An opportunity for Claire Sugden

In yet another excellent piece for the Newsletter  Sam McBride highlights the fact that Claire Sugden, it appears, has the ability to call a public inquiry on RHI under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Up until this point the East Derry MLA has managed to avoid much of the media focus that has engulfed other Executive parties.

With the Attorney General’s Office making it clear that he cannot set up an investigation into the ‘Cash for Ash’ scheme it does appear that a Public Inquiry is the ‘the only show in town’.

The Attorney General may also want to avoid a potential conflict of interest, given the fact that he is appointed by the First and deputy First Ministers.

If an election is called Sugden’s seat is projected to be at risk.  However if she announces a public inquiry into RHI against the wishes of the DUP in particular then it will increase her political capital significantly and underline her position as an ‘Independent’ politician.

Indeed this decision, or a decision to resign from the Executive, could be the most significant one that she makes in her political career.

With an Assembly election potentially around the corner the Justice Minister has a lot of thinking to do.

  • Granni Trixie

    Can anyone answer me this: why if the AG has not the powers to set up an investigation was it not known early on when calling for some sort of action to establish the facts? We read n the papers today for instance that Arlene says that she has been consulting with AG about setting up one. SF have also been saying for weeks that their preferred option is for the AG to appoint a judge to do so etc.
    Wouldn’t you expect that those wanting to involve the AG in their preferred “solution” would ascertain if he had the power and role to do so?
    Looks like another own goal/incompetence.

  • J D

    Not sure East Londonderry is the base an independent Unionist MLA is going to use to launch an attack on the Foster and the DUP. It would be very courageous.

  • Karl

    Claire Sugden is not going to break the mould of political appointees. Sitting on her hands and keeping her head down will confirm her DUPness and make SF look all the more naive for agreeing to her appointment. Rollover republicanism looks to be a fitting moniker.

  • articles

    Serendipity strikes again. Readers might be interested in a quiz either purely for it’s own sake or as a guide to future action when faced with a potential resigning issue. Any passing reader care to put his or her fate in the lap of the gods?

    Scores are rated as follows.
    7/7 – Never quit; 4-6/7 – A fighter not a quitter; 0-3/7 – Quit before you’re pushed

  • Mr Angry

    All bets are off. Early assembly recall to take place. Ulster carpets already recruiting hundreds and in talks to win contract to manufacture largest carpet ever made.

  • mjh

    It might require more courage for her to be seen to protect Foster and the DUP than for her to take whatever action is within her powers. After all the vote she inherited from David McClarty appears to have come mainly from the UUP and, to a lesser extent, Alliance.

    By the way I don’t see any evidence to suggest that her seat is in any danger in a new election held on the current boundaries – unless she has upset some of the people who voted for her last May.

  • johnny lately

    ” Rollover republicanism looks to be a fitting moniker.”

    Karl why should Sinn Fein collapse the assembly on the 16th before they tested the waters on what concessions they could force from the DUP to nationalist advantage, like the quid pro quo for standing behind Foster would be the long promised Irish Language Act. Paul Girvans actions regarding stopping funding for the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme has ensured that regardless what happens next, an Irish language act is going to be the number one issue for the present government or any new government formed after Sinn Fein collapses the executive if there is nothing worth gaining by standing by Foster.

  • Karl

    Because any concessions that SF can squeeze out of the DUP are things which should have been delivered previously. Sacrificing good governance on the promise (previously broken) of what should already have been delivered makes it look like SF are to be bought and sold for sweeties. It cheapens the very things that should have been delivered, it cheapens the party making the deals and it cheapens the democratic institutions.
    If there is no consequence for institutional incompetence at best or corruption at worst then whats the point in political parties existing? If SF provide cover then they are just rolling over to have their belly tickled. Their electorate wont be so nice when it comes to the next election.
    Most people are looking for a quiet life and at least have the perception theyre being treated fairly. Take the latter away and the former isnt too long following. Theres a feeling that the DUP have been taking the pss with their uber unionism and that SF are letting them away with it.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I can’t put my hand to any article on this but I’m almost sure that in previous discussions on the radio/TV or in newspapers before the new year, it was stated by several contributors that the AG has no role in setting up a Public Inquiry into this. So it didn’t surprise me at all when the comment was made today

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m sure you are right Daithi but there are two problems.

