Sinn Fein’s abandonment of public inquiry leaves them slung between rock and hard place

One Sinn Fein friend on Twitter this morning tried to argue that a SF public representative producing their own Press Release from their own email (after it had been withdrawn by the press office) was normal practice. Not in my experience.

In fact, as Gareth McKeown points out, it was only one word of a difference:

After appearing to clarify it did not support a public inquiry on Friday evening a senior MLA contradicted the party line on Monday by calling for a “time-framed,comprehensive, independent public inquiry, led by an international jurist”.

The statement from South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney released on Monday morning was hastily withdrawn by the Sinn Féin press office just hours later and a new one released.

This time Mr Kearney spoke of the need for a “time-framed, comprehensive, independent investigation, led by an international jurist.”

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the confusion was the result of a “typo” and was quickly rectified.

The apparent flip-flop of position comes a month after deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said that a public inquiry into RHI should be held as a “matter of urgency”.

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy also previously said that a public inquiry should be one of the options considered to find out what went wrong.

SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone accused Sinn Féin of being in “complete disarray” over how to respond to the RHI scandal.

But as the peerless Squinter points out, one word contains a world of difference:

McGlone in interview with Anna Quigley on Radio Foyle (1hr 3m in) was implacable in insisting that the only way to get to the truth of the matter is to have a judge led inquiry with powers to compel witnesses and documents.

To illustrate his point, he referred to how easily Conor Murphy’s independent inquiry into NI Water’s use of single tender actions was manipulated ending in suspension and eventual demotion of his own Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly.

As McKeown points out, Declan Kearney was not alone in suggesting (albeit by typo) SF wanted a public inquiry. Mary Lou’s view is the party’s standard operating procedure south of the border, where the party is not actually part of the government.

Someone appears to have forgotten that they are in office in Northern Ireland and that a public inquiry might not suit their own interests in maintaining the necessary internal relationships there. It’s no coincidence that most statements have been posed as advice.

On Radio Foyle Kearney argues that what is at stake now (as distinct from the original screw up of the scheme) is public confidence in the institutions. But that cannot be achieved by Sinn Fein and the DUP insisting on washing Arlene’s old linen in private.

It’s a nasty wee dilemma. In abandoning its view that this is Arlene’s problem to explain (presumably to put clear green water between themselves and their DUP partners rather than leaving opposition to the Opposition) they are now slung awkwardly idir an da linn.

 

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  • Zorin001

    In footballing terms Sinn Fein have not only missed an open goal from 5 yards out but then rushed down the other end and headed the ball gleefully into their own net.

    RHI is endless political entertainment, pity about the price tag.

  • Jag

    Public inquiry
    (1) is held in public, so that the public as well as potential witnesses can see and hear what has happened to £400m of their money
    (2) can compel witnesses to attend and answer questions
    (3) can compel individuals and organisations to produce documents and evidence
    (4) can make adverse findings against individuals and organisations
    (5) is independent of political interference, and independent of political considerations
    (6) has established, legally-enshrined rules for establishment, operation and termination

    Can SF say any of the above about its off-the-cuff investigation?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its a red herring, the first and most important next step will take place on the 16th of this Month. The DUP will have had plenty of time to reconsider Arlenes position. Will she go or will she insist on staying. Whatever form an enquiry takes it is absolutely certain that if she doesnt step aside we will be right back into an election.

  • ted hagan

    It’s not a question of Sinn Fein missing open goals, it’s simply a question of Sinn Fein wobbling on the tightrope a little bit.

  • Steptoe

    Call me a cynic, but I smell an Irish Language Act

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Far from missed, the goal is still wide open. Who will take the shot is the question.

  • ted hagan

    Yes I thought I heard an awful howling sound coming from the northwest late last night.
    Must have been Gregory Campbell.

  • file

    How does an Irish Language Act smell? With its srón?

  • grumpy oul man

    I would be all in favor of a Irish Language act but not at the expense of good government.
    If they (SF) have made a deal with the DUP to take of the heat in exchange for a bowl of pottage it will be a big mistake.

  • Dan

    Naomi Long giving one of her shouty lectures, and that joke Kearney using a million words to say nothing, the level of debate on Nolan this morning had me reaching for the remote.

