Friday, 5 July 2013

Eye on the Hill

Should I stay or should I go

In the immortal words of the late Joe Strummer, songwriter and lyricist of punk band The Clash: “If I Stay there Will be trouble; if I go it will be double”.

Thus minister for social development, Nelson McCausland, is faced with calls for him to step down as minister with responsibility for the debacle that is the mess mixed up with the chaos that is the current state of the Housing Executive.

Mr McCausland is as trenchant as ever in media interviews and statements, defending his actions and those of an alleged phone call from his office, which may or may not have asked a local councillor to stay quiet for the sake of party unity.

These allegations place the voluble Mr McCaulsand in the position of staying put in office or stepping aside, while an Assembly committee  inquiry is on-going.

Either way, the minister has performed well and provided an effective deflector shield for his party in this crisis, taking on all comers with head lowered, and his metaphorical fists ready. Whether other members of the DUP, could, or should, face the level of vitriol being directed at him is debatable at best.

And, to paraphrase Mr Strummer, if Mr McCausland goes it will be double trouble for the DUP…

Desperate dole measures

WE know that there are major issues surrounding unemployment, so news that someone actually broke into a dole office in west Belfast shows the real state of affairs. That people are so desperate to job hunt that they’ll break in to get a jump on the queue for vacancies.

In contrast, we see the noble actions of Norn Iron’s Members of Parliament in refusing to take a pay rise…

The same MPs may be saying no to the salary hike, but are taking home £67,060 from next April. It may seem a lot – well it seems a lot to us – but ironically this still leaves MPs amongst the poorest paid in Europe, and the wider world.

All this makes entertaining lines for the more vocal radio hosts, but does not address a situation that sees local elected representatives in a virtually untouchable position. This is understandable at Westminster, but does not clarify the position in the Assembly.

Not so much the salaries, but the untouchable position many MLAs enjoy. While there is some shuffling and movement at the edges, with NI21, UKIP, TUV, the Green Party et al, the main rump remains, a rump that like all the MLAs are currently enjoying their holidays.

To be fair, many MLAs will still be holding constituency surgeries, but the bothersome journey up to Stormont can now be abandoned.

However, this week’s sudden developments surrounding contentious parading may have wrong-footed the north Belfast MLAs.

Residents groups have been nice, they’ve asked for talks, and the Orange Order has agreed to talks.

Unprecedented, and confusing!
Actual people talking to actual people about actual issues – world peace may be next on the agenda.

Whether the talks work or not, the very step of a resident’s group in Ardoyne – scene of rioting for the past four years on the 12 July – and local Orange lodges involved in formal talks is comparable to a UN peace-keeping force arriving in a war torn country to find the combatants sitting enjoying a cuppa together.

The only real risk to everyone in the Ardoyne, Twaddell Avenue, Crumlin Road and surrounding areas is that politicians may become involved.

Booze and Banbridge…

WHY is that some people in Norn Iron can have such a censorious attitude to people enjoying themselves?

While there has been campaign to encourage locals and tourists to come to our ‘wee country’  and enjoy the hospitality (translates as “have a feed of food and a bucket of booze”), certain local councillors are determined to keep the lid on people smiling.

In a move with no sense of irony at all, a Banbridge councillor called for a booze-free beer festival. Given that recent medical research shows that beer may help blood pressure over a short period but non-alcoholic beer does not, we wonder whether a booze free beer festival may cause problems for the good folks of Banbridge…

But it touches upon the disconnect in Norn Iron politics and the direction given to arm’s  length bodies, such as those in charge of tourism.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Eye on the Hill

We don't need no education...
AS the timeless Pink Floyd song goes: "Teachers! Leave those kids alone!" It now turns out some teachers in Northern Ireland have been doing exactly that.

The Assembly Public Accounts Committee has looked at literacy and numeracy - which translates for those with poor literacy and numeracy as reading, writing and doing sums.

Part of the blame, says the committee, can be laid at the door of not sacking poorly performing teachers. At this point please feel free to shout: "I blame the parents...". However, the committee may have a point, with one in six children stepping forward into the brave new world of post-primary school (the Big School) unable to read, write, and count to more than 10 without taking their socks off.

The vast majority of our teachers in Northern Ireland are fantastic and inspirational; which means that the problem may lie a little deeper than a few bad apples at the blackboard.

