If observers were expecting Arlene Foster, the leader of the controversy-mired Democratic Unionist Party, to face the same level of tough questioning doled out to other witnesses before the RHI Inquiry in Belfast they will have been sadly disappointed. While not exactly given the kid-glove treatment, there was an undoubted level of deference in yesterday’s discussion with the former Joint First Minister in the now defunct peace-brokered Executive at Stormont, as she easily swatted away several lowballs thrown at her by the panel. As benefits someone with legal training, the Fermanagh MLA was studiously careful in her answers, passing the buck for any errors or suspect dealings in the management of the Renewable Heat Incentive on to others. Indeed, the DUP boss looked entirely comfortable throughout the session, as she muddied the waters in the ash-for-cash investigation, claiming that Martin McGuinness, the late Sinn Féin MLA and Deputy First Minister (DFM) in the regional administration, had been informed of the scandal around the same time as her. Specifically, she argued that the SF leader had been made aware of a whistleblower message communicated to her in January 2016, though she couldn’t state whether she had verbally told him of the warning, had handed the document to him, or if it had been passed on to him through normal administrative channels at Stormont.
“My recollection is clear, if I didn’t show it to the DFM I certainly spoke to the DFM about it”
Which is actually not clear at all. Of equal note was Foster’s sneering at other parties in the cross-community administration:
“All of the special advisers that the DUP appointed were people who had third-level education and who had an ability to work within the system. I am not sure that can be said about every other special adviser.”
Which is somewhat ironic given that it’s the DUP coterie of special advisers which is currently embroiled in a litany of scandalous – not to mention salacious – accusations. However, it’s unlikely that the RHI controversy will have any great effect on the long term political or electoral fortunes of Arlene Foster’s party as it continues to wield a whip hand over the minority Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. The real game can be seen in this report by The Irish Times:
In the UK there is “a combination of ignorance and arrogance with an overlay of patronising” with regard to “the Irish border”, the British Labour party’s Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, Stephen Pound has said.
He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that in fact it is not the Irish border, it is the British border.
“It’s not just a geographic border, it’s psychological,” he added.
“The DUP would love that, a rock solid hard border.”