Northern Ireland news

RHI to continue as DUP and Sinn Fein clash over future of scheme

RHI subsidies were higher than fuel costs
David Young, PA

Stormont’s controversial renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme is to continue operating into the coming financial year, the Economy Minister has said.

Gordon Lyons said the Executive had failed to reach an agreed position on the future of the green energy scheme before the recent collapse of the powersharing administration.

The RHI scheme, set up in 2012, incentivised businesses and farmers to switch to eco-friendly boilers by paying them a subsidy for the wood pellet fuel required to run them.

But mistakes in its design saw the subsidy rates set higher than the actual cost of the wood pellets with applicants finding themselves able to burn to earn.

Stormont collapsed in 2017 amid a row about the RHI, when the late Martin McGuinness resigned as Sinn Fein deputy First Minister in protest at the DUP’s handling of the furore.

The New Decade, New Approach deal that restored powersharing in 2020 contained a commitment to close down the RHI and replace it with another scheme to cut carbon emissions.

Mr Lyons indicated that Sinn Fein had been unwilling to allow proposals from his department on the future of the RHI onto the Executive agenda prior to last month’s collapse.

The administration imploded when DUP first minister Paul Givan quit in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Lyons said because any decision on RHI required executive approval, the scheme would now continue paying out into 2022/23.

However, Sinn Fein responded by claiming that Mr Lyons’s proposed Executive paper had not suggested closing the scheme, rather increasing the tariffs paid.

Speaking to reporters at an investment event in Belfast, Mr Lyons said:

“Well of course everything in regards to RHI would be an Executive decision.

“I on numerous occasions have tried to bring this issue to the Executive, I did not get the ability to put that issue onto the agenda, others blocked it.

“It’s up for them to answer why.

“I want to see a resolution to this issue.

“For me, it’s always been that I want something put in place that is fair to those on the scheme and fair to taxpayers.

“I brought recommendations to the Executive that would achieve that, others didn’t allow it onto the agenda, it’s up to them to answer that.

“It (the scheme) will continue because we don’t have that agreement, we didn’t have the ability to have the discussion.

“I can tell you that the DUP were happy to have it on the agenda, we didn’t get agreement from others.”

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd responded and called on Mr Lyons to take responsibility to close the RHI down.

“The DUP economy minister needs to end the delay and close the renewable heat incentive scheme immediately,” he said.

“Closing this scheme is a commitment within New Decade, New Approach, and closure was endorsed by the Executive over a year ago.

“However, the DUP has attempted to stall closure by failing to bring forward proposals to close the scheme.

“Incredibly it has instead proposed an increase in tariffs.

“Now the DUP has walked out of the Executive and the continuation of the scheme creates the risk of leaving a multi-million pound hole in the budget.

“This would have serious implications for public services including health and education.

“The DUP’s reckless actions are hurting ordinary people and putting millions of pounds at risk.

“They should get back to work, close the RHI scheme and protect the public finances.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news