RHI was a scandal but the remedies need to be proportionate

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The RHI saga has been a major moment in the political history of Northern Ireland.

It has highlighted a range of issues that pertain to devolved governance, from competence to possible conflict of interest.

This newspaper has led coverage of the RHI inquiry. Indeed we were early to call for an inquiry that had powers to compel documents. Such an inquiry was established, yet RHI was nonetheless used as an excuse to collapse Stormont. Consequently hospitals and schools are other key areas of public life have been rudderless. That saga too should be the subject of a formal review, so that never again is a political party allowed to engage in such vandalism, and damage all of society.

Given that the RHI inquiry has established and has not yet reported, we have covered its hearings but refrained from commenting on it, and will continue to do so until findings are issued. But there is a parallel issue that can be discussed now regardless of the findings of the inquiry: the slashing of tariffs to RHI boiler owners.

It was clearly utterly inappropriate for individuals or businesses to be making huge profits from RHI, or for there ever to be an incentive to burn energy wastefully in a scheme that sought to protect the environment. Thus the initial tariff cuts were appropriate.

But the coming proposed further cuts for people who own 99kw non-domestic boilers from the 6.5p per kwh they got at the end of 2016 to a maximum rate of 1.7p today is presenting huge problems for people who adopted the scheme in good faith and having seen formal reassurances before signing up.

It is important that the justifiable outrage over RHI does not lead to a loss of perspective in the remedies.

Costs have already been brought under control. And the detailed nature of the inquiry means that it will soon be time to heed any lessons that arise from the affair and then focus on other urgent problems and abuses that plague our society, such as pertain to paramilitarism and criminality.