On Stephen Nolan’s BBC Radio Ulster show he is currently arguing the toss with the Ulster Unionist Party’s representative Steve Aiken MLA…ex Royal Navy Submarine Commander (Order Of The British Empire). He’s giving him a right old grilling and he’s covering a lot of ground about the UUP’s opposition to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) .Mr Aiken seems able and urbane enough to defend himself. One thing really really stood out ,though. Mr Nolan expressed the view within the question , “Why should Arlene Foster have stepped aside and bowed to Sinn Fein’s request over the RHI scandal ?” He was obviously poking a stick in a hole at that point and hoping for a reaction, but within the question was the inference that it might be considered absurd for Arlene Foster to do any such thing as to step aside , even if it was to save her office.The inference was that surely Sinn Fein had no right to ask her to do that at all.His point was that by doing so she was being subservient to Martin McGuinness and not simply considering some very good advice from her more politically knowledgable office colleague.
I know that such loaded twists are what he has to do as a broadcaster and he does it with many people of differing political persuasions, but he was emphatic about this question and returned several times to this one same question ,as if to declare or imply that it was really a power- play between the DUP and Sinn Fein and not just a simple request by Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, as her Co- Joint Minister and equal , to do the sensible thing and save the then current government as her predecessor Mr Robinson had done previously.He appeared to be turning this “advice” into a “command” within the space of a sentence, when it was no such thing.Indeed he seemed to be re-writing what actually happened only mere weeks ago in a different light entirely. This can now be seen in light of the many DUP politicians who are crying salt -tears that Sinn Fein closed their talking shop and now we and them and all our concerns will suffer. Peter Weir , of the DUP was on the radio blaming Sinn Fein because he will now have to leave his office as Minister of Education ,with work still undone. This is the same Peter Weir who said of the Belfast Agreement that the only positive comment he could make about it was ” that it was nicely typed”. It is very obvious that there was not much respect for the agreement but he did enjoy the trappings of power that came with it. Sammy Wilson was also on television comparing his Sinn Fein colleagues to ISIS and Arlene Foster has already made it quite clear that she considered them reptilian “crocodiles”.
It’s best to remember that it was not Sinn Fein who wanted an election at that moment in time.Many were of that opinion before that moment when Martin McGuinness was forced to stop the show before Mrs Foster’s behaviour became even more ludicrous. Many believe that an election will never cure the problem that is the DUP. It was Mr Nolan who hammered the gong about the RHI “Cash For Ash “scandalous fiasco and it was Arlene Foster who had created it in her office. It was Mr Nolan who drove the agenda from the minute he got his teeth into it on both television and on the radio. He went into the detail each and every day for an age and made it something of a crusade. It was good, smart , high-profile radio and it engaged the public.He knows exactly how the RHI scandal panned -out in real time and was right there at some of the key key points on television ,as in the case of the Mr Bell expose.He was right there listening to the man unburden. He saw the power -tussle between Jonathan Bell and Arlene Foster . He knows why Mr Bell was suspended from the DUP and he knows why the First Minister also faced suspension at that same moment in time and it had little to do with Sinn Fein or Martin McGuinness.It had everything to do with Mr Bell and Mrs Foster’s relationship and the RHI brouhaha .Since then, Mr Bell has quietly been written out of the media’s story. His name barely features now as we limp into an election that nobody wanted at all and suddenly Sinn Fein are being credited as arch- manipulators of such Machiavellian quality that they had planned it all months in advance. Could they be so politically astute as to be capable of something of such deft quality? Something doesn’t stack up here.
Now Mr Nolan appeared to have forgotten all of that enquiry and the very reasons that the government had to be suspended. A month ago that suspension of Arlene Foster made perfect sense to save the Office of FMDFM and now he’s parlaying it as a power- play ,when it certainly seemed no such thing.In those different times it appeared a simple fact of procedure and there was already a precedence for stepping aside, which Peter Robinson had already used.Arlene Foster chose unadvisedly not to use this procedure and played what she thought was hardball.It was no such thing; it was political foolishness in that it very obviously had the wrong result .She was either unable to foresee what everyone else could foresee ; that a Joint Government cannot work when one of the ministers is under suspicion (proven or unproven) of some kind of malpractice, or she brought on an election which she did n’t apparently want ,to divert attention from the RHI scandal itself .She proved by making that choice that she had not the whole electorate in mind at all and left Martin McGuinness with little choice but to close her office door. She was not thinking about saving the government .It was very obviously her own skin and her pride she was thinking of. Had she been cleared, she could have resumed where she left off.
So while commentators like Mr Nolan flip-flop about our actual “reality “, even when he is in the making of that “reality” and supposedly a knowledgeable part of it , is it any wonder that mistrust grows about the vehicle which pays his bills…i.e. the British Broadcasting Corporation.Auntie BBC herself! ?
The question , as we approach an election , is who is really pulling Mr Nolan’s strings? Is it the Great Public which consists of both unionists and nationalists and a raft various cynical political unbelievers who pay the bills for the service , or is it his bosses at BBC central? It’s a fact that ultimately Mr Nolan’s wages are paid by the British Government,which we all pay for ,whether we like it or nor, so are we ever sure that there is not some political bias involved in any of his utterings at certain times (especially election times!) or is he still managing to fairly tip-toe through the minefield of political identities and interpretations that make up our local community? I generally like to give him the benefit of the doubt but there is a nagging feeling seeded there now.
Even though, in general terms ,it cannot be denied that the BBC overall is an excellent programme- maker of some substance, often maligned by the likes of the DUP (and recently by DUP friends, like Mr Trump), for not being even more irredentistically “British / Unionist” , in perspective (ie not 17th Century British). There is an unsaid assumption that we are all supposed to identify with this corporate “British”view even though many who agreed with the Belfast Agreement do not view themselves as “British” at all and that subtle dichotomy has been acknowledged as such already .At bottom, of course,the broadcaster at root still remains the voice of the British Establishment as seen in the corridors of power in London and in the Home Counties, and translated downstream from there in small , shrewd ways.There’s no getting away from that small fact.
The clue is in the name.