#RHI: Finance Minister hints we need to buckle down for a fortnight (so bring popcorn)

Here, go out and get the popcorn in. We’ve another two weeks of this free entertainment since Mairtin O Muilleoir confirmed to UTV’s Vicki Hawthorn tonight that he doesn’t like the cut of Simon Hamilton’s jib (even though he’s not even seen it yet):

The most charitable conclusion about what’s going on at the moment is that the two parties in Stormont Castle are busy hammering out a deal over this. But the terms of the public rhetoric surrounding those discussions have hardly ever been more reckless.

One will make the other harder to achieve.

It’s a far cry from the 14th December when no only had Martin and Arlene agreed she should explain her ministerial actions (from a previous, not her current job) to Assembly, the whole Executive had approved it:

“This will facilitate a full statement to be made by the First Minister to Members on the matters of public concern relating to RHI.

“RHI was discussed by the Executive today and Ministers around the table underlined the seriousness of the issues involved and the importance of restoring public confidence.

“It was also emphasised that detailed plans are being finalised to significantly reduce the projected losses in the years ahead.”

This was their safe place. We can speculate about what happened in between, but it’s clear from the Finance Minister’s remarks that he personally has moved a very long way since then. Indeed, SF’s position has changed substantially three times over the last three days.

In pushing it all into an election, or a collapse, Sinn Fein is in danger of pushing the whole thing off a cliff just because they are fed up their coalition partners are treating them like ‘House Taigs’. [Welcome to the harsh reality of coalition government lads!! – Ed]

The call from the opposition for Arlene to resign appears to have frightened the SF horses into abandoning their original line. That safe place is a long way behind them. Whatever opprobrium Foster garners, recent trends have been less than kind to nationalism.

Kevin Meagher has a point when he says that the peace process inspired system is not too big to fail.

For Sinn Fein, the price of political office is that at some level, the blame rubs off on you. Moreover, political radicalism is traditionally a means of accruing status in poorer communities. Being an “IRA man” was a badge of honour during the Troubles.

The rhetoric of Saoradh and People Before Profit emulates the kind of Marxist, anti-imperialism sloganising that Sinn Fein abandoned a generation ago. As we are seeing across Europe, though, it is coming back into vogue.

Metaphorically – and literally – Sinn Fein’s opponents want to land blows. Two weeks ago, Gerry Kelly, a prominent Sinn Fein figure, was attacked on the street in Belfast.

The circumstances are not clear yet and a 21-year-old man was arrested. But Kelly, architect of the Maze prison escape in 1983 – the biggest since Colditz – was once regarded as untouchable.

Although the failure of one is not the failure of all. It’s worth reading and watching this UTV report:  from the interview with the Minster, to the interviews with Mike and Colum, and Ken Reid’s honest conclusion this is the worst crisis he’s seen in ten years.

The uncontrolled rhetoric emerging from the government parties is certainly novel. And the lack of political grown-ups in government doesn’t help either. It’s also, as Brian has argued, an abuse of 0ur democratic system.

The best thing we can say for now is that they haven’t yet gone off the cliff. But something also tells me we’re all going to be heart-sick of the ould popcorn before this one gets topped out.

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  • Brendan Heading

    In pushing it all into an election, or a collapse, Sinn Fein is in danger of pushing the whole thing off a cliff just because they are fed up their coalition partners are treating them like ‘House Taigs’. [Welcome to the harsh reality of coalition government lads!! – Ed]

    This is a bit unkind to SF Mick. SF’s demands at the moment are not especially egregious and it would cost the DUP very little to deliver on a few of them. All coalition governments are incentivised, in part, by political tensions around exactly how far each of the coalition partners can stretch in which direction, and the costs of overstretching them.

    SF’s overriding, and rather simple, policy seems to be to keep defending powersharing at any cost. That is on face value quite laudable, but comes with the obvious hazard that “any cost” means constantly having to cover for DUP corruption and mismanagement. They haven’t thought about where their red lines are.

    The DUP are very lucky; their partners can be bought off extremely cheaply. But recognising this would require them to make a strategic play that they seem to be unable to see or understand.

  • mickfealty

    The demand that she step aside is far from moderate coming from a coalition partner less than eight months into their joint administration. It is important to note just how far they both are from their joint Kansas of the 14th December.