What the committee did not seem to address is the social demographic, cultural and psycho-social aspects of schools failing children. Is it only the rich but thick experiencing these problems?

Or is it the case that those poorer families; families with generational unemployment and families with parents who have poor literacy and numeracy have children emerging from school as talented in every way except for how to read, write and count?

Minister for edschumakation, John O'Dowd, has already, with the support of executive colleagues started the process of employing newly graduated teachers to tackle the problems of literacy and numeracy; and minister for employment and learning, Dr Stephen Farry, is targeting adults who have problems reading, writing and doing maths.

As these long overdue initiatives are implemented, politicians of all shades, colours and opinions need to take a long hard look at themselves. And ask themselves what they have been doing to prevent the situation becoming so bad that 1 in 6 of our children are being failed.

We are not holding our breath for such introspection, but then again politicians need to be acutely aware that shouting about doing more is not enough; rather they should see what they can and must to do to be part of the solution.

Counting the cost
CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer, George Osborne - or as President Obama prefers to call him 'Jeffrey Osborne’ - has outlined his spending plans for the next few years and woe is us, but the Chancellor is bringing down the axe right across government.

Norn Iron's share of largesse it receives from Whitehall is plummeting by two per cent; which on the face of it doesn't sound like much, but when counting your monies in billions it is a tidy sum to lose.

While we are getting a 'loan', which could amount to £100m for capital and infrastructure projects, there will be less money to go around. Add that to a potential de facto cut in civil and public sector pay rises and the introduction of changes to the welfare system, there can be only one recourse to action.

And that is for Invest NI and enterprise minister Arlene Foster to use their magic to pluck  several thousand highly paid private sector jobs out of thin air. Or as the Executive prefers to call it - the G8 effect.

With our big pitch - apart from all those literate and numerate computer types - being tourism we also learned this week that last year's 'Our Time, Our Place' marketing blitz cost £11m but yet attracted fewer visitors. However, those visitors who did come spent more than those of previous years.

Which all comes down to having a better class of riot. Stick with us here, it will make sense eventually.

Norn Iron has many tourist attractions. It also accustomed to regular bouts of civil disorder (think marching season, flag protests etc).

The tourist, attracted by the prospect of learning more about the Titanic and seeing the geological wonder of the Giant's Causeway, arrives in Norn Iron. They then hear of rioting. Fearing that they may lose their camera and their bearings they decide to dash round the shops, grab some gift shop rubbish and run back to the cruise liner or airport. In this mad headlong rush to avoid civil disorder they will not look at the price but simply will spend, spend, spend to prove to Joe Schmoe from Illinois or Zhang Wei from Shanghai that they survived the riot.

Meanwhile, if all the shops agree to an under the counter cash economy that allows them to accept the higher prices while giving a backhand to the Assembly there will be more for everyone.

But it seems that Mr Osborne's financial gestapo will easily identify any scams we attempt, and will further cut our budget.

However, the irony of course is that rioting and the subsequent cost of policing and clear up actually contributes to the UK's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If you ever thought you understood economics - perhaps you have an 'A' level or a degree in it - then Norn Iron will disabuse you of the notion that you know anything about anything. What is worrying in this convoluted article and convoluted conclusion is that our finance minister, Sammy Wilson, used to be the deputy chief examiner for 'A' level economics in Norn Iron...

All getting a wee bit tetchy this week
LOOKING back on the past week in politics it could be possible to look cogently at the work undertaken by MLAs. But looking at the headlines tells a different story.

We have had an angry exchange between the DUP's Jimmy Spratt and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt in committee, we have had a former junior minister sprawled across the bonnet of a police land rover and an apparent coup d'état in the chamber (environment minister Alex Attwood saw the first minister and deputy first minister make changes to his Planning Bill that made him decidedly unhappy).

We do not wish to comment on any of these incidents as to the right or wrong of them.

However, we do often ponder, when the boss isn't cracking the whip, whether MLAs ever consider how their actions and utterances play out in the public's minds? Or are they just trying to vote catch?

Either way we hope that the civic conversation Green Party MLA Steven Agnew is hosting to allow public comment at least produces a civil conversation!

In the meantime, on behalf of our clients, we will continue to scan and devour the less covered and less acknowledged work of the Assembly, whether in the chamber or committee.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Eye on the Hill

Great wee place...
NORN Iron is on the up, from a feel good factor experienced by the thousands of police officers from across the UK enjoying our fine weather through to an anticipated 300,000 people descending on Derry~Londonderry for Fleadh in August.

