8 Days Remaining

Saturday 7th
posted by Paddy McGuffin in Features

SO... this is 2017 is it? I can’t say I’m impressed so far. Ok there were some pretty fireworks and Auld Lang Syning, accompanied by the usual fake bonhomie and professions of not entirely sincere optimism.

Self-deluding resolutions were made, adherence to which is about as likely in most cases as Israel’s to those of the UN variety seeking to prevent its rapacious settlement building in the Occupied Territories and oppression of the Palestinian people.

So to Stormont. Is there any other body on the planet which so brilliantly encapsulates the spirit of democratic decorum, letting bygones be bygones and the setting aside of old grievances than those august men and women of the Northern Ireland Assembly?

For those who have not been following the latest scandal to engulf the Assembly — and let’s face it there have been quite a lot of other things going on to distract one’s attention — the current brouhaha revolves around DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, renewable energy and an overspend of £490 million and counting due to a balls-up of spectacular proportions.

Basically what it comes down to is this: the Assembly launched a green energy scheme known as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) designed to reimburse businesses for a proportion of the costs of running ecofriendly boilers.

Now anyone with a half-formed knowledge of 20th century history will know that as soon as a government starts offering cash incentives to farmers and other businesses in such a fashion, the risk of abuse is significant.

It happened in the US where the plan to pay farmers not to grow certain crops in a bid to cut surpluses backfired spectacularly with farmers merely allocating more of their land to not growing said crops and receiving hefty remuneration for doing nothing.

The same thing happened during the foot and mouth epidemic when certain unscrupulous individuals were found to have faked the symptoms of the disease in their herds to claim bogus compensation.

If, as occurred in this latest case, the subsidies are set sky high and no cap is set in place you might as well just start throwing money down the drain or, perhaps more appositely, burning it.

The RHI scheme has become known as the “burn to earn plan” with at least one company found to be raking in vast sums from heating an empty building and many others effectively getting free heat and making a profit from doing so.

Foster, in her former role as Economy Minister, was the individual directly responsible for overseeing the implementation of the fiasco and the one who signed off on it without any of the proper cheques and balances.

It also emerged that she had pretty much guaranteed the investment of a number of financial institutions in the scheme.

Who in their right mind would do that? “Investment” is merely a high fallutin’ word for “gamble.” Yet for some strange reason you don’t see many bookies or casinos saying: “Bet what you like; we’ll give it you back if you lose.”

Foster of course has denied wrongdoing or incompetence on the matter, which when you look at the facts takes some brass neck.

At the time of writing, the DUP leader was still clinging to her role as First Minister like grim death but her position is becoming more untenable by the day.

When you have to resort to wheeling out party colleague and former finance minister Sammy Wilson to fight your corner, as happened yesterday, you know you’re in trouble.

Wilson — the very embodiment of naked sectarianism (google it if you have a strong stomach) — took to the air waves in his usual blundering stammering fashion in an attempt to defend the indefensible.

Something he has quite a lot of experience of but is still hopeless at. Wilson’s sole response was to claim he didn’t really see what all the fuss was about as it wasn’t that much public money they’d squandered and to accuse those calling for Foster’s head, including members of his own party, of using the situation as a pretext to bring down the Assembly.

Which is somewhat rich coming from Wilson whose party has engineered more spectacular collapses than Fred Dibner. A party whose two previous leaders, Peter Robinson and Ian “Papa Doc” Paisley were both forced out at least partly due to familial corruption scandals involving public money.

Quite how Wilson became finance minister is a source of genuine bafflement. He would be hard pressed to count to eleven without removing his socks — which he has unfortunately been known to do, along with other items of his apparel… But if Wilson was pathetic with his snivelling weasel words, Foster came out fighting this week.

Taking the offensive — in both senses of the word — the First Minister claimed somewhat bizarrely that the only reason she was being attacked was because she’s a woman.

“A lot of it is personal. A lot of it, sadly is misogynistic as well because I am a female…” she said in a televised interview.

Not because you were caught bang to rights with your signature on the documentation in black and white then?

Of course sexism is rife in politics and should be utterly condemned and fought against wherever it occurs. But in the case of Northern Ireland that is largely due to the DUP and its viciously anti-women views on the right to choose, emergency contraception and same-sex partnerships to name but a few examples.

The DUP, of course, claims that it is merely following the teachings of the “good book.” Well maybe but the bible also has quite a lot to say on the subjects of truth telling and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. They must have skipped that bit.

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