    Firstly, this would be a cross cutting matter which is clearly “significant or controversial”, which means that Sugden would have a responsibility under section 2.4 of the Ministerial code to bring it to the Executive. Once there, the DUP would veto it. If she violated the Ministerial code and went ahead anyway, the Executive could simply recall and overrule it – DUP again.

    The second problem is that Sugden is clearly a DUP proxy. She enabled this kind of nonsense by undermining Alliance’s efforts to try to get the Executive to agree to modest accountability reforms by assenting to be appointed as Justice Minister without any preconditions. The farce over the report into fatal foetal abnormality terminations – still unpublished – shows that she won’t stand up to the DUP even on obvious issues of high public profile. If an election goes ahead, as seems unavoidable now, she’s hastened the premature end of her career.

  • Brendan Heading

    It’s reasonable to expect politicians to be courageous in matters of great public concern.

  • Brendan Heading

    (a) because the DUP won’t assent to an Irish Language Act anymore than they will assent to Foster’s resignation

    (b) are we saying now that SF have to wait for the DUP to make a major mistake to create the political circumstances for SF to progress its agenda ? And does this mean that the DUP can buy their way out of accountability and corruption allegations of all kinds by throwing sweets to SF – which, no doubt, will come with hidden strings only to be discovered after everyone has forgotten ?

    This is no way to run a country.

  • Granni Trixie

    It would require courage,yes. But she could do it!

  • grumpy oul man

    So we swop accountable goverment for whatever crumbs the DUP cares to dispence.
    I dont think nationlists are going to go for that. I know i wont.

  • GEF

    “This is no way to run a country.”

    I agree, bring back direct rule until these squabbling children grow up.

  • johnny lately

    Yes im sure the DUP will hold on to that assent as long as they can but the reality is its political currency and will be conceded at some point else it will be brought about similar to the process that allowed the NCA to operate in this part of Ireland.

    Serious question Brendan, do you think republicans care if the DUP engages in actions that end up costing the British taxpayer millions and that also divides unionism.

  • Brendan Heading

    Yes, I do, because ideology doesn’t disguise the fact that SF voters pay “British” taxes just like everyone else and seeing money being squandered on things when it could be spent on public services is not something they can just overlook.

  • johnny lately

    Understandable point of view GOM and I dont disagree with you but underhand dealings happen between partners in government and thats something thats never going to change but most republicans I know would be more annoyed at the actions of Paul Girvan rather than Arlene Fosters.

  • “Sam McBride highlights the fact that Claire Sugden, it appears, has the ability to call a public inquiry on RHI under the Inquiries Act 2005.”

    Even if Sugden had the authority under the Inquiries Act to establish a public inquiry into a scheme that is beyond the remit of her department – which I’m not convinced she has – it would certainly be a controversial measure which would require NI Executive approval. You should know that, Daithi.

    And given that both Sinn Féin and the DUP oppose setting up a public inquiry that approval would not be forthcoming.

    The only other option that Sam McBride suggests Sugden could take would be to threaten to collapse the Executive unless both of those parties agree to a public inquiry.

    That would be a very extreme response to the situation and one likely destined to fail. And she would take the blame for the fall-out.

    It might let Sinn Féin off a hook of their own making, but I doubt the DUP would agree to that either.

    No. Sugden should do nothing. It’s not her mess.

  • J D

    With 3 DUP seats isn’t the independent Unionist seat under more threat (especially after alienating DUP supporters) than the DUP seats or either Nationalist seat?

  • J D

    And yet so preciously rare.

  • Skibo

    No thank you. No accountability!
    We need local people in control. At least we get the chance to vote for the MLAs. What pull do MPs have in a 660 seat parliament?

  • Brendan Heading

    The Inquiries Act includes specific provisions governing Ministers in Northern Ireland initiating inquiries (see Section 30 and Schedule 1 for example) so I think there’s very little doubt that the law is intended to provide these powers to NI Executive ministers.

    No. Sugden should do nothing. It’s not her mess.

    Sugden demanding an inquiry, successfully or not, is probably the only way to actually distance herself from the mess, given that she’s a partner in the government that is faced with the task of understanding it and cleaning it up. The public do respond, at times, to people who are seen to act with integrity (Jenny Palmer for example) and this is probably the only thing that could have saved her seat, short of a fast tracked DUP selection. But I think it’s too late now.