This great wee place hosted a G8 Summit that was notable not for its lack of a solution to the Syrian crisis, but rather for the absence of petrol bomb wielding protestors.

Add into that the global exposure of a huffing Putin, an eloquent Obama and Cameron plunging into the waters of Lough Erne...

Following on from prime minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Titanic Belfast, there was also the announcement that Japanese company Terumo BCT was to create  416 new jobs at its medical device factory in Larne. Parts of the east Antrim town, like 80’s New Wave punk band The Vapours, may have to think about ‘Turning Japanese’…

The Orange Order is even playing its part in Derry’s city of culture programme by holding a major part of its Twelfth of July celebrations in the city with senior figures in the ‘Order’ from across the UK attending.

With Gillian Anderson (she of X-Files fame) starring in our very own home grown crime drama, The Fall, Game of Thrones set to a return for Season Four, and a new Dracula movie to be filmed here, all seems well.

Such is the positive mood that assistant chief constable Alastair Finlay was moved to say there wasn’t “any reason why we will have a difficult marching season".

Which is all fair comment.

But then the numpties, head cases, bampots and their associates from all sides of the so-called divide are often determined to make a fuss; some of that fuss usually ends up in upset and sporadic civil disorder (that’s rioting to you and me).

This means it imperative for our political leaders to be circumspect and considered when opening their traps claiming this, that and the other.

And, our media should impose a broadcast and print ban on politicians and their ilk during the ‘marching season’. Drastic? Well we might at least get some relief from the blame game, ACC Finlay might get his wish for avoiding a ‘difficult’ marching season and we will all remember that this really is ‘a great wee place’.

Is this privatisation by the back door?
EDWIN Poots, minister of health and other stuff, has been accused by his chief tormentor, the SDLP’s Conall McDevitt, of trying to privatise our ‘beloved’ health service.

In the latest round of bashing and counter-bashing, it emerged that Mr Poots went against the recommendations of his officials and issued a ministerial order that two new health centres (one in his own Lagan Valley constituency) were to be built using private cash.

This is not the first time that the minister has been accused of ‘privatisation through the back door’.

However, it all raises the issue on how to pay for our population’s health needs. The health ‘service’ has been a victim of its own success. People have developed the exceedingly bad habit of living longer – aided and abetted by the medical profession.

More diseases are manageable, cancer treatments extend life, and pensioners are living in their own homes.

This cannot continue. Otherwise the public purse will be stretched beyond what the NI executive can convince Westminster to fund.
here are two possible solutions.

One – cut a NI executive department or three to release funds. Yes, we know that this will mean some senior civil servants retiring early but they all need to brush up on their golf.

Two – stop hospital bed blocking through more community based healthcare as proposed  by health board chief John Compton.

Savings here will at least mean we’ll be able to afford the repayments on our two shiny new health centres. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Eye on the Hill

You’re all a bunch of bullies
THE problem of bullying in schools and in the workplace is widely known about – and now it emerges that the Assembly has its fair share of bullies.

The Basil McCrea, John McCallister axis that is now to be called NI21 have been told they are to be pushed down the pecking order when it comes to speaking rights in the Assembly.

Basil said the other parties had been ganging up on their new party, like a crowd of over-sized school kids rounding on the new kids.

The response by Basil very much indicated where the NI21 are targeting their ire, now and in the future: The alliance party.

The alliance, in the past, were the party regularly bullied by the big boys. Now through accident they have the two seats at the executive table and Basil and John think they’re picking on them.

With alliance and the UUP in their sites for specific issues and the real big boys on strategic issues, the problem NI21 face is that the bullies really are bigger than them.

Thus the fight back on the floor of the assembly will be prove increasingly difficult as they’re pushed aside by the big boys (and girls).

But fear not, while Basil and John’s voices may be silenced on the hill, you can be sure we’ll be hearing lots more from them on the View – well for the meantime anyway.

Thank you G8 – it’s been greatWHAT a palaver! The great and powerful are to descend upon us mortals next week.
Leaders from the economic powerhouses of the world are to arrive in Norn Iron and be treated like a new version of worldwide Royalty, with carefully posed photo calls with tame locals.
No doubt some bright officials from the department of finance and personnel will be able to calculate the benefit.
However, come Monday that official will be stuck in traffic like the rest of us, as roads minister Danny Kennedy has warned of traffic gridlock as the likes of the US president and Japanese prime minister descend on Belfast.
He claimed there will be extra buses and trains on the rails and roads. But we’ve got Danny’s agenda! After Translink was so heavily criticised in the assembly, the promise of road closures may boost the cash flow of the troubled  company; enabling Danny to claim that there are more people using public transport.

