Daithí McKay: Arlene Foster's fate now in republican hands

Former Stormont finance committee chairman Daithí McKay, who resigned as an MLA earlier this year after the Nama 'coaching' scandal, says Arlene Foster's fate is now in republican hands

Martin McGuinness has said Arlene Foster should stand aside as First Minister until a preliminary report of an independent investigation into the RHI scandal is presented. Picture by Hugh Russell
Analysis by Daithí McKay

WHEN Martin McGuinness called to ask Arlene Foster to temporarily stand aside last week she should have seen this proposal as a lifeline.

The First Minister may not realise it yet but this would have been perceived as a sign of strength and confidence in her own position, not weakness.

She is under significant pressure and her failure to deal with this controversy in the same way as her predecessor Peter Robinson did in 2010 showed remarkable short-sightedness.

Robinson stood aside for six weeks to clear his name and came out the other side in a much stronger position politically.

When you are at the eye of a storm it is better to try to keep your head even if everyone around you is losing theirs. She responded to her criticisms as if she was in a stronger position than she was.

The Sinn Féin position had been measured. They were thinking ahead. Republicans will have to work with the DUP for the next five years and souring relationships at the start of this tenure will have a huge impact on that.

Sunday night’s 11th hour statement by the Deputy First Minister would not have been issued lightly.

Foster might survive. She might not. Social media users are enjoying the resultant Facebook and Twitter frenzy.

If she continues in office she will be damaged, no longer the safe pair of hands, the reputation as having an eye for detail up in smoke.

She should not be allowed to stay in office - period. In any other administration in Western Europe this £400 million-plus error would have meant ‘Goodnight Arlene’.

The Deputy First Minister wishes to see “a fully independent, transparent investigation”, as do all the other parties.

The amendment put forward by Sinn Féin in the assembly on Monday proposing that it be led by a judicial figure is important too.

The minimalist approach of a paper exercise cannot be a serious option given the scale of the financial loss that the taxpayer has suffered. It needs to meet public expectations.

The statement from Martin McGuinness on Sunday night shows that the DUP executive team are in a tailspin, petrified of an independent process.

Unfortunately for the First Minister it makes it look like they have something to hide.

Since the election in May Arlene Foster and the DUP have been riding a crest of a wave and to most observers appeared as the more dominant party in the Executive.

If they fail to handle this situation then an election could become more than an outside possibility.

If a poll were to be called it is worth noting that the number of MLAs has to be reduced from 108 down to 90. Foster would be leading the DUP from a much weaker position.

It shouldn't come to that but it may now require the resignation of the First Minister for the DUP-Sinn Féin coalition to continue with any credibility.

McGuinness warns of 'grave consequences'. This may be a reference to the fact that Sinn Féin alone have the power to unseat the First Minister.

If the Deputy First Minister resigns and the position isn't filled within seven days then elections must be called.

The last decade of government has been riddled with DUP scandals. It has damaged the Assembly’s credibility.

This debacle, involving many of the DUP team at the heart of the Executive, is the daddy of them all.

Arlene Foster’s fate is now in republican hands. Her ministerial errors have strengthened their hand at the Executive table.

An independent investigation will either buy Arlene Foster time or will act as a political boiling pot with the First Minister as the immersed frog.

If her situation gets considerably worse Sinn Féin will have to turn the heat up even further. Their credibility is as much on the line as the DUP’s.

They perhaps along with everyone else are beginning to come to the conclusion that perhaps the empress has no clothes.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access