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DUP minister Hamilton stalls publication of RHI names

By Noel McAdam

The DUP's Simon Hamilton is under fire after a deadline for revealing RHI names passed without publication.

Alliance argued a court order on Tuesday granting some recipients of the botched heating scheme temporary anonymity should not block the identification of other beneficiaries.

Stewart Dickson MLA said: "The minister promised a list and should have foreseen an injunction coming, taking appropriate action to mitigate against it.

"Any injunction should not be a block to releasing immediately the names of those who have not taken the injunction."

The Economy Minister was last night still mulling over the implications of the legal ruling earlier this week.

A statement from the Department for the Economy said: "The minister is considering the court judgment and will reflect on options to ensure maximum transparency on the details of non-domestic RHI recipients consistent with the court ruling."

The SDLP's Claire Hanna had asked Mr Hamilton about his contingency plans, as she argued the court challenge was "entirely foreseeable".

"Has the minister given any thought to publishing an anonymised list?" she asked.

"Such a list could contain some geographical detail, the date, the output and the payment, so we can get a sense of the levels of applicants that are credible and not credible."

However, Mr Hamilton said he had wanted to achieve "maximum transparency whilst keeping to the aim of instilling public confidence in the scheme".

He added: "There was a clear public interest in having maximum transparency.

"It was my intention to publish business details and geographical information as well as other information.

"I still hope to be able to do that, but obviously I will have to reflect on the judgment that has been made."

High Court judge Mr Justice Deeney temporarily banned publication of the names of more than 300 of those who signed up to the initiative. The interim injunction is to remain in place for up to a week.

It covers only those in the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland.

Lawyers for the body set up to represent people who installed boilers under the scheme had argued that publishing their names would create a media "feeding frenzy" and threaten the reputation of individuals who had done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, after only eight months in existence, the Assembly passed into history last night amid fears it could be a considerable time before MLAs meet again at Stormont.

A few committees convened as planned yesterday, although no nationalists or republicans were present for the Executive committee that monitors the office now vacated by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.

Appropriately, one of the main topics under focus on the final day was the RHI scheme, which sparked the crisis that has led to Stormont's collapse.

But the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee with the Audit Office, which drew up a critical report into the scheme, was held behind closed doors. Elsewhere, the electioneering is already under way with five weeks to go before polling day.

'Stand against corruption' posters have been erected by Sinn Fein.

And posters of SDLP veteran Alex Attwood with the tagline 'Build a better future' have started appearing in parts of west Belfast.

The DUP also kicked off its election campaign with a gathering of its candidates on the steps of Parliament Buildings, apart from Assembly Speaker Robin Newton.

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