Has Simon Hamilton found a magic wand to make the RHI ‘deficit’ go away?

So the misogyny line from Arlene this morning. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, because I’m with Jim Allister that it is just the latest in a line of distractions.

But you only have to search twitter with the FM’s name and the sort of gross language most women politicians have to put up with on a daily basis is there in full technicolour.

None of it though is from anyone who matters. And so, on Nolan this morning, the SDLP put Nicola Mallon on first thing demonstrating that the criticism has nothing to do with misogyny:

Not great PR from the DUP. As for where the substance of the story is going, try Simon Hamilton’s intriguing comments this morning (buried away from headlines):

…working on our preferred option for cost control, that is an option that will come at no cost to the Northern Ireland budget and will keep the scheme running as originally intended”.

We need to take some further legal advice around that, but that’s the plan that we’re working on, a plan that will reduce that liability to effectively zero.

No details, he said. Any attempt to change the original terms of the scheme will likely attract legal challenges, but he has promised he will share once it’s finalised.

That would be some turnaround. Not least when his SF colleague at Finance (being his usual helpful self) has already inflated the final figure to £600 million.

Promises are one thing, so we await to see the actual detail before commenting further. But if he is able to track the figure down to 0, Mrs Foster owes him a favour or two.

And if he does, the chances of the First Minister stepping aside are zero, and falling rapidly. In which case, someone will lose face. And it won’t be the opposition.

As one Slugger colleague put it, this is what happens when your chief tacticians are living in a bunker about 5 miles away from the heat of the political front line.

  • Jag

    “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” isn’t going to dampen public outrage after the gross incompetence, or worse, at Stormont in greenlighting and sustaining the RHI scheme (and then, as far as I can tell, suppressing the scandal for a year until the BBC revealed the cost of the scheme). The politicians have had nearly a month since the BBC Spotlight broadcast, and a year since they apparently knew of the overspend. “Trust me” is just insulting unless backed up with solid what, when and how muches.

  • mickfealty

    Quite.

  • Michael Lee

    The fact is, they would be doing NOTHING if the media hadn’t found out about it.

    We need a full list of recipients, only then can we be sure there was no corruption. WHy is poor little wall flower Arlene so scared to give the public that information? She does know she answers to the public not to the party or to herself.

  • Dan

    “None of it though is from anyone who matters”

    Not defending misogyny, but who exactly is it that ‘matters’ in your opinion?
    Bloggers, the politicians and the media clique?

  • mickfealty

    Dan,

    I don’t see the qualifier as being anyone other than those making the arguments that Mrs Foster needs to address. Trolling needs to be given minus zero status in the public discourse, from whichever space it comes.

  • mickfealty

    To be fair, the UUs were on to this immediately after the NAO report (https://goo.gl/IvHmI7), and no one listened (including us, btw) until Conor Spackman’s great report on Spotlight…

  • Dan

    Fair enough

  • Steptoe

    Playing the misogyny card is a new low. It is a disgrace and an affront and does a massive disservice to women everywhere who actually do experience sexist attitudes, which is always wrong.
    This is a desperate attempt at deflection which cannot and will not work. This matter is too important to be deflected from.

  • Neonlights

    Misogyny (depressing through it is to see it in action) wasn’t the only red herring tossed out there. I found this quote a bit stranger “It’s no secret that during my childhood, the IRA tried to murder my father. It’s no secret that in the past, the IRA put a bomb on my school bus. So do I really think that I’m going to step aside at the behest of Sinn Fein? No I’m not,” she added.

    What is her point exactly? I would interpret it as meaning that she will never listen to any demand from her partners in government, in which case I would wonder why she was in government with them. Of course I could be reading too much into it, maybe it is just a cheap “Prods together” rallying cry. As a protestant backgrounder, that doesn’t cut it with me.

  • mickfealty

    I read that as merely as an embryonic election line, and a sort of “make my day, punk…” riposte to SF’s threat of ‘grave consequences’ tbh.

  • scepticacademic

    Even if Hamilton manages to pull a fiscal rabbit from his hat, we still need a public enquiry or independent judge-led inquiry to establish: 1. whether there was any corruption, i.e. who benefited from this scheme and howndid that come about; 2. Aportion responsibility for this fiasco at ministerial (and we know who the minister was) and senior civil service level. Then, heads must surely roll.

  • mickfealty

    They are there already. There’s no doubt that women politicians (Arlene included) face all manner of threat (and even danger) from unmannerly scumbags all over the net.

