The final report into the RHI ‘cash for ash’ scandal that brought down the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland has found no evidence of corruption.
But it does criticise the behaviour of ministers and special advisers.
The new report marks the end of a two-year public inquiry chaired by Patrick Coghlin, which was set up to investigate the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme in Northern Ireland.
The NI RHI scheme launched in 2012 and was designed to encourage businesses to switch to the use of renewable energy sources through subsidy payments.
But subsidies were higher than the cost of fuel, and in Northern Ireland the scheme had no cap, meaning costs escalated. It was closed in 2016.
‘A project too far’
Speaking at the launch of the report, Sir Patrick said the NI RHI scheme was “a project too far” for the Northern Ireland government.
“The NI RHI scheme was novel, technically complex and potentially volatile, especially because of its demand-led nature and the wide range of variables,” he said.
“These features together made the scheme highly risky, yet the risks were not sufficiently understood by all those who should have understood them within the Northern Ireland Government, either at the outset or at any time during the life of the scheme.”
He suggested that, like Scotland, Northern Ireland could have been less exposed to risk by adopting the GB RHI scheme.
The Ulster Farmers Union said many farmers who signed up had acted in good faith, but had been left “with their businesses facing short and long-term financial problems through no fault of their own”.
Deputy president Victor Chesnutt said: “The report makes it clear that our members are the victims, not the instigators of what has unfolded over the RHI.
“The actions of DfE have caused significant damage to the renewable industry and will have a lasting and detrimental impact on the uptake of future schemes.
“Farmers have lost confidence in government-run schemes. It is vital now that government admit their wrongdoing, implement changes to RHI payments and learn fundamental lessons from its failings.”