Finding your way through the Maze...
NO matter what maze you find your way into there is a simple solution, keep your right hand, or your left hand on a wall and follow that wall and eventually you will find your way out.

Using this method it may take a little longer, because you will find that you end up in some blind alleys. But eventually you will find your way out of the maze.

If only the development of the Maze/Long Kesh site was as easy.

First the proposal for a football and multi-sport stadium was vetoed by someone, somewhere.

Then we had the whole ‘Conflict Resolution Centre’ debacle, which was recently approved by the suits at the top table through the use of creative language...

With that settled and the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society running its annual farmers’ get together there, all seemed as well as could be, despite some grumbling.

Then this week the Orange Order has said that it opposes the plans and called on unionist politicians to stop the £300m development.

Is this another blind alley through the development maze?

Whatever political views and opinions one has, or has not, it seems that the development of the former prison site will go forward in some shape or form – and there is a way to allay the fears and give succour to the hopes for the site.


Yes clowns! Given that most people regard a proportion of our political masters as clowns, MLAs should be allocated on a rota basis to give tours round the peace and conflict resolution centre to an agreed script that blames everyone for everything.

That way, without taking away from the suffering of all victims of the conflict/troubles, visitors can at least be reassured that our political overlords deserve to be thought of us as both the tragedian clown stuck behind a mask, the comedic figure of fun when the political charade is stripped from his or her armour.

If we have to remember the suffering on a road to continued peace, then we have to also remember that in a peaceful future, politicians can only take decisions about us, if they acknowledge that they are flawed and not one has the balance of truth weighing solely on their side. Both tragic and comedic they bear a heavy burden as decision-makers, but we need to see the humanity behind the political suit.

Keep one hand on a wall, don the bright red nose and balloon trousers and lead the way....

Friday, 7 June 2013

Eye on the Hill

We are the Knights that like to say “NI”
FOR those that like a small slice of surrealism in their lives, political or otherwise Monty Python’s epic film of nonsense, The Holy Grail contains one scene where King Arthur is confronted by the Knights Who Like to Say “Ni”.

While Messers Cle
ese, Palin et al were not referring to political machinations of Northern Ireland politics, one cannot help but harken back to this scene as Mr McCrea and Mr McCallister launched the name of their ‘new’ political project in Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC).

The name
of their new party, widely trailed in the media beforehand,  is NI21. This is meant to build on the Northern Ireland identity; looking forward, rather than backwards to the 20th century.

Of course we welcome any political developments
that open the debate around what Norn Iron plc stands for, but as we listened to the impressive speeches from the two MLAs and a number youthful types disenchanted with politics, we were reminded of that scene from the Holy Grail.

Unwittingly King Arthur caused the Knights Who Like to Say ‘NI’ terrible pain and discomfort by using a dreaded word. That word was ‘IT’, and that is the word that may cause some worry for NI21 – as in the question “What Is It?”

t” may or may not be a new force in Norn Iron politics, but we can at least be assured that it won’t be boring...

Early morning
REVELLERS and party animals know that 3am is about the time when the party really gets into swing, when there is one person holding sway as the conversation and rapport focussed towards them; the gathering in the kitchen gravitating to this individual.

Such must have been the thoughts of
TUV leader Jim Allister, when his private members bill preventing those with serious criminal convictions being appointed as Special Advisors passed all its stages, following a late-night sitting of the Assembly.

Leaving asides the rights and wrongs, the vacillations of the SDLP, and the potential for
a Sinn Fein appeal to some court or another, we want to focus on the ability of the collective mass of MLAs to actually debate something for so long.

Legislation affecting our home, health, wealth and our children’s care and future seems never to garner this much time in the
Assembly, even when ‘big’ issues are before the house.

Ministers of all shades tend to prefer the announcements and pronouncements rather than the lengthy debates.

Whether these debates serve any purpose or not depends on your viewpoint, but the credibility of the chamber could be enhanced if the members were seen debating legislation issues concerning health, wealth and education into the early hours.

