Burned: The Inside Story of the ‘Cash-for-Ash’ Scandal and Northern Ireland’s Secretive New Elite


Sam McBride

October 2019

A riveting political thriller from the journalist who covered the controversy for over two years, Burned is the inside story of the shocking scandal that brought down a government.



One of the most shocking scandals in Northern Irish political history: originally a green-energy initiative, the Renewal Heat Incentive (RHI) or ‘cash-for-ash’ scheme saw Northern Ireland’s government pay £1.60 for every £1 of fuel the public burned in their wood-pellet boilers, leading to widespread abuse and ultimately the collapse of the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

Revealing the wild incompetence of the Northern Ireland civil service and the ineptitude and serious abuses of power by some of those at the head of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which would go on to prop up the governments of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, this scandal exposed not only some of Northern Ireland’s most powerful figures but revealed problems that go to the very heart of how NI is governed.

A riveting political thriller from the journalist who covered the controversy for over two years, Burned is the inside story of the shocking scandal that brought down a government.

Table of Contents

  1. On his knees
  2. In the beginning
  3. Let’s spend big
  4. Two fatal errors
  5. Licence to bill
  6. Cash for ash begins
  7. Whistling in the wind
  8. Burning food
  9. Out of control
  10. Bell and the big balls
  11. Family first
  12. In the shadows
  13. The spike
  14. You’re on your own
  15. Get it shut
  16. Let’s claim it was a success
  17. Spotlight
  18. Fire, and Brimstone’s problem
  19. Things fall apart
  20. A brown envelope
  21. No hiding place
  22. Too Big to Fail
  23. Even the winners lose
  24. Free money
  25. The special world of spads
  26. Accountable but not responsible
  27. The legacy

About the Author

Sam McBride is the Political Editor of the Belfast News Letter, one of Northern Ireland’s daily newspapers, and the Northern Ireland political editor of the i newspaper in London, having begun his career a decade ago at the Belfast Telegraph. He is a regular presence on regional and national radio and television in the UK and Ireland.

Praise for Burned

‘This is a magnificent book by one of Ireland’s finest journalists. It is a shocking work, and raises profound and troubling questions about the future of government in Northern Ireland. It is also, for all that it inevitably has to dwell on boilers, sheds, and civil servants, an absolute page-turner … the flames of Burned spare no one.’
Susan McKay, The Irish Times

Burned is a compelling exposé of a system gone rotten … McBride, drawing on interviews and evidence aired in the public inquiry, is forensic in apportioning blame. McBride is a deft storyteller.’
Rory Carroll, The Guardian

‘This triumph of investigative journalism from one of the UK’s most important reporters spares nobody.’
Patrick Maguire, Political Correspondent, New Statesman

‘One of the most important books on Northern Ireland politics since the Good Friday Agreement; and certainly the most important on the Assembly and the function – and dysfunction – of devolution. Disturbingly revelatory.’
Alex Kane: columnist and commentator

‘Superbly researched and explained with clarity and precision. Sam McBride’s book should be required reading for those working in the public and private sectors far beyond Northern Ireland as a manual on how not to run major projects and how not to govern a society.’
Mark Devenport, political journalist and broadcaster

‘An intriguing forensic examination of the RHI scandal which brought down Stormont. It should be an essential textbook for politicians, advisers and the Civil Service. Sam McBride’s book clearly points out this must never happen again if faith in politics is to be restored.’
Ken Reid, UTV Political Editor

‘Unlike the RHI legislation she introduced, I hope Arlene Foster actually reads this. Sam McBride brilliantly untangles the facts about RHI to reveal a jaw-dropping and occasionally hilarious omnishambles. The author has taken the fiendishly complex RHI scandal and made it both comprehensible and shocking. If I were a civil servant, or a DUP spad or worked at Moy Park I would demand that all copies of this book were burnt in a 99kw wood pellet boiler.’
Tim McGarry, comedian