When the podcast below was recorded it felt like groundhog day, another moment in a long series of stories on repeat.
Once again renewable energy had hit the headlines. This time, because the funding is covered outside the Stormont budget, the schemes don’t seem to have managed the level of public interest and general outrage that RHI attracted.
Also in the news are voices expressing concern about the NI Protocol on Northern Ireland business (particularly retail) and on the consumer. Oddly these same voices supported Theresa May’s backstop, which entailed many of the same pitfalls and could have been far more damaging arguably. The issue of the outworking of the Protocol will be a major point on the next podcast as the deadline date for end of transition looms in less than two months.
Finally, in the outworking of the NI Executive response to Covid, policy implementation neither seems fully ‘thought-through’, nor is there much substance beyond the immediate headline number and sounds of panic from the Health Department. How can messaging be clear? Consequences?
As we are now almost out of the four-week period of tighter restrictions, which will end on 13th November, the same underlying fault-lines in the way in which decisions are being made is apparent. The general sense is that decisions are not being made on any particular science.
It isn’t obvious that there are any significant data sets and evaluations eminating from the Department of Health that might be relied upon.
Looking at the daily published NISRA data there are significant gaps in understanding what they mean, and little by way of explanation from the Department that assists public confidence in the numbers. The one big area in which there is a complete lack of transparency, beyond the appalling headline number, is the incidents of Covid outbreaks in the country’s Care Homes – as of 9 November twice the level of the first wave earlier this year. That needs a blog post all of its own.
More on that later. For now, another groundhog day.
Episode 16 looks at the destructive effect of ambiguity on effective messaging around two major aspects of policy – Brexit and Covid19. Also available on principle podcast services for subscription/download – quick links at end of post.
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It is reasonable to presume that Brandon Lewis’s response to the ‘Urgent Question’ from Sir Bob Neill in the House of Commons was pre-prepared. It used a very specific phraseology, and an example of something done before was even on hand. It may not be a good example, but it was there and hardly an off-the-cuff recollection.
A planted question is a common means for governments to gain an opportunity to make a pre-prepared response. It is hard to believe this particular government would cue-up Sir Bob, viewed as an arch pro-EU lawyer, to ask a question on the EU. That the minister’s response was on hand does, however, raise a number of questions, not least “why”?
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Four topics in the latest episode of Political OD, in conversation with @3000Versts episode, with the common thread of messaging running through each topic.
First mixed messaging of Covid in NI. At the end of last week the morning Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster entertained the listeners with the message of doom from the Health Minister on an uptick in positive tests for Covid-19. Without downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic is the unchanged message imbuing a sense of panic from the Health Minister what we need while the Education Minster is trying to reassure parents of the safety of young people attending school? Especially when at the start of this week we have the more measured approach from the Health Department:
A health service source said peaks and troughs in the figures are “not unexpected” and demonstrate that Northern Ireland’s Test Trace Protect system is working efficiently.
Then there is the messaging on exam results which appears to have largely tripped up Education Ministers nationally and regionally. Perhaps more to do with a lack of political decision making in the mistaken believe that arms-length bodies somehow shift the blame of lack of political foresight onto bureaucrats? How did that work out?
Moving from matters of day to day Government we looked at the recent article by @3000Versts in the News Letter on what is needed to support a positive message for the Union. We discuss the three basic points he suggests as guidelines for thought and action going forward;
1. to strengthen the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And to maintain and consolidate Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
2. To ensure that Northern Ireland plays as full a role as possible in the social, political and economic life of the (British) nation.
3. To encourage positive relationships with our neighbours across the island of Ireland. And to make Northern Ireland a happy and prosperous home for people of all backgrounds.
That discussion is particularly important going into 2021 and consideration of events around the 100th Anniversary of Northern Ireland becoming a distinct part of the United Kingdom as the 26 Counties of the Free State descended into civil war and separation from the Union. A second article by @3000Versts in the News Letter is useful to read alongside the first.