    But she’s absolutely wrong to use the work of those unmannerly scumbags to deflect from the train of the story.

  • Mirrorballman

    You read it exactly right.

  • Neonlights
  • Tarlas

    Is it titanic arrogance or delusion; the ideology, that in “our wee country “we know better than everyone else? Now Simon thinks he has devised a way that will reduce the RHI liability to effectively zero, most likely based on a detailed cause and effect analysis.
    He should protect the intellectual property rights. Economists will be astounded by this fiscal break through. And wow, what “this wee country” could achieve, with the recovered funds and the IP dividends!!!

  • Gopher

    Just been on a relaxing drive through the Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Antrim countryside, the shiny new silo ajacent to barns seems to be a recent feature of the countryside. Judging by the opulence of some residences would it be safe to assume that people have reinvested and borrowed on the strength of RHI on things other than boilers? Good luck with getting that figure to zero Simon.

  • Karl

    How close the outrage of the politically engaged ie those on this site, mirrors that of the voters remains to be seen. With the recent scandals and little consequent action the RHI scandal is little more than same old same old, especially when the alternative is another election that will lead to the same government.
    The DUP are probably relying on this apathy and sectarian base politics to return them with the same numbers and theyre probably right.
    Their short term gain will have long term negative consequences for all down the line and probably negative for unionism than the others.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Effectively what Arlene is doing is asking people to stop giving her a tough time because she has had a difficult life. She has wheeled out every possible sympathy card; Her sex, her Daddy, Her childhood, Her Mammy, Her kids and in case that doesnt work she tops it off with a rallying cry to the loyal sons of Ulster to gather round her and fend off the fenian foe. Desperation in spades. She obviously realises the game is up.

  • J D

    Did all the SF top brass shag off to the USA for the holidays? Are they shaking off the jet lag and/or hangovers? Or does the RHI fiasco ensnare SF people too?

    Otherwise it seems like we are left with incompetence bordering on malfeasance. The failure to robustly confront this is going to be used to beat up on them in the south. I don’t understand it, makes no political sense whatsoever. The snouts-in-trough only gets you so far and if that’s all there is to it then SF are in big trouble.

  • notimetoshine

    You make a really good point. Would the scandalous revelations of RHI (combined with more to come one assumes) be enough to actually shock the people of NI out of headcount, dog whistle politics? I have to agree with you probably not.

    Personally I can’t help but thinking that the people of Northern Ireland deserve all they get, I mean RHI is just one of a long list of political failures, policy disasters and assorted incompetencies. Our parties can’t government effectively, and that’s no secret. But the people of NI evidently prefer voting for the ‘right sort’. In which case they should just suck it up.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    What is it that you expect to happen?. The Shinners are all over the media on this, they are bringing a motion to the Assembly on 16th.

  • stewrogers

    If every political party is in poor shape for government, who does the electorate have left to vote for?

  • Granni Trixie

    And it’s taken DUP and SF the same month to find out that the AG has not the power to fulfil a role in their plan of action. What a waste it of time even from their POV.

  • Granni Trixie

    We have agreement!

  • austin mcclafferty

    So today marks the latest attempts by the DUP to keep the DUPED DUPED some more. Playing the victim card is in really bad taste coming on the back of the FM denying possible closure to many victims through the coroners court and at a fraction of the predicted costs of RHI.
    This distraction politics are finding little traction with the electorate and much of the media. Those trying to usher debate into the DUPs house of mirrors and smokeblowers are just singling them selves out for a portion of the fallout from the whole of the debacle and will pay a price for doing so in the long run.
    So over the next hours and days we are going to see who in the DUP believe that the FMs incompetence is an acceptable trait for the leader of the DUP and NI,of course Mrs Fosters arrogance is a prerequisite for the position.
    FM you are turning this into political death of a thousand cuts whilst obviously not being fully cognitive of the wider impact of your actions on society. Those advising you have vested interests in you staying in position and therefore compromised, most if not all this could’ve been avoided had you had good advisers back in 2013. The fact that you have made bad choices for yourself in relation to these advisers and continue to be getting bad advice will not inspire much hope in the layperson that their interests will be in anyway enhanced by your flawed decision making.
    Will you be wanting your blindfold removed when your political execution takes place.

