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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 Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 4:45 pm, 16th January 2017

I speak as an MLA rather than as the Finance Minister. I am precluded from speaking as the Finance Minister, but I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, to thank the staff at the Finance Department who worked over the weekend and who continue to give advice and work hard to try to assess the proposals that have been brought forward by the Minister for the Economy. Anyone who deals with constituency issues rises on this issue with more sadness than anger, because the reality is that we all deal with people every day for whom £85,000 would absolutely transform the projects in which they are involved.

Earlier today, sadly, we saw that, in trying to defend the indefensible, the DUP went low. As the woman said, when they go low, we go high. I want to go high today by referring to the disrespect which was shown to the public, the lack of respect for the public purse, the dereliction of duty and the shameful way in which this entire debacle has been handled.

I want first to make some quick points. First, the names of the beneficiaries should be published and published now. It is way past the time for excuses or foot-dragging. There are major questions hanging over this scheme in relation to malfeasance and corruption and in relation to people milking and scamming the system. If we want to build confidence in a solution, we should, without prejudice, agree to publish the names of the beneficiaries.

It is also with sadness that I have to note that we do not have a full and comprehensive plan today which would stop the bleeding and staunch the haemorrhaging from the public purse. We could have had that plan if the warnings and the red flags and the advice that had been given since December 2014 and February 2015 from a whole range of bodies, including the Ulster Farmers' Union, had been heeded. In particular, when I met the officials in the Department of Finance when I came into post, they outlined all the efforts that they had made to seek urgent remedy to this debacle. Unfortunately, because actions were not taken when they could have been taken, we are now coming forward with a partial stopgap solution rather than the full and comprehensive plan that people deserve.

There have been a number of missteps here. Arlene Foster should not have come out and said that this would be a solution to the RHI situation. She should not have said that this would be a zero-cost solution. That compounds the disrespect. I do not speak as a member of Sinn Féin, because that is the business that we are in; we are in the business of trading political blows. I speak for the public and for those who are losing money because of the RHI scandal. We added to and compounded the disrespect by claiming that there would be a magic solution. In fact, what we have today is a partial, interim, stopgap plan which kicks the can down the road for one more year, after which we face into 18 years of potential losses in the hope and expectation that there may be a way through. It is not a full and comprehensive plan, and it is not a zero-cost plan.

The lack of honesty in dealing with the public has also been disrespectful and shameful. The public should know that, every day from now until 1 April, the RHI debacle will continue to cost us £85,000 a day.