Friday, 29 May 2009

It’s hard not to be cynical

IT’S hard not to be cynical so one shouldn’t try. When it comes to the issue of expenses our politicians must, of course, incur expenses to serve us, the citizens of these few square miles of land.

Of course, each and every one of our MPs, MLAs and soon to be new MEPs have incurred only those expenses that are absolutely necessary to meet the needs of their constituents and represent us in the august institutions of state.

Of course, if they employ a family member it is because that family member can deliver the appropriate research or policy back-up. They might even be able to type a letter or two.

Of course, if they incur costs for food or mortgage payments it is because their busy lifestyles mean they are running hither and thither to deliver finely honed arguments in debates and hold constituent surgeries.

Of course, if they decide to reform expenses at Westminster, Strasbourg or Stormont it is because they intended to do that all along.

Of course, there was not a hint of reform before the media started running headlines to that effect.

Was there a hint of an end to double-jobbing? Was there a hint that perhaps, just perhaps the politicians wanted to step off the gravy train?

The outraged electorate in England has already claimed the scalps of a few MPs. Will any scalps be claimed here in Northern Ireland? Not likely so long as the hysteria over which green candidate might win through or which orange candidate will secure the vote.

Which, of course, begs the question…what would it take before a politician in Northern Ireland could be forced to give up their salary and expenses?

Education chaos warning…

THE SDLP’s Euro candidate Alban Maginness has this week warned that the continuing battle between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the transfer to post-primary school was creating chaos and confusion.

Is he sure? Did we not notice this before? Surely he must be mistaken!

But he does claim this week’s prize for stating the bleeding obvious.

Stop them ‘uns!

APPARENTLY if you don’t vote DUP then Sinn Féin will top the Euro poll. Unless you are a Sinn Féin supporter this would be a ‘bad thing’, according to the DUP’s euro candidate Diane Dodds.

If you don’t turn out on polling day…or worse still are a unionist who votes for the wrong unionist, it will be a ‘disaster for unionism’ and the dreaded Sinners will storm the battlements and we’ll be sleepwalking into a united Ireland…

Unless you have got your constitutional affairs and diplomatic agenda seriously messed up, this is well beyond the power and competency of the European Parliament to which Mrs Dodds seeks to be elected.

But then again it’s the signal, the symbol and the flag flown that is important. Important for the paranoid and insecure, that is!

Walk this way

WALK this way for the podcast that can’t be broadcast…also known under the title ‘Only in Norn Iron!’

The story so far…tourists like to see sites of notoriety no matter where they go in the world. Green hills and sweeping valleys are nice, but they want to see sites of former strife and bloodshed. It’s a human condition.

So, here in Norn Iron, we have a few (few too many) ‘peace walls’. Now, that is in itself a stupid name. The peace walls are put up to in interface areas to stop residents rampaging through their neighbours’ estates.

To help explain this concept to tourists it was decided to commission a podcast that would guide tourists through the bewildering complexities of the divided lands of west Belfast.

More than £100,000 (yes you read that right!) was allocated to produce said podcast. But, before the podcast could go ahead politicians rolled in. Arlene Foster, DUP Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister refused to sign off the script, saying it was too one-sided. Sinn Féin, in turn said she was wasting the six figure sum allocated to the project.

Only in Norn Iron could someone get their knickers in a knot about a project that is as wasteful as it is stupid.

Here’s a suggestion. Rather than wait for the sign-off on the six-figure sum, here’s a simple plan.
Buy a podcast suitable microphone. It should cost about twenty or thirty quid on the web. Learn how to work the PC for something other than issuing invective about the ‘other side’. Record your own version of our recent history (never mind accuracy or balance).

At this point you may have noted that you need a PC. Speak to your local political representative. Taxpayers will have paid for their PC so they may be able to help.

Now, head off to a site such as iTunes. For free (i.e. no grant aid needed) you can post your podcast. Tourists can now download your interpretation of history to listen to on their MP3 players (you have heard of MP3 players?) as they walk around the graffiti laden walls.

There, for about thirty quid and a wee bit of patience you have your podcast done and no annoying political squabbles to interfere with it.

One small point…those on the other side of the ‘peace wall’ can do the same thing.

