McGlone hauls Foster over coals in renewable heat Deti blame-game

Posted By: November 02, 2016

Andrew Madden. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ARLENE Foster has faced a backlash over suggestions a Stormont committee was to blame for a failed green energy scheme that will cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.

The department for enterprise, trade, and investment (Deti) had implemented the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme in 2012.

It was suspended in February of this year.

The DUP leader was the minister for the department for the majority of the time the initiative was in operation.

An audit office report published in July highlighted widespread abuses and failures in legislating the program, which was designed to encourage farmers and businesses to switch from fossil fuels. In some cases, claimants were being paid to heat empty buildings.

The report stated that the resulting payment commitments from the botched initiative would cost the taxpayer £140 million over the next five years and around £1 billion in the next two decades.

In an interview with The Irish News, Mrs. Foster refused to accept responsibility for the scandal and instead pointed the finger of blame at members of the Deti committee.

“Some people are very keen to point the finger at me but this was all scrutinized by the enterprise, trade, and investment committee at the time, so I think some of the people who were sitting on that committee need to look at themselves,” she said.

In response, members of the Deti committee at the time have expressed their outrage at the statement.

UUP MLA Sandra Overend called the accusations “classic deflection”.

“It is frankly incredible that first minister Foster has attempted to deflect responsibility for the RTI fiasco to the former Deti committee, a committee which of course, had a majority of members from the DUP/ Sinn Féin coalition,” she said.

Former chairman of the committee, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, said the comments were “completely wrong” and “ridiculous”.

“The responsibility lies with the department, but ultimately it’s up to the minister to make sure that their department is acting efficiently and in a manner that they could be relied upon,” he said.

“It’s completely wrong for a minister in any circumstance to step back and say ‘its none of my responsibility’ because the buck does stop with the minister – especially when it’s involving millions of pounds of taxpayers money.”

Speaking to The Irish News, the first minister reasoned that she couldn’t be expected to see “every single jot and tittle” of what was going on in the department.

However, writing a guest article for the political commentary site Slugger O’Toole last week, Ms. Foster in wrote: “Detail is important. For someone from a legal background like myself, this is a given.”