There have been a number of estimates bandied around in respect of the likely cost of final elements of the Reform of Public Administration, specifically the reduction from twenty-six to eleven local councils. Whatever the current number (and it is in the £millions), it is being politically justified by projected ‘savings’ brought about by a smaller number of Councils and ‘efficiencies’.
Of course it is far too early to comment on whether the proposed savings will outweigh the cost of implementing this significant change in local government. While most of this discussion is in committees and considered by the powers that be, the first indication to the public that ‘costs’ might not actually be managed all that well has come in the shape of the information leaflet through the doors of residents who will soon be within the boundaries of the new Lisburn/Castlereagh amalgamation.
In fact it has not been ‘the’ information leaflet, but in fact six of the same information leaflet (above). All of these, all the same, three on Monday and a further three on Wednesday, dropped onto the doormat of the same ‘The Occupier’ who is a Lisburn/Castlereagh resident. Neighbours have similarly received the same number of poly-sealed leaflets. Indeed, on asking the postman, it seems that an additional postman has been drafted in to assist the regular postman due to the volume of additional mail!
Keeping in touch with the electorate, or general public, is one thing, but this seems both a wasteful and expensive means of ‘reinforcing’ the message.
If this is an early indication of the ‘Road to Reform’ it will be both a costly one, and a massively inefficient use of resources. This is a small indication: though as they say; “mind the pennies…” and perhaps the £millions will look after themselves.
For the record, the Lisburn and Castlereagh Councillors who are responsible for this zealous distribution of information are pictured below.
One way to analyse the 7th draft from the recent Haass talks would be to look the proposals one by one. This post, however, is a look at some principles that should be viewed as essential to any future proposals, or talks, by anyone with a care for fundamental human rights, and which must be satisfactorily addressed as the basis of any future conversation on any aspect of ‘Parades, Select Commemorations, and Related Protests; Flags and Emblems; and contending with the Past’.
There are three principal points for consideration:
- the Danger to Freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
- the Danger to the Administration of Justice;
- the Danger to the right to Freedom of peaceful assembly;
This is the basis of a presentation at the Royal Irish Academy, 27 February, at a roundtable hosted by Institute for British Irish Studies at University College Dublin on ‘Community Relations in Northern Ireland after the Flags Protest. Another summary of the presentations was posted on SluggerOToole.
This is the third part of a Trilogy of posts based on a submission to The Panel of Parties, more generally named ‘The Haass Talks’. The blog post has the added advantage of being able to link documents and expand on a point here or there by way of detailed explanation that wasn’t possible with a hasty and brief submission written almost upon the submission deadline. Was the submission made with an expectation that it would have any influence? No. It was made because there are things that needed said.
Thirdly, matters stemming from the past.
With no coherent sense of purpose in moving forward, our politicians seem to regard the past as safer ground: albeit without an agreed notion of how to define ‘the past’.
This is the second part of a Trilogy of posts based on a submission to The Panel of Parties, more generally named ‘The Haass Talks’. The blog post has the added advantage of being able to link documents and expand on a point here or there by way of detailed explanation that wasn’t possible with a hasty and brief submission written almost upon the submission deadline. Was the submission made with an expectation that it would have any influence? No. It was made because there are things that needed said.
Flags, symbols & emblems.
This is the first part of a trilogy of posts based on a submission to The Panel of Parties, more generally named ‘The Haass Talks’. The blog post has the added advantage of being able to link documents and expand on a point here or there by way of detailed explanation that wasn’t possible with a hasty and brief submission written almost upon the submission deadline. Was the submission made with an expectation that it would have any influence? No. It was made because there are things that needed said.
First, Parades & Protest.
While it is hard to imagine the idea of an Official Opposition in the Northern Ireland Assembly as an alternative Government in waiting, presently, the value of an alternative voice is essential to any functioning democracy. No doubt.
What currently counts as opposition, by smaller parties and even the most gifted of individuals, is too easily dismissed and ignored. For now, admiration for those who might be keeping the big boys on their toes seems unlikely to translate into a significant electoral gain anytime soon.
The Smithwick Tribunal has been rumbling along with occasional interest from the media. It will rumble on a while longer.
Interest has been particularly excited when those active in politics, police or security services have made broad statements relating to the context of the period. Unsurprisingly.
The challenge for the Ulster Unionist Party AGM is threefold:
- That there must be a leadership capable of uniting the Party;
- That there must be a leadership capable of regaining the confidence and trust of the Unionist community;
- That there must be a leadership capable of providing professional and effective management of Party resources.
The Northern Ireland Executive announced a Programme for Government 2012-2015, eventually, towards the end of 2011. Plenty to do. In fact, it reads as a massive ‘to do’ list.
The News Letter is attempting to stimulate debate around what legislation might be usefully presented at Stormont, with a series of articles entitled ‘Laws We Need’.
