NI’s First Minister faces being forced to quit over renewable heat incentive (RHI) controversy

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster will face a vote of no confidence in her leadership at the devolved Assembly over allegations about a scandal involving the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme that is estimated will cost taxpayers £400m (€383m).

The Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) has won cross-party support for its motion censuring Foster over allegations about the scandal.

The main opposition parties – the Ulster Unionists, the Greens, Traditional Unionist Voice and the leftwing People Before Profit – are backing the SDLP’s move to exclude Foster from the highest office in the province.

This latest crisis to imperil the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland is related to the RHI, a scheme set up in November 2012 to encourage the consumption of heat from renewable sources in the region.

It offered financial incentives to farms, businesses and other non-domestic consumers to use biomass boilers that mostly burned wood pellets, as well as solar thermal and heat pumps.

A whistleblower alleged in February this year that the scheme was being abused and that one farmer had made £1m out of renting an empty shed.

Northern Ireland’s auditor general, Kieran Donnelly, concluded this summer that there was “no upper limit on the amount of energy that would be paid for”.

“The more heat that is generated, the more is paid,” he said.

Last week, former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell accused fellow members of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) of delaying the closure of the controversial scheme, according to the Guardian.

Bell also alleged that DUP advisers had tried to “cleanse the record” of any links between Foster and the decision-making process that led to the RHI scheme’s creation. Foster has apologised for not ensuring there was a cap on the millions being paid out to those who took up the scheme and made considerable profits from it.

The DUP MP for Lagan Valley, Jeffrey Donaldson, confirmed on Sunday that Bell has been suspended from the party over his allegations.

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