Incompetence reigns supreme at Stormont

Posted By: December 14, 2016

The heat is on but no MLAs will get burned

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, December 14, 2916

We’ve had loads of scandals and jiggery-pokery up at Stormont but the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme is the daddy of them all. It’s not different in kind but in degree. Piles of money have been blown on all sorts of vanity schemes and stupid mistakes.

Take the white calf called the Nomadic moored beside the Titanic center. That was only a few million from the public purse but it’s a drop in the ocean. Compared to the estimated £400 million going down the drain over the next 20 years,  it’s peanuts.

Here’s what’s so dispiriting. Nothing will be done to or about anyone involved with anything. Doesn’t matter if it’s Nama, Red Sky, Dee Stitt and Charter NI, the Stormont Speaker forgetting his connections with Charter NI. Doesn’t matter.

Repeatedly the Audit Office discloses dodgy deals, money wasted. The Public Accounts Committee repeatedly flags up unacceptable behavior and bad, reckless decisions. Inquiries take years and end up with no action. Remember the NI Events Company inquiry? Of course, you don’t.

What does it all come down to? The poor quality of Assembly Members, that’s what. People have tuned out and turned off. The number of people voting continues to fall. Hardly a month passes without a report of cronyism, nepotism, jobbery. People renting offices from friends and relations. People claiming dubious expenses. Subsidized meals at Stormont accompanied by vast waste as tons of uneaten food are dumped. Non-existent research groups run by mystery boards going through thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ which end up who knows where?

The response of assembly members to the never-ending tales of peculation and questionable behavior demonstrates their complete contempt for the electorate. All the parties protect all their members no matter how egregious their behavior, no matter how outrageously obvious their misbehavior. They circle the wagons. They lie, they dissemble, they manipulate the rules of debate and standing orders. Why? They can get away with anything and do, that’s why.

The contempt of MLAs for voters is fully reciprocated. People are fed up listening to semi-literate MLAs slowly reading questions written for them by overpaid advisers. They snigger at the ungrammatical interviews as poorly educated MLAs stumble over their words in a futile attempt to complete a sentence, never mind one with the subject and verb agreeing. Eyes rise skywards as people shrug and say, ‘That’s what’s supposed to be running this place.’

Don’t get this wrong. Highly educated, articulate people are just as capable of being crooks as semi-literates: perhaps more so. Look at the Dáil and the list of TDs exposed (and jailed) during the planning scandals 20 years ago. Look at the Westminster expenses scandal and the MPs jailed. However, the trouble here is the quality of MLAs is so poor that very few of them, with some obvious exceptions, have the professional background to ask the right questions or understand the complexities of the problem in front of them. Listen to any committee inquiry and observe how easy it is to pull the wool over the members’ eyes.

Decades ago the Paisleyites drove decent, honorable Unionists, businessmen, and professionals, out of politics, especially any likely to agree to share power with Fenians. On the republican side Sinn Féin, both north and south have largely failed to attract middle-class professionals as members much fewer candidates. Worse, in The North, they have continued to favor former IRA operators over younger articulate people who are interested in politics. It’s a stupid version of jobs for the boys and girls. Unfortunately, there’s no correlation between the ability to shoot straight, make a bomb and make a well-reasoned speech. That much is evident to any voter watching the mumbling at Stormont.

Nevertheless, all that taken into consideration, there seems to be no evidence of a sense of honor up at Stormont. Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean you should. As a result, incompetence reigns supreme. Cover up is the order of the day. No one will admit ever to making a mistake in case ‘the other side’ is seen to get one over on them. Assembly members who should have been booted out of politics are protected and re-elected next time. All very edifying.