Friday, 24 May 2013


A sense of perspective...

THE esteemed technologist and author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams, once wrote that the cruelest thing that you could do to any person was to give them a sense of perspective as to their place in the universe.
Which is probably why it makes sense that all our political representatives in Northern Ireland must remain insular, lest they be driven even more crazy than usual by seeing just how small we are, here on the outer fringes of Western Europe?

In a week that has seen a devastating tornado rip through Oklahoma, race riots in Sweden, car bombings in Iraq and horror on the streets of Woolwich our MLAs have been on the radio in their usual round of bickering.

Yes, we know there are problems with the economy, and that the Shared Future proposals are causing their fare share of division, and we know that the parading and flags issue needs sorted: but we also know that sometimes we are a little inward-looking.

Which is why, despite the detractors, it is good to see members of our Executive jetting round the world plugging NI plc.

But more importantly, a midst the maelstrom of world events Northern Ireland is generally known for two things – the Troubles and the Titanic. Both of which cost a lot of lives in the end....
However, now that we are becoming known amongst the Hollywood set for Game of Thrones and as Gillian Anderson’s favourite filming destination, news emerged that the latest iteration of Dracula is to be filmed here.

Whether it will make up for the job losses in the Britvic factory where part of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror- romance is to be filmed, remains to be seen, but shared future or not one thing remains constant – the public’s perception remains that our folks on the hill do nowt but row.

Hopefully that perception will change but until then we can hope they never, ever get a sense of perspective of their place on this wee ball spinning in the emptiness of the universe...

Education fail from everyone

IF Education Minister John O’Dowd was to read an end of term report on education developments in Northern Ireland he would have to face a report that saw that the entire system scrapping a ‘pass’ with the teacher comments reading: ‘could do better’.

As end of term approaches and the vexed subject of transfer to post-primary education is still unresolved (‘E’ grade) and the area plans still to be finalised (‘C’ grade), there remains much to be done to improve the overall standard of education.

While the Executive’s decision to give unemployed teachers two-year contracts to target literacy and numeracy (‘B+’ grade) is a step forward and shared education campuses a step in the right direction (B-), the continuing confusion over what Shared Education means has blighted much of the good work (‘C-‘ grade).

However, the end of term examinations have proved more difficult than the modular with English as Education Secretary Michael Gove is determined to part company with Norn Iron and Wales and create a separate examination system for England. While Mr O’Dowd stands by his coursework, Mr Gove says only end of year examinations count for GCSE and A levels, even hinting that Northern Ireland and Wales shouldn’t call them GCSEs anymore.

Despite Minister O’Dowd’s protestations (‘C+ grade) there remains little he can do.
On a more positive note, the Minister has taken positive steps to address the mess over computer tests in primary schools (‘B’ grade) by making sure that the tests are no longer mandatory and helping some schools through a piloting of the system.

So, as we sit down to review education, we can see many problems must be addressed in the coming term, but with a little more effort, children starting primary school in September might see a better education system overall before they go to university...

Googling tax issues

IT has long been a bone of contention that Northern Ireland’s tax affairs have not been devolved in a meaningful way, apart from long-haul air passenger duty.

Sinn FĂ©in want more powers to deal with tax independent from Whitehall mandarins and the DUP have placed all their apples in the corporation tax basket.

But when one looks at the confusion and moral shrieking about the tax affairs of Google, Apple, Amazon et al there is an opportunity here of Machiavellian proportions.

On this anniversary of the Italian political philosopher (who asserted that the ends do indeed justify the means) Norn Iron has a massive opportunity.

On one hand we can say to the Treasury that you can cut the Block Grant by a few billion and on the other hand come up with neat tax scheme to entice the global giants to re-locate for tax proposes to Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and any other Norn Iron town they care to think of.

As well as tax breaks, we can offer excellent golf opportunities despite objections from UNESCO and we can promise annual rioting as a summer diversion.

That combined with interminable appearances before Assembly committees and having the BBC’s Stephen Nolan on tap is sure to entice them. Isn’t it?