Four lessons from the Opposition’s failed RHI attempt at political Regicide…

So the grave consequences of the RHI scandal is to be an election, hints Alex Maskey. After Arlene publicly spurned Martin’s friendly advice that she should step aside whilst a judge-led inquiry gets stuck into investigating her ministerial inadequacies

Any new election would run on five seat constituencies, something that’s likely to cause more damage to the smaller parties than the two in government. But just ask yourself what would such an election decide: and it will tell you something important about this whole affair.

Who knew what in the mismanagement of (despite the large 20-year figure) a small scale heating scheme? SF SpAds were given privileged briefings in January when SDLP, UUP and Alliance minister were their supposed co-equal partners in government.

Like the low dealings around the NAMA affair, the pretence is just part of the panto. Such a poor excuse for an election would hardly last the ravages of a four-week campaign. Some [melo]drama, but no actual crisis.

In fact, as Eilis O’Hanlon rightly notes in the Bel Tel:

It’s simply an outbreak of common-or-garden political gamesmanship. It took a while, but finally, Stormont is starting to have full-scale squabbles, whose origins don’t date back to the time of the Troubles. A few months ago, it was Nama. Now it’s RHI. That’s not a crisis. It’s progress.

The “cash for ash” controversy is about money. Good, old-fashioned money. Specifically, the waste of it. Because that’s what government does – almost by definition.

In those pristine terms, here’s her scores on the doors:

Sinn Fein announced grandiosely that they’d lost confidence in the First Minister – while finding a way to not actually vote against her. Clever.

The Ulster Unionists played the school swots by correcting Speaker Robin Newton on the proper procedures for taking a point of order. Clever clogs.

The SDLP then tabled a motion to get rid of Mrs Foster, under Section 30 of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, despite it having less chance of success than a team of oompa loompas playing basketball against the Harlem Globetrotters. Clever? Not so much.


Was she speaking as First Minister? DUP leader? MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone? Who knows? Who, apart from political anoraks, really cares? We just wanted to hear what she had to say.

There then followed a couple of hours of festive slapstick, as member after member used his or her five minutes of fame to either attack, or defend, the First Minister.

“Arlene is a lame duck,” cried nationalists.

“Oh no she isn’t,” shouted back (some) unionists.

“Oh yes she is.”

And so on.

Well, it is the panto season.

Enter the painted lady Vaudeville villain…

Even Belfast’s very own Widow Cranky, aka Gerry Adams, turned up to join in the fun, standing next to Martin McGuinness as the deputy First Minister addressed the media, even though he hasn’t been an MLA for five years.

Gerry’s checked shirt and corduroy jacket, in contrast to everyone else’s work clothes, gave the game away. He doesn’t dress like that in the Dail, his actual workplace. He was only up from Dublin for the day for the craic.

This collective giddiness is no excuse for the rest of us to mistake political tomfoolery for a real emergency, or to agree with the Ulster Unionists that the reputation of devolution “has plummeted from the gutter to the sewer”.

Them’s fighting words, Mike Nesbitt, but do the UUP really want to make a last-ditch stand on this issue?

No one said devolution had to be perfect. It just has to be better than the alternative.

And the biggest laugh of the show, ask Arlene to step aside over a policy level screw up…

Life would go on if she did. The top post in Government would continue to be held by the DUP. The trains would still run on time. Or still run, at any rate.

But Northern Ireland would be no better off. It would simply allow certain parties up on the Hill to claim bragging rights. Arlene’s opponents want the right to say that they “got” her and to present her humiliation to their supporters as a sign that devolution is working for their tribe and it’s a long way from clear why she should gift them such a triumph at this time. Allegations are not the same as facts. “Corruption” is too big a word to hang on rumour.

Or is this the way things work now – if a former colleague makes a complaint against you, then you automatically have to step aside while it’s investigated? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Try taking that one out on the doorsteps lads and lasses!! As Ms O’Hanlon also notes:

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir certainly didn’t play ball when he faced calls to stand aside pending clarification of what he knew about Sinn Fein’s coaching of Nama inquiry witness Jamie Bryson.

Is there one law for one side of the chamber and a different law for the other?

Well, that’s the business of politics, getting the mud to stick. I’m inclined to be slightly more generous towards the opposition. The main political currency in Northern Ireland has been passive aggression. And they are barely off their knees yet.

The only time I’ve seen serious accountability being actively pursued in Stormont using the governance structures provided by the Belfast Agreement was the PAC’s grilling of NI Water in the summer of 2010.

The result was the fall of a Permanent Secretary, accompanied by a chilling indifference amongst more than half of NI’s media outlets who were too enthralled by troubles era/tribalist themes to take notice of what was going down in Stormont.

