So Action Renewables knew all about the RHI flaw, but kept schtum…

Now this is an interesting twist in the RHI story, courtesy of Brendan Hughes in the Irish News

A CHARITIES watchdog is investigating after a green energy group paid to process RHI applications claimed it would have been “ethically improper” to warn Stormont of flaws in the scheme.

Action Renewables *earned almost £250,000 advising on around 550 applications* to the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

The successful applicants account for about £300 million in taxpayer subsidies committed over 20 years. [Emphasis added]

The chief executive director’s name will be familiar to those who’ve followed the story. Michael Doran’s the guy here, explaining exactly what the flaw in the scheme was, but only after it had blown up in everyone’s faces:

Hughes continues:

…when asked last week why no-one within the charity relayed concerns to the government, he [Doran] told The Irish News: “That’s not what we were employed to do.

“If you’re employed on behalf of a client to make an application it would then be ethically improper to then undermine that application by trying to have it withdrawn.

“The fact that the government created the scheme that some people now think is over incentivised is not our responsibility.”

DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton described the comments as “deeply troubling”, while Alliance’s Stewart Dickson wrote to the Charity Commission calling for an investigation.

Last night the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland confirmed it has “opened a concern” into Action Renewables.

This is definitely one to keep a close eye on, not least because whatever duty the Chief Executive felt he had to his clients and his own business model, where was Action Renewable’s Board in all of this?

  • Fidellum

    Isn’t that Maria O’Loan one of Tughan’s partners in the main photo on the AR website? Are they representing RHA/AR? I know from this http://plumbingmag.com/rhiclosure/ that Ms O’Loan was unhappy when RHI closed.
    I see a link to ‘Renewable Energy All Party Working Group’ brings us to the same photo but including more people. But that doesn’t seem right as the only MLA I can see is Anna Lo. Surely some mistake?

  • ted hagan

    Would have it have made one bit of difference if Action Renewables had raised concerns about the flaws in the scheme? The DUP and its various ministers, and advisers, seemed blind and deaf to any advice or warnings about RHI. They didn’t seem to want to know.

  • Fidellum

    The point is whether AR was acting for the public benefit not whether DUP would have heeded warnings – clearly a separate issue.

    “Public benefit is at the heart of what it means to be a charity. The public benefit requirement is defined in the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 (as amended) and states that to be a charity in Northern Ireland an organisation:

    must have purposes which fall under one of 12 descriptions of purposes listed in the Charities Act and
    the purposes must be for the public benefit.”(The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland)

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its understandable to try and find an alternative fall guy when a crisis occurs but ultimately it is unlikely the DUP would have paid any heed to any concerns raised when one considers they paid no heed whatsover to other warning signs. Today on Nolan we discovered that Arlene Foster was fully aware of r McCormicks conserns but refused to i nform the assembly during her speech. Also there is this, which nobody seems to want to tackle -From the LAD page on facebook, can anybody shine a light here …. ? Originally posted by a chap called Tel irwin.

    “So tonight I decided to do some research myself into the R.H.I scheme and have been blown away with what I have discovered in less than two hours by simply using my phone and google. I believe I have discovered a link between Arlene Foster and the R.H.I scheme as far back as June 2008, and to be precise the 9th of June 2008 – the very day she took up her roll as Minister of Enterprise, Trade & Investment and on the same day a Mr Stephen Kingon was appointed director of Balcas Timber Limited, the company which would go on to become the largest wood pellet fuel manufacturer in Great Britain and Ireland, and has pioneered biomass renewable energy in the British Isles with an annual turnover of circa £100 Million.

    Coincidence??? I’ll let you decide for yourself, here is the timeline of events.

    1st of January 2005 –
    DUP appoint Mr Stephen Kingon as chairperson of Invest N.I (3 year post)

    9th of June 2008 –
    Arlene Foster is appointed as Minister of Enterprise, Trade & Investment – Mr Stephen Kingon is also appointed chairman of Balcas Timber Limited on the same day.

    29 December 2008 –
    Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has announced the re-appointment of Invest N.I Chairman, Stephen Kingon.

    2nd September 2009 –
    It is discovered that Invest N.I have awarded
    Balcas Timber Limited a grant of £113,000 and the chairman of Invest N.I & Balcas Timber Limited is the same person Mr Stephen Kingon, all this is overseen by the Enterprise, trade and investment department ministered by Arlene Forster, and what does he get for awarding his own company a huge grant from Invest N.I. well one would think the sack, no he stays on until the start on January 2011.