  • Granni Trixie

    I agree absolutely, in fact I said to myself “this is scraping the barrel”. Dragging up what was undoubtedly a childhood marred by the shadow of the gunman is yet another example of exercising bad judgement. It also says loud and clear that she has no answer to criticism and therefore falls back on a personal narrative to garner sympathy. It brings the story of wolf wolf to mind – she has now limited the mileage she can get from that narrative in future.

  • Granni Trixie

    Irony is that SF councillors abstained in the vote for the motion brought by Ruth Patterson last night at BCC meeting.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Praise the Lord 😉

  • Granni Trixie

    Why did they abstain on the motion at Belfast City Hall last night? (It passed anyway).

  • mickfealty

    Except the last is the usual hack play from Anthony…

  • notimetoshine

    God knows, but the electorates created these monsters supporting them and reinforcing their incompetence in some bizarre bastardised version of natural selection.

    I personally have come to the conclusion that the ultimate blame for RHI has to be left at the foot of the electorate.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I’ve no idea Granni. Honestly.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Don’t be avading the OP now.

  • J D

    A bit more competence than the cock-up over press statements released with and without the term “public inquiry” in them. That was just feeding easy fodder to the usual critics.

    It’s going to be a long march to the 16th, the populace is getting restless and political pressure continues to grow. Something might rupture before we get a chance to debate motions.

  • ted hagan

    I got the feeling today that the heat is going out of this scandal, partly because an inept and uncomfortable Sinn Fein is willing it to do so. The North has never had many politicians of quality but I almost feel nostalgic for people of the calibre of Seamus Mallon, Brid Rodgers, David Trimble, Harold McCusker, even John Taylor. or further back, Austin Currie. So many lightweights these days, though I’m loath to admit it, Jim Allister is as sharp as a tack.

  • mickfealty

    You can leave you know?

  • Devil Eire

    …our preferred option for cost control, that is an option that will come at no cost to the Northern Ireland budget.

    Foster apparently believes that squandering other British people’s hard-earned public money is acceptable, as long as Northern Ireland doesn’t take the hit. So much for unionist solidarity with their fellow British.

  • Dan

    She needs to go.. and all those scamming the rest of us need identified

  • ted hagan

    Poor coaching and advice from her spin doctors, I suspect.

  • ted hagan

    Well it’s part of the unholy alliance between the two parties with the message to the electorate;
    ‘Hey, you’ve got peace what do you want, good government or something?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Maybe thats the plan

  • lizmcneill

    Is this the old “we cost too much for a united Ireland to be able to afford us” tactic?

  • lizmcneill

    Social media trolling and fake news does seem to have had an effect on the US election, even if it was given zero status by the sorts of people who write slugger articles.

  • mickfealty

    That was SF’s idea and it lasted less than 24 hours.

  • Korhomme

    Siobhan Fenton, in the New Statesman, wasn’t impressed:

    …a desperate and insincere attempt to cling to power

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/devolution/2017/01/there-sexism-northern-irish-politics-arlene-foster-s-misogyny-claim

  • grumpy oul man

    Has britain perhaps indicated that it is willing to make up the 480 million in order to keep the place from galling apart?
    And even if the DUP harry potters it way out of this there are still questions to be answered.
    The competance of those who set this whole thing up in the first place.
    Who signed up during the now notorious spike.
    What action will be taken against the people who had multiple boilers burning money just to make money.
    And what where the reasons that ministers responsible chose to ignore so many warnings from so many different sources.

  • 05OCT68

    Well Arlene has played the misogyny card (so all the woman in the assembly bar DUP members are misogynists) & made reference to her school bus being bombed in her Sky News interview. Is Naomi Long a misogynist, is Jonathon Bell one also. What has the IRA bombing a bus got to do with SF calling for Arlene to step aside. SF has kept her in a job so far. DUP deflection & playing to it’s base, blaming misogyny is a new low.

  • 05OCT68

    She has added fuel to the fire blaming misogyny.

  • 05OCT68

    The scheme users have banded together, they don’t want to users to be named & are looking at a legal challenge if the terms of the scheme are changed. The only option open to Stormont may be to insure that companies misusing the scheme are prosecuted & the cost of said schemes returned to the public purse.

  • Ciaran Caughey

    My brother’s friend installs them.He has made £400,000 profit so far.

  • grumpy oul man

    Yes Mick, but its hard to have any sympathy for a member of the Party who done over Mrs Long and didn’t hold back on the oul sexism.

  • Granni Trixie

    It is my impression that his name has been in the frame since the fiasco came into the public domain with some commenting in response that it would be inappropriate.

