Mark Carruthers and guests review the week's political events from Stormont and Westminster and follow the highs and lows of the political week.
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Less than a year ago, she was the triumphant leader
of unionism, taking 38 MLAs to Stormont.
But a tumultuous few months has seen Arlene Foster
battling allegations of corruption and incompetence.
On The View tonight, she responds to the criticisms
just two weeks ahead of the Assembly election.
Arlene Foster vows to see off her opponents in this election
saying she will continue to lead unionism on March 3rd.
I will accept the outcome of the public inquiry whatever it says. I
hope it will be a watershed moment and we will look back and say, could
we all have handled that differently?
Also tonight - Mike Nesbitt's plan to give his second preference
to a nationalist has led to a split in his party.
I'll be asking two former Stormont insiders if it was a generous
gesture others should follow or politically naive.
Plus, we take a look at the party political broadcast, American-style.
And with their very own style, in commentators' corner,
it's Professor Deirdre Heenan and Newton Emerson.
What a difference eight months can make.
Back in May last year it was a triumphant Arlene Foster
who led her team back into government as the leader
Fast forward to tonight and we're just two weeks away
from another election - this time with the DUP
at logger-heads with its former partners in government,
and rows over RHI, legacy and the Irish language leaving
little hope for a return to Stormont any time soon.
I asked Arlene Foster to explain how she might work
with Michelle O'Neill after the vote.
It is not for Michelle O'Neill or anybody else in Sinn Fein to tell
the people who should lead unionism. She just said she would not support
you being in the Executive. The Executive will decide who they want
as their leader in terms of unionism and it is up to the electorate, it
is not up to Michelle O'Neill. It depends what her mindset is. I am
not in the realms of blocking or breaking anybody. I'm trying to get
devolution back up and working because this unnecessary election
has been caused by Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein has consistently referred to
what it says is corruption at the heart of government as a reason for
the collapse of Stormont. It has said that throughout this campaign,
how do is the DUP respond? There are legal issues around that so I will
not get into that. In terms of the narrative they have blown up since
December, we have to look at what was happening eight months before
that. As you know, we were getting on with the business of government,
we had a draft programme for government. We had health reforms
under way. With respect, that is not an answer to my question, I am
asking about Sinn Fein professing to corruption, an allegation of
corruption to the heart of government. Let us look at what was
happening last year. We were getting on with government. It was only when
I was in China, dealing with issues on behalf of the Executive office
and I went on that trip with the Deputy first minister's agreement
because he had taken unwell before the trip. I went to China and when I
came back, we had to deal with the whole RHI and tobacco which had
grown up at that time. So it is quite wrong for Sinn Fein to try and
rewrite what has been happening. -- the whole RHI crisis. Of course it
is a political characterisation. That is what has been happening
since then. In the last election campaign, the DUP media at all about
you, your vision. Let us talk about you eight months on. Your opponents
say you are not the safe pair of hands they thought you were. This is
a different Arlene Foster going before the electorate? It is not,
that is the irony. It is the same Arlene Foster who stood on that
platform last year. Different circumstances? Different
circumstances, that is correct but not a different Arlene Foster. It is
the same Arlene Foster who's asking for support and asking people to
look at my record in government over ten years and not listen to the
political smears and allegations, rumours, just because you say
something more than once does not make it true. That is why I am
pleased the public inquiry has been set up. Instead of having the drip
effect over the last period of time, we will actually get the truth and
justice. I want to ask about something, one of the most glaring
examples of differences between the DUP, yourself and Sinn Fein is
legacy cases. The Sinn Fein leader is attending at commemoration at
Clonoe for IRA members shot by the SAS, can you see any way of bridging
the gap between your parties when you are all so divided on such an
important and sensitive issue? I think we have made progress on
legacy issues. We have had fresh start talks. We have made progress
about finding the infrastructure of dealing with the past. My position
is clear, there can be no equivalence between terrorism and
those people who stood between those of us in society who were living
through it, the security forces, who were protecting people and
terrorists who were going out to murder people. It is what it is. No
surprise about her attending that event. I am not surprised that
unfortunately she has decided to commemorate and indeed celebrate
four IRA men... You have no idea that she is celebrating. Well having
those commemorations, we have a good idea. Let us talk about the RHI
scandal after fresh revelations today. It was a botched scheme and
it happened on your watch. I am pleased we now have a situation
where that is a public inquiry set up so we can get to the truth of
everything that happened. I absolutely acknowledge their
frustrations. I acknowledge the anger in the community about the RHI
