Soapbox: “…row in behind public opinion or protect their partners in Government”

With every day that passes, the path for those seeking to block a full public inquiry into the diabolical RHI scheme is getting narrower.

Many parties have suggested various forms of investigations and inquiries , but what is becoming abundantly clear is that only one form of inquiry can get to the truth, and that is a full public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005.

That is why the motion constructed by Cllr Ruth Patterson, which comes before Belfast City Council on Tuesday evening, takes on symbolic and practical importance.

The motion calls for the Council to write to the Secretary of State and ask him to use his powers of discretion under section 1 of the Inquiries Act 2005, and as such initiate a full public inquiry into the RHI scheme.

One of the tests under section 1 is whether the relevant issue is, or is capable of, causing public concern. It would seem that should a democratically elected Council write to the Secretary of State requesting he initiates a public inquiry, then arguably the public concern test has been met.

Crucially the Secretary of State has ultimate powers of discretion on this matter, therefore there is no emergency break for the DUP to block a public inquiry, should the Secretary of State believe that the test laid out in Section 1 of the Act has been met.

The DUP, of course, would bluster and complain about the Secretary of State taking such a decision over the head of the Assembly.

The DUP should remember that in recent years a number of DUP MPs, quite rightly, urged the then Secretary of State to overrule the Parades Commission unilaterally.

It would have been right for the Secretary of State to overrule the Parades Commission (she didn’t), and it is equally right now for the Secretary of State to use his powers of discretion to initiate a full public inquiry into the RHI scheme.

Until this point Sinn Fein have been cagey about what kind of inquiry they want. Instead they have sought to place emphasis on an investigation.

On Tuesday night Sinn Fein will have to either demonstrate their support for a full public inquiry, by backing Cllr Patterson’s motion, or oppose a full public inquiry by voting against the motion.

It is time for Sinn Fein to get off the fence and be clear with the public. It is in the unlikely arena of Belfast City Council that their true position on this matter will be flushed out.

To be fair to the TUV, Greens, PUP, SDLP, PBP, UUP and Alliance; they have been consistent in their approach. One would suspect that all of those parties will row in behind any attempt to move closer to a full public inquiry, and if that proves to be the case then the ball is going to bounce right into Sinn Fein’s court.

They have a choice, row in behind public opinion or protect their partners in Government.

Jamie Bryson is a Unionist political activist interested in law, human rights and writing. Currently he is a political advisor and campaign manager for Cllr Ruth Patterson.

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