Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's Murphy sought extension to RHI despite warning from official

By Sean O'Driscoll

Conor Murphy lobbied to have the Renewable Heat Incentive kept open despite having learned that the scheme was already costing a fortune and should be shut down immediately, it has emerged.

Yesterday the party claimed this was to allow companies that had already started installing boilers to complete their work.

Mr Murphy, then a Sinn Fein MLA, attended a Stormont enterprise committee meeting on February 9, 2016 in which Dr Andrew McCormick, the Department of Enterprise's permanent secretary, said that RHI should be shut down immediately to prevent the overspend getting worse.

He also said that it had become a "very serious financial issue", while Jonathan Bell, the then Enterprise Minister, warned that RHI had created "huge budgetary pressure" for all of Northern Ireland. It was the first time that the scale of the 'cash for ash' crisis became publicly known.

Two days later Mr Murphy issued a Press release saying that closing down the scheme would cause undue hardship to those wishing to apply.

He wrote in the media release that he had spoken to Mr Bell and urged him to keep RHI open for another two weeks, from February 16 to February 29.

"The Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister had initially planned to close the scheme earlier, which would have caused tremendous difficulties for those currently involved in preparing applications," he stated. "I discussed this with the minister and urged him to keep the scheme open to allow those applications to be completed, and thankfully he has now done so." In those two weeks, 289 new RHI applications were made, which an independent financial analysis has estimated will cost £70m.

Mr Murphy made no mention of his role in keeping RHI open during an interview with Stephen Nolan on BBC radio last Friday, nor was he asked.

Mr Murphy recalled Dr McCormick telling the committee that RHI was "out of control" and needed to be immediately shut down. He described RHI as "the straw that broke the camel's back" in Sinn Fein's relationship with the DUP and said that republicans moved quickly to have RHI shut down "within weeks".

Mr Murphy did vote to shut RHI when Mr Bell put an Act before the Assembly seeking its closure on February 29.

Asked for a comment, Sinn Fein released a statement in which Mr Murphy said that he had sought time to allow installation companies an opportunity to finish applying and then voted to shut down the scheme.

"The Sinn Fein proposal was for urgent and permanent closure with a short two-week run down period to allow companies already in the process of installing equipment to complete their work," he said.

"While Sinn Fein voted to close the scheme, the SDLP and the UUP voted to keep it open despite knowing the threat to public services that would result."

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