Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Larkin’ about with costs

WELL done to John Larkin QC, who this week presaged a possible reform of legal costs and fees in a speech last week.

He remarked that those who are of ‘modest means’ shouldn’t have to bear the costs when faced with a legal decision that could end up with them having to cough up the cash against wealthy know like senior legal type counsel.

Rather outrageously Mr Larkin dared to suggest that the legal eagles of Northern Ireland might do some ‘pro bono’ work as they have been trousering loadsamoney for years.

Mmmm, Mr Larkin that might be asking a little too much from senior barristers...after all they have to be able pay for Rupert’s school fees, that little des res in north Down and the holiday villa somewhere other than Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Thou shalt not show the pictures

THE PSNI received a rap over their collective knuckles after they used pictures of kiddiwinkles who might have been involved in ‘public disorder’ in the Maiden City.

Some might have said it was just a picture of an average night in Stroke City, but the PSNI went as far as sending the local pictures to the papers and printed a leaflet of the snaps and shoving them through doors far and wide.

Now the Policing Board’s human rights people have told the PSNI that this was very naughty (no not rioting, printing the pictures!).

This, of course, touches upon a fundamental schism in our society. The knee jerk reaction of many a talk show caller is to say that the wee so and sos should be locked up. The liberal left worries that the young un’s getting their picture plastered across the streets could infringe on some sort or right, or lead them to be on the receiving end of a paramilitary beating.

For once, both sides are right. Where a crime is committed those that do the dastardly deed, must expect to face the rigour of the law, but at the same time the principle of being innocent until proven guilty must apply.

If the PSNI require a well distributed picture gallery to nobble a few young people throwing bricks and other missiles then the level of intelligence on the ground (and high resolution cameras) must be truly woeful.

And if parents are content that their offspring are involved in civil disobedience (i.e. bucking bricks at peelers) then dysfunctional families are more common than anyone expected.

Election business planning

OUR bloated system of local government needs a cost savings overhaul, according to the man who helmed the organisation that represents the collective weight of councillors.

John Matthews, the president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association who is shortly stepping down, said that a business plan for cutting costs across the councils will be ready for Christmas.

So a total of 26 councils are to try and think very, very hard about savings some costs.

Let’s see, what about reducing 26 human resources departments to a workable number like 11. Or how about reducing the number of council headquarters to a workable number like 11...perhaps a radical approach to reducing the number of leisure departments to a workable number like 11...

Oh, hold on a moment! That’s been tried before. A few months ago the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots tried that and he and the council representatives couldn’t agree to agree on anything.

Now, it appears that there has been a belated realisation that the whole thing costs way too much.

It is an indictment of the councils and the Executive that something so blindingly obvious could not have been agreed.

In the face of forthcoming cuts the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, warned of the need for a ‘reality check’. It seems reality has been too far from too many minds.

Whether this ‘business plan’ represents a step forward remains to be seen. Whether it will produce another piece of paper to sit on a shelf while the haggling continues appears much more likely. After all, what councillor will step forward for election on a ‘we’re cutting jobs, and maybe even local services’ election campaign?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Elections – will there be any progress after January?

IT is sort of inevitable that when 2011 dawns on an unsuspecting country that our politicians will contrive to argue about everything.

In a sudden realisation that we pay their wages to actually do some legislative work there is a mad rush to consult us on everything, scrutinise a shed-load of Bills and generally get some real political work done.

There are more than 20 Executive Bills rummaging around Assembly committees, and a further six non-executive Bills. Of these how many will be completed by Christmas? Add in to this the potential for the ongoing process of several major pieces of work at consultation stage. The reality is that many key issues will fall by the wayside.

Ahh, but you can be reassured that after Christmas we will be back to the traditional Northern Ireland pursuit of blaming the ‘other side’ for work not getting done.

Just how many quangos does NI need?

SUCH was the question posed by the man charged with overseeing the Assembly and ruling on maladministration, Mr Tom Frawley.

Mr Frawley has been the Assembly Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Ombudsman for several years now, and undoubtedly presided well on our over-administered system.

At the same time he has seen a proliferation of commissioners and commissions, a number set up under direct rule, some created by the Good Friday Agreement, and some set-up by the Assembly.

While Mr Frawley’s question is a pertinent one at a time when cuts are being cited by all and sundry, perhaps it requires a few more interrogatory questions.

For example, has employment in Northern Ireland seen the ending of discriminatory practice? Have human rights improved? Are children’s services been getting ever better? Are victims voices being heard? So long as the questions are still being posed there may be a role for the ‘quagocrats’.

The answers to these questions are also very complex and one suspects than any changes will not be solved by headlines in a daily paper. Indeed, the cost savings to be made by abolishing or joining the organisations mooted in the newspaper pages will be negligible in the grand scheme of cuts needed.

One might even argue that at a time when services will inevitably be slashed we need these commissions and commissioners to keep a watchful eye over the machinations of the political classes.

Sadly there is a real question mark over the services. On 20 October, the full story will be told. Until then the arguments may well continue - although one suspects that symbolism will be more important than the reasoned arguments of Mr Frawley or any other Ombudsman.

So its plus ça change etc in Northern Ireland!