Shortly after the RHI story broke I remember remarking on the irony that the party had been hit in a policy area over which it had frequently expressed utter contempt. Sammy Wilson’s notorious flip from signing an early day motion in Westminster on climate change to full blown sceptical disciple of Nigel Lawson is a particularly stark example of the low contempt many in the party hold for any environmental policy.
So Tim Cairns’ revelations didn’t stop at Jonathan Bell’s drunken revels (there are not many of us Irish are innocent of being similarly tired and emotional in some bar somewhere). He quickly moved on to paint a unflattering picture of the boys school almosphere that prevailed amongst a small but powerful group of DUP SpAds, led by head boy Timothy Johnston. Sam McBride reports on Cairns’ evidence:
“Mr Johnston’s influence was seen in the part from top to bottom”, with the former accountant operating in a role akin to that of a party chief executive yet Mr Cairns said that he did not believe that the party was paying Mr Johnston to perform that role.
That situation, he said, was true both under the leadership of Peter Robinson and then Arlene Foster.
He went on to set out a situation which if it is true would mean that the DUP acted unlawfully.
In evidence which tallies with that of Mr Bell last week, Mr Cairns said that the party broke the Stormont code for appointing Spads.
Cairns’ also cast doubt on the First Minister’s assertion that she had “no idea” why there were delays in shutting down the RHI were imposed in an interview with Stephen Nolan. This is the first detail to emerge from the Inquiry that could have serious implications for Mrs Foster particularly when she comes to face questions of her own from Coghlin. She’d better have her story straight.
To heed the words of the judge himself, it is probably better to leave the precise conclusions to him. But these revelations do beg the question of what DUP SpAds are for? Not all of them are testosterone driven, but you wonder where the political enforcer ends and the policy expert begins. Not of them seems to have been up to speed on the substance of RHI (despite a CAG report being in the public domain for nearly six months) when it broke.
Or, if they did, the SpAds seem not to have had the authority to challenge a rigid internal hierarchy to raise difficult questions.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty