Monday, 31 January 2011

Are Ed Balls & others really deficit deniers?

There is a common theme amongst right wing bloggers and commentators to refer to anyone who resists cuts as a deficit denier and their favourite target for this tag is Ed Balls. Unless I'm missing some hidden meaning, to be a deficit denier is surely to deny a deficit exists. Now, this would be a pretty odd thing to do considering that there is unquestionably a deficit and this is what the right wing types are looking to do. They want to paint Ed Balls as completely out of touch with reality. In actuality, Ed Balls does not deny there is a deficit; quite the opposite, he acknowledges it frequently. He just thinks that there is a better way to reduce it than the way that most right wing folk are advocating.

Unfortunately, those who believe that wholesale massive cuts in public spending is the way forward have done a very good job of convincing a great many people that it is the only way to reduce the deficit. It has to be said however, that the people they have done the best job of convincing is themselves. There is absolutely no arguing to be had with them. For them, every protest about any cut is deluded socialist thinking. They do not engage with  the people who just want to try and find a better solution. If the coalition announces a cut, it is wholeheartedly supported, no questions asked. If anyone wants to criticise the decision it isn't long before they get a response along the lines of  "Labour created this mess and now the Tories are going to fix it". Brilliant.

It should be pointed out that there is a growing movement on the left who are just as fanatical in their belief that all Tories are evil millionaires, determined to smash the little people back into their places. They too, have been successful in convincing a great man people to join their band of brothers and fight the coalition every step of the way. Now, whilst such engagement is to be admired, they would do well to pick their battles and frame their arguments a little better. A significant portion of the population are Tories and don't appreciate being labelled as scum.

For me, I think the deficit is something that is so serious that such polarisation in views is only damaging our chances of a stable recovery. There are some things where strongly opposing views are required, add to the debate and produce significant legislation. I don't think this is one of them. I think this is the type of problem that requires a moderate touch. We want to bring about a managed reduction in our deficit, yes but we also need to provide the right platform for growth. If you rely on your car for work, selling it, whilst reducing your debt in the short term, will be catastrophic for your long term prospects. However, downgrading your car could still reduce your debt whilst keeping your job secure. Government needs the same sort of thinking.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Bigotry alive and well in some.

When Stephen Nolan introduced a caller onto the air this morning, he must have been punching the air with delight a couple of minutes later. He had managed to find a pure, unadulterated Irish Republican who was not prepared to cede any ground in her war against the British. Death and destruction were acceptable in the struggle to overthrow the British and have them banished from the North. Kids may die, but sure, she had suffered loss too, so why shouldn't others? Those who assisted the PSNI in any way were either turncoat Irish people (Judas, in her words) or Brits themselves. This was her land and the land of the Irish and those who didn't agree could go home.

Of course, they can't really GO home because they ARE home. This is their home as much as it is hers. With her complete and utter failure to comprehend that fact, for it is indeed fact, she encapsulates just why her kind of thinking is always doomed to failure. You can, if determined enough, repel invaders, no matter how big or well resourced. What you can't do is convince half of the population to leave their home no matter what tactics are employed.

The only good point to take from the caller this morning was that she sounded elderly so one can only hope that her views are not long for this world.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

There is no defence for Keys & Gray

Ever since the story broke about Richard Keys and Andy Gray making sexist comments about a female official whilst they believed their microphones were off, there has been no shortage of people calling for them to be sacked. There has also been no shortage of people prepared to call in to Radio shows or post on internet forums that a big fuss has been made over nothing. I take issue with the logic involved in being in the latter camp.

First of all, there are some easy questions to answer: 1. Were the comments made sexist? 2. Is sexism acceptable? The answer to the first is clearly Yes; they called into question Sian Massey's ability to perform a role based entirely on her sex. The answer to the second question is, for me, at least, No. I say for me at least, because for some it obviously is. Fortunately, the law also happens to be.

