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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  • ted hagan

    Simple. If the Dup doesn’t want a full public inquiry, then there won’t be one.
    If this forces an election, the Dup will triumph again, though some traditional supporters may abstain from voting. SF are hidebound.

  • Mirrorballman

    Daithi and Jamie in the same day…Wonder did they bump into each other in the Secret Slugger HQ…

  • Granni Trixie

    At best, the issue has the potential to lead to political realignments.

  • Dan

    Time the Government took control of the steering wheel. We’ve had ten years or more of shambles at Stormont. Northern Ireland deserves better governance than it gets.

  • Jag

    Not sure what the effect of just one borough council agreeing to call for a public inquiry has on the six counties overall, or on the Assembly, but well done to Ruth/Jamie for forcing SF out in the open on the point.

    It would be even more welcome if Ruth tabled a motion to immediately stop the abuse of RHI which is costing us £2k/hr, £55k/day or £20m/year (at least) in excess payments.

    You could impose conditions on the scheme without undermining its original (green. economically beneficial) benefits, for example, through extreme monitoring and inspections with penalties for abuse. That could happen tomorrow if there was the political will. Maybe Ruth might turn her attention to that after she gives SF a bloody nose this evening (SF may prevail with its numbers, but it will be bruised).

  • Granni Trixie

    This Council will be testing the water of Party and public opinion.the fact that it is a novel move also sends a signal to SOS which may influence his decision to intervene.

  • J D

    You think FG could do a better job than DUP-SF?

  • Ryan A

    The DUP do not want an election. The next election reduces seats per constituency from 6 to 5 with threshold for a PoC remaining at thirty signatures. An early election even with little damage from RHI would cost them their infinite veto.

  • Dan

    They’ll have enough worries working out how to pay the extra membership money to the Brussels club to worry about here.

  • grumpy oul man

    explain please!

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes and its all about giving the Shinners a bloody nose, we know Ruth or Jamie are not in the slightest worried about wasting public money or they would have been bringing forward motions calling for a end to Twaddle or the Flegs protests.
    Is this the first shot in the Themmuns war?

  • J D

    True, but do you think FG would do a better job than DUP-SF?

  • 1729torus

    37/108 of 90 is 30.83.You’d probably have to wait until the Assembly is reduced to 85 seats after the boundary review to be 90% certain of the DUP falling below 30 seats.

  • NotNowJohnny

    If there’s an election the people will get to choose who should govern NI. The people will get the government they elect whether they deserve it or not.

  • Dan

    No. Not really.
    I don’t see anything to rave about with FG

  • J D

    Agree with you there. Purely out of curiosity, which of the shower down south would you be able to hold your nose for?

  • Dan

    I don’t rate any of them.

  • Jag

    Well done to Ruth and Jamie for prevailing last night. Ruth’s contribution was far more articulate than SF’s response.

    But, what now?

    Do we wait another 11 days before the issue is debated at Stormont, during which time, we’ll spend another £600,000 (11 days at £54, 795) on excess RHI payments. It is depressing that none of our politicians can draft legislation to deal with the abuse of the scheme.

  • Jag

    Michelle O’Neill, Ruth Patterson, Naomi Long – ye shower of misogynists ye! Where were ye when Peter Robinson was in the doghouse.

  • Dan

    I think the dup and media are reading it wrong.
    If there’s an election they will be punished by the Unionist electorate for their contempt, like Robinson was.

  • Ryan A

    By my numbers East Antrim, South Antrim, East Belfast, North Down, FST are right offs automatically. You’ve then likely got half chances for East Londonderry, North Belfast, North Antrim, South Belfast, Lagan Valley and Strangford. That’s the state of play before you factor in RHI/SIF.

  • J D

    So you won’t be voting after re-unification then?