Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow joke

OKAY – we are officially and totally fed up and cheesed off with another pratt ringing into radio shows or commenting at the bar that the country grinds to a halt with a “wee bit of snow”.

Equally irritating are those that claim that they seem to cope in Finland, Sweden, Russia, etc etc, etc.

Let us state the bleeding obvious: Northern Ireland rarely faces extreme weather. Thus it would be wasteful and irresponsible for the country to have large numbers of snow ploughs and other assorted specialist equipment at hand throughout the year.

And, there are also those that hop into their car, cheerfully ignoring the police advice to avoid all but essential journeys, before skidding off the road; panicking and generally unable to cope with the weather conditions.

Let’s not forget the eejit who snorts: “So much for global warming!”

The actual phrase should be “climate change” and it’s all pretty complicates and to do with the diversion of the Gulf Stream, amongst other factors.

Surely our scientists must be able to come up with a satisfactory solution for treating snow and ice bound pavements and roads before the politicians drive themselves to apoplexy blaming each other!

Bye, bye baby

WHERE does an MLA go when they decide to pack up their Stormont office, put belongings and desk tops into cardboard boxes and head off into a setting sun?

Facing life on the fringes of political life – a lonely barely recognised figure at party conferences – what consolation does an MLA draw from life.

Of course, there is a pension. And, this week it emerged that MLAs get a ‘winding up allowance’.

This is, supposedly, a cash pay-out to help with paying off constituency staff, paying outstanding stationery costs, rent etc.

We, however, wonder whether the costs are actually as high. Of the 12 MLAs who over the last two years have handed in their letters of resignation, how many have physically closed their offices, for new incumbents to open brand new offices. And, when one thinks about stationery, does the Assembly not provide the MLAs with smart headed paper?

But aside from these niggles the Ulster Unionists have got their knickers in a knot over the whole issue. Why? UUP leader Tom Elliott claims that some DUP members who resigned may be standing for the Assembly again.

Never mind the costs – some of the most vocal DUP advocates and able politicos will once again stalk the carpeted and marble corridors.

We suggest that Mr Elliott takes a wee break and watches the first Terminator movie. In that movie the android played by the current Governor of California promises: “I’ll be back!” He does indeed come back to wreak havoc. But at the end of the film the android has his rear end kicked.

So, Mr Elliott can hope that some of his DUP rivals will return to face a similar – if metaphorical – ending. But then again, as John Lennon once said, Mr Elliott may be forced to sing the Late Mr Lennon line: “You may say, I’m a dreamer”.

Errr - have we not decided it already?

IT may be the cynics who lurk amongst us that inspire a tiny smidgeon of doubt about proposed capital projects announced in last week’s draft budget, but we think that the money was there already...

When the Executive’s man with the purse strings, Minister Wilson, rose to deliver his budget statement, he said that infrastructure projects, such as the new police (and fire service) training academy would be built, Altnagelvin Hospital would get a new radiotherapy centre and sports stadia would be upgraded.

We may, or may not, be completely and utterly stupid (such has been suggested by constant readers, but they still read this – so who’s the stupid one?) but these projects have been on the table for more than a couple of years.

Indeed, we and many others have been fed up to the back teeth listening to wrangles about them. It may, or may not, be the case that these projects have been budgeted for. It may, or may not, be the case that decisions were fudged and dodged to avoid offending one side or other.

But, if the money had been set aside for the sports stadia upgrades, for example, where was it when the rows about location (Maze/Long Kesh prison site anyone?) and wrangles within the Irish Football Association were taking place. Was it languishing in a Swiss bank account accumulating interest? Was it hidden underneath Sammy’s mattress? Was it tucked safely away with the banks? Or, was it somewhere within the corporate governance maze of drawdowns and money requests to Treasury that dominate all public sector relationships?

For, if it is the case that the cash has already been allocated it could be that instead of Executive largesse, the infrastructure budget seems more than a wee bit suspicious. Or maybe it is that infectious cynicism that seems to be afflicting us all post-budget statement...

Plastic fantastic

GEE, ain’t it great that the Minister for Finance and Personnel has gone all green?! No, he has not donned a Leprechaun outfit and volunteered to lead the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. Instead Sammy has declared for the environment, with his draft Budget announcement.

Yep, the man who is a climate change denier and tried to bar ads that called for carbon efficient practices has announced that he is minded to introduce a plastic bag tax.

Green activists paused before celebrating – for it is clear that Mr Wilson was not really interested in turtles swallowing plastic bags or hedgerows clogged with shopping detritus.
His motivation was to raise some extra revenue for the cash strapped DOE.

But, as humble commentators on the political winds that emerge from the collective superannuated rear ends of our politicians, we looked at the practice behind the theory.

Mr Wilson – and in turn the Executive on which he sits – thinks that the 15p tax per plastic bag will raise loads of cash. And, we as shoppers will hardly notice the pennies added to the bill; thus generating the money.

But to a certain extent this assumes that we will passively accept a new item on the shopping bill.

We think not!

Shoppers will suddenly remember all the ‘bags for life’ and hessian shopping bags that clutter up car boots and dusty cupboards under the stairs.

And plastic bags will become the minority holder for provisions, groceries and assorted essentials of life. This, of course, means that the projected revenue from the scheme will be reduced.

But, we suspect that there is an alternative explanation. Minister Wilson needs to appease some people. Not the environmental lobby, nor Tidy Northern Ireland. Instead it is his NI Executive colleagues in Sinn Féin. For it is clear that no sensible person here would agree to taxing texts from the ever-present mobile phones (have you ever seen a politician without a Blackberry or iPhone within quick draw range?). Thus Sammy needed to show the Shinners that he could do something that was all about raising money rather than just imposing cuts.

Who cares about the exact figures – it is the show that counts.

Do they know it’s Christmas...

THERE is a rather cruel joke that was doing the rounds a couple of weeks ago about Ethiopian suggested that Ethiopians were now fundraising for the poor of the Republic of Ireland.

Of course the bail-out of the Irish economy was a source of national embarrassment, whether or not this was truly justified.

But amid the snow and ice Northern Ireland has also had to face up to the harsh realities of the tough financial climate: the chill Arctic winds of recent days are echoed in the palpable sense that we’re in for a long hard economic equivalent of a nuclear winter.

Not that you would have thought so when the DUP/Sinn Féin ministers smiled and nodded as Minister for Finance and Personnel Sammy Wilson delivered his budget statement last week (by the way, can we not all chip in a couple of quid to buy Sammy a nice red box to hold aloft when he arrives at Parliament Buildings?)

There was a sense that we’d all dodged the proverbial bullet with the draft Budget: the argument was along the lines that it will be a hard few years, but thanks to the wily skills of the negotiating team it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

Which also answers the question as to why ministers need so many spin doctors: because it surely only spin to try to sell that line. The question is whether we – to extend the metaphor tortuously – will seize it hook, line and sinker.

The consultation period on the Executive’s draft Budget is designed to draw us further to the shore of DUP/Sinn Féin party lines before the May election.

Look closely at the draft budget and there will be really, really tough times ahead. Come the time to cast (Editor’s note: please, no more fishing references!) your vote, the full impact of budgetary decisions may not have been felt.

Which will be of no comfort to those public and civil servants heading to the dole office after ‘efficiency savings’, also known to those that detest euphemisms as ‘cuts’.