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Charity linked to UVF boss Winkie Irvine runs three huge RHI boilers in Belfast

By Ciaran Barnes

A charity connected to UVF boss Winkie Irvine is running three large wood pellet boilers in the middle of the heavily built-up Woodvale district of Belfast.

The  200kw furnaces provide heating for accommodation at Cambrai Court, McCallum Court and Mount Eden Court.

The sheltered properties are managed by the Woodvale Shankill Community Housing Association (WSCHA), which is responsible for the upkeep of hundreds of social homes.

Leading loyalist Irvine sits on the charity’s seven-strong board.

Planning applications to install wood-chip boilers at McCallum Court and Mount Eden Court were made in April 2015 — seven months before the now notorious Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) was capped.

The WSCHA only sought planning permission for a similar boiler at Cambrai Court last December, however Sunday Life understands it has been operating for more than a year without official approval.

Belfast City Council, which is reponsible for planning issues, said: “The council has received applications for all three boilers. Planning permission has been granted for boilers at McCallum Court and Mount Eden. The council is currently considering a planning application for a boiler at Cambrai Court.”

Until November 2015 anyone accepted onto the now discredited RHI scheme, which was launched in 2013 by then Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, was paid a £1.60p government subsidy for every £1 of energy they burned.

The fallout from the botched initiative, that is expected to cost the taxpayer £480m over the next 20 years, led to the collapse of the Stormont Assembly.

The DUP has been heavily criticism for its role in promoting the scheme, particularly as a number of relatives of senior party members have benefited.

Among its biggest detractors has been the UVF-linked PUP, which now finds itself dragged into the RHI mess due to Irvine’s ties to the Woodvale boilers.

The UVF commander took to Twitter this week to complain about Sunday Life’s revelations, moaning: “Spouting lies and fabricating facts maybe (sic) of interest to some people, but hardly surprising.”

But the reality is that Irvine sits on the board of the WSCHA.

The housing charity is also facing “sham tender” claims made at an employment tribunal over its awarding of a lucrative building contract to the WGS construction firm, of which Irvine is a director.

WHSCA was contacted by Sunday Life so it had an opportunity to explain why it decided to install three RHI boilers at its sheltered accomodation complexes, however no one from the housing association has returned our calls.

Although two of the boilers have been granted planning permission and the third is awaiting approval, concerns have been raised about the furnaces’ close proximity to houses.

Asked if building control had approve the boilers, the council said: “A building regulations application is required for the installation of a boiler, and the siting of the flue-pipe to prevent hazard to the health of any person is considered prior to the approval of that application. To  ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act, we cannot disclose information in relation to specific addresses in the city.”

Sunday Life’s revelations about the boilers will heap more pressure on Irvine, who is understood to be seething after this newspaper detailed his growing involvement in the building trade.

The UVF boss is a director of the WGS property firm awarded a lucrative contract by the WSCHA for maintenance work on hundreds of its social homes in the Woodvale district.

But a WSCHA whistleblower who is taking an unfair dismissal case against the housing charity has claimed in court that the contract was awarded to WGS after a “sham tender” process.

This has led senior UVF figures to ask questions about  Irvine’s business interests in the area.

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