Director Sam Mendes gifted the world of cinematography with the ‘Road to Perdition’, the Northern Ireland Executive, if it get is way is going to gift us the A5 – the £800m plus ‘Road to Aughnacloy’

Don’t get me wrong, Aughnacloy and Tyrone aren’t without their charms – it’s just that some groups who should know, such as road hauliers, don’t think the volume of traffic on the route justifies it absorbing over half of Road Service’s Budget, even if our generous cousins in the Dail plan to stump up a third of the cost.

Given the phenomenal strains on the Northern Ireland Budget, which have the potential to break-up the mandatory coalition – the UUP are making ominous noises about walking out the door and the SDLP spent most of this week’s Finance debates explaining why they thought the Draft Budget was going to be more of a damp squib than Kevin Costner’s ‘Waterworld’ – one would have imagined that expenditure on the scale  proposed by DRD on just one road would have been the subject of intense scrutiny on the Floor of the House.  Perhaps it’s coming.

Also, given that there is no money left, is it particularly wise to spend £16m (or £32m depending upon who you speak to) on a new HQ for DARD?  And £8.6m funding for the non-profitable City of Derry Airport – anyone seen the business case for that?

The problem with the Draft Budget is that the more scrutiny it comes under, the more criticism it receives and the more questions are asked about the assumptions behind it and its consequences. 

Fortunately for the DFP Minister, Sammy Wilson, nobody has been able to come up with a more credible alternative.  Sammy’s Budget is a ‘fine mesh’ of a Budget with lots of little holes.  Those trying to discredit it as a Laurel & Hardy ‘fine mess’ Budget would have done better not to offer up alternatives with holes so big you could run the entire A5 through them.  Consequently, the Minister was able to easily brush aside their complaints:

“Mr McDevitt (SDLP, South Belfast) has tried to turn water into wine…“whine” with an h”.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Oral Questions

DFP:               

Capital Budgets / PMS / Schools: End Year Flexibility / Banks: Business Lending

Health:            

Motor Neuron Disease / NHS: Interim Management & Support / Western Health & Social Care Trust / Mater Hospital A&E / Home-Start

DEL:               

Apprenticeships / NEETs / Violence Against Staff / EMA / Night Classes

DRD:              

A5 & A8 / Belfast Harbour / Spatial Planning / Belfast Rapid Transit System / NI Water

Written Answers

OFMDFM hopes to have the Maze Conflict Resolution Centre up and running by 2015, Education revealed that it is sitting on 457 applications for school governorships and DETI advised that Invest NI has plans for a new 40-acre business park in Strabane.

Environment revealed that Craigavon Borough Council is the most proactive for issuing fixed penalty notices for dog fouling, DFP noted that the final details of the bail-out for the Presbyterian Mutual Society have yet to be finalized and DRD disclosed that the economic appraisal for the new A5 will only be completed once the Public Inquiry has finished.  According to DSD, NIHE has only recorded five incidents of sectarian harassment against tenants within the last year.

COMMITTEES

Education was putting the finishing touches to its consultation on Early Years Strategy, Environment went through the Planning Bill clause by clause and DFP had a final consideration of the draft Budget.

DRD got down and dirty with the Water & Sewerages Bill, DEL was briefed by the Open University, the DSD Minister briefed his Committee on proposed charities legislation while DCAL was back to its never-ending assessment of Museums’ policy.

AND FINALLY….

The other problem with the smaller parties’ complaints with the Draft Budget is that they have for the past four years been an integral part of very Executive they’re now complaining about.   A cynic might conclude their discontent was being unduly influenced by the upcoming election.  Put down of the week goes to Simon Hamilton (DUP, Strangford):

I was thinking as I listened to the SDLP leader introduce her party’s amendment that, if a creature from Mars came into this Chamber and listened to what she was saying, they might conclude that there is no intelligent life on this planet.”