Sammy - A Statement On Assembly Elections
As a result of the actions of Sinn Fein in bringing down the Northern Ireland Assembly The Secretary of State, James Brokenshire has now called an election for Thursday 2 March 2017, 9 months after the people of Northern Ireland made their decision about how they wished to be governed.
The ramifications of this decision by Sinn Fein are massive for all of society and although they have tried to blame it on the renewable heat scheme, examination of the facts show that this is more about Sinn Fein trying to undo the loses they made in a previous election and force the Government at Westminster to give in to their demands to get more soldiers and policemen into court to be tried for the actions they took during the terrorist campaign.
I am frequently asked a number of questions by constituents about the current situation:-
1. Could this election not have been avoided by Arlene Foster simply stepping aside?
This is a most bizarre suggestion because first of all, in our country people are assumed to be innocent until evidence has been shown that they are guilty of some offence. No-one has suggested that Arlene Foster is guilty of any offence in respect of the renewable heat scheme. There were many people who were involved in the decisions about the renewable heat scheme, including Sinn Fein and all of the Executive Parties who approved it and also all of the Parties in the Assembly who were represented on the Economy Committee, who again approved it and judged that it was a very good scheme. The day to day running of the scheme and the design of the scheme was down to the civil servants and the consultants who brought forward the proposals for the Northern Ireland version of the scheme. No-one has suggested that all of these people step aside so why should there have been a demand that Arlene Foster to stand aside.
Secondly, since Arlene Foster would have no input into any public enquiry, she would not appoint the people who carry the enquiry out, she would not be setting down the terms of reference or the scope of their enquiry, nor be the provider of the information which the enquiry would look at and there was no grounds to believe that while being in her position as First Minister an effective enquiry could not be held.
Thirdly, Arlene Foster had made it quite clear that she was quite happy for her role in the renewable heat scheme to be totally scrutinised. She would appear before any enquiry, give any information she was required to do, so that a judgement could be made as to whether or not she had acted wrongly.
Lastly, this week she was due to bring forward regulations that would have prevented the overspend of £20 million per year, but Sinn Fein’s action in bringing the Assembly down will make this impossible, so ironically the overspend will continue when it could have been stopped by simply allowing the Assembly to continue and the enquiry to be held and the regulations to be changed.
2. Has this collapse been brought about by the arrogance of the DUP in Government?
Sinn Fein have moved the issue away from the renewable heat initiative scheme because they know they are on thin ice, especially since all of the issues around that particular problem could have been resolved through an enquiry which Arlene Foster had agreed to participate in and through a change in regulations which would have done away with the overspend.
Their complaint is that the DUP has been arrogant and has not shown them respect. This is Sinn Fein speak for the unwillingness of the DUP to give in to Sinn Fein’s agenda. Whilst we are partners with Sinn Fein in Government, we never signed up to promoting Sinn Fein’s aims and objectives for Northern Ireland. We stood in the last election on our own manifesto and will pursue an agenda which we believe is beneficial to all of the people in Northern Ireland and reflects our Unionist traditions. Through their incompetence Sinn Fein are admitting that the DUP has been able to pursue a Unionist agenda while they have not been able to pursue their own agenda because they choose the wrong ministries, they were unable to negotiate a program for Government which achieved their objectives and of course they are now nervous because they are being attacked from the left by People Before Profit to whom they lost seats and the SDLP who are accusing them of being too timid in Government.
The fact of the matter is Arlene Foster took a huge risk and showed great generosity in going into Government with people who have actually tried to kill her father. However, as she made it clear, she believes as the leader of the biggest Party in Northern Ireland she had a duty to ensure that Government in Northern Ireland was made possible and since Sinn Fein were the coalition partners with whom she was forced to work she showed a readiness to do so. This pragmatism and realism, as well as generosity, paints a totally different picture from the one Sinn Fein have been trying to portray of a Unionist leader who is arrogant, intransigent and shows lack of respect.
After the election which will be held we will still be a Unionist Party, we still stand up to Sinn Fein and we will still refuse to accede to their blackmail so an election is not going to change anything from that point of view. Sinn Fein will still have to deal with a strong Unionist Party. I suspect that their hope is that the election will weaken Unionism and give them an upper hand, which of course is a very important reason why Unionists need to come out at this election and give Sinn Fein a message that the Unionist population will not be blackmailed into voting for softer representatives simply to keep the peace with Sinn Fein.
