Friday, 30 October 2009

Taking a break from politics...not a chance

THE elected representatives have been taking a wee break from Parliament Buildings this week; some calling it the half term break, others calling it the Hallowe’en Holiday.

Of course, it’s a nice synchronicity that many schools are off for the week. But, it has not kept MLAs and MPs off the airwaves. With no Assembly debates to be taking part in, the average politician has had to resort to the default position of trying to garner what coverage they can elsewhere.

McDonnell makes it a two-horse race

THE SDLP leadership contest actually became a contest this week when South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell threw his proverbial hat into the ring.

So until February, SDLP members and MLAs can be expected to face torrents of ‘me, me, me’ from Alasdair and Margaret Ritchie.

Methinks that whatever the outcome it’s a bit of a masterstroke. After all the SDLP were struggling to get a voice between the “He said that I said” pantomime between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

With the outcome of the leadership contest being decided just 15 weeks before an anticipated Westminster poll the SDLP will have at least the benefit of early exposure.

Parades pantomime

JUST when you thought the policing and justice debate was on safe ground, the rows broke out again. Yeah, the sunny disposition following on from Brown readying to hand over £1bn soon had clouds cast over the hesitant smiles.

With Christmas barely around the corner the, parties will have to remember that Santa will soon be drawing up his ‘naughty and nice’ list.

This time the rowing parties (DUP and Sinn Féin) contrived to find a row about parades.

The so-called Ashdown review of parades was subject to accusations, counter-accusations, sabre rattling and plain simple name-calling.

An impartial observer can draw only two things from the posturing and posing.

Firstly, the devolution of policing and justice will happen at some stage. Secondly, the rowing parties have a grudge against the radio listeners of Northern Ireland who they consistently expose to drivel. Yes, drivel. Unadulterated drivel. What other explanation can there be for two sets of people to contrive to disagree about everything.

As shadow foreign secretary William Hague reminded the Ulster Unionist/Conservative collective bash last weekend, Norn Iron isn’t the centre of the universe as proven by ‘Billy’ Gallileo and ‘Sean’ Copernicus some time ago.

Gregory and the death penalty call

DUP MP Gregory Campbell believes the public want criminals put to death. Well, to be fair only serial offenders who commit the worst crimes – presumably murder.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate calling for a global ban on the death penalty, Campbell said that with the right legal structures the hangman’s noose should be readied…okay he didn’t specify hanging as the right method of state execution.

Which leaves one to ponder exactly which method he would prefer to see used; are there particular Northern Ireland methods?

Death by boredom after listening to more half-baked radio debates.

Eschewing the cold

WITH the dark nights upon us, and the chill winds of autumn as stormy harbingers of winter to come, there’s nothing better than planning a trip to sunnier climes.

Somewhere with sand and sunshine? Perhaps Libya? Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel Dodds and a couple of others are off to oil-rich, recently internationally rehabilitated state to try and secure compensation for the victims of the IRA.

The thawing in relations between Libya and the UK has made this possible, but there is nice underlying story.

As well as trying to lift millions from Libya’s oil-funded ATM for victims, some of the cash is to be allocated towards a fund to promote peace and reconciliation.

Jeffrey is the MP and MLA for Lagan Valley. There used to be a plan to turn part of the Maze prison site to a Troubles history, reconciliation project. That was around the same time as plans for a Maze multi-sports stadium.

Perhaps there is a cunning plan afoot to administer the Libyan fund from a ‘Loyalist’ H-block on the site…

Electoral fraud – an encouraging sign

THE Chief Electoral Officer this week revealed that there were 49 cases of electoral fraud during the European election.

The fraud centres around allegedly forged doctor’s signatures to allow voters to cast postal votes.

This is a most encouraging sign. Northern Ireland’s electorate has been accused of increasing apathy – and indeed laziness – as turn-out decreases on each polling day.

No longer can the voters be accused of apathy. They’re sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle and listening to Stephen Nolan, but prepared to use all means possible to vote apart from stepping outside the door. Apathetic no, lazy…yes!

