Hamilton defends Foster over her letter to banks

Posted By: December 31, 2016

David Young.Irish News.Belfast. Saturday, December 31, 2016

One of Arlene Foster’s ministerial colleagues has claimed political rivals calling for her resignation as are more interested in a scalp than the truth.

Economy minister and fellow DUP member Simon Hamilton defended his party leader after a renewed wave of calls for her to step aside over her handling of the botched energy scheme.

He accused opposition MLAs attacking Mrs. Foster over the RHI scandal of offering nothing more than “party political attacks and resignation calls.”

“On the one hand they call for a process to establish the facts but they have already decided what the outcome should be,” he said.

Mr. Hamilton was reacting to the publication of a letter Mrs. Foster sent to bankers about the RHI when she was economy minister in January 2013.

In it, she said payments made under the scheme would be “guaranteed” – an assertion that prompted rivals to rubbish her current stance that half of the estimated £490 million overspend could be clawed back.

Fatal errors in the RHI have left Stormont facing a potential £490 million overspend bill over the next 20 years. It was supposed to offer a proportion of the cost businesses had to pay to run eco-friendly boilers, but the tariffs were set too high, and without a cap, so it ended up paying significantly more than the price of fuel. This enabled applicants to “burn to earn” – getting free heat and making a profit as they did it.

Claims of widespread abuse include a farmer allegedly set to pocket around £1 million in the next two decades for heating an empty shed.

Mrs Foster, who was in charge of the scheme’s development during her time as economy minister, has faced down calls to step aside from other main Stormont parties.

Mrs Foster has remained defiant amid the “ash for cash” scandal and insisted the projected overspend can be halved.

The basis of that assertion has now been challenged by political rivals after the contents of her January 2013 letter to banks was revealed. In the two-page letter, which was published online by the News Letter on Thursday, the then economy minister wrote: “Tariffs are ‘grandfathered’, providing certainty for investors by setting a guaranteed support level for projects for their lifetime in a scheme, regardless of future reviews.”

She added: “The government support, on offer through the incentive schemes, is reliable, long term and offers a good return on investment.”

The letter was written to encourage banks to lend to would-be RHI applicants who needed initial capital to purchase the costly green


Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said the letter demonstrated the “urgent need” for all documents related to the RHI to be made public.

“It is clear that Arlene Foster wrote to banks and lending institutions to vouch for the validity of the now scandalized Renewable Heat Incentive scheme,” he said.

“It’s another fine mess for a scandal-prone executive, and Mrs. Foster is right at the center of this one.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said the letter showed Mrs. Foster was “actively promoting the scheme.”