Friday, 26 March 2010

End of an era

IAN Paisley Snr took his final bow at Westminster this week, with his coda being a final question at PMQs.

The Prime Minister took the time to pay tribute to the ‘Big Man’, while Secretary of State Shaun Woodward gave a send-off to that other veteran MP who is packing in Parliament, Eddie McGrady.

They were two men whose work in the headlines often over-shadowed other matters, such as their toiling on behalf of the rural community and many, many constituencies.

Throughout the Troubles they were two of the voices many associated with commentary or even invective, voices called upon for comment in the wake of tragedy.

With the passing from the political spotlight some may regard it as the ending of an era.

But, one thing is sure; with Paisley passing from the Parliamentary stage…the volume levels on your TV and radio will no longer need to be adjusted when Northern Ireland questions and debates are covered.

Epic avoidance?

NO-ONE has ever accused Education Minister Caitriona Ruane of failing to miss an opportunity to outline her case. This week, she took it all to the next level.

In an answer to a written Assembly question from DUP MLA Lord Browne on the potential cost to the Department of Education of ending funding for prep schools, Ms Ruane said that it was an equality issue, not an economic issue…in the 16th paragraph of her answer!

The cost of justice

NORTHERN Ireland’s future Attorney General needs more staff than his Scottish equivalent and he’ll sit at meetings of the Executive: so says the man who many believe will land the job, John Larkin QC.

A report from the Attorney General designate, lodged in the Assembly said the budget needed for the Attorney General’s office should be £1.3m.

Given the past record in Northern Ireland of legal challenges, judicial reviews and legal cases against 11 departments and a plethora of next step agencies, it could be regarded as cheap at half the price. Okay, the QC didn’t actually use those words but as they say in parts of Belfast: “You get me drift big lad!”

The highly regarded Mr Larkin is well known to the political elites, having represented Peter Robinson, Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley.

Mr Larkin’s report came hot on the heels of an Assembly Supply Resolution on Policing and Justice, in which many members commended work such as that of the Youth Justice Agency.

The apparatus is beginning to be put in place that will see the devolving Policing and Justice ready for the off in a few short weeks.

But what of the Minister? David Ford is the man widely thought to be shoe in for the job. But the SDLP has put forward Alban Maginnis for the post. And, he might even get UUP backing when it comes down to the vote in the Assembly on the Justice post.

The UUP and SDLP have not said they, at any time, will not co-operate with the new structures, but is this the first tentative steps towards taking a pseudo-opposition stance?

When the bean counters and political anoraks scour the counting tables come election time, will an alliance without Alliance create an opposition before the 2011 Assembly election? Probably not, but maybe by then the ‘unofficial opposition’ will resign their ministerial seats….sorry we were straying into the realms of fantasy there for a few short moments.

Myself alone

THE much predicted came to pass this week when Lady Sylvia Hermon MP officially snubbed her erstwhile party colleagues to declare that she would stand as an independent in the parliamentary poll.

Of course, her not agreeing with the electoral link between the Ulster Unionists and the Tories was the main factor in Lady Sylvia resigning and deciding to run as an independent candidate.

This, of course makes North Down one of the more interesting constituencies when the anticipated May election comes around.

There’ll be a former Alliance councillor running as a candidate for the Conservatives and Unionists and there’ll be a former Ulster Unionist MP running as an independent.

This means that the DUP could hold the balance of power…

Should the DUP run a candidate would they be able to run through the middle of the Tory/UUP and independent candidates? If they decided, as has been rumoured, not to run North Down what would the impact be for Ian Parsley and Lady Sylvia Hermon?

As for the Alliance Party, well there are rumours that they have a Fatwa on Mr Parsley who last year was their candidate in the Euro elections, before defecting to the Tories.

North Down more interesting than North Antrim? Whatever next?

X marks the spot

Jack considers his options as an MP
ARRRGGHH there be gold for those that follow ye old pirate map that shows the way to Westminster…well there used to be!

In days of yesteryear, before freedom of information requests and expenses scandals, politicians seeking your ‘x’ on the Westminster ballot paper could look forward to finding a veritable trove of delights, should they persuade enough of us to ink the appropriate box.

But now the focus is just getting your vote.

And election fever has kicked into high gear, with almost all the candidates poised to hit the stump.

First out of the blocks in launching their campaign has been the DUP, with their errrrr inspirational and snappy ‘Let’s Keep Northern Ireland Moving Forward’ election campaign launched with suitable fanfare in Belfast on Thursday.

And, words came forth from party leader Peter Robinson like “contrite” and “apologise”. Who would have thought?

However, the main announcement was that DUP MLAs who scored with a Westminster seat would have to quit as MLA when they become an MP.

One has to wonder whether they would have taken such a tack had there not been such a public furore.

Let’s hope that all parties seeking an MP’s salary will take a similar course.

And, within the DUP there is an exception to the rule – the Party Leader will be allowed to be both an MP and an MLA should he be elected again to Westminster.

That means he will be an MP, an MLA, Party Leader and, at least for another year or so First Minister. Maybe we’ve got the maths wrong, but that’s quadruple jobbing.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sainsbury's buys out the Northern Ireland Assembly

According to today’s Belfast Telegraph, the Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s, Justin King, is pictured with two new employees of the supermarket giant.

They are Mid Ulster MLA Billy Armstrong and South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt. Another case of ‘double jobbing’?

See below picture to provide you with the hilarity of it all.

Source: Page 36 of the Belfast Telegraph's Business Telegraph, Monday 22 March 2010