Friday, 23 April 2010

Minister in change of mind shock!

THEY say it would never happen – a Northern Ireland Executive Minister changing their mind; and even more remarkably the Education Minister Catriona Ruane changing her mind.

Minister Ruane, renowned for her determination to stick by her guns in almost every decision she has made since time immemorial, has changed her mind on the issue of funding Preparatory Schools.

Ms Ruane had proposed that state funding of Preparatory Schools would end come September. Now, instead, funding is not ending, but is being cut by a third.

Did she change her mind because of the pressure of parents? Did she change her mind after doing the sums?

Either way both the Preparatory Schools and the minister can claim a partial victory…could this be an outbreak of compromise and reality in Northern Ireland?

Is that the sound of hell freezing over?

At least there is still a good-old fashioned row over the never ending story of the establishment, or lack thereof, of the Education Skills Authority.

Election stories: continued

SOUTH Belfast. A constituency of contradictions: from the housing wastelands of semi detached havens in Four Winds and Carryduff through to the housing wastelands of the Lower Ormeau terraced communities. Where a bus can pass through property values of a few thousand pounds to hundreds of thousands of pounds; where the Malone Road fashionistas can head to the polling booths along with the Donegall Pass working class families.

And, it could be one of the most interesting constituency battles of the Westminster campaign.
As the clock ticked down to the close of nominations, Sinn Féin parliamentary candidate Alex Maskey pulled out of the race to allow a clear run for the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell.
Then the DUP’s Jimmy Spratt offered the Conservative and Unionist’s Paula Bradshaw an Assembly seat if she stood aside.

But dig a little deeper.

Sinn Féin had little hope of taking the seat.

And the DUP offer was a time limited offer, because come this time next year there will be an Assembly election.

In other words, sometimes the headlines can obscure the political machinations behind the news stories.

Other candidates are also standing in South Belfast. They are Alliance MLA Anna Lo and the Green’s Adam McGibbon.

Pity they couldn’t have had a row to make it even more interesting!

Progressive Justice plans

MINISTER for Justice, David Ford, comes from a party known for its allegedly progressive politicals – maybe some may even say that the party is a liberal party. Heaven forefend!

For when David settled into his big chair at the justice crib the first priority he has put in place is prisons.

Yeah, the lock ‘em up type at Magheraberry, not them nancy open prisons…much favoured by those liberal types.

This could be a sign of a mature thought process, identifying the most expensive and probably most criticised prison regime in the UK.

But where was the progressive attitude to justice and policing? Where was the shift from a punitive approach to one of prevention? Where was the liberal approach?

Mmmm, that must be because we live in Northern Ireland.

Budget time

A NORTH Belfast primary school is considering converting to an Irish-Medium Primary school, despite it being on the edge of the largest ‘Protestant’ housing estate in Northern Ireland.

Parents and pupils at Whitehouse Primary School have been hoping for news that their school would be rebuilt after a fire that all but razed it to the ground last year.

But, with the Education budget finally getting beyond officials calculators and ministerial approval it seems that the pupils will once be facing more time crammed into any spare space available at a nearby high school.

Now, who should we be to claim that at the same time Irish Medium primary schools are getting the green light to break ground? Indeed it would be churlish to suggest that there is a political agenda that is holding back the re-build at Whitehouse! Let no-one say we said it.

Starter for ten…

Sir Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.

Forget policies; forget being door stepped by earnest canvassers, bombarded with election literature and subject to cringe-worthy party election broadcasts. We now have democracy reduced to a game show.
Who is the smoothest talker, who’s the best turned out, who has the most memorable sound bite?

All that’s needed is Simon Cowell and a phone in election and the whole thing can be exported to the US of A…oh, hold on a minute that’s where the whole thing started with the oft quoted and too little analysed JFK/Nixon debate.

But, despite the fears and the 76 rules, the UK election game show featuring Brown, Cameron and Clegg, has turned out to be engaging viewing, with each nuance examined and each faux pas picked over by pundits and public alike.

Then we have the TV debate in Northern Ireland.

It had been going so well until then.

Of course, one may have expected the Orange/Green tribal politics to slip off the mask of decency and snarls to unveil the toothy grins of the political predators.

Instead we had what we have all known since the late 80s; Northern Ireland politics is all about scoring points against the party ostensibly on your side.

The DUP’s aim has been to maintain their poll lead over the Conservative and Unionists, while they in turn want to retain what they feel is their rightful place as power brokers in Westminster.

Sinn Féin wants to make sure that they can hold seats against the SDLP, who hope to raise their profile at Westminster.

