“The whole issue has, unfortunately, become party political…”

In the Belfast Telegraph, Conservative MP, Laurence Robertson, who chairs the House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, asks some pertinent questions about the ‘crisis’ over the RHI scheme.

What would [Arlene Foster’s] resignation achieve? Who would take over? Would this stabilise the workings of the Assembly and the Executive, or throw it into turmoil?

If some parties want an inquiry held into the RHI, then fine. But by way of an analogy, if an inquiry were held into, say, the reason for UK immigration levels over the last six years, would Theresa May (as then Home Secretary) have to step down as Prime Minister while it took place? Of course not.

The whole issue has, unfortunately, become party political, with some seemingly threatening to force Assembly elections.

But if elections were held, would the state of the parties be significantly different, or would they be approximate to how they are now? If the latter, what would have been achieved by holding those elections, apart from extra expense to the electorate?

I have been alarmed by the force of some of the comments made and the risks some people commenting appear willing to take.

I have even been asked if this issue could lead to the imposition of direct rule.

I, as a Conservative, English MP do not want to see a return to direct rule, and would suggest that those turning up the volume on this issue need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Yes, the RHI ended up a mess. Yes, it should be sorted out.  But I would question whether this is an issue which should lead to new elections being held, or an issue which should threaten to bring down the institutions.

I believe there are bigger issues at stake, and, while ensuring that the RHI is put right, we should be concentrating on those important issues.

Indeed.

And, while Mick highlighted the joint Northern Ireland Executive Office statement on 13 September, here’s a reminder of the situation just 7 short months ago in the newly elected NI Assembly – “DUP/SF solidarity facing a formal opposition marks a new Assembly era“.

As Brian noted in that post

Most notable of all was DUP-Sinn Fein solidarity against Ulster Unionist/SDLP opposition

But he also quoted BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport…

So, will a cohesive government run rings around a divided opposition? Maybe, but all governments, power sharing or not, are vulnerable to the passage of events.

Seven months.

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  • Granni Trixie

    I simply do not accept this MPs analysis, one suiting the DUP s original line, ‘move along, nothing to see here’.

  • ted hagan

    Why? He says there should be an inquiry if it’s demanded.
    Putting Foster on the naughty step as some sort of punishment will solve nothing and detracts from the main issue, as yer man says.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    In Fairness to Mr Robertson, he is quite accustomed to canvassing for leeway when it comes to those who are accused of crossing the line or acting contrary to what some might regard as modern decency. We should not assume this is anything more than human fair play from his point of view. But his credibility might be challenged here. Of course this does not make him wrong.

    His analogy however is astonishingly weak given his experience and obvious intelligence. Maybe if Theresa May had used taxpayer money to pay a sixty percent premium on top of the normal cost of inbound migrant transportation then possibly there might be a case to answer.

  • ted hagan

    Do you want to know the truth and background to this scandal or are you simply looking for Foster’s scalp immediately? She says she innocent. Let’s test

    that to see if it’s true or not with a full independent judicial inquiry. That’s how democracy works.

  • JOHN TURLEY

    Sure its only a half a billion,the taxpayer will lap it up,It is wrong to point the
    finger at Arlene sure she is the leader of the D.U.P.

  • Granni Trixie

    What you say is one interpretation. By another
    1. Anyone living here would be aware that there is indeed a widespread demand for an enquiry – how informed is this MP?

    2. AF removal is not some petty move to punish her which is what you imply. No, it’s so that she is not involved in setting up of an enquiry where she has a perceived conflict of (self) interest. It is also necessary because she has demonstrated that she does not accept responsibility and tends to blame everybody but herself. It is also necessary in the interests of transparency and to foreshadow the public seeing the enquiry as a whitewash.

  • articles

    Presumably he’s commenting as a private individual because this particular issue is outside the TOR of his committee as he should know. Perhaps he was put up to it. Whatever, he should remove himself from the fight, at best paternalism at worst interference.

  • ted hagan

    She wouldn’t be involved in the setting up of an inquiry anyway. Taht’s the whole point. Those powers are removed from the executive.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Bang on

  • Granni Trixie

    Maybe not officially involved but in the sphere of influence – whoever chooses the judge or panel or terms of reference is a gatekeeper on how it goes. Can’t you see how it looks to the public – it undermines confidence.

    As you say, the kind of investigation proposed by SF has not the legal power to compel witnesses etc. It’s not good enough and is likely to end in tears.

  • Karl

    Democracy. In the words of Inigo Montoya “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
    What we’re talking about here is governance. Your proposal is not to have any effective means of efficient governance because your conflating the governance process with democracy.

  • ted hagan

    No, I see the demand for her stand down as a hindrance to getting a proper inquiry under way and as a shield for the DUP.

  • Annie Breensson

    How can you have a proper inquiry when the subject is in a position to influence the findings?

  • ted hagan

    Because she won’t be if it’s a proper inquiry. Simple.

  • Annie Breensson

    Remove the blindfold, Ted

  • ted hagan

    Never mind blindfolds. You are stalling the route to a judicial inquiry, in which Foster’s version and denial can be truly tested, rather than accelerating it.

