The BBC and Stephen Nolan show again that they are the real opposition…

The Cash for Ash scandal is the biggest financial blunder in the history of Northern Ireland. It has the potential to take down the first minister Arlene Foster. It is a mess of the highest order.

The BBC spotlight team did an excellent job with last week’s programme on the affair. It was a forensic dissection of an easily preventable mess. Stephen Nolan then followed up the pressure by devoting the entirety of his show over the past few days to the scandal. And there is more to come over the next few days – will Arlene survive the week?

This affair shows the BBC at its best. They are the only organisation with the resources and power to investigate big stories like this. The local Newspaper industry has been nearly decimated by the internet. UTV is a husk of its former self. Online sites like Slugger have zero budget and zero staff to investigate anything.

Our real opposition parties have been extremely lack lustre over the past few months. At Stormont we rely on Jim Allister, the one-man opposition

Politicians loathe Nolan. They hate that he is the only person in NI that can bring them to account. They complain that he is tabloid, but really they fear and envy his power. They also fear the resources of BBC News and the Spotlight team. They are the only people who can get answers in this place.

Nolan is estimated to earn 300k from BBC NI. That is about the cost of 2 MLAs (factoring in office costs etc). That’s a bargain in my book. He can be a bit hit of miss. His TV show is a head wreck bearpit that has me reaching for the off button. But when he is on form on a story like this he is unstoppable.

So keep it up big lad. May you and the BBC continue to give our politicians and civil servants many sleepless nights. You’re like a big fat Batman watching over us. Not the hero we particularly want but the hero we need.


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  • ted hagan

    Agreed. Nolan has been excellent on both the wood chips and the Dee Stitt scandals. Real journalism at its very best. It has also exposed the feebleness of Sinn Fein in challenging their Assembly pals, with both parties frantically looking for a scapegoat to save Arlene Foster’s skin. It’s pathetic to watch.
    It’s also interesting to compare Nolan’s gutsy journalism with that of the Belfast Telegraph, which has virtually ignored these two important stories over the past weeks, preferring predictable fluffy nonsense and festive chit-chat.

  • Zorin001

    So far Arlene’s had one somewhat successful election campaign to her name (and even that was a fairly mediocre hold in hindsight), a Brexit campaign that has blown up in her face and now her past in DETI has come back to haunt her.

    Forward with Arlene, that was the tagline wasn’t it? Little did we know at the time it was forward off the edge of a cliff.

  • Redstar

    Totally on the money Ted.
    As ever in that pretend parliament on the hill-no one is ever responsible for anything!!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Oh rubbish …I hate the way our commentariat fawn over the Nolan Show as a voice of “opposition” … Stephen Nolan has been Devil’s Advocate for the NI government as much as he’s been complaining about its policies.

    It’s against BBC’s own rules for Nolan to be a voice of opposition.

    All it does is drag complicated issues down to a level of bunch of shouting matches a bit like Question Time. Name one Nolan initiated U-Turn, I bet for all the huff and puff most of his supporters can’t think of one.

    Seriously, bring back Hearts and Minds, heck let RTÉ Prime Time cross the border.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nolan has defended Arlene Foster better than the DUP have while she has been out of the “country”.

  • whatif1984true

    If the Cash for Ash is covering payments for the next 15/20 years can controls or changes be made which stop people getting payments in excess of previous heat expenditure. For example if you spent £20K on heating 4 years ago can they not at least limit payments to that?

  • Granni Trixie

    Before this particular investigation I always stuck up for SN/Talkback as he was almost the sole journalist to question punishment beatings – despite people in local areas phoning in to defend the system. Just shows that even a poacher turned gamekeeper brought into the DUP (David Gordon)isn’t the answer. When will the DUP learn that the public like to see parties owning up when things go wrong rather than trying to wriggle out of personal responsibility.

    Will also be interesting to see the stance taken by SF supporters on Slugger on DUP culpibility given SF reps (e.g. Conor Murphy) are tending to place blame on civil servants in support of their DUP partners/FM Arlene.

