Oh how we could use wise men – or women

Posted By: December 22, 2016

Arlene Foster made her RHI statement as the DUP leader rather than first minister after Sinn Fein withdrew support

Allison Morris. Irish News (Belfast). Thursday, December 22, 2016

As the politicians, you and I elected in May, with promises of grown- up politics and cross-community cooperation, head off on their Christmas break you’d be right to wonder is there a single wise man – or woman – among them?

I have watched some of this week’s developments on the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme slackjawed, the rest with head in hands.

You could argue it’s been entertaining watching politicians devour each other like some wildlife documentary, minus the Attenborough commentary.

But if we the public wanted entertaining, I’m pretty sure we could find a cheaper way to do it than burning £400m of taxpayers’ money. In fact, you could fund a mini-break for every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland for that money.

Both the DUP and now Sinn Féin – who showed up to the party late this week – initially, badly misread the public mood around the situation.

Watching the unfolding developments, you would never know that it was Arlene Foster that signed off on a scheme with a tariff so generous those who availed of it were granted £1.60 for every £1 they spent.

It’s a disaster of epic proportions, and you’d expect some humility, an apology and some answers as to how the Assembly were going to claw back some of that money, but not at all.

Instead Arlene Foster went on the defensive, channeling her inner Thatcher with a speech/rant that lashed all around her with an Iron Lady tongue.

Her presidential style of politics and refusal to recognize the joint nature of her office helped create a situation where she made her initial speech to a partly empty chamber as both the opposition and her coalition partners walked out.

Her second attempt was more character assassination of her rivals than an explanation. In some ways you have to admire her absolute front, her ‘wasn’t me’ attitude.

Sinn Féin is in equally sticky political treacle, as they try to come up with a way to stay in a power-sharing coalition but also keep their frustrated support base on board amid growing public anger.

They have an additional problem in that the man who leads them at Stormont, and usually does so calmly, has been off sick.

Martin McGuinness showed up to Monday’s debate having previously agreed to recall the assembly under the authority of the joint office. He then withdrew that agreement meaning Arlene Foster delivered her statement not as the leader of Northern Ireland but as the head of an under-pressure DUP.

Sinn Féin at first looked like they were getting tough before quickly backtracking and refusing to back a motion of no confidence.

McGuinness clearly isn’t in great health and his absence during this crisis has been noticeable in the party’s slow response. I wish him well in his recovery.

In his absence, senior members of the party refused to be drawn on whether they had confidence in Ms. Foster’s leadership.

That then changed to saying she should stand aside until a public inquiry is held, an inquiry that’s yet to be ordered or agreed on.

The party refused to back the opposition motion of no confidence, meaning in the public’s eyes at least, Arlene won this particular battle.

Where is the equality we were promised, the parity of esteem, the island of equals?

Sinn Féin can now only hope that Arlene Foster takes their advice and reflects on her position over Christmas.

But the truth is that there’s more chance of two shepherds, a donkey and three wise men showing up at my house on Christmas morning.

Justice minister Claire Sugden, who has handled this crisis like a child of parents going through an acrimonious divorce, has also not fared well.

During the recall of the Assembly on Monday, she sat in the chamber head down as though pondering why mummy Arlene and daddy Martin didn’t love each other anymore and whose house she’d go to for Christmas.

And so we head into recess with an unresolved crisis, public confidence in the institutions at an all-time low and a gaping hole in the budget.

Hardly a season of goodwill with the only people praying for a white Christmas those with taxpayer funded biomass boilers.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, see you all on the other side.