Arlene Foster hangs on but public confidence damaged

Posted By: December 20, 2016

Irish News (Belfast). Editorial. Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Arlene Foster has survived the vote of no confidence and lives to fight another day, but the question is more about what recent events have done to public confidence in our political structures.

The first minister is clinging on but is severely damaged. She put up a robust defense of her actions in the Assembly but missing was a sense of real contrition at the appalling mess resulting from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Not surprisingly, she attacked her political opponents who had walked out of the chamber at the start of proceedings yesterday.

But criticizing the media who exposed the extent of the “cash for ash” scandal,  and continue to uncover embarrassing details about this scheme,  shows the DUP is failing to truly understand the public mood on this issue.

Crucially, we are also still missing a full explanation of how the First Minister proposes to mitigate the bill for RHI, which is set to cost Northern Ireland taxpayers £400 million over 20 years.

There is no doubt the scenes witnessed at Stormont yesterday will have left the wider public completely bemused.

We are facing a financial scandal of immense proportions but political point scoring seemed to be the order of the day at the Assembly.

It was an especially bad day for Speaker Robin Newton whose woeful performance was one of the most disturbing aspects of a day that at times bordered on farce.

So Mrs. Foster stays in post for now, with Sinn Féin giving her breathing space to reflect on this serious issue and her position.

There is likely to be little appetite for bringing the institutions down and sparking an election.

Far better for the DUP to accept that the RHI fiasco needs to be fully and independently investigated, place all relevant material into the public domain and reveal the names of all those who have benefited from this scheme.

Yesterday was a difficult day for politics in Northern Ireland. But RHI still needs to be sorted and the full story told.