RHI smoke and the difference between a SPAD and a Minister

Claire Hanna was on Raidio Uladh /Radio Ulster just now and she made one very valid point: the wood-pellet scheme is creating a lot of smoke and it’s hard to see through it. However, the testimony yesterday by Dr Andrew McCormick  to the Public Accounts Committee has provided flares,  helping us see what direction the wrong-doing took.

That said, I found some of Dr McCormick’s  testimony frustrating. He says he believes that Dr Andrew Crawford, Special Adviser (SPAD) at the time to Arlene Foster, pushed to have the RHI scheme/scam kept open at a point when it should have been closed down, and that in so doing he left the door open to an influx of people to capitalize on the scheme. The frustrating part is that Dr McCormick says he has no proof for this but had reason to believe it.

Now I wasn’t watching this interrogation from start to finish, but did any of the clever dicks around the table think of asking him why, in the absence of any proof, he believed this?

He was also asked at a later time if he thought Arlene Foster had at any time done anything wrong. Enda McClafferty, the BBC reporter filling in for Nolan this morning, has just said (twice) that Dr McCormick said twice that she had not. I didn’t hear the clip that way. To me it sounded as if there was a pregnant pause after the question was asked, then after about a five-second delay, Dr McCormick made with a rather limp “No”. Did any clever dick around the table think of asking him why he believed what he did? After all, if a key adviser is pushing for something as financially monstrous as the RHI scheme/scam, isn’t it likely that the adviser’s boss would know about it? But as far as I know, all the clever dicks cleverly didn’t ask that question.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is looking and sounding more and more like the Watergate hearings in Washington back in the 1970s. Every night, another gob-smacking revelation emerged on the nightly TV report. What we saw was people breaking cover á la Jonathan Bell,  and the man at the centre of the web, Dick Nixon, hanging out trusted adviser after trusted adviser until there were none left, and then the investigators came for him, and got him.

By now, few people are unaware that this RHI scheme/scam was wildly expensive. Few people are unaware that over a two-month period, when some tried to close it down and others resisted, there was a surge in applications to the scheme/scam. Simon Hamilton has promised us a list next Wednesday (got a very slow typist, Simon?) of those who were in the scheme, when they joined it and how much money they got. That should help.

At the moment the SPADS are the focus of attention. One of them- John Robinson, SPAD to Simon Hamilton – has said he’ll step aside from further involvement in the RHI scheme/scam, since it emerged that he said he had no family connection with people taking up the scheme, when in fact his father-in-law was in the scheme. Since he’s obviously been caught out misleading the public (notice how I’m not saying he lied?), wouldn’t it be more logical that he step aside from all SPAD work – or better still, was dismissed? I seem to remember a time when unionists were very upset at the idea of a not-sufficiently moral person occupying a SPAD position. Have their standards declined?

As I see it, there’s a serious misperception about the role of SPADs. They are highly-paid advisers. They advise (the clue is in the name) the Ministers, and the Ministers take or don’t take their advice, and act. So clearly if the Minister is getting bad advice, those giving it are either dumb or devious or both, and should be dismissed forthwith. Equally clearly, responsibility for action taken lies four-square with the Minister in question. S/he hires the well-paid SPAD, so if the SPAD is a busted flush, it says something about the judgement of the Minister. But even more important, the buck stops with the Minister. They are Numero Uno. They’ll get the accolades if they make wise decisions, they’ll get the kickings if their decisions stink. But they are the Boss, the SPAD is the underling. So can we have an end to this talk of SPADs being responsible for this or that? The person who is responsible in each and every case is the Minister. The buck, to coin a phrase, stops there.

Hello, Jonathan Bell. Hello, Arlene Foster.

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10 Responses to RHI smoke and the difference between a SPAD and a Minister

  1. giordanobruno January 19, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    Also pointed out on Nolan was the depressing fact that Jim Allister’s bill in 2015 to reduce and regulate spads was voted down by both the DUP and SF.

    • moser January 19, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

      I agree Gio.

    • billy January 19, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

      why no public enquiry….because they all knew what was going down until spotlight exposed it.now we have mlas who got £65,000 for winding up after failing to get elected 8months ago standing in this election.lol.its like the peelers joining up again after they got millions in redundancy money..the place is corrupt as f##k.

      • Scott Rutherford January 19, 2017 at 1:01 pm #

        You’ve hit the nail on the head billy about why SF don’t want a public inquiry. I heard on Nolan this morning that during the Jamie Bryson coaching scandal, our finance minister O Muilleoir said during a heated discussion that SF were helping sort out the DUP mess regarding the RHI fiasco.

        SF knew about it for a long time and only became agitated about it because of Nolan, Spotlight and the opposition.

      • paddykool January 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

        That is something i agree with you on billy….my oh my !

  2. fiosrach January 19, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    Another point made,Jude, was that Simon was holding off publication to the last minute so that if there was a legal challenge to his list then nobody would be in office to meet the challenge or to publish the list. People as smart as that deserve to be our betters.

  3. Patrick Fahy January 19, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    I am sure there were many and varied ways of exploiting the scheme. One I have just heard of that may still be operating goes as follows.The burner has been linked into what resembles a domestic central heating system. Except that the two radiators running off it and which are of industrial size are located in a nearby river. As the hot water being pumped from the burner enters the radiators in the river it is immediately cooled and is being then piped back to the burner. This means that the burner never cuts itself off. You truly couldn’t make it up!

    • Sherdy January 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

      How sceptical of you Patrick.
      Don’t you realise that the property owner is also a fish farmer, and is just looking after his stock with a bit of central heating of the river?
      Now what could be more plausible?

    • paddykool January 19, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

      Man oh man that really is a Norneverland solution to a problem., PatrickDid you really hear that or did you just make it up ? Either way that is simply wonderfully absurd! That really is a great way to make even more money ….a bit like having a flock of geese laying golden eggs!! it just has to be true ….i really hope it is!!!Think of the firther ises …heating that hot tub and then there’s the swimming -pool to think about too…..Can you think of any other great uses, folks?…I mean there’s twenty years of it to run …..

  4. Freddie mallins January 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    Gio, surely you don’t believe that there is an equivalence case in respect of RHI? Surely this is one the DUP will have to take on the chin themselves. I mean there are perhaps other examples where both Sinn Fein and unionism could be put in the dock, but not this time? I mean really not this time?