scheme. I acknowledge it because I shared it. I was the minister at the
time so you can imagine how frustrated I am that this has come
to the fore. Your critics say your ministerial oversight of the scheme
was incompetent. You were asked to account for your actions in
monitoring the scheme and you pointed the finger at your civil
servants. All of that will come out of the public inquiry. That is what
you did, we already know this. It will all come out in the public
inquiry and I am content. I hope others will accept the outcome of
the public inquiry. To date we have had smears and allegations. Hysteria
are almost in relation to the issue and I am pleased the public inquiry
will get to the truth of the matter. There was a platform piece in the
Irish News from you last week, that I am hostile to their interests of
national as hundreds of people in Northern Ireland. You do concede you
have made mistakes on this issue? What were the mistakes? I concede
that in the heightened tension that has happened since December there
has been a lot of harsh things said about me. Possibly I have to take my
share of the blame in reacting to that. I hope what will happen after
the election, hopefully we will all be back in a devolved
administration, I genuinely hope that it will be a watershed moment
and we will look back and say, could we all have handled that
differently? We have had difficulties in the past in
devolution. We had the flags protest. We had the murder of a man
in the East Belfast when the IRA were implicated but we work through
all of that. On this occasion, Sinn Fein decided we would not work
through it but they would pull the plug and throws into an unnecessary
election. You had just turned that around and turned it into a way of
criticising Sinn Fein, I am asking you to analyse what you said about
conceding that you made mistakes and tell me what the mistakes were. Do
you know regret talking about feeding the Sinn Fein crocodile last
week? That is not a laughing matter. It is Sinn Fein for goodness sake.
We're in an election. Can I tell you some of the things said about me in
this election. I am interviewing you. Last week I spoke to Michelle
O'Neill. She sat in that seat and said it was wrong, she had
admonished her colleagues for talking about giving you manners.
Did she also admonished her party president when he said he was going
to break unionists and use equality to do that? When did he do that? Two
years ago. Let us talk about the present. We want to talk about the
current issues relevant to this campaign. Do you regret the comments
you made about feeding the Sinn Fein crocodile? Now, it was in the
context. You just said talking about looking back and consider the
dialogue and I ask you if it was wrong, you cannot have it both ways.
Sinn Fein have used it now there's a joke. They are not offended by it.
How would you know? They are now using it as T-shirts with see you
later alligator. You have also said there will never be an Irish
language act on your watch. That is why your opponents have come to the
conclusion you are hostile to people who celebrate their sense of Irish?
Not at all. That is why I decided to do the article in the news to debunk
that. I am against an Irish language act because of the cost of it. Tens
of millions of pounds... You do not know the cost? Certainly Sinn Fein
have not costed it. Have you costed at? We have looked to say how much
cause the Republic of Ireland government and it is tens of
millions of every year. How many tens? So it is located if it is 20
million but not more? I am not saying, is it 20 or 90 million? They
spend 20 or 30 million on the Irish language. That is only part of it.
Secondly we would be using the Irish language in an equal weight to
English. Thirdly, if you are applying to this Civil Service and
had the Irish language you would have affirmative action. This should
be debated on the floor of the Assembly. We are going into
negotiations now, that is what they're looking for so it is
important the public now. I want to go back to the issue of Irishness
and whether or not you're highly -- hostile to the Irish language. You
had an opportunity to send a clear message about that last summer. You
attended and Irish football games together. He went to both games and
you refuse to attend the Republic match, wide? Because it is the
Republic of Ireland and I am a representative of Northern Ireland.
I was supporting and Northern Ireland team. You could have made a
gesture by going along? This is not about gesture politics. I am
supporting the Northern Ireland team. I am passionate about the
Northern Ireland football team and I want them to succeed. If you're
seriously saying that the administration has collapsed because
I did not go to a Republic of Ireland match? I did not say that
for a second. It is facile in the extreme.
And made it clear he is not the Northern Ireland football team's
fans, and that he will be more of it fan of the Republic of Ireland.
But he saw the political capital to be made out of going to both games.
You did not reciprocate. But I do not do political capital. So was it
gesture politics when he should hand the Queen? You would have to ask
him. It is of no value that he did that? That is a matter for him. You
must have a view on whether Martin McGuinness as an arch republican was
prepared to shake hands, take tea, sit down with the Queen and number
of occasions. You don't believe that is politically significant? Or
indeed, if she chose to do that. Which she did. So was a good gesture
for Herbert valueless as far as he is concerned? No, now you are
putting words into my mouth. I'm not into gesture politics. I am into
real politics. So that was real politics?
