Friday, 5 March 2010

Prepping for the end

Preparatory schools will now only
be allowed to exist in Narnia
EDUCATION Minister Caitriona Ruane’s decision to end any funding of preparatory schools has received much coverage.

With the Equality Impact Assessment consultation about to end, DENI officials will be poring over letters, representations and maybe even some reasoned arguments from both sides.

Whether right or wrong, Caitriona seems now to be aiming to be the first minister in history to either end an unequal system, or drive the most wealthy of parents to create a real two-tier system of education.

Only the really, really wealthy will send their offspring to prep schools, cutting off the middle classes from their aspirations for their little darlings. The primary schools will then be overwhelmed with Tarquins and Trixibelles, leading to more and more barristers on the average PTA committee, leading to more and more headaches for the Minister when each of the PTA committees and boards of governors try and find a way to get more cash, perhaps even with a Judicial Review or six thrown in.

Congratulations to Minister Ruane for making sure that the administration of education is never boring!

Voting for Confidence

The four Tenors sing
'El Agreemento del HIllsborough'
THERE is an air of confidence pervading over the forthcoming vote on policing and justice. Both First and deputy First Ministers seem content that they can achieve sufficient cross-community and cross-party support to win the day.

The DUP has done the maths about whether they really need the UUP as a signifier of community confidence. And with the Tory hierarchy leaning towards the devolution of policing and justice, it seems that pressure may be brought to bear for an abstention at least.

Factor in that the SDLP are on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. They want devolution of policing and justice in principle, but can’t be seen as too close to Sinn Féin. There may again be an abstention – or a huff over not getting the job!

In other words, if it comes to a vote the DUP and Sinn Féin are pretty confident!

Party grandees may not, however, be quite as confident about the Westminster election if either side is seen as not being able to deliver!

Smooth move

CULTURE Minister Nelson McCausland has long been a sort of Aunt Sally for Sinn Féin to throw their cultural dispersions at.

After all, the sabbatarian champion of all things Ulster-Scots has been a vocal opponent of all things Gaelic.

With a deft flick of the funding wrist Nelson wrong-footed his nay-sayers by approving half a million pounds for An Cultúrlann.

No matter that his pen may have hesitated before signing on the dotted line, the approval was given for the funding package.

But in Norn Iron nothing is simple.

So far, together with Nelson, the queue to claim credit for the funding includes Martin McGuinness and Margaret Ritchie. Is that the whiff of an election in the air?

Just weeks to wait

THE Saville Inquiry’s much awaited conclusion will soon be upon us. Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward said this week that when he receives the inquiry report on 22 March, he’ll publish it within two weeks.

So, after beginning in 1998 – yes last century – the long and arduous journey will be over.

Will relatives of those dead and injured on Bloody Sunday receive closure? Who knows?

Will there finally be a definitive account of that tragic day? Who knows?

What can be said with certainty is that solicitors and barristers will be shedding a silent tear for the end of the cash cow that so many suckled upon.

And, given the timescales, the inquiry report may yet end up on the shelf. If Shaun Woodward takes two weeks to look at the report, and one factors in the Easter Break, it will be close to the time that Prime Minister Gordon Brown asks the Queen to dissolve Parliament.

That means the inquiry report will languish until new MPs take their seats. And at best, in this scenario it could be a new Government that will be faced with handling the inquiry report launch.

Should it be a hung Parliament, the wait could be even longer – one can only hope that it will see the light of day eventually!

Opening mouth to change feet

NEW Justice Minister – awaiting confirmation of course – David Ford seems to have all the qualifications necessary to sit on the Northern Ireland Executive; that is the ability to annoy people.

His ‘pointless’ reference to the Saville Inquiry managed to irritate almost all of the nationalist community.

But still it must rank as some sort of record, annoying so many people in so short a time with one word!

Big man’s penultimate bow

The Big Man and Bertie
EVERYONE has to end their time in the sun, whether voluntarily or reluctantly. The decision by the Rev Dr Ian Paisley – a.k.a. The Big Man – not to stand for Westminster attracted global headlines. Seriously – news outlets from Bangor to Bangkok decided it was worthy of attention.

Of course there still remains the matter of whether The Big Man will quit his North Antrim Assembly seat in 2011, but like, loathe, love or abhor him, politics will be much duller for his absence.

In a world dominated by the grey, Ian Paisley was a splash of rhetorical colour. Some of what he said was offensive to some, a salve to others; some of what he said made sense, some seemed akin to the ravings of the unhinged.

And, it was this mixture of reactions that many struggled to encapsulate this week.

As attention turned to the so-called ‘battle royale’ between TUV leader Jim Allister and, at this stage unconfirmed candidate, Ian Jnr, commentators and the public struggled for the best way to describe the legacy of The Big Man.

Did his sermons and evangelistic unionism keep the Troubles going on longer than they should? Would Sunningdale have worked? Were the Anglo-Irish Agreement protests the catalyst in Dublin and London that would pave the way to the eventual Good Friday Agreement? And what were the jokes he shared with Marty?

But all seem to be agreed that the answer to whether he will be forgotten is “NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!”