In effect, the SDLP promised a royal hanging when they should have gone for a tightly argued interrogation of a thousand cuts via the PAC.

They allowed themselves to be drawn into (on a daily basis) Stephen Nolan’s line of inquiry.  Instead of pushing their own politicised lines, they were drawn into commenting on his prime witness’s time in office (leaving the key 2013-15 period unexamined).

The exclusion order was them losing the run of themselves. As a result, they will lose control of the external inquiry, which will likely focus exclusively on debunking Nolan’s more limited but sensationalist case against Arlene.

By the time the PAC rightly apportion her screw ups to her time at DETI, they public will have moved on.

So what can the opposition learn from this episode?

  1. The FM is not good with detail, and this weakness is not likely to go away anytime soon. There will be other RHI’s.
  2. Overreach is a trap for the political ego. Clever rhetoric is a poor second to owning the territory on which Ministers trade and make their decisions. And that takes time. In the case of Stormont, probably a lot of time. Stay low, hit hard.
  3. Use the tools already provided. The FM relished noting that SDLP refused to use Exclusion in regard to SF’s connection to ongoing terrorism. A heating scheme needs a PAC hearing. Oppositions MLAs can be effective no matter how many government colleagues are present.
  4. Offer the media your narrative, not comment. One reason the DUP and SF are in government and the UUP and the SDLP are not is because they are better at offering the media clear messages and jumping off points. Learn from your tormentors!  

Something to chew over for the holidays…

  • Patrick

    Think Gerry was wearing the brown courdroy jacked in Dail a few days earlier – that “new politics my arse line” / what film flam. DUP should face electorate.

  • Brendan Heading

    Any new election would run on five seat constituencies, something that’s likely to cause more damage to the smaller parties than the two in government.

    I suppose we should distinguish the small parties from the middle ones ie. those who qualify under d’Hondt but chose not to enter government.

    The smallest parties look safe to me; in all cases they all got a elected with or very close to a quota, ahead of the additional candidates from the other parties. All other things assumed unchanged, I would expect Alliance and the Greens to hold all of their seats. PBP will absolutely keep West Belfast. Jim Allister will hold North Antrim for as long as he wants it. Eamonn McCann might face a bit of a fight in Foyle but I see no reason why he would lose out.

    For sure, there is no immediate prospect of small parties gaining more seats absent a significant swing in public opinion. The Greens can forget East Belfast; Alliance can probably forget a second seat in South Belfast or East Antrim. But each of these parties will be proportionately more influential in a 90-seat assembly.

    I did a quick back-of-a-fag-packet check through the constituencies, looking at who came last and guessing who would fare better based on the order of eliminations in the last count. (warning – my psephology is amateur at best, so take these with a pinch of salt!)

    North Antrim : DUP (SDLP elimination would likely benefit SF)
    East Antrim : SF (UKIP elimination would benefit DUP)
    South Antrim : DUP (UUP elimination would benefit UUP – if they run 2 candidates!)
    Upper Bann : UUP (SDLP elimination would benefit the two SF candidates)
    Mid Ulster : UUP (DUP elimination would benefit the DUP)
    East L/Derry : SDLP (SF elimination would benefit SF)
    FST : SDLP (SF elimination would benefit SF)
    West Tyrone : SF (SF elimination would not be enough to knock out Hussey)
    South Down : SF (SDLP elimination would support the other SDLP candidate)
    North Belfast : SF (contingent on Alliance transfers mostly going to SDLP)
    West Belfast : SF, but only if the SDLP get sufficient DUP transfers
    East Belfast : DUP – ironically, Speaker Newton was elected last here. Green transfers likely to go Alliance
    South Belfast : DUP – but extremely tight between DUP and Greens for last seat
    North Down : DUP (Alliance elimination benefits Alliance)
    Strangford : UUP (assuming SDLP transfers would favour Alliance over UUP)
    South Down : SF (elimination of the third SDLP candidate would put their second candidate ahead of SF’s second candidate)
    Newry and Armagh : SF (similarly to South Down)
    Lagan Valley : UUP (DUP elimination will benefit the DUP candidates)

    SF : -7
    DUP : -5
    UUP : -4
    SDLP : -2

    That implies the following Assembly makeup :

    DUP : 38-5 = 33
    SF : 28-7 = 21
    UUP : 16-4 = 12
    SDLP : 12-2 = 10
    All : 8-0 = 8
    Green : 2-0 = 2
    PBP : 2 – 0 = 2
    TUV : 1 – 0 =1
    Ind : 1 – 0 = 1

    Based on these numbers, the d’Hondt allocations would be unchanged and the same executive would be reappointed assuming the UUP/SDLP choose to remain in opposition.