White man he speaks with forked tongue

WHITE man, he speaks damn expensive languages! The cost to the public purse in Northern Ireland of translating English into Irish and Ulster-Scots was £70,000 in two years.

Which is ironic as translation from English into Spanish, Mandarin or Urdu would be more cost-effective.

Spanish is now the first language of more than 60million US citizens. India and China produce more maths PHDs in a year than the entire European Union does in three years. Each has millions (no exaggeration) of university graduates engaged in research and development that would make most UK and RoI companies eyes water in envy.

It may only be a sneaking suspicion but when the wonderful people at Invest Northern Ireland try to attract foreign investors, the said investors will be bemused by the obsession over English let alone the minority tongues.

We would now like to apologise for cultural heresy in suggesting that the languages being translated are irrelevant to economic development!

Who you gonna call?

Weird voting patterns? Strange bumps at polling stations? Who you gonna call? Fraudbusters!

Yep, the Electoral Office has set up a fraudbusting team of polling clerks to make sure that polling agents don’t mess up next week’s Euro poll.

Allegations that the fraudbusters would only be operating in Foyle and west Belfast, and that Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray were on the team have been denied.

Swine flu

With as yet only one confirmed case of swine flu in Northern Ireland but fears over more in the autumn we’ve finally figured it out…the end is nigh!

First there was mad cow disease.

Then came avian flu

Now it’s swine flu.

We’re facing farmageddon!

Quick, someone tell agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew!

Shuffle time!

The DUP, Sinn Féin and SDLP have all been talking about shuffling ministers, ending double mandates and making sure that representatives aren’t holding posts as MLA, MP, councillor and so on.

While political pundits have been expending time deciding who will stay and who will go, party officials across the country are hoping that shuffling doesn’t mean re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic!

What it may mean though is that all Northern Ireland parties, especially the DUP and Sinn Féin, will have to bring to the fore untried and untested candidates for the next Assembly election in 2011. Now that could prove interesting!

And finally…

Usually this is the point when news bulletins and political commentaries end on a pithy note; a quip or unusual story to raise a smile.

But, the headline here is more important.

We sincerely hope, but fearfully doubt, that the senseless, stupid and unnecessary murder of Kevin McDaid in Coleraine will finally shake the population to decide that sectarianism is a waste of time and a waste of life.

Sure, the politicians were unanimous in condemnation, as they were over the recent murders of the two soldiers and a police officer.

All sides would do well to remember that when any of us are cut we bleed red. When any of us are bruised the marks are black and blue. When our bones are broken the cracks do not sound like party tunes or rebel songs. When our children are born they don’t bawl out chants of ancient division. When we take pleasure in our families, or mourn a passing, we do so in basically the same way.

And finally, we are the same. Genetics, DNA, hereditary traits, bodily components…these are all made the same.

Politics is the art of making real the desires and wishes of the populace. It is the art of the achievable. It is the art of compromise. It is the art of striving to achieve an end.

Those that hail sectarianism and peddle paranoia towards the ‘other side’ will never understand that in the end we will all face the same fate.

There is no victory in death. There is no victory in murder.

Only in peace can we understand that victory is never as important as taking part in a process to enable and support each and every citizen without exception, without exclusion.

The killers will never understand the dignity and compassion of Mrs McDaid or the widow of Constable Stephen Carroll. That is because they have neither dignity nor compassion.

And finally, when they realise this defect in their make up, the killing may come to an end.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Patient Body Meets In Public...

THIS week board members of the Patient and Client Council (PPC) met in Derry’s Millennium Forum. The new Health and Social Care body is one of four established by the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, on 1 April.

PPC board meetings are open to the public.

According to the PCC’s website it exists ‘to represent the interests of the public by engaging with the public to obtain their views on services’ and to ‘promote the involvement of patients, clients, carers and the public in the design, planning, commissioning and delivery of health and social care’. You would therefore have expected the public gallery to be packed to the rafters with interested spectators…unfortunately this wasn’t the case. With members of the public numbering one, the meeting continued.

The proceedings finished slightly earlier than expected, as the venue had inadvertently been double booked. With a large group of 4 year old girls in pink tutus clamouring at the door, PCC chair John Keanie was forced to bring proceedings to a close. One can only assume that the girls were there for their weekly dance lessons and hadn’t turned up a couple of hours late for the meeting!