‘Genuine RHI claimants have had a raw deal’ - Farmers are still in desperation says Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister has singled out “genuine RHI claimants” as having had a “raw deal through the unwarranted slashing of tariffs”.

By Joanne Knox
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 12:02 pm

Mr Allister said he was not referring to those who “ripped off the scheme”, but the genuine farmers left in desperation.

His comments were made during a debate in the assembly last week in relation to the government’s response to the RHI report.

The report found fewer than half of the recommendations made by the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry have been implemented.

TUV leader Jim Allister

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was set up in 2012 and incentivised businesses and farmers to switch to eco-friendly boilers, by paying them a subsidy for the wood pellet fuel required to run them.

However, mistakes in the design meant subsidy rates were set higher than the actual cost of the wood pellets, with the scheme dubbed the ‘cash for ash scandal’.

A public inquiry identified a multiplicity of civil service mistakes in the running of the scheme.

Addressing the assembly, Mr Allister said members of the public watched and listened to “jaw-dropping evidence” in respect of this matter, day after day.

“Hearing such astounding admissions as a permanent secretary saying that he facilitated the non-taking of notes in order to spare major parties the blushes that might have resulted from potential FOI requests,” he added.

“As they listened to that evidence about repeat deficiencies that were evidenced in public administration, I am sure that people would have been outraged had someone said to them, ‘the end result of all this, you know, will be that not a single politician and not a single special adviser will pay any price — they, too, will escape — but one civil servant will get the lowest possible punishment, if you can even call it a punishment, namely a written warning’.”

Mr Allister continued: “I think that people would have been outraged, having heard what they heard, to know that that would be the eventual outcome.

“What a commentary it is on the deficiency of the disciplinary process that that is exactly what the outcome was.

“Permanent secretaries were cocooned, looked after by the system, allowed to retire with full pensions and available to be appointed as consultants to future departments, untouched by their failings.”

The TUV leader said there is one sector that did suffer, and continues to suffer.

“There were genuine applicants to the RHI scheme, people who took at face value what government offered them — the promise of grandfathering and letters to banks from the minister at the time — and invested heavily, and who then found that the house, in its recoil from RHI, decided to punitively reduce the tariffs that were payable to a level below that which was sustainable — below that which exists in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain — and leave those farmers in desperation,” he stated.

“I am not talking about those who ripped off the scheme, but the genuine farmers, some of whom we all have as constituents.

“They are still in desperation.

“That has left the department still paying back, year-on-year.

“Millions upon millions of pounds that were sent over to fund the scheme are returned annually because the house and departments are so embarrassed by what happened that they will not even play fair by those who were in the scheme genuinely.”

Mr Allister added: “Ms Archibald says, ‘let’s close it’.

“Has she no constituents who applied for the scheme genuinely, who are getting a below-par tariff and see their competitors across these islands getting a proper tariff?

“The message from her and Sinn Féin to them is this - ‘shut it down’.

“Let us compound the disaster that was RHI and compound the disgraceful failure to deal with the inappropriate behaviour during RHI by punishing the people who have the most to lose, who did not do anything wrong, who applied genuinely and accepted and believed what government were telling them.

“Let us punish them and leave them without any tariffs.

“Is that really where Sinn Féin wants to take that issue? If it is, shame on them,” Mr Allister ended.