While First Minister Arlene Foster held the enterprise portfolio, the Executive introduced the Renewable Heat Scheme, a system of subsidies to encourage the take up of renewable sources of heating. So far, so banal. The problem was this scheme was generous, extremely generous. For example, according to the BBC, a business using a renewable-fuelled boiler over 20 years under the equivalent scheme in Britain could look forward to a government bung of £192,000. The Northern Irish scheme would have paid out £860,000. And so a scheme that had a £15m underspend in 2015 jumped to a budget-busting £400m overspend by the time it was closed around this time last year. If that wasn't bad enough, there is some evidence that it was being gamed by unscrupulous sorts. Thanks to a whistleblower, there were reports of "entrepreneurs" setting up boilers in previously unheated sheds, warehouses and garages and putting in claims. Ouch.
There is absolutely no suggestion that Foster is embroiled with crooked applicants, but there are claims of inept arse-covering. When the improper use of the scheme first came to light to senior civil servants, it is claimed Foster was uninterested in the allegations and fought to keep it open. And when it became too prohibitive, there is a suggestion that her subordinates tried to cover it up and make it look as though she was unaware of the problems. Are there any truth to the rumours? The evidence suggests so, but that's for the inquiry to unearth and, yes, McGuinness and Sinn Fein are right to argue that the DUP arm of government can't pretend business-as-usual. Especially when it's not the first time the party's leading figures have got into trouble with public money. But also, SF aren't entirely masters of their own fortunes here - as 'Cash for Ash' has rumbled on, they too have come in for criticism for appearing aloof from the whole affair. No amount of absurdist Gerry Adams tweets can alibi their quietude.
As the province gears up for an election, it's worth making a couple of points about Northern Ireland's relationship to wider politics. Or, should we say, non-relationship. Coverage of its affairs can be found in the broadsheets, but apart from the occasional trip across the Irish Sea by Question Time, it's not even a sideshow to Westminster's big top. The sad truth is that since SF and the DUP sorted out their power sharing arrangements, leading to the utterly surreal double act of Martin McGuinness and the Rev Ian Paisley, the rest of politics isn't that interested. The Northern Irish office, once one of the toughest briefs in front line politics is now considered a backwater. Small wonder Dave was content to leave it in the hands of Theresa Villiers. For example, back in summer 2015 there were two paramilitary murders - one an alleged commander of the Provisional IRA, and another an ex-member in what was widely seen as a tit-for-tat attack. The Provos, of course, weren't supposed to exist any more and so Stormont was plunged into crisis. The Ulster Unionists withdrew from the executive and Foster came in as a caretaker after the resignation of Peter Robinson. And yet this barely ruffled a Westminster engrossed in the drama of Labour's first leadership election.
Where mainstream politics is concerned, Northern Ireland is considered a settled issue. The bombs have stopped, sectarianism doesn't appear to be as ugly or violent as per The Troubles, so just leave them to it. They're a long way from London, nothing much happens there now and it only becomes useful for EU argument fodder or as a stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn with. But distance is only part of it. For the political establishment, whether its conservative or liberal variants, Northern Ireland is something to be feared and something to be ashamed of. Feared, because from their point of view the intractable sectarian division is primeval and tribal, and that irrationality could spill over into renewed violence on the mainland. And ashamed because Northern Ireland is out of step with the story official Britain likes to tell itself. The idea that not only does religious hatred scar one of the four components of the United Kingdom, but that the sectarian divide is institutionalised in its official politics. It embarrasses and offends a sense of (liberal) British self prided on inclusivity and tolerance. The best way is not to try and understand what's happened and happening in Ireland, but ignore it.
As long as there's no violence, out of sight, out of mind.