Monday, 3 November 2008

Deadlock and indifference

The political impasse continues. The public is largely long past caring about whether the Executive meets or not. Indeed one suspects that public indifference is gradually turning to irritation or outright hostility towards the local political establishment.

Peter Robinson accused Sinn Fein of ‘holding a gun’ to people’s head – metaphorically of course – by blocking meetings of the Executive. He pointed to the fact that he has cleared 30 papers and Martin McGuinness has cleared a dozen papers and could meet to discuss these. He refused to entertain the suggestion that the Executive or the parties should deal with the issue of devolved policing and justice as a number one priority.

Sinn Fein appears to hold the contrary opinion and it is increasingly difficult to see how the situation can be resolved. It appears increasingly likely that the Uk and Republic of Ireland governments will be dragged into the efforts to resolve matters – even though both governments have pressing economic matters to resolve.

Sammy Wilson, the Environment Minister, who has responsibility for local government, has flagged up the possibility that the reform of local government may be delayed if the Executive impasse situation continues. Given that not many people care about local government and because the new councils aren’t due to come into force until 2011 nobody took much notice of Mr Wilson’s warning. Perhaps more pressing is the potential delay to the Health and Social Care (Reform) Bill without this Bill the new health bodies cannot be created and without the subordinate legislation they cannot become operational. The new target date for these reforms is 1 April 2009.

The Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, in response to attacks on her alleged lack of clarity with regard the replacement of the 11 plus system of post primary pupil transfer, alluded to the fact that she has detailed plans which she wants to bring to the Executive. In this instance, however, it is widely known that her plans will not be accepted, so many in the education sector are continuing to make preparations for their own entrance examinations.

The chances of a functioning Executive this side of Christmas appear negligible and the prospects for the New Year are not encouraging. 2009 is likely to see the introduction of a water charges element to the rates which will make the local parties exceptionally unpopular given the tough economic times we are now in. Some might argue that they would have been better to have bitten the bullet two years ago.

2008 US Presidential election – end of an era

Many superlatives will undoubtedly be trotted out to describe the momentous nature of the current US presidential election. Looking at it from a narrow Northern Ireland context it had one noticeable ‘first’. It was the first time a Democratic candidate had refused to hold a ‘caucus’ event for Irish America. Obama’s team was apparently concerned that if they did one for Irish America they would have to have an event for every ethnic group.

Such concerns have been never stopped such events in the past. Partly this reflects the fact that by and large Irish America supported Hillary Clinton rather than Obama in the primaries.

Obama, however, clearly does not feel the need to pander to Irish America. Having ‘offended’ some Irish Americans by refusing to commit to appointing a Special Envoy to Ireland Obama showed some awareness of the need to keep them ‘on side’ by appointing a seven man Advisory Panel on Ireland.

In addition to the fact that Irish American backed Clinton the decision also reflects that ‘Ireland’ as a political issue no longer has the ability to influence even Irish American voters particularly now that Northern Ireland is regarded as ‘settled’.

The main reason not to hold an event, however, is the simple fact Irish America’s special position in the political demography of the USA has largely been eclipsed by the increasing diversity of the USA and the rise of other groups such as the Hispanic community.

An exclusive Irish Voice survey of 180 Irish and Irish Americans (93 women and 87 men) from across the U.S. showed that Senators John McCain Senator Barack Obama are neck and neck for the Irish American vote.