  • Brendan Heading

    She’s trying to turn it into a tribal issue by misleading people. It’s rather brazen.

    The idea that she should step aside for a time is not Sinn Féin’s – in fact SF abstained on the vote to censure her in the Assembly – but one latterly adopted by SF after it was supported by all the other parties who had no choice but to adopt that position.

    It’s the height of irony to me that, since partition, and after so many decades of instability and of republicans trying to blow the place sky high, that it is SF who are taking all the hits to try to make the country governable (sacrificing their own integrity in the process) while the DUP refuse to make a relatively modest tactical withdrawal which makes the position of all the other parties – and therefore devolved government – effectively impossible.

  • JOHN TURLEY

    Hard to understand what S.F are thinking,however, it is obvious the D.U.P
    have their backs to the wall on this,they will use anything to divert from the
    issue of the half a billion going up in flames.

  • Granni Trixie

    Thanks Korhmme that’s a terrific summary by Fenton.

  • Skibo

    Mick were the UU not also in line demanding the scheme be continued?

  • J D

    MMG being ill seems to have left a bit of a vacuum in the north. Showing us they have a plan, and a good one, would be a wise move at this juncture.

  • Pigeon Toes

    In the public mind “Independent Investigation” reads as “cover up” especially when the the TOR are being set by those searching for “assurance” of same i.e “no wrongdoing”…/The PAC and NIAO are furthermore not without their own limitations and are self auditing of their own institutions and the confines therein. … Foster has publicly accused Bell of “bullying”…then onto media prejudice, sectarianism …and now misogyny…and trolling…The Public ain’t buying it…

  • 05OCT68

    Wiped the floor with Arlene’s claim of misogyny, everyone should read the link.

  • Korhomme

    Indeed.

  • Korhomme

    Didn’t it just.

  • 05OCT68

    Not defending SF here, if a vote of no confidence causes an election we may well be back to square one SF/DUP partners in government. Add the cost of an election to the shambles & SF could lose some support for said cost. SF and other parties have called for an independent enquiry so if SF supporting/contributing scheme members are involved they’ll be named. SF don’t want an election yet until a strategy has been formed re: reduction of MLA’s. I would welcome an election only to see how the SDLP respond to a possible DUP/UUP pact & how the UUP can justify said pact given the circumstance of said election.

  • 05OCT68

    Burned her!

  • 05OCT68

    Interesting, one would assume the installers would have to be registered & be expert on heat loads/losses of buildings. If an installer fits a heating system that’s “over sized” or multiple system’s in a single building can they be prosecuted?

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Right now the shinners are trying to strip concessions out of the DUP, however I would imagine getting Arlene to agree to initiatives around the irish language and culture etc. Might be a bit like trying to get a Diamond out from the back of an alligators gob. I do agree that people need to see a plan but considering the contradictory statements the party have issued (so much for accusations of mafia style obedience) it seems like the shinners are having trouble getting their ducks in a row. They might be dragging it out to time an election to coincide with the Brexit trigger. The Shinners are not known to show their hand too readily; they enjoy pizzing off the media too much, they also like to keep opponents guessing and in this scenario where they hold all the cards they can be forgiven for taking the time working out how to best capitalise. Its the first time in a long time Unionism has been stuck on a hook, no harm leaving them hang for a while.

  • Nevin

    Jag, the Spotlight programme was hot on graphics but light on governance. I’ve tried to find some information about communications between Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries:

    Committee chair Maeve McLaughlin accused Mr Pengelly of not having an overview of his department.

    However, Mr Pengelly defended his position and described the criticism as unfair.

    He said he could not possibly have “every scrap of information” about the health service and had not been fully briefed about questions from MLAs.
    Mr Pengelly said operational matters within the health service are not being affected by the health minister not being in post and that he held weekly meetings with Mr Hamilton.
    .. source

    While others have been fantasising about Arlene and Martin, even rushing headlong to judgement, I’ve taken a closer look at the communication chain. I can find no record/minutes of these Minister/PS meetings. Does anyone know who else is present?

    Departmental Board minutes for DETI/DfE are only available since the beginning of 2013. The DB contains two Independent members but only one was present in 2013 and 2014; the other sent apologies for absence for the first 15 months and the position was vacant for the second 9 but eventually being refilled at the beginning of 2015. There’s a big question mark over how much information was provided to these Independent members; ditto for that provided to the Ministers. As I’ve already pointed out, Treasury best practice directs Ministers to not only attend DB meetings but also to chair them.

