Friday, 6 July 2012

Schools out!

Schools out!
SCHOOLS may be closed for the summer hols, but the Education Minister has published plans by the education boards to close some schools permanently.
But, and we suggest you all do this, have a go at reading the boards’ area plans. Somewhere within these voluminous documents you will find details of closures and mergers. If you are very patient.
However, what we really, really cannot wait for is the return of the Assembly in September. Then we are likley to see a spectacular outbreak of NIMBYism as MLAs suddenly decide that the Executive’s budget be damned they want to be seen to support their own neighbourhood’s failing school...
The God (P)article
LET’S make sure they do this right. At Cern, Switzerland, we have discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson particle, helping to complete the standard model of particle physics. Sometimes it is called, erroneously, The God Particle. Here in Norn Iron we have THE GOD ARTICLE.
Yes, it has to be all in capital letters, and it is an article of faith that any given news story will seek firstly an angle to do with religious divide. Helpfully, a few dozen idiots on both sides provide a summer of occasional recreational rioting along traditional parade routes/sectarian flashpoints.
Then we have The ‘Health’ God Article where doctrines of faith, belief, theology and biblical quotations rain down on issues such as abortion and blood donation from gays. Here any debate is couched with secularists accusing the Minister of pursuing a religious angle (we’ve looked but there is scant reference to blood donation in the bible…) and of an (un)holy alliance of Roman Catholics and Calvinists against any change in the abortion laws.
In education, The God Article applies to our wonderfully diverse educational system that can have four different types of schooling systems running – supposedly – the same curriculum.  While there are moves to ‘shared education’, they have been developing very slowly and veer well away from integrated education.  The churches seem somewhat averse to having their young congregation members hear what the other side of The God Article believes.
And then we have the creationist side of The God Article. One must have supposed that after the furore caused by the National Trust’s judicial review of the proposed golf resort near the Giant’s Causeway that the DUP and some of its associated churches would be appeased the Trust’s reference to the creationist interpretation of how the basalt columns at the Causeway were formed.
What a miscalculation…
Social media exploded with multiple Tweets slamming the inclusion of the Creationist interpretation. Luminaries of the science world visited a Moses-like wrath using social media.  The man the religious love to hate, Richard Dawkins, is quoted in today (Friday’s) Belfast Telegraph alongside the media darling of physics, Professor Brian Cox. This may be one foe even the Caleb Foundation (who worked with the National Trust to have creationism mentioned in the new Causeway Centre) cannot hope to defeat.
Good looks, and multiple BBC TV series against stunning scenery and epic musical accompaniment. Prof Cox could be the tipping point to the final confirmed discovery of The God Article in Norn Iron, an elusive Article that requires the media to find a controversy whether there is one or not and a minister (religious or political) can be found to go on the radio.
70-up club
NEVER mind 7-up, we have amongst our MLAs the wonderful 70-up; not a carbonated soft drink, but a club of 40 MLAs who have expenses of more than £70,000 last year.
Of these 10 are in the exclusive £80,000+ club of expenses claims.
These expenses are for establishing and running offices in their constituencies, including staffing and travelling. Is this the price of democracy more than £1m in expenses plus salaries and the cost of running Stormont’s Big House on the Hill? With a minimum salary of £43,101 per MLA it brings into focus the value for money provided by the Northern Ireland Assembly. And this week the MLAs delivered big time on that value for money.
Five pieces of legislation were debated on Tuesday (3 July) and two pieces of legislation on Monday (2 July). Some of these concerned minor amendments to existing legislation.  But rather than take a cheap shot (as if we would!) at the Norn Iron Executive (cramming its work into the last days of term like a recalcitrant schoolchild), we should acknowledge that weeks and months of torturous negotiation and horse trading were doubtless required to get the legislation across the line and on to the floor of the Assembly. A remarkable feat when you consider five very different parties are involved in this painful process.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Here Comes the Summer!

YOU may not have noticed it with the torrential downpours and grey skies, but the summer's here and, to paraphrase those Derry punk scamps, The Undertones, it’s time for our MLAs to get out and find out what fun is about!

This is the last week when the Assembly sits, the last week when they plenary session gets to debate stuff they can't really change or do anything about, the last week when committee chairs can frown in indignation about some ministerial cock up or another.

There are but two plenary sessions and a clatter of committee meetings before the Assembly summer recess. Travel agents are circling like vultures ready to seize the wary MLA who has to yet make a booking to get the hell out of here before the recreational rioting season kicks in...

We may (or may not) paint an unfair picture of the fact that the MLAs are getting an eight-week break to run alongside the Easter, Christmas and other assorted leave days in their school-term-time only schedule. What passes for reality is that some MLAs will man their constituency offices ready to help their constituents and calculate the loss of mileage claims while not going to Stormont.

The business of government will also continue with a duty roster of Ministers and their spokespeople on hand to deny any knowledge of any problem to avoid an on-air spat with Stephen Nolan.

While we too will be offering this column a break over the summer, we will be monitoring the machinations in the monsoon-like conditions, keeping a weather eye on MLA pronouncements and making sure no consultation goes unconsulted on for our clients new and old.

The boss will keep driving us on like slaves constructing public affairs pyramids to achieve real change...

Monday, 2 July 2012

Glad that's all over!

WON'T it be nice to get down to some normal Norn Iron rowing and fighting for a while! Last week was extraordinary by any standards.

Floods, royals, golf and banking meltdowns - you get one in a few dozen years and then four come along at once...

Peter and Marty - our statesman-like dynamic duo of First Minister and deputy First Minister had the hands shaken off them by Her Maj and a squad of golfers, while Sammy Wilson opened the Department of Finance and Personnel's wallet for flood victims’ emergency relief and nobody could do anything about the Ulster Bank's lack of money for its customers.

But fear not! There was still some slagging to be done. Under fire were Danny Kennedy and his Department of Regional Development trying to excuse away the poor phone response to unseasonal downpours and backed up drains and sewers, and at the same time there was criticism of the golf. Yes, have you not heard? MLAs are demanding an investigation into the failure of golf training standards across Norn Iron. Apparently being one of the top golfing destinations in the world, having a trio of US Open and Open winners plus a clatter of other top flight stars from Norn Iron is not good enough. If an MLA cannot get their picture taken with a home town winner at the home town event then something's going wrong. We expect the First Minister and deputy First Minister to face questions in the house about this failure!

[Credit to Belfast Telegraph for picture]