AS we head into an autumn and winter that look set to present us with the greatest economic shock seen in decades, Stormont remains moribund thanks to the DUP, and desperate people and frightened families look around them for direction and support as the coming storm gathers.
In recent days the DUP Economy Minister has been spinning himself dizzy trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is his party’s attitude to the £400 payment towards energy bills promised to consumers here. The truth is that Gordon Lyons has no more idea of when the money will be paid than the rest of us. His party’s decision to collapse the political institutions in the midst of a spiralling economic crisis means that the delivery system has been trashed and he is flailing around in a comically vain attempt to convince people that he has a plan. He doesn’t. Otherwise he wouldn’t bandy about words like “could” and “believe” and “hope” about a November date for possible payment that he unilaterally plucked out of the air.

His Dad’s Army ‘Don’t panic!’ routine is fooling no-one, and while he and his colleagues have been emboldened in their stubborn refusal to get back to work by a recent poll which showed strong unionist support for the Stormont boycott, like the rest of us, the DUP will feel the icy blast of reality once the mercury dips and the meters are whirring ever faster.
It’s not surprising that the DUP imperative is to create a different narrative, a look-over-there distraction to take people’s attention away from their shameful failure of competence and compassion. And nor is it surprising that they’ve found a media only too eager to provide a platform for their embarrassingly transparent attempts to shift the focus. In short order we’ve had members of the party complaining about a policeman dancing the Macarena at the Pride march in Derry at the weekend; we’ve had a member of the party reporting a Sinn Féin MP to the Commons Standards Commissioner for tweeting about a book he had just read; and we have had members roaring their outrage at the news that the PSNI is to allow officers to choose to wear the hat of their choice.

And despite this embarrassing transparency, it worked a treat. With entirely straight faces, phone-in show hosts soberly debated whether the DUP was right when it said dancing policemen meant the PSNI was falling down on the job of catching drug dealers and burglars; journalists wrote lengthy paragraphs about why the PSNI’s policy on hats has brought ‘woke’ hysteria to new heights; and the Commons Standards Commissioner set to work deciding whether or not to allow MPs to continue reading books. This as parents queued at food banks to fit their children out for second-hand school uniforms.
On a micro scale the same distraction politics and cynical dissembling that enabled Donald Trump and Boris Johnson to wreak their havoc have been in play here. We know where that leads and we can’t let it succeed.