So just what the hell was the whole of last week all about?

Well, if you weren’t confused before, the strangely inconsistent messages leeching out onto two of Belfast’s morning papers would have ensured you are now:

Tonight, it seems like the only sticking point left is over whether Arlene steps down or not. She won’t, and from her own party political point of view she probably shouldn’t. Sinn Fein has no means to make her do it (and never had).

Indeed, a quiet sense of collusion between the two runs through this story.

An independent investigation handily takes the whole politics of the matter out of the hands of the Opposition parties. And, despite all the flim-flam to the opposite effect, it won’t have the powers of a public inquiry to compel witnesses.

It’s pretty much in line with what the DUP themselves suggested before Christmas. Leaving the rest of us to scratch our heads and ask what on earth all of this was about? [Sets his family-sized bucket of popcorn gratefully back in the larder].

If SF has no means to force her to stand aside,  but perhaps some form of words is being cooked up somewhere to spare their blushes. It’s certainly been a strange vaudeville burlesque.

For Arlene, the patina of competence has fallen, and she’s exposed a weakness many presumed wasn’t there. The nature of that weakness (which appears to be a weak grasp of detail) means that is unlikely to be her last embarrassing moment as First Minister.

That abrasive personality of hers put her on the defensive when, as Jim Allister put it, some humility would have carried her much further. And she’ll have serious internal bridges to mend and sort out after all of this dies down. Not least that wee matter of the too many SpAds.

Mike Nesbitt had a reasonable phoney war, articulating alternatives without getting drawn into the fray. Eastwood started well, but was eclipsed by Alliance’s Naomi Long towards the end.

Yet that pre-emptive (hubristic) decision to go for a decapitation leaves them all outside the final denouement.

  1. Sinn Fein clearly missed Martin at the local tiller. Without him, it was a shaky and inconsistent performance with a rotating dramatis personae (and short-lived plans) giving the impression of individuals jostling for his succession.

Advertising the fact the DUP treat them like office juniors suggests that after nine years SF is still a party in search of a reason to be in government. How long will they wave their failure to get an Irish language Act out of the DUP in the faces of their voters?

We await, of course, the possibility of further eruptions before this gets put to bed. But when it does conclude publicly, the opposition parties will need to examine the anatomy of this story and figure out what went well for them, and what didn’t.

No advantage comes easily in any democracy, least of all one where the opposition can never reasonably hope to displace the government. A focus on strengthening their use of accountability mechanisms they already have might be a start.

As for the public, I guess they must be wondering: just what the hell the whole of the last week was all about?

Fresh start? How are ya?

  • Stephen Elliott

    Don’t jump the gun. Best wait until the army council have their say.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    “It’s pretty much in line with what the DUP themselves suggested before Christmas”

    If thats the case, then why did Arlene dismiss it this morning? Or did it dawn on her later in the day and then decide it was cool? Of all the flip flops, Arlene’s twirl today is the most spectacular.

    The entire planet believes she should step aside except the DUP, and er, Slugger. So its not too difficult to get a sense of who is in denial and who is not. She will need more than Slugger to save her bacon it seems.

    an independent investigation takes the matter out of all political hands, and its just as well if the chaos of this week is anything to go by.

    Anybody who is scratching their heads clearly has a bad case of dandruff. its clear as crystal whats going on. The DUP have messed up in such a spectacular fashion its almost impossible to believe they are the same party who “won the election” just a few months ago.

    The Shinners are clearly still in shock that a crises exists which is not of their making. While they might have got their ducks in a row eventually, they will need to be much quicker and far cuter the next time a chunk falls of the massive iceberg of Unionism.

    Conor Murphy will be Martys successor so, that jostling you saw was actually little shinner feet dancing.

    The public just got a jolt. They now know for sure its not ALWAYS Jarry’s fault. They will go to the polls with that in mind in just a few weeks if Arlene does not step aside.

