“That the 14th December agreement between the DUP and SF had fallen apart by Monday remains unexplained”

Probably the best forensic account of the long arc of the RHI scandal is by Slugger reader and commenter The Dissenter over on his own blog. It’s a useful corrective to much of the current (intensely popular) short arc narrative.

In particular, he links this UTV report by Vicky Hawthorne from July 2016 when almost every issue raised by the Spotlight programme before Christmas was reported on in two minutes.

This long perspective on where the government was by the time Spotlight reported is important, for two reasons The Dissenter highlights. Firstly:

Something triggered the NIAO Report. That goes back to January 2016 when an anonymous ‘whistleblower’ sent a letter to the OFMDFM. Yes, the first recorded and known whistleblower went to OFMDFM, the Office of Arlene Foster (DUP) and Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein).

From the outset both the DUP and Sinn Fein had knowledge and from the office of OFMDFM were, presumably, together with the Department of the Economy, fully supportive of the NIAO review.

The point here is that the issues around RHI, at least generally, would have already been known to both the DUP and Sinn Fein going into the May 2016 Assembly elections.

With the NIAO report probably already underway, RHI was clearly going to be an issue that would quickly make its presence felt on the agenda for the new Executive.

Post election, the Assembly too was picking up on the issue through the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) with a series of hearings starting in September – the minutes are online, though quite a bit of the hearings on RHI seem to be in closed session.

Nevertheless, the PAC has been slowly expanding on what the NIAO had reported.

The politics of the current position, however, rests on the relationships within the Government and between the DUP and Sinn Fein Ministers in particular.

On that point, it would certainly seem to be the case that RHI was the subject of discussions within the Executive, certainly between the OFMDFM, the Department of the Economy and the Department of Finance…

And secondly:

…you might have the impression that before the BBC Spotlight airing of the NIAO report (published four months earlier) little or no attention was being given to addressing the outworking of the RHI Scheme within the Executive.

Sometimes the impression is given that the DUP had buried the issue of RHI in the Department of the Economy and that no-one else was expending energy on the fallout from RHI, because no-one else knew. That would be wrong.

The OFMDFM knew, because that is where the letter landed from the whistleblower that indicated widespread abuse of the scheme. Obviously, the Economy Department knew because it was chasing through on the PWC investigation that it had initiated.

We know too that in at least one other Department discussion on the consequences of the RHI Scheme were consuming long hours.

We know this from a short exchange in the Finance Committee which, although the hearing was on something unrelated, brought the following outburst from the Finance Minister with respect to RHI:

  • That the Finance Minister believed responsibility for the fiasco lay within the period Jonathan Bell’s tenure as DETI Minister.
  • That the Finance Minister, along with many others, was now working on how to address the £20 million (20 year) annual cost that would now impact on the forthcoming budget.

He’s provided a useful précis of the Minister’s remarks in October 2016:

He goes on to remark:

…it seems odd for the issue of the First Minister stepping aside to have become such an issue for Sinn Fein.

Indeed, from this exchange, with all that effort in the background, it seems unsurprising that the DUP and Sinn Fein had an agreed way forward on the 14th December 2016, which was planned to be presented to the Assembly in a special session on the 19th December.

It also makes sense as promotion of the Scheme was enthusiastically supported by Sinn Fein’s Minister Michelle O’Neill’s DARD in co-operation it would seem with DETI. Both DUP and Sinn Fein seem to have ‘invested’ considerable political capital in the scheme.

That the 14th December agreement on the way forward between the DUP and SF had fallen apart by Monday is an oddity, and one which remains unexplained.

Do go and read the whole thing.


  • ted hagan

    It certainly puzzled me why, not just Sinn Fein, but Nesbitt, Long and Eastwood put so much weight on Foster stepping aside in their calls for an inquiry, while initially Sinn Fein seemed reluctant participants as members of the posse. But hysteria took over to the extent that it became ‘Get Arlene, and then we’ll find the evidence’ at a time when cool, methodical heads were needed in securing a public inquiry.
    Nesbitt and Eastwood, meanwhile, seem to have exhausted their outrage, fearing for their embryonic liaison and what’s coming down the line.
    This election should have been prevented.

  • Megatron

    For the last time (and you seem to acknowledge this intermittantly Mick) SF brought the institutions down because their base was sick of what they perceived as DUP arrogance.
    The three key points in the fiasco were (from SF supporters POV):
    (i) Arlene speech to the empty assembly
    (ii) Arlene trying to take politcal advantage of MMcG illness
    (iii) Liofra decision in december
    The leadership then tried to maximise politcal advantage with the cards the base had dealt them.
    The End.

  • Megatron

    We can have a sensible discussion as to whether
    (a) SF should have communicated issues better with its base
    (b) SF should have performed better achieving things for its base
    (c) SF should have ignored its base
    but we don’t need another discussion focused on “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN”


    The biggest surprise of all was how quick Mike Nesbitt wanted her kicked out of her job

  • file

    So I went and read The Dissenter. Here’s a thing: if there was an agreed way forward how come Foster did not explain it in her statement, even though Sinn Féin had by then withdrawn agreement to her statement?

  • Obelisk

    I have to concur. I get the sense sometimes that some wish to ascribe to Sinn Fein a level of machiavellian cunning, a political gift with a wicked running through it, because the Shinners never do anything they’ve not thought through fiteen paces in advances and always with a dark, malevolent edge to it.

    But the three points Megatron listed are likely correct. They formed the culmination of years of the DUP pushing Sinn Fein and they pushed hard enough that Sinn Fein’s base revolted and forced them to make a stand.

    No grand scheme, no sinister plotting. Just events.

  • Gopher

    If you ever watch one of tthose old black and white B movies a, recurring plot line is when the villain puts the murder weapon in some unconscious person hands to make sure that the chosen patsy’s prints are all over the gun. Did not realiase they still made them flicks in colour up at Stormont studios