Friday, 12 February 2010

Deal or no deal – are you getting fed up yet?

JUST how many times can you listen to BBC radio news, read Slugger O’Toole, read the newspapers or watch UTV before you despair for the future of the world and whether politicians here will ever shut up.

After the joy and delight of the ‘deal’, came more waffle and a failure to decide who will be the Justice Minister. Alliance has even produced pre-conditions (it’s come to a sorry state of affairs when the Alliance Party has pre-conditions for grabbing a seat at the Executive) before they’ll nominate for Justice Minister.

And then there’s the SDLP saying that under d’Hondt system of allocating Ministries they should get the job.

Now we prepare for precarious negotiations over parades.

The Parades working group has a few short weeks to deliver: cue Gerry Adams saying no way to a march down the Garvaghy Road and DUP Culture Minister Nelson McCausland saying parading was a public assembly which should be guaranteed by right.

One can but imagine what is going on when the Shinners and DUP are talking about parades behind closed doors.

Frankly all this means is that we are teetering towards a postponed row.

Call us cynics, but was the deal anything but a fudged postponement?

But, there may be a solution at hand. A referendum! Not about parades, not about justice. No, rather a referendum about, mmm let’s see, should any MLA who wants to be an MLA be allowed to be an MLA.

Side deals? What side deals?

THERE was absolute denial this week that there were side deals associated with the Hillsborough agreement.

And lo it came to pass that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness announced they were heading to Number 10 Downing Street to discuss the plight of Presbyterian Mutual Society members.

Make your own minds up.

And, one will have to decide what impact the court ruling that smaller PMS savers will not be getting a penny, will have on that side deal….or non-side deal.

The impact of the negotiations

THE costs of negotiations are coming to light, from the unlikely source of Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

The deal may have been reached at a substantial cost to the Hillsborough Castle catering budget, but the cost to NI plc’s balance book may be more substantial.

Sammy has told us all – via an Assembly committee – that Ministers and their Departments haven’t come up with their spending plans due to the Policing and Justice negotiations.

And there is cash needed if water charges are to continue to be deferred.

We’re facing an economic crisis, in which unemployment is set to continue to rise. The Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review is likely is to see a big reduction in the region’s ‘block grant’.

In short, the Northern Ireland public sector will be cut, cut, cut – leading to more unemployment.

It’s all clear now.

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, Out, Out!

SUCH was the cry in the Thatcher years of the 80s when students uttered the howl ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, Out, Out!’

There are no such cries now that Northern Ireland has its own Maggie in the new leader of the SDLP, Margaret Ritchie.

Welcome to the hurly burly of party leadership Ms Ritchie. Congratulations on your election.

Now, there’s just the small matter of the general election in May. Good luck with that!

Candid on candidates

SELF-appointed scourge of the DUP and all other shades of Northern Ireland politics, Jim Allister, has said that the TUV will run candidates in half of NI’s 18 constituencies in the forthcoming Westminster election.

He was, however, strangely coy about which constituencies and who were the candidates.

Mr Allister said the candidates, when chosen, would give unionists a chance to ‘elect candidates who would work for them’. Should we remind Mr Allister that MPs are expected to work for all their constituents not just those of one political persuasion?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Millions spent on 'Tamiflu' vaccinations

The final edition of today's Belfast Telegraph leads with a story on £7.5m that has apparently been 'wasted' on swine flu vaccines. According to Stormont health committee member and DUP MLA Alex Easton:

"...the swine flue episode has been overplayed by WHO and I think unfortunately we have been left in a situation of having spent millions of pounds on Tamiflu vaccinations that we may never need."

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Tamiflu an antiviral 'drug' used to treat normal seasonal flu and other common viruses? And aren't vaccines about protecting us against these nasty viruses?

It would be helpful if our legislators, especially those charged with keeping an eye on our local health service, did their homework before issuing statements to the media.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good story. Yes, according to the Belfast Telegraph, the Tamiflu drug may have contributed to the "10% increase in fourth quarter net profits" of Sanofi-Aventis. But the drugs company does NOT produce a "key component of swine flu" nor is Tamiflu a vaccine.

Maybe the Belfast Telegraph should get its facts right and have its subs pay a little more attention before printing such nonsense on its front page.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

We seek him here, we seek him there, we seek him everywhere

SIR Reg of sleepytown didn’t quite make it to the Friday morning joyfest at Hillsborough. Perhaps he was annoyed to be woken in the depths of Thursday night to hear that a deal had been done.

