Belfast Telegraph

'Surprise' Irish minister aware date of RHI report publication

Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)
Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)

There has been surprise the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister would know the date of publication of the inquiry report into the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme.

On Thursday Simon Coveney told an Oireachtas committee he believed the report would be published "next month" and the fall out could lead to added "bitterness" that could further hamper the restoration of the Northern Ireland power-sharing institutions.

There was surprise in Northern Ireland at the comments. It has been thought a report could be published before the summer with speculation of a June date.

A spokesman for the inquiry said there was no date for publication and work remained ongoing.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said that the Irish government "has no information" on when the report is due.

“The Tanaiste was asked at an Oireachtas Committee yesterday what the Irish government was doing about the RHI inquiry and replied that we are awaiting the report of the Inquiry," a department spokesperson said.

"The Irish government has no direct insight into the operations of the Inquiry, nor has it any contact with the Inquiry, and has no information on when its report is due.”

The RHI scheme was partly blamed for the collapse of the Stormont institutions. The inquiry was convened by former finance minister Mairtin O Muilleouir to look into the establishment and running of the scheme.

Mr Coveney said the report's publication would be an "awkward" period for some.

He said: "The one thing I would warn against though is, I don't think people should be waiting for the RHI inquiry to report in order to try to use that in a sort of destructive way.

"There is a danger from RHI that the bitterness that may come out of that may delay even further the opportunity to get an executive up and running."

The RHI 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 scheme 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.

UUP finance spokesman Steve Aiken said he was "amazed" the Tanaiste "seems to know something the rest of us don’t" regarding the publication of the RHI report.

"There is little point in him trying to set down a marker as to how parties should react when it does.

“The RHI scandal goes right to the heart of how the DUP and Sinn Fein have done business over the last ten years.  It has shone a light on the dysfunctionality at the core of Government here.  

"The report and its recommendations must be a watershed moment for politics here.  It cannot simply be a case of everyone agreeing something needs to change and then picking up where they left off.  There must be radical changes to governance and transparency.

“If the Tanaiste, the Secretary of State, or anyone else thinks the publication of the RHI report can be used to pressure parties back into an Executive where the DUP and Sinn Fein pick up where they left off, then they are going to be sorely disappointed.”

The Department for Foreign Affairs in Dublin has been approached for comment.

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