  • mjh

    On the contrary, Mick, the Opposition have played the politics of this very well.

    They have maximised any long-term damage to the DUP, and they have ensured that it will stick to the party as a whole, not just to Arlene. Along the way they have out-manoeuvred SF.

    They achieved that precisely by going for the exclusion option. That gave them a number of advantages:

    1) They were seen to take the initiative. A weaker motion simply calling for an enquiry would have been effectively eclipsed by a similar motion from SF, and almost certainly have been rendered redundant by the probable DUP offer to facilitate an enquiry on its own terms. They avoided appearing irrelevant.

    2) They have embedded the impression of DUP incompetence – or worse – into the public mind. The DUP wanted to delay the point at which the public crystallised their impression as long as possible – in order to allow interest to diminish, in order to add confusion and doubt to the narrative, in order to create complexity of detail, and ultimately to ensure that the terms of any enquiry were drawn narrowly around the question of legality rather than competence or ethics. Conversely by moving immediately to the end-game of whether Arlene stays or goes, the Opposition have ensured that the public crystallises its judgement at the point of maximum public attention and concern, and before the DUP damage limitation programme could be rolled out.

    3) Moreover they have made the public’s impression both deeper and more memorable through the exploitation of the drama surrounding an exclusion motion. They struck gold with the Speaker’s handling of the session which produced those unforgettable scenes of the beleaguered DUP talking to itself. Truly a picture is worth a thousand words.

    4) By maximising the stakes they have ensured that the entire DUP was seen, and will be remembered, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Arlene. If things were to go very badly for Arlene from here, a simple change of leadership will no longer be sufficient to cleanse the DUP brand.

    5) No matter how they had played it the Opposition were never going to have control of the type of any enquiry, the terms of reference, its transparency, or how it would be conducted or its report presented. That was, is, and will remain in the hands of the DUP and SF. But by upstaging SF they may have made it that bit harder for SF to let the DUP have more or less what they want.

  • mickfealty

    Maybe. I’ve yet to see a big grandstanding crisis for the DUP materialise in a weakening of their position. In fact it simply dramatises their key position of defending the union and all that’s decent.

    It breaks down too because when asked why she should step down as FM ordinary folk will go, wha? The opposition parties by keeping inside the confines of the Assembly bolster their case for themselves as a opposition.

    Kicking it out to an Enquiry is writing themselves (and their governance instruments for scrutinising government) into the shade of politics. That’s a bad thing if you want eventually to get back into government.

    The PAC committee is a fine tuned instrument for getting to the bottom of what went wrong in the department by closely questioning officials. That’s where the damning detail lies.

    That’s days of copy for twitter, papers, TV, blogs. Then when the opposition knows what tough questions to ask the Minister, fire up the Economy committee and get her in front of that.

    That’s a proper day in the sun, not what the FM herself rightly described as yesterday’s kamikaze motion. And finally dispense with the idea that small parties get big on the effects of a one offset piece.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I find that the DUP would lose 8 SF 6, SDLP 2, UUP 2.

  • ted hagan

    The opposition leaders seriously need to learn how to be methodical and forensic rather than getting their knickers in a twist every five minutes. I actually heard Mike Nesbitt on radio saying he was going to recommend the whistleblower for a queen’s award for gallantry! How crazy does it get? A little less of the pantomime horse stuff would go a long way.

  • Brian Walker

    Ye Gods, Now i’s it Sinn Fein’s turn to back themselves into a corner! Neat piece of writing Mick but is an election really any nearer or are we seeing the after burn of a fake censure ? I know nothing, as Manuel said but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    And may I draw attention to my fantasy speech for Arlene so perceptibly quoted by Fionola Meredith in the Bel Tel yesterday?

    . There is a way out you know.

    BTW Has Gerry Adams got an Assembly visitor’s pass?

  • mickfealty

    Me too Brian, just reporting what the man says. Wouldn’t be a clever move. But it wouldn’t be the first unclever move I’ve seen emerge from that quarter.

    Xmas is coming, and the intensity is easing.

  • mjh

    One might equally ask when was the last time that the report of a Public Accounts Committee, or any other form of enquiry, weakened the position of the DUP, or indeed any other governing party?

    As you suggest making any impact on the predominance of the DUP/SF government is an uphill task. And the Opposition won’t get anywhere without using all the resources at an Opposition’s command.

    Of course there is an absolute necessity for them to question, and dig, and fix the details of every failing onto the governing party. That is how they establish their case. But on it’s own that will go largely unnoticed.

    Even if noticed, rationalisation and detail don’t in themselves convince the public.

    That’s why Oppositions everywhere call for heads to roll whenever a government gets into difficulties. Ordinary folk (and the media) do notice and respond to political theatre when it corresponds with their own perceptions, and especially when the Opposition follow up with a sustained and effective questioning and harrying of the minister concerned.

