Our system of government is not fit for purpose

Posted By: January 09, 2017

Sammy Wilson’s woeful attempts to gloss over it as some kind of blip is 

characteristic of the bombast we have come to expect from the DUP’s Falstaff.

 Picture by Matt Bohill

Tom Kelly. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, January 9, 2017

THE American politician and one-time presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, once criticized the US secretary of state, John Dulles by saying: “We have a secretary of state boasting of his brinkmanship – the art of bringing us to the edge of the abyss.”

That kind of chest-beating brinkmanship is being played out right now at Stormont by both Sinn Féin and the DUP.

The administration of RHI or ‘ash for cash’ scheme is a scandal and an enormous one for both senior civil servants and politicians because it brings into question competence or lack of it.

Sammy Wilson’s woeful attempts to gloss over it as some kind of blip is characteristic of the bombast we have come to expect from the DUP’s Falstaff. The first rule of holding ministerial office is that one accepts the responsibilities of that office and that includes failures. Mr. Wilson knows that only too well because he called for the resignation of Conor Murphy in 2011 and said at that time: “Will he be honorable or will the punishment parcel be passed down the line?”

Of course, we all know that Mr. Murphy did not resign. Now positions are reversed, and it is Arlene Foster who is being asked by Sinn Féin to do the honorable thing – albeit only for a limited period. But this is no golden age of gentlemanly politics, and we have only ourselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs. As the adage goes, we get the representation we deserve.

It is bizarre in the extreme to think that the folks on the hill have been seeking tax raising powers when they can be so cavalier about the potential loss of nearly £600m.

And what of our civil servants? They have hardly covered themselves in glory during the handling of the RHI scheme or the subsequent tit for tat wars with selective departmental releases. What of their roles as watchdogs of the public purse and practitioners of financial prudence? They should immediately tell their political masters that they have no intention of engaging in inter-departmental one-upmanship and call an end to the shenanigans which are breaking the trust between the public and our institutions.

What is abundantly clear from this whole fiasco is that our overly complicated system of governance is not fit for purpose. In the normal world of politics whether in Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff or Dublin, ministers in similar circumstances would be fired if their resignations were not forthcoming and an independent investigation would be the minimum expected.

The fact is we are not normal but 22 years into a political process. Our politicians are still doling out largesse to former combatants; government is administered in silos, and sectarian and partisan politics are the order of the day. It’s simply pathetic.

After coming through a bloody conflict, the people of Northern Ireland deserve better, but they won’t get it unless they too stop playing zero-sum politics.

Where we are now is not just about the RHI scheme. In the words of the loquacious finance minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Féin are being ‘played for fools.’ For several years now Sinn Féin has allowed the DUP to act as if they run Northern Ireland by majority rule. In return for grand gestures over Remembrance Day or royal visits Sinn Féin gets rewarded with bucket loads of cold kippers.

DUP spokespeople like Gregory Campbell often take to the airways to pour scorn on Sinn Féin proposals. Under Sinn Féin’s watch, the entire equality agenda from a nationalist perspective hasn’t so much got to the front of the bus as being thrown under it.

And it’s this belated realization of being taken for granted by the DUP that has Sinn Féin awakening from its Rip Van Winkle slumber. Yet it’s also about the primacy of interests of Sinn Féin-Ireland versus Sinn Féin-NI.

The Sinn Féin route to government buildings in Upper Merrion Street is achieved by having a sheriff’s badge and a reputation for cleaning up the cozy cartel in the Republic between big business and the main political parties. Riding shotgun for the DUP in Stormont does not help that narrative.

And so we are at the edge of an abyss, taken there by hubris.