Smoked eggs and Currie

On October 22nd 2014 Health Minister Jim Wells spoke at a meeting of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and was there, as stated by Chairperson Maeve McLaughlin in her introduction, to “to give evidence on the terms of reference for the Committee’s review of the departmental approach to the Budget”. All was going swimmingly with much discussion of priorities for 2015-16, budgetary constraints, ‘Transforming Your Care’, Ebola, revenue generation, efficiencies and potential savings until THAT moment. … Read more

I prefer good art and archaeology to bad politics

Taken from Andy Pollak’s monthly blog… Sometimes the sheer badness of politics in Northern Ireland takes my breath away (badness=bad faith, lying, incompetence, being mired in the past). Take the third week of October, for example. Peter Robinson boycotted the opening meeting of the British government initiated all-party talks he had himself called for to deal with the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein on a wide range of issues which has led to the North being largely ungoverned … Read more

SNP surge dominates Scottish Labour

As the race for the Scottish leadership gets underway two new polls indicate that the SNP could take 20 plus from Labour at next years Westminster election basically imploding Miliband’s 35% strategy. (This is to basically win off the back of disaffected Lib Dems). The latest polls put the SNP in a commanding lead over Labour IPSOS/MORI SNP on 52% Labour on just 23%, the Scottish Conservatives on 10% Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens both on 6%. YouGov SNP-43% Labour-27% … Read more

#SluggerTalks: Unlocking NI’s potential requires a shift in priorities and resources

On Wednesday Shane Greer and I kicked off the first of what we hope will become a regular trans-Atlantic conversation on the future of Northern Ireland. We will being bringing guests into our next session but the main purpose here was to follow up on his original blog essay. It’s a tough call. A few years back I did try to get a conversation going on the future of Belfast which was all but subsumed in the misery of the flag … Read more

The Suit (Lyric until 31 Oct) – enchanting theatre examining the effect of a violent society #belfest

Recent revelations and the steady stream of new people coming forward to access Victims & Survivors Services remind us that Northern Ireland is still coming to terms with the deeper consequences of how the Troubles affected society and in particular family life. The Suit is a play from Théâtre Des Bouffes Du Nord that looks under the lid of the bustling 1950s South African suburb of Sophiatown as it prepared to be broken apart and sent 20 miles further out … Read more

The Most Popular Drink in Stormont’s Members Bar?

As the son of a Donegal born bar manager who spent most of his working life in Belfast, I like to sit up and listen when Belfast Barman(ager) has something to say. He’s been looking at some facts and figures about what they drink in the members bar in Stormont (yep, they’ve got one)… What struck me was just how abstemious they all are… – The annual turnover of the Members’ bar for the past 3 financial years i.e. 01 … Read more

Stormont lives: DUP and Sinn Fein agree a budget

Well, our government still stands tonight as the DUP and Sinn Fein have agreed a draft budget with the SDLP voting against and the UUP and Alliance parties abstaining on the vote. Both Sinn Fein and the DUP have the numbers to get the budget throught the Assembly. It took a while to get here, but a deal has been done that will keep things going in the interim. Speaking about the budget the Deputy First Minister said; the best … Read more

Photo of the day – Deli Dealer, St Georges Market

Photo by Davymac, Taken on October 25, 2014 St Georges Market Belfast is going from strength to strength and was recently named the UK’s Best Large Indoor Market 2014 by the National Association of British Market Authorities, beating off stiff competition from internationally renowned markets like Spitalfields, Billingsgate and Borough. A common complaint with tourists is that there is nothing to do in Belfast on a Sunday morning. Is it time for the market to open on Sunday morning? What do you think? … Read more

Small but significant steps in overcoming old hatreds

Progressive Unionist Party city counsellor John Kyle was at an event Monday night to welcome a delegation of visitors from cities living through or coming out of violence and conflict. Iraqis, Palestinians, Jews, Lebanese, Bosnians and Nigerians, as well as Northern Irish Protestants and Catholics came to Belfast under the aegis of Forum for Cities in Transition.  On the first day of the event, they gathered in the grandeur of Stormont – that architectural throwback to the glory days of … Read more

Are political commentators part of the problem?

