Friday, 17 September 2010

Bon Jour or not to Benedict?

THE men at the head of Northern Ireland’s Executive – First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness - were notably absent from the official ceremony in Scotland to greet Pope Benedict XVI to the UK.

Instead they were at the opening of the New York stock exchanges shiny new Belfast offices.

No doubt both had very, very, political reasons for neither gentleman taking up the invitation, but isn’t there some comment that could be made over preferring ‘mammon’ to faith? No? Just a thought!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Some double talk even makes sense half the time

THERE is a curious sort of malaise creeping into Northern Ireland politics: it is doubletalk that kind of makes sense. It’s the sort of speeches that confound the listener and the reader so much that they are forced to think deeply about what is being said.

The prime example comes this week from the Minister for flooded farms...sorry Minister for Agriculture, Michelle Gildernew.

Announcing almost £5m for a scheme to take pictures of farmland from the air, Ms Gildernew pointed the finger firmly and unerringly at the bureaucrats in Brussels. These faceless types had been so audacious to fine Northern Ireland (actually it’s a disallowance, but semantics were never the strong suit of our politicians) for EU subsidy overpayments to farmers.

Put in simple terms: the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s farmers are decent hard-working sorts. There are others who are hard-working chancers.

As a result a highly detailed map of farmland is to be created from the aerial photographs – Uncle Hugo Duncan’s sat-nav system having been deemed not to be sufficiently accurate.

Ms Gildernew has said that it is all rather unfair for the EU not to pay up in such hard economic times.

But let us drill through that argument for a moment. Would it be okay for the EU to penalise us if economically we were a stable and growing economy? Is it unfair for agriculture to take a hit for what appears to be a blatant attempt to con money out of Europe?

The Minister’s stance appears to be that we would not have had to spend £4.8m mapping farms if it wasn’t for some of these European types being downright nasty to us.

One wonders if it ever occurs to her that if the Department of Agriculture had been better at tracking the chancers then the situation would never have occurred...

We’re doomed...we fight against doom...we’re still doomed

SINN Féin and the DUP have not always seen eye-to-eye. That is as basic a truism as they come in Northern Ireland politics.

At a time when the Con-Lib coalition of terror is warning that if it can be cut they have the knife ready to slice away, one would have thought that our esteemed ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive would sit down and agree what way to play this.

Not a bit of it. Behind closed doors they may sit down, share anguished glances across the room and sip thoughtfully at a snifter of orange juice or green chartreuse, but when it comes to statements for public consumption...then they kick into another gear altogether.

First Minster Peter Robinson has been telling us all that we are doomed: an economy stuck in recession almost in perpetuity, with cuts piling upon cuts to the value of £2bn on top of existing efficiency savings.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin has said we must fight the British Government’s cuts, and the Executive shouldn’t just roll over at the behest of their Treasury paymasters.

One detects the subtle influence of forthcoming elections.

Every half sensible person knows that the cuts are coming. The unions may be right that the banks helped cause the mess, and that they should pay. However, the massive budget deficit was as much to do with the Brown administration’s profligacy, as it was it was to do with the banking crisis.

All manner of cuts to services are being contemplated, both nationally and locally.

Is Peter Robinson positioning himself as the man who will take the tough decisions? And is Sinn Féin positioning themselves as the party that will ‘resist’ the Brits and their sneaky slicing away of Irish life?

Whatever, this week has also seen the emergence of that wonderful euphemism: “efficiency savings”. An efficiency saving is usually when someone sees a better, more efficient way of doing something.

In the public sector parlance it usually means you are getting less money this year; so make do!

Which, in most languages, translates to a ‘cut’!

First in the firing line is the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure. After a warning last week from a senior official, this week the DCAL committee heard that sports as we know it, and the arts will be no longer able to deliver all the services that previously delivered.


We were so looking forward to that interpretive modern dance routine that encapsulates the ‘north’s’ passion for Gaelic sport with a musical parody of the English football team’s World Cup flop, with a penalty taking master class from David Healy!

However much we want to make jokes at the expense of the language of Ulster-Scots or artists’ tendency to spend too much time navel gazing, or sports innate ability to shoot itself in the foot, the point is a serious one.

DCAL’s cuts are the thin end of the wedge. After this, the Executive will need to speak with a common tongue to explain just what the hell is going to happen come October 20th.

Before the May elections that is, unfortunately not likely to happen.