Saturday, 10 October 2009

There’s no justice – there’s just us

ULTIMATELY when devolution of policing and justice comes trundling down the length of verbose negotiations, party gains, party losses, compromises and confusion, the political classes will gaze upon it all and realise that they’ve managed to gain another headache.

This week the First Minister and deputy First Minister have been doing their bit in destroying the climate with flights back and forth to London, not to mention bringing the PM here.

Finally after a week of ‘intense negotiations’ it finally looks like it will be agreed.

Peter Robinson was, as seems to be his permanent posture, cautious. Martin McGuinness, on the other hand has the beginnings of a permanent grin.

They may not be working together but they’re growing into a double act.

But it is a double act of despair? Should McGuinness not be able to ‘deliver’ on a policing and justice agreement by Christmas, Sinn Féin will look impotent. The perception then: A DUP “win”

For Robinson, knowing that devolved policing and justice is inevitable, the budgetary agreement and general concept has to be in place before Christmas. This will give the DUP a clear run to the general election, arguing hither and thither about the minutiae of the legislation. If the First Minister can’t get some of his concessions before Christmas…the perception then: A Sinn Féin win.

They’re stuck on the horns of a dilemma. Should they for once depart from a Downing Street meeting together, they can mutter to each other….”There’s no justice…there’s just us”.

Operational decision

SHURELY shome mishtake. First Minister Peter Robinson declared that one of his non-negotiable terms for devolving policing and justice was the retention of the full-time reserve.
Surely the DUP will have realised through its membership of the Policing Board that the Chief Constable will hold primacy in terms of operational decision-making.

The Board may approve or reject such decisions, and can veto the actions to a certain extent, but have that self-same board ever permanently stopped an operational decision. Tasers? Closure of bases?

The devolution of policing powers of course means there will be a Policing Board, an Assembly Committee on Policing and Justice, and District Policing Partnerships.

And that means there will be no actual policing done. All the senior officers will be at meetings, and all the junior ranks will be helping prepare the information for the senior officers.

Which of course explains why Matt Baggott and his creed of community policing won him the appointment: his message to the community will be ‘go police yourself, we’re in a meeting.’

Comedy is the art of timing

THE creation of a Department of Policing and Justice should in theory just mean moving NIO civil servants to an Assembly department. Couple of weeks work?

Not a chance! It’ll work out at about two years, which is about the timescale for getting rid of the Department of Employment and Learning.

Which takes the Assembly most of the way through to a 2011 Assembly election and the ending of the interim period for a Minister for Cops and Courts. Working out D’Hondt after that election will be fun!

I fought the law…

THE police are much in evidence around Parliament Buildings as any visitor knows. Courteous and efficient, they patrol the grounds, are present at the security checks and are an amiable, but quiet presence.

Their professionalism comes at a price though: £413,000 per year to be exact.

A far cry from the days when police officers were only there to annoy Sinn Féin.

True blue Reg

BILLED as a momentous occasion, Ulster Unionist supremo Sir Reg Empey mounted the steps in Manchester to address the Conservative Party conference about why his party’s alliance with Conservatives is good for the Union.

Coining new phrases – such as pan-UK Unionism – and speaking with unusual passion - Sir Reg managed to stir some of the Tory faithful in the hall.

But his speech on the Union was a wee bit undermined by the fact that it concluded the session on ‘Great Britain’. Memo to conference organisers…it’s called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Dealing with the devil

AN unholy alliance was alleged between Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and the Trade Unions by Iris Robinson.

Mrs Robinson said the left wing unions were in league with Satan….sorry Michael McGimpsey, over opposition to the health cuts.

The Health Minister had complained that the Northern Ireland health service was under funded compared to the rest of the UK.

With beds being cut in hospitals, A&E departments closing in rural areas, and mothers who give birth to be shown the door hours later, the unions are a wee bit upset.

Mrs Robinson said she would not be “lectured” by the trade unions, declaring: “I will not be questioned about what I do as a public representative. But you have come here today singing the same song as the minister has sung."

Mrs Robinson of course has her own song she prefers to be serenaded to…Simon and Garfunkel’s rallying call for her to act:

“And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know, God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson, Heaven holds a place for those who pray”

Sort of says it all.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Love is all around us…

And so the feeling goes….away. The public spats between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland/this wee country/region/province/failed statelet/occupied Ireland/here (delete as appropriate) seem to becoming infectious.

