Friday, 16 November 2012

Eye on the Hill

Paddles will be provided…

IN an attempt to reduce soaring losses on the Portaferry to Strangford ferry the Department for Regional Development has announced that in future all travellers will be issued with long oars, sit on benches and help row part of the way as the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, beats out the rhythm on a drum made from the cold dead bones and the flesh of officials.

Well it worked in Ancient Greece?

Yes, this week it emerged that the essential ferry across Strangford Lough has lost £4m over the last three years, and while the DRD says the ferry will still make its merry way across the lough they were looking at making savings.

While we still reckon issuing passengers with oars is a viable option, we may need to consider a few wee matters first of all. Like why did no-one notice for three years that it was making a loss? Or, if they did, did they not think to let anyone know?

Cutting down the number of sailings has already been rejected by local representatives, so various other options have to be considered. Narrowing the lough would upset the green lobby so we thought that the minister should take off his cap and use the same approach in getting funding for the recently opened bridge over Carlingford Lough - go with his cap  in hand to Europe. If that is not an option, we know a place that can sell you a job lot of oars.

Busy times

IT’S all go at the Assembly next week with all manner of fun and games – sometimes we wonder why we ever complained about the boring nature of business there.
With our First Minister and deputy First Minister on a trade mission in China, it seems the MLAs took turn to line up some rows, fights and general disagreements.

The beaming duo has said there are dozens of leads for local companies – an achievement in itself, given the competition across the globe for the burgeoning Chinese market.
With so much gloomy news on the job front, any lead is worthwhile, especially as our MLAs warm up for the week ahead.

One person defiant is Jim Wells, veteran DUP MLA, who is facing a vote of censure after making some allegedly un-parliamentary remarks to a former special adviser to culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín.
The motion of censure is being brought not by Sinn Féin. Nor is it being tabled and brandished by the SDLP… No those renowned hardliners the Alliance Party will see their colleague and deputy chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Kieran McCarthy table the motion.

Leaving this matter aside (well until Monday when we can watch it on car crash television, or as we prefer to call it Assembly live) we cannot but wonder where any such future votes will come from.
Will the DUP censure the UUP for being, well, being the UUP? Will the SDLP sanction Sinn Féin for overtly being sanctimonious? Will Steven Agnew of the Green Party censure the entire Assembly for making him sit next to TUV leader Jim Allister?

Or will the electorate censure the lot of them at the next Assembly election.

Happy Mondays

THE start of the week always sees a run of Assembly business with the first of two weekly plenary sessions, when members seek to make a point to the wider chamber in the often vain attempt to get an executive minister to agree with their position.
Last week we had boxing, building and diabetes amongst the private members debates, while on Monday child poverty, cross-border education and employment law were considered in the chamber.
How we wait with bated breath for the outstanding delivery of MLAs, their use of rhetorical devices and the magnificence of lingual dexterity.

So we decided to seek some gems from our elected representatives during recent debates. To paraphrase the old TV show only the names have been changed…but of course you can always check the official report. Here’s a couple of samples:
“To be honest, I do not fully understand VAT” – well in that case why refer to it?
“We have not seen the worst of it yet”   - happy thoughts!
“They bring it on themselves. They eat too much, they drink too much and they do not take enough exercise” – Ministerial comment on people with Type 2 Diabetes or about his fellow MLAs?

Each and every plenary session is filmed and recorded and transcribed into the official report.  You can therefore easily set yourself to enjoy next weeks’ gems from our elected representatives! What? You say you can’t because you “have a life”.  Ahh well that means once more your faithful servants at Chambré PA will be on hand to scrutinise the debates for our clients and review those issues of concerns up in yon big house at the top of the hill.

Commendable but unrealistic

ONE has to commend Dr William McCrea MP for bringing a debate on suicide to the floor of the Commons – it is an awful scourge on Northern Ireland. However, we do wonder how realistic is his proposal to ask internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to suicide websites.

It takes no great skill for anyone with rudimentary web skills to get round web blocks and use a variety of methods to access sites – whether they be gambling sites, illegally downloaded music, pornography or social media – that are supposed to be blocked by ISPs and work place firewalls.

Indeed this isn’t the first time that proposals to block suicide websites has been brought up – former health minister Michael McGimpsey also sought the same block.
However, as commendable as this proposal is, perhaps it is looking at the symptom not the cause.
Mental health services have been struggling with the issue of suicide and depression for many years. With unemployment and the consequences of the downturn – not to mention welfare reform – biting ever harder experts in psychiatry and psychology are warning of more people suffering stress, dealing with severe depression and all the ingredients potentially leading to attempting to take their own lives.

 In this context, Dr McCrea should be lobbying our own health and social care minister, pressing our education minister to ensure that good mental health policies are in place in our schools, and urging the Executive to ensure the full implementation of the Bamford recommendations on mental health.