With the above in mind, the only real avenue that can be explored for their defence is that their comments were made privately, as far as they were aware. They did not intend for their opinions to be broadcast and were unaware they were being recorded. It seems like a reasonable course of defence at first but really, it's nonsense. If I were to steal your wallet and not get caught, it would still be theft and were I unlucky enough to be caught I would need to be punished. The issue of whether or not I intended to get caught is irrelevant. The same rule applies here. Yes, they were unlucky to get caught but now that they have been, they need to be punished. A suspension seems pretty weak in my eyes. Sky need to be brave enough to make a stand and make real examples of both.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Israel could learn a lesson from Northern Ireland.

Israel is a powerful state and with the USA firmly behind them can, if they wish, continue to live as they are for as long as they like. Yes, there is always a significant threat from attack and there is substantial security in their everyday lives. For most Israelis though, it is a price they gladly pay. For Palestinians, however, they live under consistent dominance from those who mistrust them and as such, will continue to fight for as long as they can. Both sides are determined. While these attitudes prevail, progress can never be made and so, for a real and lasting peace, the attitude must change.

The problem is that in Israel, as previously in Northern Ireland, moral absolutes and history rule the day. For Israel, Palestinians are terrorists, for Palestinians, Israel are oppressors. Both are true and both are false. In truth, it is far too complex to define it so simply. The multitude of books, research and discussions that have been read, carried out and held on the subject are evidence of this. When talks begin with the noble aim of finding a compromise, they invariably descend into a competition to see who has committed the worse crimes.

Northern Ireland eventually came to peace because a few politicians were brave enough to stand up to their own communities and treat the other side as equals, forgetting (for the sake of negotiations) the horror of the past and each sides complicity in that horror. They started the task of conciliation with no moral absolutes and found that if you could treat the man across from you as a valid representative of a community that wishes peace and prosperity and not as a murderer, then negotiations can progress. Yes, there will always be differences and yes, there will often be points reached that can't be countered. The key is to consider those points based on genuine merit and not on prejudice.

It was a shame the RUC had to lose it's name and symbols, but was it not more important to have the Police endorsed by the Nationalist community? Looking objectively, it is blindingly clear it was a price worth paying. It was only achieved by a change in attitude that took the perspective of the other side into consideration.

Israel are not prepared to do this and neither are the Palestinians but they should and Israel should take the lead. They are a nation state and while they enjoy the balance of power, they should also take the responsibility to lead the way forward for the benefit of the region. They have to rise above Palestinian terrorists and claim the moral high ground. Reign in the IDF and don't allow them to play at the same level as the terror groups. When your child breaks something of yours, you don't go to their room and break their favourite toys as punishment. You set the example.

Here in Northern Ireland, those within the republican community that still shout about British injustice sound, to the majority, ridiculous. Yes, there was injustice but it has been addressed and we have moved on. Consequently there is little support for violent action because it cannot be argued to be justified. If Israel really wish to create a breakthrough and move toward a secure society and not remain a security state then they should look this way.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Cutting money for Sports Development is short sighted.

I'm no deficit denier. I know that with less money available in the block grant, there are some things we can't afford to spend money on any more. However, the decision to axe a range of projects to build world class facilities across Northern Ireland is incredibly short sighted. This is one area of public spending that consistently, across the world, recoups it's outlay in terms of follow on private spending. The farce that led to the new Olympic Pool at Bangor being delayed ensured that Northern Ireland had little to entice Olympic Teams to the area to train and this decision has now compounded that problem.

The people of Northern Ireland have an excellent attitude to sport and competition. It punches well above it's weight in the world of sport and recently 2 of the most in form golfers in the world have been from here. Unfortunately, that attitude is not backed up by it's government. What we have is something that the people of Northern Ireland can excel at given the right support but instead we are letting ourselves down. Imagine just how successful our Atheletes, Footballers, Golfers and Boxers would be given the kind of investment that American sports people are more used to?

Our top sports people are brilliant ambassadors for Northern Ireland and help to bring interest and subsequent revenue into the country. Why would we not want to develop that as best we can and provide the next generation with the best chance?

Being a Christian does not give you the right to discriminate.

The couple who have just been fined for turning away a Gay couple from their hotel tried to use their faith as a defence for their actions. Fortunately, they lost and were quite rightly punished for their act of discrimination.

