Bizarre as it may seem, and whether or not we like it, this election *is* about #RHI…

I notice this morning that Alex Kane is suggesting that the election campaign so far is full of humbug. That’s partly (as I suggested in yesterday’s #SluggerReport) because most folk have been concentrating on getting some basic administration done just so they can stand. This election has nothing to do with RHI. It has nothing to do with producing an alternative that will be demonstrably better than the one elected last May. And nothing to do with any guarantee, let alone …

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“‘Marlene’ seemed like marital bliss, albeit a one-sided relationship…”

Important perspective from Tom Kelly in the Irish News yesterday, as the sectarian tensions are racked up by the big two (or the old firm as we might call them?)…   As embarrassing as the RHI scheme is from a governance point of view, that it happened is normal within administrations which get lazy, arrogant and complacent. Following the assembly elections in May 2016, both the DUP and Sinn Féin felt they were unassailable from a political point of view. …

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“That the 14th December agreement between the DUP and SF had fallen apart by Monday remains unexplained”

Probably the best forensic account of the long arc of the RHI scandal is by Slugger reader and commenter The Dissenter over on his own blog. It’s a useful corrective to much of the current (intensely popular) short arc narrative. In particular, he links this UTV report by Vicky Hawthorne from July 2016 when almost every issue raised by the Spotlight programme before Christmas was reported on in two minutes. This long perspective on where the government was by the time …

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What those leaked emails reveal about the genesis of that enormous spike in RHI applications…

It’s hard to remember at times in the great twists and turns of the RHI scandal that the government fell before it’s had become clear just what happened in this complex and in which order events took place. On foot of revelations at the PAC that DETI officials were getting the news out to the industry the scheme was closing, Sam McBride yesterday published the names of the officials involved. The email began: “Update from Stuart Whitman (sic), Renewable Heat …

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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 …

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Jim Wells statement on family connections and RHI

Interesting statement from Jim Wells today. For context, his relatives appear to have been associated with a huge expansion in capacity by Moypark (an economic success story). Moypark had previously announced an expansion of some 400 new chicken houses, most of which you would guess, are taking advantage of the local RHI scheme just as their growers in Britain still do. ‘Today I received information from a relative which indicated that four members of my family have installed wood pellet …

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So why did applications to the RHI fund hit such a steep spike?

This is really on foot of a question asked by one of our regular commenters Ted. It’s not a definitive answer (the Public Inquiry report should give us that) but more of an educated guess. First thing is to ask why for the first three years of the existence of this thing it was vastly under-subscribed. Well then, so why? In fact, the “free money” only comes in after you’ve made the initial capital outlay. These things are not cheap (hence the …

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More substance [less showboating] can take the opposition out of their splendid isolation

Having given the media the slip we’re none the wiser over Sinn Fein’s public inquiry flip-flop. Rumour is that Mairtin jumped when Brokenshire signalled he would call one. If the late switch is embarrassing, it gives him the means to set its terms of reference (and keep Finance out of the glare). [Spare a thought for poor Declan Kearney, who was the first SF MLA to mention a Public Inquiry, then had it slapped down as a misspeak, then yesterday after drawing …

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Sinn Fein now back the call for a Public Inquiry

Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has announced that he will be setting up a public inquiry under the 2005 Inquiries Act. This is a reverse of the Sinn Fein stance on this issue. Outlining his rationale he says; Throughout this week I have been continuing to focus on the RHI crisis. “As part of that work, I have been taking soundings and advice on the need for a no-hiding-place probe into the RHI scandal. “It is clear that, with time short …

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“The department did not know about flaws in the RHI scheme in the summer of 2015…”

The BBC has a good summary of the headlines arising from the PAC meeting this afternoon. Remember, the PAC is the place where normally the heavy lifting is currently being done in interrogating officials. Permanent Secretary Andrew McCormick was today’s star witness: A meeting with former enterprise minister Jonathan Bell to review ministerial papers in December may have been recorded “without my knowledge or consent”. He is aware of at least one case in which energy consumer watchdog Ofgem has been talking to …

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So the day that started with the promise of a bang, ends with a barely audible whimper…