With the Marine Bill awaiting Royal Assent there are five bills progressing through the

How many of these bills will see MLAs debating through to the early hours?

North West Whingers?
GREGORY Campbell this week went out of his way to defend fellow DUP member and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster when she claimed that some people in the north west of Northern Ireland were whingers.

Following a robust defence of attempts by Invest NI to bring Foreign Direct Investment to the North West
, Mrs Forster went on to (rhetorically we hope) ask whether investors wanted to come somewhere that has – so she claimed - more than its fair share of people who complain.

Whether they do or not (well they seem happy enough about yon City of Culture)
, misses the point.

Here in Northern Ireland
we are Olympic standard whingers.

As temperatures rose this week, complaints that it was too warm overtook those that last week saw complaints about it being cold for the time of year, which had overtaken complaints about the rain.

If you should have the fortune (or misfortune) to listen to the Assembly on a regular basis [which we do stoically on behalf of our clients] then you will know that our MLAs are in an elite class of moaners.

this does mean that we are only complaining because we know things can be better and can be done better.

That is the optimism of the whinger.

So, let us harness the energy of the complainer, let us listen to their hopes and fears. And then may
be, just maybe things can get better.

On the other hand we could all just ring into
Nolan and Talkback and have a good wee whine about everything and anything...

Friday, 31 May 2013

Eye on the Hill

C11 h17 N2 O2 S Na
FOR those of who do not have children doing GCSE examinations in chemistry at the moment you may be unfamiliar with the letters and numbers above, they are a chemical formula – a formula for one of the most dangerous chemical concoctions on the planet.

It is the formula for Sodium Pentothal – the barbiturate sometimes known as the truth serum.

Can you imagine the damage that could be inflicted in our political system
, if it was ever administered to our MLAs, or worse still, our Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive?

Amidst the plethora of debates in the Assembly, media interviews and Executive press releases there are so many allusions to truth that it is difficult to find where the facts lie, let alone an impartial interpretation of those debates.

Of course, one area you would expect to be familiar with chemical formula is in health. And the battle lines over health have been drawn this week, with the SDLP accusing
Health Minister Edwin Poots of introducing privatisation by stealth.

Quoting Bevan’s vision, and decrying parts of the
NI Health Department’s Transforming Your Care, as forcing people towards private care pathways, they were vocal in the chamber and on the media.

The Minister was robust in his denial, while even industry figures and health spokespeople were drawn into the airwaves debate.

But with an already mixed economy and the purchasing of private services part of policy from the late 1980s,
aren’t the private and social enterprise sectors already a key part of our health and social services landscape? Or, is it essential to maintain a balance that has the health service as the lynchpin public service?

Whatever, it is certain that health is costing NI
plc more each year, as people have discovered the annoying habit of living longer, with the help of more expensive treatments.

Waiting lists and crowded A&E departments are debated in the Assembly and elsewhere as issues, when they are symptoms of a changing demographic
, which is partly addressed by Transforming Your Care.

But our MLAs, while no doubt well briefed belie their ideologies
, as they debate these issues. And, one wonders what they actually think when they utter their opinions in debates.

And that is where Sodium Pentothal could be dangerous – the truth serum administered
, we could listen to their real thoughts and their real opinions...a dangerous precedent in politics would ensue.

And congratulations to us!
IT is always nice to receive an award, but it is even better to receive an award from ourselves for us.

Yes, it really is nice to see us rewarding ourselves! We refer to this week Northern Ireland Tourist Board awards for tourism – while there were many worthy recipients who deserve acclaim for their work, for others we scratched our heads.

Titanic Belfast and the 2012 Irish Open where among the winners.

We therefore have a publicly funded body (the Tourist Board) presenting awards to events and destinations that were partly publicly funded either through sponsorship or capital investment.

Now, we think that the Open and Titanic Belfast are fantastic, but is there a potential conflict of interest that should have excluded these.

Of course, a better move might have been an announcement that the North West 200 would be afforded more flexibility to cope with Norn Iron’s variable weather, but after all the typical NW200 visitor tends to be of the biker variety and not really suitable for the suit wearers who seem to prefer those nicely dressed golfers and bemused tourists from cruise ships.

In the absence of any office employee of the month, we have just decided to commend ourselves! What for? We don’t know yet, but in between serving all our clients
, we’ll fold some paper for an Origami presentation to everyone here!

And next week we shall be discussing...
ONLY one month until our MLAs take a break from their legislative programme and heady round of debating and committee meetings.

