- The DUP are without a doubt damaged by this scandal. They had until this point had a fantastic 2016 from their point of view. They had successfully negotiated a potentially tricky hand over of power from Peter Robinson to Arlene Foster - the first woman leader of their party. They had then went on to gain the highest number of votes in the Assembly election maintaining their excellent and dominant 38 seats (giving them the crucial 30 needed for potential Petition of Concern Veto) They had set up a relatively stable and prgamatic partnership with Sinn Fein in a new 2 party (and an independent) set up. They had got Claire Sugden in as Justice Minister. A better choice to them than Alliance members. A tub thumping Party conference at the end of the year where they showed off the latest UUP defectors to their party.
- CONTRAST this with what came in November/December 2016. The DUP world came crashing down.
- ARLENE: There are allegations of incompetence at the highest level ; Arlene Foster - the First Minister clearly implicated in some way through her previous role as Minister for Enterprise. She above all had just emerged triumphant from an election in which her critics watched her for any sign of weakness. This turnaround is therefore remarkable. She seemed prior to this to be a safe pair of hands. That reputation has taken a devastating blow.
- DUP REPUTATION: The DUP itself has been damaged. They were the party perhaps most trusted with the economy of Northern Ireland. They were financial conservatives who supported business and the monetary necessity of austerity. The fallout from this clear financial incompetence therefore is huge.
- QUESTIONS: Potential issues around WHO benefited from the scheme. If it is proved that DUP donors or connections benefited from the scheme then this scandal could become very deep indeed. There are suspicious spikes in applications just before the scheme is closed which suggests collusion.
- EXECUTIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH SF. At first it seemed remarkable that the only party showing calm level headedness towards the DUP in the midst of the scandal were Sinn Fein. They didn't jump on the band wagon calling for her immediate resignation. However, this has changed as the scandal has moved on. Fosters stubborness to cling on has led her to make moves which have angered SF. This has included making a statement as First Minister unilaterally (without Sinn Fein consent) Veiled threats have been made about the health of the Exeutive and how Arlene Foster has conducted her defense. Perhaps the post Fresh start honeymoon is over?
- DUP INTERNAL DIVISION: The DUP have most noticeably had to face up to a very unusal occurence on their party - a member criticising them from within. Jonathan Bell's allegations about Arlene Fosters conduct in the matter was a highly illuminating glimpse into a party which has prided itself on its internal discipline and strength. The DUP very rarely take part in public spats and this one was particularly intense. Jonathan Bell was subsequently disciplined by the party and his future within it looks all but over.
- THE FUTURE? Is this the end of the impregnable and politically dominant DUP? Well, no. They will continue to dominate. They are lucky that there is no imminent election either at the Assembly or in Westminster. If a scandal was to break then it came at the right time for the DUP. They have about 4 years to wait for a major election. HOWEVER, this whole issue has made them incredibly vulnerable. They face a renewed challenged from rejuvenated parties like the UUP who sense blood and are willing to capitalise on the DUP's weaknesses and reputational loss.
If you had a question on the DUP how could you include Cash for Ash :
Mr John Wishart -