The official line is that UUP won’t be party to…err a party. Or was it that he won’t sign up something he hasn’t digested…

One way or t’other the UUP won’t be rushed into reaching for the special ‘only for deal signing’ pen any time soon.
Which is a shame; because with their party strength in the Assembly they’re not really needed to ‘win’ the day?

Still they have the Tories coming to their aid after the election…on such hopes a lot rests.
Which is more than can be said for the new SDLP leader…

As Margaret is lofted on the shoulders of her supporters as victor in the SDLP's leadership race, she will be silently shaking her fists at the cruel fate that will see her asked in the coming weeks “so whaddaya think of yon deal the DUP and Shinners got sorted out?”

Which, even coming from respected journos, will start to grate after a while.

Beware you liberal hearts

WITH David Ford such a hot tip for the post of justice supremo we must caution all who think that his liberal credentials are sound.

The late lamented Portadown News used to have a feature entitled ‘Separated At Birth’. There once adorned the web pages a picture of David Ford, beside a snapshot of Ming The Merciless.’

Readers, can these twins swap identity without our knowledge? Will David ‘Merciless’ Ford sweep into the NI Executive immediately demanding the bones of Flash Gordon be strewn across Stormont’s steps. Will offenders be ordered to toil in the dilithium mines?

Or will they be asked in for a cuppa and a stern talking to?

The electorate deserves an answer!

Just wait ‘til May!

SELL-out! Lundy! Traitor! There now follows an election broadcast from the TUV. Sell-out! Lundy! Traitor!

With the news reports running out of someone to criticise the ‘Deal’ (copyright DUP, Sinn Féin) surely they could find someone to say something negative.

The UUP were in a mild huff. Not exactly scintillating news copy…and the SDLP stuck to the line that they sorta knew there’d be a deal eventually. Again not screaming headline material.
So, err, that’ll leave Traditional Unionist Voice. And, lo and behold the BBC even managed to get someone from the TUV that wasn’t Jim Allister to speak for the party.

To the points that Sinn Féin were already on the Policing Board and sat on District Policing Partnerships, and that the Justice Minister wouldn’t have oversight on operational matters came the response, ‘Well, you wait and see!’

Which, one has to say is a fairly defeatist policy. It implies that the TUV won’t win enough seats in the 2011 elections to block anything or affect who gets the Justice post.

In other words, after the elections, the TUV line will be: “There’s no justice, there’s just us!”
Or to put it another way, ourselves alone. Now what would be the Irish translation of that phrase?

It’s the end of the world as we know it and we feel fine

TO paraphrase rock band REM, it’s the end of the world as we know it and we feel fine…after all who would have thought that the devolution of policing and justice would finally be on the horizon.

With interminable breathless reports from reporters variously chilled and thrilled by yet another night at the gates of Hillsborough Castle, and tweets posted by respected journos hoping for a glimpse behind the curtains of negotiation, it was with a heavy heart of cynicism that one wondered would a ‘deal’ ever be done?

Yet, finally from the ashes of defeat the DUP grasped a flickering ember from the fire to emerge on Thursday night announcing that (without the need of Noel Edmonds cry of ‘deal or no deal’) they had reached a….well they’d reached a deal. To stretch the analogy a little further one might wonder that the ‘Banker’ a.k.a. Shaun Woodward’s threat to withdraw the multi-million pound offer had on the final decision.

Such thoughts are, of course, churlish. There is a process now laid out that will, subject to a slip between cup and lip, be in place before the Westminster election. After that, well the parties will prepare for the 2011 Assembly election; tactics to be agreed subject to May’s share of the vote.
And the Northern Ireland cheerleaders have emerged…

The two premiers have been there off and on, Gordon and Brian doing all they could, even when it seemed as if the game would be up.

But no less than El Presidente, Barack Obama has emerged from the sidelines, pom poms raised and smiling the smile of a man who can piggy back on the victory of others. Now, stop being so po-faced out there. Such behaviour is expected, nay demanded of every US President since the Boston Tea Party started the end of the whole colonial shebang.

The holiday called St Patrick’s Day will, for once not only be marked by drunken student riots, but with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness raising a glass (Robbo will have the Orange juice…) with Obama at the Whitehouse.

Ah, sure there’ll be a few votes in the Assembly before then, but ‘begorrah’ and ‘bejaysus’ sure there’ll be no DUP or Sinn Féin MLA wanting to spoil the show, and those party whips can be vicious when needed.

Which, all seems a wee bit weird…

There’s a deal on policing and justice; there is seemingly party unity within both the DUP and SF camps….has anyone checked yet? Is the world about to end? Has Armageddon been announced? Are Peter and Martin trying to play nice before they meet their maker?

Answers on the back of an envelope… ‘Til then, all together now: ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.’