Leading article

Transparency is essential over RHI controversy

The long-awaited publication of the names of companies receiving subsidies under the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme has provided a significant degree of transparency in relation to an initiative that has had far-reaching implications for Northern Ireland.

On Thursday, just before the St Patrick's Day break, the economy department published a list of around 400 companies and organisations receiving payments in excess of £5,000.

The identities of individuals claiming under the scheme can not yet be revealed after a judge said the department must first consider any objections they may have.

But for the first time, the public - who are funding these payments - have been able to see the names of businesses, the number of biomass boilers they own, when they joined the RHI scheme and the amount of money they have received.

Far from the predicted `media feeding frenzy', the response to the release of lists has been fairly measured.

The lists have been made widely available, which is appropriate, while there has been a legitimate focus on a small number of claimants, including those receiving the highest amounts of subsidy and those with links to DUP special advisers.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of those involved in this scheme and it is also clear that while some claimants are receiving very large sums from the taxpayer there are many whose subsidy is relatively modest.

What some business owners have pointed out is that this was a government-backed scheme and they were entitled to avail of the opportunity presented, which is absolutely correct.

Some have also spoken about the considerable financial investment they have had to make to switch from oil-fired burners to biomass boilers.

RHI: The biggest claimants revealed

But we also know that this scheme has been surrounded by allegations of misuse and a failure to impose cost controls, leaving a potentially hefty price tag for the taxpayer.

The political ramifications are being felt to this day with talks going on in a bid to restore the devolved structures which collapsed in the wake of this controversy.

A judge-led public inquiry has also been established to examine the issues surrounding RHI.

By any standards, this is a story of enormous public interest. When it comes to matters involving the public purse, complete transparency is the best safeguard against abuse.

This was acknowledged by Mr Justice Deeny when he lifted the ban on identifying companies.

Hopefully, the rest of those claiming substantial amounts under the RHI scheme can be named in the very near future.

 

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