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Arlene Foster and DUP should realise Hell hath no fury like an electorate that's been scorned

Angry voters will have noted Foster's speech was very big on anger but very small on contrition, writes Alban Maginness

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, playwright William Congreve wrote in the 18th century. It seems that little has changed in the past three centuries if Arlene Foster's behaviour over the past two weeks is anything to go by.

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, must be feeling relieved and delighted now that the political heat is sharply focused on the First Minister and her ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, instead of him and his questionable handling of the issues around the murder of Irish prison officer Brian Stack in the 1980s.

The Nolan Show has served the public well with its TV interview with Jonathan Bell and Foster. The dramatic and bitter television personal recriminations by Foster and Bell shocked most viewers with the degree of personal animosity and vitriol, never mind the complex factual differences revealed on screen.

Prior to the Nolan Show interviews one suspects it was the intention of Foster and her senior DUP colleagues to "out" Bell as being the person responsible for the RHI scandal.

He was going to be the fall guy, and if he didn't fall on his own sword then he would be put to the sword by the DUP leadership.

But it seems that Bell was not prepared to be the sacrificial lamb and decided to take pre-emptive action by going solo and spilling all on TV.

The Nolan Show was incredible viewing by any standards, and a super scoop in terms of TV journalism for the presenter personally.

While Bell's pre-interview, on-camera praying was bizarre and over-the-top, his overall performance had the ring of truth about it.

Bell came across as being forthright and with an impressive command of detail, especially the crucial paper trail.

His call for a judge-led public inquiry was a masterstroke, as it enhanced his credibility as being a truthful witness.

Viewers would have concluded that his call for a judicial inquiry was consistent with someone who was both credible and confident of his facts.

Subsequent selective leaks of information by DUP ministers have challenged Bell's allegations, but have not demolished them. There is still a strong case for Foster to answer.

Bell will pay a high price for challenging her. Barring a miracle, his career as a DUP politician is now over and his future role as an ostracised independent unionist will be forlorn, although his presence in the Assembly will remain a constant thorn in the flesh for the party.

On Monday, in addressing the Assembly on the SDLP-led exclusion motion, Foster gave a robust, Thatcher-like speech that exhibited too much anger and not enough contrition.

While morale-boosting for DUP backbenchers and the party's core voters, it was self-serving, aggressive and unyielding for the wider public, and did not come across well, as her tone was overly defensive and nasty.

Certainly, listening to her in the chamber one would not believe that she could ever be intimidated by anyone.

Throughout the past two weeks Sinn Fein was largely silent and inactive despite steadily growing public anger.

It seemed to have misjudged the public mood, hoping that the issue would somehow magically disappear.

It is now left having to play catch-up.

It has been the Opposition that has led the debate on the RHI scandal, leaving the republican party looking like helpless bystanders.

Monday was an embarrassing day for Sinn Fein, firstly because its amendment to the Opposition's exclusion motion had been deemed not to be competent and therefore rejected by the Speaker.

Secondly, it had promised "grave consequences" if Foster proceeded to speak to the Assembly as First Minister.

Well, she did speak - purportedly as First Minister - thereby defying Sinn Fein's veiled threat and damaging the joint institutional character of the First and Deputy First Ministers' office.

It was the Opposition parties, especially the SDLP, that did well on Monday.

They, in a show of unity, won the numerical vote against Foster and, into the bargain, forced Sinn Fein to abstain.

Ironically, Foster had to rely on the cross-community vote under the "hated" Good Friday Agreement in order to save her position.

Her leadership has been badly damaged by this whole affair and she may well become a lame duck First Minister.

However, anything can happen in this daily, page-turning drama, that could ultimately undermine her position as First Minister in 2017.

Clearly, the electorate is unhappy with the RHI scandal and wants a resolution. My advice is that Hell hath no fury like an electorate scorned.

Happy Christmas everyone.

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