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RHI Inquiry Report: The heat is off Arlene Foster as she escapes criticism

Arlene Foster's position as DUP leader remains secure after the long-awaited Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry report failed to seriously criticise her.

The First Minister last night said she had no intention of resigning.

Significantly, Sir Patrick Coghlin's report did not find that corruption lay at the heart of the cash-for-ash scandal.

"Rather, the vast majority of what went wrong was due to an accumulation and compounding of errors and omissions over time," it stated.

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Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin (centre), Dame Una O’Brien and Dr Keith MacLean at the launch event to publish the RHI Inquiry Report at Stormont yesterday

Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin (centre), Dame Una O’Brien and Dr Keith MacLean at the launch event to publish the RHI Inquiry Report at Stormont yesterday

PA

Inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin (centre), Dame Una O’Brien and Dr Keith MacLean at the launch event to publish the RHI Inquiry Report at Stormont yesterday

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill tweeted: "RHI and other DUP financial scandals such as Red Sky and Nama were unacceptable. These scandals undermined confidence in the Assembly.

"Sinn Fein is committed to the institutions, they must operate with a new kind of politics, which is progressive, respectful, and has integrity."

Speaking after the 656-page report was released, Mrs Foster said: "I am determined to learn from my mistakes and to work to ensure that the mistakes and systematic failures of the past are not repeated."

The report criticised her for failing to read key draft legislation on the RHI scheme when she was Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment (Deti) minister.

But it found that she had been incorrectly informed by her officials that the project was value for money.

The DUP leader acknowledged that she and her party had "much to reflect upon". But she stressed that those who had suggested she had been "motivated by some financial considerations" in her actions or omissions had been proved wrong.

Asked if the report gave her cause to reflect on her own position, she said "No it doesn't."

The report highlighted "unacceptable behaviour" by some DUP special advisers. But it said it would be wrong to blame specific individuals or groups for the design flaws that saw applicants "perversely incentivised" to burn excess heat to turn a profit.

Responsibility should be shared among a wide range of people and public bodies, it stated.

"Corrupt or malicious activity on the part of officials, ministers or special advisers was not the cause of what went wrong with the NI RHI scheme, albeit the inquiry has identified some instances where behaviour was unacceptable," said Sir Patrick.

"Rather, the vast majority of what went wrong was due to an accumulation and compounding of error and omissions over time and a failure of attention, on the part of all those involved in their differing roles to identify the existence, significance or implications of those errors and omissions."

The report includes 319 findings and 44 recommendations aimed at addressing the litany of failures it identified.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said a dedicated Executive sub-committee would be established to act upon the findings.

RHI left the administration facing an overspend bill of hundreds of millions of pounds. Subsequent steps to control costs have prevented that happening. However, the report said it could give no guarantee that the same mistakes would not be repeated.

It described the RHI scheme as a "project too far" for the Stormont executive which "should never have been adopted".

It identified instances of "unacceptable behaviour" by Mrs Foster's special adviser, Dr Andrew Crawford, who shared confidential RHI documents with family members.

It criticised the party's director of communications, John Robinson, for leaking emails relating to the involvement of civil servants in the scheme in order to "divert the attention of the media away from their party".

UUP leader, Steve Aiken, said the report was a "sad indictment, not only on the inability of an executive to run a heating scheme, but of the culture that permeated during the last decade of DUP/Sinn Fein rule".

He said: "There are worrying findings around the behaviour of politicians, unelected Spads and advisors. Their lack of accountability and responsibility is matched only by their incompetence."

He added: "We need to see good government and leadership. The RHI Inquiry report demonstrates how lacking that has been."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the report "which reveals systemic failures in advice from officials to ministers, in the conduct of special advisers and in the actions taken by ministers, must drive immediate change".

The Civil Service required immediate reform to ensure "that staffing levels were appropriate, that sufficient expertise is available, that advice to ministers is fulsome and that detailed minutes of engagement with ministers are prepared".

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said reform was urgently needed. "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 added.

Belfast Telegraph