  • Gaz

    How about a protest outside Belfast City Hall this Wednesday at 1pm-anyone up for that?

  • Lex.Butler

    Much as one would like to see the sinking of the good ship Arlene, which is now seriously listing and drifting somewhere off Rathlin Island, the question is who will replace her? The DUP is not brimming with talent but mostly benign fools (which is the way Big Ian ran it). She does appear to be a unlucky politican and like unlucky generals, they bring ruin on everyone. However, when did anyone in the DUP ever do the ‘decent thing’ and resign?

  • Dept of Speculation

    What’s with the unnecessary and derogatory remarks on Nolan’s weight? Talk about undermining your own point…

  • Fear Éireannach

    Do you mean benign fools or malign fools?

    As for Foster, her failure to provide leadership and oppose Brexit, when representing Fermanagh, means that she is a plain bad leader.

  • Skibo

    I am no defender of Mrs Foster but really the biggest financial blunder? A possible £400K of direct Stormont money over 15 to 20 years. If you consider 15 years, that averages out at £26.6m a year. Anyone make a stab at areas where Stormont wastes more each year and does it year on year.
    Anyone remember the famous Lorenzo computer system the NHS tried to introduce? Was that £10B or £12B?

  • Zorin001

    She boxed herself in around Brexit, she can’t have campaigned to Leave then turn around and say she only did it to please the DUP base and she didn’t really mean it.

    She knows fully well what Brexit means for Northern Ireland in the future, but like Cameron she gambled and lost.

  • Zorin001

    If they wouldn’t get shot of Robbo and his myriad problems until his health finally forced the issue then they are just as unlikely to dump Arlene over this.

    SF won’t push it either, far too many vested interest want to keep the Stormont show on the road.

  • Brian O’Neill

    IT systems are a favourite source of government screw-ups but they tend to be UK wide. You are right there is a massive government waste but cash for Ash is so huge it is worth the spotlight.

    Averaging it out does not lesson the impact. It is like saying a car is only 200 quid a month when the total repayment is 40k. You are still paying the total no matter what.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Normally I would agree with you but the fat thing is a running joke that Stephen himself is first to bring up. Here is his tweet on our story:

  • Brian O’Neill

    I praised Spotlight as well, they do great work. The strength of Nolan is his audience. The View and other political shows get a fraction of his audience.

    Popularity = power.

  • Dept of Speculation

    Yes, hilarious. There’s a difference between self-deprecating and running with ‘the joke’..

  • Skibo

    But at present all the money is not paid out. What I assume will happen is all people taking part in this grant for a better word will be intensively inspected and any deviation from the original plan will result in termination of the payments.
    The system seems to be pay up front by the applicant and repayment over the following years to recoup the investment. Problem is the repayments seem to be at such a high level, paying back substantially more than the original investment.
    Perhaps Stephen could use a Freedom of Information request to see who benefited and possibly shame them into stopping the misuse of tax payers money?

  • Brian O’Neill

    That is one view. Or what might happen is the recipients will be good when the spotlight is on them. When the media moves on to the next story they will then crack up the heat again.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Will flegs be provided or is it BYOF?

  • Granni Trixie

    Note to self: take a look this Thursday at how the Andersonstown News deals with the story.

  • Granni Trixie

    She was intended to help the DUP recover from PR baggage. Even when this issue wanes the baggage she is attracting leaves her a lame duck long term. Somebody will emerge to fill the vacuum. Now what about that nice Mr Hamilton? or Snow White? But then is coming out to bat for Arlene in these circs a good thing …or attracting stigma?

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    What is DG doing to earn his money with regard to all this?