3. Why have Sinn Fein decided to bring the Assembly down?
Whilst it is always difficult to identify the motives other Parties have, Martin McGuinness gave a clue in his resignation statement when he majored on the issues of the past and the unwillingness of the British Government to fund inquests and to make available intelligence reports on the activities of the security forces and informants.
Sinn Fein’s real anger is directed at the Government’s unwillingness to play ball with them in getting more soldiers and policemen into court, in revealing the details of security force operations carried out during the troubles and in identifying informers who helped to undermine Sinn Fein through working with the security forces, an obsession which the terrorists still have about those whom they believed betrayed them.
Sinn Fein probably believe that the Government will be unwilling to risk the collapse of the Executive in Northern Ireland especially at a time when most of its efforts are directed towards the negotiations required to leave the EU and they believe that the Government are more vulnerable at the moment to their blackmail tactics than they have ever been.
As far as the DUP are concerned we will be impressing on the Government that under no circumstances, regardless of the consequences, must they accede to Sinn Fein’s demands to put those who protected us over the 40 years of the troubles into court and into jail, nor to allow Sinn Fein to rewrite the history of the troubles by trying to pass the blame for their murder campaign onto others, a tactic which they have been relentlessly pursuing over the last number of years.
They also hope that by threatening to bring down the Assembly they will make Unionists more acquiescent to their demands for a whole range of issues, including an Irish Language Act, the introduction of gay marriage, relaxation of abortion laws and a greater role for Dublin in our affairs.
4. What are the consequences of the collapse of the Assembly?
The first consequence is that the enquiry into what happened with the renewable heat scheme and the action required to stop the overspend will be prevented.
Secondly, many of the actions that are required by the Assembly to keep Northern Ireland running will no longer be possible. The first casualty will be the impact on the budgets of every Department. Although it is his duty as Finance Minister to bring forward a budget to the Executive usually before Christmas, to date Mairtin O’Muilleoir has done no such thing so the Executive has not approved a budget for next year and with the collapse of the Assembly no budget will be approved. This means an emergency budget will require to be introduced by civil servants the Permanent Secretary and his Department but will only give Government Departments 90% of what they were able to spend this year. This means immediate cut backs in each Department and for those Departments that make money available to voluntary and community groups. They will have to notify those groups that no money can be guaranteed for next year and tens of thousands of people will now receive protective notices indicating there may be no job for them after the 1st of April.
Thirdly, the Executive had promised another £200 million per year for the Health Service but because there will be no budget in place that money will not be available.
The Health Minister was supposed to bring forward a strategy for dealing with the waiting lists in the Health Service, this covers everything from people who require cataract operations to hip replacements, knee replacements and other types of surgery as well as the waiting lists in Accident and Emergency Departments. As a result of the Assembly collapsing no such strategy will be brought forward and hundreds of thousands of people across Northern Ireland will find that they do not have the opportunities for care which they could have had if a successful strategy had been brought forward by the Minister. It is amazing that she seems to think it more important that Sinn Fein should have the advantage of an election rather than the people who she should be caring for as Health Minister should have the opportunity for an operation.
The Government at Westminster is completing its negotiating stance on the discussions for leaving the European Union. A mechanism has been put in place whereby Ministers from all of the devolved administrations were consulted as to the concerns for each of their parts of the United Kingdom. While Scotland and Wales will have an input, Northern Ireland will now no longer be able to have an input because of course there is no Executive and Ministers will not have any guidance regarding the stance which the Executive in the Assembly wishes to take. Already as a Member of the Brexit Committee in Westminster I have highlighted this issue and the Committee is asking the Government to put in place special arrangements for Northern Ireland, though to date no detail of what these special arrangements would be has been established and we can be sure they will be inferior to a direct input from the Executive.
The election which has been forced upon us is totally unnecessary, it is extremely damaging and expensive and it is up to the people of Northern Ireland to send a clear message to Sinn Fein that their cavalier and arrogant disregard for the people of Northern Ireland deserves to be punished.