Friday, 11 June 2010

Please sir, I want some more!

IT has become an almost Dickensian farce; the spectacle of ministers from the devolved administrations coming to see the fledgling Government, hoping against hope that the dark days of doom augured by deficit woes won’t cripple their own little corner of the country.

And so, when the dynamic duo of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness beat their familiar path to London to beg the PM for some help, even a little succour in their time of economic peril.

With stern faces they looked into the camera with downcast glances and uttered a pretty much on-message set of statements that bore all the hallmark of bluffers at a card game: they know they’ve no real hand to play against the loaded aces, but they’ll still pretend there is something to be gained.

And therein lies the rub.

There is a hope that Her Majesty’s Treasury – henceforth to be known as the Bad Guys Club – won’t hack and slash the Barnett Formula with a scorched earth policy towards the devolved administrations.

Here in Northern Ireland this delicate pose of pretence that we’ll do what we can is somewhat at risk by the fact that the Northern Ireland Executive takes on average several aeons to make a decision.

Perhaps it is the nature of forced, consensual politics that decisions take so long; though the public may suspect it is because Team Executive are useless.

While waiting for the Bad Guys (i.e. HM Treasury) to announce doom perhaps it might be an idea to take some action rather than pontificate over boosting the private sector and making the public sector more efficient.

Some ideas the Executive might want to consider: dump a department or two; after all devolving crime....sorry policing and justice has added a department to an already bloated system. Perhaps we can do without the Department of Employment and Learning.

Next, there are some radical decisions: performance rated pay for Ministers and Permanent Secretaries i.e. cut back their by 50%. If they actually manage to get the Executive to back proposals for making efficiencies, they’ll get their full pay...

And finally – if a Minister issues a stupid statement, or is seen visibly to waffling on camera, or is doing a self-aggrandising interview, the public can vote for an extra tax percentage to be imposed on that Minister.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse...

THERE’S a theory out there that you don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, or afford the fine.

So, why on earth is the taxpayer – that’s us – paying for the Agriculture Committee and assorted minions and helpers travelling to Brussels to beg the European Commission not to fine NI plc for cocking up farm grants?

The culprits may – or may not – have been farmers playing fast and loose with claims, but when the Department of Agriculture failed to check up on the various grant claims it was caught out by the EU: the result a £60m fine.

Now it may seem excessive given that it is around 60 times the alleged amount of dodgy claims, but it is sort of in the rules; and NI plc has long benefited from EU handouts.

But, the members of the Agriculture Committee and their retinue traipsed over – hopefully on economy flights – to the EU headquarters to plead the case. And, Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew is threatening legal action against Europe.

The cost of said travel and potential court action...could amount to severe amount of cash with no guarantee of success, and a lot of mood music from the EU that comes to the tune of ‘Away and catch yerselves on!’

Perhaps we are naive but surely there comes a point when you cut your losses, swallow the medicine and like a speeding motorist ask the Magistrate for an extended period to pay the fine.

Or are our politicians posturing for the sake of the cameras? Perish the thought!

A House divided

WHEN the Conservative Party got a deal with their Lib Dem partners sorted out, their Northern Ireland brethren (no not the Orange Order!) faded from memory as a failed attempt to grab a seat or two at Westminster.

But here the autopsy is well underway, with the Norn Iron Tories thinking deeply about the future direction of the party with the next set of elections less than a year away.
So far, the link with the Ulster Unionists hasn’t been declared dead, but it is in need of urgent resuscitation if it is to be revived. And, with no-one prepared to declare what lies in the future, ahead of Ulster Unionists leadership election, one can only presume that one lesson will be learned, less the link is to be issued with a death certificate: that is the lesson of taking a decision.

Whether the local Conservatives go forth alone, or enter another marriage (this time with pre-nuptial agreement) with the Ulster Unionists they show all the hallmarks of fitting perfectly into Northern Ireland politics...too much talk, too many leaks to the media and too little decision-making. At that rate of going they might end up being co-opted on to the Executive where decisions appear to have been declared forbidden.

Thon MP didnae cowp

THON MP from round about thon Ards bit didnaa cowp wi’afear in yon Big House when he did spake for the faesrt time...

Okay, that’s probably not Ulster-Scots grammatically correct...but the best we could come up with following a thorough search on Google (30 seconds of thorough searching) but grammar and syntax aside the Boord o Ulstér Scotch members must have had their wee eyes watering with pride when the new MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon, made his maiden speech in the House of Commons.

Having asked permission to use Ulster-Scots in the House, Jim took to the performance like the proverbial duck to water...or at least not one of the ducks Jim enjoys seeing at the end of his shotgun.

But we think that Jim is on to something...the average US or European visitor struggles to understand what passes for English here, let alone the vagaries of Ulster-Scots and Gaelic. If every tour group who lands on these shores had to be accompanied by an Ulster-Scots speaker and a Gaelic speaker there are two extra jobs per trip created.

However, the flaw is of course, the lack of need for either Ulster-Scots or Gaelic interpreters given that said tourists are not likely to encounter native speakers of either tongue. A much better plan is to employ someone fluent in Belfast-ese.

Tourist: Hi, where do you suggest we visit?

Native Belfast speaker: Ach Bout Ye love! Ya gotta wee bit of time on yer hands love? Well ya cud take a wee dander round to the City Hall. Big place, all sorta white like. Or ya cud catch a bus an see where the made yon Titanic boat; I’m sure ya’ve heard about it yer man Lawrence D’Capris sank it. Hope that helps ya. Aye nay bother, hanx!

Tourist: What did you just say?

Native Belfast speaker: Gizza tenner and I’ll show ya where to go...

Job creation and a bewildered American...just like bringing any given American President over to Norn Iron...

Council saga: Part 315

WE are delighted to announce that there has been a resolution to the ongoing debate about the reduction of Northern Ireland’s councils from the present level of 26 councils to a much more manageable 11.

Said resolution is that both sides have agreed that it is the other side’s fault.
A ministerial announcement is expected to the effect of “wasn’t me”; while a NI Local Government Association spokesperson is expected to agree with a statement reading: “I agree, it wasn’t me either”.