Why Arlene Foster is culpable over RHI

Speech by Jim Allister on the Cash for Ash scandal in the Assembly on Monday.

The First Minister clearly does not get it. Otherwise, she would not be trying to spread the blame to everyone but herself. The public and the taxpayer certainly get it, because they see to the heart of the matter that it was the Minister, and no one else, who signed off this flawed scheme, and who consciously and deliberately took out the tariff-tiering that was in the GB template and put in only the high tariff, who was the author of this squander made in Stormont. There is no hiding place for the First Minister on that seminal issue, because it is her signature, and hers alone, which signed off the scheme on 13 April 2012 when she signed the declaration which stated:

“I have read the Regulatory Impact Assessment and I am satisfied that the benefits justify the costs”.

That is signed by Arlene Foster, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. It is not signed by some hapless civil servant or some nameless consultant. It is signed by the Minister. Yet, when faced with the consequences of her negligence, she says, “Oh, it’s the civil servants’ fault” or “It’s a consultant’s fault”. It was even Mr McGlone’s fault; it is all our faults. But, it is not Arlene’s fault. Sorry, Arlene Foster and Arlene Foster alone signed the scheme into existence, and, from that flows the runaway nature of the scheme and the debt of the future.

She did not just fail there. In 2013, Cambridge Economic Policy Associates said, “You need to get tiered tariffs into the scheme”. The Department, under Arlene Foster’s watch, ignored it. In 2014, Ofgem said the same, “You need to get tiered tariffs into the scheme”. On Arlene’s watch, that was ignored. When the scheme was approved in 2012 by DFP’s Supply officer, the letter of approval said the scheme must be reapproved in March 2015. The responsibility for ensuring that that happened rested with DETI, but it did not happen — because, again, asleep at the wheel — and the opportunity to correct it, to catch on and to get the tiering into it was missed.

All the Department can say is, “Administrative oversight”. No, not administrative oversight: Minister asleep at the wheel.

Then, lo and behold, when suddenly they catch on that it needed to be reapproved, it is finally sent to DFP. Who is the Minister by that stage in DFP? Mrs Arlene Foster. And who, in October 2015 — I remind the House that this is at the height of the spike in applications — is the Minister heading the Department that reapproves the scheme? Mrs Arlene Foster. So, whether in DETI or DFP, she is asleep at the wheel.

Ms Hanna: Will the Member give way?

Mr Allister: Yes.

Ms Hanna: Does the Member agree with me that the attempt by the DUP to cast the blame across the Chamber ignores the fact that the scheme voted for in February by the opposition was the amended scheme?

Mr Allister: Absolutely.

Mr Speaker: The Member has an extra minute.

Mr Allister: Thank you. We heard some nonsense today that some of us voted against the closure of the scheme. No, we did not. We voted against the closure of the amended scheme the scheme that was amended in November, that had the tiers put into it, that was then rectified and became a fair scheme. That is the scheme that was closed in February 2016, not the scheme in its original form with its runaway expenditure. That is the scheme that the DUP brought in and that the Minister repeatedly endorsed.

We have heard much talk of affirmation, “Oh, we want public inquiries”. Do you? If you do, then you will commit to one under the Inquiries Act, because only such an inquiry can call and compel witnesses.

There are DUP Members on these Benches who could tell a lot about this scheme, who could tell about their party donors who have benefited. Lord Morrow, the party chairman, has disappeared. He could tell us quite a lot about party donors who have benefited.

There are other Members on those Benches whose friends and family benefited from this scheme, as well as the friends and family of SpAds, but it is everyone’s fault but theirs.

Sorry, that is not how the public see it.

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