Stormont blocks release of first minister’s RHI correspondence

Posted By: December 14, 2016

Andrew Madden. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, December 14, 2016

First minister Arlene Foster has said she will not resign over the RHI scandal. 

STORMONT is delaying the release of correspondence between Arlene Foster and energy regulators Ofgem regarding the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

In response, the leaders of the opposition have called for full transparency about the failed


The regulator was contracted to administer the scheme in 2012 when the present DUP leader was the minister for enterprise, trade, and investment (DETI).

Applications were stopped in February 2015. However, failure by Stormont officials to employ financial controls resulted in an enormous overspend that is set to cost £400 million over the next 20 years.

The project was designed to encourage businesses to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy through using biomass boilers, but the RHI paid out more than the cost of the fuel used and there was no payment ceiling – meaning the more users burned, the more they earned.

On November 3, The Irish News submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request to Ofgem for the release of all correspondence between Arlene Foster and Ofgem officials regarding the scheme.

Under statutory guidelines, FOI requests are to be dealt with within 20 working days, however, when contacted yesterday about the delay in receiving the information, Ofgem said it was waiting on Stormont for clearance.

“We are currently waiting for third parties for clearance to release [the] material,” a senior official said.

“I, therefore, have to tell you that completion of your information request will be delayed while the public interest in releasing this information is examined.”

Upon further elaboration, the third party referred to was revealed to be “the Northern Ireland government”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt urged the release of the requested information.

“It is well past the time for full transparency and disclosure on the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal,” he said.

“I would publicly repeat what The Irish News has quite legitimately asked for through Freedom of Information.

“The former minister for enterprise, trade, and investment, now the current first minister, must, in the interest of restoring public confidence, and without further delay release all the official documentation she received from Ofgem officials on RHI during her tenure.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood echoed Mr. Nesbitt’s remarks.

“There should be no impediment to full transparency on this issue,” he said.

“The executive meets today, they must agree on a collective response which offers maximum accountability including the provision of all documents relevant to establishing what happened, when it happened and who knew about it.

“Anything less will be an abdication of responsibility.”

An FOI request was also made to the department for the economy, which replaced the DETI in May 2016, seeking all correspondence between the now first minister and officials in her department regarding RHI.

As of yesterday, the request is “under consideration”.

The present economy minister, the DUP’s Simon Hamilton, previously spoke at an event on open government in 2014.

“I view an open government as a key underpinning principle of my public sector reform agenda,” he said.