    I’ve also pointed out that DB minutes have not been in a proper searchable format. However, I’ve since discovered that minutes for July, September and October 2016 are now searchable but, curiously, those for July and September have a creation date 7/11/2016. Here’s a snippet from October which highlights the uselessness of current minute taking: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fdc9b3bbe86b2619c21f1c4df22d1b57b8e76efc4757c5e28caf5d20265d27f7.png

  • eireanne3

    if Theresa May refuses to provide a plan or a running commentary beyond “brexit is brexit” why should SF?

  • Ciaran Caughey

    I know the guy he is honest.Though my brother said he was feeling uneasy about the whole fiasco!

  • J D

    Because we expect better from Republicans?

  • Jag

    Will the DUP’s education minister solve the pressure on resources in his ministry by not paying teachers. Why not?

    And will we see emergency legislation to cut the salaries and perks of MLAs by 5%, because, you know, they’re a shower of incompetents? Ah, hold on now!

    But ripping up government contracts for RHI. No problem chief.

  • Nevin

    PT, I think you give Joe and Josey Public too much credit; they may not have chosen the Civil Servants and Independent board members but they probably voted for those who became MLAs, including Ministers.

  • Jag

    Fascinating Nevin, “departmental board”, that’s not a familiar term at all to most people, and your outline of poor governance (independent members not appointed or present, poor quality of note taking which is at odds with corporate secretarial standards), is worrying and an aspect of this scandal not scrutinised.

  • Nevin

    Jag, Facebook has just reminded me of a Slugger blog I posted a link too one year ago. It contains this observation:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e8cc8802e8ba61f1d7b32697bac8c3412b341ef6eb1067b5e498772d499519c9.png

  • mickfealty

    The AG’s name?

  • mickfealty

    You’re getting your dates confused. Patsy McGlone pointed out that officials evaded his questions on the matter (in February I think). There’s an awful lot of confusion and re-written history going on here.

    The issue only crystallised for parties outside OFMDFM after the NIAO report was published on 5th July last year. The ‘youse all knew’ line is pure DUP spin. Only the DUP and SF knew from last Jan, at least.

  • Granni Trixie

    The name is unimportant but the role is ..do you think I am conflating NI AG role with that of the AG on the mainland? It’s possible but i am clear that yesterday was not the first time the NI AG was named in comments as someone who might draw up criteria and select someone from outside NI to investigate/enquire.
    I could live with that but some might not. The LCJ has also been mentioned as one who might fulfil such a role.

  • mickfealty

    Simon Hamilton could initiate one. But his party’s against it. And that’s the whole point. If don’t fly at the Executive, it don’t fly at all.

  • grumpy oul man

    I ont think installers can be held liable for misuse of boilers as long as they merely filled a order.
    However if they advised or suggested a over supply of boilers then perhaps.
    It would be worthwhile finding out if the paperwork filled out to join the scheme included a justification of the kilowattage required by a “expert” .

  • Granni Trixie

    Another Slugger post states that the Justice Minister can do so. I also think that on this occasion public opinion in interaction with media professionals are forming a consensus that as well as practical solutions we need to understand exactly whT went wrong, so could be influential. Yes, I know you could say that we have been here before but this time feels different.

    All that said, If,as is claimed, there is no new DUP Leader to emerge then not only is the financial cupboard bare but
    Looks like the DUP talent cupboard too.
    O dear isn’t looking good for the country,is it.

  • mickfealty

    I think you’ll find Daithi was highly circumspect in making that suggestion Granni. Have a read of Pete’s comments on that thread.

  • Skibo

    Mick, I challenge your comments. The RHI came into being in Nov 2010 for industry. I believe it was extended to domestic in April 2014. All the time there were no financial controls. It had to come before the committee for approval also.
    As for the UUP they demanded that is was extended to allow others who had made an investment and had not achieved approval into the system to be allowed to complete their application but they were not on their own. It was similar to the keeping open of the scheme for wind turbines.
    All parties knew at that time that the scheme was out of control.

  • mickfealty

    I’ll try and dig out a transcript. There should be one.

  • Skibo

    Is that a transcript from when Jonathan was the Minister or when Arlene was the minister?

  • mickfealty

    Jonathan.

  • Skibo

    So that is more to do with trying to reduce the damage more so that stopping it happen in the first place.