Baton dropped over botched green energy scheme - top civil servant

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By Michael McHugh, Press Association

The senior civil servant dealing with Northern Ireland's botched green energy scheme has said the baton was dropped.

Dr Andrew McCormick was permanent secretary at the former Enterprise, Trade and Investment department (DETI) during the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) crisis.

He told the public inquiry important information was not shared between civil servants working on the scheme.

He said: "The baton was dropped and that's a matter of great regret from a civil service point of view.

"Part of what had got lost in the transition was the awareness of the novelty, scale, sensitivity of the scheme."

Three key important staff members with responsibility for the scheme left DETI within the space of a few months around 2014/2015, Dr McCormick said.

He could not recall another time during his career when such a wholesale changes happened and said it was unsatisfactory that no system was in place for addressing it.

He was questioned by the inquiry panel on whether he had enough technical knowledge and said he came from a generalist background.

He said: "Our balance has been too much in favour of generalism and not enough in terms of depth of expertise."

He said the RHI scheme was mentioned in his first day brief as he took up the post but there was no debate on the issue.

Dr McCormick joined DETI - the department which oversaw the project - in June 2014 and said it was not brought to his attention until almost a year later when issues began to emerge.

The RHI was established to encourage businesses to switch from burning fossil fuels to greener alternatives like biomass.

Its subsidies proved over-generous and the bill for taxpayers spiralled.

The DUP's alleged role while the scheme was being conceived led to the withdrawal of Sinn Fein from Stormont powersharing and the collapse of devolved Government.

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