Belfast Telegraph

Shut down 'shambolic' RHI scheme, demands Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy

Critical: Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy
Critical: Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy

By Staff Reporter

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy called yesterday for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme to be shut down, calling it "a shambolic waste of taxpayers' money".

The Newry and Armagh MLA was speaking in advance of an expected announcement on the future of the Non-Domestic RHI scheme following a consultation carried out by the Department of the Economy.

Mr Murphy said the "RHI scheme has become a byword for everything that was wrong in the political system here in the North".

"The DUP's involvement in the scandal drastically undermined public confidence in the power-sharing institutions and led to a shambolic waste of taxpayers' money," the MLA said.

"A consultation was carried out on the future of the scheme and Sinn Fein made it abundantly clear in our response that it should be closed down as soon as possible."

The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme - dubbed 'cash for ash' - was set up to incentivise farmers and other business owners to switch to wood pellet-burning boilers by offering them a subsidy to purchase the eco-friendly fuel.

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

More than 1,100 businesses signed up to the scheme, many of them poultry businesses connected to chicken giant Moy Park.

The scheme was the subject of a public inquiry which grilled politicians' special advisers, business leaders and civil servants on the bungled scheme, at a cost to the public purse of around half a billion pounds.

Led by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlan, the inquiry's findings are expected to be published this year.

Despite his statement yesterday, former Stormont minister Mr Murphy had previously called for the RHI scheme to be kept open in 2016 - despite plans by the then DUP Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell to close it down.

A Freedom of Information request to Ofgem, the energy regulator, showed that the highest uptake for the RHI scheme came during the final two weeks in February 2016, after Mr Murphy lobbied to keep the scheme open.

Mr Murphy's constituency in Newry and Armagh had the second highest number of RHI applicants after Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

Yesterday the Sinn Fein MLA described the RHI scheme as "comprehensively and irretrievably flawed" and that spending any more public money could not be justified.

"It is at best ineffective and at worse counter-productive in doing what it was supposedly established to do - reduce carbon output," he said.

"The RHI tariffs were more lucrative for smaller, less energy-efficient boilers and the wood pellets subsidised by RHI emit more carbon when burned than fossil fuels.

"These flaws remain," he added.

"RHI should be shut down completely and investment redirected towards building our renewable energy capacity to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change."

The Department for the Economy said last night that it would make an announcement on the future of the RHI scheme "in the near future".

Belfast Telegraph

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