The case was a simple one to win as far as I can see. They claimed that as the hotel was also their home they had the right to refuse entry. Unfortunately you can't solicit for business and then discriminate based on sexuality. Whether their business premises doubled as their home was irrelevant. After that, all they were left to fight with was that it clashed with their beliefs. Not surprisingly, the law said that, in business at least, your beliefs are not an excuse for discrimination.

I've never been able to reconcile myself with Christians claiming that their dislike of homosexuality is based on their faith. Christianity has evolved. As a religion it has adapted to cultural changes more so than most other religions. In general, things that the Bible once prohibited but that  in a modern world are considered not just acceptable but normal, have been largely accepted as irrelevant by modern Christians. Except for homosexuality. Why has this particular 'sin' been preserved where others haven't?

Perhaps a committed Christian can explain it to me. Every one I have met so far has eventually settled on the 'unnatural' aspect of homosexuality as a defence of their views, as if cars, the internet and 3D Televisions were all part of God's great 'natural' plan.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Party donations - Should they be public?

The Northern Ireland Office has decided to delay until 2013 a ruling that would bring Northern Ireland in line with the UK and the ROI and make public the names of those who have donated to political parties. The decision will be regarded by those who wish to see greater transparency in politics as a bad one. If you look at the decision based solely on those terms then it most definitely is. If, however, you look at the decision in terms of public safety then it doesn't seem so bad.

The truth is that Northern Ireland is still a divided society. There has been much work down to try and bring about an end to the division but as yet, the job is a long way from being completed. As such, we cannot be compared to the UK and ROI because they just don't have the same levels of polarisation in their politics.

Consider someone who has for years worked alongside his colleagues, blissfully unaware of his politics and he unaware of theirs until it is published that he donated £50 to Sinn Fein and now he is all too aware of his colleagues loyalist leanings. It's not an unlikely scenario given that most people in the workplace in Northern Ireland know better than to ask about their colleagues politics. These are the people that must be protected. Intimidation doesn't have to be a death threat or a your car being attacked; it can simply be a shift in the atmosphere in a previously enjoyable work environment.

There could be a threshold where all donations over and above a figure cannot remain anonymous. Those who wish to donate large sums will just have to accept that such significant support to a party carries with it the burden of being associated publicly with them. It is important that the public know whether big businesses or organisations are effectively bankrolling their politicians.

Politicians put themselves up for public scrutiny and stand behind their opinions and beliefs. The poor chap who wants to stick £10 to his party should not have to.

Monday, 17 January 2011

It's not enough to say the BNP are racist.

I was surprised to find out over the weekend that Raymond McCord is a supporter of the BNP. Raymond has been a high profile anti UVF campaigner ever since that organisation killed his son in 1997. Raymond has been universally praised for his work, carried out under constant threat from the UVF to bring his son's killers to justice and to show the UVF up for the violent criminal gang that they are.

However, his announcement that he supports the efforts of the BNP and is happy to see them involved in NI politics will overshadow his previous good works. You can't campaign as a cross community worker whilst supporting a party that has division and exclusion enshrined in its constitution. Raymond has clearly decided that, despite the reputation, the BNP aren't really racist, they're just concerned about immigration. Unfortunately, Raymond has bought into a lie and so have thousands of others.

The BNP are a racist organisation. Let there be no doubt. They always have been and always will be. They judge people based on the colour of their skin, their parents heritage and ancestry, their religion and their nationality. It is the very definition of racism. Clearly though, that has not been enough to deter people from joining and vocalising their support. The numbers they now have in membership suggest to me that people either don't believe they are racist, despite the overwhelming evidence that they are, or they just don't care.

To me, it would suggest that campaigning against the BNP on that angle is not going to be enough. We're not going to convince those who don't care about racism to stop caring and if others can't see that they are racist by now then nothing we say will be able to convince them in the future.

Fortunately, the BNP have seen fit to provide us with a vast treasure trove of ammunition with which to fight them: The policy page of their website. A quick read through gives you all you need to show just how hopeless a political outfit they really are. I'll tackle two of the biggest areas for now because frankly, to spend too long going through the BNP's policies is enough to make me want to scream.


