Belfast Telegraph

Department for Economy accepts most of the blame over RHI, says lawyer

Statement: Neasa Murnaghan QC
Statement: Neasa Murnaghan QC
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The "lion's share" of blame for the design of a flawed energy scheme lies with the Department for the Economy (DfE), a public inquiry heard yesterday.

But in a closing statement to the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry on behalf of DfE, Neasa Murnaghan QC said while it accepted "primary responsibility for the development of the policy, others are not absolved of responsibility where they perceived a bear trap ... to fail to draw that again to Deti's attention".

Yesterday, the inquiry heard how the department - then called the Department for Enterprise and Investment (Deti) - wanted to push ahead with RHI without cost controls in place, which had already been introduced to a similar scheme in Great Britain.

Deti was responsible for setting the overly-generous tariffs at the heart of the scandal that enabled RHI applicants to make 'cash for ash'.

Ms Murnaghan said: "Undoubtedly the lion's share rest with the department but it would be misleading to look at the department in a vacuum."

She accepted that cost controls "should have been built into the scheme" from the start and pointed out that Deti "missed many opportunities to correct the initial flaws" in RHI.

The inquiry has heard that Deti officials accepted predicted costs of RHI from financial consultants Cambridge Economic Policy Associates. Ms Murnaghan said Deti "relied very heavily" on the advice of the expert consultancy firm, which she believes also needs to take some of the blame.

The barrister also contested claims made earlier by Ofgem's legal counsel Jason Beer that the regulator had warned Deti over the design of the RHI. She said some of these warnings had not been so "clear cut".

Ms Murnaghan added that Ofgem was also at fault for not passing on information it obtained from the RHI scheme running in Great Britain about the problem of claimants installing multiple boilers to maximise subsidy incomes.

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