    So it’s far from job done. The Opposition have made an excellent beginning. They have the floor. Now they must follow through with the sustained incisive questioning.

  • anon

    “There will be other RHI’s.”

    The RHI is far from over with. This was not a victory for Arlene – the opposition couldn’t force her out, but they have made her look isolated and have driven a wedge between the DUP and Sinn Fein, while making Sinn Fein look bad in the process. A good week’s work, with PAC to come, this has a long way to run in the New Year.

  • mickfealty

    The link is the piece. It was effective enough to get rid of a Perm Secretary for the first time since the establishment of NI.

    That you may not have heard of it is dues to the lack of interest/understanding in the media. That it hasn’t been repeated is an indictment of the institutions.

    But the handcuffs are off the Opposition parties now, and they have no excuse not to be doing their jobs properly.

  • Skibo

    Mick they missed the boat. By going directly to section 30 they allowed the voting strength of the DUP to win the day without a POC.
    The very act of petitioning a POC would show that the DUP had something to hide.
    The statement of Arlene to a house of mainly DUP plus Jim and Claire was the result of the actions of M McG and not the opposition.
    You made little of the fact that the Speaker allowed Arlene to address the house but I put it to you that this is potentially the more serious action out of this whole debacle.
    If the FM can make a statement without the approval of the DFM then they are not equal and the whole constitution of Stormont is void.
    More should be made of this. Who advised the Speaker about this and did he actually take the advice on board?
    Would SF be prepared to work within an executive where the power of the DFM has apparently been castrated?

  • Skibo

    All figures you have given are based on the lowest Nationalist turnout for years.

  • Brendan Heading


    Interesting – I’m going to post a separate article on this subject so that we can get a few predictions going.

  • mickfealty

    POC never came into it. An exclusion motion de facto/de jure needs old fashioned (ie, GFA, not SAA) ‘cross community support’.

    Martin changed his mind and didn’t tell the speaker (or the FM). A lot should be made of it, but it mustn’t detract from the vulnerability of the Speakers Office to such underhanded caprice.

    In other words, he’s gone and went ultra vires. I would think mostly because the boss instructed him to.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Pretending there is not a crisis is not really a sensible plan. The boot is on Arlenes throat as it would be if it was MMG in this situation, Ms O Hanlon makes some good points but is it realistic that we should just ignore whats going on simply because its nit the Shinners who are in the dock? Public confidence will require that all parties who slip up are grilled accordingly not just the ones we do not like.

    The wtahaboutery comparisons are all wrong too. The SDLP couldnt support the exclusion of SF because the grounds for such were false; and the SDLP knew it.

    And MoM didnt step aside because there was nothing connecting him to the scandal. As Eilish has pointed out herself; innocent till proven guilty, one law for one side and another for other? These rules cant just apply to Arlene and the DUP and the wider anti left brigade when it suits or we dont have democracy at all. Let it play out and let everyone try to play fair.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Does he not get lifelong retirement membership or some such pass?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Intensity is easing but the heat will crank up first day back in school. SF have plenty of time to feel the ground below them. Pulling the plug might well endear them to a nationalist electorate who have been a bit sleepy recently.

  • articles

    It’s too late to learn the lesson for the Opposition particularly the UUP. Their strategy has been wrong from the start of Mike Nesbit’s office – be opportunistic, go for the stunt, the sound bite, the electoral alliance, the resignation and if all else fails the dog whistle.

    Here was an opportunity for an already public figure, untried but untainted, to start off in the second tier against a busted flush leading the SDLP, learn his trade, keep to a high moral ground by refusing the impulse to stunt, sound bite, walk out and generally place himself above the rough and tumble which passes for politics in Norn Iron. The brief was simply to be a white knight ready and waiting to rescue politics from the cesspool, that was the Strategy.

    Given that DUP scandals are lined up like ducks somewhere over Iceland and regularly choose to fly south he could even have bided his time and afforded to be choosy. Instead in the public’s mind he is just another politician. If Mike wants to show leadership he might well call for his own resignation.

  • Nevin

    “Arlene Foster should learn that humility can be a strength, not a weakness.” .. Fionola Meredith

    Not in politics and most certainly not in Northern Ireland’s constitutional tug-of-war. The DUP/SF combine harvested 56 of the 108 seats; the UUP/SDLP 28; and APNI/Greens 10. Of course, there’s nothing to stop those who express similar sentiments to Fionola forming a party and putting themselves before the electorate.

  • Nevin

    “Martin changed his mind and didn’t tell the speaker (or the FM).” … “I would think mostly because the boss instructed him to.”