  • nilehenri

    nice to see the familiar faces rushing out to make this all about sf, but (to rational folk anway) there are a few points to consider:
    stormont hasn’t reconvened yet. this matter is ongoing.
    the speaker bought huge disrepute onto his office as a direct result of this farce and that hasn’t yet been dealt with.
    politicians can have an opinion which varies from the official line.
    the public is very pi55ed off on this one.

  • nilehenri

    and how many millions will they squander on brethren solicitors? just so she gets off the hook anway. this is norn irn m8, don’t you know how things works around here?

  • Jag

    If she gets off the hook anyway (and remember, Arlene denies wrongdoing), then, what’s the point of any inquiry – public or SF version.

    I’d imagine a judge plus direct support staff of around five and another 5-10 admin plus facilities would cost around £250,000 for a three month inquiry, or roughly five days of RHI overspend. Even if it cost £1.5m, that would still be less than a month’s RHI overspend.

  • mickfealty

    Fine, so an election. Over a heating scheme. After which everyone goes back to work. Including Arlene. Waters well and truly muddied.

    Meanwhile, a judge led inquiry gets all the papers, speaks to everyone reports on the failings, points up important learnings for pols and civil servants. Confidence restored.

    I want to be on the doorstep when SF MLAs explain why it’s important to vote when the vote will have exactly zero effect. Net result: turnout drops, again disproportionately on the Nat side.

  • Jag

    With the DUP in the doghouse and ALL the Opposition (plus, in my opinion, the vast majority of the public) looking for a public inquiry, then, as far as the inquiry goes, it is all about SF.

  • mickfealty

    That’s just the smell of political operatives eating their own BS. ????

  • mickfealty

    Walk us through that one Anthony (preferably by accounting for the flip flop above)?

  • WindowLean

    If the price the DUP has to pay is only an Irish Language Act, I’d imagine they’re laughing their heads off.

  • grumpy oul man

    It only becomes about SF if SF dont play it right.
    Swopping good goverment for concessions will not go down well.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Lets be real about where we live and lets be honest about how our politics works. If the shoe was on the other foot, if it was a senior Shinner up to their neck on this issue, the commetariat would be singing a very different tune. And the DUP would be out for blood. The temptation to grab an opportunity to decapitate SF would be merciless.
    Shinners know this and so indeed do the broad nationalist family who have sat quietly over the last year whilst Arlene and the DUP have walked all over them with an arrogance that John Taylor would be proud of.

    Sinn fein have let the DUP away with it in order to maintain stability in the institutions and to keep the show on the road, particularly with Brexit etc. coming down on everybody’s heads. But the straw has broken the camels back.

    Arlene has seriously messed up, of that we can probably all agree. How serious it is of course we simply do not know and how far it reaches is also unknown. If SF do not force her to stand down for a period of time while an investigation of sorts gets underway; and should the situation get worse in terms of further revelations, the Shinners will be destroyed; for certain.

    Arlene, if she really gave a damn should do the decent thing and take a few weeks of medicine. But the Arrogance of herself and the DUP up to now simply cannot stomach such a move. The ball is seriously still in their court. It is they who have the power to do the right thing and save us all a load of bother. But they have become too used to Sinn fein’s patient ways and maybe they believe they can walk over the Shinners on this issue.

    There has to be accountability in the institutions, leaders who seriously feck up have to show a bit of contrition and do a bit of pennance in order to maintain the public’s confidence. Walking away scott free is not an option on this occasion. If an election has to be called so be it, let the public decide.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Feck the flip flop, flip flopping in politics is almost copuls !!

  • ted hagan

    ‘Bring it On’….. and Gregory Campbell in Churchillian mode.

  • ted hagan

    Good government? I’m afraid that’s somewhere in a parallel universe.

  • Redstar

    It’s a complete farce. Either there’s to be a stitch up- cover up pretend inquiry, so the career politicians of SF and their senior partners can continue their cosy arrangement OR there’s an election which returns the same schisters as before

    Either way you can bet your ass no one-just like with Red Sky SIF, and Nama- will be to blame.
    No one will be sacked,
    No one will be forced to resign
    No one will be accountable

    So why in gods name should anyone turn out and vote-it only gives legitimacy to this unaccountable farce

  • Dan

    God help his wit.

