Friday, 22 January 2010

Oh for goodness sake!

SHE said, he said, he said, she said…it goes on interminably, one minute cautious optimism, the next allegations cast back and forward.

The Great Hall at Stormont echoing with breathless political punditry and the radio waves of ‘our wee country’ are filled to the brim with MLAs and party officials all keen to toe the party line.

It is, of course, the great political drama that isn’t so much a drama as a farce. Yes, the devolution of policing and justice.

The blogosphere is filled with claim and counter-claim, twitter is filled with tweets from commentators, and where exactly are we…nowhere.

Of course, by the time you read this, it all could have been resolved and mutual begrudgery will see us through to a new dawn in Northern Ireland, but don’t hold your breath.

Policing and justice will be devolved sooner or later. Whether it will take the collapse of the Assembly or a sudden outbreak of common sense amongst politicians, no-one knows. And frankly no-one outside the corridors of Stormont really cares.

For the proverbial man in the street, when he is stopped for speeding, he will care not one iota where the legislative basis for the speeding ticket lies. For the officer issuing the ticket, he will not care whether it is a Stormont Minister or an imported Secretary of State with whom power resides. He has simply to protect other motorists and collect his pay packet for doing his job.

And, come the summer there will still be parades. And there will still be protests against parades. It will be a long time before we have a happy dawn when each ‘side’ can relax and let ‘community tensions’ ease in their own sweet time, no matter what structure is in place.

But, when the MLAs gather in party groupings, or sit staring suspiciously at each other over coffee, buns spread on the negotiating table, let them also consider the PSNI officer recovering from dreadful wounds. Let them not forget the young man struggling to walk after a ‘punishment’ attack. Let them not forget the drugs being pushed on the street.

Let them not forget they have responsibility.

One fears that responsibility in politics may be a distant dream of the more idealistic political student.

One hopes that it will suddenly dawn on MLAs that their job is one of responsibility, representation and decision-making.

So, to all shades of opinion, hue of party flag, for goodness sake make a decision.

Special educational needs

ONE could be forgiven for thinking that our politicians need teaching assistants to help them get through the day without forgetting their manners, but they have highly paid spouses…sorry advisers and researchers for the Special Political Needs job.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that education was the scene of more in-fighting. Errrr, perhaps that sentence reads all wrong…we meant to say unremarkable. For one can always be sure of a couple of things in Parliament Buildings: one, that the green orange divide will crop up in policing and justice; and, two that there will be a row about education.

The Special Educational Needs and Inclusion review changes have been out to consultation forever.

The period has been extended for so long that the children it concerns will be planning leaving school and needing support in the community before the MLAs and the Department of Education agree a thing.

This latest round of ‘issues’ saw the Education Committee hear representations from various groupings on what is good and what is bad about the review.

In summary, the Education Minister and ‘experts’ from the Department believe their view is best. One half of the Education committee is dubious. Many parents and parents’ groups think the department is wrong. Remind you of another education debate?

It can only be hoped that all sides of the debate get their act together and work to support and protect this particularly vulnerable group of children.

Flags and emblems

AHH, Northern Ireland, the country that invented colour coded kerb stones to make sure the unwary traveller knew which path he strayed into, and the divided streets of cities, towns and villages could be clearly seen on Google Street View.

But, as we all know flags can be seen as a wee bit nasty by those that seek all too readily to give offence; and those who all too readily seek to take offence.

Union flags, Tricolours, Ulster flags and Starry Ploughs all flutter on summer breezes, patches of cloth that render the viewer with a wave of pride or revulsion, or just sheer boredom.

How reassuring it is to know that the Office of First Minister, deputy First Minister is working on an Inter-Agency Joint Protocol on Flags. In a written answer in the Assembly, it was revealed that there is a working group reviewing the protocol and that it met in October and November last year.

I’ll bet all those waiting for a vital operation and the children needing educational support will be delighted at this news.

Booze-fuelled pupils

IT was with a certain amount of glee that SDLP MLA Thomas Burns announced that over the last five years 360 pupils had been expelled or excluded from school because they were boozed up.

Parents and schools should seek to instigate harsh discipline the South Antrim MLA said, and a union rowed in to say that the problem was much bigger and school bags must be searched for illicit alcohol.

In the same week, a pilot programme on self harm revealed that alcohol was a factor in two thirds of all cases of self harm.

At the risk of sounding all lily-livered and liberal, one must point out that perhaps it might be better to find out why these pupils are coming into school drunk.

Is it peer pressure? Is it bad parental examples or supervision? Is it that poor self-esteem can be boosted by swig or six of vodka? Or is it that these young people need help?

Certainly preachy, holier than thou rants from politicians and unions aren’t going to stop teenagers taking a drink. But perhaps it might be better to find out why some take it ‘too far’ and put themselves and others at risk.

Causeway centre ahead

AHH Finn McCool would be proud. After goodness knows how long, work is finally to start on the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre.

He would have helped out himself but since he is in semi-retirement and working as a consultant to planning officials he felt it was not appropriate to become involved.

In a statement he said: “I am disappointed that the Causeway I worked so hard on has not had an appropriate visitor’s centre for so long. I welcome the start of work on the centre and I reject utterly any suggestions that I lobbied for the National Trust, Moyle Council, my mate in Scotland or that wee red-haired giantess. And I especially want those creationists to leave my Causeway alone. They weren’t there when I built it so stay away and let the nice Japanese tourists take their pictures in peace!”