So, erm, if everyone agrees on how to deal with #RHI, why is Northern Ireland spending £5M on an election?

Sinn Fein, consummate news managers that they are, announced their massive U-turn on the form of inquiry needed for the RHI scandal little more than an hour after the media had recorded Martin McGuinness’s farewell interview.

It was obvious which one was going to grab the lead, but the U-turn is the far bigger political news. What caused it? Almost certainly it was confirmation by Andrew McCormick on Wednesday’s PAC that Jonny Bell was ‘Minister for the Spike’.

Indeed, he also confirmed that, even then, most of the blame lay with his own departmental officials both for not alerting the previous Minister (Arlene Foster) and in fact causing the spike in the first place.

Arguments over how long it took to slow things down are academic without further investigation.

So remind me why, if there’s finally an agreement on how to proceed, why the country is going for an expensive, exhausting – particularly for the smaller parties with least resources – and which on first glance will not change anything in terms of representation?

Mairtin O Muilleoir, who has been all over this story from start to end, tried to explain on Wednesday’s Today Programme, but left his interviewer none the wiser:

In fact, this whole mess appears to have been triggered by a particularly nasty and bad-tempered exchange between the Finance Minster and the former DETI man at a meeting of the Finance Committee in October last Autumn:

It may be that Bell assumed he was being prepared by his DUP/SF colleagues in the Executive to take the rap for the whole thing. As it turns out, it had very little to do with him: but neither he nor they would have known that at the time.

Newton Emerson nails the problem. We’re out of a government because of something few people now dispute: the outrage of Sinn Fein’s members and supporters had forced its hand:

Now the party leadership has to ride that wave of anger to the polls, yet make the wave subside during talks and recede before everyone is washed back up at Stormont again.

Anger may be useful in motivating voters, as long as no angrier party comes along – although each ballot is worth the same no matter how furiously it is marked, and as Gerry Adams pointed out bluntly this week: “there are more unionists than republicans.”

Anger may also be useful at the start of talks, to demonstrate opening positions. But after that, it becomes an increasing liability to compromise.

Anger in government is of no use whatsoever. It is not a policy, as the old saying goes, while in a power-sharing system it is actively counter-productive. Angry people are harder to make deals with and your own angry people are harder to sell deals to.

What has 20 years of foot-stomping about the Parades Commission achieved for unionists, for example, other than making them look impotent and ridiculous?

Republicans may be justified in their present anger and they may even have some cross-community sympathy, at least regarding RHI and the conduct of the DUP. But as anger fails to deliver, it will soon make them look impotent too.

The last night came this extraordinary interview:

You could see its effects on online audiences. It is no stretch to believe Ian Paisley when he said thank you to the former dFM. He views the re-establishment of the institutions as the pinnacle of his father’s long career, and McGuinness was integral to that.

In terms of crisis management, it was, as Emerson pointed out, just a return to proportion over the situation. But as Paul Gosling notes on Slugger this morning, the anger isn’t all situated at the outer edges of Ulster.

The sheer self-indulgence of it all it is breathtaking. And Gosling is right to note that all these melodramas are mere sideshows to the real purpose of politics, which as he notes:

…begins with getting the basic services right.  Until we get Northern Ireland’s health service operating efficiently, all schools providing superb education and those who need good quality social housing being able to get it, then promoting narrow issues is a luxury that we, as a society, cannot afford.

Quite. We can hope that the new partnership will work more smoothly than the old. But it won’t work if all they ever pursue the same blocking techniques over culture, cross-border development (which is now more than ever a live concern), and making NI fit for the 21st Century.

If they are not prepared to roll up their sleeves, take the tough decisions (and their consequences), then they should not continue to defraud the electorate by persisting with claims that they can and they will.

The ridiculous thing is that as a government it is clear there’s barely a tram ticket’s width between them. But they will be returned in roughly the same proportions. Despite having split the government after just seven months on the job, the Opposition doesn’t look like an alternative to enough people.

But they have forced government to cut and run to an election over an inability to jointly tackle the problems facing Northern Ireland. That requires above all, new ideas, intelligent engagement with the electorate and long-term focus.

If the government cannot do it, the opposition must be a sufficient alternative to enable people to take the deeply tribal risk of jumping ship.



  • Karl

    18 less MLAs on £70k (salary plus expenses) for 4 years is £5 million.

    So the election is fiscally neutral.

    Aside from that the election means that Arlene has stood aside, a key demand for SF and most crucially it puts a price on the DUPs not working within the letter or the spirit of continuous agreements.

