Friday, 22 October 2010

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

IT’S true - the world as we know it has come to an end. We’re doomed.

There are howls of indignation from those proposing the Spending Review: howls of “it ain’t our fault that we have to sort out the mess”.

Those facing them across the Commons chamber are howling that it’s too much, too fast.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the parties of our own unique coalition are glum faced with creased foreheads.

Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, has the look of a latter day money prophet with the words of “I told you so” all but coming out of his mouth.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness looked shocked and stunned and began blaming those dastardly Treasury types and slung verbal brickbats at Secretary of State Owen Paterson.

Mr Paterson in turn said he has done what he said he was going to do and Northern Ireland has done really rather well out of the Spending Review.

In the face of such head-turning range of views it is any wonder that listeners and viewers of the mainstream media and readers of newspapers may well be ruminating as to who exactly is right.

In the words of that stalwart of BBC Radio Ulster, Wendy Austin, we’re having to sort out a “snow storm of figures”.

The message is clear though. The days when Norn Iron could rely on a fine wee deal from Westminster are long gone. So, it’s time to knuckle down, sit tight, and plan out how we’re going to have to listen to whinging and whining ahead of next year’s elections: after all many politicians raisin d’√©tre is to get back into power, not necessarily to sort out the mess.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth

THERE has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the office of the Minister for Employment and Learning.

Sir Reg Empey is not angst ridden at the thought of DEL being merged out of existence. He is not rent with doubts over a UUP ministerial reshuffle. Nor is he gazing inward as he comes to terms with not being party leader.

No, Sir Reg is looking at a lost opportunity. For in the face of the budget cuts proposing that there will be thousands upon thousands of redundancies, the only aspect of public service that is set to rise is in the dole offices.

More dole staff to help sign on the redundant public sector workers; even a capital programme to expand dole offices…

So why then should Sir Reg be weeping and gnashing his teeth? Simple: come May some other MLA is going to grab hold of the expanding DEL remit. But hush, Sir Reg! They’ll be left with sorting out the university fees mess, so it’s not all bad!

Integrate, integrate, integrate…

AS Tony Blair said, it is all about education, education, education. And as Peter Robinson said, it’s about a “benign form of apartheid”.

And as the Catholic Church said, we’re all about parental choice. And the media across the board rubbed their hands together.

For, with the vacuum of speculation ahead of the Spending Review, the media had a nice wee juicy story partly grounded in finances and partly grounded in party politics and with barely restrained hints and allegations of below-the-line sectarianism.

Let’s be honest, the administration of education in Northern Ireland is a mess. There are empty desks in some areas, and over-subscribed schools in others. There are several education and library boards for our wee population. There is a population time bomb with rising birth rates. There is a school estate that has parts of it crumbling. Oh, and we have at least four types of schooling.

So, what can our MLAs do about it?

In truth, apart from wittering on and calling in to every radio talk show, there is no sign of any MLA being able to do anything ahead of never.

To show how pointless this all may be one should cast your eyes over the history books.

In 1923, Education Minister Lord Londonderry proposed that religious education should not be part of the curriculum in the newly formed Northern Ireland, but optional after the school day. That way it would have been possible to have fully integrated education, and he thought ‘Twould be a fine thing to have a populace that learned together to seek higher knowledge and all that.

But he reckoned not on the combined forces of the Catholic Church and cassocked campaigners, the massed bible thumping Protestant preachers and the bowler-hatted Orange Order, plus the high and low church Anglicans.

Although he was unable to set an integrated education system in place, he did succeed in uniting almost the entire population behind one cause; preventing it. There are few that have been able to achieve such a unifying effect then or since.