Arlene Foster could be last Unionist first minister

Posted By: December 21, 2016

The previous day’s verbal point scoring does nothing to mitigate the stench of massive corruption. Sinn Fein does not collapse the Assembly but opts to press for a totally independent judge-led inquiry  

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast).Wednesday,  December 21, 2016 

AS you’ve read here before and as she demonstrated conclusively on Monday, Arlene Foster isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. 

Mind you, as Monday’s debacle also demonstrated, Foster’s DUP box contains some pretty blunt coarse tools so she doesn’t have much competition.

Foster displayed her character flaws for all to see but most damaging of all for a political leader – you can’t call her a politician after Monday – is her inability to control her rage. Monday’s misbehavior wasn’t the result of malicious calculation or devious maneuvering on her part. She’d obviously been burning with anger for days and Monday was her chance to spew it all out.

She didn’t seem to realize until Sunday night that without Martin McGuinness’s agreement she couldn’t make a statement detailing how she intended to recoup some of the money lost on RHI. Any such scheme would require cooperation from the departments of economy and finance. McGuinness’s statement on Sunday night reminded her, it’s what’s called a ‘cross-cutting’ matter and therefore requires executive approval.

As a result, all she could do was make a statement justifying herself, how she is always right but is offered bad and mistaken advice, though she didn’t admit she had signed off the ill-fated scheme by saying after she had taken everything into consideration she was satisfied with its benefits. Until the last minute, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on her that she couldn’t make a unilateral statement as First Minister either unless McGuinness ratified it. 

What she did was press on regardless, reducing the Assembly to a “shambles” in McGuinness’s word and fatally compromising the Speaker, now exposed as a DUP puppet, a broken reed, snapped weakly by the storm blowing at him from Foster. Despite his pathetic exculpatory letter,  the fact is he upheld neither the dignity nor the rules of the place. He’s thereby collateral damage in Foster’s headstrong assault on the institutions. His behavior now demands a new method for selecting a speaker so that his or her independence can be safeguarded from the sort of subversion we saw on Monday.

Foster’s fundamental political weakness is that she can’t see the wood for the trees. She never appears to be able to look beyond the next row and examine coolly (if you can apply that word to her) the consequences of her actions. The most profound political fact that she doesn’t realize or if she does, doesn’t accept, is that she may be the last Unionist first minister.

Presumably, she intends to hang on after the 2021 election if the assembly lasts that long after her misbehavior.

In seven years there will be a nationalist voting majority. That doesn’t automatically mean a Sinn Féin first minister at the following election but Foster’s actions on a daily basis make it more likely. Under her leadership, the DUP will never be anything other than a narrow divisive backward-looking sectarian clique. While it’s conceivable some Catholics may vote UUP; Foster will ensure none will ever vote DUP.

The example she displayed on Monday of unbridled vituperation was unbecoming and undignified in itself but provided a dreadful example, even a challenge, for her MLAs to outdo her. 

It’s difficult to assess how much damage Foster has done to relationships at Stormont. The hatred and contempt she harbors for Sinn Féin members are obvious but she allowed her vitriol to drip onto all opponents insulting Nesbitt and Eastwood and Naomi Long whose DUP inspired ordeal in 2013 Foster dismissed as an all-purpose whinge.

What is certain is that Foster is singularly unable to prepare unionists for the radical and dramatic changes in their political circumstances coming down the road in the next decade. Concepts such as partnership and power-sharing evidently remain beyond her grasp. As they say, it’s all about Arlene.

As one council district after another slips out of Unionist control someone else is needed to reconcile Unionists to minority status.