Northern Ireland news

RHI report: No corruption but plenty of errors, omissions and unacceptable behaviour

Sir Patrick Coghlin investigated the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme which was set up by Arlene Foster's enterprise department in 2012 
Brendan Hughes and Claire Simpson

CORRUPTION or malicious activity was not the cause of what went wrong with RHI, an inquiry into the botched green energy scheme which brought down Stormont has found.

The vast majority of problems with Renewable Heat Incentive scheme were instead due to an "accumulation and compounding of errors and omissions over time".

It was a "project too far", which Stormont should never have undertaken.

However, inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin's investigation did identify "some instances where behaviour was unacceptable".

And the 650-page report warned there is "no guarantee that the weaknesses shown in governance, staffing and leadership... could not combine again".

Describing the scheme as "novel, technically complex and potentially volatile, Sir Patrick said the then Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) should "never have embarked on such a novel and complicated, demand-led scheme".

Sir Patrick found that even though the risks of funding the scheme were first highlighted to DETI by a Treasury official in 2011, not enough was done to mitigate the risks and it was not made clear or properly explained to the DETI minister until late 2015 that money for the scheme would come out of the north's budget.

RHI was set up by DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster's then-enterprise department in 2012.

It was designed to encourage businesses to use more sustainable fuels, but flaws meant subsidies paid out were larger than the price of wood pellets – creating an incentive to 'burn to earn'.

The problems caused an overspend worth millions of pounds which threatened Stormont's finances and the fall-out led to the collapse of power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The 656-page report found that responsibility for what went wrong "lay not just with one individual or group but with a broad range of persons and organisations".

Ian Knox on RHI

19/4/18: Sir Patrick Coughlin's forensic interrogation makes the RHI inquiry unmissable  

11/9/18: Intimations suggest that round 2 of the Great RHI Scandal will out Scorsese Martin, with the DUP's Corleone family feud providing future openings for Al Pacino and Robert de Niro 

12/9/18: The degree of malevolence and dysfunctionality between DUP ministers and spads displayed at the RHI inquiry is eye watering. The account of a drunken minister for trade, being ushered from a New York bar though irrelevant to the subject matter of the inquiry, is likely to remain the abiding image that defines it 

There were a "multiplicity of errors and omissions" and "repeated missed opportunities" to identify and correct problems.

It concludes: "Corrupt or malicious activity on the part of officials, ministers or special advisers was not the cause of what went wrong with the NI RHI scheme (albeit the inquiry has identified some instances where behaviour was unacceptable).

"Rather, the vast majority of what went wrong was due to an accumulation and compounding of errors and omissions over time and a failure of attention, on the part of all those involved in their differing roles, to identify the existence, significance or implications of those errors and omissions."

In a warning for the current devolved administration, which was restored in January after a three-year hiatus, the report adds: "There is no guarantee that the weaknesses shown in governance, staffing and leadership revealed by the inquiry's investigation of the NI RHI scheme could not combine again to undermine some future initiative."

The report contains three volumes, 56 chapters and more than 276,000 words. It has also made 319 findings on the RHI controversy and 44 recommendations.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news