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to argue that a SF public representative producing their own Press Release from their own email (after it had been withdrawn by the press office) was normal practice.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The statement from South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney released on Monday morning was hastily withdrawn by the Sinn Féin press office just hours later and a new one released.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.