Storm clouds loom for stub­born Ar­lene

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT -

THE fog of Brexit blan­keted the city, it rained all day and the lead story on the news was as bleak as the weather when I vis­ited Belfast last week. A man had been mur­dered wait­ing to col­lect his 13-yearold son from school. Eight bul­lets in his head and chest fired by what is un­der­stood to be a pro­fes­sional killer.

Po­lice be­lieve that the mur­der of Jim ‘JD’ Done­gan (43) who was shot in his red Porsche car – the ba­sic model costs €122,766 in the Repub­lic – is linked to the HutchKi­na­han gang feud in Dublin.

In the rush of shop­pers – many from the Repub­lic – I was re­minded of past Christ­mases wreathed in hor­ror from sim­i­lar atroc­i­ties.

Crime and grief never recog­nised bor­ders but a hard Brexit and fron­tier posts would make life eas­ier for crim­i­nals, some of whom use pol­i­tics as a flag of con­ve­nience.

The DUP wants to seize eco­nomic and political fail­ure from Theresa May’s ‘have-your-cake-and-eat it’ op­por­tu­nity in her Brexit deal for North­ern Ire­land.

Mrs May’s deal of­fers North­ern Ire­land a land bor­der with the EU to trade with EU – and ac­cess to the UK’s free trade deals with the rest of the world.

Union­ist farm­ers, busi­nesses and trade unions (and the ma­jor­ity in North­ern Ire­land who voted ‘re­main’) re­sent the DUP twin­ning with the English na­tion­al­ist mi­nor­ity in the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Ms Fos­ter, a lawyer, told the cash­for-ash (RHI) in­quiry that she had not read the leg­is­la­tion about the RHI project when she was the minister in charge of it ‘be­cause she was too busy’.

She will make quotes of the year with her ‘I am ac­count­able but not re­spon­si­ble’ re­sponse in the in­quiry and if the re­port is scathing she can­not con­tinue to lead the DUP.

Many who heard her ev­i­dence to the RHI in­quiry won­der how and why she is still leader of the DUP but be­lieve it will be im­pos­si­ble for her to re­main when the RHI re­port is pub­lished.

The North­ern Ire­land civil ser­vice also ex­pects crit­i­cism for an ab­sence of note tak­ing and not stand­ing up to DUP min­is­ters and their ad­vi­sors through the RHI scan­dal project.

The DUP’s rep­u­ta­tion has al­ready been ir­repara­bly dam­aged by the RHI scan­dal and Ms Fos­ter will need to em­bel­lish her tepid ex­cuse to her party’s con­fer­ence with a heart­felt, pub­lic apol­ogy.

Ru­mours are rife in Belfast that talks be­tween the DUP and Sinn Féin about re­viv­ing the Stor­mont Ex­ec­u­tive and As­sem­bly are on the agenda for Jan­uary.

But the ex­ec­u­tive can­not sit again until the RHI re­port and its rec­om­men­da­tions are pub­lished and af­ter a gen­eral elec­tion – and with Bri­tain’s fixed-term par­lia­ments that will be in 2022.

By that time Ms Fos­ter’s deal to prop up the Tory gov­ern­ment will be his­tory – and it will be as­ton­ish­ing, even mirac­u­lous, if she is lead­ing the DUP.

Sinn Féin came within 1,000 votes of beat­ing them in the as­sem­bly elec­tion in March last year. But the DUP’s close shave with com­ing sec­ond to Sinn Féin was old news three months later when Ms Fos­ter made a post-elec­tion deal with the Tories in West­min­ster.

If Bri­tain leaves the EU with no deal, 55% of the peo­ple in North­ern Ire­land, in­clud­ing 11% of union­ists, would sup­port a united Ire­land, ac­cord­ing to an opin­ion poll in The Times last week. The same poll also found that 25% of union­ists be­lieve the DUP is wrong to re­ject Ms May’s with­drawal deal.

Ms Fos­ter’s line on Brexit has boosted Ir­ish na­tion­al­ism.

The DUP’s tren­chant stand against the ma­jor­ity in North­ern Ire­land on Brexit could see ‘not-anin-inch’ as the epi­taph on their political tomb­stone.

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