First Minister must release all correspondence around controversial heating scheme

The First Minister must publicly release all correspondence relating to the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive scheme immediately, Alliance Economy spokesperson Stephen Farry has said.

A whistle-blower sent an email to the then-Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in 2014 warning about the flaws in the scheme, which closed earlier this year with an overspend of at least £400 million.

However, it was ignored and Mrs Foster, who was Minister of the Department at the time, refused to answer questions from BBC Spotlight about whether she made any effort to follow-up on the claims, after she passed on the email to her civil servants.

“People here are well used to a seemingly constant stream of mismanagement, wasted opportunities and scandal over recent years, with little accountability or humility from those responsible. But the implications from this are on a different scale, with many hundreds of millions of pounds set to be squandered over the coming decades,” said Dr Farry.

“Arlene Foster has significant questions she must answer – as Minister, she was responsible for the policy direction and large aspects of the operation of her Department. The questions include what level of scrutiny she deployed around the original design of the scheme, as well as the handling of the warnings provided to her by the whistle-blower. It is simply not good enough to say the email was referred to officials, implying the end of any Ministerial obligation.

“In my own experience as a former Minister, anything of that seriousness would have been recalled and regular updates given on actions being taken until or unless I received a written assurance all issues had been investigated and addressed where appropriate.

“Arlene Foster’s credibility and competence as a Minister have been further called into question by the BBC Spotlight revelations. The ball is in her court to re-establish her credentials. She must ensure the swift and comprehensive publication of all relevant papers from within DETI, including all policy submissions sent to her by officials, any comments returned to officials through her Private Office or other channels, any logs in the Department regarding the handling of the concerns of the whistle-blower and any requests for updates from the Minister.”

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