Friday, 1 March 2013

Eye on the Hill

Begorrah! It’s a Washington brouhaha!
 WELL for a moment last week we thought UUP leader Mike Nesbitt was taking a principled stand. Nope, not because he was forging ahead with closer links with the DUP. Instead he was pledging not to drown the Shamrock in Washington DC and staying at home.

At a meeting of the Committee for the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (try saying that after you’ve drowned the Shamrock!) Mr Nesbitt, in chairing the meeting, said that there was a plethora of places up for grabs on the annual junket to the US of A.

While we understand Mr Nesbitt’s objections (and the possible refusal of MLAs to go) we are concerned.

For a couple of days every year we can mark St Patrick’s Day by getting our MLAs out of Northern Ireland where they can do no more damage.

In fact what Mr Nesbitt regards as a waste of taxpayer’s money should be regarded as a welcome break for the taxpayer!

If all 108 of them were to agree to sod off to America for a week or so, on top of the dozens of week’s we give them off already we would have taxpayer’s reaching into their pockets to help fund the fares.

Then for another wee period the MLAs would not be bothering anyone except some Yanks who may give us investment if we take the MLAs back!

Tortuous logic? Sure, but hang with that idea – mark our words next year you’ll be wanting shot of them after another year of them troubling the airwaves…

It’s all Michael’s fault
SWANSEA City won their first ever cup trophy last weekend, guaranteeing them European football. And now manager Michael Laudrup seems intent upon the Welsh city gathering up everything else they can to increase the pool of local talent.

After all, what other reason could there be for the imminent decision to locate hundreds of driver and vehicle licensing jobs from Coleraine to Swansea?

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has made an impassioned plea to keep the jobs here in Northern Ireland, claiming that he has been given a pledge from Westminster to be consulted over any cuts.

Is this another attempt by Mr Attwood to take over the airwaves, after a week or so with headlines around golf courses and other sundry items?

It appears not, because we have had the DUP East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell, as well as Sinn Féin et al backing Mr Attwood in the drive to keep the jobs in Coleraine.

And whether there can really be savings made shifting the jobs to Wales remains open to debate, as several politicians pointed out that there is the opportunity to shift back office jobs to Coleraine to protect employment.

Which leads us to the conclusion that this really is a conspiracy by Swansea City to grab as many prizes as they can after their Capital One League Cup victory…

Into the void
IT has become something of a vogue these days to talk about opposition. What with Basil McCrea and John McAllister setting off to create their own wee club - sorry party – there are a burgeoning number of independents and sole operators crowding the benches at the back of the chamber.

And now, SDLP stalwart and former Agriculture Minister, Bríd Rodgers reckons her party should crowd in with this motley lot…

We hope she hasn’t told Alex Attwood that lest he fear losing another opportunity to get on the ministerial media merry-go-round.

And given the fact that there would also be consequences in terms of committee places and the loss of party infrastructure in terms of a special adviser and access to Executive papers, it would be a brave gamble.

At Westminster Her Majesty’s opposition is accorded certain benefits. Could similar ‘benefits’ be passed on to an opposition in Parliament Building, Stormont?

Just the four…or two
NEXT week there is a by-election in Mid-Ulster, which will give the pundits a chance to gauge the political temperature.

But while Eastleigh’s by-election on Thursday saw 14 candidates enter the fray, in Mid-Ulster there are only four vying for Martin McGuinness’ old seat.

And even then only two could make their way to the BBC to be interviewed…

One cited being busy canvassing (Agreed Unionist candidate, Nigel Lutton) and the other  (Sinn Féin candidate, Francie Molloy) he wasn’t playing either unless all four candidates were interviewed.

Which left the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone and Alliance’s Eric Bullick fervently hoping that a lot of voters from Mid-Ulster were tuning in.

It is, however, a by-election which political anoraks will be watching closely (okay we confess, we watch them all closely!).

Should the agreed unionist candidate win, it will be vindication for UUP leader Mike Nesbitt whose decision to back a unionist unity candidate resulted in two of his MLAs, John McCallister and Basil McCrea, quitting the party.  Should the agreed unionist candidate fail to gain more than 30% of the vote, Nesbitt will be deep trouble and the ‘John and Basil Party’ (we’re struggling to help them name their party!) will feel they were right to jump from the UUP ship.

If Francie Molloy should hold the seat, which is highly likely, and increase his party’s share of the nationalist vote in Mid Ulster, it could prompt much internal debate within the SDLP about tactics within the party, and murmurings about the leadership direction.

For Alliance the key will be to equal the share of the vote last time, after so much vitriol being poured their way from various quarters – although whether that translates outside of Belfast remains to be seen.

Juggling the money
EDUCATION Minister, John O’Dowd seems to have become very adept at juggling the money.
Just a few short weeks ago he was able to announce a windfall for new schools, and this week he is raiding the teacher redundancy fund to help cash strapped schools and youth service.

This financial roundabout is, of course, necessary as we have in Norn Iron a bloated school estate, thanks to the multiple types of schools – small rural hole in the hedge schools, Catholic maintained schools, (Protestant) controlled schools, grammar schools, integrated schools etc.

Of course we’re not supposed to call them Protestant or Catholic schools, we have euphemisms for them, but look at the statistics and one type has mainly Protestants and the other type  has mainly Catholics.

And when a rural school is threatened with closure as it has only 30 pupils in P1-P7 and one of them is the school cat, then MLA’s will rise up in indignation, in the same way they do when their expenses cheques are late.

Of course, having a single system, of schooling would solve all that, but don’t be holding your breath. After all he still has to get the Education Bill through the chamber and that’s only about integrating the education boards into one, rather than schooling.

Mr Hay, you have our sympathy
WE have had an office whip round and we’re going to send Assembly Speaker, William Hay a packet of throat lozenges.

The reason? Mr Hay presided over the doomed debate over whether to set up a committee about flegs, speakin’ pictures and badges (flags, language, emblems and symbols for non-Norn Irish speakers).

Rarely has a speaker had to ask for order so many times without telling them all to sit down and shut up. Rarely has a speaker had to remind members not to debate across the floor.

And as to a member speaking for a minute without an intervention – there was little chance of that.

Which really goes to show that on the opposing sides of the house there is still a refusal to emerge from the trenches of the past.

We all already knew that – but it is nice to have your theories confirmed by hard evidence.

Given that MLAs can happily work together on most issues, whether they agree or not, we have to ask why they get so roused about flegs and that type of ‘thing’?

Or we could just flood the chamber with tranquiliser gas everytime they threaten to have one of these debates….