You going to a football match would not have been?
No, because I fundamentally believe in the Northern Ireland team and won
them to succeed. You have confirmed today, I think,
your party received a large payments advertise a pro Brexit stands
outside Northern Ireland across Britain, during a referendum
campaign. Whether that money come from? Of course, as you know, we
played a key role in relation to the Brexit campaign, and we registered
as a party in the Leave campaign, because we felt very passionately
about it. As a result, we played our role nationally, and received a
donation. How much was the donation?
It has been properly put into the Electoral Commission. How much was
it? There is, as you know, rules around this.
I am asking how much it was. We have stuck with it. I don't have
the figure here, so I don't know how much. You must have some idea. I
don't. There was speculation it could have been in the region of
?250,000. I don't have the figures in front of me. It is hard to
believe you have received a large amount of money as part of the
Brexit campaign and you have no idea. I'm not saying I have no idea.
If you have an idea, how much was it? I'm telling you, it was probably
accounted for. I don't doubt that. How much did you spend? I have no
idea. No idea how much you spend? It was last June. You're asking me to
go back over Electoral Commission returns from last June. I am in the
middle of an election. You have no idea how much you spend? I haven't.
You must know where the money came from Ben? -- then? Yes, I do, and it
has been told to the Electoral Commission. Why is it a secret? It
is not a secret. We have done what we should have done. There are rules
particular to Northern Ireland, and if we are to talk about those rules,
we want to see all the donations open and accounted for, including
all the money coming from America. So you're not about to say how much
that was where it came from? No, because under the current rules, we
have accounted for that and the proper fashion, and... It will be
made public across the world, but not here in Northern Ireland? It
will be accounted for under the rules as they currently stand. We as
taxpayers in Northern Ireland would know where that money came from. We
have indicated to the Secretary of State we want to see those rules
changed. What does that say about openness and transparency? Well,
what I have just that, we want to be open and transparent. We received
that money under the rules of currently constituted. You have
conceded you don't expect to return to a reduced assembly with a 38 MLAs
you had last time, though you are running 38 candidates. How many you
think you will secure? We are fighting this election to win, and
you will recall, last year, you told me we would not go back with 38 and
we did. I asked you if you would go back with 38! I watched the
interview, but I did not say you would not go back with 38. You,
interestingly, would not say you would go back with 38 either. What
you want to do is win this election. Bat what we want to.
What is your advice about how DV voters should transfer their vote on
after voting for DUP? Should their second preference before the Ulster
Unionist Party matter it should clearly be for Unionists, because
this election will be very close, and I want to maximise the number of
Unionists returned to Stormont. Why do I say that? For this reason,
because if there are a majority of nationalist returns to Stormont, we
could find ourselves in the situation where nationalists use
that to push for a border poll, and that would cause great instability
and divisiveness like we have never seen before in terms of Brexit,
which was supposed to be the most divisive thing that had happened to
us. That's why I think it is wrong for Mike Nesbitt to advocate
transferring to nationalise, because it may lead us into a very difficult
position. Arlene Foster, talking to me earlier
this evening. Now, in two weeks' time we'll be
going to the polls with the option of giving multiple preferences right
down the ballot paper. This week, though, Mike Nesbitt
found himself at odds with many of his own party
when he revealed on Sunday Politics he would be giving an SDLP candidate
second preference rather than giving That's a very significant thing
three Unionist leaders say, and possibly without precedent in the
history of Northern Ireland. -- for a Unionist leader to say.
So just how unusual - or not - is voting outside
With me is former MLA John McCallister and the one-time
SDLP special advisor Michael McKernan.
Welcome to you both, and thank you for joining us tonight. First of
all, John. In 2015 the UUP had an electoral
pact with the DUP, now Mike Nesbitt is saying don't necessarily
transfer to unionists. It is, and I except there are two
different electoral systems, and I was critical, in fact. I resigned
from the Ulster Unionist Party because of an electoral pact, and
that is why disagreed with them. If you are serious about removing and
changing the government at Stormont, then of course, you should vote to
transfer to opposition parties. That is the logic. The problem might but
intake of that them -- the problem might got into is that the message
is so mixed in west Belfast, he was voting for itself two years ago and
is now voting for Ulster Unionist Party and transferring to the SDLP.
I would love to see more people doing it, but to do it in the
context of not even, well, speaking to the SDLP leader before you
announced it, or indeed, speaking to member 's of your own party.
