How Sinn Fein colluded with the DUP to keep RHI crisis secret from Executive colleagues…

Best comment I’ve heard about Jonathan Bell’s version of his part in the RHI drama (it is a scandal of course, but most of the public story so far has been much more contrived than that would imply), is that it could be characterised as “being there, but not involved”.

It’s a neat sleight of hand (and not one normally afforded to unionist politicians by the NI media) to ignore the fact that Mr Bell was, in fact, the minister in charge when his Permanent Secretary finally got round to telling him that there was, ahem, a wee bit of a budget issue with RHI.

The other mystery is; one, why Sinn Fein fought tooth and nail against calls for a public inquiry until the very last minute; and two, having given us one, why RHI drifted very quickly off the radar to be replaced by calls for an Irish Language Act that hadn’t been on their radar for years?

In yesterday’s Irish News John Manley may offer an answer.

Minutes from civil service head Malcolm McKibbin show a meeting took place on February 9 2016 between then First Minister Arlene Foster and then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

The first item on the agenda was the closure of RHI and a discussion about whether “the scheme should be left open until a date to be determined to allow for the completion of applications already in progress”.

The meeting shows that Mr McGuinness’s special adviser Aidan McAteer was “to progress this”.

Well, this much we knew already in February last year. What’s new is the degree of collusion between Sinn Fein and the DUP to keep the bad news from Executive colleagues:

The evidence also reveals a text message on the day after the meeting from Mr McAteer to Timothy Johnston, Mrs Foster’s spad, in which the Sinn Féin adviser said: “We should keep any discussion of a soft landing for renewable. [sic] Heating scheme out of the Executive.”

Mr McAteer asks if a meeting can be arranged later that day between Mr Bell and Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy “so they can go public with it in an agreed manner”. [Emphasis added]

Understandable from a political point of view, but it hardly tallies with Sinn Fein’s sudden desertion of the ship in that controversial Assembly plenary which saw it trigger the semi-permanent collapse of Stormont some 599 days (and still counting) ago.

CIA Secret Weapon, after Otto Messmer

Discover more from Slugger O'Toole

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

We are reader supported. Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger. While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.