Friday 23 April 2010

Northern Ireland Politics Unveiled

I haven't yet missed a vote since turning 18. Whether it has been a General Election, European Election, Local Assembly Election or Council Election I have turned up and put my X, 1, 2 or 3 in the appropriate box.

And what is the appropriate box?

I've spent time ensuring that my online persona is non-controversial. For me, that means no swearing, no religious talk and no political talk. People are entitled to their beliefs whether religious or political and my views don't really need to be voiced. But today, I'm making an exception. Why? Well, a general election is just a handful of weeks away and assessing the political landscape is rather current! Plus I don't intend to me too controversial.

In England, voters have a choice between left, centre and right when it comes to political views. But I live in Northern Ireland where the choice is limited to green, orange and other.

Northern Ireland politicians typically align themselves with either an orange Unionist stance (where the candidate advocates keeping Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom) and a green Nationalist stance (where the candidate advocates a single Irish state). These stances have also aligned themselves with religious beliefs - Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists (although that is not to say that there aren't Protestant Nationalists and Catholic Unionists as I know plenty of both).

For many in Northern Ireland, the issue of unionism versus nationalism means precious little. I, for one, don't particularly care too much and have a c'est la vie approach. I believe that "we are where we are" and that a democratic solution should prevail. Right now, the majority in Northern Ireland are happy with the status quo. I am, therefore, happy too. Should the majority want a united Ireland, then so be it.

For me, the important things needing addressing right now are:
  • Northern Ireland's economy
  • Academic Selection
  • Green Issues

The manifesto leaflets have started to appear through my letterbox. The party political broadcasts have been shown on television. The grotesque banners are attached to every lamp-post in the street. So now is the time to analyse the parties and judge them against the things that interest me.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)

A vote for the SDLP is a vote for reconciliation and partnership according to their manifesto leaflet, which is riddled with grammar errors. Should I vote for a party in the hope they can address education issues knowing that they don't know how to write their own manifesto? Unfortunately, the manifesto launches into orange and green rhetoric using terms such as "poisonous" and "bitter relationships" and doesn't actually touch on the real issues affecting real people. And, of course, the SDLP doesn't seem all inclusive to me as it still seeks a united Ireland. Were they to start to concentrate on the real issues affecting all communities within this country, then I may have a different view.

Ulster Conservatives & Unionists - New Force
Any political party who thinks it is a good idea to have the word Force in their name is not going to grab my attention in a positive way. However, I do like the idea that they are engaged (in a small way) with mainstream mainland politics. A normalisation of politics has got to be a good thing, right?

Democratic Unionist Party
I don't want to bash Peter Robinson as I think he's a reasonable statesman who speaks quite well. He's a man under a lot of pressure, admittedly, and his wife's antics won't have helped. But it seems to me that the D.U.P. concentrate too much on the orange issue and are riddled with Presbyterian ministers who should be spending time tending to their flock rather than meddling in issues they no nothing about. I want political leaders who are not homophobic, religious fundamentalists thank you very much! Please... live and let live.

Sinn Fein
Any political party who puts forward election candidates who would be in jail in any other country in the world should not deserve a vote. And any political party who wants to stand in an election but will refuse to actually take their seat? The mind boggles! Having said that, I have a lot of time for Sinn Fein. I love listening to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Their rhetoric is very powerful and it is easy to see why they get votes. But from a manifesto perspective, they don't tick my boxes. They have a very long way to go when it comes to convincing non-Republicans of their credentials.

Alliance Party
Finally... a political party standing in my constituency which doesn't have either an orange or a green agenda. And a manifesto leaflet with translations for Chinese and Polish communities. A manifesto which makes it clear that the border is not on the agenda and that the real issues that needing addressing are the issues that affect the normal "man on the street". But tribal politics will mean that they haven't a mission of getting elected. Westminster has only ever seen one Alliance Party MP (and I don't believe he was elected, but rather defected from the Unionists).

We have an independent standing in our constituency. I have no idea what his policies are. I can't possibly make a comment about this person but I do hope I get a leaflet or some idea of his policies soon so I can make an informed judgement on who should get my vote.

The best party political broadcast I've seen so far as been by The Green Party. Unfortunately, no Green candidate has been put forward to contest the North Belfast seat. Why?

The North Belfast constituency will undoubtedly return a unionist MP - Nigel Dodds (DUP) or Fred Cobain (UCU - NF). The constituency has existed for 125 years and has always returned either a Conservative or Unionist MP (although Stratton Mills defected to the Alliance Party for the last year of his tenure as an MP in 1973). It's hard to see that a vote for anyone other than Nigel Dodds or Fred Cobain will make any difference. But conforming would be no fun and will only perpetuate the tribalism we have come to almost accept.

In England, there is a choice of left, centre or right. I envy them such a choice.

That said, there's still time for the parties to sway me.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Northern Ireland's Dependancy On Air Travel

The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano has revealed just our fascinating the earth can be. But it has also highlighted how very precarious our position in Northern Ireland actually is.

We're well into Day 3 of the effects of the eruption and the ash in the skies has forced the National Air Traffic Service to effectively prohibit all flights within UK air space. Air travel has been an absolute necessity for many people in recent years. Whether it is for business or pleasure, the world is a smaller place in part due to the availability of cheap flights.

But Northern Ireland is in a very precarious position in UK terms. For business people in Northern Ireland, a reliable air service to mainland UK is absolutely crucial! easyJet, FlyBE and Ryanair are critical to the success of Northern Ireland businesses and the unavailability of flights in the last 3 days has hit the economy hard.

More importantly, the last time Eyjafjallajoekull erupted, it pumped ash into the atmosphere for over a year. Could the Northern Ireland economy sustain a flight-free period lasting so long? And personally, could I put up with that situation bearing in mind that I do travel quite a bit to the mainland?

High-speed broadband makes it easier to video conference, communicate or shunt data in large volumes. But it is often imperative to "press the flesh" and being unable to do so would put the talent in Northern Ireland at a serious disadvantage.

So what are the answers? Faster ferries? An Irish Sea Tunnel? A 27-mile bridge? A change in attitude towards a way of working that does not require "flesh-pressing"?

I don't have the answers but I do look towards Eyjafjallajoekull and hope that it stops spewing out the ash. My livelihood is at risk!

Monday 5 April 2010

The Gremlin

I got told this story just a couple of days ago and it's difficult to know how much of it is true or how much has been caused by elaboration through re-telling.

Here goes anyway....

The main character of our story is a young man with the mental age of a six-year old. A young man, but a quite a big man. Strong. Tall. Well built, you might say.

One day, this young man came home covered in mud.

"Why are you covered in mud?" asked his mother.

"It was the gremlin, mum" he replied.

"There's no such thing as a gremlin. What really happened?"

"No. It was the gremlin. Really."

The mother was naturally dissatisfied with the answer, but far too busy to care. Five hours later, however, her husband arrived home.

"Why are you covered in mud?" he asked his son.

"The gremlin, daddy" came the reply.

"Now. There's no such thing as gremlins. What happened?"

"No. It was a gremlin. He's out in the garaged!"

The father, mother and son trotted off to the garage and found, to the horror of two of them at least, a dwarf, tied up in the corner!

Many hours earlier, the dwarf had been walking a dog when the son grabbed him and tied him up with the dog's lead. His reason? He seriously thought the dwarf was a gremlin.

The interesting thing about the story is that it has provoked one of two reactions. Either people find the scenario absolutely hilarious or they find it deeply disturbing and quite frightening.