Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Off to Sunny Crete

Goodbye Belfast - am off for about 10 days to the sunny isle of Crete. So may not be able to blog as regularly. Back soon. T

Friday, 22 May 2009

Mississippi Burns No More

I am sure many of you have watched the film Mississippi Burning which tells the story of three civil rights workers who are murdered in a town called Philadelphia in 1964. It is a powerful movie only spoiled when in the credits at the end read 'these are fictional characters and ...' like it does in science fiction movies. This unfortunately diminishes the power of the movie.

Well there has been a massive change in the town of Philadelphia which has a population of 8,000 55% of whom are white. The town has a black mayor - James Young. Below is a link from CNN

All Change on the way

Political parties here are now falling over themselves to drop double jobbing. Basically you are either an MLA or an MP you cant be both. In the past we have had politicians who have had two or three jobs ranging from MLA, Minister, MP, MEP, Party Leader, Committee Chair and Councillor all at the same time.

Never mind the salary and expenses issue - how can a single man or woman effectively do any combination of these jobs and not miss something - One person one job. I suppose the public never seemed to mind in the past because the same people kept getting voted in.

The ending of double and triple jobbing could bring a new and fresh approach to politics in Northern Ireland. New, younger and more dynamic people across the parties may now be given a chance to lead in the Assembly and Westminster.

Last night the DUP stated that double jobbing would cease - so this could mean change for Sammy Wilson, Gregory Campbell, David Simpson, Iris Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Jeffrey Donaldson, Dr Ian Paisley, William McCrea jury is out on how it might affect First Minister Robinson.

I suppose the book is now open as to who will get what. Changes will be likely to take affect in September. Any thoughts on who should get what let me know.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Cameron Direct in Ballymena

Conservative Party leader David Cameron visited Ballymena today as part of his Cameron Direct series of engagements. He also came to help campaign for Jim Nicholson in the Euro eletions.

From the minute he walked in the pace was fast, energetic and his delivery was to the point and did not duck any issues that were brought up. It was refreshing to see a political leader stand before the people and take questions without any fore warning. The questions ranged from European elections, Lady Sylvia Hermon, Health, Education, expenses, victims and the passing of his son Ivan.

On Sinn Fein he stated that MPs should not receive exspenses unless they took their seats at Westminster. He stated that he was happy that Sinn Fein had changed and become part of the government in Nrthern Ireland. Cameron said that he sometimes found this hard to take as the IRA had murdered his friend Ian Gow MP when he was a researcher in Westminster.

Alot of his talk focused on bringing Northern Ireland into mainstream UK politics. In his remarks on victims he recgnised the pain that they had gone through but felt encouraged by those who could see a better future for Northern Ireland beyond their pain.

Health and education were he stated devolved issues in Northern Ireland and he was happy that they were. On education he stated that he could not see why changes to the system (11+) were needed and he supported grammar schools stating that pupils here were 10% more succesful than in his own constituency. On health he said that there should be a national debate on the issue to focus spending priorities.

On the economy he said that the last budget was wrong from start to finish and that the Prime Minister was tired and out of touch.

Cameron said that the recent expenses scandal would have come to public attention in July when the figures were supposed to be published. He has instigated a root and branch examination of his party colleagues expenses through a new scrutiny panel. Anyone who did not co-operate with the panel would have the Whip removed and no longer be a Conservative MP.

Then he was off to further engagements. Overall the 60minutes were an interesting insight into the mind of the man most likely to be the next Prime Minister. It would be interesting to see if Prime Minister Brown would engage in similar activity in Northern Ireland.

A Day of Shame

Yesterday has to have been one of the worst days to be Irish and Catholic. I have not read Justice Ryan report and in a sense do not wish to. Seeing and reading the headlines is enough to make any normal person feel both sad and angry.

My father and uncle went to Christian Brothers school and shuddered at the memories of physical punishment inflicted on them - sticks - straps with studs....I thought this was exaggeration. They were not angels I am sure but did they deserve this? I think not.

It should be recognised that thousands of children went to Catholic schools and had a good education and were not abused in anyway. Therefore, I hope that not all priests and religious orders are tarred with this scandal. The vast majority provide excellent and much needed services to children and people in need across society on both parts of this island.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has a massive job to do to recover a position of trust in society. Saying sorry is not good enough. Hiding behind legal rulings is not good enough. Hiding files, moving clergy, covering it up is not good enough. We have just seen the Speaker of the House of Commons resign over the expenses scandal. Church leaders need to do likewise. Catholics speak about penance. Any priest or religious order found to have carried out these devastating crimes needs to be named and if possible brought to court.

The victims should not have to go through any further trauma over the abuse of trust, responsibility and or the physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of people that we were always taught to view with respect.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cowen investment in NI Roads under threat?

In 2007 Taoiseach Brian Cowen offered the Northern Ireland Executive €400m to upgrade roads to Larne and between Aughnacloy and Derry. This was confirmed again by Minister for Transport Dempsey in January 2009 and the Taoiseach in remarks to the CBI in March 2009.