    We might also read into the absence of any budget yet (deadlines that go whoosh) that this malaise is broad and systemic.

  • ted hagan

    Judging by the public fascination with this story one can only conclude that it’s not just the RHI scandal and the DUP’s ineptitude in handling of the whole affair (bad though that is) that draws them but that that it is also their chance to display the contempt with which they now regard Stormont institutions and the parties within it. After years of cock-ups and then the false dawn of a fresh start, they have had enough, and are now sitting back to enjoy the spectacle of the parties devouring each other. Yes, there may be an election, and the predictable tribal voting of this state will ensure much the same tally of seats per party as before.
    But things, hopefully, will never be quite the same again.

  • Gopher

    The situation is this, someone is going to have to tackle the problem in an analytical matter. Over the course of the last two days I spent my time driving around the Ulster countryside. I have seen a pellet silo the size of a Saturn V rocket, a barn no bigger than two semi detached houses with two industrial size pellet silos hooked up to it and a barn complex overkilled with 10 silos that looks more like a refinery than anything to do with agriculture. Perhaps the Enterprise Minister and Finance Minister together should “google” pellet silo and climb Slemish with a pair of binoculars to see the extent of the crisis (I dont think the executive can afford a helicopter anymore). Do you think these people have actually started burning less since the cat escaped from the bag? This needs to to be stopped now, not in two weeks not after a bit of grandstanding it needs ended now. I don’t rightly care if you hate each others guts you are the government. This in no way compromises your views on inquiries, Foster or the price of milk. I don’t care what legislation you have to invent to do it, but the piss is being completely taken.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    MoM has seen the cut of Simon’s jib and has rejected it because it is not handsome enough, you dint need to see the detail when the very design is flawed from the start.

    The 14th of December might as well be ten years ago given the amount of flames that have shot up around Arlene since then. Its tempting alright to try to keep pushing SF into the frame given the amount of contradictory quacking over the last few weeks. But ultimately the DUP swan is cornered with all streams leading straight to her feet. She is now hemmed in with the SF Ducks finally in a straight line, having at last accepted that they are for the first time in control. It took time to adjust but they will have to learn to swim faster as its unlikely this will be an isolated moment as tge DUP crumbles around them.

    They have been feeing the harsh reality of DUP style curry my yoghurt coalition for some time and now it seems they are grabbing their chance to up end the yoghurt pot.

    These days no politician is untouchable and Kelly is not the first Shinner to take a smack in return for trying to play fair with the swans occupying the pool. But you can only take so many – physically and metaphorically – before its time to roll up the sleeves and come out swinging, that time is now.

    The ‘Grown up’ thing to do is listen to your ‘grown up’ partners when they are giving you a chance. As Sam McBride pointed out today, the DUP grassroots are sniping at the swan from the safety of the bank side.

    Arlene will step aside. Its a certainty.

  • mickfealty

    But he said he hasn’t Anthony. Go and watch the video in the UTV link? (Then have a look at the terms of the December statement.)

  • mickfealty

    You’d want some legal advice on that Gopher? Mike has some ideas about how it might be done if you don’t want to run into a judicial inquiry or ten.

    How you curb the costs is crucial not least to people to took the scheme up and are conducting things in good faith.

  • Karl

    The demand to step aside, as previous holders of the office have, followed on from the fact that the DUP did not deal with this themselves and allowed their leader’s ego and inability to nuance her message to dictate their subsequent responses, which if anything inflamed public opinion, emboldened the opposition and forced SF into its current position. SF are still providing enough wriggle room for the DUP should they choose to use it.
    Not looking likely as it stands but this crisis and its development can be put down to Arlenes blind eye in office and inability to prevent the crisis from escalating.
    SFs response made all the easier by the lack of generosity shown by their coalition partner less than 8 months into their joint administration.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I watched the bbc report which stated differently. He did see it and didnt like it according to the BBC.

  • anon

    Mick, while watching Arlene’s self-serving statement to a half-empty chamber it seemed obvious that the DUP would have to soften or the Assembly would collapse. They have not softened and show no signs of softening. The DUP seem to be labouring under the (mistaken) assumption that Nationalists would never collapse the Assembly, but they are leaving SF with little choice. I’m no fan of either SF or the DUP, but it seems clear which one is the problem on this occasion.

  • anon

    Would Arlene lead the DUP into an election though?

