Will drip feed have a tipping point?

Posted By: December 31, 2016

If Sinn Fein walks away from the executive Arlen Foster may become an electoral liability. 

Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Since the RHI scandal gathered pace a matter of weeks ago, there have been a series of revelations that have undermined Arlene Foster’s leadership of the DUP.

From the revelation about her former special adviser’s brother being an RHI claimant to the release of letters from 2013 in which she asks the banks to look favourably on those seeking finance for biomass boilers, the drip feed of information has been unrelenting.

Yet despite mounting pressure, her party has so far stood by her. At the special sitting of the assembly before Christmas, her MLAs did their utmost to show loyalty to their leader, who will be 12 months in her job as first minister on January 11.

Privately also, the DUP’s Stormont representatives insist she is going nowhere and say the more Sinn Féin and the SDLP call for the leader’s head, the more her party will back her.

Last night one MLA, who doesn’t regard [him/her self] as an instinctive ally of Mrs Foster, said support for her was “rock solid”.

But surely there will be a tipping point if embarrassing documents continue to emerge which show the former enterprise minister was centre stage in the maladministration of the RHI. In the aftermath of the latest revelation, talk on social media – more often the electronic equivalent of unfounded neighbourhood gossip – was that her time was finally running out and that efforts to garner a show of strength were proving difficult. Notably, the party said nothing yesterday in relation to the 2013 letter, even though it had been released by the DUP press office.

Publicly, it appears Mrs Foster is safe for now but Sinn Féin is the factor over which her party has no control. If republicans feel it necessary to walk away from the executive and force an election, the DUP leader’s future prospects will rely on a lot more than mere blind loyalty.

Going into an election led by the person most believe responsible for the £1.2 billion shambles would certainly not be a

vote winner.