Addressing the Stormont Assembly, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll laid the charge for RHI at the door of Arlene Foster’s DUP. His full speech has been transcribed below:
“3 years ago, most people would have been unfamiliar with the RHI scheme. We very quickly realised that it was synonymous with cronyism – a slush fund where elements of the business community were invited to burn taxpayer money for profit. It’s disappointing then that 3 years and £14 million later, this report seems to have pulled punches when it comes to laying the blame on the politicians in this room, Arlene Foster in particular.
But this issue is deeper than how the First Minister or her SPADs operated. This whole debacle exposes the cavalier attitude toward public spending which governs this place and the close relationship to big business and corporations. How many times have working people been told to tighten their belts? How often were health care workers told pay parity couldn’t be implemented because of funding limits? All the while, a few were encouraged to burn public money.
RHI clearly illustrated the favourable approach that some in this chamber offer to the likes of Moy Park, a hugely profitable company. One official even had the gall to admit about Moy park that smaller firms “were not getting the same chance”. Clear as day.
Indeed, after getting a tip off that the scheme was to close, private companies started to stockpile RHI boilers because it was such a financial goldmine. We saw some shipping boilers in from Austria because they had vanished locally, and new applications aplenty.
The decision to keep the scheme open for a further two weeks cost a combined total of £91 million spent – surely one of the most expensive fortnights on the hill. And let’s not forget that the current Finance Minister publicly claimed credit for keeping it open at a massive cost to the taxpayer. Foster’s party, of course, we are not the only ones responsible for that. As the inquiry exposed, Sinn Féin MLAs played their role in promoting and keeping the scheme open, even after the damaging impact was known.
Culture of Corruption
This brings me to the report itself. In my view, it wrongly rejects what Sam McBride deems a “culture of corruption” at Stormont. Whatever the intent of Patrick Coughlin, the conclusions and recommendations of the report essentially whitewash the role of the Stormont elite in signing off on and lobbying to retain this scheme, which by any standards was an abuse of power and a colossal waste of public money at a time when many people were suffering.
The report points to “a multiplicity of errors and omissions” as if these were somehow random mistakes, and not a clear pattern from day one that illustrate the abuse of power, patronage and courting of big business on behalf of the DUP.
What is certain is that the scheme was designed to financially benefit people who didn’t need it. And that’s been the problem at Stormont for far too long. Policies have been designed, decisions have been made that benefit the most well off. RHI was operating without a whimper whilst people were sent to food banks because welfare reform was leaving them with nothing to put on the table.
That’s what this scandal is all about. The double standards and hypocrisy at the heart of the Executive. Because there appears to be no criminal charges or jail time for Arlene Foster despite raking up a bill of around £550 million of public money. Others face jail for not paying TV licences, or rent and debt difficulties. If a public sector worker were found to be wasting a fraction of the money involved here they would lose their jobs. No doubt, the DUP would be banging the table demanding a tough sentencing. Yet Arlene Foster remains. It seems that their tough stance on law, order and wrongdoing does not apply to their party leader.
You should do the right thing, First Minister, hang your head and resign.
Because over the coming weeks, many will lose their income to the Coronavirus. What measures have the Executive put in place to protect them? The offer of Universal Credit – a five week wait for any payment and not enough to cover the rent. But those who we were told would not, under any circumstance, be returned to office for their role in RHI will feel no impact.
Lots of people, the First Minister, have no faith whatsoever in you in your current position given what you were directly involved in. I join them today to call for you to step aside. You are in no position to lead through the current public health crisis of the Coronavirus that faces us. Step aside and let someone else do the job.”