  • mickfealty

    Because some of it was nonsense. They’ve obviously kissed and made up this afternoon. Let’s see what happens next?

  • mac tire

    Interesting. Does the Army Council go on holiday between December 6th and January 6th?

  • johnny lately

    Obviously theres political horse trading going on behind closed doors between Sinn Fein and the DUP, perhaps that Irish language act is not as far off as you think Mick.

  • AntrimGael

    I have said all along that Sinn Fein and the DUP would do a deal and there is no doubt this is what’s happening. Sinn Fein lay out their plans, the DUP says they could consider them BUT Arlene’s staying…..then the Shinners call for the Speaker’s head; it all seems a bit choreographed and agreed. Foster WON’T resign but if Sinn Fein can claim Robin Newtown’s head they will see that as a victory of sorts even if it is akin to a sick and wounded hyena feasting on a carcass after everyone else in the pack has had their fill.
    The Shinners were NEVER going to collapse Stormont OR call for an election especially in Brexit year and that I believe is what is possibly driving Sinn Fein’s strategy here. It isn’t local, it is on a 32 county basis and wider European dimension and maybe we are underestimating them. If you think about it, how could the Irish and British governments go to Europe and ask for special status for the North if there are no institutions? Europe would tell them to Foxtrot Oscar and say how can we give you a thought if you can’t agree among yourselves? There are behind the scene deals going on between the Executive, London and Dublin to make some additional funding or otherwise to cover some of the RHI losses so as NOT to force a collapse or election in this year of British/Irish/EU talks. Let’s be honest ALL the real wheeling and dealing that mattered always involved away from the scene with the British and Irish governments. We would be naive to think they aren’t involved in this either.
    I believe Sinn Fein are prepared to take the flak and fallout locally over RHI because there are no compulsory elections, Council, Stormont and Westminster in the pipeline and they are gambling that the Nationalist electorate have no immediate way of showing their discontent towards the Shinners. Maybe throw in an Irish language Act and some others Irish cultural projects and they say “Look we HAVE delivered”.
    Having said ALL of this Sinn Fein will come out of this STILL looking pretty weak, ineffective and playing second fiddle to the DUP. There is NO confidence in the political institutions here anymore but while Uncle Andy and Da are getting their ‘community worker’ cut, while there’s no serious violence or killing on a grand scale and while Sinn Fein and the DUP are holding sway at the Court of St. Gravy up at Stormont London and Dublin will let them bash away so long as it doesn’t frighten the horses. We ARE being played for fools here but it’s NOT Sinn Fein and the DUP; it’s US, Joe Soap but let’s be honest we are lemmings and won’t change EVER.

  • mickfealty

    Well, that would be a fresh start.

  • Redstar

    So we learned that the Dups bitch have no guts and want to stay at Stormont-no matter what their senior partners do-simply to be staying at Stormont

    Nothing new there then

  • Ernekid

    Even if Stormont survives this. It won’t survive the next political crisis when Article 50 is triggered and the Tories are determined to drag Northern Ireland kicking and screaming out of the European single market

  • Redstar

    Ernekid there’s NOTHING that will get SF to collapse the corrupt charade on the hill. They have not got the kahunas they were born with and for the umpteenth time will again roll over for DUP

  • mickfealty

    I’m quoting you on that?

  • the rich get richer

    Arlene will be much weaker from this and is a hostage to fortune in the future .

    A weak Unionist leader is good news for nationalists/republicans .

  • Zig70

    How can Arlene stay in a position of power and influence while she is being investigated for at best incompetence and worst corruption?

  • Gopher

    Right so the logic is the DUP have blown 600 million and they are going to take to “their” electorate down the road of a piece of financial string when they have a perfectly good POC that can only be removed by the above mentioned electorate at the polls. The DUP might be corrupt and incompetent with *your* money but they certainly arnt with their own.

  • Granni Trixie

    I think you are accurate to draw attention to ‘the public’ – a factor which seemed absent from Micks piece.

