Friday, 11 September 2009

Philosophy students wanted for new course on ‘whataboutery’

AN entire department at Queen’s University, Belfast is to be dedicated to the philosophical examination of what the hell Northern Ireland politicians are on about when they open their mouths to change over their feet.

Such core modules include: “Defining a row and not a row”; “Minister or not a minister – the Hamlet quandary”; and “Housing – Is that my job?”

Module 1: Minister or not a minister – the Hamlet Quandry
IN this part of the course students are to explain the context of a minister’s speaking roles. Their dissertation will be expected to concentrate on explaining when a minister decides when he is to be a party representative and when he is not to be a party representative (i.e. a minister).

Each of the clauses in the above sentence is to be analysed. [Course tutors reserve the right to plagiarise the answers, send them to constitutional lawyers and claim credit when senior civil servants seek legal opinion.]

Students may examine recent speeches from the First Minister, including this week’s controversial Ulster Hall address on how can devolved government deliver for citizens: what was expected of Mr Robinson; what script was he given; did he re-write the script; and was what he said party political or just plain old-fashioned double speak.

As a conclusion, students shall be expected to design a series or jaunty hats that ministers are to wear. This is to let audiences and media instantly tell when they are being a minister, party spokesman or the usual over-opinionated politician given too much air-time. A separate series of hats may be designed to assist MLAs in the same way.

Module 2: Defining a row
STUDENTS shall be required to define the difference between the verbal spats in the media and the seeming lack of fireworks at Executive meetings.

Students will be required to analyse the transcripts of Good Morning Ulster ‘exclusive’ interviews and the call-ins to ‘The Biggest Show the Country!’ (a.k.a. slimmer extraordinaire Mr Stephen Nolan).

Extra marks will be awarded for students that manage to stay awake.

The core of this module will be determining when the First Minister sways between referring to Sinn Féin as his ‘partner in government’ and referring to removing individual party vetoes on policy. Students will also be expected to extrapolate the ‘Disneyland or sunstroke’ metaphor used by the deputy First Minister reacting to the First Minister’s Ulster Hall speech.

Students will also be required to explain the phenomenon of public political spats outside the Executive room are quickly replaced by awkward silences, nervous whistling and eyes furtively examining the décor inside the Executive room. Points will be deducted from any student who mentions anywhere in their discourse the phrase ‘elephant in the room’ as this cliché has now been banned under human rights law under the designation ‘cruel and unusual punishment for readers’.

In addition, students will be expected to explain whether the target date of 2015 to ‘re-write the rules’ is a target or is it the exact date when the rules must be revised. [And if they understand that, and/or explain that they can expect a 1.1]

Module 3: Housing – Is that my job?
The core part of this module relies on defining when a Minister has a legislative obligation and when said obligation can be waived because of financial restraints.

Key to students’ responses will be explaining who has fiscal responsibility? And when that fiscal responsibility ends?

Additional course credits will be awarded for students who outline when a minister should inform the rest of the Executive when they’ve blown their budget, for example as soon as the budget is gone or wait till the media points it out; and what happens when the Executive doesn’t provide additional funds during monitoring rounds.

As a conclusion to their course (combination marks awarded across all three modules) students will have to explain why nothing gets done for those in need (intimidated PSNI officers, flood victims, Roma families) except when it is featured on the media.

U-Turns, handbrake turns and general changes in direction

LIBYA – former pariah state, backer of terrorism and all round nasty guys. Well that was the view until a wee while ago.

Then global oil prices went up…

Compensation for Lockerbie victims – done

Oil deals with British companies – done

Convicted bomber released – done

Compensation for victims of terror….errrr no, definitely not done.

That compensation debate has gone from no chance, to we’ll set up a special unit, to the Libyans saying that the matter is closed and go to courts if you think you have a chance…

Gordon Brown’s flip-flopping backwards and forwards now means he is eligible to go on Top Gear and test drive cars ability to change direction quickly.

Wilson told to stay out of the Republic of Ireland

NO, our esteemed Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has not been refused entry to the Republic of Ireland as a result of his new haircut.

Instead Sammy wants to be involved in the Republic of Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) discussions. NAMA is tasked with managing the bad debt resulting from the collapse of the property market, including debts the Irish banks might seek to recover in Northern Ireland.

Sammy believes that the Executive should have a formal role in any discussions relating to debts affecting Northern Ireland properties.

NAMA’s response…err no thanks Sammy.

But they have talked, and that’s nice!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

When is a First Minister’s speech not a First Minister’s speech…?

Peter Robinson’s speech at the Ulster Hall earlier in the week surely points to the painful fact that the Northern Ireland Executive aint working. The agreement thrashed out at St. Andrews (with a unionist/nationalist veto inserted) has resulted in a serious bout of constipation at the heart of the government in Belfast, with the decision making process at a virtual standstill.

Earlier in the week, Robinson was invited to make the speech at a conference entitled "How can devolved government deliver for citizens", as First Minister but delivered it instead as leader of the DUP. The original speech that he was to have given and that had been agreed by the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was jettisoned.

This, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well with the deputy First Minister, accusing Robinson of indecisive leadership - going so far as to say that he believed the First Minister had returned from his Florida holiday suffering from sunstroke and that he had spent "too much time at Disneyland".

From this speech it is clear that the DUP would now like to see a removal of the unionist and nationalist vetoes and the requirement to have cross community support for certain votes in the in the Assembly. Sinn Féin understandably feels that if this were to happen, the other political parties would ‘gang up’ on it and push through decisions that would unpalatable to its constituency.

However, this is all academic as any changes to the current arrangements would need Sinn Féin buy-in. As Mark Devenport put it on his BBC blog, ‘we have deadlock over resolving deadlocks’.

It is little wonder therefore, with the DUP feeling the heat from former MEP Jim Allister’s Traditionalist Unionist Voice, and the likelihood of a Sinn Féin First Minister in post after the 2011 Assembly election, that Robinson felt moved to go off message.