Farmers’ group roasts department over Renewable Heat scheme

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has voiced its disappointment over the decision of the Department for the Economy to publish information about the participants in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Wesley Aston, UFU Chief Executive, has raised questions over the department’s intentions in publishing. He said: “The media focus on RHI has been intense and many legitimate participants have been unfairly targeted.

The faults with this scheme lie solely with those that created it. Publishing the names of participants deflects attention from the major failings of civil servants. This only serves the interest of the department, not the wider public.

Aston said that the department is only giving part of the story with the list’s publication, noting: “The list doesn’t show the considerable financial investments made by participants or the associated running costs. Notably absent too are the public bodies benefiting from RHI. If publishing this list was in the true interest of the public, surely they deserve the full story.”

The recent report by PwC consultants into the matter “cleared poultry and mushroom farmers involved in the scheme of any wrongdoing”. Aston said that this report, “which was largely ignored by the media”, cleared these farmers of all suggestions they had misused the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

Also Read: NI farmers cleared of wrongdoing after RHI audit

“The media has little interest in the positive side of the RHI scheme,” Aston said.

Instead we have seen legitimate users vilified on the basis of claims now shown to be unfair and inaccurate. I believe this is not only shameful, but a sad reflection of how the mainstream media now reports events.

In addition, the UFU took issue with the arbitrary withholding of payments over several months. Aston brought up the issue, stating: “If there was any suggestion that people were not complying with the agreements they signed with the government, this would be understandable. However, this has been shown to not be the case.

We will be applying pressure to restore these payments immediately, given that businesses are facing cash-flow problems because of what is clearly now an unfair decision by officials.