Friday, 17 February 2012

A man of wealth and taste

WHO would have thunk it - Financier for the Norn Iron executive Sammy Wilson is a man of wealth and taste, a patron of the arts no less.

Last week social development minister Nelson McCausland came over all Dick Dastardly and announced that all those artistes and artists congregating around the Cathedral ‘Arts’ Quarter would no longer be able to dance to the tune of public money tinkling into their grant pots.

This week, Mr McCausland announced that finance minister Sammy Wilson had come up with £200,000 and he would add another £50,000 to keep the whingers as silent as a mimer in a quiet contest.

Throughout the week, Mr McCausland has been arguing the case for cutting arts funding; but he was clear that his sudden about turn had nothing to do with negative publicity, phone-in criticism or newspaper stories. There is a Belfast saying that summarises most people’s response, with more than a touch of irony; it goes like this: “Aye! Dead on Nelson!”

Cynical? Us? Never!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Crayon funding under threat

A COLOURING in crisis of vast magnitude is striking at the heart of Norn Iron arts sector.

A vast shortfall in crayon stocks, poster paint and little plastic smocks to keep clothes clean will not be met from the public purse.

In a shock move the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland said that several leading crayon manufacturers had upped their prices and are working on Sundays.

As a result the Department is on the horns of a dilemma: if they stop funding crayon colouring in and other arts projects, the result will be less arty farty types clogging up the capitalist advance towards a retail driven society, but will also mean more lovies clogging up the dole queues.

Yes, it looks like the Laganside events grant will close next month, throwing the likes of the Festival of Fools (Editor’s Note this is not the weekly Festival of Fools at Stormont – the arts festival of fools is intentionally funny) and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

There is no doubt, despite our earlier jibes, that the arts community brings valuable life to parts of the city and the region. But in a time of austerity they are both an easy target, and in the cold hard glare of bean counters, a reasonable one.

That is not to say that there should be a complete ending of arts funding. Tourists like it when we have a party in Norn Iron – as do the restaurant and bar owners.

Therefore, Mr McCausland should grab his own personal crayon collection and hurriedly scribble, in his best joined up writing, a note to his friends in the Executive asking them to share out some good will and poster paints to make sure that when they go for their food and drinkie poos in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, there’s a wee bit of life about the place.

A good week’s work...

THERE are times when we wonder what worth is the work of the denizens of Satan’s seventh sulphurous circle of hell, also known as the Assembly’s Chamber. For a change the stench of futility was over-powered by the sweet whiff of virtue.

“What!” we hear you cry, surely some mistake, if the cynics spotted something good!
Well, much as we do enjoy working with the malaise of misguided political shenanigans, we also have to doff our cap when there is a result worthy of praise.

This week’s Norn Iron Assembly plenary sessions saw a debate take place on the horror of people trafficking. Let’s lay our cards on the proverbial table here: those who traffic in their fellow human beings - often involving prostitution - are the lowest form of life to walk on legs; all the punishments of our penal system are not enough for them.

Any steps our MLAs as legislators may take to clamp down on human trafficking and those who avail of the services of these modern day slaves must be welcomed.

Thus when it emerged that an Assembly debate on human trafficking had prompted the Minister of Justice to bring forth legislation to combat this bestial trade, it was all we could do not to break into spontaneous applause.

Speakers from all parties spoke passionately on the Sinn Féin motion, and for once there was cross-party consensus that brought a real result.

Also this week, there were pointless debates on Lurgan’s Millennium Way and car insurance that won’t do a thing, there was some waffle about the educational maintenance allowance that won’t solve the problem of youth unemployment and some other platitudes voiced during various ministerial question times.

The Assembly has proven through this high profile action that ministers can make real change for people. While it is doing other good work, it is so disappointing to have these efforts over-shadowed in the public mind by pointless debates.

Let it be a lesson to legislators that work to change people’s lives can be started, and hopefully completed, lest the electorate boycott the ballot box in their droves, come the next election.