Saturday, 7 February 2009

Snow Joke

IT’S (s)no(w) joke being a politician these days, what with the miserable weather and receiving flak from almost all sides every time you take a decision.

Just ask Education Minister Catriona Ruane. The Minister finally released her long-awaited and much touted criteria for transferring to post-primary education. Branded as ‘Transfer 2010’, Ms Ruane set the criteria that she hoped would begin the road to settling down to a new education regime.

Ooops, even before the snow came down, Ms Ruane was facing a blizzard of criticism. No change there then!

No-one can agree on much when it comes to post-primary transfer, but they can agree on one simple fact - Ms Ruane can end the 11+ but cannot end academic selection. Her criteria therefore amount to legally unenforceable guidance.

This, of course, is why the grammar sector is going its own merry way - setting tests and generally ignoring what the Minister has proposed.

With a group of Catholic bishops entering the fray with their own ideas, the debate has descended yet further into confusion.

As the last set of 11+ results arrived in the post this weekend, next year’s 11-year-olds have as yet no idea what will be the definitive way to get to the big school.

Testing times indeed.

Diane Dodds vs TUV

Hoping to head to the big school of European politics is Diane Dodds. Dodds is now the official DUP candidate for June’s Euro poll.

Seemingly unwilling to risk a front bencher in the ballot, the DUP have chosen what they see as the next best big name that they can throw into the ring.

Despite protestations from the DUP that they were preparing to do battle with Sinn Féin, no-one really believes this to be the case. Dodds’ real task is to unseat the incumbent MEP Jim Allister, leader of Traditional Unionist Voice.

Allister, who quit the DUP when the party entered the new devolved administration with Sinn Féin, has been poking and prodding at his former party colleagues. Both Dodds and Allister will be competing for the airwaves and hoping that some of the electorate at least believes the European election has some relevance and will actually turn up to vote!

Civic forum…yet more debate and discussion

For those of you who can cast your minds back to the previous period of devolved government in Northern Ireland, there was an institution called the Civic Forum. This was meant to ensure a voice for a civic society that no-one was sure really existed.

The argument went along the line that during Direct Rule, a capable and experienced bunch of people within civic society had been working away filling the democratic deficit created by Westminster ministers who ruled with impunity. It was therefore decided that those considered to be the wise ones should be called forth to debate and report on ways that Northern Ireland could be a better place for all…

The DUP were less than happy with an unelected ‘second chamber’ – it’s not like the Lords of course, you didn’t get a title for being a Civic Forum member.

Now, led by Upper Bann MLA Stephen Moutray, the DUP is once again trying to kill off the idea of bringing back the worthy to the table.

While this week’s Assembly debate on Moutray’s motion, failed to sound the death knell for the Forum – which hasn’t met for seven years – pressure mounts to abort restoration before it begins.

The DUP’s Nelson McCausland has suggested that with the dawn of the digital age, discussions on the internet are a better way to engage civic society. Of course this means that we can look forward to the likes of Stephen Moutray launching his own You Tube channel, with musical contributions from party colleague Willie McCrea.

Housing, retraining and upskilling

And when in economic difficulty perhaps it is time to tweak the budget. Hence, Declan O’Loan’s motion to revise the Programme for Government and Budget.

His plan is to change the focus of spending to focus more on housing and retraining the workforce with new skills.

The DUP and Sinn Féin response was basically “how dare you”!

While the recriminations between all sides fired back and forth across the chamber, it became clear that the Executive’s budget is currently ‘up the left’.

The Executive, of course, cannot be blamed for the global crisis but it is in no doubt that they will have to cope with the fall-out. Already the Enniskillen Hospital project has been affected with HSBC withdrawing from the PFI scheme. More imaginative ways will be needed to keep NI plc afloat.

With Finance Minister Nigel Dodds definitely not standing for Europe, and his wife out on the stump, he’ll have the chance to concentrate on the tweaks that O’Loan proposed, without actually having to admit that it was another party’s idea all along.

Not that any political party has ever done that before.

‘Back when I were a lad…’

Anyone forced this week to work from home were “using the snow as an excuse”, according to Environment Minister Sammy Wilson.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday about school closures, Wilson recounted how he walked to school for weeks in 1963 with snowdrifts above head height.

And who is he blaming? The “health and safety nuts”, who apparently mollycoddle our society.
Given that he is road safety minister, he should know whether the roads are safe to travel on, but how long before he claims that the snow is unrelated to global warming…