Friday, 13 January 2012

Money bags O’Dowd

HE’S the man who seems to have pockets that runneth with gold, the rich uncle who pleads poverty, before producing a nice shiny pound for Little Timmy come Christmas, he is the one, the only Mr O’Dowd.

Yep – not too long ago, Education Minister John O’Dowd was looming large, not just because of his size, but because his shadow was being cast over school budgets, an axe poised over his shoulder ready to oversee staff cuts and school closures.

But, just this week Moneybags O’Dowd has produced £120m extra from his departmental pockets.

Where did this come from? Well that nice Finance and Personnel Minister Sammy ‘Smiler’ Wilson came up with some extra pennies from the ‘January Monitoring Round’. This is the quarterly bit of Government business when those departments who have not spent all their money have to give it back, leading to all the other departments clamouring for the extra dosh.

So, after all that money was found for Mr O’Dowd, and there was much back-slapping around the DUP/Sinn Féin part of the Executive.

But, do take a wee bit of time to log on to the Department of Education’s website to read the press release announcing the extra £120m. After the first paragraph it does not refer to it as £120m. Rather it refers to it as £30m/£15m/£75m. Why? Is this an arcane piece of Government accounting? Is it to please the ever present auditors?

We’d ask the questions, but frankly we don’t care! We’re still waiting for the NIMBY clamour of MLAs when they learn that their neighbouring school is still going to close because there are 15 pupils and seven teachers on a two acre site…

Oh ‘ell there goes DEL

HOW many ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Well that depends if it is a light bulb that requires planning permission, or whether the ministers have returned to their work programme, or have been in university.

And, if they haven’t completed their diversity training, or used public transport they may not be allowed to. And, if it isn’t in the Programme for Government, then it may not be possible to allocate an additional lightbulb budget.

With all that in mind, one may be tempted to ask whether there needs to be a reason for asking why we have so many ministers and departments.

In the interest of saving money, or political expediency, it seems that the Department for Employment and Learning is to be put to the sword (hopefully they’ll have the lightbulb changed so the Executive puts the right department to the sword).

Of course, this has nothing to do with a nod and a wink to let Alliance keep the Justice Ministry… And, only the churlish would suggest that having two Alliance ministers is just a wee bit bothersome when the Executive all sits round the big table at Stormont Castle. Let’s face it, given the number of ministers and junior ministers, they risk having to ask the SDLP Environment Minister Alex Attwood for planning permission for an extension to the Castle.

But, say the naysayers, this is all about the personalities involved, or a DUP/Sinn Féin stitch-up.

Be that as it may there is a warning that this will mean the re-running of D’Hondt to allocate the ministries again. Oh dear, oh dear! We’re not worried about how this will all work out, we’re worried about having to try and explain D’Hondt again!

Monday, 9 January 2012

College, it’s only for the educated…

WHEN it comes to teacher training it is safe to say that Norn Iron has a monopoly on how we educate teach our teachers to teach our children. First there was Stranmillis College, which may became part of Queen’s University, Belfast. Then we have St Mary’s College.

So we have two institutions, one of which may become part of a larger institution, and some sort of confusion about who agrees with whom and what is to be done about it.

So, while the rest of the MLAs are still slumbering before their 9 January return, the Committee for Employment and Learning were grilling their Minister, Alliance MLA, Dr Stephen Farry.

Jim Allister was having a go about alleged levels of support for the merger of Stranmillis with QUB, while from the SDLP came a charge of social engineering.

So, no-one wants to merge and those black-hatted villains in Alliance are conspiring to have our teachers educated in some way that has as yet to be outlined.

Frankly, in the statelet that is Norn Iron, a devolved region of a Euro-doubtful UK, and on an island floating at the edge of the Euro dead zone, this isn’t so much a case of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but actively seeking icebergs to crash into at full speed with this duplication of resources over what RE lessons are to be taught to teachers to teach the young impressionable minds.

How many teachers do we need? That’s an easy one. With Education Minister John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin planning a slash and burn of school numbers, the answer will be ‘not as many as before’. How many human resources departments, ICT systems and various premises do we need to train our teachers? Now we didn’t do advanced mathematics, but we’re pretty sure the number is one.

So a realistic way forward is to have one – yes one – institution to train our teachers, managed through a larger entity producing efficient governance. But as there will always be some numptie wanting to parade his or her political or religious colours to gain a vote or two, we have come up with a new name: “St Mary’s College for fenians, located on the Orange lovin’ Stranmillis campus to be sold on to a property developer by Queen’s University, Belfast where teachers can learn about how to incorporate bias into teaching Irish history depending on what school they want to teach in”.

We admit it’s a bit long-winded, but it’ll catch on in time.