  • Granni Trixie

    I see GA has also just included those old chestnuts BOR and the Maze on his wish list.

  • Gopher

    Because she has

    1/ More seats than SF
    2/ More seats than anyone in the assembly
    2/ A POC
    3/ The central basis of our law revolves around innocent until proved guilty
    4/ Peter’s precedent was not to suit anyone else but Peter
    5/ The Justice minister despite basically calling her a bitch says she is entitled to do so
    6/ It makes SF look like a dog chasing a car by doing it, utterly pointless
    7/ A party that apart from Jonny who was going to be sarificed and an ex MLA who sang from the “Boiler abusers” hyme sheet has remained solidly behind her
    8/ All the other parties suffer from “Not invented here syndrome” so opposition looks pretty weak
    9/ Wheres Marty?
    10/ Finally and most importantly SF every day invent new and more novel means demonstrate they have something to hide. As Napoleon once said “Never interupt someone when they are making a mistake”

    I could go on but its fairly simple, its like looking for pellet Silo’s and ornate gates in the countryside once you find one you find a hundred.

  • Redstar

    It will be on my tombstone Mick!!!

  • ted hagan

    A sham fight between the two coalition parties, as Claire Hanna said.
    The difference between pre-Christmas and post-Christmas was that previously the media were running with and fuelling the story. Post-Christmas the politicians had taken hold of it while the media had run out of ammo and the story started going around in circles.

  • ted hagan

    The Dads’ Army Council do you mean?

  • Zig70

    It’s an ethical point rather than a political one, the practice is fairly standard in employment. If she stays then it gives the impression she has no ethical compass.

  • Gopher

    Yup the media are essentially lazy and that includes the bloggers they sit behind their keyboards waiting for the evidence to fall into their lap when they need to get their wellies on an get out into the countryside and “follow the money stupid”. When it looks like most of the political establishment are involved in the crisis or have a vested interest in perpetuating the crisis I dont think I would be hanging on their every word. I’ll break this down a’la Colonel Mathieu, 1.8 million people are getting fleeced by 2000 people. I think the media need to get off their arse and start torturing some of those 2000

  • ted hagan

    Mainly because it is the cash for ash scandal that will, hopefully, be investigated, not Arlene Foster. I want a full, judicial inquiry to be held, not the wishy-washy affair proposed by SF. But until the results of that are known, then Foster should remain in place. It makes sense.

  • Gopher

    Not sure, point 3 gives Arlene a sure footing in natutral justice. Like I said Peter stepping aside served Peter no one else except if you include “Blooding” Arlene in that period.

    Now if SF (or anyone else) called for a public enquiry and put no stipulation in for Arlene to step aside, I think you would have her off safe ethical (and political) ground but I refer you to point number 10. We are fiddling while Rome burns trying to put Arlenes head on a spike while 30 million worth of medical care goes up the chimmney and this figure will increase as it dawns on the abusers that they are safe

  • ted hagan

    If SF props up the DUP through this scandal then they’ll prop them up through anything.

  • ted hagan

    Indeed. Where is this legendary mega-barn that burns wood pellets 24/7 with all the windows open. Can’t be that hard to find, surely?
    Unless it’s one of those trendy ‘pop-up’ barns, perhaps.

  • Gopher

    I drove round the countryside looking and Pellet silos arnt to hard to find once you know what they look like. As I said previously Slemish on a clear day with a pair of binoculairs and Im surprised if you would not find 300. I am also sure that Queens maths and physics students who want an A+ thesis arnt too hard to find. Silos by and large arnt custom made so their volume is easy to identify Google Maps can tell you size of any barns and the thermal efficency of wood pellets is known. Its basic calculations. I think a common thermometer measures outside temperature in this mild winter. One would not be trying to put a man on the moon just demonstarting the crass waste.

  • ted hagan

    A united Ireland with Arlene retaining her position as Stormont First Minister. And stuff the inquiry. How does that sound?