  • Casey Aspin

    Under Direct Rule, the Secretary of State sought to modernise governance in NI, however environmental reforms met with resistance from UFU. Following devolution, Minister of the Environment Arlene Foster refused to allow an independent environmental regulator. She also refused to bring the issue to the executive committee for debate, concealing “the unedifying reality that had Foster been forced to comply with the terms of the Ministerial Code, the DUP could simply have used its tribal veto to impose a minority, unilateral position in the face of universal opposition by its partners in the power-sharing Executive” Turner, S., Brennan, C., 2012. “Modernising environmental regulation in Northern Ireland: a case study in devolved decision-making.” Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 63 (4) p519. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get the largest dump in Europe along the River Faughan and decades of illegal sand mining in Lough Neagh and test gas wells next to a city reservoir and, yes, taxpayer-funded contributions to global warming sold as a renewables program. Other countries have independent environmental regulators for a reason.

  • ted hagan

    Ah….., no.
    How do you connive to work that one out?

  • Kevin Breslin

    BBC impartiality, he’d be sacked if he was one sided.

    And the DUP have been a bit hopeless here, see Simon Hamilton on The View last week.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Nolan is nothing more than a circus to distract the masses. Bread and circuses, we get circus Stormont and circus Nolan, covering the circuses part and not a bit of bread (and butter) politics between them.

  • ted hagan

    Seems your hatred for Nolan is blinding you to the fact that he is challenging the DUP, challenging SF and challenging all that’s rotten at Stormont. Perhaps that irks you but he is the only one doing it and for that we should be grateful; You, on the other hand, are contributing nothing but sour grapes.

  • ted hagan

    Maybe you could get your sums right. It’s 400 MILLION pounds over 15-to-20 years. It may mean little to you but it’s a hell of a lot for the rest of us.

  • ted hagan

    How do you judge what is legit? That’s part of the problem. Anyone taking out a contract seems to have been given free rein to do whatever they like with no cap on what they want to burn. The only way will be to renegotiate contracts which, at best, will still cost a small fortune.

  • Cushy Glen

    So our democracy is dependent on a radio presenter.
    It is true.
    It is evidence of the absence of democratic accountability & transparency in Northern Ireland.
    Apart from Nolan & BBC Spotlight there is no investigative journalism.
    There is no effective political opposition because the system introduced on the back of the Good Friday Agreement did not allow for a parliamentary opposition.
    NI never had a democratic system where the government was held to account by an effective opposition & an engaged citizenry: not in recent years, not during Unionist rule & not prior to partition either.
    We don’t know what democracy is. How could we know about something we have never had?

  • Croiteir

    Are you sure that the Lough Neagh sand extraction was illegal? I thought that the court decided is was not?

  • Lionel Hutz

    When it comes to SIF money the opposition parties have been making arguments about it for years. It’s not their fault if the media don’t follow it up. The Dee Stitt scandal had to do with the guardian newspaper too did it not? Only then did our local media pick up the ball. So I don’t give much credit to Nolan for latching on to a ready made story focusing on some of his favourite themes. It was a gift. I will give him credit with how he pushes a story once he has the bit between his teeth though.

    Oh the spotlight investigations are great. Credit where it’s due.

    I don’t think it’s right to equate the role of opposition with investigative journalism though.

  • Thomas Girvan

    Do you not wonder why the DUP will not put a spokesman forward for the Nolan show?

  • Thomas Girvan

    How’s that?

  • SMAC

    They do have a fantastic platform, but I would disagree that they are the only ones investigating anything – local papers go in-depth with stories all the time, take for example sand extraction on Lough Neagh, the Greencastle gold mine and FP McCann dumping public realm scheme waste ‘illegally’ – The Mid Ulster Mail led the way with all of these stories – they just mightn’t have the same audience numbers!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Not appearing on the Nolan Show does not harm them politically. Likewise with Sinn Féin.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t hate Nolan. I hate the fact a Wednesday night and a breakfast radio program that are bound by journalistic institutional rules are treated as a major political force.

