Businesses ‘are covered by temporary ban’ on naming RHI boiler operators

Michael Doran
Michael Doran

Businesses are covered by a temporary ban on revealing the identities of Renewable Heat Incentive boiler operators, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Deeny confirmed the continued prohibition extends to all members of a group taking legal action to stop Economy Minister Simon Hamilton publishing a list of those on the botched scheme.

Simon Hamilton

Simon Hamilton

He said: “There is no irremediable prejudice to the Minister in requiring him to hold his hand.”

His order will remain in place until the outcome of a challenge listed for hearing in three weeks’ time.

A final judgment in the case is expected to be delivered before the Assembly elections on March 2.

More than 500 members of the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland have been granted leave to seek a judicial review of Mr Hamilton’s plans to name them.

Their lawyers claim it would create a media “feeding frenzy” and threaten the reputation of individuals who have done nothing wrong.

The RHI scheme set up to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.

But it has been surrounded by relentless controversy since it emerged that users could legitimately earn more cash the more fuel they burned.

The flawed scheme, which could end up costing the public purse up to £490m, was a major factor behind Stormont’s collapse and snap elections being called.

A public inquiry is also to be chaired by retired appeal court judge Sir Patrick Coghlin.

Judicial review proceedings against the plans to name recipients were issued by Michael Doran, chairman of the Association.

Mr Doran, who also heads up not for profit group Action Renewables, does not have a boiler and receives no subsidies under the scheme.

But he is representing hundreds of non-domestic operators, including poultry and mushroom producers, seeking an order quashing the Minister’s plans to reveal their details.

They had already secured an interim injunction to prevent their identities being revealed.

But lawyers returned to court today amid a dispute over whether the order should cover firms as well as individuals within the Association.

Gerald Simpson QC, for Mr Doran, argued that all business members should be covered by the temporary anonymity.

He insisted that publishing corporate participants would lead to the identification of individuals - either through the name of the firm or by checking with Companies House.

It was revealed in court that an updated spreadsheet of those in the Association details 630 separate boilers.

Mr Justice Deeny was told 350 entries relate to individuals, with the rest associated with limited companies.

Tony McGleenan QC, responding for the Department, claimed companies cannot expect a right to privacy.

But deciding to continue the interim order, the judge said: “There’s a temporary inconvenience to the Minister by imposing the injunction, but it protects the contractual rights of the applicants.”