Development & Alumni Relations Office 


26 January 2017

Retired judge the Rt Hon Sir Patrick Coghlin has been appointed to chair a public inquiry into the failed RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scheme that could cost Northern Ireland taxpayers £490m.

Educated at Queen's (LLB 1968) and at Christ's College, Cambridge, Sir Patrick was called to the Bar in Northern Ireland in 1970, in England and Wales in 1975 and to the Bar of Ireland in 1993. He served as a Deputy County Court judge from 1983 until he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Justice of Northern Ireland on 7 April 1997, receiving the customary knighthood. He became Lord Justice of Appeal in 2008, a position he held until his retirement in 2015.

Among other roles, Sir Patrick was Vice-chairman of the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Northern Ireland (1986 to 1997), a member of Northern Ireland's Law Reform Advisory Committee (1989 to 1993) and Deputy Chair of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland (1999-2002).

Set up by the Northern Ireland Executive in November 2012, the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme was supposed to increase consumption of heat from renewable sources. Executive ministers initially wanted 4% of heat to come from renewables by 2015, with a further 10% by 2020.

The RHI offered a financial incentive for businesses and other non-domestic users to install renewable heat systems – biomass boilers burning wood pellets, solar, thermal and heat pumps – on their premises.

The scheme was originally run by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) where the minister at the time was the now First Minister, Arlene Foster. RHI is now the responsibility of the Department for the Economy which is run by Simon Hamilton.

In the early stages RHI underspent by £15m due to a lack of uptake, however, applications ‘spiked’ in April 2015. Before it closed to new applications in February 2016, about 2,000 farmers and businesses had availed of the scheme in which, for every £1 invested, users received £1.60, giving rise to the label ‘cash for ash’.

The main areas of the investigation will be the development and roll-out of the scheme; the signing-off of the scheme by the then Department of Finance; delays in implementing cost-control measures before November 2015, and the closure of the scheme last year.

Sir Patrick will start work in his latest role on Wednesday 01 February.  

Inquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Queen’s Development and Alumni Relations Office; tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

Photo credit: Inset of Sir Patrick Coghlin by Brenda Fitzsimons, Irish Times


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