    1st of January 2011 –
    Mr Stephen kingdon completes 6 years in his post 3 of those years he was also chairperson of Balcas Timber Limited.

    November 2012 –
    Enterprise Minister introduces the R.H.I which leads to Balcas Timber Limited to become the largest wood pellet fuel manufacturer in Great Britain and Ireland, and earn Mr Stephen Kingon and his company over a £100 million annually and also cost the N.I taxpayer at least over £600 million which will be paid to god knows how many friends & family connected to the DUP.”

  • Katyusha

    You know who else knew about flaws in the RHI scheme, but kept schtum?

    Arlene Foster.

  • mickfealty

    Robin/Anthony,

    Can you spare us the para research. The scheme started in 2012, and this guy has Arlene linked to it 2008.

    Was there a Tardis involved?

  • Fidellum

    I don’t see this as providing an alternative fall guy. If AR are found in breach of Charity Commision rules they should pay the penalty; that doesn’t let DUP or anyone else off the hook. I do find it interesting how DETI keeps cropping up – DETI spawned AR.

  • ted hagan

    But Action Renewables was simply promoting a scheme it saw as a good one. It says itself, in a statement, that it was unaware of the funding model and the differences between the Westminster and the Stormont scheme or that the scheme was financially flawed, it just saw a good opportunity to promote the energy source and had no reason to query the set-up and had no duty to do so. On the other hand the whistleblowers had inside information and could see the flaws in the scheme

  • Fidellum

    Have you read the Irish News article I. e.
    “When asked by the Irish News why no one within the charity relayed concerns about the operation of the scheme to the government Mr Doran said it would have been “ethically improper”.

    “That’s not what we were employed to do. If you’re employed on behalf of a client to make an application it would then be ethically improper to then undermine that application by trying to have it withdrawn,” he said.

    “The fact that the government created the scheme that some people now think is over incentivised is not our responsibility.” ?

    I look forward to seeing how the “public interest” test is applied. Larges sums of taxpayers’ money going to a few hundred lucky people doesn’t seem to me to be in the public interest.

  • anon

    There can be a big difference between ethical behaviour and moral behaviour.

  • JOHN TURLEY

    There is a very clever campaign going on to spread the blame and take the
    heat of Arlene. She was the boss and the blame for the debacle rests with her

  • Granni Trixie

    I don’t know about mistake with the pictures but for the record i do know that Anna Lo is not a member of Action Renewables Charity in any capacity.

  • mickfealty

    I put the link in because it names the Board, Not who is in the picture!!

  • mickfealty

    It’s the business model here that’s of interest Kate.

  • Fidellum

    I know that too.

  • ted hagan

    Yes I read the Irish News story. i also followed it up by checking a further Action Renewables statement, which notes:
    The Department for
    Enterprise, Trade and Investment designed the RHI to incentivise the
    uptake of renewable heat in Northern Ireland and had presumably carried
    out an economic assessment of the level of incentivisation required to
    reach the 10% renewable heat target, based on the funding that they had
    available. Action Renewables had no reason to question the Department on
    this. Action Renewables was not aware of how the RHI in Northern
    Ireland was to be funded, whether from Westminster, or Stormont. The
    crux of the issue is that there was and there is inadequate funding,
    within the Northern Ireland budget to fund the scheme. Unfortunately,
    this has been largely overlooked in what is now being described as a
    scandal.
    Action Renewables does not condone in any way improper use of heat or abuse of this scheme.”

    End

    I think it is important to focus on the creators of the flawed scheme, rather than those who took advantage of it. Other than those who fraudulently abused it, of course.

  • Fidellum

    I commented because the caption for the photo, which is actually the first thing you see when you click your link(the photo) is patently wrong. Now I wonder what else is wrong.

  • Fidellum

    I agree that the buck stops with Arlene but it shouldn’t let off the hook anyone who has behaved ‘improperly’ in respect of RHI.

  • file

    You do know also that Michael Doran is also the chairman of RHA, the group representing beneficiaries of RHI which successfully got a court order to prevent the list of names being released?

  • Granni Trixie

    Yes I appreciated that Mick but thought I would mention it just in case….

  • Granni Trixie

    Had a look at that link. What a coincidence ..Tughans name crops up …rings a (Nama) bell?

  • Fidellum

    Indeed. And you know that just after Christmas on Good Evening Ulster(Seamus McKee) he described the media reports on RHI as ‘hype’. He seemed to me to be unnecessarily exercised about RHI.