Let's start with Immigration, where they hold up the likes of Saudi Arabia, China, India and Pakistan as models of controlled immigration. The BNP are generous enough to let certain minorities stay in Britain, providing they always stay as a minority. Quite laughably, their manifesto calls for an end to 'social engineering'. I would love for anyone within the BNP to explain how they intend to maintain certain sections of the community as minorities without any social engineering. Maybe they have difficulty understanding the terminology. 

They often refer to the 'Indigenous British' population. You may ask yourself, what do they mean by that and will be surprised that it's not all that easy to find an answer to the question on the BNP website. Those of us who have been paying attention to the BNP for some time will know that the answer used to be on the website but it isn't now. They removed it because it was explicitly racist. The answer is that the BNP believes the indigenous population of Britain is white with maybe the odd black person thrown in providing their great grandparents came from a British colony and had good British manners and knew their place. Sorry, I seem to be getting back to the racism angle. It's pretty hard to provide a critique of the BNP and not end up coming back to it!

Their plans include voluntary repatriation, aided by ''generous' grants. That sounds reasonable doesn't it? I'm sure it may to some. But what of those who don't want to go? I mean, they don't have to right? That is what voluntary means isn't it? Well, yes, but the clever old BNP have left a nice little clause in their constitution that allows for forced repatriation. It's as if they suspect all those third generation types won’t want to leave. Putting aside the racism aspect, if I can, just think about the feasibility of this policy. They are talking about putting British born citizens on a plane and making them live somewhere else. Where? Where exactly do they intend to send them? They are OUR people. Why would anywhere else take them in?

There is no detail to explain how the BNP will get round the small problem of convincing other countries to accept significant numbers of British immigrants for no matter what the BNP say, the people they refer to are British Citizens, have been all their lives, and there is no mechanism to alter that fact. When people say that the BNP have got some good ideas about immigration, assure them that their ideas about immigration are about as well thought through as just saying abracadabra, closing their eyes and hoping everyone is gone.

The Economy.

Well, this is where the BNP really let themselves down (remember, we're putting racism to one side for now). It would seem the BNP want us to build up our economy through manufacturing. A noble aim, sure, but how do they propose to do this? Well, by restricting imports firstly. That's right; we're not buying from you anymore, we're going to make it ourselves. Oh, by the way, would you mind buying what we make? It seems for the BNP that trade is a one way street. They also believe that this is the way to zero unemployment. It worked so well for North Korea after all.

Quite brilliantly they call for a return of the married man's tax allowance. You see, in a BNP Britian, Heterosexual Couples who have married are clearly deserving of preferential treatment from the taxman than those who for whatever reason have decided not to get married or indeed, are not allowed to get married. Be under no illusion; one of the BNP's targets is gay people.

There are other vague aspirations to end the International Aid Budget, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and cut back layers of bureaucracy in government. Again, they don't spell out in any sort of detail how they plan to do this.

There's actually a very good reason why they don't publish any detail to their plans: there simply isn't any.  There can't be any because most of what they want to do is just impractical. 2 things would happen if the BNP got into power under their current manifesto. 1. Europe wouldn't wait for us to leave, we would be kicked out and most likely black listed. 2. The USA would consider us in the same light it considered South Africa during Apartheid.

All the BNP's lofty economic plans are worthless because we would be bankrupt. Not bankrupt in the sense that Ireland are currently bankrupt, but truly and deeply in the worst kind of way bankrupt. There would be no international support or rescue packages for a state that legislated to make citizens of a different colour or ethnic group second class. When people say that the BNP have some good ideas on the economy, you can point out that those good ideas include cutting off our major sources of revenue.

The BNP often cry that they are unfairly treated and given a hard time by the media. Well, the latter is certainly true but the former is not. I have no time for the BNP or their candidates and don't consider them worthy as a political party. Yes, this is a democracy and there is no law restricting speech (providing it isn't inciting violence) but there is also no law against me wanting the BNP and their horrible ideas disappear from the landscape altogether.

This won't happen unless people stop joining their gang and start leaving it. To achieve this, the strategy has to change. As the BNP strive to become more acceptable and shake off their racist tag, we have to show people that they're not just racist, they utterly incompetent, inadequate and entirely unqualified to govern.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Hypocrisy of the TUV

On the TUV Website, Jim Allister has commented on the plans by Social Development Minister Alex Atwood to relax restrictions on Sunday trading and allow shops to open for longer hours.

