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RHI Inquiry Report: Farmers with boilers 'left to carry the can for incompetence of others'

Farmers who acted in good faith when they took part in the Renewable Heat Incentive have been made "scapegoats" of Stormont's political failure and left with financial problems through no fault of their own, their union has said.

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) said farming families' livelihoods had been put in jeopardy by politicians and civil servants.

It is "vital" that the mistakes laid bare by the public inquiry should mean "that no government scheme can again cause such financial damage to those who follow advice about how to make their businesses greener and more efficient".

Commenting on Sir Patrick Coghlin's report, UFU deputy president Victor Chesnutt said: "This has been a long-drawn-out process and this report is long overdue.

"All along, the primary concern for the UFU has been our members who put their trust in this scheme and the government, only to be sold out to the interests of political expediency.

"RHI participants have been made scapegoats for others' failings. We welcome the report's conclusion that those who used the scheme are not to blame for its failure.

"That responsibility lies wholly with the politicians and officials who created a deeply flawed initiative that has put the livelihoods of farming families across Northern Ireland in jeopardy."

In a bid to stabilise the scheme, RHI tariff cuts were introduced by the Department for the Economy (DfE) in April 2019 as a solution to its own problem.

Farming businesses that invested in the scheme were already under pressure and the tariff cuts added more financial pain, the UFU said.

The UFU provided oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee regarding the tariff changes, making it clear then that "farmers were literally paying the price for the gross negligence of politicians and civil servants".

The union said the RHI tariff cuts pushed many farmers to their limits. It said some have been selling stock and land to keep their heads above water "but for some that hasn't been enough".

It claimed there are UFU members "dealing with the reality that the RHI scheme could end their business".

Mr Chestnutt said the tariff cuts "have created a massive financial black hole and farmers are struggling to find ways to subsidise uneconomic RHI boilers elsewhere in their businesses".

One poultry farm owner said the RHI report told her nothing she didn't already know. Janice Black has been running Blacksmyth Poultry for 15 years with husband Eric in Co Tyrone.

The Pomeroy business also involves her two sons, and she said the report offers her and her family little comfort as they try to make ends meet and try to recoup at least some of the money her business has lost.

"We have read the details before and we're amazed at how government ran this system, but the report didn't tell us anything new. In many respects, it could have been a lot stronger in its criticism," she said. "I listened to Sir Patrick Coghlin's report and found a lot of it underwhelming.

"And from what I have read so far, it's very general and it does little to help us recover. That's going to be up to the government now.

"All we know for certain is that we're left struggling to try to keep the business afloat."

She said that in 15 years "this has been by far our worst year".

"It's been an incredibly stressful time and we're left relying on government to do something to hep us out," she said.

"Like so many others, we entered this scheme in good faith, but we've had to reassess our loans in order to keep a family business we have built up viable for the future. Nothing has changed, we're still not feeling any better about it all."

Belfast Telegraph