Northern Ireland news

RHI presented as 'all-singing, all-dancing future' says SDLP's Patsy McGlone

SDLP assembly member Patsy McGlone attending the RHI inquiry
Brendan Hughes

 

THE RHI scheme was presented to MLAs as the "all-singing, all-dancing, new green energy future", the former chair of a Stormont committee has said.

Patsy McGlone headed the assembly committee tasked with examining the work of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) including the RHI scheme.

Speaking at the RHI inquiry this morning, the SDLP assembly member said the flawed green energy scheme was "repeatedly presented to us as a success story" and they relied on Deti being forthcoming with information.

But Mr McGlone faced questions over whether the Enterprise, Trade and Investment (ETI) committee should have done more to scrutinise the scheme during its operation.

Read more: Action Renewables director Michael Doran was 'comfortable' with flawed scheme's launch

Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien said the committee appeared to have "taken everything the department told you at face value".

Around the RHI scheme's launch, Mr McGlone gave a speech in the assembly in which he raised concerns presented to the committee about subsidies giving an incentive to inefficiently install multiple smaller boilers.

He suggested it should be considered at a later stage by Deti, but the inquiry heard the issue was not addressed by the department and the committee did not follow it up.

Mr McGlone had also highlighted that Deti had informed the committee that RHI would have "scheduled reviews built in" and ETI would "pay particular attention to the reviews".

But the committee did not press for reviews of the scheme later when it was in operation.

Read more: The DUP is firmly in the RHI dock

Mr McGlone accepted that ETI "should have definitely picked up on that and said, 'yes, where's the review?'"

The inquiry also heard there was a gap in six-monthly updates to the committee on RHI from Deti, but the committee did not query this.

Under questioning from inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin, Mr McGlone acknowledged the committee should have asked more questions.

However, the Mid Ulster MLA said Deti did not give his committee sufficient information.

"This was being presented to us as the all-singing, all-dancing, new green energy future," he said.

Mr McGlone said industry was kept "better informed" by Deti about RHI than his committee, adding: "Perhaps we should've had our meetings at Moy Park."

Read more: Peter Robinson 'told Jonathan Bell not to go public with claims'

The inquiry heard that in 2013 the committee asked Deti for an oral briefing on RHI, but this did not happen.

Mr McGlone said it was unusual for an assembly committee not to receive an oral briefing when requested, and he was "not sure why" it did not go ahead.

Launched in 2012, the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was designed to encourage businesses to switch from burning fossil fuels to more sustainable alternatives.

But the subsidies were worth more than the cost of wood pellets, encouraging firms to 'burn to earn'.

Delays in introducing cost controls brought a spike in applications and pushed the multi-million-pound government scheme hugely over budget.

The inquiry will hear later from DUP chief executive and former party special adviser Timothy Johnston.

Mr Johnston first appeared at the inquiry on Friday when he denied any role in the delay of cost controls for the flawed RHI scheme.

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