    Maybe in the future they will work in partnership with their colleagues and leave the playground sniping to children

    Furthermore, it allows the electorate to pass judgement post Brexit and maybe more crucially on the oppositions abilty to replace DUP /Sf

    Lots of good reasons to have an election.

  • the rich get richer

    Have the DUP Fraudsters handed themselves in to the Police yet………

  • Redstar

    I know it’s early days in the campaign but what’s the general feeling about how it will pan out. Is it fair to say ( whilst obviously most parties will lose MLAs because of the seats reduction) that Dup will hold firm, SF will take a battering, and everything else is more or less as it was?

  • Jag

    £70k? Try £150k
    Salary £48k plus PRSI, Pension (contributory but still paying 1/40th final salary a year) plus 1/12th of salary accumulated for each year of service for “redundancy” (when they quit or are defeated in an election), plus expenses, mostly offices, staff and travel, that average £70k plus perks, parking, health.


    In less than 2 years, we save the cost of an election
    In less than 3 years, we save £8m against the £5m cost of an election, or £1.60 for every £1,00 spent on the election!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Let’s not forget the genesis of this whole mess was the RHI scandal; created, presided over, mismanaged and corrupted (there I’ve said it, inquiry pending) by the DUP and their SPAD’s. Yesterday we see the DUP SPAD’s resigning/standing aside with likely more to come, but they’ve got “nothing to hide”…yeah, right, then why resign? What was the quote “I’ve no personal interest in the poultry industry…..unless you count me two bruvvers who run chicken farms”. Throwing the DUP SPADs to the wolves won’t protect Arlene. She was either complicit or incompetent. Then you have IPJ’s comments last night. With friends in the DUP who needs enemies? The DUP and their apologists can keep trying to spin it back to SF (U turns, retirements etc) but it’s all after the fact and they have been royally found out by SF, the other opposition parties and the country as a whole. Do I think it will make much difference in the upcoming sectarian headcount….probably not; but I saw some green shoots in IPJ’s comments last night. He was gracious, which you can’t say for the rest of the DUP haters, even if he was, perhaps, laying his own groundwork. Arlene will not be First Minister at the end of this year….count on it. We need change…enough of the current DUP arrogance and hatred.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Positions will harden and things will get worse unless the silent majority can be mobilised. I reckon we are into the end game. Sectarian headcount is inexorably moving in one direction and it ain’t going to maintain the status quo. Unionism knows this but is too pig headed to engage. Not sure why you think SF will take a bettering.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Battering….no fancy a fish supper.

  • Granni Trixie

    Mick asserting that “everybody is agreed about how to deal with RHI” is premature. First of all because we know insufficient about how technically and legally the DUP is to put things right and if they will prioritise on staunching the flow of money to those profiting from the scheme. Secondly there is also not yet clarity In interpretation/analysis of the problem and degrees of
    culpibility, including that of AF.
    Like you however I do ponder on why an election has become the remedy – the result could return the same personnel (though there are signs people are up for a change so maybe not). Was surprised that you did not mention a strong consensus that the DUP/FM will need a reboot if they are ever to command sufficient trust for them to carry out the job of Leading the country.

  • Redstar

    Sergio I think Alex Kane has a very interesting theory-he suggests SF do not really want another assembly again

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I’ve a lot of respect for Alex but, on this opinion piece, I find it very cynical, almost pathological. However I don’t understand what benefit an election gives to SF, unless it’s a very big bet that the silent majority rise up. It does pile the pressure on the DUP, but to what end? It will still be the same old sectarian headcount. Personally I’m struggling with Trump, Brexit, etc layering over our own wee problems. It’s all getting a bit much.

  • Redstar

    Trump bigger than Arlene, I think not!!!

    Well as an ex SF voter I would be more likely to give them a second chance if they were indeed to knock this assembly lark in the head for good-I am aware of the irony of considering re-voting for them to an assembly I don’t want!!!

  • Nevin

    “he also confirmed that, even then, most of the blame lay with his own departmental officials”

    Mick, have you noted that none of the blame seemed to be attributable to the two Permanent Secretaries who just happened to be the accounting officers? There was a certain focus by MLAs on the SpAds and how they were portrayed as extensions of the Minister; I saw no similar reference to Permanent Secretaries. I also heard no reference to the role of Independent board members; there was only one of the two at Board meetings in 2013 and 2014. It’s my impression that some of the governance problems that I’ve commented on since 2007 can be put down to a failure to adopt the guidance offered in Treasury best practice. There’s also a need to hear as well as to protect whistle-blowers.

