Belfast Telegraph

Cheaper heating scheme rejected, RHI inquiry hears

By Staff Reporter

A Stormont department plumped for a subsidy-based renewable heat scheme which it knew would cost taxpayers over £300m more than an alternative grant-based scheme, the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry was told yesterday.

The inquiry was set up to probe the controversial green energy scheme in Northern Ireland, which paid out more in subsidies than the cost of the fuel used - leading to the scandal being dubbed 'cash for ash'.

Yesterday, the senior economist at the Department for the Economy, Shane Murphy, was pressed to explain why the then Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) had chosen the more expensive option.

He told the inquiry that he had advised the team working on the proposed RHI scheme that their preferred option was more expensive.

However, junior counsel for the inquiry, Joseph Aiken, asked why Mr Murphy had not made any official note pointing out the additional multi million pound costs of the department's preferred scheme.

"Maybe because I knew it in my head, it was obvious to me, I didn't note it down anywhere, or that it wasn't noted in the minutes," the economist replied.

He also accepted that when the eventual scheme went to the then Deti minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster, for final sign-off, she would not have been able to make a fully informed judgment on the financial implications on the basis of the materials supplied.

Inquiry panel member Dame Una O'Brien put it to Mr Murphy that the department had rejected the cheaper scheme in part to make a short-term saving of £3.5m on administration costs.

"Did you ever observe the apparent weirdness of it?" she asked Mr Murphy.

"We see these things so often that we no longer see them as odd as the man on the street," Mr Murphy replied.

Belfast Telegraph

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