Jim is upset at such plans. Why? Because Jim is a Christian and thinks Sunday is a holy day and should be reserved as such. Jim thinks the public should spend the morning in Church and the afternoon with family. What's more, Jim wants the state to do it's best to make sure this happens.

This is nothing short of the most blinding hypocrisy from the leader of a party who believe that wherever possible the state should stay out of our lives. It seems though that this philosophy only applies to the things the TUV want it to. Ideally we should all be good Christians and live our lives the way Jim and his members do.

What's more, for someone who is keen to bang on about driving our economy forward through private enterprise, does he not think it a little bit short sighted to restrict private enterprise from trading and denying further employment to people who desperately need it?

This is just another issue which shows up the TUV for what they believe they are; morally superior and confident that they know better than you.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Bilingual Road Signs show wrong direction

I have no problem with the Irish Language. I think it should be taught and I think funding should be provided to ensure that it stays a relevant and dynamic part of our culture. It is an awful shame that it has become such a divisive issue and is often used as a political tool. I think both sides are guilty of this when really, it should be an issue that connects people rather than divide them.

Saying this, the announcement from DRD that it is considering plans for the introduction of bilingual road signs smacks of nothing more than political point scoring and electioneering.

Firstly, we don't need road signs to be bilingual. The overwhelming majority of our citizens can read English. Those that can't have no problem interpreting road signs because they are helpfully accompanied by graphics. Besides, you don't have to understand French to know what a sign saying "Paris 50km" indicates. Road signs are there to provide guidance in the clearest possible terms, they're not there to serve any other political purpose.

Secondly, there is no requirement for this action. It has been defended by some in Sinn Fein as the Minister just carrying out an obligation placed on him by the EU. Nonsense. There is no such obligation.

Third; the Money. No matter what SF may say, this will cost money. The consultation and debates will cost money, the provision of the signs (regardless of the mechanics of how they're paid for) will cost money. I'm not sure if Sinn Fein have noticed but money is a little tight these days.

There has been criticism from Alliance that the proposals will ghettoise some areas of Northern Ireland. Whilst I would maybe not use that terminology, I can see where they are coming from. The plans do not call for all road signs to be bilingual, it calls for the law to allow bilingual road signs in areas that want them. Surely SF must be able to see that this will once again divide communities that were only just getting to grips with normality?

And of course, there is an election looming up ahead. Sinn Fein are not a cross community party. They exist only to serve those who agree with them. Fortunately for them, this represents a large chunk of the community and as such, under the conditions of government, they will stay in power providing they pander to their base. This move is precisely that; a pander to their republican, nationalist base.

All of this adds up to a wholly sorry state of affairs from Sinn Fein and the Minister: A poorly thought through policy, hijacking an issue, ignoring the wishes of the 'whole' community in favour of a section and spending money that doesn't need to be spent at a time when we can least afford it.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The truth is that some tragedies are worse than others.

Listening to the news reports on the murder of Michaela Harte (I have used her maiden name purely because everyone else has) I couldn't help but feel that, as with the Jo Yeats murder, it is such a sad fact of life that some tragedies are just more important to us than others.

Firstly, let me say that I am not criticising the coverage or trying to insinuate that the story wasn't important. What I am trying to get across is that, for all the murders that happen daily across the UK and Ireland, it is only the ones that have an 'angle' that end up on our front pages. This is natural, no doubt, but very sad nonetheless. Each death is a tragedy in it's own right and to those closest to the deceased, it is the most important story in the world. In reality though, for most people the only way we can connect with such tragedies is if there is some way to link the life of the victim with our own, however tenuous that link may be.

For many of the people within NI and the ROI, that link to Michaela is most obviously through GAA. For mothers of daughters at that age and fathers with daughters who have just married it is the sense that it could happen to their child. For me, personally, as a relative newly-wed (18 months) it brings out a fear of losing my wife. We can, of course, feel sorrow and pain for anyone who has suffered regardless of their nationality, circumstance or beliefs, but when we can easily connect ourselves to the victim, it seems to make it all the more genuine.

Adversarial politics have their place, but it's not within the executive.

