Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster RHI handling textbook of how not to handle crisis, says Lord Peter Hain

By Jonny Bell

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Lord Peter Hain has described Arlene Foster's handling of the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal as a "textbook example of how not to handle a crisis".

Lord Hain, who served as secretary of state for Northern Ireland under Tony Blair, also stressed the need for top-level ministerial involvement in Northern Ireland affairs in an interview with Stephen Nolan.

He urged the UK government to get into the "driving seat" and take personal responsibility and put it at the top of the agenda, along with Brexit.

"Because I don't see evidence of that and that's what worries me the most," he said.

He said there was "blame on all sides" over the latest political crisis which saw the institutions collapse when Sinn Fein did not nominate a deputy First Minister.

"But frankly the way she handled the renewable energy scandal was a textbook example of how not to handle a crisis when you are ultimately the minister responsible," he said.

"I believe strongly in the principle of ministerial responsibility. I don't think you dump on civil servants."

Lord Hain said he did not believe Mrs Foster should have resigned over the scandal.

"Had she handled it better we might not have got to this situation," he added.

Lord Hain also responded to Edwin Poots claim the DUP did not agree to an Irish language act which clause in the 2006 St Andrews deal.

The former health minister said the commitment was inserted as part of a "side deal" between Gerry Adams and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He said the party had honoured "everything they agreed to do" at the negotiations, describing the insertion of the clause as a "dishonourable act" by Mr Blair.

More: SF slams Poots' claim DUP did not agree Irish Language Act at talks

Lord Hain described the deal as a way to open the door on future agreements

He said: "St Andrews was an historic agreement that in principle paved the way to the power-sharing devolved government that has been more of less stable in past 10 years.

"It contained a great deal of detail and in a sense both are right. St Andrews was both agreed by everybody but nobody disagreed with the detail.

"And that was the way it was signed off and that was the way we got the progress that was hard to achieve.

"The most important thing - that brings us to current situation - there has got to be give and take between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"There has got to some attempt to actually meet half way between each other and by and large that was what happened at St Andrews."

He continued: "Sometimes you have a document containing thousands of words and although there may not be 100% agreement on one line in it, there is broad agreement and that enables you to move forward.

"Everybody knows that's how politics in Northern Ireland works.

"The most important thing about St Andrews is that it moved the whole process forward.

"In the months that followed that was the toughest part of all of this and St Andrews was the key to opening the door to that including the Irish language and Sinn Fein's signed up in a way nobody thought they would ever do to support the principle of devolving justice and the rule of law in policing and they would support that for the first time in their history.

"When you negotiate all the complexities of an agreement including the DUP's justified issues that they wanted particularly and you bring them all together, it may not be that everybody agrees 100% on everything but broadly speaking they agree on the whole package."

Mr Hain said there was no dispute about an Irish language clause in the agreement.

"That was part of an overall package the parties agreed to or rather they didn't disagree to in all its detail.

"And that moved the process forward because that is the historic fact and it is very important we brought stability that we eventually achieved in the old enemies sharing power together in a way nobody believed was possible

"That is what we achieved and we are proud of that."

Mr Hain implored today's politicians to stand back and work together in order to restore power sharing.

He said: "On language issues, on equality issues, on issues of the DUP, let's talk about them, let's not obstruct and block and refuse to move forward and have gratuitous measures like suddenly withdrawing funding for an Irish language project before Christmas on the grounds of austerity and then reinstalling it after when austerity remains.

"All those kind of things do not encourage the kind of political relationships and building of confidence that is necessary.

"I would implore everybody concerned now instead of contesting each other at the polls as they are doing and will continue to do but to actually look beyond that.

"Because if we have a situation after the election we are back to the situation we are in now because no one is speaking properly to anyone and no one is seeking common ground but rather standing in deep trenches far apart rather than speaking to each other.

"if we have another election.... I don't know if it will ever be possible  to get the institutions up and running after that.

"Yes there are legitimate differences on Irish language and whole other issues but politics is about resolving those issues rather than digging in and refusing to confront them."

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