Cash for Ash
For a while, Brexit has been dominated by discussions about the ‘Northern Ireland problem’. The problem in question is all about the future border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which needs to let people and goods through seamlessly, for otherwise total war between the two ensues in a matter of seconds.
On the contrary, the idea of Brexit is to make sure there’s a 10-mile high fence around the U.K. Which is why this 500 km border between Ireland and the U.K. has kept anything from happening thus far.
Despite this, not much attention has been paid to Northern Irish politics, which is a shame.
What most people don’t know, is that the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont, hasn’t been sitting since 9 January 2017.
So why hasn’t the Irish assembly turned up to work for almost three years? It’s simple. They wasted half a billion subsidising the heating of Northern Irish skies.
In 2012, Arlene Foster (current leader of the DUP) was Northern Ireland’s enterprise minister and introduced the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
This scheme was designed to encourage businesses to switch from oil and gas boilers to their renewable equivalents, which is progressive coming from a party that believes the earth was made in seven days.
The scheme was first tried in Great Britain, and businesses were offered subsidies to make the switch from fossil fuels.
So, Stormont set up a Northern Ireland equivalent and copied Westminster’s legislation into their own books – the only thing they left out was the 107 words explaining how much this would cost.
This led to the government subsidy becoming higher than the cost of fuel, and those who installed boilers ended up running them at a profit.
Picture, if you will, farmers heating empty barns (at a profit). Farmers burning oats instead of selling them (at a profit). Hotels heating rooms with the windows open (at a profit).
All of these things actually happened. This from the party who had the deciding vote in Brexit proceedings for over two years. (Let’s be honest, they probably made it run more smoothly.) The RHI scheme was known as Cash for Ash, little did they know how beautifully ironic that would be as money was literally going up in smoke.
The scheme ended up being abandoned in March 2016 with £490m down the drain (or out of the window, up in smoke, the jokes go on).
As scandal progressed, Foster refused to stand aside. Sinn Fein, the second party involved in power-sharing in Northern Ireland withdrew and Stormont collapsed in January 2017. An election eventually ensued in March 2017 and only 1,000 votes separated the two parties. The DUP and Sinn Fein had three weeks to reach a deal – fast forward two and a half years later, there’s still no deal. (The sound of which, makes Farage quiver with excitement.)
There is one silver lining – although a rainbow may be more appropriate in the circumstances. On 21 October 2019, same-sex marriage and abortion were legalised in Northern Ireland after the legislation passed in Westminster, and the Northern Irish still hadn’t turned up to oppose. Fabulous.