It is intolerable that Stormont is handing back hundreds of millions of pounds to London when urgent cancer cases are being denied treatment

The news that 275 people in Northern Ireland with “red-flag” cancer have had their surgery cancelled in the past week has been followed by the tragic irony  that the  Health Service  has been forced  to hand back £90 million unspent this year to the Treasury in Whitehall . The dismal information reminds me of Irish farm produce being exported from Ireland during the Famine of the 1840s while more than a  million starved.  The theory behind it is even more …

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Real work to restore the Executive has yet to begin. For the public to make an impact, proposals and pressure from the governments are essential

As a comparative outsider I’m struck by how most commentators are obsessed with speculating about political positioning and identity narratives. This has produced numbing negativism and  despair  rather than the energy needed to approach the daunting but practical problem of trying to restore the Executive.  Being case hardened and calloused, they endlessly refine their own explanations for obvious failure. They accept the parameters set by the DUP and SF too readily. To be fair, this is often the default caused by a …

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Executive Office: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Northern Ireland Executive logo

In today’s Irish News, John Manley has an interesting story about the powers and staffing levels of the new Executive Office (formerly OFM/DFM). In his report he notes that despite losing a decent amount of its functions, the number of Special Advisors, Junior Ministers and the workforce will remain the same as he notes; The new Department of Communities takes on the bulk of the policy areas which would have previously been the responsibility of OFMDFM, including initiatives involving older …

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Financial (and other) chickens coming home to roost

An Ulster Unionist MLA once described Green Party leader Steven Agnew to me as a younger Jim Allister with longer hair and less talent. That has often looked harsh but maybe true. However Sam McBride in the News Letter has an excellent piece quoting Agnew on the more fundamental causes of the current financial crisis at Stormont: The North Down MLA said: “The fantasy they peddled was that you can get more services but pay less – that is simply …

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Lisa McElherron: Why Northern Ireland needs a living wage

NICVA has recently published some important research into the benefits of introducing a minimum wage in Northern Ireland. Writing for Slugger O’Toole, NICVA’s Head of Public Affairs, Lisa McElherron makes the case for its introduction Fifteen years ago the New Labour government introduced the National Minimum Wage (NMW). Critics vehemently argued that it would impose excessive costs on employers, cause firms to fail, and create unemployment. Today it is accepted that businesses adapted and the dire consequences predicted failed to …

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How the system of “comfort letters” developed. Secrecy was important, Hain admits

Much of the ammunition Peter Robinson needs is already in Mr Justice Sweeney’s lengthy judgment in the Downey case. Key points in this Belfast Telegraph summary. The administrative scheme began in 2000 to rectify the anomaly because as on the runs, they weren’t eligible for the early release scheme. The overall picture is of Gerry Kelly as Sinn Fein’s point man  with the British government on the issue,   coming forward regularly with new names and the legal authorities  led by successive …

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No, the PSNI Chief Constable hasn’t “the toughest policing job in the world”

Here we are, still sold on the idea of how exceptional we are. Comment on Mick’s post on the appointment of a chief constable failed to notice that there’s  a wider world out there. It’s no longer the case that the PSNI have “the toughest policing job in in the world” and other superlatives. Try the Met which has gone through three commissioners in five years. Race issues,  jihadist extremism and flash rioting in today’s human rights culture make it very tough for …

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Seize the opportunities opened up by the Good Relations strategy. Don’t write it off

Mick’s last post is probably representative of the muted reaction to the long awaited initiative. All the same I’d rather take a more positive approach and – yes!-  begin with accepting it at face value.   So I’m asking: are critics justified in  writing off  already the Cohesion Sharing and Integration statement ( not yet a strategy and not actually labelled CSI)?  Do we pin all the blame for its gaps and evasions on Peter Robinson and the DUP and Martin McGuinness and Sinn …

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Northern powersharing is faring better than the southern version, says Emerson. Can this be right?

In the Sunday Times,(£) Newton Emerson, apparently unabashed at being dropped by the BBC,  strikes a counterintuitive note by offering a few words of  support to the powersharing Executive at the expense of that other coalition in Dublin. Ignoring the recent Kearney-Robinson dingdong, he bounces his critique off Micheal Martin’s Bodenstown speech deploring the southern coalition’s failure to pay enough attention to the North, and turns it on its head. Stormont is appallingly slow at making decisions, not just on the …

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Big News. Innovation from the Executive

Good to see Northern Ireland featuring on the UK national news agenda with a report on the “Tesco tax.,” (Today programme 7.25, Sammy and retail consortium rep interview). Despite the national coverage, inexplicably I can’t find  news of  the 1st April vesting date for the business charge on the local BBC News website. Old news locally perhaps? But at least the story’s appearance is  a case of a good sell to the networks which more and more these days unilaterally exclude …

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Is Executive’s taskforce on institutional abuse any more than awkward can kicking?

I had a presser from Conall McDevitt on the day the Executive announced its task force on historical institutional child abuse which suggested that the announcement fell a long way short of the statutory instrument required to crack what is likely to be very tough nut. In fact the announcement included mention of a statutory instrument. Although I looked for clarification from Conall on what he meant by his statement, though none was forthcoming. But today, Patrick Corrigan (of this …

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