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RHI scandal: Public inquiry to begin at Stormont

From BBC - November 7, 2017

The independent public inquiry into a flawed green energy scheme which helped collapse the Stormont Assembly is due to get under way shortly.

Retired appeal court judge Sir Patrick Coghlin will open the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scheme.

The government scheme, started in 2012, encouraged businesses to switch from fossil fuels to biomass or woodchip.

But a lack of cost controls meant it could have an overspend of 700m over 20 years.

In the coming months the inquiry will hear from, among others, former first minister Arlene Foster, who was a minister in the former Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment that oversaw the scheme.

Civil servants, energy consultants and political advisers will also be called to give evidence.

Fraud allegations

One million pages of documentation have been gathered by the inquiry team.

It is investigating the non-domestic green energy scheme, the overspend from which might have to be paid out of Northern Ireland's block grant from Westminster.

The row over the handling of the crisis contributed to the collapse of devolution in early 2017.

RHI was a government scheme, started in 2012, which encouraged businesses to switch from fossil fuels to biomass or woodchip.

But the lack of cost controls meant firms were able to legitimately earn large amounts of public subsidy.

There were also some allegations of fraud.

The inquiry will look at the introduction of the scheme, the oversight of it, the introduction of controls in 2015 and the suspension of the scheme the following year.

In particular, it will consider why the Northern Ireland scheme did not contain the same cost controls from the outset as the one in Great Britain, which it mirrored.

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