In the Health Committee on Thursday, Iris Robinson forgot she was no longer the Chair and ended up having ‘a robust discussion’ with Deputy Chair Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein, who was chairing proceedings in the absence of the new Chair Jim Wells. At least John McCallister can have a rest from the ‘robust discussions’ he and Iris used to have.

Welcome Gordon, welcome Hilary, welcome one and all

ROLL up, roll up! Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends! We’re so glad you could attend! Come inside and see the marvellous fighting politicians. Come inside and see Peter and Martin duke it out in a most wondrous verbal spat.

Welcome Gordon, here you’ll see the legacy of your erstwhile mate Tony. Could the ghosts of electoral platforms past be pulling you to claim conclusion to the never-ending saga that is Northern Ireland.

Welcome Hilary - so glad that Shaun was able to tell us all last that you’re coming back. Just remember to bring those dollars for the carnival stalls that will keep us all in jobs old and new; but watch out for those hucksters who’ll try to turn your head with their amazing sleight of devolution hand….

I fought the law, and the law won!

AS The Clash so memorably sang in their cover of the Sonny Curtis song, ‘I needed money ‘cause I has none; I fought the law, and the law won’; so our political classes have been struggling with the concept of devolving policing and justice when Treasury purse strings are tied tighter than ever.

But wait…there is a bank of Yanks waiting to plough their investment into our ‘wee country’ as soon as these powers are devolved to Northern Ireland.

According to the logic of Shaun Woodward, if policing and justice is devolved, hordes of US investors will come storming across the Atlantic, wallets stuffed with cash ready to set up shop in every hole in the hedge. As soon as PSNI officers can gaze affectionately upon their new masters in Parliament Buildings the world will be set to rights.

Our ever beneficent Secretary of State is so confident that he told the Labour conference that US Secretary of State Hilary ‘I’m not just Bill’s wife’ Clinton will be gracing us with her presence.

So, let’s get this straight. This week the Conservatives are holding their party conference in Manchester. It just so happens that Gordon Brown is be coming across to Northern Ireland this same week to ‘bash some heads together’ and get devolution of policing and justice well and truly sorted. Of course, that won’t steal any headlines from the Tories…

And, should Hilary rock up with investment in hand a week or so later, who’s going to be grabbing headlines again.

Stage management? Chance would be a fine thing.

He said this, he said that…

MARRIAGE counselling can be a tricky moment in any relationship. Before the rowing partners accept that the other has a point, they must vent their spleen. Before they hug and make up each must air their differences. Each must honestly say where they think their other half has gone wrong.

At least most couples have the decency to air their squabbles in private.

Not so the likely lads that make up the wonderful First and deputy First Minister partnership.
Their private spats make public headlines. First Peter moans at an event in September. Then Martin moans after their US trip. (The old marriage counselling trick of getting the couple away from the scene of disagreement seems to have only briefly caused a kiss and make up scenario.)

And, now, with the spectre of Gordon coming across to cast his beady eye on the situation, will the rowing partners finally see that divorce is a step too far? Will they look each other in the eye and agree to try and work through their issues?

Stay tuned for more tension in the soap opera that is currently passing for politics.

Cheap at half the price

SURE it’s only an election…

While the NI Executive is rowing about the cost of devolving Policing and Justice, it has emerged just how costly elections can be!

The Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland has released the figures for the Euro poll.

And one cannot help but wonder whether the Alliance Party is ruing the price tag of more than 43 grand on defector Cllr Ian Parsley…

The DUP coughed up almost 14 big ones more than Jim Allister’s TUV in their campaign, while Sinn Féin spent £13,000 more than the SDLP.

But…the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives submitted separate returns for Jim Nicholson. The UUP said they spent £34k on Nicholson, while the Conservatives said they spent more than £60k.

Meanwhile west of the Bann

ARLENE Foster is reported to be delighted to be picked as the DUP’s candidate for Fermanagh and West Tyrone Westminster seat currently held by Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew.

Michelle is allegedly reported as saying: “We used to be such close mates on the Executive I can’t understand why we are arguing about a Westminster seat with three people living in the area.”

Dagger eyes across the Executive table…situation normal then!

Expensive expenses

IT must be almost six months since an expenses scandal ‘rocked’ (copyright Daily Telegraph) the political classes.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has published what our MLAs have been spending taxpayers’ money on.

To say the least it shows a lack of imagination if the funkiest expense was a walnut desk….where were the expense claims for duck houses or the pruning of hedges.

MLAs...please try harder in the future to come up with ridiculous expenditures to keep indignant leader writers in a job.