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Four family members run boilers under RHI scheme, says ex-DUP health minister

A senior Democratic Unionist has revealed that four family members run boilers under the controversial green energy scheme at the centre of Stormont's powersharing crisis.

Jim Wells, an Assembly member and former DUP health minister, said his brother, two cousins and the husband of another cousin all operate Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) boilers at their respective chicken farms.

Mr Wells said he was only made aware of the information on Friday from another relative. There is nothing to suggest any of the relatives operate the RHI boilers inappropriately.

The veteran DUP man said he had no financial interest in the farm businesses but said he felt it was important to make the information public. His announcement comes ahead of next week's scheduled publication of the names of all the beneficiaries of the RHI scheme.

The Stormont Executive collapsed after Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness quit in protest at DUP First Minister Arlene Foster's handling of the RHI scandal, which has left the administration facing a £490 million overspend. Mr McGuinness's move forced DUP leader Mrs Foster from her job as first minister.

Northern Ireland is now heading to the polls for a snap election on March 2 amid fears the devolved administration will not be patched back together in the short term.

The state-funded RHI was supposed to offer a proportion of the cost businesses had to pay to run eco-friendly boilers, but the subsidy tariffs were set too high and without a cap, so it ended up paying out significantly more than the price of fuel.

This handed applicants the ability to legally "burn to earn", getting free heat and making a profit as they did so.

In a statement released late on Friday night, Mr Wells said: "Today I received information from a relative which indicated that four members of my family have installed wood pellet boilers under the RHI Scheme.

"All of these relatives are farmers who rear chickens for Moy Park Ltd based in Dungannon.

"My brother installed one boiler in September/October 2015 to heat his broiler shed. In August 2014 my two cousins and the husband of a third cousin installed a combined total of eight boilers at three separate farms to heat their sheds.

"All of these farmers have been involved in poultry rearing for well over a decade and the wood pellet burners replaced existing heating systems.

"I have no financial interest whatsoever in any of these businesses but I believe that was important that I make this information public as soon as I became aware of it."

Mrs Foster was DUP Economy minister at the time the RHI was developed. Mr McGuinness quit in protest over her refusal to stand down as first minister to allow an inquiry to take place.

A public inquiry was announced by Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir earlier in the week.

While the RHI triggered the collapse of Stormont, it also reignited a range of festering disputes between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Resolutions to those wrangles will also need to be found before the parties would agree to re-entering coalition government together on the other side of an election.

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