Arlene’s role in green energy scheme fiasco under spotlight

Posted By: November 12, 2016

First Minister Arlene Foster said the former DETI were to blame for the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal

Newton Emerson. Irish News (Belfast).Saturday, November 12, 2016
12 November 2016 01:00

BARELY noticed amid this week’s Washington bombshell, Stormont has begun examining the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme – the £1 billion fiasco that mainly occurred under Arlene Foster’s tenure as minister for enterprise.

Testifying before the assembly’s public accounts committee, senior civil servants have admitted it was “one of the biggest scandals” since devolution. Among the details discussed were that a whistleblower raised concerns in 2013 and these were put to Foster. Another whistleblower later went to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, having apparently presumed the Department of Enterprise would do nothing.

Foster let a team of 10 civil servants assess the 2013 complaint, which was the correct procedure. However, this still contrasts with her Irish News interview two weeks ago, in which she denied seeing any detail of the scheme below “overall policy” level. While MLAs on the committee tried to clarify Foster’s involvement, DUP members seemed more interested in finding out if the civil service is disciplining the whistleblowers.


The DUP’s account of Belfast’s canceled New York air route is turning into another non-linear narrative. Having accused the European Commission of blocking United Airline’s £9m Stormont subsidy, economy minister Simon Hamilton has clarified that Brussels merely notified both parties it had received a complaint about unlawful state aid. Stormont and United then promptly and voluntarily scrapped the deal, which looks like an implicit admission they knew it broke the rules.


Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness have sent boilerplate congratulations to the new American president, unlike SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who is standing by his pompous promise to boycott a Trump White House. While this might seem absurdly Lilliputian it is nothing to the awkwardness faced by the SNP.

Nicola Surgeon and Alex Salmond have both been embroiled in a long-running feud with Trump after their previously close ties to him turned sour. Sturgeon called him a misogynist just three weeks ago and urged Americans not to vote for him. In September, Salmond warned Trump was a “dangerous manchild”. At the start of this year, Trump cited the release of the Lockerbie bomber to call Salmond a “stupid man” and “an embarrassment.” Trump tried playing Stormont and Holyrood off against each other in 2007 over a golf course investment. If he takes any interest in Northern Ireland, it is likely to be colored by his intense love-hate relationship with his Caledonian roots.


It would take a law degree and a three-dimensional diagram to explain exactly what is going on with Brexit court cases and appeals, especially since Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin has referred one of the two judicial reviews heard in Belfast last month directly to the UK Supreme Court, to be heard alongside the British government’s appeal of a separate case in London. However, one fairly clear quirk to emerge from this tangle is that the government’s chances of winning its appeal have been improved by the Belfast judgment. The Northern Ireland case, brought by a number of human rights groups and Stormont politicians, was rejected on all grounds. The Supreme Court can now consider that against the London judgment. While this is still unlikely to tip the scales in the government’s favor, it represents an expensive own goal for our anti-Brexit campaigners.


If Sinn Féin has any plans to vote on Brexit at Westminster, it may hope the Speaker is less strict than the Chinese Communist Party. Beijing has just stopped two elected legislators from taking their seats in Hong Kong’s parliament because although they took the required oath, they did not do so “sincerely”, which Beijing has defined as reading out the text “accurately, completely and solemnly.”


Northern Ireland’s first air ambulance has been delivered but it has yet to find a permanent base. The helipad on top of the Royal Victoria Hospital’s new A&E remains unsuitable, which raises questions about what on earth it is for – visits from Prince Andrew, perhaps? The A&E department is in the Royal’s £150m regional critical care center, which opened three years late in 2015 after undiluted cleaning chemicals were accidentally flushed through its pipe-work. Rumors abound that this explains continued under-use of the building. Could it  also explain why a helicopter cannot land on its helipad?


The PSNI’s Garnerville training college has been condemned as a “military-style boot camp” in an internal review led by an officer from Police Scotland. Widespread coverage of this sadly failed to mention Garnerville’s two witty nicknames, ‘PC World’ and ‘Pisneyland’, which would have been no dafter a thing to bring up than the report’s hand-wringing objections to “marching to and from lessons” or “running distances in business attire”. Should officers change into sportswear before chasing down suspects? The PSNI immediately demonstrated that it is not a “pseudo-militaristic” culture by accepting all 50 of the report’s recommendations, instead of just throwing it in the bin.