  • grumpy oul man

    Perhaps, but we still have a right to want it! are you suggesting that we just accept the poor performance of our politicians,shrug our shoulders and let them get on with things.

  • ted hagan

    Of course not, but I’m a realist. How long have we been at this caper?

  • Redstar

    But grumpy we have seen time and time again there is NO accountability in that farce on the hill

    Red Sky, NAMA, SIF now this

    How many have been held responsible, accountable sacked, resigned?????

    Anyone who votes for this sham is legitimising an unaccountable unnecessary expensive career politicos cosy club

  • mickfealty

    We have a counterfactual to test your theory, and in fact during the NI Water story there was barely a peep out of the DUP. Nor have they had much flak on Casement.

    I agree with you that the DUP have played (American) Football with SF but some of that comes from not bringing very much to the table in the way of policy ambition or ideas.

    On accountability, it comes down to offering the DUP a fix over an independent inquiry for a Language Act does it? Not much of a deal, and I doubt the DUP will be interested.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Nothing seems to have exercised the minds of the public more than this burning of money so there is nothing much to compare. As Hanno pointed out recently, this is the first real politicval crises to affect the Assembly.

  • grumpy oul man

    OKthey are Teflon, still i say do we just let them walk!

  • J D

    This feels like a game of electoral chicken. I can’t see how Foster survives this without SF taking a big hit with the Nationalist electorate.

    If they do drop the ball on this and cover for Foster/DUP there will be serious questions raised about what use are they? If only the SDLP/UUP were in a position to be a threat to the DUP/SF, but they just seem inept, amateur and poised to split to antagonistic corners at a moments notice.

    And this is the great wee country Unionists want to perpetuate. For the love of the children can we just be shut of the burden and re-unify?

  • grumpy oul man

    so what do you suggest, i am honestly open to ideas.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    As bad as it looks the alternatives do not look much better. Alliance have battled for years to present a middle ground non sectarian option, they have been joined by The Greens and PBP but yet almost half the electorate would rather not vote at all than opt to vote for them. Of the electorate that does show up DUP and SF together win well over half the popular vote. Turn-out is falling with young Unionists opting to take the boat to Britain and young nationalists busy being the first generation from that community to lead the pack in terms of education skills and generally having lots of fun. It’s depressing.(not the having lots of fun bit obviously)

  • eamoncorbett

    I have been banging on about this for years , the GFA can be reviewed if any part of it doesn’t function properly, it has been obvious that for years now SF and the DUP are clearly not compatible as government partners. With Brexit approaching this division has never been so obvious . If this scenario is not tackled by the British and Irish governments soon the whole devolution project and the GFA will be worthless in the eyes of the people who were supposed to benefit from it. The people of NI in general don’t demand an awful lot from their politicians, they tolerate the sectarian nature of the institutions because it was always thus. There is no penalty for fecking up. There is a similar attitude from the two governments towards the protagonists, a hands off approach, let em sort it attitude. At the end of the day it is down to the governments to take a brutally tough stance with Stormont , tell them in uncertain terms to get their act together , do what they’re paid to do , govern for the people not themselves and stop re hashing the troubles again and again in the chamber at Stormont.

  • J D

    I think keep focusing on the fun and the rest will be sorting itself out shortly.

  • nilehenri

    slugger, dup, tuv, the tele, mcbride, pbp, and that is just off the top of my head. every one of them has taken a swing at sf.
    are they afraid of taking this directly to the dup?

  • nilehenri

    we are outraged now but a week is a long time in politics. this is bigger than rhi. the damage has been done to the dup yet the frothers will still vote for them come election time.

  • nilehenri

    i’m no expert so i’ll bow to your figures, what i was trying to point out in my cynical comment was that there is no need for such a show. this was a governmnet initiative that blew up in their faces, it happens here and it happens in every democracy, and is just another indicator of the length the dup and their cronies will go to prop each other up in their ever dwindling efforts to keep the monstrosity that the political north has become alive, and i hope speaker newton’s antics will lead to a reform of some sort.
    rhi is a symptom, not the disease. we need to treat the cause.

