Belfast Telegraph

RHI fiasco: 'Degree of fraud' in green energy scheme says DUP Economy Minister Simon Hamilton

By Jonny Bell

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton told his scrutiny committee there had been a degree of "fraud" involved in the RHI scheme.

MLAs gathered ahead of the noon Assembly sitting which is expected to result in the collapse of the devolved institutions with Sinn Fein's refusal to nominate a deputy First Minister.

Prior to that emergency legislation is to be brought to the floor of the house to stem the £85,000-a-day loss to the public purse because of the RHI scheme.

Sinn Fein withdrew MLAs from committee meetings last week and did do so again at the Economy Committee which is chaired by Conor Murphy.

Deputy chair, the UUP's Steve Aiken, acting as chair called Monday's emergency session.

He described it as "disappointing" that the Sinn Fein MLAs did not show for the meeting.

Mr Hamilton outlined a plan which would keep the RHI scheme running and that all claimants would be inspected.

RHI incentivised businesses to take up sustainable wood pellet boilers for heating systems. However, unlike a near identical scheme in England, there were no caps on tariffs meaning as the cost of the fuel went down, many profited from the scheme.

A projected overspend of £490m is to be picked up by the Northern Ireland taxpayer. Mr Hamilton's plan is intended to reduce that cost.

The Economy Minister said there was a large number of claimants generating "supernormal profits from the scheme".

He said his plan would allow costs to be reduced while a long term solution was found.

"Nothing about this is ideal," he told MLAs.

He also said there "could" be criminal activity involved and inspections had uncovered fraud, although the committee was told there was no prima facie evidence of anyone having a case to answer as yet and the police had not yet been called in.

Mr Hamilton said: "Best intentions were not in the minds of some of those."

He said those using the scheme would have to justify its use.

More: Plans to claw back RHI overspend are mistake, Stormont politicians warned

Outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster had insisted she worked over the Christmas break to find a way to reduce the costs of the controversial Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme to "zero".

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton sent a business case to Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir last week outlining how he intended to tackle the projected £490m overspend.

However, Mr O Muilleoir described it as a "sticking plaster".

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