  • Granni Trixie

    Careful, you’ll be going to my head!

  • ted hagan

    Your remark sounds smarter than it actually is. The separation of the judiciary from the executive is one of the key tenets of any democracy, I think you will find. Never mind Inigo Montoya.

  • mickfealty

    You think we should have an election then Granni? (That we shouldn’t is actually the main thrust of what he’s saying.)

  • AntrimGael

    What a surprise. A Tory MP, who heads the Westminster NI Affairs Committee, backs the DUP line??? This is a Westminster body that most Northern Nationalists view with total contempt and it contains quite a few DUP members as well if I am correct. What next, a bear disappears into the woods with a newspaper and Kleenex under it’s arm?

  • file

    Does anyone remember all the NIO fright about elections when Tremble was doing his ‘I will walk away from the Assembly and force elections’ in-again out-again dances? The NIO line was that Trimble had to be supported in his actions (which were in breach of his ministerial pledge, but so what in this dump) and elections had to be avoided because they might end up with DUP and SF as the biggest parties and that those parties would never be able to agree to be in the executive together. My point is, commentators who assert that elections will bring about only a return to the same starting point and are therefore pointless need to remember that all elections change things and that, in politics, everything is possible and outcomes should not be second-guessed. Even if an election delivers only a slap in the bake to Foster, it would be worth watching for the crack.

  • mickfealty

    I do indeed. I was there for his hanging narrow defeat. There’s no comparison.

    People rallied round Trimble because they feared it was a balance of power election, that’s why it was moved from May to Nov. And, when the RA refused the one thing Trimble needed, so it proved.

    They’ll both likely get a ‘slap in the bake’ since the election will be fought on smaller constituencies and since they have more seats than anyone else, they’re likely to lose more.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ted, she was minister when it happened. She simply acnnot be “innocent”, but perhaps you can enlighten me as to how you are using the term here? For anyone else not supporting her in brazening out her culpability, she is unquestionably unfit for high office either because: i) she knowingly permitted this to happen while in office, or ii) she was heading a department whose doings she seemingly had no interest in understanding. Either way she was guilty of something against the public interest, “Mortons Fork”. This is a very clear case for standing down, and her refusal to do so, with her parties support, shows that the DUP have contempt for the community. In any other place the party would have forced her to, at the very least, stand down by this point pending clarification. Even Peter did this until he could present a “letter to the teacher” in the form of internal legal advice taht he had “no case to answer”.

  • ted hagan

    I don’t you think get it. I want an inquiry to get to the truth of this matter and Foster’s role in it, or anyone else’s for that matter. Then punishment can be meted out for this fiasco. This petty business of Foster standing aside is seriously delaying the progress to that inquiry. If the public judicial inquiry is fully independent, as it should be, then Foster can have no influence on it.

  • Granni Trixie

    You may say that that is the main thrust but reading between the lines his actual message seems like propaganda – aligned to that of the DUP,in fact just this morning I hear Simon Hamilton quoting him in support of ‘why Arlene should not resign’.

    Would I like to see an election? Part of me does but i get the reasons behind consensus that this is likely to return us to a similar situation.

    What I am absolutely resistant to is the line that RHI will be brushed under the carpet like the other scandals we have glimpsed. Surely something positive has to come out of this debacle?

  • Roger

    The Tory MP didn’t talk about brushing things under carpet.

  • Tarlas

    My apologies for reposting another individuals post; But his
    observation that appeared yesterday on another thread on this website ; In my opinion cuts through the party political propaganda surrounding this issue.

    Lionel Hutz: “Can I just say as a lawyer who has spent more time in employment law than I have wanted to….

    There is nothing unusual about asking an individual who is a
    potential subject of an investigation to step aside to allow that investigation to take place. The primary reason for stepping aside would be because the role that that individual is employed in is such that they could be seen to influence or hinder the investigation.

    Arlene Foster is currently exercising a veto over the nature
    of the investigation and it’s terms of reference. I know of no employment context where that would be acceptable.”

  • file

    The comparison is valid on grounds of not having closed perceptions about the possible outcomes of elections: ref: Trump, Brexit, W Bush getting a second term, Bob Dylan as Nobel Literature Laureate. Don’t rule out the unknown unknowns and deal with the result of an election AFTER the election, not before.
    So at least you admit the RA did one good thing, Mick? i.e. they got rid of Trimble.

  • Granni Trixie

    Thanks – an appropriate reposting.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    This is not a personal issue, nor is the rqeuirement for someone in public life suspected of incompetence or wrong doing to step aside in any way “petty”. Steping down from office is certainly not a matter of “punishment” but for a recognition that either way this works out there is clear and evident culpability on either of teh counts I’ve mentioned. In every such case amongst “real”people she would have been compelled to step aside “for the good of the party”, and it is only the particular situation here where the party has a committed block of “standing order” votes that permits Arlene to act with such arrogance. The alternative which we are seeing played out is the “Watergate” scenario where the very status of the culpable person makes it difficult to reach any truth when they remain in office and may use their position to engage in covering up the original cover up. Our first minister should, like Caeser’s wife, be entirely above suspician. Anything else seriously reeks of Banana Republic dictatorship. And, really, “independant” with her still first minister? How does that work, especially here with our encoded history of a Unionist mind-set born out of an anti-constitutionalist, anti-law and order stance in 1912/14?

