Jim Gibney: Arlene Foster's future is in Sinn Fein's hands - The Irish News
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Jim Gibney: Arlene Foster's future is in Sinn Fein's hands

First Minister Arlene Foster. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association 

MONDAY’S crisis-laden meeting of the north’s assembly did not resolve any of the difficulties that gave rise to the meeting.

This shambles remains to be resolved on ethical and moral terms – the only basis which the north’s institutions can or will be allowed to function.

The DUP leader, despite losing the vote, was able to survive because the vote did not secure the required level of cross-community support as required under the Good Friday Agreement.

So, Sinn Féin voting in favour of the censure motion, would have made no difference – not that you would know that, listening to its critics.

The SDLP exclusion motion, designed to remove the first minister for a period of six months to allow for a full inquiry to get under way, was doomed from the start and was bereft of detail regarding the scope of any investigation.

The future integrity of the institutions and the office holders in the executive really depends on Sinn Féin and in particular Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister.

The DUP would need to listen to what Sinn Féin is saying about Arlene Foster standing aside and the setting up of a judge-led independent investigation as contained in a motion tabled by the party due to be debated in mid-January.

This is a case of a ‘stayed hand’ rather than a ‘reprieve’ for Ms Foster and the DUP.

The DUP generated-crisis at the assembly is about the absence of political integrity and morality with more than a dollop of arrogance and a whiff of corruption yet to be evidentially proven but a whiff nonetheless.

Stephen Nolan’s interview with the first minister Arlene Foster and her performance in the assembly on Monday were alarming in many ways. The interview raised concerns about her role as Deti minister when handling the funding of the heating scheme, which is at the centre of the current crisis.

Her assembly performance showed her to be out of touch with the public mood of anger and disbelief as she lashed out at her critics as if she was at a college debating society.

On both occasions she was arrogant. She showed little concern about alarming practices by DUP party officials and some applicants for the scheme.

Though she did show great concern that the beneficiaries (some of whom are believed to be DUP beneficiaries) should remain anonymous.

She seemed not to appreciate the impact on public opinion of her failure to act as a first minister to protect the integrity of politics and the political institutions and the knock-on consequences for Sinn Féin, her partners in government.

Listening to the Nolan interview and her assembly performance I was left with the very distinct impression that she was out of her depth as a minister.

The key issue for all the parties elected to the assembly, including the DUP, is to ensure the highest standards of probity by elected representatives and government ministers.

The public expect this from those they elect and when it breaks down, as it has in this instance, then they are entitled to see swift and immediate action to deal with the issues of concern.

And swift and immediate action necessarily means that a judge-led independent public inquiry is established now and Arlene Foster stands aside as first minister.

This will allow the institutions, which Sinn Féin and other MLAs value, to continue to serve the public until this matter is satisfactorily sorted out.

It will help to restore damaged public confidence in politicians and in the executive.

The DUP need to realise that the public, and the other parties at the assembly will only be satisfied with a public inquiry and the stepping aside of Arlene Foster.

Their stalling tactic will not work. Indeed, it is adding to the momentum for the changes that are being sought.

If the DUP are working on the assumption that the Christmas and New Year holiday period will take the wind out of the sails of their opponents, then they are making another fundamental mistake.

The clock is ticking in relation to how long Mrs Foster has to serve as first minister in this administration.

And that decision is in Sinn Féin’s hands not hers.

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