Friday, 19 November 2010

Make Northern Ireland normal...

SECRETARY of State Owen Paterson has suggested that, with a wave of the legislators’ deathly hand, Norn Iron can be normalised.

Mr Paterson has said that he is seriously considering a ‘Normalisation Bill’ that would with all sorts of legislative garbage that has been left over from various agreements, side deals and unseemly delays that led to an unseemly rush to make laws.

But there is one thing that troubles us. When has the root word of normalisation (that would be ‘normal’ for all those struggling to keep up!) ever been used in connection with Norn Iron.

The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, may have said that our towns were as British as Finchley, but then again she didn’t get out much from behind the layers of security. Paterson, one would have thought, should know better.

We’re the country that introduced colour coded kerb stones for those not sure which sectarian enclave you were stumbling upon.

We’re the country where for a long time 10-year-old boys could determine a rifle calibre from the distant sound of a gunshot.

We’re the country that has many of its middle-aged people complaining that riots aren’t just as much fun as they used to be.

We’re the country that has managed to elevate benefit collection to an art form.

We’re the country that has had more public enquiries than the rest of the Europe combined, and probably has more lawyers per capita than any other region apart from the US.

And therein lies one particular rub. Mr Paterson, it turns out may not be quite as daft as he seems.

In talking about the idea of a story-telling to sort of wrap the whole Troubles thing up, he said: “Historians might just have more appropriate skills than lawyers in helping to resolve the past."

That may be the case, but it certainly is the case that they charge a helluva lot less than the battalions of barristers and legions of lawyers who hang round the gates pondering the next thousand pounds or so of legal aid fees they can charge, or wonder wistfully when the next public enquiry is to get underway.

You’ve got to laugh

YOU’VE got to laugh at the knots that our esteemed leaders and political thinkers are tying themselves into over the seemingly impossible task of agreeing the Northern Ireland Budget.

Every now and then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson feels obligated to spout a few words on BBC about unrealistic members of the Executive, while similarly obligated Sinn Féin members reach for the phone in hotline to tell Nolan et al that there’s money in them thar hills.

Said money is to come from the end of the rainbow, the mobile phone companies or other improbable sources.

Sammy’s improbability comes from his reluctance to suggest that there is any possibility that any more money can be prised from the notoriously tight budgets of HM Treasury.

Sinn Féin’s improbability comes from saying (on talk shows) that their position that water charges will not be introduced is “non-negotiable”.

Oh yes, there is an election coming up.

One may also note that our esteemed First and deputy First Ministers have been relatively circumspect on the whole wrangling between their respective parties.

We can only suggest a couple of alternatives. Firstly, could it be they know something the rest of us don’t. Or is it that they have decided to behave in a statesman like fashion?

Nope neither of these is plausible. More likely they are content to let their minions butt heads while they ponder the cost of a cappuccino on one of their frequent jaunts to the US, London or wherever they can go to get away from their embattled colleagues.

Meanwhile no serious budget agreement is in sight.

Bye for now Gerry

SO the beard is bringing the man down below the hated border. Yes, Gerry Adams, fed up with the growing unemployment and run down nature of the North is heading to the only part of Europe with worse employment prospects – the Republic of Ireland.

The MP, MLA and general politician at large is to stand as a TD in Co. Louth. His toothy smile and generally sunny disposition will no doubt woo the economically disenfranchised electorate of Louth. But one does wonder where it leaves his infamous ‘they haven’t gone away you know’ comments. While they haven’t gone away, the rest are just on holiday in Donegal or canvassing in Louth.

Independence for the independents!

FOR some time in the ‘70s those with a poor grasp of macro-economics and a tenuous hold on reality used to advocate for an independent Northern Ireland.

While most thought that politicians with little hope of electoral success had been consigned to the part of the ballot paper few were brave enough to tread, other than the Monster Raving Loony Party, we now have a new political ‘force’ set to contest the Assembly elections in May.

The UK Independence Party has said that it plans to put its hat into the ring as a “non-sectarian, sensible, unionist alternative”.

Our proportional representation system of voting is one reason cited for the step. However, even those who are challenged by voter mathematics will be concerned to see a party that achieved just over 3.1% of the electoral share in the Westminster election hope to score a quota no matter how many transfers they gain from TUV votes.

Paisley backs united Ireland shock!

THE Lord Bannside formerly known as Ian Paisley has come out in favour of a united Ireland. Yes, you read that right: Lord Bannside has said in the House of Lords he would support a united Ireland.

Lord Bannside only put one tiny, small, minute condition on his support. Indeed such a small condition it would be small-minded and intemperate for anyone to find a problem with such a condition.

The condition was that Ireland could be reunited under the British Crown.

Errrr, that may be a little too weird for even the weirdest of republicans to back. Seems the clue is in the that is!

Best of luck to you all

THE EDUCATION Minister has been pretty even handed. Yes, and don’t you dare doubt it.

Caitriona Ruane, in a press release on the eve of the Grammar Schools’ ‘breakaway’ transfer tests offered her best wishes to those sitting the tests. She also offered her best wishes to those not sitting the tests.

Such even-handedness could be subscribed to – even welcomed - were it not for the fact that Caitriona and her political nemesis Education Committee Chairman Mervyn Storey, together with the massed supporters behind them, can barely agree the day of the week let alone a way to slice open this Gordian knot.

There is one sure way – it is called compromise. What exactly that compromise may be, we dare not suggest (we could but this is a political column not a politician’s column!).

But perhaps we should start by making sure that the politicians concerned should all be a bit more concerned about the 10 and 11-year-olds who, while sitting in mummy and daddy’s car on their way to school, have their innocent ears polluted by intransigence, belligerence and downright nastiness from both sides.

Next thing will be that MLAs will be claiming there is no Santa – rotters the lot of them!
If they are not careful we’ll set the Tooth Fairy on them!

Monday, 15 November 2010

You couldn’t make it up!

YOU really couldn’t make it up! No really, you could not make up the surreal world where public bodies across Northern Ireland have rates arrears of £4.5m.

Let’s get this straight now. Central government gives arms length bodies and executive non-departmental bodies (what the slow of thinking call quangos) money to do work.

They then expect them to give some of that money back in the form of rates.

This then needs to be administered by those arms length bodies, NDPBs and needs to be administered centrally to make sure that the money that was given out comes back...

Instead of this palaver, bureaucratic stupidity and deskbound paper and budget shuffling would it not be easier for the Department of Finance and Personnel to just say to all the departments – “chill out, we’ve got your rates covered.”

Might mean that some civil servants and public servants can do constructive work rather that getting money in, to give it back to the department that handed it out in the first place!