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More time needed for RHI probe, warns judge

By Staff Reporter

A public inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme will not be able to complete its work within the six-month time frame, the chairman of the probe has said.

Retired Appeal Court judge Sir Patrick Coghlin warned that while he understood that politicians and the public were anxious for the inquiry to complete its work as soon as possible, he was unable at this stage to indicate how long it would take.

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir instigated a public inquiry into the scandal when he was Finance Minister, and said it would be appropriate for it to report within six months.

However, Sir Patrick said: "At present I can say that it will not be possible to report within six months. What I can assure you of is that our work will be done as efficiently as possible, and it will be done properly."

He also ruled out any possibility of a preliminary report, saying any such conclusions would be based on incomplete information and might have to be changed.

"It would also have the potential to be unfair to those who may be involved before the inquiry," he added.

Sinn Fein has repeatedly insisted that it will not support DUP leader Arlene Foster as First Minister until the inquiry reports.

This has added further complications to the attempts to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Mrs Foster, meanwhile, has said she will not allow Sinn Fein to dictate who the DUP nominates to any post.

The RHI inquiry was set up after it emerged that the green energy scheme was approximately £490m over-budget.

The scheme was intended to increase the creation of heat from renewable sources.

However, some businesses have been receiving more in subsidies than they are paying for renewable fuel.

The fallout from the scandal resulted in the resignation of Sinn Fein's then Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, the collapse of Stormont's institutions and the calling of a snap election on March 2.

Sir Patrick said there was a "huge amount of material from many quarters to be obtained and considered by the inquiry" before hearings can start.

He added: "This will be an inquisitorial process, designed to establish the facts.

"It is not an adversarial trial and has no power to determine any person's liability.

"The RHI inquiry team is determined that it will get to the truth of the matters it is investigating, and will do so as quickly as it possibly can."

A preliminary public hearing is due to be held next month.

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