As if to underline the political idleness which has bedevilled the operation of OFMdFM (and been passed on to the Executive) over the last two years, the focus of the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s remarks were on the Orange Order and its alleged role in the deadlock over parading. It’s as if no one in Stormont Castle believes that serious policy work actually matters to the wider population. When proposals to drop the transatlantic cable at Coleraine rather than Derry the public debate focused on whose backyard it was supposed to land in, not how best can we exploit this opportunity. Blaine Cook formerly of Twitter, now of Whitehead, Co Antrim, reckons we could do worse than focus on taking down red tape. And not all the barriers to business are north south:
You cant get a UK credit card unless you are on the electoral register, he said. So I went to the electoral office and found that I cant register until Ive lived here three months. Then I needed a utility bill, but that takes time too. He had to buy a car using his American credit card.
Cook is baffled by the bureaucratic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, pointing out that if he lived in England he could exchange his Canadian drivers licence for a British one by sending a cheque for £45 (52) to the licensing authority. In Northern Ireland, he loses the entitlement to drive on his Canadian licence after a year and will have to apply for a provisional licence and re-sit his test.
Having left Vancouver to make his fortune in Silicon Valley, Cook moved to Northern Ireland after leaving Twitter last year because he was excited by the quality and the enthusiasm of its tech community. Any of these people could find work in San Francisco tomorrow. But its a really, really hard thing to attract inward investment based on new technology, he said.
Ever get the feeling we are living in the land that time forgot? On the Irish use of Twitter, he remarks:
He is surprised at how little Twitter is used in Ireland compared with America. Politicians north and south appear much less internet-savvy than their American counterparts. Cook knows of only one MLA, Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist party, who is a Twitter user.
Twitter has experienced huge growth as a political and business tool on top of its original role as a social network site. Barack Obama used it in his presidential campaign, while the story of the Hudson air landing was broken by a Twitter photograph. Last week the British Labour party announced plans for all its MPs to have Twitter profiles on their constituency websites.
Its funny journalists and politicians in the rest of the world are paying attention to Twitter, said Cook. Posts from democracy websites such as Mysociety.com alerting people to issues like MPs trying to roll back on disclosure of their expenses has contributed to an acceleration of political action.
That’s a little harsh on the southern game, which in terms of its use of Twitter at least is way ahead of the Northern Irish game. George Hook, no spring chicken, uses it regularly to crowdsource content for his show, and half the production team of RTE’s Prime Time are getting involved. Yet the political elite north and south remain pretty aloof from a technology that has proven gamechanging elsewhere…
The trouble is there is no point in using Twitter at all unless you have something of interest of importance to share or to say… Right now, there’s not much going on at Stormont that can be usefully communicated to the wider world… That’s not a position that can persist in the longer term without both parties taking a hit to the credibility…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty