Occasionally there comes a topic which CANNOT be ignored for the Politics course and the so called Cash for Ash or Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scandal is one such topic! You have to understand this as it can be used for so many of your topic areas from executive to assembly to opposition to Speaker to Parties.
The Cash for Ash scandal is a scandal involving a Renewable Heat initiative scheme set up by the Northern Ireland Executive and in particular Arlene Foster who was Minister of Enterprise Trade and investment at the time. It was set up to encourage the growth of renewable heat in Northern Ireland in place of fossil fuels. The goal was to have 10% of the country using renewable alternatives by 2020. Companies or individuals would be encouraged to use environmental sources such as solar or biomass boilers. They were given financial incentives for setting these up. They were also to be given generous subsidies over 20 years for the schemes usage. Up to this point everything seems OK.
The catch in this case is that the Northern Ireland scheme at some point veered away from the same scheme running successfully in Great Britain. The Northern Ireland scheme somehow removed the all important upper payment limit paid out to those involved in the scheme. This means that in Northern Ireland participants can get paid large amounts of money for keeping their burners on constantly. It could essentially net participants hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money simply by keeping burning. One farmer was estimated to make nearly £1 million over 20 years by heating an empty barn! A Ferrari garage in Belfast is also running the scheme.
While the UK government intends to fund £600 million of the costs to be accrued over 20 years, the NI Executive will have to foot a £490 million bill over this time - This is 3% of the annual block grant every year for 20 years. It is an act of self inflicted incompetence of staggering proportions which was only revealed through the actions of a whistleblower and the BBC.
The political implications of this scandal are immense! Firstly the credibility of the whole NI Assembly as an institution is at stake. The First Minister Arlene Foster is very much in the spotlight as the person resonsible for this scheme at the time and is being heavily scrutinised and put under pressure to stand down. The Executive itself has been shaken to its core with major disagreements apparent with Sinn Ferin over the scandal and how to deal with it. The DUP is under immense strain as one of its members, Jonathan Bell, very publicly blamed Arlene Foster for the schemes failures in an interview with Stephen Nolan which rocked the seemingly unrockable DUP. The Speaker has been heavily criticised over his actions or inactions regarding the crisis and the Opposition is making waves for the first time as the whole Executive is put under intense pressure. I will put each of these into detail
Mr John Wishart -