There will be ‘no hiding places’ from RHI public inquiry, says minister

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir
Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir

A public inquiry into Northern Ireland’s botched green energy scheme will leave no hiding places, Stormont’s finance minister vowed.

Mairtin O Muilleoir will meet members of political parties on Monday to discuss the investigation and will make a statement to the devolved assembly on Tuesday.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is predicted to cost taxpayers up to £490 million over the next 20 years.

It precipitated the collapse of Stormont powersharing.

Mr O Muilleoir said: “This inquiry will be impartial and objective and it will be tasked with getting to the truth of this scandal.

“These meetings will provide an opportunity to discuss the terms of reference and hear the views of other parties.

“My objective remains to deliver a no-hiding-place inquiry that serves the public interest.”

The scheme was designed to encourage businesses to use green energy instead of fossil fuels but ended up paying out around £1.60 for every £1 spent on wood to fuel biomass boilers.

There have been allegations of empty sheds being heated in a “cash for ash” scandal.

The DUP has welcomed the public inquiry and the assembly recently voted in favour of one.

A DUP special adviser who formerly worked with DUP leader Arlene Foster has quit amid allegations of exerting influence around the RHI scheme, and another adviser has stepped aside from work on measures to save taxpayers’ money.

Late on Friday a senior Democratic Unionist revealed that four family members run boilers under the controversial green energy scheme.

Jim Wells, an Assembly member and former DUP health minister, said his brother, two cousins and the husband of another cousin operate boilers at their chicken farms.

There is no suggestion their actions were anything other than legitimate and Mr Wells said he had no financial interest in the farm businesses.

Mr O Muilleoir gave a commitment that he or any Sinn Fein minister will release the public inquiry’s report in full on receipt.

He called on all parties to sign up to unrestricted, unedited publication.

The minister said the RHI issue went beyond financial matters to questions of governance and probity.

Voters in Northern Ireland are set to go to the polls on March 2 after deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest over the flawed scheme.