We don't know what happened beforehand, of course, but it is the
case that he said what he said, and he said this what I am doing, and
not necessarily saying everyone else should do it, but quite a few of his
candidates came out very quickly and said, we are not recommending that.
It is very difficult as a party leader to separate the two, when you
say in a political interview, as you were doing on Sunday Politics, you
know, you cannot separate out in a throwaway line, this is my personal
view. It just doesn't work like that. The message from a few years
ago as, to do this and do what is logical, and I mean, every time I
debated my opposition bill at the time, I mentioned the two key things
in the opposition, scrutinising the government and providing an
alternative. But you need to work on that throughout a period of years,
but they haven't had a long period in opposition. That message is just
too mixed and too confusing for voters not having your own party on
board. It makes it look even more confused than it needed to be.
An economist has said on the record today that he did not know Mike
Nesbitt was going to say what he said, and he did not reciprocate. He
did not say that he would do the same thing that Mike Nesbitt said he
would do in east Belfast. I know you are not an SDLP member any more, but
what do you think members will have made of what was said on Sunday?
Firstly, I think Mike has been quite brave, given that candidates are
never more jittery than at election time, and they have clearly got the
jitters in that party. His party members might not have
seen it as brave. But the shock, horror is exaggerated
to me. Unionists have voted for nationalists before. There was
tactical voting in Westminster elections, and regularly that has
happened with Unionist vote. So that is number one. There should not be
that surprised with the Unionist vote.
And in the PR at election, people would say that benefits West
Belfast? Yes, and that is a critical point.
I will give Mike the benefit of the doubt, saying that while he knew he
would probably create a media storm, he has actually move the issue front
and centre, and in his election in ambition, which is nothing short of
regime change, he is saying, if you want regime change, you have to vote
for the Ulster Unionist Party one rid of the DLP, and vice versa if
you want rid of Sinn Fein. The difficulty is with that, while he
says vote Mike, get Colin and vice versa, I think it is the case that
eight of his high-profile candidates have come out and said, don't do
that. What does that say about the message?
It is OK. They are looking at their local situation, and Danny Kennedy,
for example, needs to hoover up votes from TUV, Ukip, etc, to get
him through in Derry- Armagh. People are looking after themselves and
should not get so excited. You might even argue it is illogical. We have
just heard Arlene Foster say she is calling on all DUP people to
transfer to the Ulster Unionist Party by other people who want to
put her out of business, yet he is calling for transfers to them. There
is a logical round. That is a good way of putting it.
And I suspect there will be people at home who are perhaps baffled or
bamboozled by precisely what message they are being given by different
politicians on any given day of the week. It is very complicated, isn't
it? It becomes that kind of complicated
when you change the electoral system and then you change the message. If
you are looking to use, in that phrase, regime change, the logical
outcome of that is voting for the opposition parties. Personally, I
would have preferred to sea the alliance brought into that as well,
and going even further down that road. The point that Arlene Foster
was making in your interview, about voting for Unionists, and it being
slightly illogical, that is trying to bring the election back to not
how Northern Ireland works or making Northern Ireland or the assembly
work, but bringing it back this inflated border poll, a tribal
headcount. I would like to see us normalising and continuing. My
criticism of anything to do with Mike is he really needs to warm up
his own party to this before just announcing it in the middle of the
heat of an election campaign. I think that is the danger that he set
himself on Sunday. And it is the case that, and history
tells us very clearly, it is very difficult to make out... To break
Gaza tribal politics. You hear a lot of people saying social media is
bouncing with people talking about the need to break away from the
orange and green divide, and yet, arguably, our electoral system
encourages it? Well, maybe not this time. We have had our biggest
turnouts in the times when people have had most hope and have had more
optimism, and the future looked better. We have had a gradual
decline in turn out as people have become more cynical and
disappointed, so maybe this occasion, it feels the union and the
SDLP can excite people about this potential change and a new
government and the new approach and people who want to work together, if
they can commit people of that, they might get a higher vote share.
You have looked at some of the numbers, but Phillips actually
benefited from Unionist transfers in the past?
Yes, very sadly, he was left with a Sinn Fein candidate when he was 400
behind. -- very simply. The Ulster Unionist Party just been elected had
920 votes to distribute of her surplus. Richie needed half of them,
but got all of them. He got 900. So there is a degree of
sophistication on the ground? Yes, I think he would benefit again.
Someone else got elected under his own steam in west Belfast last time,
but with the move devices, that is a tough ask for him, and he would be
dependent on Unionist transfers to get in.