  • Granni Trixie

    If the story had run out if ammo it would have faded by now: AF contunual amateurish response to the situation,likewise the gift that keeps n giving , Sammy Wilson and Poots.
    NOt to mention ex DUP turning on the party,lack of production of workable solitions. Yep, still plenty more where that came from it seems.

  • Granni Trixie

    But it’s not just to get a scalp it’s to,put her beyond being in circles where she can exert influence over the investigation, as Zag 70 notes it is standard practice in employment that someone stands aside when a situation in which they have been involved is investigated to forshadow perceived conflict of interests or contaminating evidence.

  • ted hagan

    In employment it is generally an individual being investigated. In this case, it is a policy and its subsequent failings that will be investigated.

  • ted hagan

    I get the impression it is fading. There’s a lot of hot air and posing before SF/DUP do a deal, and then they move on to the next crisis, or cock-up.

  • NMS

    Surely one lesson is the importance of the an independent press and journalists who are willingness to go toe to toe with politicians.

    The story was broken by BBC journalists and developed by others but in particular Sam McBride & the Newsletter.

    The second lesson is the political structures are not designed for contemporaneous oversight by the Assembly, the checks and balances assume most/all parties take Ministerial seats. (An Independent Chair is a prerequisite, Eamon McCann/Jim Allister??) Assuming that there will be a substantial number of members in parties not part of the Govt., means that alternative mechanisms must be put in place to hold Ministers to account.

    Finally, the most striking lesson is the complete chaos inside the Provos & the inability of the organisation’s structures to think on its feet. In the absence of McGuinness & without a meeting of its internal politburo/Army Council, they were like a bunch of headless chickens in a warm shed heated by wood pellets. Máirtín ÓM attempted to give leadership, but Declan Kearney! His performance was appalling http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/politics/sinn-feins-declan-kearney-hits-out-at-juvenile-journalists-over-his-partys-confusion-on-rhi-investigation-35337705.html

    The DUP end the controversy in a much stronger position vis a vis their partners in government, but perhaps much weaker in the eyes of their target voters.

  • Ciaran74

    Tiresome.

  • NMS

    Yes, I agree.

  • npbinni

    The attempt by her political opponents to smear Arlene with full responsibility for this fiasco has clearly failed. How many fake stories (which also ultimately failed) were cooked up to try to damage Peter Robinson? This wasn’t a scoop by the BBC, it was a calculated and sensationalised hit piece using information that has been in the public domain for months, but in the end the blame will by spread far and wide.

  • Ernekid

    She was the minister responsible. She was the one who signed off on it. It was a f**k up. Millions were wasted

    In what way doesn’t she have full responsibility?

  • johnny lately

    Old chestnuts to you Granni but to others especially republicans and nationalists, outstanding issues that were reneged on by unionism and the British government.

  • johnny lately

    Its reality Gopher that horse trading is going on behind closed doors and in this case a POC is of no use to the DUP you cant use it to stop Sinn Fein collapsing the assembly.

  • johnny lately

    It would be honouring commitments already made years ago but reneged on by Unionism and the British government.

  • Redstar

    They’re as bent as a 3 quid note

    Red Sky, NAMA, Peters over valued back garden etc-that shambles on the hill has more schisters in it than Maghaberry

  • Skibo

    If the investigation is “what did Arlene do wrong” then it will fail. She will have more than enough cover along each of the steps of the RHI scheme to be able to deflect incompetence. Corruption will be very hard to prove unless a witness can be found who will put her in the middle of businesses promising to make them money at the expense of the British Treasury.
    Remember this would not have been a story until the British Treasury stated they would not be picking up the tab for any expense over and above their scheme constraints.

  • Skibo

    A Public Inquiry does not automatically say it will be held in Public or it’s report made public in the end.

