Friday, 25 March 2011

He said that I said...

WELL sure we can be mates after the election, just joint mates. That sentence sort of paraphrases the offer by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to First Minister Peter Robinson that should Sinn Féin return the largest amount of MLAs they will offer to have the title joint First Minister in order that unionists don’t run away screaming at the prospect of having Marty as First Minister.

Leaving aside the fact that under some sort of agreement, some time ago in a past occupied by political anoraks and those with the time to give a stuff (apart from TUV leader Jim Allister, who always gives a stuff) the First and deputy First Ministers are coequals it is just a matter of titles.

Peter was canny in his reply – which translates as: “Even if it happens do you really think I’m going to contemplate answering that before the results are in?”

So, the real issue is whether the DUP will seize enough UUP votes, and Sinn Féin will seize enough SDLP votes to make it a close enough vote to at least be interesting.

As we write this we are now counting down to the real issue. With less than five weeks to go, is it long enough to get in the popcorn and sweeties, and create a nest in the home or office where you can watch the results flow in on the telly and power up the PC to pretend that you understand it all.

Because, rest assured you know just as much about it as the stuffed shirts who will be talking endlessly on the box – after all you are reading this right now and it isn’t even April yet!

All screwed either way

THERE are many regions around the world that have sectarianism, but few do it as well, with such fervour as here in Norn Iron. If it was an Olympic sport in 2012, we’d clean up.

It has been long known that there is an underclass of underachievers on both sides of the sectarian divide, peering across the peace wall in preparation for summer time riots.

Whether you bear the label of 'Prod' or 'Fenian' cast disparagingly along with other terms of abuse such as 'orange bastard', 'taig' or whatever, you can be sure that if you live in an interface area your life chances are worse than those in the ‘burbs.

The extent of Protestant underachievement was highlighted this week with a report into educational underachievement in Protestant working class areas.

Congratulations to East Belfast MLA Dawn Purvis and those around her for producing an analysis that brought into sharp focus what so many knew by anecdote for so long.

Here’s what we make of it. For a long time, unemployment rates in Catholic areas have been too high. In the interim unemployment rates in Protestant areas have been slowly creeping up. Now there is an aspiration deficit that affects those without an ambition beyond the dole queue or the becoming the next drug dealer.

Now that affect is being felt sharpest along interface and inner city areas, with those on the Protestant side showing a real malaise.

There have been a raft of Government pilot schemes, and the quotation of the week goes to Ms Purvis in calling for real action: “We’ve had more pilots than Ryanair!”

But only here in Norn Iron could the problem be so succinctly put in a sectarian way as when outgoing Education Minister Caitríona Ruane claimed that the problem was the fault of unionist politicians because they were retaining selection at aged 11.

Sure end that and the world would be a brighter place, with full employment for all!

Hey ho to elections we go!

SO here we are once more in the election playground, ready for the swings of the swingometer and the roundabouts of going round the constituency merry-go-round.

It barely seems like a year since we were last here, eagerly awaiting the fun and games that precede the casting of votes. In fact it hasn’t really been a year; for over six or seven months we have been a phoney war in preparation for the election campaign.

And what a campaign it will be - three votes on one day! Pundits have been sharpening tongues and gathering witty phrases, while radio phone-in presenters have been dusting down put-downs and promising to hold the politicians to account.

But, just hold on one minute. Before we all run away with ourselves, just what is at stake here?

There is the make-up of our local councils to start with. Yes, those august gentlemen and ladies who hope to attach the prefix of councillor to their name after May 5th, will barely be into post when they will be considering at what level they will be setting our rates, and generally agreeing which services to cut.

We then have the AV vote. Now, try not to doze off when someone mentions this, because it is important. Rest assured we’ll try to explain it later on in the campaign, but for now just understand that there is set to be fewer constituencies.

And so, we have the Assembly election. Those of you who have a wee bit of wit about yourselves may have noticed that over the last three weeks the Assembly has churned through a lot of legislation – in fact a veritable mountain of bills, orders and other assorted miscellany of government.

Which begs a question of the outgoing crop of members of the legislative assembly: what on earth have you been doing over the past year or so? It’s not as if you didn’t know this was all due to be done! You lot are worse than schoolchildren waiting until the day before an exam to do your revision!

But the real test will come on May 5th. No, it’s not whether the candidates will be elected on the strength of their achievements to date. Rather, it is which way the orange vote will fall, which way the green vote will fall, whether the middle ground vote will hold, but most of all, how many citizens will get off their rear ends and exercise their democratic right.