FIRST Minister Arlene Foster faces fresh calls to quit after it was revealed she wrote to banks urging them to support for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.
She was enterprise minister when she set up the botched RHI scheme in 2012.
But because of a lack of cost controls left taxpayers facing an unexpected of between £400 million and £600 million to the public purse.
The Ulster Unionist Party repeated its call for her to step down after her Democratic Unionist Party released RHI letters she wrote to banks in 2013.
Mrs Foster has been criticised over the scheme’s over-generous subsidies, which were greater than the cost of the fuel and meant the more claimants burned, the more public money they could earn.
In her letter to the Ulster Bank, dated 7 January 2013, Mrs Foster said she was “writing to encourage you to look favourably on approaches from businesses that are seeking finance to install renewable technologies”.
“The government support, on offer through the incentive schemes, is reliable, long term and offers a good return on investment.”
Her letter also added: “Tariffs are ‘grandfathered’ providing certainty for investors by setting a guaranteed support level for projects for their lifetime in a scheme, regardless of future reviews.”
The existence of Mrs Foster’s RHI letters to banks was reported at the weekend.
But there contents were not public knowledge until her correspondence was released to the News Letter by the DUP yesterday.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said his party had asked that the letters be released under a Freedom of Information request and he claimed the correspondence “now appears to have been leaked by the DUP”.
Mr Nesbitt said Mrs Foster had played a “central role” in setting up the RHI scheme and accused her of “incompetence”.
“Aside from the important question of the propriety of the DUP releasing government papers, the letter makes clear that Mrs Foster was across every important detail, or ‘jot and tittle’ of RHI, and wrote to the banks to inform them that in terms of the 20 years of the RHI subsidy, the only way was up, in that the levels were guaranteed to be adjusted only to account for inflation.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “With the release of the 7th January 2013 letters to banks from Arlene Foster, it turns out Mrs Foster was actively promoting the scheme with banks so that they would lend to those installing RHI boilers.
“This points to a far greater ministerial attachment to this scheme than hitherto has been admitted.
“Moreover, as these letters stressed the long term security of the tariffs – guaranteeing the tariffs would be exempt from downward movement – it further underscores ministerial knowledge and satisfaction with that situation – to the detriment of the taxpayer.”
Mr Allister added that the need for a “full judicial inquiry is more imperative than ever”.