Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: Firms can challenge plan to name them

Boiler
Image caption Firms signed up to the RHI scheme receive a government subsidy on the renewable fuel used to power their boilers

A judge has that ruled that owners of Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme boilers can challenge plans to name them at a full hearing.

But it is still to be resolved how many will be covered by an anonymity order before the case is heard.

Another preliminary hearing was held in the High Court in Belfast on Friday.

Earlier this week, boiler owners' lawyers sought to challenge a plan by the Department for the Economy to publish details of firms in the scheme.

About 450 firms are covered in the action taken by the Renewable Heat Association (RHA).

It is believed there could be about 1,700 firms in total in receipt of the RHI subsidy.

The aim of RHI was to increase the creation of heat from renewable sources but businesses received more in subsidies than they paid for fuel, and the scheme became heavily oversubscribed.

The fallout from the scandal, which is approximately £490m over budget, resulted in the collapse of Stormont's institutions and the calling of snap elections on 2 March.

Temporary injunction

At Tuesday's hearing, counsel for the boiler organisation claimed there would be a media feeding frenzy if publication went ahead, which would breach their clients' right to privacy.

But a lawyer for the department said there was a huge public interest in the working of the controversial non-domestic RHI scheme.

He argued that trumped the privacy issue.

The judge reserved judgment in the case on Tuesday and issued a temporary injunction against naming RHA members until he delivered it.

On Friday, Mr Justice Deeny said there was "an arguable case" which merited further examination at a full hearing.

But while the interim injunction covered all RHA members, that may now change.

The court was told the list of RHA members included individuals; individuals trading as a limited company and firms with a corporate name.

Counsel for the department said those who traded as companies could not attract anonymity under the Data Protection Act or Human Rights Act.

The issue is to be addressed next week, ahead of a full hearing to be held before the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

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