Arlene’s aberrations are really annoying

Posted By: September 07, 2016

“Foster’s sniping  raises again a wider matter. She seems to have no concept of sharing power. She seems to regard herself as prime minister able to control other ministers. In reality, by interfering and sniping, she diminishes the office of the first minister.”

Brian Feeney. Belfast Telegraph. Wednesday, September 7, 2016



Let’s be clear at the outset. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is quite right to raise the question of EU funds for Peace IV and INTERREG which have produced £1.5 billion and £820 million respectively since the ceasefires in 1994.

Another £500 million are due from these funds in the next four years. Ó Muilleoir’s question is whether the UK Treasury will guarantee that money. So far they have said they will underwrite only any plans signed off before November even if the UK gets out of the EU before the money is paid over.

That kind of money is vitally important for the north because of the jobs it supplies particularly in impoverished districts and also to people affected by the Troubles across the north. It’s pretty obvious as Ó Muilleoir says that if the money is not forthcoming hundreds of jobs will go. Now equally it’s a lot easier to sign off on schemes already planned than to anticipate schemes which might come on stream in the next four years so he’s doing his job to try to nail down the Treasury to meet the British share of money the EU has promised.

You have to wonder why Arlene Foster felt it necessary to step into this area. Her intervention contributed nothing except to get herself on TV. She said she was ‘disappointed’ and that Ó Muilleoir was ‘causing alarm among the business community’. Let’s leave aside the fact that as a successful businessman in his own right the finance minister has a lot more hands-on experience in business than Arlene.

Is this the same Arlene Foster who signed a joint letter with Martin McGuinness on August 10 standing her Leave campaign on its head by registering concern about the north’s access to EU funds and agricultural support? She also signed up to pointing out that the ‘north is uniquely vulnerable to the loss of EU funding’ and ‘recognised the possibility that it cannot be guaranteed that outcomes that suit our common interests are ultimately deliverable’. Hmm.

So it’s OK for Arlene to say it but not Ó Muilleoir? Accused of doing a U-turn by implicitly admitting that advocating Leave vote was a major miscalculation – which it was – she subsequently said a letter from the Treasury in August provided ‘clarity’ in relation to EU funding. It didn’t. It provided what concerns Ó Muilleoir, namely a guarantee that anything sent in before November is OK. After that who knows? Not Arlene. Foster’s sniping  raises again a wider matter. She seems to have no concept of sharing power. She seems to regard herself as prime minister able to control other ministers. In reality, by interfering and sniping she diminishes the office of first minister. Engaging in inter-party political banter demonstrates she can’t see the wood for the trees and shows she hasn’t yet learnt the difference between being first minster and an MLA.

If every statement by a Sinn Féin minister or a UUP MLA that annoys her leads her to yield to the irresistible urge to tweet a reply or issue a press statement then she shows no sense of priority let alone gravitas. All her utterances assume equal importance (or unimportance) so no-one can distinguish between what she thinks important enough for the first minister to comment on and what is another cheap trivial shot.

In the end her inability to button her lip reinforces what a report last week for the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building found, that is the executive is so divided with fundamentally different views about how to respond to Brexit that it will be extremely difficult to agree a position. The fact that Foster and Ó Muilleoir met the secretary of state for Brexit separately last week proves that.

Nonetheless we come back to the fundamental point which is that Arlene Foster got it wrong, the voters in the north rejected her case and she’s still in denial. It’s Ó Muilleoir who’s accurately expressing the concerns of the majority in the north. Perhaps that’s why Foster was so piqued by the positive reception his remarks received.

It seems her signing up to her U-turn letter on August 10 was an aberration.