Take positives in midst of bleak political scene

Posted By: January 26, 2017

Allison Morris.Thursday, January 26, 2017

Another week and another avalanche of allegations and revelations linked to the doomed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The DUP had at first resisted calls for recipients of the scheme to be named before Simon Hamilton finally relented amid growing public pressure.

Although the party should really have embraced the opportunity for transparency before now, not least to help jog the memories of some of their representatives.

Jim Wells only discovered four members of his family had availed of the scheme last week, almost two months into the most high-profile scandal in the history of devolution. Easily done I suppose.

If former DUP minister – turned one man wrecking ball – Jonathan Bell is to be believed there are few people in the party who don’t have a relative warming chickens with a biomass boiler or links to a company that supplied them.

I would hate to be a DUP election worker knocking the doors on a cold winter’s night, as potential voters try to economize on heating their homes while there are some farm sheds currently hotter than the center of the sun.

The party’s arrogance and refusal to take responsibility for their actions, or come clean on any potential conflicts of interest, has proved to be a disastrous policy with information being drip fed out instead.

One party special adviser John Robinson made a last-minute confession about his father-in-law being signed up to the scheme before partially stepping aside, while another, Dr. Andrew Crawford, resigned having denied lobbying internally to have the flawed scheme kept open.

Stephen Brimstone, of Red Sky fame, resigned two weeks before BBC Spotlight aired a series of shocking allegations about the scheme.

William Irvine revealed a link to the scheme through his son-in-law.

Carla Lockhart also discovered an in-law with an RHI boiler at the final hour. She is one the DUP’s four representatives on the public accounts committee (PAC) investigating the scheme.

Which brings me back to a point I made at the beginning of this scandal, asking the PAC to investigate RHI is like being on trial with four members of your family in the jury.

Former Ulster Unionist Neil Somerville went one better by revealing a boiler installed at his wife’s business to heat her “horse solarium.’ (I didn’t know such a thing existed either or that you could ask the taxpayer to heat it for you.)

While all this is now a matter of record, it seems that far from trying to right the wrongs of a scheme the DUP are buckling down for what’s shaping up to be a brutal election campaign.

Amid all the backbiting, the allegations, counter allegations and the retreat into sectarian ditches the voice of reason and reconciliation came last week from an unlikely source.

Ian Paisley Jnr has always lived in the shadow of his formidable late father.

However, a small touch of humanity for an ill and retiring Martin McGuinness has earned him praise from everyone apart from his own party leadership.

And OK, the cynics may point to a possible desire to take control of the party his father founded and usurp Arlene Foster, but there was genuine humanity in his words and an acceptance that the IRA leader had been on ‘a journey’ from militant to statesman.

I also believe that he was genuinely touched by the kindness McGuinness showed his father in his later years, at a time when his own party colleagues were conspiring against him.

I have a hunch the younger Paisley would be a disastrous party leader. That said, his intervention at a time of high tension was a welcome one.

We’re not in a good place heading into a bitter election – politically, economically and socially – it’s all looking very grim.

But then you have to remember if Martin McGuinness, a Bogside IRA leader, and Ian Paisley, a bigoted, religious zealot managed to find common ground and work together, then surely anything is possible?

In the middle of the doom, gloom and electioneering backchat, a few kind words from Ian Paisley went a long way, and let’s face it we’ll need to take the positives, however small, if and when we find them.