    I would lean towards the latter, Mick. The Army Council may also have a hand in the flip-flop.

  • mickfealty

    It’s not an either/or proposition Nev. BTW, how come I never get up ticks?

  • mickfealty

    Probably true. But I t’s the lack of narrative that interests me Anthony.

  • Gopher

    4 lessons

    1/ Stormont is a gravy train

    2/ The executive pro life rights only apply to the unborn, once your alive keeping empty barns warm is more important than keeping you in that state.

    3/ The opposition is useless

    4/ Its going to require somebody to do the decent thing and expose whats been going on.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Just on FST. Your prediction suggests that 3 of the 5 MLAS would be unionist in FST. Seems very unlikely to me.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Mick, the media don’t pick the government, the electorate do.

  • Skibo

    That is what I was referring to. The fact that the opposition and the SDLP as they were the party posting the motion used section 30 meant the DUP did not require a POC. If the amendment had been taken on board, the POC would have been required. Sorry for not fully explaining myself.
    As for the DFM not letting the FM and the Speaker know he had removed his approval for the speech, how come everyone walked out?
    Why didn’t the Speaker request all the whips of the parties together and resolve how to move on?
    We are not privilege to all the discussions that went on between the FM and the DFM.

  • Skibo

    Nevin, if I am correct, I believe the “boss instructed him” was a comment on the actions of the Speaker.
    The DFM has the right to remove his acceptance for the speech to be given. The Speaker does not have the right to accept the speech as coming from the Executive if the DFM removes his acceptance.
    The legality is they act together or not at all.
    The legality of calling the assembly was there but the legality of the FM to talk on behalf of the Executive was not.
    The Speaker has damaged the the authority of the Executive and if this is not corrected, can be set as a precedent. The DFM position would be undermined and severely damaged.

  • mickfealty

    I’d like to hear a proper account of why they did that. It confused me at the time. But my suspicion is by that stage they were trying to punish the chair for refusing to explain the grounds on which the plenary was taking place.

  • Skibo

    From what I took from Mike Nesbitt’s reply to Nolan, he was challenging the right of Arlene to speak.
    I had assumed that she spoke as the leader of the DUP and not FM but something is not right about the whole thing. People have been commenting about the speech of the FM.
    If the Speaker allowed Arlene to speak as leader of the DUP then he merely has broken the rules about when someone can address the house. If he has allowed her to speak as FM and as such for the Executive them alarm bells should be ringing everywhere.
    Either he is incompetent or completely intransigent. Either way he should question his ability to carry out one of the most important positions of the house. Complete impartiality is required at all times. This is his second slip but very much more serious than the first.

  • Skibo

    Mike I have just read Hansard
    and the FM did speak as the FM and further to issuing the statement confirmed that it has not been cleared or approved by the DFM. This is serious. She has corrupted the whole concept of a shared office and shown contempt for the office.
    Not sure where we go from here.
    Not only has the Speaker degraded the position of DFM, the FM did it also.

  • mickfealty

    Would you share the link? I’ve been teasing that out in another thread, and I think you’re right about her speaking in that capacity.

    I’m not certain, but I don’t think Martin can actually undo a joint request on his own. In fact his actions make no sense when you examine them.

    What did he want her to do or say on Sunday that he didn’t want or need on Friday when the joint request was made? It was her hot seat, to explain matters that have, according to Martin, nothing to do with him.

    “The boss” I meant Was Gerry Adams whom he meet in Derry on Saturday. It’s a pattern we’ve repeatedly seen where Martin agrees one thing with his DUP partners, then Gerry tells him no. But it’s never been quite this close to the surface before.

    I spoke about this pattern on RTE a few years back:

  • T.E.Lawrence

    That’s a fair point Skibo – If there was elections tomorrow I can also see a surge in Nationalist Turn Out and a Retraction in Unionist Turn Out with the shambles that has been inflicted on everyone ! (However with the mousey mouse behavior) of SF I am not convinced they are fully and totally squeaky clean on the RHI subject and knowing the DUP only too well come such an election such dirty deals or communications would come out on the table !

  • Granni Trixie

    I’ve given you one for Christmas,Mick. Have a good one.

  • Granni Trixie

    But remember what happened to PR who lost his Westminster seat.

    A more humble approach by him might have avoided the people in EB feeling their vote was being taken for granted.

