RHI scheme applicants ‘made to feel like we’re criminals’

DUP MLA and now-First Minister Arlene Foster, pictured at the official opening of Lakeland Karting, during her time as enterprise minister
DUP MLA and now-First Minister Arlene Foster, pictured at the official opening of Lakeland Karting, during her time as enterprise minister

The brother of an ex-DUP advisor has said he and others on the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme (RHI) have done nothing wrong but are neverthless being made to feel like “criminals”.

Aaron Brimstone, director of Lakeland Karting in Co Fermanagh, said that whilst some practices which he has heard of appear somewhat “dodgy” – such as the idea of running multiple boilers in order to claim more subsidy cash – as far as he is concerned, the scheme “ain’t no money-making machine”.

Mr Brimstone, whose Kesh-based business was officially opened in 2012 by the then-enterprise minister Arlene Foster, told the News Letter on Thursday that he had heard about the RHI from a local business, did his own research into it, and that “no-one else sold the concept to me”.

As to whether his brother or anyone in the DUP had given him advice on his application, he said: “No, no.”

It had been revealed earlier this week that his sibling Stephen Brimstone, who has recently left his post as a DUP special advisor, was among those who had benefitted under the RHI scheme.

On Thursday, investigative news website The Detail published an article revealing Aaron too had obtained subsidies.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of either brother.

Aaron set out the details of how he is using the scheme to the News Letter.

He said a wood pellet boiler was installed in early 2016 to heat his business, replacing an existing gas-fired system.

If he finds he is able to, he would also like to use it for heating a house which is currently under construction.

The boiler was installed at his own expense, at what he estimates to have been a five figure sum.

Meanwhile, the government pays him a subsidy to run the boiler.

The terms of the deal mean the boiler looks set to run for a maximum of 1,314 hours per year, he said.

However, he hopes in the long term his new system will work out cheaper than installing an oil boiler, even though he thinks an oil one would need less maintenance.

Plus, he said his business is now warmer than before, and burning renewable wood is better for the environment than burning oil or gas.

He added that he does not do “anything here that’s illegal or dodgy”.

“I don’t want it to seem like I’m robbing taxpayers or taking money off someone I shouldn’t be,” he said.

“It isn’t the case on my scheme that I could [put my income] up if I turn the boiler on all day long.”

He added: “With the whole media and all the rest of it, it feels like I’m some sort of criminal by what I’m doing, and that wasn’t my intention when I applied,” he said.

“Because it was there, it was all legal, there was nothing underhand. It wasn’t like I bluffed anyone...

“I’m sure other applicants probably feel exactly the same.

“They’re sort of being held up in certain ways as criminals even though they’ve done nothing wrong.”

When asked to provide details of Stephen Brimstone’s application under the RHI scheme, a spokesperson for the DUP told the News Letter this week that the party was “not privy” to those details, as he is now a private citizen.

His departure as a DUP special advisor was not connected to his involvement with RHI, according to Arlene Foster.

In addition, it has also emerged that a poultry farmer who was brother of the DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford has likewise claimed under the RHI scheme.

Jim Allister, TUV leader, said earlier this week that whilst there is no suggestion that it is illegal for those with party connections to apply for the scheme, “if insiders were seeking to avail of the scheme, before it was capped, it adds a new dimension”.

He called on “all beneficiaries” of RHI to be identified.