It was hard enough to achieve Conservative Party organisation in Northern Ireland in the first instance, back in the 1980s. Central office was hostile, and much of the Party leadership at best reluctant to become involved in the region. On the ground it might have seemed mad to set up Conservative branches in Northern Ireland at the end of 10 years of Thatcher Government and in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. There was also an Ulster Unionist Party which was dominant within the unionist electorate and, despite the recent history, remained on friendly terms with Conservatives generally at senior levels and in Parliament.
Despite the turmoil, naysayers, hostility and challenges, the determination of those early pioneers of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland gained Council seats and had a reasonable stab at the North Down Westminster seat.
Fast forward thirty years and we find a Central Office bending over backwards to be helpful, a Party leader (now Prime Minister) who visits, espouses unionism, and encourages the local Party to be local and relevant to Northern Ireland.
Some local Conservatives, however, think the Conservative brand is bad and that is why they ended with nothing, zip, nadda after three consecutive elections – don’t think they see Jim Nicholson as ‘one of us’ – though some might point to other reasons for the Northern Ireland Conservatives to gain electoral traction.
From a TED presentation, historian Niall Ferguson looks at ’6 killer Apps’ that gained ‘The West’ economic success to date. With economy to the fore of political debate (or fudge) at the moment, useful to look at some of the foundations of the West’s economic success. A useful hint too at the changes that are shifting the balance in favour of the ‘The East’; perhaps, perhaps not so much as statistics suggest. What does seem clear is that the basic tenets of ‘growth’ and ‘prosperity’ are more widespread than ever and the economic divergence between nations is narrowing, to greater or lesser extent.
The idea of the Big Society has certainly grabbed attention and excited a great deal of comment and debate; not always flattering though not exclusively negative.
It is hard to imagine where the idea of the Big Society might lead when the root of the idea is so unclear. Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome, while making every effort to be supportive, manages to only draw attention to the fluffy nature of the thinking around what is presented as David Cameron’s big idea.
There is the sense of things not being quite right when a speech on the subject is heralded in the press as the fourth ‘re-launch’. Once a product fails in the market, the product needs reinvention, not just the message.
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The Northern Ireland electorate heads towards the 5 May with little enthusiasm for the choice being presented, little interest in the institutions, and little understanding of what the Assembly has achieved over its past four years.
No doubt there will be general media attention in the run-up to the election on issues around the budget, perhaps, education, almost certainly, and health. Why bother? With all the main Parties at the Executive table, and assured a place if not the same seats following the election, the electorate has little alternative but to vote for the same old same old, or not at all.
The short video at the bottom of this post is about as neat, succinct and certain in defining classical liberalism as you will find anywhere. It builds on Dr Nigel Ashford’s short book Principles of a Free Society, commissioned by the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation which identifies the core elements to a Civic Society: Democracy; Equality; Free Enterprise; Freedom; Human Rights; Justice; Peace; Private Property; The Rule of Law; and Spontaneous Order.
In Northern Ireland there are many who loosely use the term ‘liberal’ to flatter themselves. Mostly, they haven’t a Liberal ideal or principle in their head. They use the term ‘liberal’ in the same way as they talk of ‘rights’: a vague sense of moral superiority wrapped in rhetorical cliché.
Motivation has been hard to find at the outset of 2011. It’s election year, again. To get started, a view on where matters stand politically in Northern Ireland generally.
The UK Government’s economic measures to tackle the country’s financial deficit will start to impact on all citizens in 2011. It will be a tough year ahead for everyone. The cost of living is rising, with households already noticing increased costs creeping through to the weekly shopping. Just as households need to keep their spending under control, the need for good and efficient government at all levels is essential. Northern Ireland is not an exception in this regard.
Commentators seemed to view the overwhelming victory of Tom Elliott in the Ulster Unionist Party leadership contest as the Party taking a ‘traditional’ and safe option, rather than the more media savvy and ‘liberal’ option of Basil McCrea. There is something about that analysis that seems too simple to thedissenter.
The posturing, positioning and indignant defiance over impending reduction in government expenditure is rife. But it is not just David Cameron who thinks Northern Ireland has a command economy that matches anything once boasted by the Soviet bloc.
In the rent-seeking economy of Northern Ireland, it is deemed politic to blame others for the withdrawal of funding across the economy. It is also an indictment of both the poverty of aspiration and lack of imagination among the political class.
The News Letter Union 2021 Series of articles through the summer has been an interesting read. It also provides thedissenter a useful way to address the second part of post-election review: Part 1 having looked at relative electoral strengths, historical and current.
Having looked at the News Letter’s list of questions thedissenter has reversed the order to start with consideration of what challenges 2011 might hold for Unionists. There is every indication that Sinn Fein is gearing up for another crisis and more talks within the next twelve months – chip, chip, chip. The big question is then ‘how prepared is Unionism for the road ahead to 2021 and beyond?’, including the challenge of starting to prepare for that journey now.
This is a slightly longer version than appears in the News Letter, free from the paper’s 600 word limit.
Don't worry about what is round the corner, just consider the light at the end of the tunnel.