Would it take a prescient or imprudent pundit to predict where the “Cash for Ash” scandal will eventually lead us? I think not. In H.M.S. DUP, we may really have witnessed the building of the unsinkable. They’ve got away with Red Sky, Irisgate was a hit above the waterline, they’ve got away with NAMA – and whilst doing so, they’ve even got away with the brazen duplicity of describing their opponents as the ones that are “rogues and renegades”. So why should the outcome of RHI be any different?
The only people who can knock the DUP off their perch are their own electorate, and how the party oligarchs know it and milk it. Thus when the furore kicked off in December, the party stalwarts who sprang to Arlene’s defence sounded as if they had already switched off for their Christmas break, but were confident there was no need to sound convincing. Unless I missed something, they offered nothing of substance in support of their leader: they had no doubt that the Pavlovian party faithful would echo “Amen!” regardless of the merit of what they said. And so Sammy Wilson reconfirmed his statesmanship calibre by declaring he’d been sceptical about this “green guff” in the first place; and meanwhile Deputy Dodds didn’t appear to have thought too long about the appropriateness of describing allegations about a female politician as “a witch hunt”.
Political parties almost everywhere try to project an image of being upright and devoted servants of the people, whilst not far below the surface, corruption, cronyism and hypocrisy are rife. But here in N.I.plc, there is a religious foundation to the DUP’s world view that might make you think there ought to be some credence to the self-sanctifying spin. How naïve. It can take a moment to get your head around La Rochefoucauld’s statement that “Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue”, but how it captures the DUP in a nutshell.
And there seems no end to it: the party that loves to claim moral and indeed divine authority may yet be spared a full Public Inquiry into possible corruption by the very party that it has been quick to denounce in the past as terrorists-in-government. This thought should be anathema to any self-respecting (or do I mean self-righteous) DUP voter: but if we learnt anything in 2016, it is not to make assumptions about the thought processes of an electorate. Is there anyone in the DUP asking genuine questions about truth and integrity? Has Jonathan Bell’s stance rang one iota with anyone else in the party about the values and behaviour to which they reputedly aspire, that they like to think differentiates them from the terrorists-in-government with whom they reluctantly share power? It goes without saying that neither party wants to share power with the other – but Sinn Fein’s failure to support the vote of no confidence, coupled with the DUP’s arrogance in refusing to admit even the possibility that they may have done wrong, makes it clear that the reconstructed terrorists are far more willing partners than the unreconstructed imperialists.
I suspect Jonathan Bell has found that telling the truth has uncovered a whole world of more unpleasant ones about the moral reality within his own party. Sadly, both individuals and societies rely on the lies they tell themselves and one another in order to function as they do, and those who dare to challenge the shared idols should be aware of the dire risks of exclusion and retribution that they take in doing so. How societies would function if everyone told the truth (and indeed, whether they could function at all) is a fascinating but academic exercise of imagination.
I commend Jonathan Bell for what he did – I would want the church elders praying for me if I had merely undertaken to tell the truth before Nolan, let alone God, and I hope he doesn’t regret it. It remains to be seen in 2017 how many of his good-living, godfearing, law-abiding, bible-believing party colleagues choose conscience over connivance and probity over power.