If RHI probe leads to enriched lawyers it will be a fresh scandal

Morning View
Morning View

This newspaper was one of the earliest major media voices to call for an independent inquiry into the RHI saga that had the power to compel witnesses and documents.

We did this because it became clear late last year that RHI was a scandal that, at best, exposed grievous incompetence in politics, government and the civil service.

At worst the staggering nature of the failures around RHI and the slow way in which curbs were brought in raised the possibility of some degree of corruption, perhaps even large scale corruption.

Whatever the explanation, it was clear that a major independent investigation was needed, so that the public could get to the bottom of what went wrong, and so make it less likely to recur in the future.

While the key political questions arising from RHI relate to departments run by DUP ministers, there was a cross-party failure to spot the possible problems with the fact that RHI was set up without cost caps and in a way that enabled some businesses to make huge profits by generating heat relentlessly (the Greens queried it but were dismissed).

No political party was calling for the scheme to be closed until long after it was established and after some participants were making serious profits.

This suggests that the level of scrutiny of government by Stormont MLAs is deficient.

Sinn Fein, however, has behaved both sanctimoniously and ruthlessly over RHI, bringing down Stormont long after it knew of the problems with renewable heat but once it saw a political opportunity.

Now, a fresh problem has been created by the former Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who rightly gave the inquiry independence but failed to find a way to put limits on it.

If, as a result of his foolishness, costs are allowed to spiral and lawyers end up being enriched at the public purse, that will be a fresh scandal.