There must be no joint authority if Stormont fails to return

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It was yet another day of dramatic revelations on RHI.

The report of a shed burning fuel in South Armagh confirms that every part of the Northern Ireland countryside was attracted to this scam.

John Robinson, who is Simon Hamilton’s spad, stepped aside from any role in the clear-up of RHI, as this column insisted he should yesterday. It was obvious that he had to do that but it worrying that he had allowed himself to stay in that position – sorting out a huge financial scandal – when he knew that he had close family links to a beneficiary.

His minister must now clarify what Mr Robinson is paid at the public purse. It is hard to see how he can remain a spad now. Mr Hamilton, as he disentangles this sorry mess, is more in need of expert advice than any other minister and yet now will not be getting it from his handpicked advisor.

But the big news yesterday was the evidence of Dr Andrew McCormick, the permanent secretary in the department for the economy, to the Stormont PAC. He is a highly respected civil servant.

Some of his evidence was helpful to Jonathan Bell and some of it helpful to Arlene Foster. But his evidence as a whole was alarming. It has been clear for a while that for some reason someone or some groups of people kept RHI open after the summer of 2015, when the disastrous cost became clear. Dr McCormick’s evidence confirmed that.

This is unforgivable and must be a core focus of an inquiry. It must ultimately lead to consequences for those people.

We hope devolution is restored after March 2. But if that is not possible there should be no enhanced say for Dublin in Northern Ireland, so it was good to hear the government rule out joint authority yesterday. Aside from the obvious violence it would do to UK sovereignty, on this occasion Sinn Fein must find that toppling the Assembly does not lead to reward.

Theresa May showed this week that she will be firm on Brexit. She is also showing encouraging signs of being firm on NI’s position in the UK, as it is likely she was consulted before yesterday’s emphatic and welcome statement.