  • Skibo

    Any problem with the link, google Hansard NI and you can pick up the reports. The issue of Gerry Adams directing McGuinness to me does not seem an issue. He released information on Friday I think, confirming a phone call with Arlene that she should step aside and allow an independent inquiry. DUP confirmed the call and we got the usual rhetoric about not being dictated to by Sinn Fein. I would have assumed she would have been aware at that time that she did not have the confidence of the DFM.
    I cannot understand why this seems to be slipping by. This is a more serious issue than the RHI. It will cost at most £20m for the next 20 years. We actually spend £30m a year trying to keep TB under control and still do nothing about Badgers. Seems the life of the Badger is worth it.
    As for major costs Brexit is the reduction in a finance stream that will cause major changes in our budget.
    Back to the Executive issue, read the first line of her statement where she says the statement has not been cleared or approved by the DFM and then she proceeds. Is FM of greater importance than DFM?
    Can the DFM issue statements from the Executive without the FM’s approval?
    Where does this leave the GFA? This is the corner stone of the Agreement and she drove a coach and horses through it!

  • Skibo

    I suggest to you that the actions of SF is a sign of a political party obeying the rules of the house and trying to make politics work. A return to violence by Republicans cannot be allowed to happen and politics must be seen to work.
    This could have more to do with the Southern electorate to show that they are capable of real politics.
    The DUP should not come out of this well. Their attitude to the rules of the house and their total disregard to the equality of the posts of FM and DFM show them for what they are.
    They believe they have the right as the largest party to do as they will. This goes against the very soul of the GFA.

  • Gingray

    Too late! Nick beat ya too it

  • mickfealty

    It didn’t slip by on the day. It got the pick up needed on the day. But the Speakers office appears to have treated it as a rhetorical threat of no official standing. A stronger Speaker would have left no room for any doubt on the matter.

    So you think it was just Martin’s famously hot temper, rather than him taking contrarian orders from Gerry? Could be. It’s still all a wee bit temperamental and flouncey… less than two weeks after Martin promised to do some heavy lifting on the matter after an Executive meeting.

  • the rich get richer

    There Won’t be Cold in Well Connected Sheds this Christmas ……..

    Surely the Dup could get Bobby Geldof in on this one……..

  • Skibo

    Mick I think you are belittling what happened too easily. If this is allowed to stand then the FM can issue statements on behalf of the Executive without the agreement of the DFM. The precedent has been set. This totally undermines the position of DFM.
    I would not count myself as radical but I would count this a step too far and would not be prepared to give my support for anyone who would be standing for Stormont. As far as I am concerned this holes the ship below the water line and the GFA with it.

  • Brendan Heading

    he did indeed, and much better than I would have done; glad that we can have the discussion properly now.

  • Gingray

    Indeed! tho much of it remains subjective

  • Nevin

    Skibo, if Martin requires permission from a higher authority before he can act as dFM why didn’t he obtain it before he co-signed that request to the Speaker?

  • Nevin

    I regard the two propositions as polar opposites: ‘Martin changed his mind’ and ‘Martin had his mind changed’ [by person or persons unknown].

  • Skibo

    Nevin, alot of supposition and conjecture going on. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story.
    How do we know the speech was written before the permission for the recall of the house was requested?
    How do we know what input MMG had in the writing of the speech?
    When was the speech produced to MMG for approval?
    Could MMG actually stand over the facts placed in the speech without further information being released from the FM and the relevant department?
    Was the lack of transparency in the investigation and the stepping aside of the FM the stumbling block?
    Finally to address your point on the higher authority, I would have assumed the higher authority would be the Ard Chomhairle of the party.
    Much easier to use misdirection and try and bring SF into the blame frame than address the issue that at every corner DUP ministers and Special Advisers are up to at least the elbows in the decisions made on the RHI debacle.

  • Nevin

    “How do we know what input MMG had in the writing of the speech?
    When was the speech produced to MMG for approval?”

    Skibo, he could have co-signed the recall of the Assembly after he’d seen Arlene’s speech. Buying a pig in a poke isn’t a clever move.

    RHI has certainly been a debacle of major proportions. There have been so many players in the process, so many changes of personnel, reorganisation of departments as well as the Belfast Deficit that the guilty might easily slip away in the mist.

    Have you done a search of the PAC Minutes of Evidence with ‘minute’ or ‘administrative oversight’? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are gaping holes in the paper trail. I was without a phone/broadband connection for the first fortnight in December so I’m playing catch-up. I was privy to inside information in the Rathlin Ferry contract and NI Water debacles but not on this current one.

  • Brendan Heading

    they were seen to take the initiative. A weaker motion simply calling for an enquiry would have been effectively eclipsed by a similar motion from SF

    With hindsight, I think the opposition actually slightly dropped the ball here.

    SF were able to justify abstaining on the exclusion motion on the basis that it did not call for an inquiry. While this is a fairly weak justification, it does stack up. There was mild panic for a while when SF revealed, over the last weekend, that they intended to amend the motion to add the inquiry to it. Had that amendment been accepted the opposition would have had no choice but to vote for it.

