RHI scandal: All but Sinn Fein back call for public inquiry

Sinn Fein boycotted the Assembly debate on a public inquiry into the RHI scandal, leaving empty benches, but turned up for later business
Sinn Fein boycotted the Assembly debate on a public inquiry into the RHI scandal, leaving empty benches, but turned up for later business

The Assembly has unanimously called for there to be a full public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

In what will be one of the final pieces of business before the Assembly is dissolved next Wednesday for elections, an Opposition motion calling for an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 was passed with not a single dissenting vote.

However, Sinn Fein – the only party in the Assembly to still oppose the most rigorous form of inquiry possible under UK law – boycotted the debate and did not vote, even though the party was in the chamber for later business,

A week ago, Arlene Foster said that she would set up a full public inquiry within 24 hours, but there is still no progress on that front.

But Northern Ireland’s MLAs from across the political spectrum were united in calling on the Secretary of State James Brokenshire, to set up the public inquiry.

Speaking in Parliament Mr Brokenshire indicated that he may do so if there was evidence of “cross-community” support – something which had been demonstrated at Stormont just an hour before he addressed the Commons.

Yesterday in the Assembly the veteran Foyle MLA and former journalist Eamonn McCann alleged that the RHI scheme had not been “flawed” but had in fact been deliberately set up in a way that enabled it to be abused.

He said: “The reason why nobody spotted the flaw is that there was no flaw in the system. There was no flaw at all. This was deliberate, and it was conscious.

“Apparently, we cannot accuse people of criminality, fraud and all the rest of it. I do not accuse any individual of being a criminal or a fraudster; what I say is this: it is a flat fact that there was criminality and fraud.”

Meanwhile, fresh allegations of abuse of the RHI scheme have emerged. A source has told the News Letter that police suspected a building in south Armagh was a cannabis factory because its roof was steaming while those around it were frozen.

However, after obtaining a search warrant officers discovered that it was an empty shed being heated by a man who said he was profiting from the public subsidy and was not doing anything illegal.