Summer recess and holidays may be planned for our elected representatives, but this coming week they are knuckling down to a busy committee programme.

The Planning Bill discussion is keeping the Committee for the Environment on their toes, while Education is thinking about school enhancement and Priorities for Youth, and the Regional Development committee is wrestling with the Translink funding conundrum.

But, in our diligent search through committee business on behalf of
our clients, we couldn't help but notice one wee gem.

For those of you not familiar with corporate governance, the Department for Finance and Personnel is responsible for guiding and assisting all departments on how to buy goods and services, as well as a range of other duties.

That is why it is intriguing to see the Department for Finance and Personnel is before the Public Accounts Committee
, which continues its “Inquiry into Department of Finance and Personnel - Collaborative Procurement and Aggregated Demand”.

Wow – DFP subject to an inquiry...should be fascinating!

Friday, 24 May 2013

A sense of perspective...

THE esteemed technologist and author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams, once wrote that the cruelest thing that you could do to any person was to give them a sense of perspective as to their place in the universe.
Which is probably why it makes sense that all our political representatives in Northern Ireland must remain insular, lest they be driven even more crazy than usual by seeing just how small we are, here on the outer fringes of Western Europe?

In a week that has seen a devastating tornado rip through Oklahoma, race riots in Sweden, car bombings in Iraq and horror on the streets of Woolwich our MLAs have been on the radio in their usual round of bickering.

Yes, we know there are problems with the economy, and that the Shared Future proposals are causing their fare share of division, and we know that the parading and flags issue needs sorted: but we also know that sometimes we are a little inward-looking.

Which is why, despite the detractors, it is good to see members of our Executive jetting round the world plugging NI plc.

But more importantly, a midst the maelstrom of world events Northern Ireland is generally known for two things – the Troubles and the Titanic. Both of which cost a lot of lives in the end....
However, now that we are becoming known amongst the Hollywood set for Game of Thrones and as Gillian Anderson’s favourite filming destination, news emerged that the latest iteration of Dracula is to be filmed here.

Whether it will make up for the job losses in the Britvic factory where part of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror- romance is to be filmed, remains to be seen, but shared future or not one thing remains constant – the public’s perception remains that our folks on the hill do nowt but row.

Hopefully that perception will change but until then we can hope they never, ever get a sense of perspective of their place on this wee ball spinning in the emptiness of the universe...

Education fail from everyone

IF Education Minister John O’Dowd was to read an end of term report on education developments in Northern Ireland he would have to face a report that saw that the entire system scrapping a ‘pass’ with the teacher comments reading: ‘could do better’.

As end of term approaches and the vexed subject of transfer to post-primary education is still unresolved (‘E’ grade) and the area plans still to be finalised (‘C’ grade), there remains much to be done to improve the overall standard of education.

While the Executive’s decision to give unemployed teachers two-year contracts to target literacy and numeracy (‘B+’ grade) is a step forward and shared education campuses a step in the right direction (B-), the continuing confusion over what Shared Education means has blighted much of the good work (‘C-‘ grade).

However, the end of term examinations have proved more difficult than the modular with English as Education Secretary Michael Gove is determined to part company with Norn Iron and Wales and create a separate examination system for England. While Mr O’Dowd stands by his coursework, Mr Gove says only end of year examinations count for GCSE and A levels, even hinting that Northern Ireland and Wales shouldn’t call them GCSEs anymore.

Despite Minister O’Dowd’s protestations (‘C+ grade) there remains little he can do.
On a more positive note, the Minister has taken positive steps to address the mess over computer tests in primary schools (‘B’ grade) by making sure that the tests are no longer mandatory and helping some schools through a piloting of the system.

So, as we sit down to review education, we can see many problems must be addressed in the coming term, but with a little more effort, children starting primary school in September might see a better education system overall before they go to university...

Googling tax issues

IT has long been a bone of contention that Northern Ireland’s tax affairs have not been devolved in a meaningful way, apart from long-haul air passenger duty.

Sinn Féin want more powers to deal with tax independent from Whitehall mandarins and the DUP have placed all their apples in the corporation tax basket.

But when one looks at the confusion and moral shrieking about the tax affairs of Google, Apple, Amazon et al there is an opportunity here of Machiavellian proportions.

On this anniversary of the Italian political philosopher (who asserted that the ends do indeed justify the means) Norn Iron has a massive opportunity.

