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RHI inspections to be conducted across Northern Ireland

Nothern Ireland’s Department for the Economy (DfE) is to launch an eight month examination of all installations under the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), having launched a tender to procure inspection services.

The tender is seeking a contractor to conduct a programme of onsite inspections of all 2,090 installations under the RHI and provide formal reports to DfE for each inspection.

These checks will assess installation compliance with the scheme’s regulations and recommend remedial action and potential enforcement activity for those found to be acting outside of the RHI’s rules.

This will represent the first wholescale check of the failed scheme after Ofgem stating in January it had inspected just 63 installations. However, payments were suspended for 33 of these for a variety of reasons, including technical issues, with payments recovered from four installations.

Almost 300 systems were inspected by accountancy firm PwC, which has been commissioned by DfE, in 2016. It found that over half of the boilers inspected were operating "contrary to the intention or spirit of the scheme".

The successful applicant under the latest tender will be required to deliver a final report after eight months by the end of November, summarising the findings, conclusions and making recommendations for future action.

However, a further five years could be added to the tender to cover any enforcement activities which the contractor may be required to support.

The launch of the tender comes as Sir Patrick Coghlin, the retired judge brought in to head up the public inquiry into the RHI scheme, said the work would not be completed within the six months originally intended.

“At present I can say that it will not be possible to report within six months. What I can assure you of is that our work will be done as efficiently as possible, and it will be done properly,” he said.

He also ruled out any possibility of a preliminary report, stating that any preliminary conclusions would be based on incomplete information and could have the potential to be unfair to those who may be involved before the inquiry.

Northern Ireland is still recovering from the aftermath of the RHI scandal, which sparked the downfall of ten years of power-sharing at Stormont and a general election which left just one seat between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Due to her perceived handling of the RHI scheme, Sinn Fein has said it will not support DUP leader Arlene Foster until the inquiry reports, suggesting the political deadlock may continue.