The serious business of statistics

When something you hear makes you burst out laughing, you know it’s time to write a blog. In this case, I was listening to “the biggest show in the country” on the subject of Boris Johnson and his peddling of the myth that once Brexit is achieved there will be £350m a week available for the NHS. Indeed, Sir David Norgrove, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority took the unprecedented step of writing to the foreign secretary to say … Read more

The Irish Language Act: Real costs revealed by Conradh na Gaeilge

It’s finally here, the bill for the proposed Irish Language Act.  This is the estimated cost from Conradh na Gaeilge, the umbrella group for Irish language speakers and organisations advocating for legislation to protect the Irish language from capricious political attacks and to promote it resolutely as per the Good Friday Agreement and The St Andrews accord. The good news is that this estimate, put together by the organisation advocating for the legislation is a fraction of the price tags … Read more

Fake News and the Assembly Elections

How does the saying go – fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!    If one positive thing emerged from the 2016 US Presidential Election, it’s the focus on the phenomenon of the influence of Fake News on the electoral process.  It’s difficult to assess the level of impact but we’ve heard that #fakenews is already out scoring real news in terms of attracting clicks and the UK MPs believe that democracy itself is under threat. … Read more

On DUP Petitions of Concern (and one possible judicious use of Tippex)… [UPDATED WITH TIPPEXED MARRIAGE EQUALITY POC]

Much attention has been expended on the DUP use of Petition of Concerns (POC).  Unsurprising since they’ve had a good run of appearances recently, including: the blocking of a bill for Rates Relief for Sports Clubs; (almost) every amendment to a welfare reform bill in February; a same sex Marriage bill in April; and it is expected another will emerge on the same issue later today. After the April POC, a small number of party insiders furtively suggested to Slugger that the DUP have their MLAs “bulk sign” … Read more

Do we need more funding for musical instruments for bands?

Lee Reynolds in transit at Belfast's Orange Parade, 12 July 2011

A motion was passed in the Assembly today on the need for funding musical instruments and I wanted to get the Sluggerverse’s perspective on it. The  motion was proposed by DUP MLA’s Nelson McCausland, Gordon Dunne, David Hilditch and William Humphrey. Here it is in full text That this Assembly notes the cultural, artistic and community importance of bands in Northern Ireland; recognises the importance of Musical Instruments for Bands funding programme; expresses its disappointment at the failure of the … Read more

Jenny Palmer: Betrayed by the DUP

Yesterday was not a good day for the DUP. First was the verdict on the Ashers ‘gay cake’ case – an issue that seems to have become inextricably linked to the DUP thanks to the support from figures within the party. Paul Givan appeared on television shortly afterwards to give his ‘verdict‘ on the actual verdict. Mr. Givan also committed to pursue his doomed conscience clause. Then came last night’s compelling BBC NI Spotlight programme on Jenny Palmer; the ‘whistleblower’ who … Read more

Four Lagan Valley MLAs refrain from publicly supporting Cllr Jenny Palmer in Social Dev debate and two vote against report

On Tuesday the NI Assembly debated a motion about the Committee for Social Development’s Inquiry into allegations, arising from a BBC NI Spotlight programme aired on 3 July 2013, of impropriety or irregularity relating to NIHE managed contracts and consideration of any resulting actions. Locally within Lagan Valley DUP circles, there has been strong personal support for Councillor Jenny Palmer who appeared on a BBC Spotlight programme as a whistleblower. She alleged that the Social Development minister’s special advisor had … Read more

Hoist on his own petard……

Curious, wasn’t it? Nelson McCausland’s choice of language to highlight his ‘concern’ over a letter sent to primary school principals throughout Northern Ireland, inviting them to consider including an Irish language study programme in the school curriculum. According to Nelson, this was another effort by Sinn Féin to “weaponise” the Irish language and to use it as a tool, it seems, to entice unionists to be assimilated within an Irish identity. Apart from the fact that the letter was sent … Read more

Brimstone evasive in face of DSD questions re Red Sky and Palmer

UPDATED – Now with video DUP SPAD Stephen Brimstone had a stock answer (“I’m not prepared to answer questions in relation to internal party matters) for most questions put to him by the DSD Committee Hearing today in light of allegations made in BBCNI’s Spotlight programme into Red Sky, Nelson Mc Causland and Cllr Jenny Palmer.             Ably put on the hook by the TUV’s Jim Allister, Brimstone looked more than evasive as he paused … Read more

Nelson McCausland misled Assembly over a meeting which had no apparent or measurable effect…

Getting accused of ‘misleading the Assembly’ is problematic for any minister. So it is for Nelson McCausland in the majority report of his department’s oversight committee. The minority report (composed entirely of MLAs of his own party) takes his view that he had merely ‘inadvertently misinformed’ them. The committee chair, Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey laid out the case in the majority report… “Nelson McCausland claimed in a letter to MLAs on the committee that he has met representatives of the … Read more

