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Judge says N Ireland eco-scandal not caused by corruption

LONDON (AP) — A public inquiry concluded Friday that a green-energy scandal which triggered the breakdown of Northern Ireland’s government was caused by a series of errors and not political corruption.

Northern Ireland’s Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration collapsed in January 2017 because of wrangling between the political parties over the Renewable Heat Incentive, a program that rewarded business and farmers for using environmentally friendly fuel.

Flaws in the scheme meant subsidies for the wood-pellet fuel were higher than their cost, making it profitable to heat empty buildings to earn more money. Retired judge Patrick Coghlin, who led the inquiry, said “corrupt or malicious activity” was not responsible for the design flaws that saw applicants "perversely incentivised" to burn excess heat to turn a profit.

He concluded that “the vast majority of what went wrong was due to an accumulation and compounding of error and omissions over time” by “a broad range of persons and organizations.” The main Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, quit the government in January 2017 over the handling of the affair by Arlene Foster, leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party.

The rift soon widened to broader cultural and political issues separating Northern Ireland's British unionists and its Irish nationalists. Power-sharing was finally restored in January 2020.

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