First minister Arlene Foster has claimed more than half of the circa £400 million committed under Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heat Incentive will not be paid out.
Speaking to the BBC’s Stephen Nolan, Foster was responding to allegations levelled at her by DUP MLA Jonathan Bell, the former minister in charge of the RHI, who said party special advisors had blocked his attempts to close the scheme in late 2015 when he became aware the spiralling costs.
Foster refuted his claims, saying there was no evidence to suggest SpAds from the First Minister’s Office or the Office of Finance and Personnel had intervened in the scheme, and that responsibility rested with Bell.
The first minister added that plans would be brought forward in January to tackle the massive spending committed under the RHI, which failed to include subsidy caps leading to what has been dubbed a “cash for ash” scheme.
Foster has already outlined proposals to investigate each claimant in search of fraudulent activity, as the scheme would have allowed them to continually produce renewable heat in exchange for subsidy.
The controversy around the RHI has been described as the biggest financial scandal in Northern Irish politics and will do nothing to boost the profile or popularity of renewables on the island as a whole.
In the south, onshore wind has become a toxic issue with deployment often carried out in defiance of local communities affected by the installations.
During his interview, Bell linked the massive spending on the RHI to the closure of hospital wards and other public sector services, pitting the image of “terminally ill children” against the creation of renewable heat.
The first minister is due to answer questions on the RHI following a vote by the Public Accounts Committee to call both Foster and two DUP colleagues to give evidence.
Bell has since been suspended from the DUP, while a vote of no confidence in Foster will be discussed later today by the Northern Ireland Assembly after her Sinn Fein deputy Martin McGuinness asked her to step aside to allow a probe into allegations surrounding scheme.