Concluding the podcast is a discussion around the new publishing site Dissenting Voices which has launched with a look at the the current debate around ‘rewriting’ history, and whether that is actually a thing at all. Using the issue of Legacy in Northern Ireland the first paper on Dissenting Voices reviews the impact of recent history becoming what is described as a ‘Black Taxi tour’ of events, people and places; where mostly nationalist slogans have become received truth and accepted ‘narrative’ (story-telling) over and above established fact.
Bit longer than usual, big issues.
PS. A bit of “you heard it here first” with this mornings BBC report on infrastructure:
Just a reminder of the earlier post on thedissenter that points out the risk to economic development on a number of different issues awaiting political decisions…. and discussed on Political OD Episode 14 which is still available on download from Podbean, iTunes, Spotify etc.
A newly published paper takes a look at the issue of ‘rewriting history’, reformulating the past to present political agendas, and concludes that in respect of matters of Legacy in Northern Ireland this has resulted in a scandalous sanctioning of a narrative that ignores the entire purpose of which murder and bombing was a part, but not the whole story.
The paper suggests that the issue of the moment is not that ‘history’ is being ‘rewritten’. It is that the past (the recent past a nebulous idea of ‘memory’, the distant past a story of ‘oppression’) is being recruited to serve an agenda and historical thinking dismissed if it prevents one – and only one – moralising political whippet winning the race and becoming the undisputed champion.
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Yes to infrastructure, but foundations first before grand schemes…
In recent days the News Letter has picked up on a small piece of legislation being rushed through the Northern Ireland Assembly. The bit that has peaked interest is what seems a modest change that will have the effect of placing more power in the hands of Ministers to take action unilaterally, without reference to the Executive.
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World Technology Background.
In recent years I’ve been involved in business discussions around the technology and infrastructure of optical fibre – the foundation of broadband connection to homes and businesses across the country.
Too much of investment in fibre upgrade is piecemeal; an approach wholly inadequate towards making a step change that would transform the potential of a region such as Northern Ireland.
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The Government’s approach to legacy as outlined by Secretary of State, The Rt. Hon. Brandon Lewis on 18th March was a positive step in addressing legacy issues in Northern Ireland. The House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has posed a number of questions on the Government’s most recent proposals and has held a series of sessions to gather evidence, as well as accepting a number of written submissions.
The original Stormont House Agreement proposals on ‘legacy’ excluded any review of decades of terrorist destruction and consequent trauma, removing context and trying to write past conduct as if present reality.
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Time will tell whether Micheal Martin is a new approach to relationships with the UK generally and Unionism in particular. He’d struggle to be worse than the Leo & Simon show.
There is a long on detail short on substance Programme for Government that has been agreed between the three Coalition Partners in Dublin, but time will tell if that is the basis of stability or a huge fallout in due course. The Greens are the newbies, with it often forgotten that there has been a relationship between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail for the past few years with Fianna Fail providing Confidence & Supply to Leo’s Government.
We explore what the new Government might mean for relationships North/South and East/West, but posturing on the EU/UK negotiations on Brexit is over. Ireland is just one of 27 and it has most to lose.
Of course the three Party coalition means that Sinn Fein become the Official Opposition in Dublin. Perhaps ‘opposition’ is what it does best as it is making a total mess of its role a principal (mandatory) coalition partner in Belfast, particularly with its performance in Belfast this past week around the funeral of dead terrorist Bobby Storey.
It is not as if there aren’t big issues to address within Government. Stories this past week on the Charity Commission and LandWeb have echoes of RHI, and raises issues of whether the public sector is capable of reform or just not fit for purpose. Given the state of the relationships within the Parties at Stormont at this point in time, is there any interest or imagination to bring in the scale of reform that is clearly required.
This week MLAs voted to take charge of their own expense regime. What could possibly go wrong?
Discussing all of this with @3000Versts
It has taken months. A new Government for the Republic of Ireland has been agreed among three principal coalition partners, with a detailed Programme for Government (PfG – 126 pages).
Each of the three Parties required their respective memberships to endorse the PfG Coalition. The approval could be fairly described as emphatic – 74% Fianna Fail (FF), 76% Greens, and 80% Fine Gael (FG). That is a conclusive enough endorsement to suggest that the PfG and Government might well hold for a good part of what remains of the five-year term.
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