Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: Sir Patrick Coghlin to chair public inquiry

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Image caption Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the judge would be 'scrupulous in his analysis of the evidence'

Retired appeal court judge Sir Patrick Coghlin will chair a public inquiry into the botched energy scheme that could cost taxpayers £490m.

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the judge would be "unflinching in his pursuit of the truth and scrupulous in his analysis of the evidence".

Sir Patrick will be supported by two panel members and, if needed, assessors from outside Northern Ireland.

He would begin gathering papers on 1 February, said Mr Ó Muilleoir.

"By getting to the truth of the RHI scandal, this inquiry team will... go some way to rebuilding the shattered public confidence in the institutions," he said.

The inquiry is expected to report its findings within six months.

The RHI scheme was intended to increase the creation of heat from renewable sources.

However, businesses have been receiving more in subsidies than they are paying for renewable fuel and the scheme became majorly oversubscribed.

The fallout from the scandal surrounding the scheme, which is approximately £490m over budget, resulted in the resignation of Sinn Fein's deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, the collapse of Stormont's institutions and the calling of snap elections on 2 March.

Earlier on Tuesday, a judge issued an interim injunction preventing the publication of hundreds of names of RHI claimants.

The finance minister told the Assembly the areas the inquiry will investigate will be wide-ranging, including:

  • The development and roll-out of the RHI scheme by the then Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment
  • The signing off of the scheme by the then Department of Finance
  • The issue of cost controls and tariffs
  • The delay in implementing cost control measures before November 2015, which lead to the spike of autumn 2015
  • The closure of the scheme in February 2016

Mr Ó Muilleoir said the inquiry would have the power to compel witnesses and evidence.

Who is Sir Patrick Coghlin?

  • Educated at Queen's University, Belfast, and Cambridge University
  • Called to the Bar in Northern Ireland in 1970, the Bar of England and Wales in 1975 and the Bar of Ireland in 1993
  • Deputy County Court judge from 1983 until 1997
  • Appointed Lord Justice of Appeal in 2008 until his retirement in 2015
  • Also deputy chair of the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission and member of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission
  • Appointed Privy Counsellor in 2009

'Every stone will be turned'

He also said that the inquiry would be in public and hopefully televised, but that Sir Patrick had decided there would be no public hearings before the election.

"Rest assured every stone will be turned and there will be no dark corners where the light won't shine, " he added.

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Media captionWhat happens now the deputy first minister has resigned?

He said Sir Patrick would have absolute control over the scope and execution of the Inquiry, which would be entirely independent.

No decision has yet been made on the venue for the inquiry, and no details were given on its anticipated cost.

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