Northern Ireland

RHI: Non-domestic boiler owners cannot be named

Image caption The court was told the case was being brought on behalf of members of a group set up to represent owners of boilers in the non-domestic RHI scheme

Boiler owners in the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme cannot be named ahead of a hearing, a court has ruled.

A judge rejected submissions that those trading as limited companies should not be covered by the anonymity order.

Last week, a judge issued an interim injunction preventing the Department for the Economy from revealing the names of Renewable Heat Association (RHANI) of Northern Ireland members.

RHANI represents non-domestic owners.

The substantive case over the right to name RHI recipients will now be heard next month.

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.

Irrevocable damage?

The court heard that publishing names of companies in receipt of the RHI subsidy would inevitably lead to the identification of individuals.

A search of a public register of companies would provide the names of directors, the judge was told.

Lawyers for hundreds of boiler owners were seeking to prevent the Department for the Economy from releasing their names.

Publication would lead to damage that would be "intrusive, widespread and irrevocable" it was claimed.

The court was told that it would also be in breach of their rights under data protection and privacy legislation as well as the terms of their contracts.

A barrister for the department said 630 boilers were on a spreadsheet of installations passed to officials last week.

They are covered by an interim court injunction banning publication.

'Temporary inconvenience'

The barrister for the department said about 300 of them were in the names of limited companies - not individuals or individuals trading as a company.

The judge said that while extending the interim injunction to the date of the hearing was a "temporary inconvenience" to Economy Minister Simon Hamilton it would "protect possible contractual rights of the applicants".

He rejected a submission that would have extended the anonymity order to cover all those who are members of the Renewable Heat Association as of Tuesday.

The association has funded the court action.

Counsel for the department opposed that saying he did not know "what interests are in play" and suggesting it would leave officials to deal with a "constantly moving beast".

Only those who were members of the RHA as of 17:00 GMT on 24 January 2017 are covered by the anonymity ruling.

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