30 Jan

A Wry Eye – Things heating up in election race

IT’S too easy to make jokes about the forthcoming Northern Ireland Assembly election, with constituency contests heating up (or should we say, boiling over).

Yes, the RHI scandal has created enough puns and plays on words to heat an empty shed!

We won’t know what the result of Sir Patrick Coghlin’s public enquiry will be until after the election, so perhaps it is time to leave the barn and step into the glare of a red hot election contest…sorry, we couldn’t help using that one!

The election is, according to DUP leader Arlene Foster, a “brutal one”, while Sinn Féin’s new head honcho in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, must be wondering how to rally troops in just a few weeks.

As for the rest of the parties, they are formulating how to capitalise on the scandal and the disarray that bedevilled the Executive before its collapse.

Also, there is the slight matter of those 18 seats that are disappearing…Not that this will save enough in terms of MLA salaries to offset the RHI costs.

It’s not as if, even without the boiler stuff going down, Northern Ireland is flush with cash. Education Minister Peter Weir seems to have nowt in the kitty to fund much, GPs are rebelling, legal aid costs remain high, infrastructure projects are backing up…well we could go on but wouldn’t want to be accused of scaremongering.

Speaking of scaremongering, it has been an accusation thrown at the media many, many times. With the new Trump administration taking a rather unusual approach to media relations, we feel it is time to doff a cap to Northern Ireland’s reporters, presenters, researchers and all journalists who have tackled the issues around the last Assembly mandate.

True, they were relatively slow off the mark on the potential for RHI to explode, but when the got their teeth into the story they really went for it. During the election campaign, let’s hope they aren’t forced to spend all their time covering the usual mud-slinging as parties blame “them uns”.

But hopefully, whether it is a new Executive Committee or Direct Rule, they can tackle everything, ask the awkward questions and continue with scrutiny. Maybe the real job creation in the face of potential economic gloom will be a surge in the number of investigative journalists…