Northern Ireland news

NI Assembly to debate report into ill-fated RHI scheme

First Minister Arlene Foster

THE Northern Ireland Assembly will today debate the report into the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The report, which was published on Friday, is set to be discussed during a plenary session this afternoon after finance minister Conor Murphy tabled a proposal, which states "that this Assembly takes note of the publication of the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry Report".

Up to three hours have been set aside for the debate as politicians consider the fallout from the findings.

First Minister Arlene Foster may face questions about the report, which included some criticism of her role in developing the botched RHI scheme and also highlighted "unacceptable behaviour" by several of her party's special advisers.

On Friday, inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin was highly critical of how the scheme was operated and found it should never have been adopted in the first place.

But he also found that there was no corruption or "malicious activity" involved by Stormont ministers, officials and special advisers.

The inquiry noted that Mrs Foster, who introduced the scheme during her tenure as Enterprise Minister, had been incorrectly informed by her officials that the project was value for money.

However, it criticised the DUP leader for signing off on a draft regulatory impact assessment which highlighted risk, but did not include adequate costing information.

The probe said it would be wrong to blame specific individuals or groups for the design flaws that saw applicants "perversely incentivised" to burn excess heat to turn a profit.

Launched in 2012, the non-domestic RHI scheme was supposed to encourage businesses to use more sustainable fuels.

But flaws meant subsidies paid out were larger than the price of wood pellets - creating a perverse incentive to 'burn to earn'.

Following the report's publication, Mrs Foster repeated an apology for her "failings in the implementation" of the RHI scheme.

She said she was "determined to learn from my mistakes and to work to ensure that the mistakes and systematic failures of the past are not repeated".

"Obviously there are issues when I look back that I wish had done differently," she said.

"I apologise for that and apologise for any failings on behalf of the party.

"Obviously I look back at the mistakes that were made and wish things had happened in a different way, but I think for me what I have to do now is learn the lessons, particularly around my piece and also around the whole governance piece as well, being the First Minister, to make sure those are implemented."

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