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RHI Inquiry Report: Calls made for shake-up of Civil Service as abject failings laid bare

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said there can be no repeat of "the biggest financial scandal in the history of devolution".

Along with the other parties in the Stormont Executive, Mr Eastwood called for lessons to be learned from the disastrous handling of the RHI scheme.

He said this included the immediate reform of the Civil Service.

"The systemic mismanagement of the RHI scheme was the biggest financial scandal in the history of devolution," he said.

"The subsequent attempts to frustrate scrutiny of the scheme and the failure to candidly admit what had gone wrong immediately were disastrous errors of political judgment."

The attitude towards money we were receiving from HM Treasury was despicable and has seriously damaged Northern Ireland's reputation, potentially irreparably in some quarters of the UK Government Steve Aiken

He said it was particularly concerning that the Stormont committee responsible for oversight of the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment "was unable to discharge its scrutiny function".

"This has contributed in a significant way to a collapse in public confidence in these institutions and in politicians."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said the findings were "a sad indictment" of the culture that surrounded a decade of DUP/Sinn Fein rule and unelected advisers.

"Their lack of accountability and responsibility is matched only by their incompetence," he said. "The attitude towards money we were receiving from HM Treasury was despicable and has seriously damaged Northern Ireland's reputation, potentially irreparably in some quarters of the UK Government." Mr Aiken said that "fundamental" reforms were now needed in the Civil Service and government to rebuild public trust.

The UUP's Lord Empey added that civil servants must not be scapegoated while ministers at fault "get away in the smoke".

He agreed that Stormont was no longer trusted with public money by Westminster.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said the findings showed why reform was essential. "This report must act as a watershed moment for those who have been criticised directly, as well as the wider culture and system of governance, which enabled their actions and inactions," he said.

"Alliance has always been a champion of openness and transparency, alongside ethics and effective scrutiny of government. This report gives us a strong basis for doing precisely that within the current Executive. We accept the report's recommendations. Rules and procedures are important for a Government to effectively work and ensure faith from the public. They cannot be viewed as optional or discretionary."

By spreading the blame widely some may have escaped the sharper criticism that they deserved Jim Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister said that while Sir Patrick's report used neutral language, it was clear the panel "was appalled by much of what they encountered".

"The RHI report confirms a catalogue of abysmal failure and astounding bungling by those who presented themselves, either as ministers, civil servants or Spads, as competent, specialist and trustworthy," he said.

"By spreading the blame widely some may have escaped the sharper criticism that they deserved.

"Yet, the question remains: will there be consequences for anyone? In any other jurisdiction it is hard to imagine that heads would not roll. But here, even the concept that the buck stops with the minister when a department spectacularly fails, as [the former Department of Enterprise] did, has become so muted that a pre-emptive apology seems to do."

The FDA trade union, which represent senior managers in public service, said there was no doubt the report made for "uncomfortable reading" .

General secretary Dave Penman said: "The report makes clear that the RHI scheme was a 'project too far' for the Executive, with insufficient resource and expertise to deliver it."

He welcomed plans for an independent panel that will consider if any individual civil servants could face disciplinary action.

Belfast Telegraph