The RHI scandal is typical of what the public have come to expect from a scandal prone Executive.
We’ve had Red Sky, NAMA, SIF and now RHI – ‘cash for ash’. It’s symptomatic of the arrogance which pervades the Executive. Policy decisions made on the hoof. A ‘we know better’ attitude. And now look where it has got us. Now we witness the blame game.
According to Mrs Foster, civil servants, HMG, the ETI committee, opposition parties are all to blame. Her colleague Sammy Wilson has even blamed global warming! The one glaring omission in Mrs Foster’s list is her own name and that of her party. DUP SPADs are also protected species free to run amok at the heart of government. As Jenny Palmer found out, the DUP comes first, no matter the cost to the public purse or the reputation of the Stormont institutions. What the public want to know is how it happened, why it happened and what is going to be done about it?
We need to know why the spike in the RHI applications happened which is going to cost the country approximately £400 million – Arlene Foster’s legacy to Northern Ireland. So far we have heard many contrary explanations, many of them from Arlene Foster herself, who has veered from saying she had ‘received’ allegations about abuse of the RHI scheme to she was ‘under the impression’ she had received allegations and it now confirmed in the media that she had. It is a story of immense incompetence which will impact on the budget of the Northern Ireland Executive for the next 20 years. We also need to confirm that it was indeed incompetence. If not that would take us into a whole new direction. We have also asked our colleagues in Westminster to scope out the possibility of a Windfall Tax to reclaim some of the monies. Only this week, the DUP announced that they ‘have been working to reach agreement with officials and others on the precise details of such an investigation.’ I`m sorry, but that won`t wash. The public will not get answers in an investigation established by the DUP, sponsored by the DUP or headed up by a DUP nominee. Any investigation needs to be free of the wholly discredited Executive Office. That is the only way to restore public confidence.
And that brings me to another piece of the jigsaw. Where is the much vaunted plan to recoup the cash? Almost two weeks ago, Simon Hamilton stated on television that the RHI scandal was now his department`s number one priority.
Arlene Foster announced last week that she would state on Monday how she would get the majority of the cash back.
Unfortunately Arlene Foster didn’t deliver that plan on Monday and Simon`s claim that it was his department`s number one priority has been made to look very hollow indeed. Instead the public have been told that Simon Hamilton will come back with a plan in the new year.
And with every day that passes tens of thousands of pounds go up in smoke. And if the Sinn Fein/DUP coalition announce an election, it would be the ultimate failure of the so called ‘Fresh Start’ agreement. It will be a signal that they have run up the white flag of surrender in their joint project.
Mike Nesbitt is leader of the Ulster Unionist Party