Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: DUP and Sinn Fein only serve their own powerbases

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein and the DUP are working hard behind closed doors to reach a deal to restore the Assembly and Executive.

Unlike previous negotiations, these are low key. The parties aren’t rushing out every evening to brief the media and slag off each other, and that gives grounds for hope.

So will they or won’t they meet the unofficial end of the month deadline?  After watching the most recent revelations about Stormont shenanigans, the public could be forgiven for not giving a damn either way.

BBC Spotlight’s brilliant investigation into the Social Investment Fund (SIF) was an indictment of Sinn Fein-DUP rule at Stormont.

Two parties, with huge working-class bases which pride themselves on their grassroots credentials, appear to have used a fund which should have been combating poverty and deprivation as a system of patronage.

UDA commander Dee Stitt and DUP Speaker Robin Newton featured heavily in last week’s programme. The BBC has faced allegations of having an anti-unionist agenda. Let’s knock this nonsense on the head.

When Spotlight revealed that Sinn Fein MLAs had claimed £700,000 in expenses for research from Research Services Ireland — which was run by the party’s own finance managers — republicans on social media denounced the “biased British Broadcasting Corporation”.

After a light is shone into dark corners on things both sides would rather weren’t exposed, they claim there’s a conspiracy. It’s easier than addressing the issue. So there is no plot against the DUP on this one, there is only good journalism.

In London, Dublin, or any other parliament in the world, a speaker who misled the Assembly as Robin Newton did would have to resign.

In what other corner of the globe would somebody like Dee Stitt be put in charge of a charity with control over millions of pounds of public money? Of course, those who have a past can have a future.

But the Chief Constable said last year that “an individual or individuals” connected to Charter NI “continue to be associated with paramilitaries”.

How on earth did Dee Stitt land such a significant job in the first place? His lengthy and colourful CV is hardly that of a prospective chief executive.

Had he been employed as a project worker that might be understandable. But he’s the head honcho, he runs the show.

This isn’t a sectarian issue. With the DUP, Sinn Fein was jointly responsible for SIF’s £80m pot. It was jointly responsible for channelling funds to a UDA-linked charity.

Last October Martin McGuinness robustly defended allocating £2m funding to Charter NI and denied that SIF was a paramilitary slush fund.

That’s a bit lame from the party which put poor old Joe Hendron through hell for the “UDA votes” —Shankill residents voting tactically —  that saw him take Gerry Adams’ West Belfast seat in 1992.

The whole SIF scandal ultimately isn’t about Stitt or Newton personally. It’s not about any individual’s failings. SIF operated exactly as the DUP and Sinn Fein planned and constructed — without transparency or accountability.

The processes around who gets the cash were fundamentally flawed from the outset. They only strengthen the culture of cronyism in Northern Ireland.

On both sides of the peace divide, there depressingly appears to be no rich diversity among community groups. Most speak with the same on-message voice that perhaps suits their political masters.

If Stormont does get back up and running, Sinn Fein and the DUP must start delivering for everyone — not just themselves and their friends.

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