RHI saga shows at best a failure to understand human nature

Morning View
Morning View

The squandering of public money on a large scale in Northern Ireland is not a new thing.

There have been numerous audit reports into failures with public money that have led to loses running into millions of pounds.

Even so, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is a notably serious example of administrative and political waste.

Overall, more than £1 billion of public money will be paid by 2036 to Northern Ireland-based businesses which signed up to the scheme. The overspend is estimated at £400 million.

It is said, incredibly, that the failure to put a cap on the scheme meant that there was an incentive to burn unnecessary heat. A farmer is reported to have made £1 million for heating an empty shed.

This is, if true, at best an elementary failure to understand human nature and the need to put limits on incentives. At worst, it is corruption to a degree that might be criminal. We hope it is the former.

The most alarming aspect of the affair is the fact that a whistleblower raised claims in 2013 that were not acted on.

Simon Hamilton has said it was clear that “ministers followed all advice given to them and because that advice was wrong; it was based on bad grounds the scheme was badly designed.”

That says something about Stormont. A political class flees from the responsibility of leadership and blames the bureaucracy. Look, for example, how politicians tasked with taking difficult decisions on NHS reform have in recent years shifted the focus for those decisions on to administrators.

Elements of the DUP have at times been scathing about environmental matters. Are its leading lights believers in man-made climate change? Is the leadership supportive of wind turbines, or rigorous controls on bungalows in countryside?

And if it is, as a party, sceptical on these matters, why was it not at the forefront of criticism of renewable power subsidies, which were limited in Great Britain sooner than in Northern Ireland?