Mistake for Sinn Fein to say they would accept Arlene Foster as the first minister

Posted By: November 07, 2018

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, November 7, 2018

It was a mistake for John O’Dowd to tell the BBC that Sinn Féin would accept Arlene Foster as First Minister a mistake on several grounds.

Of course, he was quite correct when he said it was not up to Sinn Féin to tell the DUP who to nominate as the first minister but it was going too far to indicate that Foster would be an acceptable choice.

It’s true Sinn Féin had made clear last June that they had abandoned what is nowadays tritely called a “red line” about Foster returning to share the helm with Michelle O’Neill. That was then, but O’Dowd and the Sinn Féin leadership are behind the times if they think it will wash now.

First, Foster’s performance at the RHI tribunal was dismal and can’t be ignored. Her inability to remember specifics, her lack of control over her special advisers, DUP ministers on solo runs, the fact that she never read the legislation, all disqualify her for the role of the first minister, or indeed as any minister.

Secondly, the report of the inquiry won’t appear until next spring at the earliest, maybe the summer if Sir Patrick Coghlin decides to ‘maxwellize’ his report, that is, give anyone he’s criticizing a copy to comment on beforehand. Given the evidence and the visible reaction of the tribunal to some of it, you can look forward to a pretty scathing set of findings about the DUP in office, minister and spads alike. It calls to mind Oscar Wilde’s description of fox hunters; the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.

So, given what’s coming down the line, how can anyone endorse Foster as the first minister? Certainly, she no longer has the unanimous endorsement of her party. Under her leadership, the party’s reputation for competence and integrity has been fatally damaged. Never mind her bad judgment in refusing Martin McGuinness’s offer of a soft landing. There are rumblings about her future role, and already the names of Donaldson and Poots are mentioned as possible stop gaps. Let’s see how she gets on over the DUP party conference. There’ll be no rousing choruses of ‘Arlene’s on fire’ this time; you can be sure of that.

However, those are the internal DUP reasons for Foster being damaged goods. From the nationalist perspective, O’Dowd was way behind voters’ sentiment. Coming across as reasonable and accommodating was pre-December 2016 ‘nice’ Sinn Féin. It smacks of appeasement or desperation now. The fact is that Foster has made herself so obnoxious to nationalist voters they won’t have her back. It’s not that she’s deliberately or maliciously offensive. Worse, it’s that she’s gratuitously offensive that makes her objectionable. When talking about nationalists of any stripe she only opens her mouth to change feet.

Remember ‘rogue and renegade SDLP and Sinn Féin ministers’? She was self-appointed “gatekeeper” to stop “Themuns” getting anything. That was years ago, long before crocodiles and a whole list of other reflexive insults that she has unthinkingly spewed.

No, Sinn Féin voters are ahead of Sinn Féin. If they persist in promoting Arlene Foster as an acceptable first minister Sinn Féin’s vote will fall. People will ask what was it all for? Now that the incompetence, double-dealing, and chicanery of the DUP have been exposed for all to see, stinking RHI report oozes out, and Sinn Féin says, OK, back to the future. Really?

Given that Foster couldn’t deliver the deal in February and has actually hardened her position since there can be no outcome of talks with her as the leader. She would have to resign if she ate her words and tried to convince her backwoodsmen of anything acceptable to Sinn Féin. On the other hand, Sinn Féin can’t accept anything less than they agreed in February for that was a bad deal for Republicans.

Finally, until the next British general election, there is no point in going into talks since, with the current parliamentary arithmetic, the DUP do not need to make any necessary concessions in talks. So arrogant are the DUP that they pay no attention to our proconsul – understandable for any party – but the DUP go straight to Gavin Barwell, the Number 10 chief of staff. In these circumstances Foster is history.