Friday, 6 August 2010

Don’t Look Back In Anger

WHEN Oasis asked people not to look back in anger did they have Northern Ireland in mind? No, probably not, but that was the call being made by Ian Paisley Jnr this week in west Belfast when he said that we all had to move on from the Troubles.

Perhaps he has a point, but one wonders when regularly there are extensive swathes of forest and hours of radio transmissions given over to finding that ever elusive beast called truth.

We think we’ve come up with a novel solution. Yes, it was all our faults.

Anyone born in the 20th Century who has any connection to Northern Ireland, who has visited, or worked here should immediately stand up, admit it was their fault and make a general apology. Governments, politicians, paramilitaries, police officers, soldiers, generals, rioters, innocent bystanders, babes in arms – hell everyone just say sorry.

Otherwise we’ll all spend the rest of eternity blaming the other guy who was obviously more to blame than us.

Let’s leave the past to historians and concentrate on making today work. Mmmm, maybe a bit too radical!

Healthy education budgeting

IT all seems a wee bit weird but it turns out the harbingers of doom for our frontline health and education services in the current financial difficulty may have been over-egging the tales of woe...or were they?

This week Finance Minister Sammy Wilson apparently struck a deal with the people at the helm of health and education, Michael McGimpsey and Caitriona Ruane respectively.

The deal was that ‘savage’ cuts to services of £45m were not to take place. In return, the Health and Education Ministers must allow the Finance Department's Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit access to their departments.

And the £60m of unspent money normally shifted between departments will go back to Whitehall.

Allow us to be a wee bit cynical here, but is Sammy's Department pulling a fast one here? For a start no sooner had the absence of cuts taken place than Ruane was out of the blocks announcing there was money available to build some of the new schools.

On close examination, the Health and Education Departments are avoiding having save squillions of pounds; but there will be a close examination of what efficiencies they can make.

In Northern Ireland pubic sector efficiency savings have been a blunt tool. Regularly next step agencies are told to make three or four per cent efficiency savings, with nary a direction as to where to they are to be made.

So, where are these efficiencies to be made in education? How’s a about doing away with all those annoying education and library boards and having a central administration; lets call it the Education and Skills Authority for the sake of argument. Ohh, that’s been tried, and isn’t likely to happen any time soon – or before the Assembly election.

Then how’s about all those hospitals cluttering up the countryside: you can barely turn a corner without either a hospital or a campaign to save a hospital. But well dare anyone who tries to close such a hospital, because then MLAs will be squealing about local services.

In other words, there is a lot of shifting of figures and playing with totals in advance of autumn’s Treasury spending review. There is much to look out for in the detail.

And by the way, waiting times are on the increase for a whole host of services...

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Talk dirty to me...

SURE and begorrah and fair faa ya etc. Far be it from us to disparage any language spoken proper like in Norn Iron, but leaving aside the ‘Bout ye’, the ‘Á Chara’ and ‘It’s teemin’ wi greetin’ MLAs’ the language issue sure has us all exercised.

You may now turn over your answer sheets and complete the following exercise: The Minister for Education Caitriona Ruane is right to invest in Irish Medium Schools and Jim Shannon MP should be commended for addressing the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ in Ullans. Discuss.

Once you have completed that exercise take a step back into the real world and try to use the language that is common to many people in the world…that would be Mandarin or Urdu then? Errrr well English will have to suffice.

The language issue in schools raised its head last week when Ms Ruane announced that four Irish Medium Schools were given conditional approval to open, with most opening doors in September.

The Minister insisted she was only doing her statutory duty to meet parents’ demands.
Meanwhile prospective UUP leadership challenger, Tom Elliott, claimed that there were 830 empty desks in the Irish Medium sector, with a massive increase in the capital expenditure in the sector.

Education committee chairman Mervyn Storey was equally bemused by the decision, saying that there was a dichotomy between the Minister claiming there was no budget for other schools capital schemes and the announcement of four new Irish Medium schools.

Now, education has hardly been a sea of calm discussion at the best of times, but there does seem to be a wee bit of strangeness going on when there is a list of schemes left swinging in the proverbial wind – presumably with parents equally demanding of development – and four new schools opening.

There is a concept that may seem radical to some in Government. It is called ‘prioritisation’. We suggest that this drastic concept be adopted and that the Minister, together with politicians of all shades of opinion, gather together in a tranquil discussion, with measured advice from senior officials.

Then we realised that such a suggestion may confuse MLAs involved in education debates. Words like, calm, tranquil, and measured seem to have been deleted from their dictionaries. And with budgets as they are, it is unlikely that new dictionaries will be bought any time soon…unless they are Irish Medium dictionaries.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Lost in a Maze of something

YAY! Crack open the champers, raise a toast to the future and pop the party poppers: a decision has been made on the Maze site.

Sinn Féin and the DUP have come to some sort of agreement for a Conflict Resolution centre and the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society is shifting lock, stock and barrel to the Maze.

There is even expected to be several thousand jobs.

And, isn’t it great that in the silly season of news there is something for radio talkshows to get exercised about.

But most of all it is super to hear Jim Allister again. Since he and his TUV chums succeeded in getting comprehensively defeated in the Westminster election, hearing his dulcet tones on the ‘Biggest Show in the Country’ almost provokes a heady reminder of how wonderful that past was/wasn’t [delete as applicable to your opinion].