  • mickfealty

    It didn’t stop them handing it out to junior partners in the previous coalitions. To quote John O’Dowd: “so what?” (https://goo.gl/0u5Smo)

  • Gopher

    If this was a private scheme it would be bankrupt, I would simply declare it bankrupt. The pot is 660 million they cant get any more unless of course they force the assembly to start selling assets like hospitals and make people like nurses redundant to pay for successful lawsuits. Do lawyers reallty want to start doing that?

  • Skibo

    Mick, I agree with Anthony while he did not see a written proposal, what they proposed was explained. He talked about it being a sticking plaster proposal to be addressed later. To me that would leave it open to contesting in the courts and that only leads to one thing, high lawyer bills.

  • mickfealty

    You think he was being economical with the truth to UTV? Try watching it. It’s the first video in the piece.

  • anon

    MOM – future DFM?
    SH – future FM?

  • anon

    Have you met any lawyers?

  • mickfealty

    Appreciate the difference Skibo. But it’s an approach covered in the FM/dFM’s joint statement of the 14th. Drama, meet crisis?

  • Skibo

    Mick how can you set a budget with no RHI conclusion. If the contracts have to be bought out, where does the money come out of?
    As for the step aside, unfortunately Arlene is linked to this scheme at every turn around. How can she sit at the top table and there still be an independent inquiry?
    She too has a difficult decision to make. If she cannot come to some kind of agreement, we will have elections and a return to appointing FM and DFM with probably the same two parties. At the same time she cannot be seen as cow towing to SF requests for her to stand aside. That removes her label as a strong Unionist leader.
    With coalition comes compromise but it all seems to have to be Nationalist compromise. I for one am getting sick of it and I am a patient person.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    I see it yes but it appears there is a time lapse between both interviews.
    Watch the 6.30 newsline report if u get a chance.
    Hot whiskey with a shot of brandy is best for man flu, down in one 😉

  • mickfealty

    I saw it before I found the UTV one. Thanks.

  • Karl

    True but there was a realisation that the language used was inappropriate, unprofessional and did them no favours. Now you can argue that while the language may have changed, how they treated their junior partners didnt.
    However, the DUP regularly dip into insulting SF and their electorate for no apparent purpose other than to annoy and do it to the maximum public effect leaving SF in an invidious position if it is required to be a stabilising force within the coalition.
    There is no subtly in the DUP approach and I am finding it difficult to see what advantage it has brought to them as a party or Arlene personally.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    If only Gopher. But the legal challenges could make things worse.

  • Gopher

    Try to avoid them, a non job. But I think it can be successfully argued that the limit on payout is 660 million and if a judge and jury want to shut hospitals and schools to rule against that fact then be my guest

  • Anthony O’Shea

    But the UTV one is actually older, no?

  • mickfealty

    It’s well within the contingency margin

  • Skibo

    Mick how big a contingency plan do you think there is? I always assumed every penny would be budgeted and then anything that didn’t get covered like lighting and potholes gets sorted during the financial reviews.

  • Skibo

    Should Arlene not thought about that when she contracted to repay £160 for every £100 that people burn? There is no limit on the contract so how can you impose one now especially if people can prove they are out of pocket and borrowed money from banks on the strength of letters from Arlene!

  • Skibo

    Karl insulting SF and their electorate is playing to the galleries. You can’t have T@igs thinking they are above their station!

  • Skibo

    Haha joint statement where the DFM did not give his approval. That was a FM statement only. One thing I still have an extreme difficulty stomaching. Either the two work as one or they do not work at all.

  • Skibo

    SH has not shown that he can be pompous or antagonistic enough to take the post yet.

  • Gopher

    Perhaps then they can sue Arlene but as it stands the pot is 660 million. There are 108 MLA’s thousands of civil servants and a quite a few Spads up in Stormont, between them they can come up with some legislation that puts an end to the nonsense. I dont rightly care if they outlaw pellet silos over 2 feet tall (They brought in bus lanes for crying out loud), they tax the life out of wood pellets or they increase the rates on premises burning things to compensate but they need to do it.

  • anon

    Those ‘skills’ can be learned, and he can always rely on Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson to lend a hand in insulting people.

  • Brendan Heading

    The demand that she step aside is far from moderate coming from a coalition partner less than eight months into their joint administration

    The demand that Foster step aside during an investigation is not a Sinn Féin innovation. They belatedly adopted it after every single other major party backed this approach.

