Belfast Telegraph

'No date' for RHI report says inquiry over speculation of September publication

The chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry Sir Patrick Coghlin (Colm Lenaghan/PA)
The chairman of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry Sir Patrick Coghlin (Colm Lenaghan/PA)

The report into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme could be published in September, it is understood.

The Irish News has reported the findings of the inquiry, led by Sir Patrick Coghlin, is not expected to be published until after the summer.

However, a spokesperson for the RHI Inquiry said "no date has been set" for the publication of the report and Sir Patrick continues to work on it.

The report is set to include recommendations for future governance in Northern Ireland as Sir Patrick works to establish exactly how the RHI scandal unfolded.

RHI landed Stormont with an overspend bill once projected at almost £500million and was cited by former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as one of his reasons for resigning in January 2017.

The inquiry heard a number of allegations directed against senior DUP figures, including leader Arlene Foster, and special advisers.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said that the report could have an effect on talks aiming to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Sinn Fein had previously said it would not return to Stormont with Mrs Foster as First Minister over the scandal, but have since relaxed their stance.

Mrs Long speculated that the report may not be published until "autumn at the earliest", due to a "protracted period of to-ing and fro-ing".

She said that while she did not think attributing blame was the most important issue, it was not an excuse for those who acted improperly during the scandal.

Alliance leader Naomi Long
Alliance leader Naomi Long

"I think if people continue, as unfortunately seemed to happen during the time of the inquiry, to bury their head in the sand as though this was not an issue, then I think people will find that much more of an issue that's difficult to deal with," she said.

"You have to have trust and confidence and we all know that has been damaged at a whole series of different levels."

RHI was intended to incentivise farmers and other business owners to switch to wood pellet burning boilers by offering them a subsidy to purchase the fuel.

Catastrophic errors at government level meant subsidy levels were set higher than it actually cost to buy the pellets, so applicants were effectively able to make a profit on public money by burning boilers without limits.

Tariffs were then introduced in an attempt to stop the payments spiralling out of control.

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