Friday, 7 January 2011

Water, water everywhere?

THEY say that Eskimos have multiple words to describe snow: equally we in Northern Ireland use many a words to describe rain.

Phrases include: It’s fair belting it down; ach it’s only a wee bit of drizzle; soakin’ ye out; cats and dogs coming down; and so on and so on.

Which, in other words, is to say that we have rarely had a problem with enough water falling from the sky to fill our kettles…?

So with the saga of the water now set to continue to the end of February, it would be an inopportune time to take a look at the debacle that left thousands of homes without water before the reviews are complete.

Never stopped us before nor anyone else in Norn Iron…

As we shiver, once again this weekend, the hand wringing and blame game goes on. Never has so much been owed by so few radio broadcasters to so many politicians.

Let’s face it, Christmas is a pretty slow time on newsdesks and call-in shows; as they struggle to fill schedules – so the water crisis came along as a blessing for sober-voiced presenters and shrieking call-in hosts.

And politicians – who otherwise would have been starved of the oxygen of hyped publicity – where quick to jump into the fray. To summarise – NI Water was the bête noire of choice.

Following that we had the joy of Sinn Féin saying its not our fault, DUP saying maybe it just was and the SDLP saying yer all to blame! UUP, Alliance and others struggled to force their way into the debate, but maybe we just weren’t listening that closely as our eyes glazed over as we queued for a measly container of life giving elixir...and then went from the bar to collect some water.

Now there is to be an investigation…sorry two investigations. One to look at NI Water and one to look into the ‘”broader governance issues” (i.e. the Department and Minister’s role in the fiasco), and in typical ‘Norn Iron’ political fashion it took the Executive late into the night to come up with that genius plan.

Bubbling below the reservoir of acrimony’s surface is, of course, the issue of water charges. We have a historically rubbish water infrastructure, and whose fault that is ranges variously depending on who you listen to.

Privatisation has been touted before, as one way to solve this – and much has been made about investment in England, without close examination of the issues (the perfect monopoly, the impact on a variety of households etc etc).

Others say that bringing it back into the Executive house would solve the issue – like reverting back to the hugely inefficient Water Service that NIW replaced is going to put things right!

With an election coming down the tracks fast , no politician is going to raise his or her head above the parapet to make any sort of decision.

So, we wait until February for the reviews’ conclusions to come down just before Purdah silences civil servants.

In the meantime we suggest that NI Water has a wee look at the best way to tell us lowly householders and business owners what lies ahead in the next cold snap. Oh, and we can probably look forward to a hosepipe ban in the summer!
DEAR Basil,

Thank you for your support despite losing to me, your glorious leader, at the recent election for Ulster Unionists Top Dog. However, recently I have been reflecting as to whether you would actually like the job as leader.

You see, of late people seem out to really, really annoy me. I mean there was that whole thing over GAA with Trevor. I’m a farmer for goodness sake and sport, well it’s nice, but GAA? I thought it was a cross between basketball, football and a fight. How was I to know people actually like that sort of thing. So Trevor left in a huff.

And then there’s Queen. No, not Her Majesty, the rock band! Your hip with the young dudes, so maybe you could talk Harry Hamilton into coming back; perhaps he’d even do a wee turn as Freddy Mercury to raise some funds.
And, then, as if that wasn’t enough, there
’s this whole selection rigmarole. After Harry left, we then had Paula not getting selected and leaving.

Just as I hoped the New Year would be ready to launch us into the election mode, David McClarty leaves in a huff. I was going to say bad loser, but that would be unkind (if he comes back as a deputy speaker in the Assembly this month, he may not let me talk in the chamber!).

So, in short – if you want the job, give me a call!



EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course, Mr Elliott has never drafted such a letter, but we have to wonder what he is thinking after the whole selection process for the Assembly elections…Or is it all part of a grand scheme to get back to some sort of romanticised past that will see absentee voters flock back to the UUP fold.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Anyone got a fiver?

NO seriously, it’s January, we’ve blown it all on Christmas and the Sales and a fiver would go a long way. And for every one of us feeling the same way, isn’t it nice that the Northern Ireland government departments have got all their budgets and spending plans sorted out.

As every householder knows planning your budget is so vital – the tiniest detail needs to be thought through, lest the state-funded banks come-a-calling.

With less than 11 weeks before the end of the financial year there may be a sort of budget, but details are pretty thin on the ground for each department.

Minister for Finance and Personnel, Sammy Wilson gave a commitment that said detail would be available before Christmas, so we, like many others looked forward to scanning such detail as we edged tentatively into 2011.

But alas, most of the NI Executive department savings and spending plans – save those for Mr Wilson’s own department, DCAL and Justice - have yet to see the light of day; making it pretty difficult for us to comment on a budget that has loads of headlines, but little specifics.

However, suffused with the rapidly ebbing Christmas spirit we’re going to be charitable. After all Mr Wilson may have been hopelessly optimistic expecting civil servants to get some work done coming up to Christmas, what with seasonal parties and all the shopping they needed to get done. Then there was the weather, and the two week down tools that afflicts the office bound public sector. And, well the first week of January is always difficult to get really motivated to do anything let alone spreadsheets.

Therefore, barring snow, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other weather related excuses we hope that all the departments this week will present, with a flourish, their savings and spending plans for the next four years. Dear reader, do not be holding your breath!