But let’s be honest, the Northern Ireland party leaders, albeit all having their own positive points – somewhere – are a pale imitation of the bickering UK national pretenders to the prime ministerial crown.

And to a certain extent what else can we expect?

Monday, 19 April 2010

There’s an election brewing…

AFTER the phoney war and the anti-climax of the announcement of the election, finally we can get into the nitty, gritty of electioneering: name calling, legal battles, poster wars, unity candidates and electoral pacts rebuffed and the unseemly rowing on the airwaves.

But, hope is at hand for the weary, respite for the political anorak sat counting each and every last potential vote – we now know where the fault lies – with the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier.

Unpronounceable and inscrutable the glacier has been so inconsiderate that the very bowels of earth’s sulphurous interior have spewed forth denying us all the chance to hear yet more election coverage.

Should the volcano lurking beneath Eyjafjallajoekull continue to issue forth its spume of deadly ash then we are faced with the dim prospect of being without the full, unadulterated media election hype.

Woe is you Eyjafjallajoekull that you and your volcanic brethren should visit such lamentable tidings – carefully scripted journalistic analysis has been cast aside in your favour!

Though the final revenge you lay upon us is not the grounded flights; nor is it the dimmed skies – no it is that you, Eyjafjallajoekull, should deny airtime to our politicians.

Ohhh, and they can’t pronounce your name, great Eyjafjallajoekull, therefore they cannot blame you should they fail to be elected.

Get a life

ACCORDING to reliable sources, more than 160,000 tweets were published on Twitter during and in the wake of the first of the televised debates between the leaders of the three main UK political parties – by almost 40,000 twitterers.

One has to wonder how close said twitterers were paying attention if they had time to tweet.

Much lauded and much maligned excelled itself. While some commentators might have said, with knee jerk predictability that twitterers should get a life, it does prove that a political conversation online is possible.

Predictable and pedestrian

IN terms of high drama the election of David Ford as Minister for Justice produced an epic fail.

Yes, there were votes to eliminate Danny Kennedy and Alban Maginnis (editor’s note: not literally eliminate them!) before the selection of Mr Ford.

It was a formulaic demonstration of democracy. From the day that Alliance were hinted as taking the seat all knew that this was the way that it would go.

Yes, there were objections at an alleged ‘stitch-up’ to deny the d’Hondt system place to the SDLP; and the Ulster Unionists were screaming reluctance.

And there are those that say that justice, not only be done, but seen to be done – well we saw the selection of the Justice Minister and for all the media hype it was predictable and pedestrian.

One hopes that the election is a little more exciting!

I fought the law and the…Paisley one

THE battle of the leaflet text is over for now in the North Antrim constituency, with the High Court saying that a leaflet produced by DUP candidate Ian Paisley Jnr could be used during the election campaign despite the objections of TUV chief Jim Allister.

However, while it may not be stopped during the election, Mr Justice Gillen, said it would be up to a jury to decide if a libel had been committed on Mr Allister’s good name.

There now follows a party political broadcast…

DOES anyone who is not a political anorak or terminally bored actually watch party political broadcasts?

C’mon be honest, how many of you stay glued to the set, mentally noting down the pledges, promises and platitudes and weighing up their voting options?

They are like an old piece of the furniture, much used, but not really loved.

While the GB parties produce slick, at times cinematic broadcasts, the Northern Ireland parties, can at times be pale imitations, no doubt due to budget.

But, really people it really worth boring those of us who have lost the remote control and are faced with your imploring looks as you desperately plea for our votes.

Please, do tell…

WHILE the election has been hogging the headlines and the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano devastating travel plans, some politicians are actually doing some work – strange but true!

During Tuesday’s plenary session at the Assembly – after the MLAs calmed down after the thrills and spills of the election of the Justice Minister – Finance Minister Sammy Wilson revealed that the information flow to Assembly committees wasn’t doing too well.

Answering a question from SF North Antrim MLA Dathai McKay, Mr Wilson said it was regrettable that some departments are refusing or are at least tardy in providing information to the committees that scrutinises their work.

MLAs and departments in conflict: surely the MLAs are not so impotent that they cannot sanction the departments that refuse to provide information? Or would that ruin the relationship? Then again the relationship doesn’t seem to be working that well.

Best laid plans…

THE best laid plans of mice and men, to paraphrase the Scottish poet Mr Burns, can oft go awry. But when planning one’s work it is sometimes best to actually have budgets to allow some plans.

A letter from the Department of Education has told local schools to spend as normal, but prudently, for the first three months of the year, as the Assembly has yet to sign off the budget for the incoming year.

So, the Department of Education seems to believe that knowing your budget isn’t that necessary when you’re planning what you are doing.

Schools, meanwhile, disagree.