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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 am going to take the same approach that Naomi Long took earlier. I am not going to take any points of information, nor will I give way. Later on, perhaps, people will have an opportunity to have their say.

Between now and 1 April, this interim solution will cost the public purse £6 million. After that, the cost to the public purse will be, we estimate, £5 million — £2 million-plus for a new inspection regime which is absolutely essential to drive out those who have been abusing the scheme. It will also have a cost overrun, even under the plan that is being proposed. Why does that dismay us? We know that, when we go out into our constituencies, people feel that they have been duped and treated in a way which undermines their confidence in the Assembly and in any honest ability to deal with the problems.

Last Friday, I sat in Carryduff GAC in south Belfast with the chief executive and the heads of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, and the Carryduff GAC representatives were talking about a dramatic plan to build a community and sports campus in outer south Belfast. Eighty-five thousand pounds would absolutely transform the potential to draw up that master plan. Ten days of that would build the 3G pitch that they desire; it would certainly be a contribution towards it.

I spoke last week to the Somme Association. In a quirk of departmental responsibilities, the Department of Finance is responsible for the Ulster Tower at Thiepval, at the Somme. Their entire budget for the year is usually £85,000 — £50,000 for caretakers and £25,000 for expenses, around that sort of money. They could institute an entire programme of cross-community peace-building with one day's money from RHI. I visited the Nerve Centre, in Derry. Again, one day's money would enable the Nerve Centre to carry out a cross-community programme with young people to build confidence and creativity and to exploit the potential that our young people have. I visited the Markets Sure Start nursery school that opened earlier this year. I sat down afterwards with those who run the Sure Start initiative right across working-class areas of Belfast. Again, £85,000 would employ two teachers for a year in Sure Start.

The people were let down. They were disrespected and treated in a shameful manner. The reality is that that came from one quarter and one quarter only. Arlene Foster concedes that she was the architect of the RHI scheme. She was the Minister in charge when the tariffs were stripped out. She was the Minister in charge when she refused to heed warnings that this would be an excessive spend, a waste, a blot on our budgets and a hole in our financial projections. That was ignored. It was ignored because the public were disrespected and the public purse was disrespected, and it was done in a shameful fashion.

When the opportunity came to close down the scheme, again a DUP Minister — at that time, Mr Bell — did not act in the swift and expeditious fashion that he should have. He has alleged that that was because of political interference. The reality is that, because of the disrespectful way the public purse was treated and because of the arrogance in dealing with protecting the public purse, a spike was allowed to occur. The Comptroller and Auditor General says that there were as many applications in seven weeks as there were in the preceding 34 months from the opening of the scheme. The cost of the spike is £24 million a year for 20 years. Shameful, shameful treatment of the public purse and the public.

The election will be a referendum on RHI and how it was handled. I hope that, when the people give their verdict, they remember those who insisted that we should treat the public purse and the public with respect, those who came to the defence of the public purse, those who insisted that this be remedied, those who said that they would not accept any type of cover-up and those who insisted that we treat the public with respect. There has been talk in here today of treating each other with respect, but, when you do not treat the public with respect, then indeed you are certainly doomed.