    Had the exclusion motion also demanded a full inquiry it would have been harder for SF to get around it.

    I think the motion was successful, though, in persuading SF that they couldn’t go along with the DUP’s idea of an inquiry. There was obviously a change of heart which led to McGuinness withdrawing support for the First Minister’s statement on Monday.

  • Nevin

    Granni, there were particular circumstances in East Belfast. The figures I’ve given illustrate the support for the hard-line and also hard-working DUP/SF combine.

  • Granni Trixie

    From canvassImg in EB I was surprised at the numbers who wanted to talk negatively on the doorstep to you about PR, something Alliance were told not to join in as we were trying to run a positive campaign. People were expressing “enough is enough” and that they were not going to be taken for granted by him and the DUP. So it shows that the DUp take people for granted at their peril as in current circumstances.

    You also cannot discount in that Westminster election result however that there was an exceptional alternative candidate – a local woman,Naomi.

  • Nevin

    Granni, I’ve commented very favourably on Naomi’s and Sylvia Hermon’s performances on the Northern Ireland Affairs committee at Westminster. I used to give APNI my #1 preference but friends of mine who sought assistance from APNI were very disappointed. Naomi’s middle name is Rachel; she was named after one of her grannies who lived on the west bank of the Bush Water and a few miles from Bushmills.

  • Skibo

    Nevin could have doesn’t stand for diddly squat and you cannot base an argument around it. What you know for sure is that when the House was recalled for the speech, the DFM removed his approval for the issuing of that speech. That meant it did not carry the authority of the Executive and should not have been released by the FM.
    The Speaker is the main person at fault. He should have seen the gaping hole in the legality of the authority of the speech and refused to let it be released.
    The DFM must have co-signed for the motion to recall the house or it would not have happened. That does not negate the fact that he removed his permission for the speech.
    I agree on the issue of omissions and oversights in the evidence trail and state that this is the overarching reason for an independent judicial inquiry.
    Any evidence of tampering with emails and such should lead to the MLA or Special adviser being asked to step down.
    The issue of civil service personnel at this level who do not take minutes for meetings should result in their removal from the service on the grounds of gross misconduct unless they can produce some evidence that they have been instructed not to take minutes.

  • Skibo

    Granni whether that dissatisfaction in the DUP and taking for granted will resonate over other constituencies will be harder to take for granted. It did not that time and Peter was the only DUP member to lose his seat.
    I assume the same will be true of this debacle and the ripples of dissatisfaction may not move farther than Jonathan Bell.

  • Nevin

    “Nevin could have doesn’t stand for diddly squat and you cannot base an argument around it.”

    It was an easy argument to make, Skibo. Would you buy a pig in a poke?

    IMO minutes now are often little more than action points. I persuaded the NIAO to publish reports in a searchable format – with a little help from the Office of the Information Commissioner. I’ve recently pointed out DETI/DfE Departmental Board minutes are in a non-searchable format so, perhaps, I need to do little kicking in that quarter too.

  • Granni Trixie

    Agree – it is difficult to know if current dissatisfactions translate into votes given sectarian tendencies in NI often trumps other considerations.
    At the next election it will be especially fascinating to see if and how the situation impacts on Arlene’s constituency.

    Not sure why you focus on Bell. Surely the ripples include thenSpeaker as well as Foster . PLus an Enquiry may reveal more names from DUP connections (as well as in other parties). Point is DUP brand is damaged due to their centrality in the debacle.

  • Granni Trixie

    Nevin, I think you’ve mentioned this previously and let me reiterate that I am sorry your friends have had a bad experience with Alliance. I, like most people I know in the Party, can see it is important to respond appropriately and efficiently when somebody asks for your help.

    I joined the party in 1972 and from time to time I can see that we fall down on our ideals. Or have difficulty because one doesn’t agree with a particular policy. But I believe in it and have met super people along the way. So I hang in there whatever difficulties emerge.

  • mjh

    I kind of think that SF would have justified not voting for any motion. They are determined to avoid any risk of bringing the institutions down.

    Even if SF had voted for a differently worded motion the DUP could ensure it was not passed. The only difference is that SF would have been left in a better light with their supporters and potential voters – with the Opposition merely riding on their coat-tails.

    It is actually beneficial to the Opposition that SF did not vote for the motion. They managed to embarrass both the DUP and SF. They are after all the Opposition to a DUP/SF government.

  • Brendan Heading

    I kind of think that SF would have justified not voting for any motion. They are determined to avoid any risk of bringing the institutions down.

    But they tried to amend the one that was put down. And they’re putting their own motion down in the new year.

    Even if SF had voted for a differently worded motion the DUP could ensure it was not passed.

