Leading article

DUP firmly in the RHI dock

As the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal places more and more devastating evidence into the public domain, its chair, Sir Patrick Coghlin deserves full credit for cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

When he considered the testimony of the DUP's chief executive, Timothy Johnston, on the way in which business was conducted at Stormont, Sir Patrick said bluntly on Friday that "the man or woman in the street" would not understand why laws, codes and regulations that were meant to guide government were ignored.'.

Mr Johnston gave an equally telling response when he said that political parties did not always want to see the workings of our power sharing structures revealed as it "wasn't always pretty", which, given that he went on to compare the devolved instituions to a sausage factory, was an apt a summary of the position as is likely to emerge.

We will have to wait until the hearings reach a conclusion, and Sir Patrick, who has a reputation for finalising his judgments promptly, delivers his report in the new year, but it is abundantly clear that we are moving firmly into territory which inevitably involves profound political consequences.

While a range of parties have at least a share of responsibility for the debacle which has unfolded, it is obvious that the DUP has been primarily exposed day after day - on the basis of statements from its most senior figures - as a discredited and dysfunctional grouping

It has placed great weight on its continuing deal with the British government, but, with the Conservative Party tearing itself apart over Brexit during its annual conference this week, Theresa May's chances of clinging to power are receding rapidly.

Her main rival, Boris Johnson, felt confident enough yesterday to label Mrs May's key EU strategy as `deranged', a term which could much more accurately be attached to Mr Johnson's suggestion that a massive bridge should somehow be constructed between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Regardless of what plays out at Westminster. the DUP must demonstrate without delay that it understands the devastating consequences of the details which have specifically emerged during the RHI inquiry about the role of its special advisers and the general implications for devolution

If it fails to do so and it is not a party which has been noted for accepting its wider responsibilities, the prospects for the return of our power-sharing structures at any stage are bleak in every respect.

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