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RHI boiler owner fails High Court bid to prevent Stormont department publishing name

By Alan Erwin

A Renewable Heat Incentive boiler owner failed on Tuesday in a High Court bid to prevent a Stormont department from publishing his name.

The man's lawyers claimed releasing his details along with other individuals paid under the botched green energy initiative will damage his professional reputation.

They also contended that no distinction was being made between his situation and those who benefited under a previously uncapped version of the scheme.

But dismissing the challenge, a judge backed the Department for the Economy's case that his concerns were "tenuous and fanciful".

Anonymity granted to the man is expected to remain in place until at least May 23, when Stormont officials plan to release more names of those who claimed under the non-domestic RHI arrangements.

The scheme was set up to encourage businesses to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.

It became dubbed the 'cash for ash scandal' because a lack of cost controls could enable users to legitimately earn more money from burning extra fuel.

With a projected overspend of up to £500m, the scandal led to the collapse of Stormont's power-sharing arrangements.

A public inquiry into the whole process is being chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin.

Earlier this year the Department received High Court clearance to publish a list of companies on the initiative.

However, it was required to notify individuals of the intention to reveal their payments and give an opportunity to raise any objections.

Judicial review proceedings were launched by a man who registered on the scheme last year after spending £100,000 on a single boiler.

He argued that the public would fail to grasp that he signed up to the amended 2015 regulations, rather than the flawed 2012 regulations at the centre of the controversy.

Counsel for the man disclosed that he received a payment of £5,200 for his first year of running a boiler - just £200 above the threshold for inclusion on the publication list.

Michael Humphreys QC said: "The concern of the public is around the cost to the public purse and potential for abuse.

"None of these factors appear in the case of an individual who cannot avail of uncapped or untiered payments."

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Department, insisted enough information would be released to make clear he was a bona-fide recipient.

He also stressed the public interest in disclosure, adding that it would demonstrate cost controls are now working.

Throwing out the judicial review challenge, Mr Justice Deeny ruled there was nothing exceptional about the man's circumstances.

The judge said: "I cannot see why the disclosure that he got the sum of money of just over £5,000 should be damaging to his professional reputation.

"If he wishes he could repeat publicly that he spent over £100,000 on installing the boiler and therefore he's getting a return of just over 5% per annum.

"It may be conceivable that some people will think that he's done well out of this, some people might think this was a shrewd investment by him or, I imagine, most people will be indifferent to it."

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard welcomed news the descision.

The South Down Westminster candidate said: "Sinn Fein has consistently called for the names of beneficiaries of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme to be published. We need to see full transparency and accountability.

"The public deserve to know if there are any conflicts of interest as a result of family, business or political connections.

"Given the allegations surrounding the scheme, it is important that we have full accountability around RHI in order to restore public confidence."

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