Posts Tagged ‘Arlene Foster’

Their deal with the Tories is an Indian Summer. Winter is coming for the DUP

16/07/2017, 10:02:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘Fashions change but style remains’, Coco Chanel was said to have remarked, (somewhat incongruously for a fashion designer). The point is germane to Northern Ireland. Don’t draw big conclusions from immediate contemporaneous events. Stand back and look at the wider picture. Ignore passing fashions.

There is an emerging narrative that the DUP is on the up after the hiatus of the Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco at the start of the year, the subsequent resignation and untimely death of Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein’s surge in March’s elections to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Arlene Foster is still standing, winning two extra parliamentary seats in the recent general election and has managed to strong-arm a generous financial deal out of Theresa May’s weak and wobbly government in return for backing it on tight votes.

She is on top – so the argument goes – having wrong-footed her opponents, most notably Sinn Fein, whose policy of abstentionism and self-removal from the parliamentary fray contrasts unfavourably with the DUP’s realpolitik in making Westminster bend to its will.

It’s a fashionable argument, by which I mean it is entirely wrong.

Take a step back.

The gap between parties supporting Irish unity and those wishing to maintain the constitutional status quo with Britain was as close as 30,000 votes in elections to the assembly back in March. Unionism is in long-term decline, standing on a burning electoral and demographic platform.

Already, a majority of Northern Ireland’s under-35s are Catholic, providing Unionists with an impossible medium-term challenge in fending off Irish unity. Given Sinn Fein is not calling for a border poll for the next five years, there is ample scope to construct a majority for change by the mid-2020s, now the prospect is truly out in the open and the benefits of reunification are widely discussed.

For Unionism, winter is coming.

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British politics needs to start planning for the day Northern Ireland ceases to exist

11/04/2017, 09:44:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Nineteen years ago this week, Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam, Bertie Ahern the Irish Taoiseach and the various political parties were in the final stages of agreeing what became the Belfast Agreement, better known, given the day it was finalised, as the Good Friday Agreement.

It was a triumph for all involved and, whatever else his critics point to, Blair’s crowning achievement; a superb piece of leadership and political tradecraft.

It was a deal that ensured cross-community power-sharing and a devolved assembly.

The end of the British Army’s presence in Northern Ireland and the release of paramilitary prisoners.

Strengthened east-west links between the Irish and British governments and north-south bodies to create all-Ireland institutions.

It is a deal that has provided two decades of relative peace and normality and become a lodestar in the field of conflict resolution.

But the Good Friday Agreement settlement is now faltering.

The collapse of the power-sharing executive in January, (following Arlene Foster’s woeful handling of a £500m heating subsidy), Sinn Fein’s strengthened mandate in the subsequent assembly elections and the current difficulty with restoring the executive are testing its resilience as a model.

The broader truth is that the Good Friday Agreement was never meant to last. It was always a stop-gap solution. An interregnum. A transition space between the conflict of the Troubles and the advent, eventually, of a unified Irish state.

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Brokenshire has been a spectator, not a participant during Northern Ireland collapse

25/01/2017, 11:23:00 AM

by Kevin Meagher

James Brokenshire has an unfortunate surname for a man who presides over the collapse of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in office for barely seven months, has not exactly covered himself in glory thus far.

Last week, he was obliged to announce fresh elections to the 90-member Northern Ireland Assembly following the collapse of the cross-community executive, triggered by Martin McGuinness’s resignation as deputy First Minister.

The row centres on Democratic Unionist First Minister Arlene Foster’s quite ridiculous refusal to step aside and make way for an investigation into the £500m Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco she was responsible for in her previous post as enterprise minister.

The ‘burn to earn’ scheme saw massive payments to encourage companies to switch to wood pellet boilers, entitling them to make vast sums for heating empty properties.

Last week, police in South Armagh raided an empty heated barn assuming it was a drug factory.

Brokenshire finds himself tasked with picking up the pieces.

Yet this crisis is the result of a classic, almost textbook slow-motion political collision.

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If NI was Westminster, Arlene Foster would already be a political corpse

20/12/2016, 05:23:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Northern Ireland is a place apart, we all know that much. Normal rules don’t apply. Things are done differently. Political gravity, as we understand it, doesn’t hold.

Or perhaps it didn’t. If there was any justice, the phrase ‘First Minister Arlene Foster’ would already be written in the past tense. The scandal Mrs Foster finds herself embroiled in – the fallout from the anodyne-sounding Renewable Heat Incentive – is a proper Grade A political scandal.

If this was Westminster, she would be politically dead and buried.

The Renewable Heat Incentive, launched in 2012 while Foster was enterprise minister, was a cut-down version of British scheme to subsidise non-domestic customers – farms and businesses – in switching to wooden pellet-burning biomass boilers instead of oil.

The fairly elementary flaw in Northern Ireland’s version was a lack of cost controls. As the Auditor General succinctly put it, there was ‘no upper limit on the amount of energy that would be paid for. The more heat that is generated, the more is paid.’

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