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RHI: Sinn Féin defend 'run down' period before scheme's closure

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill and Conor Murphy at the party's assembly election manifesto launch. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

SINN Féin last night defended proposing a 'run down' period for companies to finish installing RHI equipment before the scheme was closed for good.

The Renewable Heat Incentive was abandoned on February 29 last year amid concerns over the impact on Stormont finances.

Sinn Féin has previously insisted the party moved to "shut it down straight away" when it became aware of problems with the scheme.

However, it has emerged that Conor Murphy encouraged then DUP enterprise minister Jonathan Bell to delay its closure for two weeks.

In a party press release issued on February 11 last year, Mr Murphy said he "urged him to keep the scheme open to allow those applications to be completed and, thankfully, he has now done so".

He said initial plans to close the scheme two weeks earlier "would have caused tremendous difficulties for those currently involved in preparing applications".

The release came several days after Mr Bell wrote to ministerial colleagues on February 5 seeking agreement to urgently close the RHI scheme due to affordability and budgetary pressures.

At that point cost controls had been already introduced for new applicants.

A public inquiry has been launched into the RHI scheme after it ran a projected £490m over budget amid claims of abuse – including a farmer allegedly heating an empty shed for profit.

The SDLP's Claire Hanna hit out at Sinn Féin, claiming its "version of the RHI story is inconsistent, littered with contradictions and is now falling apart".

"For two months they have been frantically attempting to deflect blame for their part in the RHI scandal, claiming that they took decisive action to shut it down but failing to explain why they stayed silent for 10 months without repairing the public finances.

"This February 2016 statement from Conor Murphy now proves that Sinn Féin's 'immediate' closure was no such thing."

Mr Murphy said Sinn Féin voted for permanent closure of the RHI scheme while the SDLP and UUP sought to keep it open.

“The Sinn Féin proposal was for urgent and permanent closure with a short two-week run down period to allow companies already in the process of installing equipment to complete their work," he said.

“While Sinn Féin voted to close the scheme, the SDLP and the UUP voted to keep it open despite knowing the threat to public services that would result.”

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