Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Can you imagine what would happen if our MLAs were given truth serum?

C11 h17 N2 O2 S Na

For those of who do not have children doing GCSE examinations in chemistry at the moment you may be unfamiliar with the letters and numbers above, they are a chemical formula – a formula for one of the most dangerous chemical concoctions on the planet.

It is the formula for Sodium Pentothal – the barbiturate sometimes known as the truth serum.

Can you imagine the damage that could be inflicted in our political system, if it was ever administered to our MLAs, or worse still, our Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive?

Amidst the plethora of debates in the Assembly, media interviews and Executive press releases there are so many allusions to truth that it is difficult to find where the facts lie, let alone an impartial interpretation of those debates.

Of course, one area you would expect to be familiar with chemical formula is in health. And the battle lines over health have been drawn this week, with the SDLP accusing Health Minister Edwin Poots of introducing privatisation by stealth.

Quoting Bevan’s vision, and decrying parts of the NI Health Department’s Transforming Your Care, as forcing people towards private care pathways, they were vocal in the chamber and on the media.

The Minister was robust in his denial, while even industry figures and health spokespeople were drawn into the airwaves debate.

But with an already mixed economy and the purchasing of private services part of policy from the late 1980s, aren’t the private and social enterprise sectors already a key part of our health and social services landscape? Or, is it essential to maintain a balance that has the health service as the lynchpin public service?

Whatever, it is certain that health is costing NI plc more each year, as people have discovered the annoying habit of living longer, with the help of more expensive treatments.

Waiting lists and crowded A&E departments are debated in the Assembly and elsewhere as issues, when they are symptoms of a changing demographic, which is partly addressed by Transforming Your Care.

But our MLAs, while no doubt well briefed belie their ideologies, as they debate these issues. And, one wonders what they actually think when they utter their opinions in debates.

And that is where Sodium Pentothal could be dangerous – the truth serum administered, we could listen to their real thoughts and their real opinions...a dangerous precedent in politics would ensue.

And congratulations to us!

It is always nice to receive an award, but it is even better to receive an award from ourselves for us.

Yes, it really is nice to see us rewarding ourselves! We refer to this week Northern Ireland Tourist Board awards for tourism – while there were many worthy recipients who deserve acclaim for their work, for others we scratched our heads.

Titanic Belfast and the 2012 Irish Open where among the winners.

We therefore have a publicly funded body (the Tourist Board) presenting awards to events and destinations that were partly publicly funded either through sponsorship or capital investment.

Now, we think that the Open and Titanic Belfast are fantastic, but is there a potential conflict of interest that should have excluded these.

Of course, a better move might have been an announcement that the North West 200 would be afforded more flexibility to cope with

Norn Iron’s variable weather, but after all the typical NW200 visitor tends to be of the biker variety and not really suitable for the suit wearers who seem to prefer those nicely dressed golfers and bemused tourists from cruise ships.

In the absence of any office employee of the month, we have just decided to commend ourselves! What for? We don’t know yet, but in between serving all our clients, we’ll fold some paper for an Origami presentation to everyone here!

And next week we shall be discussing...

Only one month until our MLAs take a break from their legislative programme and heady round of debating and committee meetings.

Summer recess and holidays may be planned for our elected representatives, but this coming week they are knuckling down to a busy committee programme.

The Planning Bill discussion is keeping the Committee for the Environment on their toes, while Education is thinking about school enhancement and Priorities for Youth, and the Regional Development committee is wrestling with the Translink funding conundrum.

But, in our diligent search through committee business on behalf of our clients, we couldn't help but notice one wee gem.

For those of you not familiar with corporate governance, the Department for Finance and Personnel is responsible for guiding and assisting all departments on how to buy goods and services, as well as a range of other duties.

That is why it is intriguing to see the Department for Finance and Personnel is before the Public Accounts Committee, which continues its “Inquiry into Department of Finance and Personnel - Collaborative Procurement and Aggregated Demand”.

Wow – DFP subject to an inquiry...should be fascinating!

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