Local Government in Northern Ireland is in essence little more than selecting people to ‘manage’ bin collections, burying the dead, providing leisure facilities, issuing fines for dog fouling and litter, and planning; maybe some other bits and pieces, but few notice or care. No surprise that reporting by the local media rarely focuses on local government performance. Instead it continues on report crudely through in the prism of constitutional division and sectarian headcount.
The recent May election was no different.
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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.
Recent days has seen analysis of the recent Local Elections in Northern Ireland almost exclusively in outlined in terms of percentages. Statistical summaries. These focused on percentage shares of the vote, and the number of seats gained/lost by the parties.
The general view is that this was an election where the centre ‘broke through’. This was the ‘Other’ face of Northern Ireland politics.
Looking at the numbers and that isn’t quite the whole story. Read more… »
Enough of Brexit. Avoid thinking about the UK participating in European Elections towards the end of May – might or might not happen.
What do we know with certainty? Only thing we know for certain in UK politics at this moment is that there will be Local Elections, to be held on 2 May, for 270 local councils and six directly elected Mayors in England, and the 11 local councils in Northern Ireland.
It is highly likely national politics will dominate commentary on the local elections in England, particularly on the results and what they will be believed to mean (in the Brexit context, no doubt). Read more… »
Over the summer months, while things were/weren’t intense/deadlocked up on Stormont Hill, the News Letter published a series of letters and responses that provided an interesting distraction from an otherwise dull news agenda.
A little patience is required to run through the correspondence the series of letters between UUP and Alliance Party Councillors and MLAs; the subject matter ranging from bonfires to blitz, and of course an Irish language Act. What is interesting is the nature of the Alliance proposition across the points raised.
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With the new larger Local Councils up and running there have been a number of stories in the local news about the cost of rebranding – new logos or, in this recent case, a new coat of arms.
There are many arguments for spending on rebranding to create an identity for a new body where it is about bringing a community together, good and bad. Very often this revolves around the final visual identity, the logo, and whether it is considered good or bad design.
Whatever the cost of the process this is voted on by Councillors and agreed by Councillors. So to not be prepared to reveal the cost where the spending was “unanimously supported by all parties at Monday night’s Council meeting” seems a little odd and overly-secretive.
If Councillors they are prepared to defend the project on which the money was spent, Councillors should be equally prepared to reveal how much is cost. After all it is the local rate-payer, the taxpayer, who is funding the ceremonial trappings of Council. It is the taxpayer to whom the Councillors are accountable.
The Government is currently looking at Freedom of Information requests, and their cost. Here is a very small example where a Council is not being open, not being accountable. In the total budget it may not be a big item, but it tends to a reluctance of elected representatives to be very forthcoming about how much of our money they are spending and allowing the taxpayer, and voter, to make up their own mind on what is value for money and what is not.
The Government should not be looking at the cost of Freedom of Information requests, instead it should be working harder on more open and accountable government at all levels that reduce the need for FOI requests in the first instance.