Friday, 17 June 2011

Paisley and the DUP – row ensues

WITH friends like these who needs enemies? When the DUP fall-out that fall-out is usually behind closed doors. The result sees someone walking off in a huff or simply swallowing their pride and keeping calm and carrying on.

But there has been a very public spat within the party. First off, Ian Paisley Jnr said the standard of debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly wasn’t very good. Next Peter Robinson said that oh yes it was! Pantomime season isn’t upon us, but this was beginning to seem like a right old pantomime.

What it has done is cause us to all examine what the debates at the Assembly are really for. Unless directly relating to legislation being introduced debates are generally waffling for the sake of waffling about special interests relating to constituencies.

Or to have a pop at a Minister – which, frankly, is like shooting fish in a barrel; very easy, but with an after-taste.

Paisley the Younger may be close to the mark in his criticism of the standards of debate at Parliament Buildings – and the standards of grammar. We surely are not alone when our teeth grind as verb agreements are torn asunder by the serried ranks of MLAs on a regular basis! But Mr Paisley should also be aware that the like of Prime Minister’s Question Time is a set-piece zoo-like spectacle of the worst kind.

Here, constrained by the constitutional conveniences of consensual politics, debates are less engaging, rhetoric a skill less-deployed, and the semi-literate can turn a phrase pre-prepared for them.

The real question should be whether it is effective. As the mother of Parliaments, and the legislative home of all reserved and excepted matters, not to mention all English laws, Westminster has a lot more work to do.

On a pro rata basis the Assembly gets through quite a lot of work – all be it that last time out they did a lot of that in the closing weeks. The debates, as such, are the public window-dressing for the beating heart of the Assembly, which can usually be found in the bear-pits of Assembly statutory committees. There lies the real fun, and where unfortunately too few bother to watch or attend the delights of MLAs quizzing civil servants.

Tuition feeble decision not taken

ONE of the advantages of a mandatory coalition – and yes we are assured there is at least one - is that one does not need to rush to a conclusion.

One of the disadvantages of a mandatory coalition – and yes we are aware there are many - is that eventually one must come to some sort of a conclusion.

The Alliance Party may have been delighted to get in on the big act with a seat by right at the top table, but soon Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry, might find it is the hot seat.

The reason became all too clear at this week’s oral Assembly questions, when Dolores Kelly asked about student tuition fees. For those with memory loss, over the past year there have been quite a few protests about student tuition fees; with the majority of students thinking an increase is pretty much a bad idea!

For Dr Farry there is a confluence of factors rolling together: a need to make a decision being the first factor!

Then there is the fact that a decision must be taken by September so that the loans can be sorted out for the following academic year.

After that there is the not inconsiderable task of shaping third level education to meet the employment needs of both international and local employers – not to mention the academics who live by the axiom of publish or die when it comes to tenure!

Next is the fact that our two universities are bleating about the cuts they are being forced to make as it is, without the problems that may ensue if they do not get either more money from higher fees or more money from the Executive.

And finally, Dr Farry will have to get all his new found Executive chums to agree to whatever decision is made by “September at the latest”.

We have a cunning plan: one which will help Dr Farry and his Executive chums in the long run. First – any degree that includes the words “dance” or “fashion” go immediately.

Next: any degrees in journalism – out! Politics? Seriously? Only for those not studying what passes for politics here! Agriculture? That’s a college course. And Art! No, no, no! If you can colour in between the lines award yourself an ‘A’ level and don’t even think about an art degree. There, they’d saved a wee fortune right off.

But seriously – yes we can be serious for a minute or two – Dr Farry must steer the middle ground between recommending a sensible fee structure that still enables a wide range of students access to degree courses, while maintaining the integrity and teaching standards befitting our universities.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Yellow pack – what’s that then your honour?

THE row between Justice Minister David Ford and the legions of lawyers rumbles on with impoverished legal eagles having to auction the Astin Martin and buy some of the cheaper Scotch from supermarket shelves.

Amidst the tooing and froing a curious phrase emerged from one of the legal combatants in this curious strike action. He alleged that the Minister wanted “Yellow Pack justice”.

Younger listeners and viewers will, no doubt have been bemused by that turn-of-phrase from Pearse MacDermott of the Solicitors Criminal Bar Association.

For those of you who recall the halcyon days of Stewarts and Crazy Prices supermarkets, Yellow Pack products were own label products deliberately marketed as being cheap and cheerful without any frills.

So, it seems that Mr MacDermott chose an apt metaphor in his allegation.

But wait a cotton-picking moment, Yellow Pack goods slipped from the shelves around 20 years ago.

We can deduce from this that perhaps it is the case that Mr MacDermott has not done any food shopping in supermarkets for around 20 years, as he has someone do it for him.

Or was it a very deliberate attempt to force those who were too young to remember Stewarts and Crazy Prices to extrapolate the metaphor, thereby achieving a tortuous victory...

We’re not sure which it was, but it was a strange choice of words, but still one that caught the mood of this increasingly rancorous dispute.

Still, now the English firms are threatening to poach the home turf, we’ll see how firm some of the law firms hold as revenue trickles away to some solicitor from across the North Channel.