  • mickfealty

    Granni, you have an alarming tendency to ignore some pretty basic rules of evidence.

  • Fidellum

    I think you’re missing the point about the purposes of registered charities. I will leave you to it and trust that the Charity Commission does a thorough job.

  • anonymous

    If anything is of interest here, I think it is your capability to conduct simple research. Michael Doran is a Director not a Chief Executive, there is a difference. If you are willing/able to let that small inaccuracy be published then what else will you simply gloss over.

  • mickfealty

    There’s also a need to create sufficiently broad terms of reference to be able to capture the picture in and around the RHI’s brief life term and untimely early death as a public good.

  • Fidellum

    And the charities/public interest angle.

  • mickfealty

    You have me there. I’ll correct the term at once. Although, as you say it is a fairly small inaccuracy. Not sure what you mean by the gloss over remark?

  • Fidellum

    Do you mean in terms of the public inquiry? I feel it is imperative that organisations such as AR are called to give evidence. But I fear the scope will not include them?

  • mickfealty

    Me too. This involvement of the wider industry via departmental officials is definitely part of the wider picture, so it all has to be brought to ground somehow.

    And that’s really not to prejudge or presume anything about the case.

  • Msiegnaro

    Even LAD wouldn’t push that one.

  • Fidellum

    Maybe not as crazy as it sounds. As far as i can tell Tel Irwin is factually correct. The name Kingon goes back so long way wrt DETI so more like a continuum than a tardis. Mind you Mr Kingon crops up all over the place – Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Qub, Mivan. Is there no end to this man’s talents? Woven into the very fabric of our society.

  • Pigeon Toes

    How many civil servicants utilised their whistleblowing policy? Surely there are more pertinent questions in that respect? Sam McBride’s items today raises the feeling of dejà vu…

  • mickfealty

    For the sake of hygiene, we need to steer clear of inference and focus on what we actually know.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I hope that Mc Cormick raised such concern through the appropriate channels…. Otherwise he is complicit and potentially in line for further scrutiny …

  • Pigeon Toes

    Sure noone knew nathin …

  • Jag

    The RHA claims only the “baddies” should have their names published.

    In my opinion, all of the applicants are baddies because they knew, or should have known that the “fill your boots” profits guaranteed by the RHI scheme were being paid for from the public purse, so businesses were making out like bandits and taking resources from hospitals and schools. If the businesses weren’t aware of the profits, then they weren’t really businesses.

    They are all baddies.

  • Nevin

    John, how can Ministers be the boss when they are not at the Departmental Board table to be advised and challenged by Independent board members? Also, I’ve looked for minutes of meetings involving Ministers, SpAds, Permanent Secretaries and PS senior colleagues but can’t find any.

  • mickfealty

    I’m being very careful here PT, but that’s something Mr Doran will be severely tested on by the Charities Commission, and I would imagine it will be tested again by the Public Inquiry.

    And, I repeat, we ought to know what the Board knew about this ethical problem, particularly since some of them may have been in receipt of public funding themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Try 1000’s of ‘lucky’ people or better to describe them as Domestic or commercial consumers, not a few hundred. IMHO the vast majority of people acted ethically, wouldn’t have been minded to defraud anyone. So Perhaps the few hundred are the unethical ones you’re all talking about, though I suspect that number is more than likely to be in the 10’s low 100’s at most.

    AR’s remit since inception in 2003 has always been to facilitate the proliferation of Renewable Energy Technologies in the Province. So to facilitate a scheme that does, or tries to do just that would seem to me to be quite a sensible approach from that company.

    I suspect the Charity Commission looked at the promotion of public environmental health by fighting for the cause of Renewable Energy as beneficial to the public? Or shall we try nothing and continue to burn oil, LPG, natural gas, coal relentlessly?

    Deflecting tactics from sources unknown, seem to be working.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Being equally careful, they offer “Quality Assurance”, according to the Charity Commission…Given the way such standards are going the emphasis is now on potential risk to business. On one hand, they may have been fulfilling that duty. However, the greater risk was the scheme was inept from the outset and could (and was about to be closed) Therefore the ethical thing, (to my mind) would be to advise clients to stay clear as it might just bite everyone…

  • Pigeon Toes

    No. There is a perception in NI whereby GB, UK, EU etc grant is paying that it’s somehow “free money” and to my mind that was exactly where this scandal stemmed from. Moral compass though?