DUP call on parade protests to be “peaceful and legal” and “within the law”

Ten months on from the beginning of the flag protests, it looks like DUP is finally applying foresight and making its position clear in advance of potential trouble. Addressing the Orange Order’s plans to “up-scale [protests] right up to civil disobedience if that’s what it takes”, Arlene Foster told BBC NI’s Sunday Politics show: We very much defend the right of people to protest on any issue. But what must happen, and I do make this very clear, is that … Read more

The optics are poor and it looks like “the party comes first” (updated with TUV+DUP amendments & results)

On Thursday morning the Social Development committee agreed to hold an inquiry into the issues raised in BBC NI’s Spotlight programme. The recalled Assembly will sit in plenary on Monday at noon. After prayers the Private Members’ Business brought by Mr R Swann (UUP), Ms C Ruane (SF), Mr S Dickson (Alliance), Mrs K McKevitt (SDLP) will be the only business before adjournment. Call for an Inquiry into Allegations of Wrongful Political Interference in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Potential … Read more

Housing Executive: there was “a considerable degree of challenge” by management to the findings of inquiries

So to borrow the latest loan word to German (if it is good enough for Angela its good enough for me) as one shitschturm fades leaving virtually no trace of ever having existed, another one is blown up to take its place. The rule in any public scandal, is follow the money. Today, a report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office firmly points the finger at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive: Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said estimated overpayments of £18m to … Read more

What happens next? Where will the Spotlight now shine?

With only thirty signatures needing to be submitted to the Speaker, the Assembly is very likely to be recalled early next week to allow a piece of predictable political theatre to be rehearsed in the chamber. Party leaders will compete for sound bites; DUP back and front benchers will interject and vigorously support their embattled minister, and there will be more heat than light. The Social Development Committee will hold an inquiry with invitations extended to Mandy McAuley and the … Read more

Nelson McCausland gives his reaction to Spotlight at Social Development Committee (updated with audio)

After an exchange of late night/early morning text messages between the Social Development committee chair Alex Maskey and DSD Minister Nelson McCausland, the minister appeared before the commttee at 11am this morning. The committee’s current membership is: Alliance- Judith Cochrane DUP Paula Bradley, Sammy Douglas, Gregory Campbell, Pam Brown Independent – David McClarty SF – Alex Maskey (chair), Mickey Brady (deputy chair), Fra McCann SDLP – Mark H Durkan UUP – Michael Copeland Background – I talked to the committee’s … Read more

Red Sky on Spotlight, minister’s sleepless night?

The first half of tonight’s BBC NI Spotlight investigation (now available on iPlayer) looked at the history of Red Sky losing its contract with the NI Housing Executive. Examples of poor workmanship; charging for work not done, sometimes in buildings that no longer existed; and claims of the Red Sky contract being targeted for sectarian rather than business reasons. Mandy McAuley’s investigation then looked at the attempts to get the NI Housing Executive to extend Red Sky’s contract. It was … Read more

Housing Executive: Chair jumps before ministerial statement tomorrow…

Brian Rowntree, chair of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive resigned on Friday, although the news was only released today.  It’s thought to be related to a Ministerial statement that ought to make tomorrow’s Assembly session rather more interesting than normal. It comes on foot of the first of several forensic examinations of the Executive’s books (the Audit Office is due to report later in the year).. For the BBC, Julian O’Neil references an independent report on contracts carried out by … Read more

Masterplan for Girdwood: “back to the sectarian drawing board…”

The Northern Ireland First and deputy First Minsters recently announced the second round of funding, £1.5million, available from the Executive and Atlantic Philanthropies’ ‘Contested Spaces’ Programme, although I’m still not entirely clear where the other £2.5million went… The announcement, in the absence of a “Cohesion, Sharing and Integration” strategy, rebranded, and “watered down” to the “lowest commmon denominator“, or otherwise, coincides with the reveal of a new contested space the masterplan for the regeneration of the Girdwood Park former military base.  [And the Crumlin … Read more

How would you measure a Belfast Buzz?

At the ‘Belfast One City’ conference Paul Nolan, author of the Peace Monitoring Report, said it would be difficult to collect the data to measure the positive feelings in Belfast. As odd as it may seem to take a scientific approach to measure the mood of an entire city, it does highlight how small victories for a city as a whole, may not be of any consequence to individual citizens struggling with recession. As we head into summer, many people … Read more

Lagan Weir footbridge safety report / Irresponsible Drinks Promotions Regulations

Department for Social Development - DSD logo

Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland – whose department’s remit of “urban regeneration, community and voluntary sector development, social legislation, housing, social security benefits, pensions and child support” includes the safety of the bridges, drinks promotions and zipwires – released the final report  into the safety of the Lagan Weir footbridge this morning. As well as raising money to buy sonar search equipment to help with any future underwater searches, the family of Joby Murphy have made repeated calls in … Read more