Allegations are flying about who was responsible and who knew what in regards to the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme (RHI), which saw businesses like the Ferrari showroom in Belfast being kept cosy at a profit using public funds. A brother and two cousins of former DUP special advisor Andrew Crawford acquired 11 boilers under RHI. Crawford admitted sending a confidential document on the scheme to a cousin. This has rightfully provoked a huge outpouring of anger, aimed at the DUP in particular, who looked to be tied to the schemes implementation.

RHI – corruption at the heart of Stormont

This level of corruption goes much further than what one inquiry panel member described as “sofa government” – this isn’t purely a result of laziness or incompetence. Rather, it is a reflection of both the sectarian carve-up of politics here and the neo-liberal consensus among the main parties. They throw money hand over fist at big business, with every party from Sinn Féin to the DUP standing united to cut corporation tax and implement a programme of cuts which have devastated public services.

Why the Executive collapsed

Arlene Foster has suggested that former DUP minister Jonathan Bell’s alleged mishandling of the RHI scheme contributed to the collapse of the Stormont Executive. While it is true RHI was the immediate catalyst for the unravelling of the Executive,  it was the dynamic of sectarian polarisation that the parties themselves are responsible for which tore down the executive and has prevented a new agreement being reached.

Sinn Féin did not come out of this affair squeaky clean. Despite their claims that they were calling a “halt to the DUP’s arrogance”, they were slow to take a stand. In December of that year, they abstained on a motion in the Assembly calling for Foster’s resignation. It has emerged recently that Sinn Féin’s Máirtín Ó Muilleoir took credit for keeping the scheme open. He is quoted as having said, “I am very disappointed for all affected, though I am pleased the minister did not go ahead with a plan to close scheme next week as proposed until we protested in committee and question time.” It was only pressure from the public and their base which forced Sinn Féin to take a harder position.

Labour Alternative Needed

The inquiry in of itself will not purge Stormont of corruption or offer much of an answer to the frustrations working-class people have with the dead-end political establishment here. The problem goes far deeper than the individuals involved. It is a systemic problem. Capitalism here is tied to sectarianism. The Socialist Party has worked with others to launch Labour Alternative to rebuild the cross-community, socialist tradition that can unite working-class people in their common interests against those of the sectarian dinosaurs.

by Seán Burns