It is confusing and bamboozling, but that sophistication is there a
grassroots level, and people know what they want to do? They do. The
other important thing on that is actually getting turnout, getting
people excited, because breaking through, people have to know it is
not enough to tweak your support. You actually have to go to a polling
station. Just one more point, I think the
opposition parties have been gifted with an opportunity in the fact that
Arlene Foster has been ruled out as First Minister. That means there is
a hiatus least the first six months of the enquiry. I don't see the
judge being pushed around. I would say that is a year, so Colum
Eastwood will be quick to jump on that and say, vote for Ireland, you
vote for Michelle. The opposition could have done with
more time, but that is politics. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Thank you John McCallister and Michael McKernan.
Now let's get some thoughts from our commentary team
Professor Deirdre Heenan and Newton Emerson.
Good evening. Let us talk about that Arlene Foster interview. What did
you make of it? Of all the terrible aspects of that interview, the one
that jumped up and need was the figure for the cost of Irish
language in the south. Her argument boils down to cost but she could not
remember the one number that it boils down to. She said tens of
million. She should know an exact figure. She only has one figure to
remember. She could then launch into a baggage of details but she could
not remember any factual details, that is her leadership. She cannot
offer a generous vision, what is she bringing apart from a disaster she
cannot get out of. Her supporters will differ. I thought it was a
shocker, she do it yourself no favours. There were lots of
inconsistencies. She said I do not do jester politics. But I would have
gone to IgE team. But as far as I know she does not support one. What
mistakes did you make a? It is all the fault of Sinn Fein. She went on
to list the mistakes they had made. No apology for a comment about
feeding the Sinn Fein crocodile. Her response was bizarre. What does that
mean? Sinn Fein was her partner in government. I do not think it is
acceptable. Most people thought it was offensive. Is she saying she
could not accept that people thought that kind of language was not
offensive? Really, the inconsistency, saying one thing and
seeing something else later on. She seemed very unsure of herself. I
thought there were signs that she had decided to bring across the
different attitude but she could not hold it together. It is too much to
expect someone to change their personality in the course of the
campaign. If you remember when Peter Robinson suffered a similar disaster
in 2010, he appeared to be genuinely humbled at least for a while but
there is no sign of this with Arlene Foster. She seems to be struggling
to find the right tone. She swings around all over the place. She tries
to be jokey and Charney, it comes across as someone who's not sure
where she should be. What did you make of her decision not to go to
the Republic of Ireland match in France last summer? It was
ridiculous. It would've been so easy to find words alone that even if she
did not feel she was able to go, she could have paid tribute to Martin
McGuinness for finding the time to do so when you mentioned their North
of Ireland team she could have mentioned her local wine but the
whole manner of her approach was dismissive and contemptuous. I am
sure the Northern Ireland team herself will not be thanking her for
that. Again, we cannot be sure about that, maybe we will hear from
individuals who have their view on that. I just want to ask about the
breaking story today about political donations and we know now, as she
confirmed, a substantial donation was made by an organisation in
England to support the DUP Brexit campaign but we do not know what the
organisation was or how much the amount paid was? The attitude was
you expect me to know figures? There are number of key figures that you
should know and instead of trying to refer back to something that
happened years ago, those figures should be in the public domain. She
is correct when she talks about the rules and what they are. Equally,
you do not have to. And then comes across as very shifty. I know
there's that I am not going to tell you, why should I? The point is she
does not have to make that public. She has reported it to the electric
commission and that is all that is required. That organisation in
England could have made that a nation and declared openly over
there but she needs to get a better explanation over a year. She does
not have to come across saying, we want to work together. She's clearly
working towards the hardline. Thank you, we have to leave it there.
That's it from The View for this week.
No Sunday Politics this weekend but we will be back next Thursday
with a special outside broadcast from Ulster University.
We've seen some interesting party political broadcasts this campaign.
But they're nothing compared to those in the United States.
And across the pond things have certainly changed over the years.
It's morning again in America and under the leadership of President
Regan, our country is stronger and better. Why would we want to return
to where we were. $1 million spent to become the mayor of Minneapolis,
a $100,000 a year. I will not take money from developers or the
political angle, I will not go to the strip clubs anymore.
To be in the Lords, you have to be punctual...
literally have to slam the door in somebody's face.
Join Mark Carruthers and guests on Thursdays for The View - the week's political news, comments and expert analysis. The View reports events at Stormont and Westminster and how they are affecting issues such as health and the economy. It follows the ups and downs of the political parties and debates the highs and lows of the political week. It also has an alternative view on the week's political headlines.