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Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:00 pm on 23rd January 2017.

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Photo of Eamonn McCann Eamonn McCann People Before Profit Alliance 6:00 pm, 23rd January 2017

I think that it was Mr Smith who asked a little while ago how we got here and what brought us to this pass. It is worth going into it, because you cannot understand this scheme and the flaws in it, and the regulations and the flaws in the regulations, other than in the context of the internal politics of our two major parties and, indeed, of the entire system of governance created under the Good Friday Agreement.

We have had a very good debate in one sense. A lot of it was fascinating. The most fascinating thing that I discovered — at least one of them — during the day is that — you were not here, Mr Speaker, for this bit, so I wonder, did you know that day-old chicks prefer woodchips? I did not know that until Mr Poots explained it to us. I am taking it seriously. I am sure that you are right. It is something I know nothing about. What I am really wondering is, how did we get here in relation to the major items; how did our debate get to a position where we have to be informed and take on board the preferences of day-old chicks with regard to particular fuels used for heating their sheds? How did that happen?

One of the reasons it happened is, of course, because a lot of people in here and a couple of parties in here cannot deal with the matter in a straightforward manner. And because they cannot deal with it in a straightforward manner and face up to all the issues which are raised, we get taken into all sorts of meandering, winding paths and into the netherworld and the fringes of the Assembly.

For a start, I would like to demonstrate the way in which the internal politics and the ideology, if you like, of the DUP and Sinn Féin have played a role in generating this present situation with the renewable heat incentive scheme. It may seem a very far distance from political ideologies of parties — do not worry, Mr Speaker, stick around and I will demonstrate it now. The fact of the matter is that, in the course of this debate — it is relevant, I am picking up things that have already been said in this debate. Mr Bell made the second fascinating statement that he has made in the House. At the end of it — I am sorry about the pun — there is no need to ask any more for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for Arlene Foster. We learnt that after Mr Bell's statement.

I was very struck when, the last time we had a debate on this subject — I am dealing with things that have already come up, Mr Speaker — Mr Bell told us, and he may well be right, that if the Reverend Ian Paisley were here, he would be sitting alongside him and not with the other DUP colleagues further along the Bench.

I am sure that he is right about that. One of the reasons why I am sure that he is right is that, a couple of days after that, I happened to be watching my television set and there I saw Ian Paisley junior making some remarkable statements about Mr McGuinness. I thought to myself, " There is something up. There is something happening here". Is the dissident DUP claiming the Rev Ian Paisley? And, of course, is there a leadership bid? It also demonstrates the ideological chaos in the DUP. It is the chaos arising from the fact that their traditional ideology does not meet the material realities of Northern Ireland society any more. In that situation, we have the politics of opportunism and the politics of — I hesitate to use the word "corruption", so I will not. There is a questionable and murky behaviour conducted in that dark territory where SpAds and spivs infest the system of government in Northern Ireland. You cannot understand the way the entire scheme emerged and the regulations — the inadequate regulations — that we are invited to vote for unless you take that into account.

Why did the scheme cause the collapse of the Executive and then the Assembly? How did that happen? Just a few weeks ago, everybody will remember the remarkable scenes in which you had Members looking across the Floor from the Sinn Féin Benches to the DUP Benches. They were gazing at one another doe-eyed; now, they are looking daggers at one another. That was just a week later. How did that happen? Again, there are ideological problems for Sinn Féin, as they know — I have talked to their Members about it. It is a party that is dedicated to a united Ireland or nothing, yet they were locked into an embrace with the DUP. It is hard to explain that to people who believed that they were supporting or joining the party to make a drive for the full realisation of the ideals of 1916 and all that business. There was a contradiction there and, as I said, the ideological contradiction in the DUP that was brought about by the fact that, by coming together to form a government, they were contradicting the stated reasons for their very existence. In that situation, you are bound to get internal turmoil and, as Sinn Féin found when they went back to their grassroots, people were telling them "No, nay, never".