A long day at the office in Stormont, which began with a Committee of the Economy and no sign of the Committee Chair Connor Murphy or indeed any of the Sinn Fein members. It quickly became clear why as proceedings began. Despite the impression given in the press all week Simon Hamilton had the active support of the Sinn Fein Minister of Finance for an amelioration of the RHI scheme.  No SF MLA had any objections, or indeed, questions for the Minister. According …

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Executive Falls; Election likely to be on March 2nd

The 5pm deadline has passed and the Executive has fallen after nearly a decade in office. The Secretary of Stare is due to speak within the next 30 mins but the election date is widely expected to be Thursday 2nd March. This gives us a 7 week campaign. David McCannDavid McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

Today looks like Stormont’s last meaningful day for the foreseeable future…

Don’t expect today to go to plan. The time slot MLAs have to get the unfinished business sorted out is from 12 noon. Nomination of a new First and deputy First Minister is first on the list. When that fails, the Assembly is on borrowed time. We can be sure that – since this is the last big set piece of the political season for perhaps years to come in Northern Ireland – it’s likely to be well choreographed for maximum effect. …

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Joint disdain for accountability between the DUP and SF is where this crisis begins and ends.

The most remarkable thing about the latest collapse in the now almost ten year long political arrangement, accommodation, call it what you may, between the DUP and Sinn Fein is its untidiness. Many of us assumed that if or when it came it would be a controlled collapse. For most of their time in joint power their greatest single boast was that it had lasted longer than the original, much looser UUP/SDLP arrangement which was constantly stop starting, due to …

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Eight biomass burners go up in flames in Fermanagh

I honestly thought (£) this was from The Ulster Fry when I first saw it… Funny, and yet not funny at all, Gareth McKeown reports… “A shed, approximately 20m x 12m, was on fire and contained approximately 14 tonnes of woodchip and eight boilers,” he said. “Firefighters worked to extinguish the fire, however a large quantity of woodchip and the eight boilers were destroyed in the fire. The shed was badly damaged.” “The incident was finished at 8.47am. The cause of …

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Givan restores Líofa Bursary Scheme funding

My decision on the Líofa Bursary Scheme was not a political decision. I have now identified the necessary funding to advance this scheme. — Paul Givan (@paulgivan) January 12, 2017 Olive branch being offered, but is it too little, too late? David McCannDavid McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

Windfall Tax Could Save Northern Ireland Millions from the Cash-for-Ash Scheme

Various media have reported that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) may cost “up to £490million”. A windfall tax would recover much of that money for Northern Ireland, without disrupting the scheme for genuine users who are using the scheme to conserve energy. Leaving aside the political questions about the RHI, the main question exercising many people in Northern Ireland is how to avoid the scheme costing hundreds of millions of pounds. Contracts have been signed under the RHI, and the …

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“Even the DUP’s harshest critics within Unionism won’t be having that…”

Making a very welcome return to blogging is Eamonn Mallie, Jamie Bryson provides this must read grown-up guide to (wtf) is going on… Sinn Fein do not want an election, they do not even particularly care about Arlene Foster doing the decent thing and stepping aside- they are playing a much longer game. The republican strategy has always been to package a series of grievances into a talks process and pocket the maximum amount of concessions. Such processes within the larger …

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Bedroom Tax promises must be honoured

Of all the welfare changes introduced in Great Britain since 2010, it is the Bedroom Tax that has perhaps attracted the most attention. The patent unfairness and arbitrary nature of the policy, along with its arresting tabloid moniker (officially it is the ‘Social Sector Size Criteria’), has provoked much interest. Social tenants on housing benefit deemed to have one spare bedroom lose 14% of their entitlement, with two or more spare bedrooms triggering a 25% cut in payments. For low-income …

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Why institutional reform needs to be at the heart of the next election

It looks almost certain now that we are heading to an early election. In the usual noise of a campaign there will be a variety of issues that will get people talking and hopefully voting. One issue that has been consistently coming up is reforming our system of government. The SDLP back in May with their jump into Opposition and now Sinn Fein have embraced the concept of reforming the system of government. We have heard slogans such as “no …

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