Friday, 12 March 2010

Education débacle rolls on

MINISTER for Education, Caitriona Ruane is rocking and rolling her way through several months’ worth of effort to really, really, really annoy a lot of people.

The 11+/post-primary transfer/Transfer 2010/unregulated transfer debate was enough to polarise opinion.

Then came the proposed ending of funding for preparatory schools…

And now she has told teachers not to privately tutor pupils for the unregulated tests.

Does she not realise that this is a significant factor in maintaining Northern Ireland’s economic resilience in these financially dodgy times? All those teachers coining in the cash (no cheques or credit card payments please) are investing in savings schemes, hitting the retail parks and generally having a whale of a time with their fees from private tuition.

One could even view it as the ultimate re-distribution of wealth from the monied classes to the less well off. The upper middle classes pay middle class teachers money. The teachers spend that money in retail environments, meaning that the lowest paid jobs are maintained in shops and supermarkets.

As a socialist, Minister Ruane should be supporting this covert class warfare agenda that bleeds the rich and pours the transfusion to the working classes.

Or will the economy be boosted when HMRC investigates every teacher receiving undeclared earnings from being a tutor?

Doing the double

THERE are regular stories carried in the media about benefit cheats – that is scoundrels who work while claiming benefits for not being able to work.

Government ministers throughout the land have tut-tutted about this, and regularly the Executive’s Information Service issue press releases outing those convicted of ‘doing the double’.

And now, double jobbing amongst the political classes looks set to end.

PUP leader Dawn Purvis’s Private Member’s Bill has progressed to its next stage at the Assembly and the House of Commons has laid down a marker about getting two pay packets.

But, for a moment, it is worthwhile considering what exactly is double jobbing?
It means that an elected representative holds more than one elected post. Leaving aside councils that means that several of our elected representatives are both a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and a Member of Parliament (MP).

MLAs attend (or should attend) plenary sessions of the Assembly and, if they are a member of an Assembly committee, attend committee meetings. MPs attend (or should attend) sittings of the House of Commons and, if they are a member of a Parliamentary committee, attend committee meetings.

They should also be available to hold constituency surgeries and attend to constituency business as necessary. In addition, they also need to attend to the commitments associated with being a member of a political party.

That amounts to a lot of work! It is a tribute to those that are ‘double jobbing’ that they are able to do so much work, retain so much information and concentrate during multiple debates, meetings, and clock up a carbon footprint equivalent to a developing country with flights back and forth to London.

Anyone audacious enough to suggest that our politicians couldn’t possibly do all this, under-estimates the intellectual capacity of such titans, deserves to be ridiculed. After all, our elected representatives can maintain a stance consistently inconsistent to what they said last month, table questions in two different legislatures, sign Early Day Motions, back debates and generally be there when needed.

Or are they… not intellectual titans! That much is… errrr… obvious. It’s just whether they can really jet back and forth, maintain focus and concentration and be there when a constituent needs help.

Either the flight to London and back is longer than we remember and they get a lot of reading done between airports, or they are not at all the meetings they should be at.

And, until the media started kicking up a fuss, no-one would have raised such scurrilous questions over whether the double jobbing politicians could cope with such strenuous lifestyles.

Shown the door

ONE has to admire the courage, tenacity and downright heroic acts of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Faced with a vote on policing and justice, the Ulster Unionist Party decided to argue on making the Executive work well, and education.

No matter the pleas of their Tory bedfellows; faced with pressure from the US administration; faced with criticism from the Secretary of State; faced with every other party and almost every other MLA voting in favour of devolution of policing and justice, the UUP resolutely stood their ground.

Except when deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness allegedly told them to ‘get out’ of his office…

Their courage must have faltered otherwise there should have been a sit-down protest, an unauthorised parade round Martin’s office and a poster campaign reminding the deputy First Minister of their Britishness.

Finally, to rub salt into their wounds the UUP were told by the last local politician that held the powers of policing and justice that they were wrong. He was, of course, the Ulster Unionist peer Lord Kilclooney.

Gospel according to elections: Chapter 72: verse 8

ELECTIONS are by their nature media circuses.

This time around the Westminster poll is set to have media stars of various shades setting forth to gain a coveted seat in the House of Commons.

Latest media star to enter the fray is Fearghal McKinney, latterly political correspondent of UTV and frontman for Fermanagh TV. Fearghal is hoping to snatch the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency.

He joins former UTV colleague Mike Nesbitt, who is entering the fray in Strangford.

Word has recently emerged that the actors union Equity may be set to challenge these nominations. Their argument is that as fully paid up actors, MPs should not be forced to work with rank amateur actors who can’t act and only work off auto-cues. They say that generations of parliamentarians have been acting as rational human beings for centuries, the last thing they need is someone who professionally questioned their rationality.

Then we have a Freddie Mercury tribute singer (‘Flash’ Harry Hamilton) and his rival for the Upper Bann seat, gospel singer David Simpson. Rather than voting, maybe there should be a sing-off between the two with Mike and Fearghal as judges, and a text vote from the public as the decider.

Simon Cowell has expressed an interest in this option. As this is a first past the post poll, it really will matter where you put your ‘X’. Bring on Northern Ireland’s first X-Factor election.