Belfast Telegraph

RHI furore: 'Political pressure' on civil servants delayed closure of botched £400m heating scheme in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed

Political pressure delayed the closure of the Renewable Heating Incentive, it has been claimed

The BBC's Stephen Nolan Show reported that senior civil servants recognised that the scheme - which has been described as the "biggest financial scandal in the history of devolved government" - had the potential to get financially out of control in June 2015.

However, the programme reports that the Office of First and Deputy First Minister and the DUP pressured officials into delaying the closure of the original scheme.

During that period, between officials calling for the closure of the original scheme and the minister closing it, there was a spike in applications.

Over a two-and-a-half-year period since its opening up to March 2015 there had been 564 applications.

Between April and September 2015 there were then 359 applications and then in October 2015 there were 429 applications.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office estimates the overspend to be over £400m.

However, had the civil servants' call for the scheme in its original format to cease, been taken onboard when they were raised in early summer 2015, a debate could have been tabled in the Assembly in September and it ended as early as the following October.

The Stephen Nolan Show said an email from DETI permanent Secretary Andrew McCormick mentioned "wider reluctance" which delayed the scheme.

Eventually the scheme was closed in November.

The programme also reported on a leaked PricewaterhouseCoopers interim report on the scheme. It found that 46% of installations it inspected were providing heat for eligible purpose within the "spirit of the scheme".

The DUP told the BBC "no one sought to delay" the closure of the scheme.

The Department of Economy said it could not comment on the matter due to the ongoing Public Accounts Committee Investigation.

The Executive Office has also been asked for its response.

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