    That isn’t the point, though; we know the DUP can vote down anything that happens. The DUP isolated and forced to use cross-community provisions to protect themselves from accusations of incompetence is what the move is intended to tease out.

  • mjh

    “…they’re putting their own motion down in the new year.”

    Playing for time, or attempting to take back the initiative? Let’s see.

    “The DUP isolated and forced to use cross-community provisions to protect themselves from accusations of incompetence is what the move is intended to tease out.”

    Job done, then. And in a way that has burnt it deep into the collective memory.

  • Nevin

    Granni, I’m probably too independent to be a party animal; I’ve worked and continue to work with representatives of all parties.

    Without going into detail, a government agency in 2015 organised a private meeting for about 25 participants that suspiciously coincided with a full meeting of council ie councillors would not have been able to participate. I passed a message to councillors from several parties but the agency wasn’t minded to budge, despite their protestations. I contacted a fellow conspirator who had a word with an MLA who, in turn, had a word with the Minister. The agency subsequently changed the date; I promoted the event as a public one and about 150 folk turned up. The contentious issue has yet to be resolved.

  • Skibo

    Granni problem Nationalism has is how Unionism has not defected from the DUP no matter what scandal is raised. It is as if the fact that they are so tainted does not matter as long as they can stand strong against SF.
    The strange thing is that the right of SF to be in Stormont and take up the reigns of power are in the hands of Nationalism. While Nationalism feels threatened by staunch Unionism in the brand of the DUP, Nationalism will continue to support SF.
    The converse is also correct, while Nationalism seeks the strong voice of SF to stand against the DUP, Unionism will continue to support the DUP.
    The strange thing is I see very little difference in either Unionist party other than the UUP has polished it’s edges a bit but the pull of the OO and Loyalism is still strong in this one.
    I do not see the DUP brand as damaged as the main reason for it’s being is the stand against SF. While SF continue to be seen as the bogey man Unionism will continue to put their hopes in the DUP.
    As time passes and more of the old guard retire, that attitude will change. I am not sure it will happen fast enough to beat the demographics which will change NI politics completely.
    As for my comment on Jonathan Bell, please understand that refers completely to the RHI. As far as I am concerned, the Speaker is a dead duck. Not sure if he can be replaced by another DUP member or if the main deputy speaker would take the mantel and the DUP member would assume the position of deputy speaker.
    I am not sure Catriona would make a good First Speaker as she sometimes makes odd decisions also. A safe pair of hands and someone I believe would be impartial would be Patsy McGlone but would the executive parties accept a member from an opposition party?

  • Granni Trixie

    I find your analysis interesting. Not sure I agree that UUP ‘just as bad as the DUP’ (if I’m reading you accurately). I say this because I have been reading a lot of analysis of Unionism/unionist party a la late 50s early 60s and comparatively they seem to have shed some of the grip OO had on them.p albeit reluctantly. Obvious that th UUp see themselves as more moderate than DUP ( when it suits them). I think they will be more a force who could be on the up if Nesbitt was replaced by someone with a vision based more on convictions.

    Apart from APNI I don’t see any of the parties naming, to address, sectarianism. I suppose my hope is that with back against the walls economically at next election people will focus on who has shown themselves to be competent and has clean(ish) hands.

    As regards a new Speaker – anybody but DUP as they seem to have. an internal culture going which says ‘Party first’ even in a job which requires an MLA to be independent.

  • Skibo

    Granni I believe that the UUP are much of a muchness mainly down to how they addressed the previous Westminster election. They took it upon themselves to decide which element of Unionism people should be able to vote for with Unionist pacts. If the next Westminster election be carried out over seventeen seats instead of eighteen, expect that to extend to nearly half the seats.
    They even agreed it to oust Naomi Long, so it was not just the fear of Nationalism that was the issue.
    As for Trimble’s dance with Ian after the OO marched at Drumcree, the call of the sash is strong yet.
    Did Mike not boast about his mobile number ending in 1690 and he had requested it? Who in their right mind would even have though about their mobile number being a window to the soul.

  • Granni Trixie

    Trying to imagine myself a DUP activist or supporter and thinking about who I would vote for if not the DUP have to say I don’t know. For a few living in the appropriate constituency it’s the TUV,Conservatives or UKIP to UUP? And ofcourse Alliance is transfer friendly but can’t see that being a natural fit. So, the question remains That if so much negative stuff emerges and it forces a realignment where is a home for DUP people?

    That’s a laf about the mobile number – hadn’t heard that.

  • Skibo

    I have always assumed the TUV would be the obvious home. Could the three way split be enough to allow a Nationalist FM?
    I always see then revert to the DUP as second in PR and DUP will keep their strangle hold on Unionism.
    The change will happen when Nationalism and Alliance are over the 50%