Tuesday, 16 February 2010

What has the Assembly Ever Done For Us?

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson began the debate on the Budget yesterday. This is likely to be the toughest ever budget in NI with significant cuts to most departments but most publicly the Health Department. So perhaps to get his response in early he outlined what he thought the Assembly had succeeded in doing in the last 12 months

"Since last April:
· 14 major school building projects have been completed – with a further two projects likely to complete soon;
· Funding of almost £203million was made available to our two universities to cover teaching, learning and research;
· A new technology and skills centre opened at the South West College and new facilities are under construction at the Belfast Metropolitan College.
· In the Health Service, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service took receipt of 66 new ambulances;
· Construction work has begun on the new South West Hospital in Enniskillen and new Health and Wellbeing Centres in West Belfast;
· A new Dementia Services Development Centre and the Knockbreda Health and Care Centre has opened in Belfast whilst the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick opened in May;
· A £17million contract has been awarded to provide additional dentists in access 'hotspots' across Northern Ireland.
· 1,268 farm businesses have received letters of offer in relation to the first tranche of the Farm Modernisation Programme, whilst farmers have benefitted through funding of £300million under the Common Agricultural Policy;
· £2.1billion pounds of social security benefits and income support was made available to support people across Northern Ireland;
· 1,750 social and over 500 affordable houses were built, leaving us on track to deliver 10,000 social and affordable homes by 2013 and, in so doing, helping us support the construction industry during challenging times."

Monday, 8 February 2010

Policing and Justice.....

Last week was a long week and I am reasonably sure that most people have heard enough on Policing and Justice to last them a long time. Bad news I am afraid - politics in Northern Ireland is likely to be dominated by this issue for several months to come.

Today,nominations are being accepted from people who wish to put themselves forward for the post of Justice Minister. Note this is not explicitly restricted to political parties so anyone from Stephen Nolan to yours truly could give it a go!

SF and DUP have stated that they will not take the position. For some strange reason the two big partiers have decided not to run the d'hondt sysyetm by which Ministers are chosen and have pretty much opted for an Alliance Party Minister. This is open to challenge and I am sure that the new SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie will see this as the first test of her leadership.

The Alliance Party leader David Ford is even rumoured to be not happy at the prospect unless more is done to advance a shared future in Northern Ireland. I am all for advancing a shared future but teh Alliance Party do not have a sufficient mandate to hold a ministerial office. I like many others have a few questions

1. Why is d'hondt not being run? If it were the SDLP would be in line for the post.

2. Why have the two main parties abdicated their desire to hold the post. Could it be because the holder of that office could never do a really good job no matter how they were supported?

3. If we cant find an agreed nominee are we back to square one or will we run d'hondt which has been good enough for all the other ministers to date?

These answers will come slowly and painfully over the coming weeks and months. It aint over yet folks and the fat lady is likely to be a lot thinner by the time it does.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Today is the Day!

Today is the Day. A week ago the blog was a bit depressing and a great lack of hope. Today that is turned around as many in politics and the media are preparing for an announcement that will allow policing and justice to be devolved to the NI Assembly.

Whilst the details of any deal will have to be examined and must include the settlement of issues from all political persuasions. It should be noted that only 62.3% of people in Northern Ireland turned out to vote at the last Assembly elections in 2007. This leaves 37.7% of people who are not represented by any parties.

If politics is seen to work today then perhaps some of those who did not vote in 2007 might become interested in politics as a medium for solving peoples prblems. Failure today will have the opposite affect.

Failure is also not an option for our economy. US Economic Envoy Declan Kelly spoke last week of the once in a lifetime economic opportunity for Northern Ireland that could be missed if parties dont agree. Since then 310 jobs have been lost.

Politicians are arguing over community confidence yes the confidence is important but not doing the deal now will mean that ordinary people will loose faith in our politicians ability to serve and deliver for people. If that happens so what if we have direct rule - if it works better than the present lot then...why not?!