Friday, 2 July 2010

All hail the museum!

MUSEUMS are dusty, dimly lit halls of learning, masquerading as public facilities, right? Wrong! The Ulster Museum scooped a major prize this week.
And the man who wanted to re-write the rules on museums was quick to praise the award. Yes, Nelson McCausland, who wanted creationists exhibits and more on Ulster Scots said a big well-done.

With Richard Dawkins, scientist, author and arch-defender of evolution in town filming for a TV programme, the museum could have topped it all off with a debate: Nelson meets Richard: Who gets the last word?

We suspect that the museum wouldn’t want its excellent reputation ruined...but whether it was the geneticist or the politician who would take the blame remains a matter depending on much cogitation and rumination amongst the political classes. Well they have to have something to do now they’ve got a few weeks holidays!

Politics – it can be complicated!

IN case anyone thought that politics was a simple thing they had that notion disabused this week, with MPs who don’t sit getting challenged about getting money for not sitting, and unionists getting all confused about sitting or not sitting together.

In brief, Sinn Féin get expenses for being MPs, which the unionists don’t really like and had a wee rant about it in Westminster. Sinn Féin appear to be hard-pushed to explain how they represent constituents when they travel close to, but not into Westminster (apparently something to do with history...) Confusingly one republican MP said that they needed these expenses to represent the constituents that voted for them...and here’s us thinking that MPs were meant to represent all their constituents and not just those that put the ‘x’ in the “right” box.

Meanwhile, the UUP are having a ‘will we or won’t we’ moment over so-called unionist unity. Some members are saying: oh yes please. Others are saying: oh no thanks.

Some say that a united unionist proposition would stop Martin McGuinness’ ascent to the heady heights of First Minister. Others say, hogwash, an amorphous mass of unionists under one banner is just that a mass that ends up a mess.

Anyone willing to suggest ways of addressing these problematical concerns is urged by us to write the solution on the back of a postcard and send it to someone who will listen...and right now no-one is listening to anyone else. Situation normal then...

Being educated in education

THIS week politics in Northern Ireland has been dominated – and not for the first time – by the multi-faceted complexity that is education.

To quickly sum up: there has been a row about capital spending on school projects, a fight over summer schemes, a Supreme Court case, and a protest about education’s community relations budget.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane will be among the MLAs looking forward to the Summer Recess more than most.

And perhaps the recess will also give Education Committee chair, Mervyn Storey time to gather some breath before the autumn term’s renewed jousting.

The rows in the Assembly chamber have begun to take on a predictable hue: the Education Minister says it is all the fault of those pesky unionists; the pesky unionists say it is all the fault of that dratted intransigent Education Minister and her dogmatic ways.

Sometimes, however, you have to sit back and wonder what it is all about.
Is it about finding a solution to the morass that is education, or playing to the galleries and to hell with the consequences?

This week there was more than the usual bile.

And sometimes it seems that the Education Minister is her own worst enemy. If there was a particular reason why the names of the schools that were successful in the capital funding couldn’t be released to the Assembly, it was neither clear, nor adequately explained.

As to the Supreme Court ruling about so-called precautionary suspensions, well the less said the better...apart from a board having to spend £100,000 on a court case it lost.

Then there was the mysterious case of the summer schemes for special needs pupils. Let’s say that this was one case when the opposing camps of the educational divide could find common ground. As they say in Belfast: “Aye right!”

In the chamber – and on the airwaves – the name calling continued unabated. From the Caitriona camp came the missive that if the unionists had signed off the Education and Skills Authority then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Under the unionist banner came cries that the Minister needed to kick the proverbial ass and step in.

Dig deeper and both sides’ positions were complicated.

We could go into the stages and complexities, covering such areas as discretionary versus statutory provision, the application of the Disability Discrimination Act and other such arcane....well arcane stuff.

But, suffice to say that two of the boards have ‘done the decent thing’ and reinstated the summer schemes and the associated transport, with an announcement from the remaining board expected soon.

Meanwhile it still leaves the unionist side having to explain why they didn’t reach a compromise on the Education and Skills Authority; and the Education Minister having to explain why with the schools out for summer, the Education and Library Board’s budgets have not yet been agreed!

The last word on the summer schemes has to go to the North Eastern Board, which rather sniffily said that they hadn’t cut their summer scheme for children with special needs...
And to think this was just the end of the Summer term, can’t you just wait until schools are back in September!