Sunday 15 December 2019

Philip Ryan: Sinn Féin's concern is votes, not recouping money for taxpayer

Sinn Féin’s Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said yesterday he 'will continue to defend
the public purse' until the election.. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Féin’s Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said yesterday he 'will continue to defend the public purse' until the election.. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Sinn Féin would have us believe the decision to collapse the Northern Ireland Assembly is a valiant attempt to protect the interests of the hard-working taxpayers across the Border.

They want to ensure that not another penny is wasted on the ridiculous Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme which could all but bankrupt the country.

Sinn Féin's Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said yesterday he "will continue to defend the public purse" until the election.

The public purse is under threat and Mr Ó Muilleoir himself said the RHI fiasco is costing around €100,000 a day. By any standard, that's a lot of money and a lot of burned wood pellets. If nothing is done about it soon, the taxpayer could be left with a bill of £490,000 (€560,000).

But it's not too late. All this money has not been handed over, and the farmer who is set to make £1m over the next 20 years could be forced to allow his empty shed go cold.

If the will was there among politicians, legislation could be enacted and the DUP cock-up could be resolved with minimal impact on the country's finances - most of which comes from the UK, Ireland and the EU.

Unfortunately for the decent and hard-working people of Northern Ireland, there is a very strong possibility nothing will be done about it in the near to medium-term future.

Thanks to the ineptitude of the North's ruling parties, the RHI scandal is likely to rumble on for at least a couple more months before anything is done.

Sinn Féin, through Mr Ó Muilleoir, is demanding that the DUP coughs up emergency legislation which will put a cap on the renewable energy grant and limit the amount of money being made by those taking advantage of the scheme.

This hasn't happened up to now but the DUP mooted the prospect of forthcoming proposals to fix the problem. We'll have to wait and see what they have drafted, and whether it is legally sound or not. There's no talk of Sinn Féin getting one of their many policy experts to draft legilsation themselves.

It is also worth noting that, while the DUP and critically Arlene Foster are responsible for the RHI scheme, it was still passed by the Assembly when it was brought before it four years ago.

And that includes Sinn Féin and all the very bright people in that party, who presumably had a read over the proposal before they allowed it to get the rubber stamp.

I think it's safe to say Sinn Féin hasn't grown to trust their unionist friends in the DUP so much that they allowed the scheme pass through the Assembly without giving it a quick once-over.

Either way, the damage is done and the bill is clocking up with each passing day.

With the Assembly all but collapsed and an election around the corner, there's not much anyone can do about. An inquiry to establish responsibility for the fiasco is important - but surely the enactment of legislation to cap the cost takes precedent.

Not so, it seems. Sinn Féin is instead determined to spend the best part of the next two months putting up posters and canvassing for votes.

Irish Independent

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