  • johnny lately

    Yes Sinn Fein voters do pay British taxes, they have no choice in the matter, but they are also now clearly aware that the revenue gained by those taxes, regardless which unionist party is in government will never be used in a manner that benefits anyone other than unionism. Theres already a crisis so why not deal with all outstanding issues promised in the GFA now rather than limp along to the next crisis. The assembly will collapse if theres no gain for Sinn Fein and they know nationalism has grown tired of broken promises by both the British government and unionism they need a springboard to launch into election mode and the RHI disaster coupled with the hatred displayed by some powerful individuals within unionism against anything Irish has opened a pandoras box.

    Whats the point in Nationalists going back for more of the same ?

  • GEF

    “At least we get the chance to vote for the MLAs.”

    Do you mean those “108 head the balls” up on the hill at Stormont. They would all be better forming a new comedy
    ” Give my head peace No 2″ than trying to run Norn Iron.

  • Brendan

    I’m not questioning the reach of the Act. Just the ability of another NI Minister, other than the one with responsibility for the RHI scheme, to use it in these circumstances.

    Demanding an inquiry would be the nuclear option for Sugden. And would place her center-stage for the fall-out.

  • Daithi,

    “With the Attorney General’s Office making it clear that he cannot set up an investigation into the ‘Cash for Ash’ scheme it does appear that a Public Inquiry is the ‘the only show in town’.”

    That would be a mis-representation of the situation as reported in the News Letter.

    Here’s their headline again, “Attorney general can’t set up SF’s preferred inquiry”

    And from the text,

    Sinn Fein has argued against a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 – something which would give the inquiry wide-ranging powers of compulsion and sanctions for those who disobey the inquiry.

    But Attorney General John Larkin’s office said that he has no power under the Inquiries Act to set up an investigation and that there is no other mechanism whereby he could set up an investigation with powers of compulsion.

    The News Letter asked the Attorney General’s Office whether Mr Larkin has any power under the Inquiries Act 2005 to set up an investigation and whether – in the absence of any powers from that legislation – he could otherwise set up an investigation with powers to compel witnesses and documents.

    A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office responded: “There’s nothing in the Inquiries Act which permits the attorney to even call an inquiry. It’s purely down to ministers and specifically mentions ministers only.”

    The spokesman added that “there is nothing else that would even give him remit in the 2002 legislation which set up the attorney general which would allow him to call any other powers or inquiries”.

    There are plenty of options short of a public inquiry under the Act. Just not one with the kind of powers, or Attorney General involvement, that Sinn Féin have called for.

  • grumpy oul man

    Really. True Girvan is a nasty little man who thinks flutes equals votes but i don’t think that most nationlists are so unsure of their culture or themselves to find him a biiger threat than Arlene and her abilty to destroy the economy.
    What i do suspect is that the DUP thinks we might fall for a bit of cultural blackmail and i have a suspicion that elements of SF (particularly the more Celtic twilight ones) might think it would be a deal.

  • Skibo

    Yes, those head the balls are our head the balls. WE elected them, that is if you did vote!

  • 05OCT68

    NAW! NAW! NAW! Treating them like weans is not an option. Unfortunately we here have to prove our political maturity whether Unionist or Nationalist. Unionism in the form of the DUP is under the spotlight right now, how will another Stormont crises play in GB, not very well I suspect. These MLA’s have been elected to sort problems out not add to them. Direct rule would suit SF, NI unworkable by DUP incompetence in politicising (gender & cultural) a financial scandal. SF now appear to be the natural leaders in government showing maturity in not wanting to bring down Stormont & willing to subject all parties to an enquiry. This plays well in the South. SF despite DUP provocation (DUP cuts to Irish language funding, overspend to loyalist band funding) have not fallen for the bait. Plays well across GB & Ireland. If direct rule is introduced by this financial scandal the DUP will be seen as toxic by the Tories, SDLP MP’s & others will remind the British public that the DUP cost the fall of Stormont & £400 million to the exchequer.

  • 05OCT68

    Jenny Palmer a victim of misogyny or not?

  • 05OCT68

    Johnny the Irish language act is not a concession, its a right, if one concedes,for the sake of argument, that the 6 Irish counties of NI are British then our Irish language is a British indigenous language as is Welsh & Scottish Gaelic .We have to challenge the Unionist perception of Britain, are the Scots Gaelic & Welsh speakers less British? I only have a cupla focail & probably won’t progress beyond that but it is important to me that Irish is given the same respect as the other indigenous language. Unionism often puts the case that Irish is a dead language, Unionism never puts the case that Welsh or Scottish Gaelic is a dead language & a waste of money promoting them. C’mon Paul Girven show a pair, say what you see.