On one hand we can say to the Treasury that you can cut the Block Grant by a few billion and on the other hand come up with neat tax scheme to entice the global giants to re-locate for tax proposes to Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and any other Norn Iron town they care to think of.

As well as tax breaks, we can offer excellent golf opportunities despite objections from UNESCO and we can promise annual rioting as a summer diversion.

That combined with interminable appearances before Assembly committees and having the BBC’s Stephen Nolan on tap is sure to entice them. Isn’t it?

Friday, 17 May 2013

Eye on the Hill

The ‘Glorioius’ Twelfth
PARADING is a contentious issue in Northern Ireland – yes that may come as a surprise to some of you who thought it was just the associated protests and recreational rioting that was the issue.

In preparation for the marching season, interested parties are being brought to neutral Cardiff where the PSNI insist they’re not intending to solve the parading issue, but reduce tensions.
Whether the Parades Commission will be influenced by this, remains to be seen.

At the same time, the north Belfast Orange Order parade organisers are making contingency plans if their parade is prevented from passing by the Ardoyne shops on 12
July – the said plans include booking the nearby Ballysillan Playing Fields as an alternative to walking to ‘The Field’.

There is, of course, a temptation to tell the loyal orders and the protestors/community groups to just get over themselves and not seek to be offended. But that misses the point.

There is validity in terms of each side’s points, validity that is often lost in the nuances of rioting.

But we also think that Norn Iron plc is missing an opportunity – an export opportunity...

You see when the G8 meeting takes place there will be thousands of protestors gathering according to some sources. In the past such meetings have seen disorder, but more hype and hysteria than anything.

Here we only need a couple of dozen on each side to have public disorder. We should therefore be able to pack off protestors and parade organisers to various parts of the world to tell people how to be more thrifty in terms of numbers in organising civil disorder.

We would even go so far as to suggest that these trade missions take place in July and August...

Can you spoke proper Engerlish?
IT seems we have a problem called literacy. And we have a problem with numeracy too.
Spoking proper Engerlish seems like a wee bit beyond the reach of some of us’uns.

Thankfully the younger generation will be receiving help to move away from text speech and social media posts like ‘rofl’ (roll on floor laughing) ‘OMG’ (Oh My God) and similar...

And the same younger generation is also being supported in counting so that they know how to spend their dole money wisely, which given levels of youth unemployment is perhaps just as well.

The reason for hope is that last year’s promise to recruit extra teachers to address poor literacy and numeracy in Northern Ireland is coming to fruition with 230 new posts being advertised shortly.

While this represents a positive step in addressing the issue of literacy and numeracy, one must question why it has been left so long? After all we have known for some time that the literacy and numeracy strategy has not met the challenges.

However, we must be thankful that positive action is being taken  and look forward to all the other education issues being resolved in this spirit...well we are eternal optimists.

Don’t be poor – it’s bad for your health
ONE of the overlooked statistics published this week is that being poor is bad for your health.

Whilst we have heard lots about us all living longer, it seems that poverty leads to you dying quicker than the mystical average.

While various parties get their knickers in a knot over a percentage here or a percentage there when it comes to religious or cultural identity, a comprehensive approach to dealing with ill-health and poverty has not as yet not been addressed.

To paraphrase Mr Blair, it is time to get tough on ill-health and the causes of ill-health.

Much public health intervention work has been undertaken in terms of targeting smokers and trying to get us all to drink responsibly and eat more Ulster fries as hangover cures apparently...

But this is a complex problem. The culture – no not the Orange and Green culture – of Northern Ireland, and indeed Scotland and our southern neighbours has been based around hard drinking – despite temperance efforts – smoking and eating plenty when you can.

While the Executive has been encouraging entrepreneurship many have been taking up the challenges with a proliferation of chip shops and takeaways around and near the ‘working class’ estates. In one area we counted five such establishments within a few hundred yards of each other.

Education on healthy eating is maybe one course, but we suggest that the Executive focuses on attracting a swathe of takeaways who serve healthy food.

Meanwhile the middle class enjoy the coffee culture and a more balanced diet...

Maybe that’s the problem; members of the middle class are living longer, thereby costing the health service a fortune. We should be encouraging these people to eat fatty food and smoke like a dock worker, thereby ending this culture of living too long! Think of the tax revenues and the training our doctors would get in the diseases of obesity, liver damage and respiratory illness, making us global leaders in fattiness and doctors!

