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Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 4:45 pm, 16th January 2017

I thank the honourable Member for that. The figures are startling: 82% and 7·4%. One would have to ask very clearly, "What was going on?".

I will move on. The Minister also clearly indicated that there is evidence of possible fraud. He said it in Committee today, despite what he has just said in the House. Under questioning, however, he admitted that those cases had not yet been referred to the PSNI. Members should be rightly concerned about that information. I, like all properly minded people, hope to see an early report from the PSNI on the matter.

Linked to that, we also had the information from the permanent secretary who stated that the mistake in the original scheme was a policy mistake. Bearing in mind that the policy very much sits in the purview of Ministers and of the Minister of the time, and that the Minister was advised by her special adviser (SpAd) to deliberately move the GB cost controls for the non-domestic RHI scheme in Northern Ireland, and that with the Minister being clear that there is potential fraud, there is no doubt that the accountability and responsibility for this issue points clearly in one direction. While the Minister and the DUP may argue against the causality, the Northern Ireland public and the media will not.

The scheme itself is obviously not a no-cost option. However, in the figures presented today, we should, subject to no immediate legal challenge, see by 1 April a potential reduction in cost from the disgraceful £30 million this year. I emphasise that none of us has seen the business case and, obviously, the Finance Minister is not in agreement with it, but we could possibly see opportunities for that figure to be reduced dramatically. That is to be welcomed, if it is achievable.

We are also uncertain of the examination of the statutory rule, as has been pointed out today, and the Committee agreed today only to note the statutory rule. We are uncertain of the legality of the process. Again, we are reliant wholly on the Minister and the permanent secretary's assertion. Members will draw their own inference from the Minister refusing to contemplate resignation if there is a successful legal challenge. What we need for our health service, universities, schools and for the reputation of our country is to stem the wholly avoidable haemorrhage of £85,000 a day, every day.

As a party, we will listen carefully to the remaining arguments expressed today before we make a decision. Be in no doubt of this: since July of last year, as a party, we have been tirelessly holding, or attempting to hold, our Government to account. If at any stage our Fresh Start SF/DUP "shamocracy" had concentrated on good governance rather than on spin, we would not be in the position we are in now. Again, be in no doubt: this crisis has been mishandled from the beginning. It has destroyed the reputation of an entire system of government, and from a financial corruption issue, the actions of ex-First Minister Arlene Foster and her DUP Government have created an existential threat to the very fabric of Northern Ireland. The RHI scheme has become, in more ways than one, a veritable bonfire of DUP vanities.