  • Skibo

    Credit must be given to the BBC for publicising the scheme but it was not a secret. It was there for anyone to disclose and some did. The newspapers jumped on the band wagon but I expect Jim to start reeling back with some within the DUP proposing a boycott against the paper. I am disappointing at the approach of the BelTel who are falling over themselves to defend Arlene.
    The position of the Speaker had not been a problem with previous speakers who set their party loyalty to the side in preference to the impartiality of the House. I am afraid he is damaged goods, was on thin ice before this but his position is a forgone conclusion. The House have no faith in him. I do not believe a POC can be used to protect him.
    As for your comment on The Provos. Usual unionist hogwash. The provos are not involved in this. They have not been involved in anything for a long time. Care to join us in the present day?
    SF have lead a vert difficult line. As far as I can see they are dedicated to proving that they are capable of government and working with the DUP. All the financial scandals so far have involved DUP Ministers.
    I suggest you look at the most recent poll on the leaders of the parties and how Arlene has been surpassed by Mike as the most popular leader from Unionism, that is if you do not count Naomi and the Alliance as a Unionist party!

  • Skibo

    The only thing keeping this going previously was Arlene’s arrogance. As she softens her position, it will disappear. Possibly she will have to state she will step down if the inquiry can find any malpractice on her part.

  • Skibo

    But Mick how do they address the impass of does she stay or does she go? She cannot do both.
    I don’t think this is just over yet. High profile SF members have said she has to step aside. It will be difficult to find a half way street here.

  • Skibo

    How could SF trust promises of something happening in the future? Have we not been down this road before?

  • Ciaran Caughey

    Some are bound to have the boilers.

  • Ciaran Caughey

    Murphy will be a total disaster for them.Insanity even to think it!

  • Ciaran Caughey

    600 million? It is twice that shared between 2000!

  • Ciaran Caughey

    It is pure robbery of the many by the few.

  • Gopher

    Lets tackle “reality” the likelhood of

    1/ SF collapsing the assembly on the back of several average election results is a lemming play. They have absolutely no postion to get it any better conditions for them than they have now.

    or

    2/ The DUP passing an Irish Language act when they are now absolutely reliant on their core vote

    is pretty much zero

  • NMS

    I would like to be able to agree with you, but Gerry Adams getting involved this afternoon makes this almost impossible. A few moments of quiet reflection rather than a broadside, might have been more sensible at this stage. When it was time to speak up he was busy having the hair done.

    Seems the Politburo/Army Council have decided that an election is the least worst option.

  • johnny lately

    Well I suppose the DUP have until the 16th to somehow convince Sinn Fein of their bonafides to any agreement. The stall has been set by Gerry Adams and now its up to the DUP.

  • NMS

    Yes the BelTel piece has Ms. Long as the most popular party leader. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/poll-arlene-fosters-leadership-rating-plummets-from-49-to-29-35345193.html

    The position of Speaker has changed now that the majority of parties are not members of the Executive, making his role much more crucial. I agree that the previous office holders did reasonable jobs, but in completely different circumstances.

    Part of the problem with the current UKNI structure is this inability to get clear answers. If it was known,then clearly non DUP officer holders were aware, including Martin McGuinness….., is that your point? Efforts by Steven Agnew to get information back in 2013 (when Francis Molloy was Speaker) were fobbed off. A Speaker who represented the members of the house would be able to force Ministers to respond properly.

    Which Sinn Féin there are so many different varieties! Sinn Féin of course changed its name to the Workers’ Party…

    The organisation that currently uses the moniker, Sinn Féin, still did not have an idea as to how to respond.

    The damage to the Arlene Foster “brand” may be more considerable than you imagine. In multi-seat, STV elections, the voter can use his or her lowere preferences to go against a particular party or candidate, even crossing the “normal” lines of engagement. For example, going back to 1987 GE, in DNE constituency, the Progressive Democrat voters plumped for Pat McCartan of the Workers’ Party over Seán Haughey, who was the last centre right candidate in the race, giving the last seat to Mr. McCartan. Could the DUP lose a few extra seats as some appalled unionist voters, fail to follow the line, or worse do not turn out?

