Friday, 12 October 2012

Welfare packages sent to weary MLAs

Welfare packages sent to weary MLAs

WE in our innocence believed that the days of filibuster speeches and epochal length debates were long gone. Were we wrong! When the not so learned members of the Norn Iron Assembly got together to debate the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill things got out of hand.

For nine hours they went on, and on, and on to such an extent parliamentary correspondents visibly wilted, officials were on the verge of collapse and aid packages were being passed into the chamber.

Leading the record attempts was Michael Copeland who rounded on Sinn Féin for not laying down a ‘petition of concern’ to trigger a cross-community vote, and the Minister for Social Development for slavishly following Tory ‘they’re all plebs anyway’ policy guidance.

Not that others were shy of taking a liberty with the time used to sign off this second stage. On and on they roamed around the debate, often resorting to party name calling and ‘he said, she said’ politics; where the zero sum analysis is too often designed to make sure that the opponent has zero chance of point scoring.

Let’s call the proverbial spade a spade: this second stage was always going to go through, come hell or high water, so parliamentary time was abused. Who made the call that it should be an ‘open all hours’ debate? It was the speaker.

Who abused this? MLAs of all shapes and forms… And who wasted time with pointless interventions and cat calls? MLAs of all shapes and forms.

What happens next? Well, it’s off to committee stage for consideration, a consideration stage that already has the social development committee members pencilling most of November from their diaries to go over each and every clause of the bill.
Why is it so important that Welfare Reform is done correctly? The answers are multiple, not least the level of benefit dependency in Norn Iron.

But the fact that our MLAs are too often pre-occupied with point scoring rather than substantive debate is worrying for all who want clear, cogent debate.

There is such a thing as mature democracy expressed through mature debate…We can but dream.
Now next week we can look forward to the fun and joy of the second stage of the Education Bill…

For once a good thing happened…

YES, believe it or not, a good thing was done by Government this week. Pick yourself up off the floor and digest this; the Norn Iron Executive has announced it is doing something that provides a solution.

Calm down, we’re not making this up in an hysterical over-reaction to having too many jalapenos in our lunchtime sandwich. It really, really did happen. Government did something sensible.

Two problems, one solution. Problem one: too few qualified teachers can get jobs, and cannot gain experience to apply for teaching jobs. Problem two: low levels of literacy and numeracy in areas of multiple deprivation. Solution: two year contracts for new or recently qualified teachers to deliver increased literacy and numeracy! Out-of-the box thinking from Government! Whatever next!

Well at the same time another ‘good’ announcement was made. As some of you may know there are areas of Norn Iron were the population is not the healthiest. So, what has Government gone and done? Announced that there will be health intervention workers employed to work with 1,200 families who have poor health indicators and live in deprived areas.

Where will this all end? Will common sense break out and we can all decide to get along and be friends? Will economic stimuli be directed from the bottom up as well as top down?

Unfortunately this, very welcome initiative is about treating the symptom not the cause. Families whose children have poor literacy or numeracy outcomes are likely to descend from a generation or two of poor literacy and numeracy, and in all likelihood poor employment records.

Families with poor health outcomes often have other factors affecting those outcomes, whether through housing or ongoing, long term health issues.

What is common is the need to tackle the systemic situation that sees poor educational and health indicators grouped around particular wards. Rather than taking health, education, employment etc. as single issues, an examination of the overall situation would yield better results and therefore better ways forward. But that would require us to imagine, at least for a short moment, that our ministers and departments could think outside their silos…

In the meantime the ‘good’ thing announced by Messers Robinson and McGuinness has to be welcomed as a good start.

Open Letter to Mr Poots

DEAR Mr Poots, we respectfully ask you to close our local hospital as soon as possible, preferably within the next week. We do not wish to have our local constituency MLAs be made hypocrites of, not that this is usually a problem.

Our local constituency MLAs generally agree with everything you say about saving money and spending it on better outcomes and more care in the community.

However, as interest groups and the NIMBYs gather it is as sure as an expense claim by an MLA that our elected representatives will find a thousand ways to argue why their local hospital has to stay open.

Therefore we suggest that the consultation period on Transforming Your Care be reduced to one week, and closure plans for superfluous hospitals and A&E departments begins forthwith.

However, as to closing the nursing homes, we’ll fight ya tooth and nail! You’re not closing our local nursing home – we might need it sooner rather than late after listening to the MLAs wittering away about this.

Abortion…a modern day quagmire

ONE has to admire former PUP leader Dawn Purvis for taking on the programme director job with the Marie Stopes Clinic, while it may be an easier job than leading a party associated with certain paramilitary groups it is one fraught with issues.

Keeping within the very, very narrow legal definition of abortion in Norn Iron when guidance from the DHSSPS is so delayed will be one thing. Keeping the unholy alliance of SDLP, TUV and DUP from collapsing in collective apoplexy will be another.

And deciding when there are just enough protestors to justify extra publicity will be another.

We are not going to take a stance on whether we are pro choice or pro life or anti abortion or anti women. Frankly we can do without the hate mail.

What we will say (tentatively) is that it is seemingly impossible in Norn iron to have a debate about any issue without reference to the King James Version of the Bible…

We’re now going to have a good read at the KJV and find out where it mentions abortion and what it means by the bitter water (look it up…)

Or on the other hand we may just retire to mop our brows…