    Sorry Normal Politics is not changed through yah boh stage managed debate. Case and point.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Contempt for the Nolan show tells the general public you are not some attention seeking politican. The tragedy of Nolan is that it has been used to support the claim that contempt for Northern Ireland democracy and the votes of the general public is a bit of a badge of honour. Nolan is the voice of passive political apathy not opposition.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There are a lot more investigative journalists than that, just get out of the BBC media bubble from time to time.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    “and possibly shame them into stopping the misuse of tax payers money ? ” Sadly these c—- have NO Shame ! (Waiting with interest to see who the others are – like Brimstone).

  • Skibo

    Ted, I can assure you when it comes to sums, I have it! 400/ 15=26.666. 400/20= 20.
    Now the fact of wasting it is something completely different. I merely pointed out that Stormont would be prone to “wasting” money on numerous projects. Have you ever considered how much it takes to police all parades and their corresponding protests?
    Have you considered how much we waste on duplication of services?
    There are quotas that NI have to reach in regard to greening of fuels. perhaps when we are dragged out of the EU they will not have as much weight but the Westminster Government for all their complaints on red tape are partial to it themselves.

  • Skibo

    I believe there is legislation from the EU that they could use about the requirement of the heat, i.e. if they are heating an empty building or heating to a higher than required level.

  • Roger

    I like Nolan. Irreverent. UKNI needs more like him.

  • Roger

    I also like John William Crawley. Talkback.

  • Zorin001

    I’d typed out a response but the site crashed out as I tried to pot, to sum it up she knows how much state aid we got from the EU and there is little chance of it being matched by the Exchequer over the long term.

    She wanted a narrow remain so she could at least make it look as if the DUP tried but it blew up in their face when the vote was Leave.

  • An abiding question to always ask oneself, and all politicians paid from the magic public purse/benefitting from both direct and indirect taxation of practically everything, is where are they getting their intelligence from, and who is providing their scripts for media presentations? Is it all their own work and imagination, or are they just proxies and patsies for anonymous others, with both aiming to avoid all personal responsibility and accountability for falling standards and increasingly severe austerity …… in a world in which money is simply invented and deposited in millions and billions with all the wrong people in their corrupted systems?

    Do they make up everything themselves and then react to following critical events? Is that how they work IT and Media at Stormont?

  • Skibo

    T.E. there are churches within the benefactors. There will be those who will not use this as a cash cow. there are others who will milk it for it is worth. Hopefully the publicity will be enough to make them refrain from such actions.

  • Jollyraj

    Both varieties of fleg will be available for anyone wanting to wave either the Union Jack and the Tricolour.

    I assume you’ll be wanting some new combo of the two, in which case yes, it’s BYOF.

  • Whatyasay

    I seem to recall the transforming your care plan being heavily influenced by Nolan especially the closing of old folks homes. A few interviews with some scared old folk had stormount backtracking faster than TUV supporter stumbling into a gay pride march.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Transforming your Care was put together by a group of researchers who’ve put years into studying social policy and will never get any credit for their hard work, not a highly paid TV presenter.

    Northern Ireland does have to make difficult decisions on health with a limited budget, and always attacking every bit of fiscal conservationism is not going to fix this problem. Even communist states have to manage their money.

  • Reader

    Fear Éireannach: As for Foster, her failure to provide leadership and oppose Brexit, when representing Fermanagh, means that she is a plain bad leader.
    Surely *every* elected politician has to find a balance between short term & long term; local interest & national interest; principle & party policy?
    If she has chosen a different balancing point from you, that doesn’t make her a bad leader.

  • Fear Éireannach

    Pursuing policies bad for her constituency and for NI generally is bad leadership.

  • AntrimGael

    I would not be at all surprised if this story is Nolan’s local broadcasting swansong. I think he has been hinting for a while that he may step back a bit and possibly concentrate on his Radio 5 career. There’s no doubt the DUP and a certain element of Unionists who vote for them won’t forget or forgive him for having the audacity to investigate this. You only had to look at some of the Flat Earth in deniers in Newtownards who were interviewed on the BBC about this. They will tolerate anything the DUP gets up to so long as they wave the Butcher’s Apron and shout No Surrender.