Friday, 14 December 2012

Eye on the Hill

Frack aff!

WELL the UK Government has decided that sustainability in gas supply has over-ridden environmental concerns, and the hydraulic fracturing of gas shale (otherwise known as ‘fracking’) should be permitted in several areas of the UK.
Gasps of horror from environmentalists, gasps of delight from the fracking companies ensued.

Here in Norn Iron we do pay over the odds for gas (or so it seems when the bill lands with a thud on the doormat) but we also have some green and pleasant land of our own.
So green and so pleasant that the G8 is de-camping to the lush county of Fermanagh next year – and you can bet any drill rigs will not be put up before then.

Whether they are ever erected to suck the gas from deep in the bowels of the earth remains, according to our very own Minister for the Environment, Alex Attwood, a decision for the Assembly.
Mr Attwood insists that the permission to frack will depend on a lot of planning processes and may end with a public inquiry. Green Party MLA, Steven Agnew will no doubt be pushing that all the way.

Who in the end will have the greenest credentials? And who will claim the credit should lots of new jobs be created in Fermanagh (and Leitrim).

For sale – job lot of Government
“ORDER, Order!”
I’ll take two cars and a dishwasher please!”

This could be the conversation in some government departments as lots of state property deemed surplus to requirements come under the auctioneers hammer. The aforementioned cars and dishwasher are joined by chainsaws, property in Co. Down and a variety of other assorted items.

The auctions have netted public finances around £3m so far, and David McNarry is now asking other departments to tell how they disposed of assets to see if anymore can be auctioned off. We can think of a few MLAs who might be considered as being surplus to requirements (no names).

But what is a more urgent requirement is for Government to tell us when the next auction is taking place! Mr McNarry’s questions have revealed that there are some very tasty bargains to be had, and one of those chainsaws would be perfect under the Christmas Tree for ‘er indoors’ to carve the turkey with.

Fly the Flag

BEEN on a protest? Been in a traffic jam? Received a death threat? Did you do your Christmas shopping online rather than risk the city centre? Then you too have been part of the unfolding of the flag debacle.

On and on it goes and nobody knows where it will end.
Even the DUP are getting a wee bit fed up, as trader after trader complains about lost revenue and more angry motorists clog up the airwaves. Admittedly the protests seem to be causing slightly less mayhem over the past two days, but we’re not holding our breaths for them diminishing.

The first political casualty (metaphorical, thankfully not literal) of the ongoing dispute is the removal of the UUP whip from Lagan Valley MLA Basil McCrea. If leader Mike Nesbitt continues along these lines there will be nobody to whip into shape and self-flagellation will be the only course of action open to him.

Whatever happens from now on, allying the party with the DUP and street protestors could be a move that may damage the UUP at the polls next time out. Meanwhile, with the whip removed Mr McCrea is taking the Christmas period to reflect on his position in the party. While Basil shops around his position on the Committee for Employment and Learning will be up for grabs in the January sales.

It’s the magic number…
IS seven the magic number for Stormont? While the temper tantrums of both ‘sides’ vent on the streets, and police officers begin to recover from injuries and trauma, the reform of government departments has taken a step forward.

A report from the Assembly and Executive Review Committee came up with the number seven.

In simple terms the departments of health, education and justice stay, as does OFMDFM with some reform of its function.
The other three departments are a hilarious shoe-horning of functions that in a Faustian pact of expediency one day may make sense.

We have a proposed Department of the Economy. Sounds like a good idea, but this department may be subject to global forces beyond its control, and experience negative growth while the triple dip recession has run out of Taramasolata.

We have the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development: which no doubt will be running up and down the A5 fighting legal battles, while revolt from farmers and the entire population west of the Bann threatens the environment with a surplus of banners and placards.

We then have indecision. For the committee suggested a Department for Urban and Social Development or a new Department of Communities/Communities and Social Welfare/Community, Housing and Local Government.

We don’t even know where to start with that bonfire of the vanities. Pistols at dawn between the Permanent Secretaries, loser gets one of those two monstrosities. MLAs will be seen fleeing from the Stormont Estate lest they end up on the committee scrutinising that lot…

One way or another it seems that the current 12 departments will be down to seven. It is now only a matter of time. There will be viability studies, consultations, reports as officials are “seen to be doing something” and the two larger parties attempt to cut a deal.