Friday, 13 April 2012

Rolling down the hill

WELL, we’ve gorged on chocolate, hunted the eggs, painted the eggs and wondered what to do with the wrappers, and now it‘s back to business.

MLAs, like teachers, appear to enjoy an extended leave period over the holidays.

However, we all know – or should know – that our elected members do run constituency surgeries, and they and their staff are usually on hand to help members of the public.

There are times when it is appropriate to dig behind the clichéd headlines to find out what really is going on.

It takes little effort for a satirist to poke fun at our MLAs, but in reality we take some effort…

But our folks residing up on the hill do more than enjoy subsidised meals, claim expenses and travel off to foreign parts.

In reality they also hang about committees and once in a while wander into the chamber to vote – even on important matters.

We, however, worry that flags and emblems take up so much time. Yes, they are totems that establish cultural identity for individuals with esteem problems, but they are not the be-all and end-all.

Without constitutional change the border is still there and the Independent Statelet of Norn Iron is not yet on the agenda.

Just recently there was a proposal to run the tricolour up Stormont’s flagpole in an equal pole height with the Union Flag (please note radio callers it is only referred to as the Union Jack on special occasions).

Our health service is crumbling under the weight of its own success of keeping us living longer; the education system has duplication ringing through empty corridors thanks to religious division; we have huge infrastructure projects that have been languishing for years; and, we have an economic vision that is gradually translating into dividends in creative arts and tourism.

Which flag flies in the damp air as rain sweeps across Stormont matters not a whit to these issues, unless you really, really are not paying attention to the global economic conditions and the need to invest…

We’re proposing, right here and right now, a radical approach. When an MLA decides to run such a proposal up the….well up the flagpole…they should have their wages docked.

Yes, create a citizen’s online jury, picked at random, who will decide whether debates on issues not relevant to the real lives outside the lush green lawns of Stormont.

If such a citizen’s jury decides that a particular debate or no-named day motion is daft, a £500 should be taken off the proposer pay packet. That should stay the waffling for a while.

What it makes it more ironic in the debates like this is that MLAs actually are doing some crucial work.

This coming week the Assembly will debate the public ownership potential of Lough Neagh, kinship care, and counselling services in East Belfast amongst other things.

Assembly committees will be discussing legislation on roads, planning changes around the George Best City Airport, dog licensing, a Marine Bill, air passenger duty, issues on road infrastructure and parking, the new Mental Health Capacity Bill, child protection issues and health promotion.

So, in other words, there is work being done that does not require members to drape themselves in one flag or another.

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