Friday, 8 May 2009

Sinn Féin odds on to top the poll…

ON Thursday the final seven candidates for the European elections were confirmed, with all the nominations in…and already the betting has started with Paddy Power amongst the bookies offering odds on who will top the poll.

In what could be a neck and neck finish, Sinn Fein is the current odds on favourite with odds of four to six offered on Bairbre de Brún. The DUP’s Diane Dodds has drifted from early evens money to 11/10; with the Conservatives and Unionists candidate Jim Nicholson at 10/1 ahead of the Traditional Unionist Voice’s Jim Allister.

Long odds are on offer for the SDLP’s Alban Maginness (25/1) while the outsiders are the Green Party’s Steven Agnew and Ian Parsley of the Alliance Party (80/1).

Of course the intricacies of arguments on the stump, forceful TV interviews and well-placed newspaper supplements (not to mention the weather on polling day) could change the final pecking order, but the reality remains…there are very few poor bookies; they usually get it right, or as damn close as makes no difference.

So, perhaps we can save ourselves the agony of the next four weeks of electioneering and decide that the bookies have it right.

Alternatively, we could collectively pick one of the outsiders, each place a tenner on that outsider, and make sure the entire electorate votes for that outsider. This would place a serious dent in the bookies coffers, have political pundits struggle to explain it all, and give everyone a huge laugh in these gloomy economic times.

That wouldn’t of course be democratic…

Odds not being offered on Loyalist decommissioning

THE latest report of the Independent Monitoring Commission is in…and it can be summed up in three sentences. The loyalist paramilitaries haven’t disarmed yet. The dissident republicans are still a serious threat. And, the current ‘peace’ is stable.

Needless to say Shaun Woodward took time out from calculating his expenses to offer a statement.


DURING Tuesday’s Assembly plenary session the Speaker delivered a slapdown to party colleagues in the DUP. Speaker William Hay, referring to previous challenges in the chamber by the DUP on who is called to speak, laid down the law in no uncertain terms.

In a robust declaration of the impartiality of his role as speaker (and his deputy speakers), William also told MLAs that he would not be taking points of order.

Promptly DUP South Antrim MLA William McCrea popped up to say: “Mr Speaker, on a point of order…”

The member was quickly told by an irritated Speaker: “I have made it absolutely clear that I am not taking any points of order on the issue on which I ruled this morning”.

Without sanction, that is as close as it gets to delivering an ‘ouch!’ in parliamentary terms. Take a moment to read the Official Report of Tuesday’s plenary session and William Hay’s opening statement is a remarkable assertion of the independence of the Speaker.

There is more than a hint of exasperation akin to a schoolmaster addressing unruly pupil as he quotes, chapter and verses the rules for behaviour. No doubt, the ‘pupils’ will find another way to misbehave very soon.

Futility in (in) action

THERE is, of course no-one who would claim that MLAs engage in futile discussions, but there was an air of talking for talking sake when Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey gave his weekly swine flu update to the Assembly.

After that there were 10 MLAs who got up to speak, or ask questions.

In a representative democracy, ministers should be exposed to questioning and scrutiny, but this was as fine a display in waffle as can be seen. At present there are no confirmed cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland. McGimpsey’s team are following the advice of the World Health Organisation, and are following the communications strategy established by central government in London.

So what was the point in so many MLAs speaking? That is a question of political theory that is beyond the scope of any columnist…and many a philosopher would struggle to answer it too!

Are some more equal than others?

DURING Wednesdays OFMDFM Committee meeting, the Equality Commission was up to give evidence. There was a ‘tête-à-tête’ between Jimmy Spratt and the Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission Bob Collins, with Jimmy Spratt questioning why the commission staff records show in 2007 that it was made up of 35% Protestants and 63% Roman Catholics.

Needless to say it got rather heated, with Danny Kennedy wrestling for control of his committee.
Mr Spratt was rather vociferous in his questioning, and Bob Collins threatened to walk out of the committee if Mr Spratt continued to question him along similar lines… Luckily for all those in the public gallery, Danny Kennedy regained some semblance of control, and the committee session passed off peacefully.

This seems to be a repeated DUP line of enquiry (with Nelson McCausland and the First Minister already weighing in on the issue) maybe a 50/50 recruitment drive would be beneficial… Does anyone have Chris Patten’s phone number?

Legislation? What’s that?

THERE now follows a political statement on behalf of the Exasperated Party…

The Exasperated Party hereby calls on the Executive and MLAs to get their collective fingers out of their nether regions and do some work…

Of course, we neither endorse nor condone the statements of the Exasperated Party, but has anyone noticed how much Assembly Plenary time is taken up by Private Member’s Business? It is quite a lot.

While there are 90 minutes approximately given over to ministers answering questions once a week, plus the regular bun fights between green and orange, the vast majority of time so far has been taken up by Private Member’s Business.

Now each MLA has no doubt important, nay vital, issues to bring to the chamber; but a sense of proportion may be called for urgently here.

Legislation can take a long time to be drafted. When it drafted it has to go to an Assembly committee to scrutinise and take external evidence on it. After this, and a few other hurdles it can go on and become the law of the land. (For all you Constitutional lawyers out there with green pens at the ready we know it is more complex than that – put the pens away and look up satire in your dictionary.)

And then on Tuesday, we heard why one piece of legislation is hitting the buffers. Sammy ‘never a dull moment’ Wilson said “the party opposite” could not get their heads around the proposed legislation. (For those watching in black and white he meant Sinn Féin).

Sinn Fein, of course claim that Sammy should have equality proofed said legislation…
And, so it goes on…

The Exasperated Party has come up with a solution to the legislative log jam.

Once a week an MLA gives up one of the Private Members Business slots; all 108 MLAs are then locked in the chamber - no TV cameras, no press, no public - for at least two hours.
Tea, coffee and tray bakes will be withheld.

If, after two hours, they haven’t got at least one piece of substantial new (old Direct Rule initiatives and procedural bills don’t count) legislation whipped into shape and ready for the vote they should all be docked a week’s wages. And have their tray bakes and sticky buns confiscated.

Seems at least as much a common sense solution than asking questions on an issue that was covered in an Assembly committee, Westminster statements, statements in the Dail, and in acres of newsprints…

Education Update

There isn’t one.