Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Bell v Arlene Foster: Not enough blows landed to KO DUP boss just yet

Jonathan Bell speaks to Stephen Nolan about the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. Image courtesy of BBC Northern Ireland
Jonathan Bell speaks to Stephen Nolan about the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. Image courtesy of BBC Northern Ireland
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Alex Kane

By Alex Kane

My goodness me, that was extraordinary stuff. It was also brutal, ugly stuff too, and, as someone mentioned to me at the time, the sort of showdown that could have been accompanied by the EastEnders theme tune.

But if Bell’s hope was that he was going to land a killer blow on Foster, rendering her position as leader and First Minister untenable, then it fell well short of the mark.

His problem — and it goes to the heart of his credibility — is that believing that he was being undermined and then being forced to do something that he knew was wrong at the time (standing up in the Assembly and allowing the scheme to remain open), he still went ahead and did it.

The scene of him praying at the start of the interview, along with his reference to speaking the truth “though the heavens fall”, looked and sounded theatrical to me; and may have harmed him in the eyes of too many in a potentially sympathetic audience.

That said, it was hard to deny the fact that he did manage to make his case, logically and coherently, and if, as he says, he has a paper trail and the evidence of others to support him, then he still leaves Foster with some very uncomfortable questions to answer.

And I presume that those questions will be raised by the media over the weekend and then thrown at her in the Assembly on Monday.

Foster’s interview was not a response to his. But she did look uncomfortable and sounded tetchy.

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She also strayed into the territory of personal attack, which tended to make her look very defensive, very unsettled.

Yet, in the same way that I didn’t hear a killer blow from him, I didn’t hear a fatal mistake from her.

Calling it from the perspective of the viewing public, Bell probably won.

They’re miffed about the scandal and will be more responsive to an internal whistleblower.

But from my perspective as a commentator, I think she has done enough to survive on Monday.

And if she survives that reasonably intact — and with Sinn Fein still on board — then it’s likely that her position is secure.

Mind you, she could still do with ditching the tetchiness and recognising that she has an awful lot of ground to make up with a very unhappy general public.

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