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

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:00 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 5:00 pm, 16th January 2017

Gabh mo leithscéal, Patsy, níl mé ag glacadh le hionchuir.

The key issue, of course, where the disrespect reached stratospheric levels, was the refusal then of the DUP to have an investigation, while acknowledging, as the outgoing First Minister — the former First Minister — did, that she was the architect of the mess. When the opportunity came to build confidence by having an investigation — a no-hiding-place investigation to get to the truth, to deal with people honestly and to tell them what had happened — she set her face against that. One of the DUP spokespersons was insisting that, really, this was a storm in a teacup and it would all be settled. They took the public for granted. They presumed that people would continue to put up with behaviour that was shameful and disrespectful. That is why we arrive at this juncture with an interim solution. When the Comptroller and Auditor General reported in July and PwC reported in October, we really could have taken the steps then so that at this juncture we had the full and comprehensive solution. That did not happen.

I will read into the record some of the efforts made to get a solution on RHI since I was appointed, but I want to mention one other point. There have been many lows here over recent days and months because of the behaviour of certain people who do not respect the public. Earlier today, the Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) organisation and those who suffered abuse in institutions — mainly but not only Church institutions — when they were in the care of the state and the Churches were contracted to provide that care were used to score political points. I have seen disrespect and shameful discussions in the Chamber, but people need to be careful today about where we drag what is left of the credibility of this institution. I have spent the last three to four years working with the victims of historical institutional abuse, SAVIA, Mags McGuckin and others. I met them around the Lord Mayor's table at City Hall. I was the first Lord Mayor to bring the victims and survivors of institutional abuse into the chamber there. I sat and listened to harrowing accounts of rape, abuse and torture, and I gave a commitment that we would get justice and then compensation for those who were affected by that. I remember in particular one well-known young man — when I say "young", he was young in his time — a great pillar of the SAVIA organisation, recounting that, at the age of eight, when he was in the care of the De La Salle brothers, he wet the bed, and they brought him downstairs naked, put him in an industrial dryer and said, "The next time you wet the bed, we will turn that on". So, let us not go low. This is not a day for going low; this is a day for going high. Let us leave for another day the abuse, horror and indignity that the victims of institutional abuse suffered. Let us all make the commitment that I made at a public forum here. It is my belief that this Government, if they come back, or whatever government structure follows must fulfil our obligations to the victims of historical institutional abuse.

I want to put this on record because, sadly, as we go low, the SDLP has tried to pretend that Sinn Féin is somehow complicit in the RHI debacle, even though Arlene Foster has acknowledged that she was the architect and it was DUP Finance Ministers and a DUP Economy Minister who have been in control since then. Here is some of the context that should go on record. In June, the Finance Department contacted the Economy Department asking for a solution to RHI. At a stocktaking meeting in July, it again asked for a solution. At that point, the overspend looked like £32 million. In July, there was a key meeting at which a demand was made for a business case to close this down. With the Comptroller and Auditor General's report being out, it was thought then that moves would be made. That was July 2016. At the Budget meeting between the two Departments on 23 August, RHI was again discussed and pledges were made about resolution, but there was no action. On 4 October, another memo was sent from Finance to Economy asking for action on RHI. On 17 October, there was another meeting asking for action on RHI. That was the point at which my officials reported to me that PwC's report was out, the Department had taken a new response to this and we would get action. The record speaks for itself.

You have been very indulgent, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I appreciate that. I say this with respect because we are moving into a turbulent period for our community over the next five to six weeks. It is my hope that, when and if we come back — I have said that we cannot come back to the status quo — respect for the public purse and respect for ordinary people will be paramount.

I will finish with this: the proposal in front of us slows the runaway train that is RHI, but it does not stop the RHI debacle.