There is nothing wrong with adversarial politics. In fact, it is healthy and often essential in ensuring informed debate and productive outcomes. Parties holding each other to account across the chamber should ensure that those entering the fray have their facts correct and their arguments solid, knowing that they will be tested mercilessly by their opponents.

Where it becomes a problem is when those who form the Executive forget that they are now part of a different grouping altogether, where the focus is not on combative politics but one of coalition. Yes, it is to an extent mandatory coalition, but only mandatory in the sense that if you want to be in the executive you have to accept that there will be others within it. No party is forced into the coalition and all are free to leave. With that in mind, those who do decide to enter the coalition must do so with a mindset of working together with the other partners for the greater good. After all, the executive is designed to provide governance and leadership for all and by all.

Unfortunately, the current crop of incumbents pay no heed to such designs. Parties stick together and kick their opponents wherever and whenever they can. They do not work together, but stay within their silos and only come out to support another Minister if they are from their party. Consequently we have each department battling each other for priority and funding. That sort of battle occurs in every government across the world. The difference is that it is usually done behind closed doors and the leaders of the government eventually decide what way to go and then present as a united grouping.

There are plenty of commentators who bemoan the lack of an opposition (quite rightly) but often forget that there already exists an opposition of sorts; the rest of the Assembly. Our MLA's are there to work on our behalf and question the decisions of the executive. Of course what actually happens is that Sinn Fein MLA's go easy on Sinn Fein Ministers, DUP MLA's go easy on DUP Ministers and so on and so on, so that there is no accountability to the public, only to the parties.

There is no coalition in any sense. The executive doesn't function as it was intended. Those who are fortunate enough to be ministers must remember that whilst in those roles, they are an Executive member first and a party member second. We need leadership and we need our government to work as a team. It's been a pretty poor showing so far.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A new leader for the Green Party in NI.

Or, to be accurate, a first leader of the Green Party in NI. Congratulations to Steven Agnew on his selection, though I would have been surprised if it was anyone else, considering his profile and base.

Steven now has a challenge to ensure he can keep Brian Wilson's seat in the Assembly. It will be a battle for him, especially considering that Brian Wilson's wife, Anne, will be running against him on an Alliance ticket! North Down loves this sort of thing. I wish Steven well, from what I have seen of him, he is a capable politician with a genuine passion for the objectives of his party.

It is these objectives though which will eventually limit his political career. The Green Party are a nice party but they will never be anything more than a protest vote to the vast majority of the electorate. Brian Wilson was elected largely on a personal vote as opposed to a ringing endorsement of Green politics in North Down. So, it is to his credit that Steven Agnew fights that particular battle instead of transferring his ambitions to another party that could better reward him with political office.

I wish him all the luck for the forthcoming Assembly election, though maybe not the Local Elections!

If you are influential, you have to be responsible.

Sarah Palin and other well known and popular right wing firebrands did not explicitly instruct a young man to kill half a dozen people in Arizona at the weekend. What they are responsible for, is their efforts in creating an environment that polarises those with different views and opinions.

Most will have seen the graphic, produced by Sarah Palin, of a list of Congressmen and Congresswomen that she wanted to target, indicated by cross-hairs over their districts. Personally, I don't really think it is the worst thing to have come from that particular politician. What I have always disliked most about her rhetoric is the superior and moralistic nature of it. She talks about the need to take back America for Americans. Because clearly, if you don't agree with her, you're not an American. She talks about the people taking back power. Because obviously it was usurped from the people by rouge elements.

It is this kind of talk that I worry about. Such language is aggressive. There is room for aggressiveness in politics but that aggressiveness should be applied to pursing policies and recruiting activists, not to generating hate of your opponents. By demonising the other side in this way it amplifies the healthy mistrust of your opponent into outright hatred. Instead of seeing a politician on the other side as someone who is trying to do what they genuinely think is best for the country, albeit with a different view than yours, what people start to see is an evil agent of unwanted change who wishes to destroy the country they love.

When you get to that level of polarisation, it really does start to become like a war between one side and the other and the natural progression for that is violence. People who are easily influence &, who feel like they have little chance of making a difference but are desperate to do so are vulnerable in such an environment. They hear the constant calls for action, for overthrow of the regime and for the people to rise up (metaphorically, of course) against those who would destroy the country. Is it little wonder that someone decided to do just that?