UKIP slip up?
WITH Nigel Farage seemingly unable to put a foot wrong he did make one slip-up, which was not just trying to have a pint in Scotland...

He said that Sinn Féin would campaign for a united Ireland leaving the EU. Sinn Féin responded with a statement which was the equivalent of the sarcastic response, “aye, dead on!”

With UKIP having one MLA in the shape of David McNarry, it does suggest that Mr Farage needs to refine his pronouncements in terms of Northern Ireland – after all as an ostensibly UK and unionist party, drawing favourable comparisons about Sinn Féin being “logical” will not endear unionist voters here...

Or maybe he has a cunning plan we have missed out on appreciating.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Eye on the Hill

All buses lead to Maghaberry...
WITH thousands of extra police officers, army teams, choppers, Air Force One, etc, etc all descending on Norn Iron for the G8 conference, it emerged that one entire prison block at Maghaberry gaol is to be set aside for arrested protestors...or at least that’s what we are telling the world’s media.

With the traffic disruption, dark glass wearing security men on every highway and byway, police motorcycle outriders and anti-globalisation protestors all threatening to interrupt our traditional June warm-up for the rioting season
, all in Norn Iron know the real use the prison block will be put to.

Given this anticipated chaos, Justice Minister David Ford, while revealing that Dungannon court house will be used to process protestors who have been arrested, he neglected to mention the ‘secret sessions’. During these 'secret sessions', local applicants for rest and respite from the disruption can gain a place in Maghaberry. Of course they will have to prove they are Norn Iron residents by proper use of the phrases: “Aye, dead on”, “Yer ma!” and “Amptinat tellin’ ye that before”. Once they have done so, the doors of the prison will swing open as a gateway to escape the G8 mayhem.

While we will have a few out of work Game of Thrones extras laying on riot scenes for CNN and Al Jazeera
, the rest of the population will retire peacefully to Maghaberry to watch endless re-runs of last year’s riot season, brew our own beer and toast the millions of extra cash allegedly coming to Norn Iron – just like the good/bad old days really.

It also emerged that the extra police officers
being drafted in from Britain for the summit are receiving training from the PSNI in how to deal with civil disorder...

We sincerely believe this is too late. Doing it in May seems a bit rushed.
The festive flag protests and other sundry disorder earlier in the year would have been the perfect opportunity to bring those officers over for some on-the-job training.

Logo to go? We’ll have 8 please
IN one of the regular spats over names, DUP and UUP MLAs slagged off the City of Culture – that’s Derry~Londonderry to you - for not identifying that it is the UK City of Culture.

The infamously named Stroke City (because it was sometimes called Derry/Londonderry) has had its fair share of controversy over what exactly it is called. Whole teams of etymologists (look that one up in your dictionary!) have been employed for near on a century to agree on what it is actually properly called and why it is also referred to as ‘The Maiden City’ or ‘Yon Place’.

But as the team behind City of Culture responded to this perceived ‘slight’ on the rest of the UK
, it emerged that “Legend-Derry’ City of Culture has eight logos. Yes, you read that right, eight logos.

A spokesperson was quoted as saying: "Culture Company branding includes eight different logos any of which can be used by different organisations as they see fit. That includes an Irish language version, an Ulster-Scots version, a UK City of Culture version, a City of Culture version as well as a Derry/Londonderry version and several other variations.”

Seems they forgot the logo for people who couldn’t care less about culture unless there’s a controversy...but then again that would have just been extravagant.

Nothing wrong with ambition...
CLINT Eastwood was famously known as the ‘Man With No Name’ for several of his Sergio Leone directed ‘Spaghetti Westerns’. In each of these, a desperate population, terrified by their plight, a mysterious stranger rode into town as an anti-hero and disposed of the ‘bad guys.

In Norn Iron we have the ‘Party with No Name’, intending to ride into the rife torn village of Stormont to save the population from bickering and in-fighting.

We are, of course, referring to the ‘Gang of Two’,
Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea and South Down MLA John McCallister.

Recently they have revealed that before the
summer recess they will announce the name of their party. (Mc’s For Norn Iron is our suggestion!)

In a statement of confidence
, Messers McCrea and McCallister say that over time they plan to be in Government with Mr McCrea as leader and a long term vision of being First Minister.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but perhaps they should look to getting elected in the first place next time out.