N. Ireland Politics

Gareth Gordon's Political A to Z of 2016

A is for Arlene. Vote DUP to keep Arlene First Minister went the slogan and they did and she is. But one year in and the hot seat is getting hotter (see H).

B is for Brexit. (what else?) Word of the year; story of the year. We'll long live with the consequences of what happened on June 23 2016. Brexit means Brexit they say. But what does Brexit mean? We'll find out next year. Possibly...

C is for Constituency. Move over North Antrim; Lagan Valley and North Belfast. Make way for West Antrim, Upper Bann and Blackwater and Dalriada? The plan to cut Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster constituencies by one would see many well-known names disappear. As well as a few well-known MPs.

D is for Dee. As in Stitt, as in UDA boss; as in chief executive of a once little-known organisation in East Belfast called Charter NI. That changed when it scooped £1.7 million from the executive's Social Investment Fund. Stitt was photographed beside First Minister Arlene Foster on the day the award was announced. The smart thing to do then would have been to keep the head down. The less smart thing would be to tell a video journalist from the Guardian newspaper that his band were "our homeland security" and "we are here to defend north Down from anybody". Guess which one he picked?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Sir Elton was not amused

E is for Elton. A close watcher of Stormont proceedings (who knew?) Sir Elton John was not amused by DUP MLA Trevor Clarke. Yes, really. Mr Clarke confessed he once believed heterosexuals could not contract HIV. Cue much guffawing and head shaking. Elton asked which planet he was living on. Mr Clarke had not replied by time of going to press.

F is for Frank.(see N is for Nama) Whenever the £1bn Nama controversy comes up you can be sure businessman Frank Cushnahan's name will get a mention. He was recorded accepting a £40,000 cash payment from a Nama borrower at the same time he was still working as an adviser to the Republic's so-called "bad bank." Mr Cushnahan subsequently said he was "never party" to an agreement which would have led to him receiving £5m.

G is for Gerry. Martin McGuinness said both he and Gerry Adams have a plan on how Sinn Féin will "transition" to a new leadership. But when? Mr Adams continues to enjoy a closer relationship with Teflon than his many opponents would like. The latest threat dates from the IRA murder of prison officer Brian Stack in 1983, the same year Gerry Adams became Sinn Féin president. His handling of the controversy has been anything but surefooted, even e-mailing the Garda commissioner a list of four republicans who may have been involved, but refusing to name the IRA man he brought Mr Stack's sons to see in 2013.

H is for Heat. Normally something called the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme would not appear in end of year reviews. But this tale of mismanagement, missed opportunities and missing accountability could yet bring down the executive.

I is for Insult. Usually a hotly-contested category in Northern Ireland's end-of-year awards. We are going to give it to the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood's dismissal of Donald Trump as "a racist misogynistic buffoon". He is undoubtedly still hurting....

Image caption Jonathan Bell prays before his memorable Nolan Show interview

J is for Jonny. Until a few weeks ago Jonathan Bell was just another ex-DUP minister below most people's radar. Then God told him to tell the truth about the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme and a fire was lit. So far it has turned up the temperature on the DUP special advisers and his party leader, Arlene Foster. How much longer she will be his party leader is debatable. Not because she is going anywhere but because he is. Already suspended, expulsion is the most likely outcome.

K is for Kinahan. The castle-dwelling Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim would be equally at home under M for moderate. So there was consternation when Danny Kinahan posted a photograph on social media showing himself standing in front of a Eleventh night bonfire bearing an Irish tricolour. He later apologised saying the flag should have been removed before he posed for the photograph which showed him holding a cheque for charity.

L is for Legacy. Where the past is concerned it is still "all talk no action".

M is for Marlene. Just as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley became known as the Chuckle Brothers so Mr McGuinness and Arlene Foster have become Marlene after Marlene Boyce a character from the 1980's sitcom Only Fools and Horses. If only it had been It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

N is for Nama. Continues to promise more than it delivers in terms of bringing down the big players. So far the only scalp has belonged to the former Sinn Féin chair of Stormont's Finance Committee, Daithí McKay. His folly to (allegedly) coach the loyalist Jamie Bryson before he gave evidence to his committee's Nama inquiry. Why one of Sinn Féin's most promising up-and-comers would risk his career in this way is a still-unanswered question.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Colum Eastwood spoke at the UUP conference

O is for Opposition. It is an irony that the architect of Stormont's Opposition Bill lost his seat before he could see it put into practice. Take a bow John McCallister. Step forward Mike Nesbitt and Colum Eastwood who, in response to claims they were being ineffective appeared together at the UUP conference. That said, Mr Nesbitt's "Maybe next time we can persuade people if you vote Mike, you get Colum. If you vote Colum, you get Mike" is unlikely to be nominated for political slogan of the year.

P is for Pellets. It used to be No Guns No Government. The guns and the bullets are no longer Stormont's biggest threat. Now it is pellets. Yes, pellets. OK, they are made of wood. But they are the most dangerous kind.

Q is for Queen. The unveiling of her portrait by renowned Northern Irish artist Colin Davidson was attended by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness. In happier times.

R is for Royal Prerogative. Spin doctors are supposed to influence the news not become the story. But the appointment of Stormont's new press secretary, David Gordon, made headlines for all the wrong reasons when it emerged the executive had used a special legal procedure so the post could be filled without being advertised. This meant Martin McGuinness had to give his approval to something called the Royal Prerogative being used.

S is for Spin. This is how it seems to work. 18 September: Executive briefing note on creation of Mr Gordon's post: "While this manufactured storm runs its course, executive ministers are getting on with the job of government, determined to pursue policies that make a real difference." 16 December - Martin McGuinness calls for Arlene Foster to step aside.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Gerry Adams: 'I apologise for any offence caused'

T is for Twitter. (see G is for Gerry). When Gerry Adams sat down late one night to watch Tarantino's last decent movie, Django Unchained, he unchained something else - his Twitter filter. "Watching Django Unchained - A Ballymurphy N------!" he wrote seemingly unaware that the N-word is a difficult one to get away with. Cue apology and calls for him to step down as Sinn Féin President. He is still there....

U is for the Ulster Unionists. Sixteen seats in the Assembly election was a disappointing return, as Mike Nesbitt acknowledged. The party's comeback has a way to go.

V is for Villiers. Very few secretaries of state for Northern Ireland are lamented after they go. So in one way Theresa Villiers was upholding a fine tradition. One moment she was helping lead a pavement march in support of fellow-Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom (remember her?) replacing David Cameron in Downing Street. The next she was out on her ear after turning down a non-cabinet job offered by her namesake, Theresa May.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Pure waffle - to be avoided at all costs

W is for Waffle. Politicians are accused of waffling all the time, but not many admit it. Step forward Mark H Durkan. When the then environment minister sat down after one particularly long-winded assembly answer he told a colleague "that was pure waffle." Actually he told us all because an open microphone picked up the admission.

X is for (e)Xit. Arlene Foster, Gerry Adams, and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir were among those urged to take the door marked exit. Only Daithí McKay did.

Y is for Yuletide. Another name for Christmas and the big log that is burned then is called the Yule log. Adapting this for Northern Ireland is sometimes a problem. It might not fit in a biomass boiler for one....

Z is for Zac. The wealthy ex-Tory MP Zac Goldsmith came back down to the earth with a bump after resigning his safe Richmond Park seat in protest at the decision to grant Heathrow a third runway. He lost the by-election to the Lib Dems in what was seen as an anti-Brexit backlash in one of Britain's most affluent constituencies. And as a consequence, he helped reduce Theresa May's slender majority by one, thus - potentially - handing more leverage to the DUP.