Disturbing RHI claims emerge

Posted By: February 17, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Friday, February 17, 2017

The Renewable Heat Incentive scandal is by any standards a hugely significant political issue in Northern Ireland, precipitating the collapse of the Stormont executive and the calling of an Assembly election.

Not only has this crisis damaged political reputations, it has shaken public confidence in the structures that should be in place to ensure the efficient and appropriate use of taxpayers’ money.

When matters of government go wrong – as they did in spectacular fashion in the case of RHI – it serves to underscore the absolute need for transparency and accountability.

Clearly, the potential squandering of public money is an important issue, raising questions about what was done or not done in relation to RHI, what influence was applied and who benefited from a scheme that was wide open to abuse.

A judge-led public inquiry will examine many of these crucial factors and hopefully will provide much-needed answers.

But this investigation and the delivery of findings will take time.

Meanwhile, we are in the throes of an election sparked, in the main, by RHI and the questions surrounding this scheme cannot be allowed to wait for a full inquiry.

Transparency is key to all this. However, we are still waiting for the list of RHI recipients to be published.

Economy minister Simon Hamilton has said he wants to publish the names but more than 500 members of the Renewable Heat Association successfully applied for an injunction preventing disclosure.

The group went further, threatening to seek a court injunction against the Nolan radio show revealing the names yesterday.

What the program reported is that some businesses registered as dormant have been claiming very large sums from the scheme.

It is widely recognized that many applicants have signed up to RHI in good faith, have invested their own money and are operating within the terms of their contracts.

But there are questions to be asked in respect of some of the claimants and it is absolutely legitimate for journalists to seek answers.