  • Granni Trixie

    I coukd live with the FM not stepping down if it were to clear the way for a public Enquiry. But could she given how the public are likely to interpret this?

    SF holding out for her resignation I see as bluster to cover their acceptance of an inhouse Enquiry rather than the public enquiry which others are calling for. So it is possible that AF will ultimately stand down as part of the game.

  • ted hagan

    Let’s get real here. There is no way Foster is stepping down. Everyone knows that. Let’s cut to the quick and get down to a full public judicial inquiry and find the truth of the matter.
    This ‘naughty step’ stuff has simply become a mantra that will make no difference to the results of a proper inquiry.

  • ted hagan

    Agreed. A full public independent judicial inquiry is vital. SF have muddied the waters with their proposal.

  • Granni Trixie

    And are we talking about the same thing – an enquiry with powers under the Act (2005)?

  • mickfealty

    But he’s in favour of an inquiry. So we’re properly in NI political air space where, it seems, nothing of substance carries any more weight than the lightest object known to human physics.

  • mickfealty

    There’s no evidence that any election since then (bar the reverb of 2005 westminsters) has had a material effect on the standings of any of the parties in NI.

    If there’s no feedback loop on what parties have done or achieved then all we’re getting is a long slow corrosion of each party’s support base.

  • ted hagan

    Yes, certainly, the tougher the inquiry, the better, but certainly not the feeble emasculated version that SF has put forward.

  • Korhomme

    Weight of course depends on gravity, Mick. Just coincidentally (I’m fairly sure) this week’s New Scientist has an article about the search for anti-gravity. This is expected to be found soon; and now we have a better idea where to look 😉

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As long as she retains the post of First Minister we are in a Watergate situation where any enquiry will be coloured by the fact of her position. The very first step here is to recognise that there is no way in which she may be considered “innocent” and any such claim of this on her part is crude bluster. We do not need to find the “truth” of the matter, that is glaringly obvious on the two counts I’ve mentioned above. What any enquiry is going to look at is the detail regarding what happened, but regarding her culpability, that is self evident as what has happened may be put down to either intent of carelessness on her part. She was the minister, no one else held final responsibility on this. As I’ve said above she is caught from all angles by “Morton’s Fork” in this. However, once her culpability is acknowledged, any serious observer should be demanding that she step down, as there are no honest grounds on which she may argue for her continued holding of her office.

  • file

    … which is a good outcome as it goes to the proof that this place is an ungovernable entity. But you need the election results and the increase in the number of no-votes to show that.

  • Barneyt

    He makes a fair point about the difference it would make, and the collapse of Stormont and direct rule etc….but surely his parallel between imigration levels and the RHI is not accurate? I tend to agree that an eqiury can take place with Arlene retaining her position (which would lessen the party political aspect of this), and as long as she cannot interfere with the process, her departure or not, will be cemented. If she is at fault, the only thing that will keep her in position is her brass neck.

    As to the question, “who will replace Arlene?”, well thats irrelevant in many ways, despite the fact the DUP will be able to produce one or two alternatives. I am not sure Arlene is out of reach in terms of calibre

  • Barneyt

    whilst I understand the call for her to move aside, rarely is this without prejudice. She way be tainted whatever. It is tantamount to her declaring a wrong-doing and I suspect this is her thinking….her the source of her stubborness. I say, let her remain on the basis she cannot interfere with any enquiry and I agree with you that the reasonable demand for her removal is getting in the way and offering up a distraction. Get the enquiry started and judge Arlene on the outcome.

  • Barneyt

    thats the key. He she can influence, she has to step away…if not, remain in place and defer her possible departure.

  • Barneyt

    once more I agree. He she fails this test, there is no way she can continue and it will make is awkward for any successor. Now, thats what I would prefer if I was after DUP blood.

  • Barneyt

    ok, this is a strong argument for her to walk now…..if we can stand over this. Will the detail produced in the enquiry not bubble up to cement the two counts you speak of, which it feels the DUP think are open to debate?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The DUP has, of course, an interest in claiming that these issues are somehow open to debate, but for the life of me, I cannot see how they are. Either she was aware of what was going on and is responsible for not putting sensible constraints on expenditure, or, even more damningly, she was, despite being the minister, entirely unaware or did not understand what was going on, in which case, why on earth WAS she the minister? Unless there was kept from her some mendacious plot by a venal civil service to rob the public purse and feed monies to their friends, she was unquestionably the responsible person, no other. She should have known what went on in her department. If I’d let expenditure run away on any films I line-produced in my career then I’d expect not only that I was obliged to resign, but I’d not expect to work in the business again. Claiming that this was the fault of someone else does not wash when your own job is to manage the activities of those people you delegate tasks to in the public interest.