Friday, 27 August 2010

G’Day folks!

“G’DAY Northern Ireland, on behalf of the backpackers and travellers of Australia we’d like to apologise but we’ll not be clogging up your byways and highways in coming weeks and months, but it seems you’re a violent bunch of cobbers!”

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the news, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has advised Aussies travelling to Northern Ireland to be careful not to get caught up in violence, after recent public disorder and dissident Republican attacks.

Which is rich coming from a nation of convict descendants! We mean c’mon they elected a Sheila as PM then had an election which resulted in a hung parliament (we’ll maybe pass over that one!).

Seriously though, we blame the parents. Yes, the parents who let their Aussie offspring spread across the globe.

All of this is a rather convoluted way of saying that the perspective we gain of nations is that of stereotypes. In the 70s and 80s the stereotype of Northern Ireland was of a violent place where only the wary set foot, when in reality the vast majority of the population went on their daily routine.

As we moved towards the tentative peace, and then the ceasefires throughout the 90s and more recently the popularity of ‘Norn Iron’ as destination increased with all the subsequent job creation and boosts to the economy.

But a few nutters (check the footage, there was no more than a hundred or so involved in the pubic disorder at Ardoyne on the Twelfth) can persuade people through the global media that Northern Ireland is a dangerous place.

Perhaps we should retaliate? What about the Northern Ireland Executive issuing advice not to travel to Australia owing to poisonous spiders, sharks, venomous snakes and kangaroos with bad attitudes.

Quango killer

THE honourable member for East Antrim, former CCEA Chief Examiner of A Level Economics and current Minister for Finance and Personnel has this week set himself up as the quango killer.

Sammy Wilson spoke after Monica McWilliams decided that she will be stepping down from the Human Rights plinth and has handed in her notice to the Human Rights Commission.

Minister Wilson took the opportunity to outline his belief that quangos like the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and the Children’s Commissioner should be axed or amalgamated.

But, hold on a minute. Are these not the quangos that keep Government right on equality, human rights and children’s rights?

Could it be that there is a prevailing view that when the really big, big, big cuts come down the line, having these pesky commissioners questioning why certain services are being cut, might make it awkward for the Executive?

Or, is it a case that by standing tall against these lefty types the Finance guru can show that he is making harsh choices on all behalf of all of us?

Whatever the motive, the actual savings of taking the action Minister Wilson proposes are pretty small against closing hospital services, reducing spending on housing, and the costs to be saved by not building as many schools as proposed.

Oh, hold those would be decisions the Government appointed quangos might actually challenge. How dare they!

Putting your money where your mouth is

WHEN you are committed to a political cause or ideology there comes a point when you might decide that you want to make a financial contribution to the party that best matches your thinking.

In Northern Ireland you can do that safe in the knowledge that no-one will get to know about it.

All that may change with proposals to open up the names of party donors to public scrutiny.

Or it may not as the security situation worsens, according to unionist parties.

Sinn Féin on the other hand already publishes donors in the Republic of Ireland.

All of this will no doubt be a case for much debate over coming months, but we just wonder, with the economic downturn, who exactly can afford donations and why they want to splash the cash on our particular brand of politics?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Rime of the ancient NI Water mariner

AND the wedding guest regaled all with his tale of abandonment on the high seas:

“Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink,

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink...”

Were Samuel Taylor Coleridge alive now, goodness only knows what rhyming couplets he would deploy to describe the current situation at NI Water!

A suspended permanent secretary, sacked board members, numerous investigations, leaked emails and the semi-detached state owned NI Water mired in sewage-like supposition.

At this stage it would be inappropriate to comment further, except to say that this is a real opportunity for Northern Ireland politicians to behave maturely and with wisdom.

There is an opportunity to carve through the morass and leave aside petty politics. Already there has been point scoring. If they were to leave that aside, gain clear answers, translated in a way that the public can understand, then the esteem of politicians would grow.

If they do not, how will they even begin to implement water charges?

NI Water could be, to use a poetic device of Coleridge, the albatross round NI Executive ministers collective necks.

Ugly politics

OH DEAR, is the UUP leadership race going to get ugly?

After years of being the beige old men of Northern Ireland politics (as one visitor to a recent conference quipped, you can spot the UUP youth wing...they don’t have zimmer frames) could the Ulster Unionist leadership race become exciting?

There has been a complaint lodged about Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott announcing his candidacy too early. Elliott has scoffed at this...and it does seem a wee bit petty to try and score points on a technicality; but then again there are a few legal types in the UUP who like to see if they can read small print.

With other potential candidates yet to nail their colours to the leadership mast, we only have a few short weeks before it all gets interesting.

But the real risk is that any rowing and fighting that might keep outsiders entertained will also divide the party that once prided itself as being a bastion of ‘broad church unionism’.

Unhappy hour

ALEX Attwood has barely his feet beneath the DSD table and his is planning a radical overhaul of Northern Ireland’s booze laws.

Tackling cheap beer offers at below cost price, a clampdown on drinking establishments with disorder problems and stronger powers to check customers’ ages are among the ideas being touted.

With the prevalence of alcohol addiction and health problems these are all measures to be welcomed.

But, one has to wonder if there is an idea at Stormont that the streets of Northern Ireland can become café culture byways where civilised and ultimately well behaved throngs will sip chilled Sancerre with petit meals and cultured quips.

Unfortunately it is not likely.

And Mr Attwood would do well to remember that a certain amount of drinkers partake to help obliterate thoughts of what passes for politics here...