  • Jag

    So, you want to eliminate incompetence/corruption in Northern Ireland politics, which is, let’s face it, not dissimilar to incompetence/corruption elsewhere (what about those expense and cash-for-access scandals in Westminster, not to mention paedo/deviancy, and what about the allegations facing Sarkhozy and Hollande, are the Italians the only ones to have sorted out corruption? Maybe get yourself invited to a bunga bunga party and ask Silvio in person!).

    The cost of democracy and the freedoms we enjoy is eternal vigilance, be that in 2016, 2060 or 2600. An inquiry of some sort is needed and SF isn’t making a great case for their preferred version.

  • grumpy oul man

    Sorry i really dont the slugger TUV mc bride or Pb4p bits.
    Several threads on slugger have went for the DUP.
    Wee Jim has had a very robust go et the DUPS and both mc bride and Pb4p have all had a go at the dups.
    The only ones who havnt had a go at the Dups are the Dupd.
    Sure we have had some posters here blaming it on the shinners (jolyraj never disappoints when it comes to shouting themmuns) but even the most rabid anti republician is keeping there heads down because this one is very hard to blame on themmuns.
    SF is in danger because everybody is watching to see how they will handle it.

  • articles

    Given the inevitability of another scandal from whatever source perhaps it is time to revisit the Ministerial code beforehand. A provision to be included along the lines of :

    In the of event of perceived irregular misusage of public funds, the relevant Departmental Minister will be suspended until an investigation is concluded, this suspension is to be viewed as purely precautionary and not a presumption of guilt.

    The odds against this happening must be be slim, but who will put their heads above the parapet and veto it. If in doubt look what happened today in the USA before, unbelievably, Trump came to the rescue.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38499284

  • Gopher

    It seems more and more likely that SF are in this as deep as the DUP and are trying to immasculate any enquiry. The difference between the DUP position and the SF position is SF desperately need Arlene to resign or step aside for the optics and the DUP seem to be saying no way your in it with us.

  • mickfealty

    Again you evade the point in the OP.

  • mickfealty

    That’s a recipe for even more stasis than we have now though. Give the opposition the tools they need to do the job (sack a when if sodas and give their wages to the official opposition), and then if they can’t get another opposition…

  • mickfealty

    Hanno?

  • Dreary Steeple

    ‘There is no penalty for fecking up’, sad but unfortunately so very true.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    The problem with your theory is that there is not a sliver of evidence to suggest SF are anywhere near this disaster. At this point, considering all the muck which has been thrown up including todays revelation that the farmers group had warned Jonny Bell in plenty of time; one would expect at this stage there would be something, even a hint that the Shinners knew the score or were somehow involved. But no, nada, zip and nothing.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I’d say there are very few ‘Arlene’s on fire’ parties at the moment unless the host has a wood burner of course 🙂

  • articles

    Not sure how increased transparency measures leads to more stasis.
    Increased transparency measures and short funding for opposition parties has got to be the way forward. As to likelihood of this happening about as likely as royalty funding pretenders to the throne.

  • Hugh Davison

    And takes forever.

  • Hugh Davison

    ‘It seems more and more likely that SF are in this as deep as the DUP ‘. Any leads? rumours? evidence? Why did you post this? Is this some kind of gossip forum?

  • mickfealty

    What you’re proposing is less about managing than closing stuff down. Should Caral have stepped aside whilst we investigate Casement?

    Nope. What the minister did in that case was to commission an independent inquiry by senior civil servants from the UK Cabinet Office.

    It’s an empty political gesture invented by the DUP to alieviate public pressure. There’s a big difference between politics and democracy…

    https://medium.com/@pauliewaulie/liberal-democracy-is-suffering-but-politics-is-doing-just-fine-2879eb635017?source=linkShare-acbdedb69a99-1483306490

    Politics is gameplay, democracy involves real accountability. I fear this contrived farce between the DUP and SF will only serve to muddy the waters.

  • Hugh Davison

    As many people on here have suggested, you might consider starting your own political party if you don’t like what’s currently on offer. Or you could possibly join the Shinners and attempt to influence policy from within. Or you could organise a no-vote campaign (is there a none-of-the above or spoiled vote option in the Northern system?). Just not voting is the best way of letting others decide for you.

  • Hugh Davison

    Well, the problem is that at the end of the day, the DUP are never in the doghouse no matter what (this is Northern Ireland). Hard one to play if you’re not DUP.

