Turn to a certain page of ‘The Irish News’ on any day and one will find an editorial and two opinion pieces, on a Thursday always by Newton Emerson and Allison Morris. Today’s tells you a lot about how the British State in Ireland works.
Newton Emerson covers the £80 million Social Investment Fund run by the Westminster sub-contractor at Stormont, which, when it was set up, was widely and accurately described as a paramilitary slush fund. It is meant to help paramilitary criminals ‘transition’ from sectarian thuggery and criminal racketeering to normal society by giving them money. Much as previous Direct British rule gave them money, weapons and intelligence, all the better that they could kill and intimidate opposition to that rule. Think of giving money to criminals in order to stop them beating the shit out of you or killing you and you will get the picture – it’s called protection.
The current controversy revolves around a police statement that ‘active’ UDA members are involved in one of the ‘community’ bodies which is funded by this Social Investment Fund. The two parties running Stormont – the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein – both defend the governance of this fund and say that it has all the checks and scrutiny that disbursement of public money normally involves.
However, this appears to involve giving money to intermediary bodies who decide who gets the funding, so it’s not directly given by Stormont, and no particular monitoring, in fact no monitoring at all, of just what outputs or outcomes or performance measurements are expected to be demonstrated by these ‘community’ groups. In fact, the front page of this edition of ‘The Irish News’ reports that accounting records can be burned and a qualified statement made on the organisation annual accounts and you will still get the money, rather raising the question of just what checks and scrutiny Sinn Fein and the DUP are referring to.
It might be expected by the ignorant or just naive that Sinn Fein might object and try to stop money being given by the DUP to sectarian loyalist criminals but this would be, well, either ignorant or naïve. For Sinn Fein it’s a case of allowing each party to slush its own funds. And anyway, these loyalist gangs are a much greater menace to working class Protestants than working class Catholics and Sinn Fein is a Catholic party.
It might also be expected that the law enforcement agencies might take steps to prevent the funding of terrorist organisations, of which the Ulster Defence Association is one. Much of Newton Emerson’s opinion piece is taken up by setting out all of the anti-terrorist law that appears to have been broken by everyone involved, including, if I’ve got this right, you and me, now that you have read these lines and I have written them.
It is against the law to be a member of the UDA and it doesn’t matter if you are ‘active’ or otherwise. Financial support to such an organisation is against the law, even when you merely have “reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used for the purposes of terrorism.” “Entering into or becoming concerned with” any suspicious “funding arrangement” is also against the law. And there is a duty to disclose any “belief or suspicion” regarding these offences, with failure to do so itself an offence that could send you to jail for five years. This law applies in Britain and not just in Northern Ireland – so if you’re reading this in Britain it also applies to you! – so now that both of us have had our suspicions awakened we are all obliged to report this to . . . who exactly?
The second opinion piece by Allison Morris is about what is now called the biggest financial scandal to hit Stormont, since it’s reckoned to be going to cost £400m over 20 years. It centres on the innocuous sounding Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) run by the now-renamed Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI). This involves payments to people who burn renewable biomass (wooden pellets) and is part of the UK wide initiative to reduce climate change. The scheme in Northern Ireland originated from a similar scheme in GB except the GB scheme had a cap on the money handed out and the local one didn’t. Bit of a bummer from the kick-off you might think.
The scheme involved a further design feature that meant you could get more money for burning the wood pellets than it would cost you to buy and burn them. So, let’s say I bought and burnt wood pellets to heat my farm and this cost me £1,000; the scheme would give me more than £1,000 to do it!
What would you do? Would you economise on your fuel bills to help save the planet and human kind? Or would you join one scheme participant who is heating an empty barn, or others who have heated their property while opening the windows? Apparently one farmer will earn £1m over the life of the scheme, and there is no suggestion he is doing anything other than playing by the rules.
This is a scandal not because it is stupid but because one concerned citizen reported to DETI that with five minutes research anyone could work out that this scheme was a mess. It’s a scandal because the scheme wasn’t immediately stopped when this was pointed out. It’s a scandal because the relevant Minister responsible has blamed almost everyone but herself and excused herself by saying that she cannot be expected to know “every jot and tittle.”
It’s a big scandal because she is now First Minister. For the reaction of the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister see scandal one above. It’s an even bigger scandal because it appears the special advisor to the responsible Minister availed of the scheme, as did his brother, as did another brother of another DUP special advisor and as did god knows who else – because the full list of scheme participants hasn’t been revealed.
The First Minister is obviously not into “every jot and tittle” but not being into it does not seem to prohibit strong action, as she is reported to have delayed stopping the scheme when at last someone at Stormont thought the smell had become too much.
But really, this isn’t the point of this post as readers in the North of Ireland will know all this and others will be well aware that corruption is part and parcel of the capitalist system. What I found interesting in the two opinion pieces was not the hand-wringing of the two columnists but the conclusions.
Newton Emerson believes that funding illegal terrorist organisations in order that they might behave better is against the law and that since the state is doing this and breaking the law we should change the law!
It’s simply brilliant – isn’t it?
“If paramilitary transitioning had a legal basis, would it feel less like putting some people above the law?” he asks. I’m really sure there’s an answer to that.
Meanwhile Allison Morris has her conclusion:
“Arlene Foster (the First Minister) has refused to fall on her sword, and this is where I will probably differ in view from many other commentators. I don’t think she should . . . because the alternative as DUP party leader and First Minister is too awful to think about, Sammy Wilson or Nigel Dodds running the place? No thanks.”
So what will Allison say to us when Foster does go, whenever that is and for whatever reason, and we get a Sammy Wilson or a Nigel Dodds to take over? Who will the DUP put up as next in line to make Allison put up with a Sammy or a Nigel?
Such is the nature of the peace process in British ruled Ireland and such is the nature of the critical nationalist press, that is, those who are supposed to oppose the rottenness of British rule.
Anyway, that’s enough for tonight. I’m away to watch the BBC Northern Ireland current affairs programme ‘Spotlight’, which has been trailed as an exposure of the truth by the DUP ex-minister who succeeded Foster at DETI.
Will it be fireworks or a damp squib, like the pathetic indoor fireworks I had to put up with as a child during the troubles because too many loud bangs would send the British Army into apoplexy?
If only I had a bottle of beer in the house I’d open it up and settle down, ready to be delighted or mildly disappointed.