We are now in a very different economic and political situation on this island. The news and trust in banks seems to take a hit on a weekly basis and Fianna Fail are at their lowest popularity rating ahead of the European elections.

Given that some commitments, such as finance for the Autism Centre of Excellence in Armagh have been dropped it is possible that the €400m may be under threat.

Selecting a new Speaker

This has been cobbled together from various sites. Essentially, Mr Martin will step down as Speaker on June 21st and an election of a new Speaker will be held the following day. This will be a secret ballot of MPs and the successful candidate must secure over 50% of the votes. Any candidate will require to be proposed by 12 MPs.

So who is next? Vince Cable (Lib Dem) - popular public choice and as such could bring back their trust quicker than others. Frank Field (Lab)the former Minister for Welfare. Sir George Young (Con)who is Chair of the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee. Sir Alan Hazelhurst (Con)who is the most senior Deputy Speaker but who may be tainted by the recent expenses scandal. Sir Menzies Campbell (Lib Dem) who was leader of the Liberal Democrats and is well liked.

A range of others who media speculation has fallen on include: John Bercow (Con), Richard Taylor (Ind) and Sylvia Heal (Lab).

Even Joanna Lumley is in at 1000 - 1 and who would be so churlish as to say no to Purdy.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

MLAs and Departments

Given the recent revelations about the expenses of MPs in the Daily Telegraph the Assembly debate on Monday (18 May) on the restructuring of the Execeutive and Assembly seemed to fit in nicely.

All of the parties appeared to agree that 108 was too high a number of MLAs for 1.8m people. The motion laid by UUP MLA David Mc Narry called on the Office of First and Deputy First Minister to report progress on the setting up of an Efficiency Review Panel and to provide a report to the Assembly on the number of MLAs and Departments by November. The DUP through Simon Hamilton and Jonathan ...I mean Alasdair Ross 'welcomed' them on board.

The SDLP stated that they felt the matter could be handled by the Assembly and Committee rather than the Office of First and Deputy First Minister and did not want reform to stop with MLAs and Departments. They felt that Committees should have greater powers of scrutiny and for example wanted a budget or a ways-and means committee to examine the budget.

Sinn Fein felt that no one had been brave enough on reform when decisions were being taken under the Review of Public Administration in relation to local councils. Sinn Fein wanted 7 eventually 11 was settled on.

The Alliance Party also stated that the numbers needed reformed in order to save money.

There will however be some issues to iron out with reduced MLAs and Departments.

- Are political parties grown up enough yet to face the possibility that they might not have a Minister?
- Less MLAs naturally means a heavier workload for whatever number of MLAs are left
- This will automatically mean that expenses and staff for the MLAs will be greater, although that should balance out
- What of the impact of the new Justice and Policing Department when that arrives?

In relation to recent scandals it shows that hard working politicians who serve their constituents need to claim higher expenses. If they are visibly trying to make the lives of their constituents better rather than having petty and ancient fights then the public will allow that.

Perhaps reductions and streamlining could instill public confidence in the system and encourage a mature development of our political system.

Mr Speaker - You're Fired! Update

The Speaker has announced his intention to resign on Sunday 21st June and the election of a new Speaker will take place on Monday 22nd June. The statement took approximately 35 seconds.

Mr Speaker - You're Fired!

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, is to announce that he will step down. He will make an announcement on his future at 2.30pm today.

He has been heavily criticised over the expenses scandal revealed in the Daily Telegraph recently.

It is right that he stands down but should he be on his own? MPs are rushing to pay back expenses that they should never have been paid. But what is their penalty/punishment? Should they be allowed to stand at the next election? Should they pay a fine?

It is time that the words 'public servant' meant something especially the word 'servant'.

Who will replace Mr Speaker? It will need to be a strong leader that has the will to defend the public against abuses of the system and restore confidence oin politics. He must also have the power and wit to clearly define the rules on expenses. Officials who let politicians claim excess must be fired. It will be interesting to find a strong politician who is not affected by the recent scandal.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

NICE in Belfast

No I am not referring to the weather unfortunately

Every two months the NICE (Board holds its meeting in a different venue; moving from region to region to ensure that all those interested can come along to hear about the latest developments at NICE and question the Board about policy.

A question time session is also held before the main Board meeting. This session offers a great opportunity for you to raise any questions you have about the work of NICE and is open to the general public.

NICE Question Time will take place on Wednesday 20 May 2009:

12.30pm – 1.45pm

Followed by the NICE Public Board Meeting:

2.00pm – 4.OO pm

Venue: Belfast City Hospital
51 Lisburn Road

For more info and to book a place. Log on to


Skills and the Recession

There is an interesting piece of analysis from Laurence Downey the NI Manager for the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils in the Belfast Telegraph today.