  • Paul

    I think you’re right SF were forced by their own grassroots to resign and force an election, but this was due to the DUP and their long list of actions actions in the Executive, RHI was just the straw that broke the camels back so much so that Sinn Fein HAD to do something or they would lose a large swathe of their voters. In the wider nationalist community their leaving the executive has been welcomed, we’ll see how an election plays out but I’m hoping the DUP are given a bloody nose, either way Arlene will be gone at some point this year, its clear from what Ian Og was saying that there is anger at how this has been handled, I’m also sure that in years to come this example will be used in politics lectures as how not to handle a scandal.
    I was glad to hear the warm tribute to MMG from IPJ and he was absolutely on the money, if Arlene and her ministers had compromised on some issues and moved other things along they would have had some credit i the bank as the executive could show it was working however they chose the not an inch route (honestly when has that EVER worked). The people on the street by and large couldn’t give a monkeys what religion you are (or aren’t) they just want some stability, for things to work and move on, we’ve a crumbling health service, Brexit and all sorts of other cr@p to deal with can we all just get on with it.

  • Croiteir

    I have been saying this for some time, the GFA is no longer fit for purpose, time to move on.

  • anon

    We’re having an election because Arlene wouldn’t stand aside during an enquiry, forcing SF to collapse the Executive. It was clear from MMG’s interview that he intended to continue til May and do a handover within SF without an election this year.

  • articles

    “What about the opportunity costs ?”
    “You mean they could be doing something else instead of electioneering?”
    “Doesn’t that also assume that the alternative is ….much worse than/ almost better but not quite better than….. electioneering, otherwise they’d be doing it?”
    “Yes ”
    “So they’re asking people to vote for them to do do something they are, at worse not very good at or at best not quite good enough?”
    “Time to consider voting for someone else, I think”

  • Jag

    By the way Mick, that video above is fascinating, and over the course of 10 minutes shows Emm Alittle Pengelly trying to shush Mairtin O’Muilleoir from speaking about the RHI scandal in October 2016, two months before the BBC Spotlight programme. That video segment of 10 minutes has the potential to torpedo her election hopes this time round.

  • NMS

    The departure of the UK from the EU provides that opportunity?

  • NMS

    Jag, surely NICs not PRSI!

    I presume that it is an integrated scheme, deducting the value of the State pension from the gross pension, making it a lot less valuable.

    Perhaps the real saving is on support staff employed by each MLA, unless of course there is a decision to increase staff per MLA, unless of course they return to the payroll as “community workers”.

    Had they waited a short while, the number of constituencies would have fallen by one, reducing the numbers further

  • murdockp

    Because the first minister blamed everyone else and refused to take responsibility for her legacy department. As simple as that.

  • murdockp

    IPJ is the only DUP politician who could say what he said and not be shunned by his own party. watch this space I think as it suggests SF can work with him and he them.

  • Jag

    At times NMS, it gets confusing working between the two parts of this island!

    Take a look at the expenses in 2015/6 by MLA listed here – constituency offices, staff and transport are the big headings which make up an overall average of £70k expenses per MLA.

    I haven’t spoken to a pension specialist about the MLA pension scheme, but I believe it’s golden.

    Sam McBride reported the other day the overall cost of MLAs for the last financial year was £18m, so a 16.7% reduction (18/108) would equal £3m exactly a year, not far off my estimate of £150k cost on average each.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Hopefully he’s not “done a Bell”. I agree it’s worth watching the out-turn of this.

  • Gingray

    Given the election costs £5m and the annual saving will be around £2m per annum then this results in a net saving to the Northern Ireland budget across the next 4 years 🙂

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Reckon she was in a hurry…the sun was coming up.

  • john millar

    Another cull to 60 please

  • mickfealty

    That’s a red herring if ever there was one.

  • mickfealty

    She was perfectly entitled to bring the Minister to book for wandering off the question. Clear evidence Mairtin planning to dump guilt on Bell in October.

    And no sign of SF’s Aretha in the whole thing.

    Much more like Cartman:

  • Sergiogiorgio

    For clarity, I was suggesting/hoping that he (IPJ) is not hung out to dry/demonised/slandered in the Bell was for telling the truth, no matter the theatre involved. Tough times for the DUP.

  • Liggy85

    A public enquiry needs to be done with the utmost scrutiny. An agreement on how to deal with the RHI scandal is just a bandage on the most recent wound the DUP have inflicted on the public. We need an election to remove the problem, or even attempt to remove the problem.
    I’m still very hopeful that there’ll be a massive shakeup with the new election.

  • mickfealty

    Read the commenting rules?

