Friday, 25 February 2011

Kicked into touch

PASS through to the centre forward, intercepted by the full-back, who punts forward, only for the ball to be missed by the winger and roll through to the keeper.

No we’re not talking about the latest round of European soccer matches, but rather the health service.

It’s not that the health service is receiving more soccer related injuries.

It is, however, reference to the fact that the acting head of the NHS Confederation, Nigel Edwards, has appealed for health not to be used as a political football.

Which, we suspect exposes a little bit of naivety on his part – surely health is, and must remain, a political football. From the Bevan reforms, through to the Tory creation of trusts, health has always been a political football with the word ‘ideology’ emblazoned on the ball itself.

The latest consideration is, of course, the Conservatives’ plans to semi-privatise/open up to community groups…oh hold on a moment perhaps the Confederation head was speaking about Norn Iron (well he was over here on Wednesday speaking at its local annual gathering…).

Given that, it is another piece of naivety: he must understand that in Norn Iron everything is a political football.

And the local health service managers Mr Edwards was addressing know all too well that the report into the children’s hospital, cancer waiting times, and so on and so on means that the football is getting walloped all over the park.

And, as a footnote to this story – the Department of Health, Personal Social Services and Public Safety issued a press release on Friday (25 February) which noted that the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for emergency care rose from 702 in December to 1,236 in January. Do we hear the sound of a another soccer match getting ready for kick-off?

You only sing when you’re winning, sing when you’re winning…

YOU’RE going home in the back of an ambulance! The referee’s a w****r! Okay we’ll stop there before descending into the less cerebral and even more offensive football chants.

This week’s passage of the Justice Bill through the Assembly suffered a hiccough along the way when an amendment to end sectarian chants at sports events was defeated.

Ulster Unionist MLA, Basil McCrea was among those that were at the heart of the debate. We say “hear, hear” because the amount of interventions recorded in the Assembly’s Official Report during the debate meant that anyone who managed to stay focussed had managed an achievement of some sort. And a rousing 'hear, hear' and an obligatory 'Amen' is what we expect for any achievement - we may even tip into a 'well done!'

And as to sectarian chanting! No, we never hear such things at rugger or GAA grounds.

We did think of asking Gregory Campbell for his thoughts on this vexed subject after one of his visits to see his beloved Rangers. But after his team were beaten 3-0 by the ‘Hoops’ last weekend we thought better of it!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

We oppose!

THE Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott last week floated the idea that mandatory coalition government is perhaps not the best way forward.

In a speech to business leaders he floated the idea of a formal opposition in the Assembly chamber and other assorted ideas such as reduced numbers of constituencies.

We, have to wonder, has Mr Elliott thought this through.

First of all – under the current system and most people’s guesstimates over the May election results this would mean no seat in Government for the UUP or SDLP.

Second – the whole committee system would need to be over-hauled.

And then we – the public – would have to cough up for the ‘opposition’ parties. That’s not even to mention the confusion this would create for the Alliance Party.

But, as a party with no MPs, it may have escaped the notice of the UUP that at Westminster – even with the new fangled Conservative and Lib Dem Government, opposition parties rarely, if at all change policy, law or practice of governments. They do get soundbites on the news headlines, but we wonder if that will be sufficient comfort at passing on ministerial and committee chair salaries.

And that’s not to mention the changes to election boundaries – a tricky issue, which can lead to accusations on all parts of gerrymandering; and look where that has landed us!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Excuse me, but it is our money!

NOW we may be ignorant as to the mystical and mythical ways that bean counters, treasury officials, auditors, management consultants, actuary managers and others with spreadsheets work, but even they must despair at the labyrinth that passes for budget discussions in Northern Ireland.

C’mon politicians it is the budget for all of Northern Ireland, for all of Northern Ireland’s population, for every man, woman and child, for each and every one of our services.
It is not your budget, apart from the fact that you too – hopefully – pay taxes on your earnings.

So while you are bickering, wrangling, fighting and waffling here’s a brief guide to understanding the budget…

First we pay taxes. The taxes go across the water to people in England. Those people agree how much of that tax money can come back to Northern Ireland.

Then you, as responsible, mature, thoughtful politicians agree how to those taxes can be used to provide services to we, the public.

Okay that last sentence may have contained a fib or two – like the adjectives ‘responsible’, ‘mature’, and ‘thoughtful’ when applied to the mass of MLAs. We are, of course, not suggesting that there are not some who are responsible, thoughtful or mature, but then again….

When it comes to putting a semblance of decision-making behind the whole budget business (and we’re not even going to mention the regional rate!) one would have expected at least our Executive, our committee members and other assorted MLAs to have some common purpose.

Then again, we are generally hopeful that Utopia will eventually be created somewhere outside Belfast (given our luck it will be somewhere in north Down…) and all will be well with the world.

Instead, we have the Finance Committee telling, in effect, their party colleagues, that the budget was delivered too late, and that some departments weren’t engaging with scrutiny committees.

So, it is a mess, the Executive will do what it wants, and in many cases civil servants will have prepared all the programmes for ticking off by their political masters (who, we hope have given appropriate political direction).

And with an election coming down the track all too rapidly, we can at least expect everyone to disagree with everyone else. As they do that, we hope that they remember that it is all our money they are talking about, and it is us who will be queuing at the ballot box.