This recession with its global perspective is like no other. The labour market in Northern Ireland is facing significant challenges. Many jobs no longer feel as secure as before and for those individuals who are made redundant the prospects of finding a new job appear increasingly difficult. Our young people currently completing their education and training will be entering a depressed job market with limited employment opportunities.

In his recent budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer forecast a return to economic growth in a year’s time. Many commentators and political opponents consider this expectation as being too optimistic and think it will take more like two years to see our economy returning to stable and sustained growth. We can be sure that the current downturn will make it a tough time for business both large and small for some time to come.

Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) have a vital role to play in supporting economic recovery and growth. They provide employers with a unique forum to express the skills and productivity needs that are pertinent to their sector. As independent employer-led organisations each SSC is responsible for tackling the skills and productivity needs of a specific economic sector across the UK. Sector Skills Councils represent 90% of the UK workforce from construction to hospitality, engineering to health, and many more.

In Northern Ireland, Sector Skills Councils are providing robust sector specific Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) working in consultation with employers. This detailed LMI is being used by SSCs to continuously influence Government skills policy, strategy and funding and to ensure the wide range of organisations providing education and training are meeting the needs of employers.

What can be done now to prepare the economy for future recovery and growth? It is not sufficient to only address unemployment. New jobs are emerging in a variety of identifiable areas; green technologies, low carbon, sustainable design, the digital and creative industries and a manufacturing sector that is rebalancing. Investment must also be focused on indigenous training that leads to higher level skills, reintegrates the workless back into sustainable employment and specifically attacks underlying skills gaps and shortages more so than ever.

Government led approaches continue to struggle to support existing businesses and individuals impacted by the downturn. Redundancies at F G Wilson, Bombardier, Wrightbus and Visteon, are just some examples of recent blows to Northern Ireland’s economy, particularly our manufacturing base. Northern Ireland cannot afford to fall behind now. The pain that our economy and our people are going through at present is hopefully temporary. It is up to all elements in our economy - government, employers, trade unions, education & training providers and sector skills councils - to work collaboratively to prepare for recovery, no matter how long it takes, so that we can be in a strong position to exploit the new opportunities that will inevitably emerge as we come out of recession.

For employers and employees in Northern Ireland the provision of education and training is changing, and striving to become far more responsive to the needs of the wider economy. Sector Skills Councils are at the heart of this demand-led approach with responsibility for National Occupational Standards (the building blocks for vocational qualifications) and apprenticeship frameworks within the Department for Employment and Learning’s flagship ApprenticeshipsNI programme. Increasingly, their LMI is being utilised to underpin up-to-date careers information, advice and guidance. SSCs are influencing and supporting policy and programmes in relation to employability skills and management & leadership. A major and much needed development is new policy and funding directed towards up-skilling and re-skilling initiatives for existing employees.

Our Assembly admittedly has limited powers and an even more limited budget. However, bold action is needed now to do what we can to protect our economy and invest in our future. The Programme for Government has as its central aim the creation of a dynamic innovative economy. In order to achieve this, the Executive will have to help create business confidence and that is done through investing in skills that will enable business to grow and lead in the future. A strong sect oral approach led by the Sector Skills Councils is absolutely vital to protect skills and jobs and prepare Northern Ireland for recovery.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Niall Stanage Obama Lecture

Just in case anyone missed it.


Just copy this into address bar. It is in two audio parts.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Warning shot from the US

President Obama delivered on another campaign promise this week that of protecting US businesses and of protecting jobs at home. I was privileged enough to be working on the campaign in Ohio when the then Senator said that he would stop tax breaks for business taking jobs overseas

"When it comes to jobs, the choice in this election is not between putting up a wall around America or allowing every job to disappear overseas. The truth is, we won't be able to bring back every job that we've lost, but that doesn't mean we should follow John McCain's plan to keep giving tax breaks to corporations that send American jobs overseas. I will end those breaks as President, and I will give American businesses a $3,000 tax credit for every job they create right here in the United States of America."

The big fear has been that the President would remove tax breaks in total from US companies setting up outside the USA. In the end his policy removes tax breaks on expenses and targets tax havens. So much or the good news.

"Nearly one-third of all foreign profits reported by U.S. corporations in 2003 came from just three small, low-tax countries: Bermuda, the Netherlands, and Ireland"

So Ireland is on the agenda! As a potential target of future US taxation policy I am not sure Ireland wants this kind of attention. Given the special importance of the all-island economy, in the present economic difficulties, dont think for a moment that Northern Ireland will not be affected. Watch this space!

Heaney and Ervine

I only met David Ervine a few times but like most people I found him to be good humoured, intelligent and above all one of the few straight talking sensible politicians in the Assembly. In times of difficulty he will always be missed.

"Education, according to the poet Robert Frost, changes the plane of regard - and David Ervine would have agreed.

"He was an exemplary man of our place and our peace, somebody who believed that where there was a right word there was a right way, and acted accordingly."