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Opposition parties demand RHI inquiry ahead of Northern Ireland elections

By Noel McAdam

Pressure is mounting on the Government to hold an inquiry into Stormont's botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme - despite the election campaign now under way.

The demands came from Stormont's main opposition parties, as a week passed without the DUP's indication that an inquiry would be announced materialising.

It also came against the background of further revelations from senior civil servant, Dr Andrew McCormick, before Stormont's ongoing Public Accounts Committee investigation yesterday.

And it was confirmed that the DUP's former Head of Communications, who had faced accusations over the RHI scheme, revealed his father-in-law runs two green energy boilers under the scheme.

John Robinson, who is now a special adviser to current DUP Economy Minister Simon Hamilton, insisted the poultry farmer signed up to the scheme before his marriage and stressed he had never advised anyone to join the initiative.

Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, argued, however: "It is now clear that the Secretary of State must intervene in the Renewable Heat Incentive debacle and establish an inquiry immediately. With each passing day, it seems that more revelations are coming to light regarding the ill-fated RHI scheme and the need for urgent action cannot be over-stated.

"The First and Deputy First Ministers have exited the stage. Devolution has collapsed.

"The role of and extent of involvement of DUP Special Advisers is now under scrutiny as never before.

"We are in the midst of the greatest financial scandal in the history of the State. And an election is six weeks away.

"The scale of the financial exposure, which RHI has brought, is so great, that the UK Government simply cannot sit back and allow matters to drift."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the further revelations again underlined the need for a public inquiry and accused the DUP's selective release of information as, "nothing more than an attempt to cover their own backs".

"What's needed now is a fully empowered public inquiry that can compel papers and people to secure the truth of this matter.

TUV leader, Jim Allister, said the evidence from Dr McCormick showed the DUP have questions to answer.

He said: "Dr McCormick stated that when officials had spotted the disastrous flaw in the RHI scheme and wanted to rectify the situation, he believes Arlene Foster's spad in the Department of Finance, Andrew Crawford, pressed successfully to keep the scheme open. It is now more clear than ever that we need to have a full public inquiry into this whole affair."

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