  • Sergiogiorgio


  • Daragh

    Mick you must have been away for a few weeks so let me bring you up to speed. Sinn Fein were trying to avoid an election and offered Arlene the chance to step down temporarily while an investigation was carried out but Arlene said ‘no never’ and brought up all kinds of different issues to muddy the waters. She then tried to set Jonathon Bell up as a fall guy for the whole affair, after slandering him as a bully who liked to intimidate woman. Sinn Fein again appealed for Arlene to stand aside or there would have to be an election. They put this offer to Arlene both privately and publicly, but Arlene made clear she would not be dictated to and accused all her critics of being misogynists for questioning her about her role in the £490m RHI scandal. That kind of riled a lot of people who felt there were legitimate questions to be answered given that she was the Minister at the time the scheme was introduced and the fact she personally lobbied the banks to provide funds to Company’s who wished to avail of the scheme. It has also recently come to light that Arlene’s own SPAD’s family was benefitting from the scheme and that the same SPAD was trying to ensure that the scheme stayed open a little longer when there was a spike in applications with the belief expressed from the Civil service that they had been ‘tipped off’ about the flaws in the money making scheme. The same SPAD obviously had to resign, because they had become the story which they would never want to do, obviously.
    This all really annoyed much of the general public who were expressing a desire for an opportunity to have their say as I believe they may have been worried that just an enquiry would have allowed the DUP to brush this issue under the carpet along with NAMA, Red Sky, alleged land deals and the SFI scandals. That’s not to mention Arlene attempting to ensure her husband obtained a fracking licence for 54 acres of beautiful Fermanagh Countryside that she forgot to list in her private interests with Stormont.
    So, as you can see, it all kind of reached a crescendo where Sinn Fein had to call an election because many people wondered why they were continuing to provide a mudguard for another of the DUP’s scandals. I suppose a Political party does it best to represent the views of its electorate and Sinn Fein eventually got there.
    I hope the above was of some use, but you can let me know if you want me to fill in any of the other blanks for you. I could maybe help you join some of the further dots but I would be worried that indulging in some speculation around pellet suppliers etc, even if based upon strong links and common sense, may leave you in a legally vulnerable position 😉

  • Jag

    Yeah, it might be true her party are SUCKING the blood out of Northern Ireland at the rate of £85,000 a day, that it’s INFECTING the very fabric of society undermining faith in all institutions, and infuriating citizens paying for their own heating in this BITING cold weather, but don’t be making personal remarks now!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Mother will smack Jag.

  • Gopher

    If NI civil servants were involved in the disaster how can the inquiry report its findings to an NI ministry, it’s absurd.

  • mickfealty

    Don’t buy it. Agreement on a public inquiry when Declan Kearney first misspoke, would have seen this go away. Keeping to the agreement of the 14th meant it would not have happened in the first place.

    Neither you nor I know what accounts for the delay. You (and most of the NI media) are convinced you do, but all I see is a long braking period and a falling out between OFMdFM and the Minister.

    On SpAds, let’s see the report. But we have a smoking gun and it’s in the hands of officials, apparently.

  • J D

    Little Mickey,

    Because the executive collapsed and the secretary of state called an election. Do you not pay attention to current affairs in the north?

  • Katyusha

    Isn’t it that SF had initially tried to give the DUP some cover; then Arlene did not take them up on the lifebuoy they had thrown her. They then stuck to their guns so that they did not look like they were so weak that they needed to bow to the lead of the (largely toothless) opposition – even when their own supporters would have enthusiastically endorsed a public inquiry, they wanted to be seen taking the lead. That’s my reading of it, anyway.

    SF have flip-flopped on the issue under overwhelming public pressure. In fact they’ve left it so long that it is no longer merely the headline policy of the official opposition.

  • J D

    Re-unification will reduce them to about 50/60 TDs. So your option is right there anytime you want to go for it. Plus you’ll get shut of Stormont and MPs entirely.

  • Granni Trixie

    You are assuming too much.

  • J D

    Well with his pos father out of the way he’s probably doing a lot better psychologically. Having a Narc for a parent is a very hard row to hoe.

  • J D

    But when you call someone out on their racialist terms “Big Mickey” you get told to get over yourself.

    So as usual on slugger the rules are different for unionists than nationalists. And here is where I get my comment deleted and banned, to join the throngs of banished nationalists. I believe there are one or two banished unionists too but they are a rare and elusive creature.

  • Daragh

    Mick, in the parlance of our times, ‘all I see’ is a political pundit building straw men and furiously pointing at trees. So in the interests of transparency can you confirm whether the DUP make donations for the upkeep of Slugger, either directly or indirectly.

    I am genuinely just looking for an impartial site where I can exchange views on our current political landscape, such as it is. Unfortunately Slugger appears to be the Ying to Jude Law’s site’s Yang, which is a terrible shame.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its not a sectarian headcount anymore in terms of Green versus Orange. The focus on numbers now includes all non Unionist voters. Pro Union vote has been a smidge under 50% for a few years. The objective for the Shinners is to see that percentage shrink, all the better if they benefit of course.

