Friday, 13 February 2009

IT’S Sammy’s turn

SEEMS like a week doesn’t go by without a Minister being at the centre of a storm of criticism…and Catriona Runae has taken a step aside –no doubt a brief one – from the spotlight. Stepping in to the glare instead is Sammy Wilson.

For those of you saving the world by turning the TV off rather than keeping it on standby mode, Wilson has acted to stop an advertisement on climate change.

`The thrust of the Minister’s argument is that he does not believe that man made actions have caused climate change and the advertisement was a piece of New Labour ‘propaganda’.
And thereafter much hot air was generated…about the role of the minister for the environment.
He told Whitehall, sorry no, don’t run the advertisement in Northern Ireland. Wilson said Scottish Government had also banned the advertisement. The Scots said they hadn’t banned it, they just had their own ad…and thus more heat and bluster ensued.

Wilson has been trenchant in the defence of his stance. Local, national, and regional media entered the fray, while online the debate surged too and fro.

With the Green Party launching a petition to kick Sammy out, the week ended with Queen’s Radio – the university’s student run radio channel – saying they will run the disputed advertisement every hour on the hour from Monday. And the station’s staff say that Ofcom have said there is nothing to prevent them to airing the call to switch off those pesky stand-by devices.

But then again satellite, Freeview and cable viewers will have already seen the advertisement. Is it that Wilson just wants to protect those with no access to these services? And what will he do when the entire country has switched over to digital?

Protecting their sources

In the world of journalism eager young hacks are told that they must protect their sources – otherwise no-one would come forward to dish the dirt, uncover the scandal…or whistleblow.
Ian Paisley Jnr has called for public representatives to be given protection from naming sources. His call comes as a result of High Court challenge to make him name his confidential source in the Billy Wright inquiry.

While all would want justice to take place, I wonder what Paisley Jnr would have made of anonymous sources giving information about planning issues to journalists…or other MLAs? Or did that really happen just last year?

Time to do the quango tango!

In a quango? Concerned about the payment you receive for this? Don’t worry! According to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Felicity Huston, your payments are made without ‘rhyme or reason’.

Those of you enjoying no payment may be aggrieved, but those of you receiving up to £40,000 for your quango role, be assured of the response from the Department of Finance and Personnel.
It says there is no centrally determined pay policy.

Every grade of public sector and civil service pay is scrutinised, subject to negotiation, pay squeezes, squabbles with trade unions and threats of pay freezes.

Except if you are on a quango…then it is role the dice and see if you are in the zero pay or the super pay category! Oh, and wasn’t the Review of Public Administration meant to sort out the hundred or so quangos?

700 jobs go…and no loss of posts

Slashing the number of nurses won’t affect front line services, says Michael McGimpsey. Oh, yes it will say the Royal College of Nursing and an assorted bunch of MLAs.

Minister McGimpsey became (albeit briefly) animated on air and in the chamber defending the reduction of nursing posts. He explained that the 700 nursing jobs going would disappear largely through ‘natural wastage’ and that the posts wouldn’t be re-filled.

That tortuous logic surely means that there is also a loss of 700 posts.

Under fire, McGimpsey then went on to blame those hated other ministers in the Executive who stitched him up, before saying the negotiations he brought forward managed to secure the cash necessary to improve services.

As if on cue, a press release was issued at the close of the debate in the Assembly detailing all the extra cash the DHSSPS would be lashing around.

Eagle eyed watchers may have noticed that a few of these projects have been in the pipeline for quite a few years.

But will nurses be manning these new bastions of our improved health services?

Red card

Nelson McCausland became the latest MLA to receive a red card from the Assembly speaker for use of ‘unparliamentary’ language.

The speaker must be getting a headache on how to navigate the arcane Assembly rules in deciding when an MLA has made a blooper, or when they has simply been part of the cut and thrust of debate.

Fractions of a second

It seems Londonderry is annoyed. A new super-duper transatlantic cable bringing ultrafast internet connection to Northern Ireland won’t be coming ashore in Derry, but in Coleraine instead.

Flustered MLAs were up in arms at the slight…perhaps some should have mentioned that geography plays little or no connection with the access to the net, as the information superhighway has lanes where the data flows really, really quickly. So quick that it exceeds the speed an MLA from Derry can claim his or her nose is out of joint.

Of course what the row is about is that the DUP is supposed to have lobbied for it to touch land at Coleraine, while it had been claimed the hub should be situated in ‘disadvantaged’ Derry to attract inward investment. Err, there are no permanent extra jobs being created, and the all of the northern counties of Northern Ireland will benefit. It is tempting to claim this is a storm in a teacup, except it is a storm in an internet forum instead. Apologies to Derry readers who may have to wait an extra millisecond to read our blog post…