Friday, 2 January 2009

Farewell to 2008

A Happy New Year to our readers. As usual we’ll be keeping you updated with the weekly happenings in the maelstrom we call Northern Ireland politics.

And what a maelstrom 2008 was on the political front! As we look forward the next 12 months, below is a brief reminder of the highlights of the last 52 weeks.

January saw the row over who was to be Victim’s Commissioner resolved. The new Commissioner was to be…Mike Nesbitt, Patricia McBride, Bertha McDougall and Brendan McAllister.

In February, pressure mounted on Ian Paisley Junior over alleged financial links with property developers leading to his eventually resigning his Junior Minister post in OFMDFM.

With the gossip filled corridors of Stormont chattering about the Paisley dynasty, the Big Man of Northern Ireland politics, DUP leader and First Minister, Ian Paisley announced he too was resigning.

In April, another giant of Irish politics, and recent friend of Paisley, Bertie Ahern, told a surprised press conference (and even more surprised party colleagues) he was standing down.

May saw a first in many ways when Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited a PSNI officer in hospital after the officer was injured in a explosion caused by a dissident republican undercar booby trap bomb.

The same month saw the major development in the Northern Ireland political landscape… Belfast’s former Miss Great Britian, Gemma Garrett, stood in the Crewe in Nantwich by-election as a representative of the Beauties for Britain Party. Unfortunately she only secured 113 votes - proving that Britain wasn’t ready for beauty.

In June the giggle duo were replaced by the Business Brothers as Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness swore to knuckle down to getting Northern Ireland in shape…and within weeks fell out over the devolving of policing and justice, then Irish Language Act etc, etc.

Dubya (US President George W Bush) breezed into the country to tell us “Northern Ireland is a success story”.

It was also a month when fundamentalism clashed with liberalism on the airwaves (Iris Robinson claimed homosexuals could be cured).

With the July hiatus tumbling into August the story was one of water; that is the millions of gallons that flooded the Belfast West Link’s newest underpass. The Biblical like downpour was, of course, not linked to any sinful activities in Belfast…except on certain phone-in shows and websites.

With summer ending, the Executive was in a mutual huff over the unresolved issues that had been bubbling to the surface for months. Householders were taking stock over the collapse in property prices when NIE announced a 33% hike in prices. The words Credit Crunch were on the lips of every politician. Hence, when Michael McGimpsey announced the phasing out of prescription charges (down to £3.00 from 1 January 2009, before their complete abolition) there were cheers from all, except the DUP, Sinn Féin coalition who only wished they were talking and had some cash windfall they could claim.

October’s debates in the Assembly were an exercise in talking as the Executive was sill not meeting…and house prices were still tumbling...and Secretary of State Shaun Woodward was telling the Executive to get its act together. The Assembly Executive and Review Committee promised progress in five weeks.

November was a breakthrough month with Barack Obama winning the US Presidential election, the first ever African American to do so. Northern Ireland witnessed a breakthrough too with the Executive getting back round the table.

And all the breakthroughs merely presaged the Executive’s £70 million beat the recession windfall package, which was announced in December. Before the cash details were out, Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie was claiming her housing budget had suffered a smash and grab raid.

December also saw the official announcement of the much-touted UUP Conservative re-marriage. Well it’s more of a trial engagement; with David Cameron’s keynote address to the UUP conference as a first date and the Euro poll in May providing us with the chance to see if it will progress to full nuptials.

Meanwhile the 11+ row rumbled on; Catriona Ruane claimed at a school prize giving that hunger striker Bobby Sands was a hero; the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre moved a step nearer being finally built; and MLAs salaries came under the spotlight.

Next week sees the return of the Assembly for another 12 months of fun and games.