John Coulter with his Ireland's Eye piece from Tribune Magazine comments on the latest crisis to hit the North's Power Splitting Executive.
|Whistleblower Jonathan Bell has now been suspended by the DUP|
Serious questions have been posed as to who really runs Northern Ireland as a result of the multi-million pound Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme scandal.
Sounds daft, but that’s what many taxpayers are asking this Christmas as they face a potential £400 million bill as of the RHI debacle engulfs the political establishment.
The RHI scheme was also introduced in Britain with no such problems, but the financial fallout in Northern Ireland has triggered a political scandal not seen since the 1981 Kincora Boys Home sex abuse case.
It has also sparked a heated ‘who do you believe’ saga as the unthinkable has happened – the ruling Democratic Unionist Party has now copied its Ulster Unionist rivals and has aired its dirty political linen in public.
Founded in 1971 by the late firebrand preacher, Rev Ian Paisley, the DUP soon developed a reputation for hardline internal discipline, with all rows taking place behind firmly closed doors.
In public, the DUP always presented a united front – until this month when in the space of a few days, two of the most senior DUP politicians, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster and former Stormont Executive Minister Jonathan Bell used the BBC to blame each other for the multi-million pound scandal. Bell has now been suspended from the DUP.
The Stormont Assembly has even been recalled from its Christmas recess to discuss the debacle, with the pro-Foster camp claiming they can recoup about half of the £400 million loss.
Those who believe Bell’s account of how the scheme was administered point to the number of hospitals and much-needed social housing which could have been built with those millions.
In his TV performance, Bell played the so-called God Card, using his fundamentalist Christian faith as his reason for blowing the whistle on the scandal.
This has sparked a rumour mill that Bell’s TV allegations are more about re-establishing a Paisley-style Christian fundamentalist control over the DUP.
During the Paisley era, Christian fundamentalism and hardline Unionist politics went hand in hand, including the anti-homosexual Save Ulster From Sodomy campaign. Ironically, the post Paisley DUP is now in a power-sharing Executive with its one-time republican foe, Sinn Fein.
While taxpayers will be concerned about how much they will have to fork out over the next 20 years concerning the RHI payments, the underlying problem is who is really running Northern Ireland?
Is it the DUP/Sinn Fein dominated Executive, the Stormont Assembly, or the network of ministerial special advisors who roam the corridors of Parliament Buildings?
Special advisors, or Spads as they are commonly dubbed, each earn reported £92,000 salaries, and wield huge influence on the political establishment if the Bell camp is to be believed.
Thankfully so far as the DUP is concerned, the party won’t face elections for another couple of years now it has the Stormont General Election and Brexit victory safely under its belt.
While the Stormont institutions are not in immediate danger of total collapse, the DUP will have to call on every ounce of its internal discipline to get through the coming months, it will have to embark on a huge charm offensive to ensure it does not suffer a UUP-style poll meltdown at the next local government elections in a couple of years.
Foster and her predecessor Peter Robinson marked the end of fundamentalist control of the DUP. Will Bell’s TV claim that God told him to reveal the depth of the RHI scandal signal an attempt by Christians to ‘take back the DUP’?
Bell admitted in his TV interview that his political career is over. By playing the God Card, he may be seen as a modern-day Christian political martyr. If his days in the DUP are numbered, who else does he take down with him when he is disciplined by the party?
Ironically, too, the Stormont Opposition has been branded toothless and weak; the RHI scandal may well be its saviour as it ‘gets stuck in to the DUP’.