Friday, 8 October 2010

The run-a-round FMdFM style

DEPUTY First Minister, Martin McGuinness slammed his mate at the top, First Minister Peter Robinson for calling for a reduction of Government departments and MLAs.

Martin was upset that Peter called for just eight Government departments and 75 MLAs, as well as a review of “arms length bodies”. [This in itself is an interesting term – it means a government funded public agency that has the phrase “arms length” attached to create the illusion of independence, but is really to make sure Government is an arms length away when there is a cock-up…]

He argued that if the DUP hadn’t “blocked” the establishment of the Educations and Skills Authority and other such things that occupy the Executive’s waking hours, then we’d already have saved some money.

Then others weighed in offering their opinion.

Peter must have been secretly delighted to have created such a stir.

The art of all comedy is, after all timing, and that is why we half suspect that the First Minister and deputy First Minister sometimes must script their statements behind close doors.

“Hello my good friend Martin! I’ve gotta wee speech to give later on. What about if I call for something that I’ve already called for, and then make some statement about cuts that I’m going to claim were my boys’ ideas all along.”

“Sounds like a plan, Peter. Suppose you would like me to slag you off?”

“Too right my old friend – makes me look good to the party faithful when you say bad things about me”.

“Tell you what Peter. How’s about I go further and throw some mud about the DUP screwing up things.”

“Sounds about right my north-west friend – I reckon that should grab a few more pointless headlines.”

“Right then Peter – fancy a pint?”

“To quote my predecessor, only if it’s a pint of orange juice!”

“Good one, Petey!”

Is this stretching the bounds of reality? If not, they must have this really weird and scary telepathy thing between them….

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

All hail the newts…

IT turns out that the wildlife is to blame….or maybe it’s those dastardly objectors.

An entire episode of The Blame Game will soon need to be dedicated to the debacle that is planning in Northern Ireland.

In the latest legal wrangle over John Lewis’ plans to open a store at Sprucefield the opponents cited risks to wildlife such as newts, badgers and bats.

This provoked the ire of the Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, who lambasted all and a sundry - not least the wildlife.

Now, here is the dichotomy. The Environment Minister is charged, as part of his brief to protect the environment. Also, as part of his brief he is charged with the task of ensuring planning processes proceed as necessary.

Of course, his main objection to the objectors was that the wildlife was being used as an ‘excuse’ to tie the process up in legal wrangles.

Which, he said was responsible for creating a backlog in other issues which could benefit the Northern Ireland economy with thousands of jobs.

With all the high-powered, high-paid barristers; massed legions of lawyers and the serried ranks of civil servants one might suspect that it is all becoming a little bit stupid.

Yes, stupid.

Everyone agrees that economic regeneration is generally a good idea. Everyone agrees that protecting the environment is generally a good idea.

So where is the fight? The fight is about the vested economic interests.

And therein lies the rub. Both sides (those representing city/town centre, and those representing out-of-town shopping) must have calculated the cost versus profit equation in terms of hiring the legal teams.

Minister Poots has nailed his colours to the mast of economic development out-of-town at Sprucefield, with his fellow Lisburn representatives casting a jaundiced eye at Belfast’s political representatives.

And that’s not even to mention the other many planning enquiries that are being held up.

Which may, of course, lead to one question: can the planners not deal with more than one enquiry at a time!

Throughout this week we have tried to obtain a comment from the bats at Sprucefield without success. Equally the badgers have been silent.

However, a newt spoke off-the-record to us. “Insects, worms, slugs – give us the food and we’ll think about moving,” he said. “Do John Lewis give newts discounts or do we have to travel into town for a 10% off the insect range?

“It could make a difference to which way we intervene in court!”

Stadiums up to date and fit for purpose

THE sports debate is a debate that has managed to occupy more time than anyone with a life.

First there was the Maze.

Seemed like a good idea – have a multi-sports stadium, where three sports can gather on any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday. And given how small Northern Ireland actually is it’s not that far to travel.

That was kicked into the long grass, never to be seen again.

As for the compromise solution, it seemed that the Government were to stump up cash to develop Belfast’s rugby, Gaelic and soccer stadiums.

But with all sorts of arguments at the heart of the Irish Football Association the investment in all the sporting stadiums has, according to the Minister of Sports, Nelson McCausland, to be halted.

It has to be said that the logic at holding up two of the three stadium developments for the sake of one is tortuous at best.

We all know that come the Treasury’s Spending Review there will be a drastic reduction in capital budgets.

In other words, after October it may be the case that all three will be ruled offside.

Which, the very, very cynical could say is the game plan all along?

We are of course neither cynical nor favouring one sport over another. We provide cross-community criticism of all sides.

But, ultimately one has to conclude that the sports stadium debate has run on too long – only Sir Alex Ferguson has ever seen more minutes added to a game.

Please, please let’s get the sport started

MLAs across the political divide are hoping - nay praying – for more sport on TV. No, not so there can be more Northern Ireland sports covered on free-to-air TV, but because it may distract from the whole cuts that are coming down the track.

There is the Ryder Cup, the Heineken Cup, and the Commonwealth games: not to mention the Irish League soccer and the mass viewing of the Barclays premiership.

This all means that most people will not be the slightest bit interest in what passes for politics here in Northern Ireland…

Until the October 20 – we’re all doomed – Spending Review announcement is made.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sure an’ begorrah, could you be lending me a few Euros?

WELL, first you have the Taoiseach accused of being ‘under-the-weather’ in a radio interview, then you notice that your economy hasn’t just been in the water closet, but has been flushed all the way past the U-bend.

This, of course, is unfortunate for our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland, as they come to terms with the costs of bailing out the banks as the Celtic Tiger’s pelt is hung lifeless on the ropes of greed and un-checked lending.

And, it seems that the impact will be felt here too. NAMA – the bad loan bank - have explained that some loans were taken out against property in Northern Ireland with valuations far, far above than their actual worth.

Questions will, no doubt be asked in the House, and after the initial raft of radio and TV coverage there will be learned comments in the newspapers that are too big to wrap chips in.

In the long run, however, we may also gaze at the cuts that have been levelled in the Republic.

The public sector has been slashed, wages frozen and other measures have been implemented and the national debt is still huge.

Will, a similar package of actions be undertaken here in Northern Ireland, and if so, will they fail as spectacularly here?

In the meantime we launch an urgent appeal. If you have recently returned from a Eurozone country and have a few Euro coins left rattling round the spare change drawer please, please send them to Dublin. Every Euro you send can help…