Cash for ash scheme: More than 40 applications came from the local area

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More than 40 organisations across Banbridge and Dromore made applications to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, it has been revealed.

According to figures released by the BBC’s Nolan Show, there were a total of 29 non-domestic applications received from the BT32 (Banbridge) postcode area and 14 from the BT25 area (Dromore).

It is not known how many of the applicants were successful in being accepted for the scheme.

The non-domestic RHI scheme provides non-domestic properties such as businesses, farms, schools and churches with ongoing payments for the use of an eligible renewable heat technology.

The scheme closed to new applications on 29 February 2016 amid concerns that it was open to abuse and that “serious systematic failings” could leave local taxpayers facing an overspend bill of more than £490m.

There have since been widespread calls for a judge-led inquiry into the scheme and requests that the PSNI also investigate allegations of fraud linked to the so-called ‘cash for ash’ scandal.

With the Assembly due to be dissolved on January 26, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir confirmed on Thursday that he was taking steps to set up what he described as “a no-hiding-place probe” into the RHI scheme.

“It is clear that, with time short until the Assembly dissolves, the only way to serve the public interest is for me as Finance Minister to move to institute a public inquiry immediately. No other type of investigation is now feasible given time pressures.

“I have now instructed officials to take the necessary steps to establish a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the RHI scheme,” he said.

Meanwhile, responding to widespread calls for the details of businesses benefitting from the RHI scheme to be made public, Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said he hopes to be able to publish the relevant information on Wednesday, January 25.

“I believe that it is absolutely imperative that there is complete openness and transparency around the RHI scheme and particular in respect of the naming of businesses benefitting from the scheme. It has always been my intention to publish this information. However, I have equally always been mindful that I can only do so in accordance with my legal obligations,” he said.

“Last month, my Department wrote to all of those participating in the non-domestic RHI scheme indicating my desire to publish recipients’ details. The department is currently analysing the responses received and are following a clear process as required under section 10 of the 1998 Data Protection Act. The process will balance the competing interests of transparency and the right to privacy and protection in accordance with the law.

“When the process is concluded it would be my intention to publish RHI recipient details on Wednesday 25 January,” the Minister added.