Died 14th February, 1929,
Like Schwimmer, and his deluded alter ego of believing himself a gangster through association, Jonathan Bell and his equally deluded alter ego of believing himself a politician through association, probably wished he never hung out with the big boys!
The RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scandal has been well publicised and documented. There was very little of it left undisclosed that could still titillate the recalcitrant inquisitive mind and those ‘bits’ that did remain unexplained went to the wayside as the public moved on. Covid-19 had knocked it off its centre-front public pedestal.
So what could McBride bring to the table with this book, his book?
McBride, political editor for The News Letter, a unionist daily paper, had all the experience and nous required to write any number of books on the scandal. Books that could mitigate the blame to those more favoured to his papers political ethos, books less critical of a bureaucratic system that consistently malfunctioned or books that upheld devolved government generally as a success, with RHI being reported as the extreme exception.
But what he has done is to collate as much of the evidence as possible and present it to the reader in a series of chronological stages that cover the scandal from its elementary inception to its literal death, 'flip-flopping’ between dates. The reader is guided along a timeline of how RHI was formulated, implemented and nurtured, ending with its death throes as the final flames were extinguished.
A journey through a tragedy best described not as a Dante divine comedy but more of a Machiavellian layer cake.
The skill of his narrative is further enhanced with his handling of all the protagonists in this tragedy of RHI.
Bringing in to the public domain their private personalities, their political aspirations, their relationships, both political and personal and which often overlapped, their naivety, their inanity, their loyalty and their disloyalty, their treachery, their fealty, their covetousness, their benevolence, and the dearth scarcity in the required skillsets for the roles they readily occupied and would defend. Politicians who became people, people who became politicians. The unqualified and unsuitable who became government ministers and government ministers who became surplus to Party requirements. The bureaucrats who became mandarins and mandarins who became satsumas.
Engrossed from the start, the reader is assailed with the deceit, the corruption, the greed, the flagrant abuse and widespread disdain of devolved government rules, regulations and protocols. Tied to an ill-equipped civil service drowning in flawed and malfunctioning practices – manifested and exercised in the malfeasance of Foster and her DUP motley crew and their school yard bullish treatment of the civil service mandarins serving in Their devolved government department, the Department of Enterprise and Investment (DETI).
A disdain not restricted to local geography but extended to the British ‘mainland’ public. Reflected in their avarice desires to rob Her Majesty’s Treasury of her taxation monies in-order to ply the NI public psych with the charade that they were the only capable party with the necessary skills to lead ... the party to put your future X beside.
McBride does not direct the reader to a defined conclusion of where or who is to blame and he makes this clear from the start. His intention is not to pollute the readers mind with his own interpretation but to present the evidence and leave it to the reader to articulate their own conclusion.
He defends his Northern Ireland, against this abuse in as much the same way as Varys Targaryen defended the Seven Kingdoms – it doesn’t matter who sits on the throne, the realm is what is important and Stormont might be broken but the realm isn’t. But that begs the question if government is broken is the State not also?
While Sir Patrick’s enquiry was underway the DUP continued to wield their disdain and contempt for rules and regulations. In their Brexit campaign, failing to fully explain the origin of their funding for their wrap around pro Brexit news sheet and their unequivocal support for the flotsam of lies spread by Boris and his troupe.
Post RHI, their party colleagues appeared to continue to circumvent the rules and regulations at both local and devolved government level with Edwin Poots and his family’s questionable land applications and Trevor Clarke and his MLA expenses where conflicts of interest appeared obvious to the non-party eye but blind to the otherwise.
And of course the DUP confidence and supply agreement with the Tories – £1.5 billion’s worth of loyalty ... that displayed itself in a no vote to a pay-rise for the staff of their beloved NHS. £1.5 billion being a more direct assault on the Treasury. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the icing on the cake that is Paisley ... no words needed for that.
Unlike Varys, a fictional character, McBride will not be immolated for his beliefs, certainly not by biomass! And the debate surrounding the health of the British State of Northern Ireland is a debate for another day.
The journey through RHI is one of shock and horror at the systemic abuse so widespread that is it quite difficult to find those exempt or excluded from its tentacles of corruption. All elected representatives to the Stormont Assembly each share a degree of responsibility for the corruption. A degree of responsibility that requires defining in terms of quantity and quality rather than simply turning the other cheek. For some, more so than others.
It leaves the reader pondering what alternatives there are to a devolved government and raises questions as to the haste and the degree of honesty to which all parties, with the exception being Sinn Féin, demanded to have the institutions restored immediately. Especially since they have re-installed Foster back on her throne without any form of restraint or correction and especially since they recently took back control of their expenses! It would seem that the playground roundabout that is Stormont, is still spinning.
Questions about how those directly involved in RHI, displaying contriteness or not, have been rewarded with career moves and lucrative retirement packages for such malfeasance with the only exception being Johnathan Bell. But his soul has been cleansed which seems to have pleased him.
The system is broken and no amount of glue is going to hide the cracks behind the political cosmetics of photo opportunities, courteous but limp handshakes coupled with over-stretched grins unmatched by eyes bereft of the emotion of the occasion.
Like Westminster, her sibling, Stormont, is broken and with it quite possibly the State that is Northern Ireland.
This book lays bare the crude and wasteful practice of how public money is spent. It exposes the ineptitude, the ignorance and the illiterate and empty-headedness or our elected representatives. Attributes propped up with a dire lack of morals or ethics and which the reader soon discovers, are prevalent throughout the whole of the Stormont administration, executive and all.
It is a heavy tome replete with detail, but detail that is required. Attached to it is an also heavy purchase price but a price that is worth every damn penny. Even with prior knowledge of the scandal, the reader is soon gripped and willingly encoiled into its web of intrigue.
To answer the question what McBride through his book has brought to the table - he can take solace in that he has restored some semblance of faith in the guardians of democracy – the press.
Sam McBride, 2018, Burned: The Inside Story of the 'Cash-for-Ash' Scandal and Northern Ireland's Secretive New Elite. Merrion Press. SBN-13: 978-1785372698
|Sean Mallory is a Tyrone republican and TPQ columnist.|