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Ah now jeez that’s shockin

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Alex is part correct. SF will not be going into the Assembly again without a cast Iron agreement from Unionism that all outstanding issues and agreements are resolved. That is an absolute certainty. He is wrong when he suggests that SF does not want the Assembly to succeed, the Assembly has to work and the North has to work in order to make Unity seamless and for Southern voters to gain confidence in the Party’s abilities. A permanently collapsed Assembly with the possibility of unrest will do the Shinners no good at all.


    Yes, puts it all in context,trying to spread the blame will not help
    the D.U.P. .Arlene was the boss,a half a billion was going up in
    smokeshe preferred to blame everyone else. She is now removed
    from office.allegations are now been made of incompetence ,,
    insder trading.She brought the house down because she she could
    not take friendly advice from McGuinness,If only she could lower
    herself to listen to advice from the likes of Eamon O Maille.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    That’s a shameful last sentence Mick and will only encourage questions from the likes of Daragh below. A question I’m interesting to see your answer to. The forgotten man in this, a certain J. Bell, would appear to be being borne out. He accused the DUP SPADs and they are resigning or standing aside. He accused Arlene and she is no longer first minister. The only people he had anything positive to say about were the civil servants, the same people you seek to tar. Perchance as a means to build a few straw men to protect some of your own interests? Yes, let’s see the outcome of the report. It won’t be easy reading for your blessed DUP.


    The very fact that the I.N.M outlets in Dublin have still not found a way to
    blame Gerry Adams for the debacle really tells us the fine mess Arlene and
    the D,U P have got themselves into.

  • mickfealty

    I find the comment zone energising, because it’s where you met other people with different perspectives (and essential ideas) in these days of filter bubbles.

    But you seem to be struggling to get past the primary rule of the place. I’m no secular Dominican, but when you’ve found a ball you want to play, let me know and we can start an actual conversation.

  • mickfealty

    No, I’m going refer you to our last conversation where you flounced of with an eloquent ‘shove it’. Now, is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?

    What you cannot do is go off bad temperedly, then jump into any thread you choose, and start the same argument you lost the previous time.

    That’s just grumpy sentimentalism masquerading as something like principle. Oh, and it’s also plain ole trolling.

    Is anyone on this thread talking about the content in the OP, or is this just a game of talk about anything but????

  • Anthony O’Shea

    Oh no you must have missed it. According to the spindo it was Jarry who rocked up alongside Martin’s sick bed and conned him into wrecking the place.

  • mickfealty

    I think Jag has proven his bona fixes over and over. You on the other hand…?

  • mickfealty

    Nichola’s party? How so?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    There’s a bona fires check? Roll up the trouser leg and a dagger across the breast?

  • grumpy oul man

    RHI seems to have been the straw. The DUP have been arrogant in power.
    They left the shinners with no choice but to call them out.
    AF was given every chance to sort this but chose to try to bluff it out. She turned out to be the person you would want to play poker with.
    Now i hope against hope that this election will result in a plague on both the DUP and SF houses but i fail to see how SF had any choice but to force this election. Anything else would have seriously weakened thier credabilty among the nationlist community.

  • J D

    I dunno, it’s the internet the rabble is always gonna go meta on you and talk among themselves. It was ever so even unto the days of text only internet.

    Plus you are 100% wrong about “Big Mickey” being unacceptably offensive. I gave you the argument, it ain’t mine, your failure to recognise it reveals YOUR ignorance of the current thinking on the matter. At that point you need to go educate yourself, there is nothing I or anyone else can do for you.

    Also, you should dial down on the amateur emotional analysis and characterisations, you get ’em wildly wrong and even trying on the internet is a useless waste of time as there is no body language or tonality to convey emotional context. Also, another well established principle.

    So as I said elsewhere – there’s an election because the SoS called one. Can’t unring that bell. One was called because the DUP played a game of chicken with SF over gross incompetence and possibly corruption. Now I know you love to blame SF for everything. But this one is all the DUP and RHI. So, that is why we are having an election.

    Now can you tell if I’m pished on scotch laughing my arse off or hammering the keyboard with mindless fury or something else entirely?

  • Theelk11

    this is the “I know of him ” Ian junior.
    He has a stink about him particularly around property deals in north Antrim involving a “developer ” .
    The same boy is no angel he simply smells an opportunity.
    He is a perfect example of why you can’t cut a deal with this lot , watch him devour his own, it’s what they do.