Friday, 9 November 2012

Eye on the Hill

Well it was all in the back of the cupboard…
LYING around, somewhere, in the coffers of the Northern Ireland Executive is a stash of cash, from which the Executive pulled £200m this week.
The money is being ploughed into an economic and jobs package. For this the Executive should be applauded.
Any initiative that sees jobs and training boosted, while helping the hard pressed construction sector gets a wee hand by speeding up school building and road projects is to be welcomed.
But where does one find £200m in these cash-straitened times? It not exactly new money and in subsequent media, there was a suggestion that it will come from some of the monies that departments weren’t going to spend. Rather than handing it back to the Treasury, better to invest it.
As Gordon Brown would say, this is prudence at the heart of government.
A larger mystery, however, has emerged in the wake of the announcement…on any given day in any given country this type of investment would have been trumpeted and analysed in the media for a week.
Here in Norn Iron, rather than celebrate this, the focus has been on doom facing sector a, while sector b is in free-fall or some such cliché.
It seems that in the absence of a good old political feud the newsrooms are rather pre-occupied with a determined race to the lowest common denominator.

Wants it all before he’s 17…
THERE is a line in a song from the 1970s, which goes: “just a kid with a crazy dream, wants it all before he’s 17”. Now while that may be a yearning for success, it is not clear that the “kid” wanted to be a participant in democracy.
However, in these less decadent days, the urge to rock ‘n’ roll excess has been tempered by the lure of fifteen minutes of fame on the Simon Cowell production line of talentless media whores and…the desire to vote from the age of 16.
This week, a majority of MLAs voted to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. Not that this will happen any time soon without Westminster’s say so. The lowering of the voting age for the Scottish referendum seems to have been part of negotiations between Salmond and Cameron. And the Tories have not been the party of progressive extension of the franchise in past times.
There is, however, a compelling argument to lower the voting age. (Well we think it’s compelling!)
By the time the average teenager has emerged from the exuberance of 13, they have become a wonderfully sullen bulk of a proto-adult, occasionally capable of conversation and normally engrossed in ‘gaming’, unfulfilled desires and the urgent need to do everything that they’re not allowed to do until they are 18, like buy booze…and vote.
The one thing that we did note during the fascinating debate in the Assembly was the failure to deploy any scientific, psychological evidence, or seek evidence from the wonderful world of neuroscience. We didn’t either, but you get our point.
Much was said about maturity, and much was said about the issues on the age when a teen can legally buy a lager, watch an 18 certificate movie, or play an 18-rated computer game. We hate to break it to the members of the assembly but observing the real world only briefly we know that a significant proportion of 16-year-olds have downed an alcopop, watched an 18-rated DVD or played a gore-riddled computer game…they have also probably watched some really dodgy material on the internet.
The facts of this show that regulation in these areas does not work effectively; that speaks more about the regularity framework, parental supervision and what a 16 or 17-year-old is capable of absorbing and digesting and acting upon. Despite the birth of violent computer games we have yet to see the streets of our wee country ripped asunder with teenagers on crime sprees á la Grand Theft Auto.
Thus, it seems the average teen can distinguish between reality and fiction. Therefore, we judge that the average teenager will be able to tell the difference between an MLA’s reality and the reality of life as a 16-year-old, which makes them almost the perfect voter.

APPARENTLY we’re putting pupils first; that is according to the latest educational initiative from the Department of Education.
Far be it from us to criticise this, no doubt, well intended vision of our ‘learning’ system, delivered at a timely juncture with the Education Bill being considered. But we have a major problem with the title of this plan.
‘Putting Pupils First’ - who else would you put first? The entire education system is designed to provide education for the pupils! If we are now putting pupils first, who was first before the Minister made his Assembly announcement?
And, if we are putting pupils first we wonder will pupils be asked about these wonderful proposals? Dangerous radical times we are in, should we ever ask the people who are being put first to have first say.
We fully anticipate the day when the pupils queue up to give evidence to the Education Committee, rather than the teachers, the officials, the churches, the unions, the department, some bloke from round the corner and a lecturer or two.
Next thing they’ll be talking about shared education…ohh wait a minute! That’s next year’s opportunity to confuse us all about education.

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