Those in the Tea Party and on the fringes of the Republican Party have every right to campaign for the change they believe is required, and they have every right to be passionate about it. What they must remember though, is that they have a huge influence of people and the burden of that influence is that they must show some responsibility. The people they dislike, the people they want to see removed from office, the people who belong to the party that they hate are still, despite their differences; people. American people at that.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

House Builders have a role to play in promoting communities.

Coming from a construction background I've long had issues with House Builders. I believe they provide a poor product for an inflated price and offer limited choice.

Of all the things that really gets to me though is that they constantly escape any significant criticism for what I believe is a lack of thought in the planning stages of how their developments will promote safe and involved communities.

Nearly all developments these days feature houses with limited front gardens, enclosed back gardens, no communal spaces and limited parking. One of the consequences of this is that it is generally not safe for children to play 'out the front' and it's certainly not desirable to spend any time in your front garden. After all, who wants to sit beside a road? Where Developers could help is by considering communal areas that houses front onto, with parking at the rear of the house. This turns the front garden into a safe space, but open to interaction with neighbours, while still having an enclosed space at the back of the house. Children could be let out to play with other children in the development away from traffic and within sight of their houses.

I am a big believer that people should know their neighbours, having been raised in areas where this was the case and seeing the benefits it can bring. While new housing continues to be developed without this kind of thought, the trend of neighbourhood communities will continue to fall.

Time for Alex Atwood to step up.

As Sinn Fein have been only to keen to point out, the Water Crisis has had significant coverage in the press whilst another crisis which started before the water shortages and is still continuing seems to have been largely ignored.

Since before Christmas thousands of Housing Association tenants were left without heat when water pipes froze and then cracked. The Housing Executive have been unable to cope with the huge demand for repairs and many people have been left without heat and water for days on end. Now, the fact is that in terms of news value, this issue was not as big as the Water Crisis, but that doesn't mean it is no less of an embarrassment for our devolved administration. Alex Atwood has been conspicuous by his absence.

The Water Crisis is over. Yes, there does need to be a through review of what happened and measures put in place to prevent it happening again, but the focus must now shift to the people who are still without heating and the Minister that, on the surface, appears to be paying the subject little attention.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

How to pay for Water.

Inevitably, there has been renewed discussions across Northern Ireland about the introduction of Water Rates. Following such a catastrophe as the one we have seen, it is entirely understandable. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a lot of consistency in the arguments I have seen so far. There are those who argue that the crisis is clear evidence that NIW needs more investment, yet often the same commentators highlight NIW's shocking inefficiencies. Throwing good money after bad? They also are happy to use Water authorities in England as a benchmark. As someone who has dealt with some of these authorities and seen first hand the staggering incompetence and inefficiency of some of these outfits, I worry about the logic of aiming to emulate them.

I have seen people say that introducing rates will be fairer and those who are most vulnerable will even end up paying less. Right now they pay for their water through their existing taxes and rates. The only way they will end up paying less is if there is a reduction in those charges. That's not really likely is it?

Advocates of water charges usually argue their case by taking a position that it is the only way to provide much needed investment. That's simply not true. It is just one way of doing so. What I often struggle to get my head around is how many of these advocates are perfectly happy for the NHS to continue being free at point of delivery but not water. The NHS is a massive draw on public funds and is always in vital need of investment so what sets that apart from water? Water, it could easily be argued, is far more important to public health than a state funded health service. 

There are certain things that I think a first world country should ensure all it's people have access to where the cost is met through taxes; Shelter, Heat, Light, Water, Education & Healthcare. Clearly, the vast majority of it's people will reach a point where they can pay for their own Shelter and some choose to pay for their own Education and Healthcare (though still heavily subsidised by the state) but there is always a safety net should times turn bad. 

NIW needs to be overhauled. It needs to be made efficient. If investment is still needed following such changes then that money should come from within the NI budget. There is money being wasted across the board of public bodies that could be saved through efficiencies and redirected where it is really needed. It just makes no sense to raise revenue for a company that quite clearly is not fit to spend it.