Friday, 9 January 2009

20 year service badge

IT has been all change this week in Sinn Féin, with the party announcing that long serving vice president Pat Doherty is to stand down as part of a proposed reshuffle.

The East Tyrone MP and MLA – who will continue to represent the constituency - held the post for 20 years. Dublin MEP, Mary Lou McDonald will stand for election as vice president during next month’s Ard Fhéis.

While local focus was on Doherty’s stepping down from the prominent post, new faces at the proposed new Sinn Féin top table will see more Republic of Ireland representatives.

Gerry Adams paid tribute to Pat Doherty’s contribution as party vice president, while at the same time it emerged that Adams would be once again standing for party president.

Of the new faces, in addition to McDonald, Declan Kearney will run for party chairperson, Dawn Doyle for general secretary and Maurice Quinlivan and Rita O'Hare as joint party treasurers.

We won’t forget…

US Special envoy, Paula Dobriansky was this week on her farewell tour to Northern Ireland.
She promised that when President George W Bush steps aside for Barack Obama, Washington will continue to be committed to ‘wee Norn Iron’.

Ms Dobriansky said the US has always had a great interest in Northern Ireland and the positivity was pouring as she said that despite the global economic downturn Northern Ireland had a lot to offer.

While some might question whether Obama will have any time after his inauguration on 20 January to remember Northern Ireland faced, as he is, with the chaos surrounding Gaza, Ms Dobriansky said that the Northern Ireland experience could be applied…well at least our politicians only fire words at each other.

I’ll take your quarter and raise you three quarters

WITH the rows over the Finance Bill and Margaret Ritchie claiming her social housing budget had been raided, Minister Ritchie announced some good news for Housing Executive tenants who will be allowed to buy their homes in stages rather in one lump sum.

As house prices soared during 2006 and 2007 before last year’s slump, many tenants had been unable to make the leap to being homeowners.

As Ritchie was making the announcement on the House Sales Scheme, DUP and Sinn Féin were continuing their sniping, reminding Ms Ritchie that under the previous Executive, SDLP ministers were telling everybody else that consensual Government meant everyone should be abiding by the consensus.

They were, of course, implying that it was non-DUP Sinn Féin members that were the Executive seat holders not in consensus.

Whether it was a tactic to distract from the social housing announcement is, of course, open to interpretation. Suffice to say that tenants can now, after five years start buying their homes with a 25% initial stake, rising to 100% in increments of 5%.

Of course this raises the question as to who is going to lend anyone money in the current credit crunch and, after five years will MLAs be able to start buying Stormont?

Ah for blogs sake!

Politicians in Northern Ireland are taking on board the lesson of Barack Obama in terms of grass roots campaigning in cyberspace.

The blogosphere is now choc-a-bloc with Northern Ireland politicians launching blogs. Renowned political blogs Slugger O’Toole (Mick Fealty) and The Devenport Diaries (BBC’s Mark Devenport) this week noted the entry into the blogosphere of Gerry Adams.

Also notable are Sammy Wilson’s Youtube diaries, which come alongside Dathai McKay’s request for the Assembly proceedings to go on to Youtube.

As if this wasn’t enough, we caution you when joining the social network site Facebook. Do not add a politician or a political party member as a ‘friend’. You will, very shortly find every politician in Northern Ireland adding you to their friend list. Of course, for political anoraks out there this may just be what you are waiting for!

Delaying the devolving

With the row over devolution of policing and justice parked for a while, the Assembly and Executive Review Committee is considering reports on the matter.

Member Jimmy Spratt said the committee’s work was ongoing with a report being considered and a second phase underway.

Alex Attwood, also a member, claimed that Sinn Féin and the DUP were stalling, and devolution of these powers could wait no longer.

Whether this means that at some future stage the issue will once again rear its head to cause an Executive stumble is unknown by all, but the longer the Committee deliberates the longer the DUP and Sinn Féin have to come up with an acceptable compromise for their constituencies.

And this doesn’t just mean nominating an Alliance Party member as justice minister – more the message that is palatable to party activists.

What’s the betting that the timing of this one is held until just after the European election; preserving the DUP’s line from Traditional Unionist Voice allegations of sell-out and keeping the Sinn Féin core support bought in?

Just as it warms up

Just as the frosty weather clears for warm, wet and windy spells the Assembly will hear and finalise the details of the £15 million fuel poverty package on Monday for vulnerable Northern Ireland households.

Last week the Junior Ministers, Jeffrey Donaldson and Gerry Kelly met the Committee of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to get members’ buy-in.

Perhaps stung by criticism over the delays during the Executive’s huff, the two minsiters were keen to tell all that the fuel poverty was a deal that showed how the Executive could respond to situations.

Okay, we’ll not mention that heating fuel and petrol prices are at a three year low, compared to when the clamour for Assembly action was at its highest, and we can but hope that vulnerable households get this pay-out as soon as possible. It is a reminder, of course, that like the social security cold weather pay-out, sometimes support can come a little late.

Freezing temperatures across the UK triggered the pay-outs this week, but the extra cash only comes after consecutive days of sub-zero or near zero temperatures. And it does not take account in the temperature estimates of wind chill.

Which members will remember to mention these facts during Monday’s debate?

And finally…

As his term of office draws to a close it is timely to remind ourselves of the phrases decimated and even created by President George W Bush’s singular grasp of the English language. Gems include:

· "They misunderestimated me."
· "I think war is a dangerous place."
· "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
· "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
· "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."

But there was one phrase, much quoted in these final hours of residency in the White House that many politicians, if they were being honest wished they had in store when stepping down:

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."