Friday, 27 March 2009

In the Stormont car park today…

WITH the education (debate) controversy parked for a while, it was the turn of Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson to step to the fore, once again, with controversial comments about double (even triple) jobs, and counting the 4x4s in the Stormont car park.

Seems Sammy is a wee bit miffed at being called an eco-luddite in a debate on an Assembly motion tabled by the UUP’s David McClarty, expressing concern at Wilson’s stance on carbon-saving advertisements from those environmental tyrants at Whitehall.

During the debate the Environment minister advised members that he had counted ten 4x4s (each with a 2.5 litre engine) sitting in the Parliament Building’s car park. The minister proudly admitted to owning one of the gas-guzzling, planet killing behemoths too…

No (double) jobs salary for the boys

Keeping on the Sammy Wilson theme, it seems the Environment Minister (who is an MP, an MLA and a Belfast councillor) believes that if you are a MLA and a councillor you shouldn’t get your full allowance for being a councillor.

That would mean losing out on about £6,000 salary. No mention on slashing the MLA salary of £42,000, or the MP salary of £63,000.

Of course as an MP, the Minister only gets two thirds of his MLA salary…do the maths; two thirds of a councillor’s allowance, plus an MP’s pay packet, plus two thirds of an MLA’s salary, plus additional ministerial allowance. What was the average pay packet in Northern Ireland again? How many workers are facing pay freezes, pay cuts or redundancy?

While this debate was slicing through the airwaves, few thought to mention that no Welsh Assembly Members sat as Westminster MPs.

As Environment Minister with responsibility for local government, Sammy Wilson has a major say in setting the allowances for councillors. He did, however, declare that he wouldn’t legislate to cut the allowances paid to councillors who are also MLAs.

The Minister said that being a councillor and an MLA wasn’t a conflict of interest. Which means, if you are in the Minister responsible for planning, as Sammy is, you can attack your own planning officials as a councillor. Not that the Minister would ever do that…oh, right, there was that development in Great Victoria Street…

Bye, bye £200m

With the Environment Minister pondering savings in councillor’s allowances, the Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie was wondering where £200m has disappeared to.

No, it wasn’t lost, misplaced or spent on MLA’s allowances. It was just that darned credit crunch!

Seems that “land sales” over the next two years, which had been predicted to be £100m a year, were not going to happen - leaving a gaping hole in the Social Development’s budget.

Now, of course not all of these anticipated land sales were to Housing Executive tenants seeking a ‘foot on the housing ladder’, but a fair amount were meant to be.

So, an SDLP Minster has been left with not enough money to help the poorest in society because not enough working class people are shedding the shackles of tenancy to become mortgage holders. Mortgages that are payable to banks, who some might say should shoulder some of the blame for the current credit crunch, global downturn, recession etc.

Speaking of bankers…

As the Ulster Unionist leader ponders who will take David Burnside’s south Antrim MLA seat, at least two newspapers are reporting that the former MLA’s PR company, New Venture, has the account for Sir Fred Goodwin. Mr Burnside declined to comment to the BBC.

All hail the new breed!

Fancy doing a Master’s Degree in Legislative Studies? Not many would be beating down the doors at the prospect. But with a bursary of £15,000 on offer, the queue might be a little longer.

Such is the £500,000 plan that has been hatched between Queen’s University, Belfast and the Assembly.

Before all you politics undergraduates rush to fill in the application forms and plan a career in politics or public service there is a catch. During your time studying for the subsidised degree, you’ll only spend one day a week as a Holy Land trashing, barely sober student. The other four days will be spent working as an intern at the Assembly. Never mind the bursary, think how many debates and committee meetings you would have to endure!

Cold-blooded murders are ‘regrettable’

Republican Sinn Féin held a press conference this week. Bully for them! The media, eager for another angle on the tragic killings of two soldiers and a PSNI officer by cowards, turned up in force to hear the apologists of this criminal act claim that the murders were “acts of war”.

At the same press conference, the party’s publicity director, Richard Walsh, admitted that they will not be standing in forthcoming elections, nor would he say how many supporters the party has.

The last time they stood for election, they attracted just about one per cent of the votes where they entered the poll. It is clear that Republican Sinn Féin has no real support, no real mandate, and no credibility with the electorate.

But still, RSF says that it is wrong for police investigating heinous crimes to search houses, examine clothes for forensic evidence. Imagine, police officers investigating a crime. Someone tell Sir Hugh quickly!

Thanks to the actions of the dissident killers, which Republican Sinn Féin refuses to condemn, the policing bill is set to rise by £76m. And children ask why cars are stopped in checkpoints, and why armoured Land Rovers have replaced police cars. And three mothers walk weeping behind coffins.

In other news…

Mo Mowlam’s life is to be made into a TV drama by Channel Four…astronomers from Queen’s University and Armagh Observatory observed a chunk of space rock crash into Earth….the UUP has said civil servants shouldn’t get bonuses if they underspend…schoolchildren interview the First Minister and deputy First Minister…and finally…the Audit Commissioner commissions an audit of MLAs car engine sizes in the Stormont car park.

One last note on education…

The Belfast Telegraph’s new, heavily advertised and trailed ‘compact’ edition hit the streets on Wednesday, complete with a supplement on parenting.

While the Education Minister prefers to use the machinery of the Executive Information Service (that is the huddled masses of press officers) to help outlaw academic selection, those that back testing at 11 were taking advertisements in the Belfast Tele supplement.

PR officers versus ad men…in a fair fight one might back the public relations team in the education death match. But wait, to make sure it is a fair fight there can’t be a fight unless there is equal opportunity for everyone to take part, and there can’t be a fight as that would be like a sort of test, and we can’t be having those about us. And anyway, that whole competitive sports thing might disadvantage the obese ones that the Department of Health says we must help slim down through exercise.

As with quantum physics, if you understand Northern Ireland politics you haven’t been paying attention!