Belfast Telegraph

Finance officials ‘should have challenged RHI claims’

By Lauren Harte

A senior official in Stormont's finance department will face further questioning today about the role of her staff in the flawed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The budget for the scheme, introduced by the Executive in 2012 to encourage businesses to switch from fossil fuels to renewable heating sources, spiralled out of control due to flaws in cost controls, including the fact that claimants could earn more money the more fuel they burned.

Those who joined the scheme were offered financial incentives to purchase new heating systems and the fuel to power them.

Department of Finance senior official Emer Morelli, who was involved in approvals for the scheme, has admitted that DoF staff had not appreciated how "complex and difficult" RHI was from the "get-go".

She has conceded that they should have challenged what they were told much more robustly.

Ms Morelli said DoF staff took what they were told by Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment (Deti) officials "at face value" but should have done more to establish the true budgetary position.

Meanwhile, Deti's former permanent secretary Dr Andrew McCormick will return for two days of questioning on Wednesday and Thursday.

Attention has focused on the role of the DUP's special advisers to ministers during a period in 2015 when civil servants wanted to curb the soaring costs of RHI.

Dr Andrew Crawford, former special adviser to DUP leader Arlene Foster, resigned after Dr McCormick said he exerted influence over the delays in curbing the scheme.

Mr McCormick told the inquiry last month that the DUP was concerned to deflect or discredit any possible reference to Timothy Johnston, who is chief executive of the DUP, but at the time was a special adviser to then First Minister Peter Robinson.

Mr McCormick said the party ultimately acquiesced with the necessity, as it appeared at the time, of naming Dr Crawford as the instigator of the delay.

Belfast Telegraph

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