By Daniel Waldron

The scandal around the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was a key factor in the collapse of Stormont in early 2017. The scheme allowed claimants to profit through perverse ‘burn to earn’ incentives, completely undermining its supposedly green purpose. It seems, however, that RHI was only the tip of the iceberg. 

Reports have now revealed how another ‘green’ subsidy scheme – the Northern Ireland Renewable Obligation (NIRO) – was also set up in a way which allowed recipients to “game” the system, this time with “excessive” payments towards the running of anaerobic digesters and single wind turbines. The cost of the subsidies – which could total £5 billion over the scheme’s lifetime – is added on to our electricity bills.

This sounds familiar

What do the RHI and NIRO schemes have in common? They were both established by the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment while Arlene Foster was its minister. Both were made more lucrative than their counterpart schemes in Britain, with tariffs supposedly locked in for twenty years. Poultry producer Moy Park and other big agri-business firms were major beneficiaries. And the cost will be footed by ordinary people.

While opposing moves to tackle climate change, it seems the DUP has no issue with ‘green’ energy schemes being used by big business to syphon off public funds. The investigations into the RHI scandal revealed the extremely cosy relationships between senior DUP figures and Moy Park management. On top of this, the Department for the Economy, under Diane Dodds, recently paid out over £500,000 in unnecessary ‘emergency’ grants to wind turbine owners ‘by mistake’. The Covid pandemic has disrupted much, but it has not stopped the wind blowing!

It’s not just the DUP

While the DUP are, unsurprisingly, the party again centrally implicated in these revelations, they are not the only ones to blame. As with the RHI scandal, the other main parties – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, UUP and Alliance – allowed this to happen, either through incompetence or complicity. The investigations into RHI also shone a light on the subservient nature of Stormont as a whole to the interests of big business, particularly of Moy Park, with an entire committee of civil servants being established to facilitate the company’s expansion. Earlier this year, Moy Park staff were forced to walk out in order to demand safer working conditions in the midst of the pandemic.

We need a socialist voice for workers and the planet

For those who have lost jobs and income as a result of the pandemic and economic downturn, this new scandal will rightly be infuriating. The RHI and NIRO schemes underline how market-based solutions to climate change are fundamentally flawed. The parasitic nature of capitalism means they will be exploited for profit, even at the expense of greater environmental damage. Neither do unjust and ineffective carbon taxes on ordinary people – like those being put forward by the Greens in government in the South – offer any way forward.

Instead of handing huge subsidies to big business, we need direct public investment into renewable energy, creating secure and well-paid jobs as part of a socialist Green New Deal. Major polluters – including in agri-business – should be brought into democratic public ownership so they can be run in the interests of people and planet, not profit. But to fight for these demands and challenge the pro-capitalist establishment at Stormont, we need to build an anti-sectarian, socialist voice for the working class.