Errors and omissions caused cash for ash scandal, report finds

Errors and omissions led to Stormont’s cash for ash green energy scandal not political corruption, a public inquiry has found.

The findings into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme have been published and find that multiple errors, not corrupt or malicious activity, were to blame.

“Corrupt or malicious activity on the part of officials, ministers or special advisers was not the cause of what went wrong with the NI RHI scheme, albeit the inquiry has identified some instances where behaviour was unacceptable,” stated the report.

The report found the scheme was a “project too far” for the NI Executive and “should never have been adopted”.

The scheme, which opened in 2012, paid businesses to switch from oil and gas to environmentally-friendly heating.

The report said that while there was “unacceptable” behaviour by some officials, ministers and special advisers, what went wrong was a “compounding of errors and omissions over time and a failure of attention”.

Set up to encourage the use of renewable energy sources, the RHI closed to new entrants in 2016 when there were concerns about the potential cost.

Known as ‘cash for ash’, the subsidy payment was higher than the cost of the fuel, creating an incentive to use the boilers to generate income.

The inquiry made some criticism of current DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster’s role in developing the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme and also highlighted “unacceptable behaviour” by several of her party’s special advisers.

Mrs Foster told the inquiry that she did not read the regulations before bringing them to the assembly.

The inquiry found: “The minister, in presenting the regulations to the assembly and asking for their approval, should have read them herself.

“Not least because in the inquiry’s view to so do is a core part of a minister’s job.”

However, it has found that as enterprise minister, Mrs Foster was given inaccurate and misleading information.

The Northern Ireland Civil Service, and in particular the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), came in for criticism.

The report finds that at the development stage “insufficient care was taken within DETI to weigh properly the whole-life costs” of the scheme.

A draft regulatory impact assessment presented to Mrs Foster in 2012 “lacked necessary cost information”.

The report noted that at this point she had already been “incorrectly” told by officials that the scheme provided “the highest renewable heat output at the best value”.

The report added: “Responsibility for what went wrong lay not just with one individual or group but with abroad range of persons and organisations involved, across a variety of areas relating to the design, approval, management and administration of the NI RHI scheme through its life.”

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