  • Nevin

    ” todays revelation that the farmers group had warned Jonny Bell in plenty of time”

    Anthony, I’ve previously posted this 10th February 2016 UFU news item:

    The UFU met with DETI in July 2015 and warned of an imminent spike in demand and in the following Spending Review in November, DETI were made aware of the imminent overspend. “A stepped closure would have avoided the over-spend which led to this panic decision to put an overnight brake on a scheme around which many farmers have built long term investment plans,” he said.

    There’s still the structural problem of the Minister, top Civil Servants and Independent members sitting together around the Departmental Board table – as specified in Treasury best practice. AFAIK the MSM still hasn’t referred to the role of these Independent members.

  • articles

    Point taken but the original proposal was in direct response to the current crisis and not a default one size fits all. Risks re impropriety can be foreseen, mitigated, transferred as well as taken offside. There are other transparency measures such as circulating papers to the opposition in advance of meetings or reducing the number of closed committee sessions.
    Nick Clegg in his latest book devotes a chapter to “Taking power from the powerful”. He partly concludes that the status quo is immune to change and in hock to vested interests.

  • mickfealty

    This is long after the department knew (and when Bell was in his last weeks at DETI). The limited focus on Bell ignores the fact he was only there for the discovery/clean up period.

  • Dan

    So, she’s playing the poor wee woman card now….
    Maybe we will get some tears next, for the cameras.

  • mickfealty

    Read grumpy’s last line above?

  • Redstar

    So you reckon a system where you cast a vote and then those elected are accountable to no one is a lot better????

  • Nevin

    My apologies if I’ve been too succinct, Mick; I was responding to Anthony’s ‘today’ reference. The ‘revelation’ was already here on Slugger; I posted it nine days ago.

    You mention ‘limited focus’; I suspect focus has been at times both too narrow and, at others, too broad. Have you given any thought to the role, say, of Independent members or to the failure of Stormont ministers to follow Treasury best practice re.Departmental Boards?

    There’s also the matter of Model Publication Schemes not being enforced by the Office of the Information Commissioner ie transparent governance via the publication of agendas, minutes and related officers’ reports.

    If Independent board members are being kept too much in the dark, as I pointed out on an earlier thread, it’s also possible that Ministers from various parties over the years have also been too far out of the information/decision-making loop. I sometimes take the cynical view that a Minister’s chief role is to be available for good news photo opportunities.

  • Jag

    There’s no reason a public inquiry should take a second longer than the customised investigation being suggested by SF; in fact, a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 may take less time because the legislation and “architecture” are already there. How many weeks or months of wrangling will be needed before some imitation of a public inquiry is established?

    Imagine a legal challenge to some off-the-cuff investigation trying to compel a key witness – could take years. The Inquiries Act is already established law.

    For SF to claim their investigation will take less time, they need to say why, what will their investigation omit for example.

  • Redstar

    I think what this whole scandal has highlighted-even more than how pointless the unaccountable charade on the hill actually is- is the feeble weak and subservient nature of SF in relation to their senior partners.

    For years they have been slapped down , kept firmly in their place at the back of the bus and their response to this crisis has really highlighted their inability/unwillingness to rock the boat as they put just being in the hallowed corridors of “power “way above everything else including any real point in being there.

    It’s very easy to see why there’s such a turn off and disconnect in the Nat community where there’s a quickly growing realisation that the set up at Stormont advances Nationalist aspirations not one jot

  • whatif1984true

    If only the Nationalist electorate was that smart. if only the Loyalist electorate was smart. Pipe Dreams. Not sure what if anything would change voting patterns here.

  • Hugh Davison

    If you say so. I only know that any public inquiry I am aware of in the South went on forever and cost a fortune in fees to my learned friends.

  • Hugh Davison

    Well, no, I don’t, but refusing to vote won’t solve it. Unless you can organise an abstention or spoiled vote campaign that shows significant dissatisfaction with the process, it will remain as it is and you will have no voice. That’s the democratic system, unfortunately.

  • AntrimGael

    Fair enough but surely ONLY a revelation of those who benefited would clarify that?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Thats correct however on newsline last night there was a guy on who apparrently is representing a large chunk of those who took up on the scheme, according to him those folk have no intention of allowing their names go forward 🙁