  • 05OCT68

    Is misogynistic to ask Claire to show a pair?

  • mjh

    Sugden was elected 4th out of 6 in May. With the same voting patterns but only 5 seats she would be elected (5th) on the final count – some 900 votes ahead of the DUP runner up.

    She could only fail by losing a substantial portion of her first preference votes to the DUP, or the majority of her transfers to the DUP.

    The evidence suggests that the Ind Unionist first preference votes in 2016 and 2011 came mainly at the expense of the UUP plus some from Alliance. The DUP appeared unaffected.

    Sugden got no transfers from the DUP. She was highly transfer friendly gaining over 1000 from the UUP and Alliance, but also 352 from the PUP, 99 from TUV and 218 from Green, UKIP and Conservatives.

    Sugden’s electoral interests would seem to be more similar to those of the UUP and Alliance than to those of the DUP.

    Logically, for Sugden’s seat to be vulnerable to the DUP if she called for a public enquiry, the DUP would already stand to gain seats from the UUP and others for making that demand.

    For Sugden the bigger danger is that she could lose votes to the UUP and Alliance if she appears too docile.

  • Ryan A

    East Londonderry as far as Unionism goes is almost the exclusive preserve of the DUP and Sudgen. When it drops to 5 seats, 3 of which will be Unionist vs the current 4 she can set herself apart with an integrity move or she can hang around for the 3 incumbents to go after her anyway. Doing nothing there will be manna from heaven for the UUP/TUV and even Alliance challengers in East Londonderry.

  • Granni Trixie

    For Claire Sugden to take a leading role in setting up an enquiry under the Act ( if indeed her powers allow) Is quite a risk but a risk worth taking. Firstly it would be a step towards establishing public trust and secondly she would be likely to regain the respect of many of her peers not to mention voters. Go Claire!

  • J D

    Well that seems pretty definitive then. Thanks for the crucial details on transfers. And your last two paragraphs kind of nail the political reality. Which begs the question of why isn’t she?

  • J D

    Yes, MJH’s details do point to that as the more likely outcome in a 5 seater election. So let’s see what happens next 🙂

  • Ryan A

    Worth noting being JM didn’t help David Ford, potentially did the opposite watching his 2011 v 2016 vote tally. Would imagine that the Justice ministry more than others would lead to you being out of touch with constituency matters more than any other. Something which could bare heavier on an independent rather than someone belonging to a party who has a local machine be it cllrs or staff out on the ground between elections.

  • J D

    Interesting observation about constituency vs JM work.

    Then again, how much work is the JM? I mean it seems to exist wholly to deny it to SF /s

  • Ryan A

    Not much beyond defending an ever shrinking budget for the PSNI and courts. Not much good news to come out of it either though. In fact it could be argued outside of Foster very few have ever profited democratically in an election or got a promotion from having held a ministry; and even then Newton Emerson has pretty much closed the case on Foster in his article in the Irish news today.

  • The Irishman

    Well said…

  • babyface finlayson

    Claire Sugden is saying she cannot set up a public inquiry and the AG has said he cannot set up an independent inquiry of the kind SF wants.
    So where does that leave us?
    An inquiry set up by DUP/SF on their own terms?
    That does not fill me with confidence.

  • Redstar

    So Sugden backs Foster not standing aside…… there’s a surprise!!!!!!

  • mjh

    Well, now she has come out for a public enquiry.

    But in stating that Foster should not step aside while it is carried out she sets herself apart from the opposition parties (and SF?).

    She is obviously hoping to get away with the absolute minimum she believes necessary to satisfy her voters.

  • Granni Trixie

    Unless it’s done right/truely independently public confidence will not be restored and it will be a wasted exercise. I would go further than MoM assertion that a sticking plaster solution won’t do.

    I think we need to go back to the beginning as well as investigate what went wrong with the heating scheme – reexamine arrangements set up under the GFA. Power sharing has worked out more as a “shared out” system, the POC has been exploited. Now it is obvious that the system of accountability is inadequate. I would hope that putting the spotlight on systems of accountability would raise awareness which could lead to a change in values in political parties (not naming names here mind you).