Politics of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland has had a
devolved government within the
United Kingdom. The
Northern Ireland Assembly and the
Northern Ireland Executive together make up the legislative and executive branches of the Northern Ireland government. There are 108 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs), all of whom self-identify as a particular designation:
nationalist, or other. Under the terms of the
Belfast Agreement, 30 members may submit a "Petition of Concern" on a motion to the speaker of the assembly making it subject to a
. Motions subject to a cross-community vote, either by standing orders or by a petition of concern, require support from a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists.
Northern Ireland Executive is jointly led by a First Minister and deputy First Minister who are nominated by the largest parties of each of the two designations. In 2016, these parties were the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin. Because the First Minister and deputy First Minister is a joint office under Northern Irish law, the resignation of one vacates the whole office. If the office cannot be filled after a seven day period, the entire assembly is dissolved and a new assembly elected.
The RHI scheme in Northern Ireland was managed and set up by the then
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
[a] (DETI) in 2012 and was overseen by
Arlene Foster, the DETI Minister at the time. The intention of the scheme was for businesses and non-domestic properties to begin using
renewable heating sources such as
wood pellets by offering them generous subsidies.
In the Northern Ireland Programme for Government (PfG), the Executive set out targets for renewable energy. It hoped that 4% of heat would come from renewable resources in 2015 with a further target of 10% in 2020.
 The RHI scheme offered incentives so that businesses and non-domestic users would change to renewable energy, which includes
solar pumps and
The scheme was approved by Executive ministers to meet the Programme for Government target. The scheme was budgeted £25 million for 2011-2015.
 The scheme offered to pay £1.60 for every £1 spent on heating. With this, and with the lack of cost controls, the scheme effectively paid people to heat properties, so long as they used renewable energy in the process. The lack of cost controls enabled applicants to use as much energy as they wished, thus applicants made a monetary profit for using more energy.
In the period 2014-2015, there was an underspend of £15 million as there was a lack of uptake.
 From April 2015 however, applications increased 'significantly'.
 After officials announced changes to the scheme, 984 applications were received from September 2015 to November 2015, which was before the changes announced were due to take place. The scheme was eventually closed in February 2016 by
Jonathan Bell, successor to Foster as Minister of DETI. He said that it was closed "in view of the significant financial risk to the Northern Ireland block grant for the next 20 years".
Concerns of fraud were raised initially in 2013 and again in 2014, when a
whistleblower contacted Foster to raise concerns about the scheme. The whistleblower stated that the scheme was 'flawed' and the concerns of civil servants 'were ignored' after she reported abuse of the scheme, as property owners were taking advantage of the scheme by heating properties that were previously unheated.
 It is claimed that the team, which comprised ten officials, investigated the whistleblower's claims and 'did not believe the informant' and did not report back to Foster.
Another whistleblower wrote a letter in January 2016 to tell Foster, who had by then become First Minister, about an 'empty' farm shed that was 'being heated for the subsidy'.
 The scheme did not take into account that properties that were not previously heated, could now be heated for a profit.
The overgenerous offer led to the
Northern Ireland Executive committing £490m to the scheme over 20 years.
HM Treasury contacted the Executive in light of the huge bill and said that the Executive would have to find the funds for it.
[b] The £490m spend would be spread over 20 years, as the participants of the scheme signed contracts with DETI and their payments were to last for 20 years. When news first broke of the botched scheme, it was originally thought that the total cost to the budget would be £400m, but this was later revised up to £490m.
 Northern Ireland receives a block payment each year from HM Treasury, and the block payment will need to be adjusted as a result of the money committed to the scheme.
Arlene Foster left DETI and became
Minister for Finance, leaving Jonathan Bell to succeed her as DETI Minister. After news of the affair broke, Bell gave an exclusive interview to the
BBC Radio Ulster program
The Nolan Show, where he said that DUP special advisers and Foster 'intervened' to prevent the closure of the scheme. He also claimed that Foster tried to 'cleanse the records' by hiding her involvement in delaying the scheme's closure.
 In the period that he says he tried to close the scheme and the scheme's actual closure, there was a spike in applications which caused more money to be allocated to the scheme. After the interview, Bell was suspended from the DUP.
A total of 1,946 applications had been received by DETI for the scheme. 98% of applicants received by DETI were approved. After civil servants started to discuss closing the scheme, an additional 948 applications were made between September and November 2015. This enabled the applications to be judged before any changes to the scheme took place.
Stormont's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) opened an investigation into the scheme because the scheme ran over its budget and because of the spike in applications. An independent audit inspected 300 sites which benefitted from the scheme, and the audit revealed that there were issues at half of those. The audit also indicated that there were serious fraud issues at 14 of the sites and payments to those sites were subsequently suspended.
Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled on 19 December 2016 to discuss the issue at the request of Foster and
Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister.