“It might not take much to expose this as a vulnerable sort of robustness.”

Missed this yesterday, which I’ll put down to a bad dose of man flu. It’s Newton Emerson in the Irish Times:

In financial and administrative terms, RHI is hardly an unprecedented failure. Its loss is currently estimated at £490 million (€577m), spread over 20 years.

Comparable sums have been squandered on other Stormont schemes and projects since devolution, with official reports revealing similar levels of incompetence.

The annual loss from RHI, at just under £25 million (€29m), is mundane by Stormont standards. A more expensive scandal involving paramilitary funding was rumbling away before the heating story broke.

 In 2014, the Northern Ireland Audit Office revealed that a new hospital in Fermanagh will rack up £488 million (€574m) in interest payments over 30 years due to the ludicrous way it was financed.
Despite the almost identical sums to RHI and the far more emotive topic of direct waste to the National Health Service, this was met with little more than a shrug.

Yet that makes the outrage at this scandal all the more striking.

…if RHI is not the final straw, it is at least a straw in a gathering wind. How long can this continue, especially in the absence of any credible replacement government or form of government?

The assumption up to now has been “indefinitely”. Cost and incompetence have not been seen as existential factors for Northern Ireland. With a third of the region’s income received as subsidy, two Darien adventures a year are built into the system.

It might not take much to expose this as a vulnerable sort of robustness.

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  • Brendan Heading

    Newton’s made this point a few times.

    I guess the reason why PPI is less emotive is that the public at least benefit from it; they got a hospital out of it, rather than cash simply going up a chimney. Without PPI, the hospital would have had to have been built either via a hike in public sector borrowing, by cutting spending on something else or by raising taxes. You then get into a conversation about the opportunity costs of funding the hospital in each of the different ways.

    It’s easy to see why the public mood has been caught by a scheme to bribe farmers to light controlled fires over a 20 year period.

  • Korhomme

    In 2014, the Northern Ireland Audit Office revealed that a new hospital
    in Fermanagh will rack up £488 million (€574m) in interest payments over
    30 years due to the ludicrous way it was financed.

    This is the major problem with Private Finance Initiatives; the earliest similar examples were the tram systems in the UK more than a century ago, as I described here:


    It seems that governments never learn the lessons of history.

  • Mr Caseydog

    Yes, this has been stated before.

    As a result of the political establishment’s (Labour, Liberal and Tory) belief in PPI, many projects including schools, were funded in this way. Otherwise funding was not available.

    The public purse will be paying the huge cost of this ideological obsession for many years.

    But this is very different from paying farmers and businesses to burn pellets, for no public gain.

  • Gopher

    Have to agree dont think you will see ostentatious gates that could only be justified by someone with money to burn on the back of the PFI. These seem de rigueur infront of your farmhouse, sorry mansion now. If any opposition party wants elected just take people from the daily city graft and send them on a bus run round the countryside to see what free money gets you.

  • hgreen

    Indeed. I’m surprised the author can’t tell the difference, or maybe he can and this false equivalence is a deliberate distraction.

  • Neonlights

    I for one would be interested in seeing a full(er) breakdown of wastage which was the direct responsibility of the NI Local Assembly.

  • Mirrorballman

    It’s one thing to pay well over the odds for a Hospital but quite a different thing to burn public cash in a boiler.

  • Reader

    I don’t agree. In both cases it’s 400 million that could have been spent on something better. You still get your hospital. You even get some of your RHI scheme (if you still really want it). You just cut out the obscene waste.

  • mickfealty

    Not really Hugh. They are similar overspends (though PPIs are notoriously hard to handle). Then there’s the 9 million on United Airlines (which also happened under Arlene), which stops today. There’s also that slush SIF capital budget overspend.

  • mickfealty


  • Karl

    While the opportunity cost may be the same the benefit accrued to the community from burning wood pellets is of much less utility than the services provided by a hospital.

  • john millar

    “But this is very different from paying farmers and businesses to burn pellets, for no public gain.”

    Hardly– both are payments in excess of that required to fund the projecst and are indeed drops in the ocean compared to the endless waste on parades/protests/jobs for for the boys/the Panto on the hill.

  • Reader

    You keep on connecting 400 million to the hospital (or the wood pellets). The money is nothing to do with either. In each case, the 400 million is the cost of (let’s be generous here) incompetence.
    And did you only recently decide that you preferred hospitals to RHI – when did you tell your representatives how you felt?
    I think I’ll have a look around to see what the Greens thought about RHI before the panic set in.

  • Mr Caseydog

    Can you provide the cost figures for ‘the endless waste/jobs for the boys/pantos on the hill’ ?

    We can compare that with the cost of the rhi; £490-£600m, according to government ministers.

    Or are your remarks just rhetoric?

  • NMS

    Steven Agnew raised the issue in 2013, see http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/months-into-scheme-green-mla-raised-rhi-s-perverse-incentives-1-7742581. The other relevant issue, publication of party contributions has been consistently raised by GPNI

  • john millar

    “Or are your remarks just rhetoric?” Just for a start
    Focus on MLA`S and “advisers”
    Salary levels far beyond their potential earnings (or ability)
    Then Compare and contrast any large metropolitan area in GB with the over governed swamp that is N Ireland

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Reader, the “cost of incompetence” just as the gerrymandering and economic debilities against one third of the community [and the “rotten prods” who espoused proper equality] over the first five decades of NI’s existence were the cost of single party Unionist control. Channeling the advantages available within our community towards a limited part of that community is encoded in much of the local “Majority” mindset.

    Pity about the final, uninformed dig at the Green Party. Green policy, as you’d have known, had you taken the trouble to actually look is in support of a genuine renewables policy which positivly helps the whole community, and as the link below to Steven Agnew’s early identification of the anomolies in this scheme show, Greens are perhaps the only party here clued up enough on environmental issues to immediately differentuate between serious ecological policy and mendatious efforts to spuriously claim green credentials for projects which simply create more of the very waste which is destroying our environment.