You go out put your name on the ballot, get elected and then you are faced with constant critcism from people who in most cases have never done the same thing themselves. This is something that this blog is guilty of too, aside  from a few of us, none of us have had the cajones to put our necks on the line, yet we readily criticise those who do. One criticism I regularly hear about our circle of political commentators … Read more

The reality of welfare reform: “it’s a horror show”

  At the NICVA offices along the Duncairn Gardens on Wednesday, an important conference was held to open up debate about the future of welfare reform in Northern Ireland. It was one of those crisp autumn days which one likes to think of as typical of the atmosphere of cool, reasoned thinking. After heated debate over welfare reform and the budget throughout the summer, which seemed to rock the foundations of our devolved political institutions, the conference, titled, “Welfare Reform: … Read more

The Complexities of Parading – Mervyn Gibson & Sean Murray – a challenging but polite seminar

A seminar on The Complexities of Parading was held on Wednesday evening by the Journey Towards Healing project of NIAMH Wellbeing (Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health). Gary Mason hosted the conversation, with remarks from Mervyn Gibson (minister of Westbourne Presbyterian Community Church and assistant grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland) and Sean Murray (Sinn Féin) before opening up to the thirty or forty people present in a Belfast City Mission meeting room. Both panel members have … Read more

Open Government in Practice – Open Budgets

Paul Braithwaite has been leading the Building Change Trust’s work exploring the issue of open government over the past year, focusing on the international Open Government Partnership initiative and its potential in Northern Ireland. Here he explores what open government can mean in practice through focusing in on one approach that has been gaining serious traction around the world: open budgets. The Trust is hosting the launch of the NI Open Government Network on 5th November (more information below).   … Read more

#SluggerTalks on the future potential of Northern Ireland

So today, we bring back the #digitallunch video format only this time we are calling it #SluggerTalks. Tomorrow’s will be the first in a series of two handers between myself and Shane Greer discussing some of the points raised in response to his post last week on what we might do to unlock Northern Ireland’s Tremendous Potential. You can pick it up here shortly, over on YouTube or if you have evolved as far as Google Plus over there at this event page. … Read more

Sinn Fein’s social media evolution has eroded its old mystique of ‘Leadership’

Exceptionally good piece by Fionnuala O’Connor in the Irish News yesterday. To summarise, she thinks despite it’s obvious successes with social media (Gerry Adams is the most influential politician in Ireland for example), that he and the party have been over communicating: Sinn Fein is resilient, for good reason. Handling the fallout from atrocities over decades taught the fore-runners of today’s machine-minders. Rule number one is still to say whatever needs saying. Much as other parties but with the exceptional element … Read more

Northern Ireland Executive has been ignoring the financial crisis since 2007

In the BelTel, Liam Clarke has an excellent summation of just how Stormont’s Executive got itself into this mess: The origins of the crisis lie in 2007, the final year before the property crash, when the Executive parties agreed a number of eye-catching giveaways. Water rates were set aside, at a current cost of £180m a year; our leaders held regional rates down, giving us the lowest household taxes in the UK, and there were also free prescriptions for everyone … Read more

Ivan Lewis: I have made it clear that I want to stay in NI until the election and beyond

On Monday night I caught up with the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Ivan Lewis MP to get his views on welfare reform, the Secretary of State and his own future as he marks a year in the job. I began by asking him, how he thought the Secretary of State was handling the current talk’s process that is on-going at Stormont? Ivan began by welcoming the fact that the government had finally moved to engage with the political process in Northern … Read more

Calumnies sting without disabling; and those stung are moved by hatred of their detractors

“Oh, yes–you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me.” Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People It’s taken two weeks for a mainstream journalist to commit to print some kind of defence of Sinn Fein and raise questions about Mairia Cahill’s credibility. Roy Greenslade has interesting views on the matter, not least because he breaks the news that… …the programme itself is now under fire. It is claimed that the makers failed to take account of the … Read more

O’Dowd invite to prize giving rescinded

Simon Doyle has an interesting story in today’s Irish News. The Education Minister, John O’Dowd was invited to be the guest of honour at Parkhall Integrated College at their annual prize giving ceremony. I remember when I was  in first year, my school scoring David Trimble as First Minister to come in and chat to us and it really is a real coup when any minister comes into recognise the work being done by students and teachers. Back to the … Read more

The Scottish Fifth Estate

One of the most interesting developments to come out of IndyRef was the role of the Fifth Estate in the Yes side. Often operating without any connection to the official Yes Scotland campaign they went about their business online unfettered by any party political considerations. Probably the best example of this was Wings Over Scotland. Their ‘wee blue book’ had, in print and download, 500,000 distributed to a country with around four million adults. The man behind this is the … Read more