a point which is lost on nationalists.

    It may well be the case that corruption was at play here, and it certainly doesn’t look good, but so far there is no evidence of anything beyond gross incompetence, which by itself would lead to ministerial resignations in any other jurisdiction.

    The identity of the “hundreds and thousands of people” who benefitted from the scheme (according to Simon Hamilton) should not be concealed by a DUP party who appear very anxious about revealing the names of the individuals.

    A number of implications might arise from publication; it could result in reputational damage to those who signed up to the scheme in good faith and operated it within the terms of the contract. This could in turn result in legal action being taken against the Government.

  • On the fence!

    The only saving grace might be that shoes and wood pellets aren’t normally sold in the same shop!

  • Chris Donnelly

    Brendan
    Nowhere above has corruption been alleged.
    Clearly, further enquiries are required to establish whether this is a case of incompetence on a massive scale or something else.
    With reference to what I’ve said about ‘conscious’ and ‘deliberate’ actions, that is merely stating facts.
    A funding model existed from Britain, and therefore it requires a ‘conscious’ & ‘deliberate’ action to alter that.
    It is also stating a fact to say that the consequence of altering the scheme was to leave it vulnerable to abuse.

  • Brendan Heading

    Nowhere above has corruption been alleged.

    Come on Chris. Saying (twice) that the scheme was “deliberately altered” and then talking about the DUP intentionally blocking the release of names is a clear insinuation.

    Clearly, further enquiries are required to establish whether this is a case of incompetence on a massive scale or something else.

    Absolutely agree

    With reference to what I’ve said about ‘conscious’ and ‘deliberate’ actions, that is merely stating facts. A funding model existed from Britain, and therefore it requires a ‘conscious’ & ‘deliberate’ action to alter that.

    It would have been no more equal or deliberate to copy the model already being used elsewhere in UK. There may well have been good reasons not to directly copy the UK approach. The leap you’re making here is to imply that the only possible reason to do so would have been foul play.

    It is also stating a fact to say that the consequence of altering the scheme was to leave it vulnerable to abuse.

    It is a fact to say that the scheme was designed in such a way to leave it vulnerable to abuse.

    We cannot know if it is a fact that someone took the English scheme and then intentionally changed it to remove the safeguards, in the absence of evidence to show that this occurred.

    There is an important and subtle distinction here.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Whilst I don’t fully agree with you, Brendan, I also don’t wish the discussion to be bogged down on that point. For purposes of clarity, I’ve referenced your point above in the main piece.

  • murdockp

    why not just stop the scheme dead and let the beneficiaries come out of the woodwork and sue.

    I reckon the numbers will be few indeed.

    another strategy could be to amend legislation to come after the beneficiaries for enhanced rated or something similar.

    the last thing they should do is roll over and pay the money.

  • Redstar

    When you’re talking 100s of millions it matters not a jot wether it was deliberate fraud or gross incompetence-both should mean sacking/resignation

    Of course it won’t -as the main 2 parties will cover each other’s backs in this scandal Nama, Slush funds etc

    No one is accountable

  • Jollyraj

    “Nowhere above has corruption been alleged.

    Come on Chris. Saying (twice) that the scheme was “deliberately altered” and then talking about the DUP intentionally blocking the release of names is a clear insinuation.”

    Presumably Chris wouldn’t put such an accusation to print unless he could prove it. Would he?

  • grumpy oul man

    So your more concerned with giving cover to Arlene and attacking Chris than the huge amounts of public money that ended up private bank accounts.
    At the very least Arlene has been incompetent and the people who turned empty barns into saunas in order to take public money certainly could be accused of fraud but no matter, we cant have anybody criticising a unionist can we.

  • Jollyraj

    I’m not attacking him – simply pointing out that it would be prudent, if he’s going to make such allegations, to be able to prove them.

  • Surveyor

    It’s 400 million quid we’re talking about here. Make no mistake, if this happened in England the person in charge of the department at the time would be out on their ear already.

  • Brendan Heading

    If you’re talking about me, I’m not attacking Chris.

    I think we just need to be clear that we don’t know that the insinuation that someone started with the English scheme and for whatever reason decided to remove the caps from it has any basis in truth. This may turn out to be the case, but so far we don’t know.

  • Brendan Heading

    fair enough Chris

  • Surveyor

    In other words the person in charge of the department at the time was not up to the job.

  • grumpy oul man

    True we dont and Chris thought it would be good to find out.
    But. He accused anybody just asked a question.
    You do seem more concerned with the question than the incredible waste of public money.

  • ted hagan

    Not really. The two parties are equal partners in this stitch-up. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. No questions asked.

  • file

    OK, so who do we vote for next time? Any ideas? Are you standing?

  • AntrimGael

    The ball is now 100% in Sinn Fein’s side of the court regarding this. They can take this on to the next level and demand answers as to who exactly benefited from this scheme. If the Shinners pass on this it will merely confirm what most Nationalists firmly believe; that their ONLY concern is staying in power and vindication and confirmation that they play second humiliating fiddle to the DUP.

  • Ryan Hendry

    There is alternatives out there, look at the huge vote PBP got in West Belfast, traditionally a SF power base. There’s also the Green Party, who have a decent track record.

    Whilst they are unlikely to get enough seats to be in power, the current incumbents (DUP and Sinn Fein) are clearly not being held to account, with the endless list of fiasco’s. We have a First Minister who was the person in charge of what is turning out to be the largest financial scandal in Northern Ireland’s history, and there’s absolutely nothing in the way of accountability.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    What exactly is the status of this headline 400 hundred million?

    The woman who raised this on Nolan this morning was very rapidly cut off.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Four hundred million!