    It is important to note just how far they both are from their joint Kansas of the 14th December.

    SF initially backed the DUP. When this became non-credible, they moved only as far as they need to to try to maintain it.

    We might also read into the absence of any budget yet (deadlines that go whoosh) that this malaise is broad and systemic.

    The sympathetic theory is that this has been caused by the decision to reform the way budgets are delivered; and due to problems with forecasts related to brexit. The less sympathetic person would wonder if it is anything to do with the Minister’s penchant for running his officials ragged with bizarre notions and taking half a dozen trips to the US during the period. Either way it’s not related to the matter we’re talking about.

  • Gopher

    You reckon? Im not so sure any judge would want to be as popular as George Jeffreys

  • Brendan Heading

    Mick how can you set a budget with no RHI conclusion

    The RHI money, at worst, is something like 0.2% of NI’s annual budget. It’s nothing to do with the reason why the budget is late.

  • Brendan Heading

    the monitoring rounds for most of the past decade have been the only reason the health service has avoided total collapse.

  • mickfealty

    Half an hour.

  • mickfealty

    More than 0.2 of the budget, I hope.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    The reports are half an hour apart but the actual interview?

  • Gopher

    If the pot is 660 million, im not sure how any other part of the budget is liable. As I see it they can accept a revised rate or bankrupt the scheme. I know they wont like it I have seen the palace’s in the countryside that that been built on the back of this scheme and I realiase they will want to sue. I have stated on another thread that they have likely leveraged the money so will need no motivation to sue. Its up to the assembly to make sure attempts to do so are futile.

  • mickfealty

    I’ve never banned anyone for persistent silliness before.

  • Gopher

    Okay do nothing pay the thirty million a year. Which budget should it come out off Mick?

  • Jag

    “Another two weeks of this free entertainment”?

    “Free”?

    £20m* a year equals £55k/day or £2k/hr or £38/minute.

    *Based on £400m over 20 years. Mairty says the overspend is £490m.

  • mickfealty

    Where did I say that?

  • grumpy oul man

    So whats the plan.
    Just let them keep on burning our money! How about this for a idea,
    Anybody using fuel wastfully (they know who they are) stops now and signs a agreement to drop out of the scheme. They absorb any loss,s incurred in overorder of silos and boilers (after all overordering with the intention to gain profit is at least immoral) they in return are not prosecuted for fraud or whatever.
    If they dont do this they are taken to court fined what they eould have made plus 50%
    and named and shamed.

  • Gingray

    One thing a fresh election would do is bring in some savings, as each MLA gets in and around £100k per annum for salary, support staff and other costs. Nearly £2m a year, only £22m to go!

    http://ifrp.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/The-Report-on-Northern-Ireland-Assembly-Members-Salaries-Allowances-Expenses-and-Pensions-March-2016.pdf

  • eireanne3

    “you dint need to see the detail when the very design is flawed from the start”.

    Looks like a professor of law agrees
    “Hamilton ‘in cloud cuckoo land’ said the QUB professor of Contract Law who once taught him!!
    “The assembly does not have omnipotent power to pass whatever legislation it wants to pass”.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-38532452

  • Skibo

    £20m a year would be very useful elsewhere. I believe after SH and MO’M discussed the requirements, MO’M had put aside a contingency of just short of £30m. That was why he got a much higher figure than the DUP. The other thing is the winter so far has not been bad. Consider the cost if it had have been freezing!

  • Skibo

    That is normally where the roads got their money for salting, pot holes and street lighting. The budget for health is massive relevant to most other ministries. Unfortunately, a fraction of a percentage point either way budget wise can result in a large overspend in actual money.

  • Skibo

    That is if you assume they keep the scheme going as is. If they close it and have to buy out the contracts, the costs will rise. If they introduce legislation, expect massive legal bills and an eventual trip to the European Court of Human Rights. Either way until the solution is resolved, the budget will be fluid.

  • Skibo

    Arlene did not sign contracts for RHI, Stormont did and anyway any case against her in relation to this would be covered by the legal cover for MLAs.
    Any retrospective change that effects the the personal position of the members of the RHI scheme could be challenged in the courts and would effect their human rights. They have probably entered contracts on the strength of the RHI scheme. I assume retrospective legislation would have to make reference to that and possibly cover costs.