Friday, 4 June 2010

Hot air powers Assembly

OKAY it’s a cheap gag when the Assembly starts talking about renewable energy but the Assembly sometimes does something remarkable amidst the carbon dioxide emissions from the lungs of irate MLAs.

Those of you with lengthy memories may remember that former Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson, ‘banned’ the broadcast of an advertisement calling upon us mere mortals to ‘do our bit’ to reduce climate change.

The current Environment Minister, Edwin Poots – himself a self-confessed creationist when it comes to the 4.7billion year old planet Earth – says Northern Ireland must do more to reduce its carbon footprint.

So, to take things forward the Minister has, in that unique government way, set-up a working group…

Could it be that he is acknowledging what his predecessor Sammy Wilson denied: that the actions of people can impact on our climate.

So 'our wee country' will, according to the DUP Minister, have to go green!

Careful with your care

NORTHERN Ireland has long had a health and social care system envied by many in the rest of the UK and the Republic.

Hospital care integrated with personal social services and care in the community; and hospitals dotted throughout the country.

But even before the economic downturn there were ‘rationalisations’ such as the merger of the Fermanagh and Tyrone hospitals’ acute care services.

Now it seems we’re all going to have to get real about what we can expect. The A&E departments of Mid-Ulster and Whiteabbey Hospitals are to be axed and it is likely that one of Belfast’s major hospitals – the Mater – is to be downgraded.

At the same time, the Minister for Health has managed to find a potential wee corner of the Royal Victoria Hospital site for a new maternity unit. By 2013, mothers may be able to deliver babies at the top of the new Critical Care building, rather than amidst the crumbling edifice that is the Jubilee Maternity Hospital…but the full development of a Woman and Children’s facility ain’t happening anytime soon.

One has to suppose that as the bigger spender of all government monies, health would take a hit, but come on people, it’s your fault!

You are too fat, smoke and drink too much and let’s not even mention your fast food eating habits.

If you were to get healthy we would not need all these damned expensive acute services…but hold on a moment! That means you’d live longer, and eat up a disproportionate amount of health and social care spending with hip replacements and nice wee comfy chairs in the nursing home.

But, scanning around the members of our legislative assembly we should be gratified that they seem determined not to be a burden on the health care system in later years: bulging bellies, swollen jowls are the order of the day amongst several members. Other members get themselves so worked up about the health budget that one fears that soon Assembly staff will need to have CPR skills to hand in case a red faced rant turns into a coronary.

Such rants do all seem to be brought on by cuts in health services…sorry we said cuts when we meant efficiency savings. Euphemisms are us!

As bad as the 1970s

IT will be as bad as the 1970s says Finance Minister Sammy Wilson…and no, he isn’t referring to either dodgy fashion sense or the dark days of the Troubles! Instead it’s more a case of the cuts that are on the way.

Government departments, next step agencies, soft target quangos and even MLAs have all been identified by the former chief ‘A’ level economics examiner as being potentially in line for cuts.
Oh, and we’re all going to be taxed on H2O usage…water charges are on their way.
But we detect a double game at work here.

Sammy and his Executive chums are walking around talking up the prospect of a slashed budget and subsequent cuts. There is an inevitability about the whole thing in their rhetoric.
But, come next March/April – when an Assembly poll is around the corner – suddenly it won’t be as bad as everyone thought. Are we being cynical?

Of course there will be a few token scalps; maybe a quango here and a hospital there will face the axe; there will be a series of reviews (some more work for those hard-pressed management consultants…) and maybe a ‘big’ decision to make the grey suits seem like dynamic men and women.

Hey, we may see some action to reduce the number of departments from 12 to 11 – the figure it was at before the devolution of justice. Rending asunder the Department of Employment and Learning with the spoils divided between Education and Enterprise the result.

The DUP and Shinners may force through a reduction in MLAs from 6 to 5 per constituency; conveniently getting rid of some of those troublesome representatives from the smaller parties.
Leaving aside the political machinations, pre-election big changes such as this take a long time before savings emerge…and MLAs aren’t going to vote themselves out of post!

So where are the soft targets that Sammy and co can cut to make immediate savings? Answers on a postcard c/o Department of Finance…

Gizza job!

THE remarkable work of Alan Bleasdale created a catchphrase for the 80s with the Yosser Hughes cry of “Gizza Job!”

Now MLAs are always keen on jobs. They think they’re an excellent idea and even try to make work.

This week’s opportunity to make work is with the Assembly’s debate on the Gaza/Israeli crisis.
All MLAs agree – as do most rational people – that there needs to be a resolution before there is any further loss of life towards those trying to bring aid.

But let’s be honest, how much do our MLAs know about the complexities of the Middle East? Generations of diplomats, world leaders and every humanitarian of every shade have tried to solve this. What effect, therefore will this have in the Middle East?

Err, nothing.

What’s more, we have a sovereign Parliament at Westminster to deal with foreign policy. And for those that don’t subscribe to it, there’s another in Dublin.

So far this is the fifth emergency sitting of the Assembly in 10 years.

One on flowers (Easter lilies) at Parliament Buildings, one on the exclusion of Sinn Féin, one on 9/11 and one on public expenditure.

And they wonder why people can’t understand that they actually do real work up on the Hill.
Everyone hopes and prays for a resolution to the current crisis in the Middle East and peaceful resolution in the long term for the residents of Gaza and their Israeli neighbours. But our MLAs will not make a button of difference.