Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster will feel the heat for some time

Editor's Viewpoint

Arlene Foster has taken the correct decision, along with Martin McGuinness, by deciding to recall the Assembly for a special sitting next week to discuss the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive, which could end up costing the taxpayer an incredible £400 million.

The special sitting will allow the First Minister, who has been the target of unremitting criticism from some quarters for her role in introducing and overseeing the scheme in her time as DETI Minister, to make a statement to MLAs.

She is likely to become the focus of even more scrutiny from Opposition parties in the chamber, and the SDLP is threatening to table a motion of no confidence, but this smacks more of ritual than any serious attempt to unseat Mrs Foster since there is little possibility of the motion gaining a majority vote.

Instead, the SDLP, along with other MLAs, would be best served trying to establish the facts about the scheme - why it was not capped as in Britain, why it took so long for its flaws to be recognised and why so many applications to join were accepted even as plans were being made to close the RHI to entries.

When the matter was discussed by Executive ministers - essentially Sinn Fein and the DUP - yesterday, the seriousness of the situation was acknowledged, as was the need to restore public confidence in the administration.

Allowing this issue to rumble on indefinitely with accusations and rebuttals flying in various media would be disastrous for our politics and lead to further cynicism among voters.

However, next week's meeting is unlikely to ease the pressure on the First Minister, and she may have to break with convention and appear before the Public Accounts Committee, which is best placed to forensically examine how the failings in the scheme came about.

There must be further concern at reports that a review of the scheme concluded that only 47% of installations examined were generating heat for an eligible purpose.

That must add urgency to the drafting of plans to reduce the projected losses from the scheme. These are likely to be revealed in the new year.

Hopefully these proposals will be more carefully designed than the original scheme, which has become a laughing stock, even though the consequences are far from funny. Mrs Foster and her ministers have a lot of work to do to quell public disquiet.

Belfast Telegraph


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