THE WEEK THAT WAS….most_inmates_dancing

“The warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there and they began to wail. The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing. You should’ve heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.  Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock…..”

Despite having more than its fair share of real jaibirds, it’s rare for the elected inmates at Stormont to get the place rockin’. This week, however, almost everyone was in fine voice as they finally took the plunge and agreed to devolve Policing & Justice.

The discordant notes emanated primarily from the Ulster Unionist wing which voluntarily surrendered itself into solitary confinement by voting against the measure.  There was some sympathy though when Warden Woodward and his Texan chum, Governor Bush (formerly of the McLennan County Correctional Institute for the Linguistically Dysfunctional), produced some metaphorical rubber hoses to persuade them otherwise.  It was, however, short lived.

The First Minister, realising that his and his party’s chances of a fair hearing at the next Westminster Public Parole Board meeting (still scheduled for May 6th) depends upon enthusiastically selling the deal, was in attack mode.  Fortunately for him the UU’s overstretched their case by raising the possibility of a future Sinn Fein Justice Minister vetoing any potential return of the army, a decision which lies within the Chief Constable’s operational remit.  Their argument was “factually incorrect”, “complete trash”, “scaremongering” and a “product of the manure heap”.  Stick that in your pipe.

For their part the SDLP said yes, but complained bitterly that rules for appointing the Minister would gift the job to the Alliance party.  Alliance were, of course, ‘selflessly’ sacrificing themselves for the common good, engaging in a political remake of Prison Break, intrepidly breaking into the Executive in order to save it from itself.

The UUs are surely right though to ask how the already strained 11 Department coalition will manage another, particularly as the new portfolio was the one which broke the back of old NI Parliament in 1972.  The moral is, be careful what you wish for.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Oral Answers

The Health Minister dealt with concerns about maternity services in Lisburn, the quality of health centres in East Antrim and some more grief about the cost of preparations for the Swine Flu Pandemic which failed to live up to its hype.  The DRD Minister flagged up serious concerns about NIW’s governance, responded to ongoing issues about potholes and gritting and noted that public consultation on Belfast’s Rapid Transit System will happen early next year.

The DSD Minister complained that she has been refused sight of OFMDFM’s agreed Cohesion, Sharing & Integration strategy and addressed anti-social behavior in Moneymore.

Written Answers

OFMDFM stated that the remuneration package for the new CEO of the SIB will require their approval, DCAL wasn’t offering up any new money to save the North Coast Air show and Education is considering providing Irish lessons to staff.  DETI confirmed that NITB spent £8.7m on promotional activity last year, DoE is planning to bring forward new proposals on drink driving shortly, while Health revealed that a hip replacement costs £6,220.

DRD noted that two million passengers travel on the Larne/Belfast rail line annually and DSD revealed that there are 2,429 people waiting for social housing in West Belfast.

COMMITTEES

DARD was considering the licensing of gangmasters, DEL was given a general update by Queen’s University and DFP discussed the case for reduced Corporation Tax.

Education met the Specialist Schools Forum, Environment changed its mind on a previous decision not to investigate planning issues surrounding Knock Golf Course and the highly charged folk at DETI were briefed by the Utility Regulator about its Energy Price inquiry.

DCAL’s inquiry into sporting participation is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint and Health slathered on the Factor 30 to contemplate new sun bed regulations.

AND FINALLY….

While the UUs may have lost the debate on Tuesday, Deputy Leader, Danny Kennedy (Newry & South Armagh) put in a fine performance with an array of put downs for all and sundry. 

The day before a UU delegation had met the Deputy First Minister for a taster of a “shared future” – “We wanted to discuss the way forward, and instead we were shown the way out.”  By most accounts the meeting lasted 180 seconds.

NI’s ‘Sainsbury’s’ Secretary of State was accused of trying to “bully, bribe and blackmail”, a debating point which Mr. Kennedy conceded was likely to cost him dearly in Nectar points, while David Ford was likened to a stall operator in Smithfield Market who used the slogan “I buy everything”.  And these are his partners in Government! 

Don’t expect a spontaneous outbreak of Executive harmony anytime soon.