The other explanation is that somewhere, someone was seriously deluded if they thought 49 votes were going to change the local European election results.

Start a blog!

IT’S now time to start a blog. No seriously, start a blog. Councillors in England’s Somerton Town Council have resigned after a blogger called them names and criticised their work.

The council will now have to stage elections.

Just ponder that for a moment…a blogger using his right to free speech and waffle on the interweb has caused the collapse of a council.

A motion was passed describing ‘impossible working conditions’ and several of the burghers of Somerton resigned.

Could a blog be used to collapse a council in Northern Ireland? Could it even be used to tumble Stormont? That would be possible if our elected representatives weren’t so thick skinned. Few of them could ever be described as the sensitive type.

Are Jeffrey and John O’Dowd getting appearance fees?

GIVEN the amount of airtime given to a certain cadre of politicians, one has to wonder whether Jeffrey Donaldson and John O’Dowd are getting appearance fees from the BBC.

This week the dynamic duo, ably assisted by Gerry Kelly and Gregory Campbell, seem to have been permanent fixtures on the Nolan Show, rehearsing the same arguments.

And in an entire week the listeners have learned nothing new, nor have they changed appreciably the views of the listeners.

We fear for Nolan’s listening figures. If this keeps up it’ll no longer be the biggest show in the country….it’ll be the most boring show in the country instead!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

We Will Rock You!

“BUDDY you’re a boy makin’ a big noise, playing in the street you gonna be a big man some day…” so go the opening lines of the hit Queen track ‘We Will Rock You’. No doubt the vast majority of our 108 MLAs will have hummed along to it at some point, and to the track by the same band ‘We Are the Champions’ after some election victory.

But how many have sung Queen songs to packed concert halls – even with an orchestra!
Now Freddie Mercury/Queen tribute singer Harry Hamilton wants to become a Ulster Unionist MP…and why not! Serenading Westminster with Queen tracks like ‘Play the Game’ when an MP is out of order; or ‘Bicycle Race’ to promote sustainable transport; or a ‘Kind of Magic’ when Government gets things done; or ‘Radio Ga Ga’ when debating an OFCOM report; or even ‘Hammer to Fall’ when the speaker calls order.

It would at least boost viewing figures for the Parliament channel and could catch on here at Stormont.

Michael McGimpsey could deliver speeches in the less than cheerful tones of Leonard Cohen, or when he is feeling that sounds too cheerful, he could give us his best Morrisey impersonation.

Peter Robinson’s strident calls could be to the tune of Snow Patrol as he always wants to boost the local economy, while Mark Durkan could record a really, really long concept album to a Pink Floyd backing.

Now there are obvious comparisons that have been made about a certain deputy First Minister and one half of Simon and Garfunkel (and it’s not Paul Simon).

But the whole contemporary musical thing begins to fall down at the thought of Rev William McCrea delivering a speech to one of his best selling Gospel tunes…no democratically elected institution should be forced to undergo that!

Sir Reg tells Peter how it is!

ULSTER Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey told the first minister on Saturday that there would be no “back room deal” on policing and justice. Oh yes … and the executive is a “four party coalition”. He had strong words for the education minister too – “Caitríona, schools are not meant to be a battle ground for class war and narrow ideological prejudices”. Fighting talk from the UU leader who was addressing the party faithful at their annual conference in Belfast.

Just back from Washington and talks with his new best friend US secretary Hilary Clinton, Conservative deputy leader William Hague provided the warm up act. Mr Hague used the first part of his speech to focus on Northern Ireland - Tory-UU link up good for the union; sectarian politics bad thing; political double-jobbing in NI to end; Presbyterian Mutual members let down; no more historical inquiries.

Hague who is also shadow foreign secretary then turned to the bigger picture – Westminster, Europe, the World. Yes, there is a world outside ‘our wee’ country.

The punters (for the most part) liked what they heard. Whether you love or loath Hague’s politics, its difficult not be seduced by his oratory.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to stay around for Sir Reg’s barn stormer. Constituency business in Yorkshire beckoned.