Sometimes it’s like we live in parallel worlds.
The first world is one where an RHI scheme can grow to become this monster of a financial scandal because of at best lack of attention to detail or scrutiny of its outworkings, failures in good governance or scrutiny of governance and lack of accountability of successive persons responsible. So enormous is the lack of scrutiny that we actually are not even sure how much the damn thing is going to actually cost.
Then we have the universe we are occupying since mid-December where the minutiae of detail regarding the form of investigation/inquiry required is bandied about as though we are all suddenly constitutional lawyers! I find it incredible that some of these are the same people who held no one to account in committees.
And then we have the third world where victims and survivors of gross human rights violations during our conflict have endured the indignity of being denied the most basic rights to disclosure, investigation or subpoena by some of those most vocal in this RHI debate. That denial has taken various forms from vociferous opposition to inquiry, through to the equally reprehensible dismissing of these rights and telling everyone just to move on and forget about it. Indeed in that world any attention to the detail of unethical forms of investigation has been targeted as unreasonable. Look at the treatment of the Finucanes when they stuck to their call for a public inquiry. Some people support the idea that the Inquiries Act is totally unacceptable for the Finucanes others don’t think they should have an inquiry at all.
That’s kinda relevant don’t you think?
We are a remarkable species that we do not reflect more at obvious double standards and incredible hypocrisy of it all. Living in the moment sure does take on a whole new meaning.
This week the debate of inquiry vs investigation has taken centre stage. And while it’s a worthy debate I have this nagging voice in my head telling me that the debate is less about the merits of the form of investigation required as it is about the opportunity to have a go at Sinn Féin.
So much of the information to be considered is already in the public domain and discussed in depth from newsrooms to bar rooms, that means public interest must be satisfied by the form it takes. There are clear requirements of any investigatory process. First, complete transparency. Previous Assembly inquiries have not been. Public hearings will likely be essential.
Secondly the range of powers need to include powers of disclosure and compellability – of documents and persons. Thirdly, because of the public spotlight, recovery of fair process is essential. Legal representation will likely therefore be required.
So the time line is implicated. Of course none of us want and the Executive cannot afford a Chilcot fiasco where time and cost served no one except the guilty. But justice must be done and justice must be seen to be done – and that requires resources and time. That is an incurred and inevitable cost that cannot be brushed aside, even when inconvenient. But yes set a terms of reference that put everyone under notice that this is no gravy train for those seeking to make big bucks. The purpose of all of this is to reduce the waste of big bucks.
There are significant balls in the air right now. The future of the Good Friday Agreement. Confidence in the institutions. Confidence in the parties in the Executive. The parties’ confidence in each other.
Strong, robust and legally transparent processes are ethically essential and will benefit us all and the future integrity of our peace agreement arrangements. Anything less will only add to the crisis we face.
*This piece was written and published before it became abundantly clear that we are into the slip stream of elections and negotiations