  • tmitch57

    “The entire planet believes she should step aside…”

    Get a grip on reality: the vast majority of the planet doesn’t care at all about the tiresome politics of NI or who runs the place.

  • hotdogx

    For all the DUP voters out there: The British couldn’t give two hoots about the north, it didn’t even hardly make the news over there. Unionism will once again gain themselves the wrong kind of attention when the British sit up and look into all this money being squandered. Arlene is the manager of fiasco not jus a simple failure and like any manager, pilot or captain she is in charge & responsible for the mess. Anyone believing otherwise is dreaming in my opinion. I have a feeling SF are trying to make this crisis last as long as possible. Arline & Dup are doing more damage to unionism than SF could ever do. With Brexit looming & unionism weak divided & in chaos it may just be a good time for an election in the middle of the article 50 announcement.

  • mickfealty

    I honestly don’t know. It’s a mess. She won’t go, and they can’t make her. They need a fudge. But the extreme language (‘They’re playing us for fools”) of the last few days will make that very puzzling for their own supporters.

  • mickfealty

    It was all subject to mutual agreement. These two are plainly incapable of that.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    In fairness Granni they are issues that are very much outstanding and important to plenty of people.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Why?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Looks like it might have been a Glasgow Kiss 😉

  • Skibo

    I agree with you about the GA statement and this is not going away quickly. The SF stance on Arlene standing aside has not changed from a few days before what was to be an agreed FM/DFM agreed statement. I don’t think GA has softened or hardened that stance.
    What he has done is show how SF have had to moderate their requirements for the good of this power sharing executive. It is as if saying, this is what we have done, what have you done.
    Your comments on politburo and army council are so pre GFA. Please join us in the 21st century. perhaps you are not aware that it is the Ard Comhairle that decides SF policy.

  • Skibo

    I cannot see a get-out clause for Arlene or for SF. If this is a sham fight, someone has went off script!
    Movement on either side will be seen as weakness.
    I still believe the issue of the Speaker is far more important. If they cannot get the Speaker to apologise for bringing the relationship of the FM and DFM into disrepute, we will be in trouble.

  • Skibo

    NMS I believe all parties were aware of the issue with the overspend. Whether they were aware of the full extent is another thing. JB did try and close the scheme earlier and following discussions across the parties where most parties demanded it stay open (and of course we have AF according to JB along with SPADs pushing for extension also).
    The Spotlight programme, probably after a FOI must have got some sort of idea to the overspend.
    My issue with the Speaker is allowing the FM to give a speech as an Executive speech after the DFM confirmed he did not approve of it. That brings the Speakers position into disrepute and the policy of equality of FM/DFM into question. has he set the precedent whereby the FM can work independently of the DFM. There lays the foundation stone of Stormont in tatters.
    As for Sinn Fein changing it’s name to The Workers Party, that would be the Official Sinn Fein or the stickies as we would know them. In the South they moved further to become the Irish Labour Party. Even though the Labour party has newer links to the IRA than either FF and FG they seem sit back and criticise the present Sinn Fein for their links to the past. In truth all the major parties in the South have their roots in the Republican physical conflict.
    I do not underestimate the damage done to brand Arlene but in the end Unionism will vote down the ticket and I believe the damage will be restricted. In an election I do not think her numbers will drop below 30 which is the magic number allowing the DUP a veto on anything they desire.
    The only thing that would save her would be the lack of a smoking gun. That will take time and is why if DUP want this to be buried, their best get-out would be an early election and return to power.
    SF could walk back in and say that the people have spoken and they have to accept the DUP mandate.
    Wonder does Mike have an email or letter that could be raised at a convenient time like a day before the election?

  • Skibo

    Perhaps the two parties have agreed that only an election will clear the air and are setting out their stalls to us the electorate.

  • mickfealty

    Who knows. Neither will gain
    much of anything from one. And it won’t fix the mutual incompatibility problem. Seems the DUP and SF cannot work together.

  • npbinni

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzz