The DUP is facing calls to reveal how many ‘DUP and government insiders’ benefited from the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme, after it emerged that a former special advisor was among the claimants.
Answering questions about the financial fiasco, which has the potential to leave taxpayers in Northern Ireland £400m out of pocket, First Minister Arlene Foster revealed her former ‘spad’ Stephen Brimstone, who recently left his position, was a beneficiary under the controversial scheme.
However, in an interview with the BBC, Mrs Foster said his involvement in the RHI was not a factor in his departure.
In the wake of the latest revelation about the heating scandal, TUV leader Jim Allister said it was in the public interest that claimants are identified.
He added: “Having had it confirmed that while a DUP special adviser Stephen Brimstone was also a beneficiary of the lucrative Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, I feel entitled to ask if he was the only DUP and government insider seeking to take advantage of the scheme?
“It is not suggested such would be unlawful, but, nonetheless, if insiders were seeking to avail of the scheme, before it was capped, it adds a new dimension.
“Given the public dismay over the handing of this scheme it is now very much in the public interest that all beneficiaries are identified. The public money paid to individual local farmers and lawyers is published every year, so there is no sustainable basis upon which this RHI information is being withheld.
“Political embarrassment is not an adequate reason. Has the DUP got something to hide?”
At the weekend, it emerged that a brother of the DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford, who helped Mrs Foster oversee the RHI scheme, is also among those claiming under the scheme.
Mr Crawford was Mrs Foster’s ‘spad’ at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the RHI was introduced.
The DUP confirmed that Mr Crawford’s brother, a poultry farmer, is an RHI claimant but insisted the DUP man does not personally benefit from the scheme.
Other participants in the scheme have said they entered it fairly and are in legitimate receipt of subsidy payments.
When asked to provide details of Mr Brimstone’s application under the RHI scheme, a spokesperson for the DUP said the party was “not privy” to those details, as the former ‘spad’ is now a private citizen.
The spokesperson added: “We are aware that he made a successful application through the RHI scheme but the specifics of that are a matter for him.”
In response to Mr Allister’s call for the DUP to reveal if other party members had sought to avail of the RHI, the spokesperson referred the News Letter to a statement it had issued on Friday, which read: “None of the special advisors employed by our ministers are applicants to the scheme and for the avoidance of doubt are not benefiting in any way from this scheme.”
The government-led RHI scheme incentivised users to install costly eco-friendly heating systems, paying them a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period.
However, no cap or payment tier system was placed on the money that could be claimed, effectively enabling people to abuse the scheme by burning unnecessary heat 24/7 in an effort to make as much money as possible.