A long day at the office in Stormont, which began with a Committee of the Economy and no sign of the Committee Chair Connor Murphy or indeed any of the Sinn Fein members. It quickly became clear why as proceedings began.
Despite the impression given in the press all week Simon Hamilton had the active support of the Sinn Fein Minister of Finance for an amelioration of the RHI scheme. No SF MLA had any objections, or indeed, questions for the Minister.
According to Hamilton’s ‘conservative’ estimate, the £28 pa million shortfall will be reduced to £2.5M. He added that fear of enforcement may already be reducing the overspend much closer to zero through behavioural change.
Now Mike Nesbitt has called for a seven-day stay on enacting the change to give the Assembly a chance to look at the business case in detail and to test the legal robustness of the approach. A proportionate safeguard from an opposition leader.
But in effect, despite the strident bellicosity of the Finance minister all week, it seems the original SF fox is now well and truly shot. How that plays over the next seven weeks is hard to tell.
It will be a good doorstep line for the DUP which should enable them to segue seamlessly from the controversy that never was to a poor attempt at regicide. Sinn Fein on the other hand always have Aretha…
Riffing emptily off ‘respect’ may play with the base. But there was not one win today for them that I counted. Each criticism (not setting a budget, shelving health care plans, and what looks like a senseless election) was met by the same, it’s the DUP’s fault.
The sheer emptiness of these positions confirms Adams’ diagnostic in his speech to his party’s Cuige Uladh meeting, in which he made it clear that the DUP has consistently wiped his own party’s eye in each of the last ten years.
Why they think going into an election with nothing but their own sense of outrage and injustice is something they can successfully bargain with – particularly since they blinked first – completely eludes me.
Brian’s pre Christmas view was that an election with no premise – other than possibly bankcrupting their political rivals on the opposition benches (a punishment beating you might say, for embarrassing the leader) – is an abuse of democracy.
It’s hard to go beyond that, and Chris’ timely contribution to the Irish News considering the idea that Sinn Fein needs to stop blaming others for their lack of progress:
… there is a pressing need for Sinn Féin to recognise that the party’s own failings to deliver through the institutions were a central contributing factor exacerbating nationalist disillusionment over many years, as witnessed in the declining nationalist turnout at successive elections.
Aretha is a great singer, but it’s only a song. Watch the DUP trash their idea of equality by bring up that Adams quote about it being nothing more than a Trojan horse in order to crush the bastards. And RHI, the biggest scandal ever? All but gone.
As I wrote in the Indo, allowing the expectations of its political base to grow beyond its capacity to deliver has made a rod for Sinn Fein’s back. Its hasty departure allows DUP representatives to argue it was Sinn Fein – not they – who ran from power sharing.
The true extent of that rod may be hidden by the grief of their smaller nationalist rivals. But support for PBP is creeping up not because they’re not hard enough on the DUP but that they are not good enough at delivering for their own core communities.
Meanwhile, Arlene has her Simon, to whom she owes much. At times she cut an undignified figure, and although few of us really doubt she has faced more than her fair share of misogyny her defensive outburst on the matter did her few favours.
She is also blessed by the weakness of her opponents. It was never likely she would deign to step aside. Politically, had she done so she would have paid far too high a price. SF enjoyed too much the humiliating price Peter Robinson paid in 2015 when Mike Nesbitt walked out over the IRA’s alleged involvement in the McGuigan murder, just to keep the institutions alive.
In sticking to her ground, she has instead called Sinn Fein’s buff in a way that will make it hard for them to ever repeat the same trick. The opposition parties might also like to consider that in making the outsized demand she step aside over a policy matter in the first place they provided the original cover for these empty shenanigans.
Finally, as Brian has noted so well that abrasive personality type has had its day in Northern Irish politics. The First Minister will be fortunate not to pay the price for not admitting her own mistakes.