Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Constructive' debate the order of the day away from feuding and squabbling in glare of media

The Republic's bad debt bank has received an offer for its Norn Iron loan book for the small sum of €4 billion...

The reported bid has come from a US asset management company intent on taking on the remaining bad debt, accumulated by banks south of the border during those heady days when all you needed to do was show that you had more than 50p in your pocket to get a massive loan.

The National Assents Management Agency took over the ‘bad’ loan books of banks such as Bank of Ireland, First Trust and the now deceased Anglo Irish Bank. Now according to reports in the media they are up for sale.

The DUP - in the shape of money minister Simon Hamilton and party head honcho Peter Robinson welcomed the prospective investment, while Sinn Féin gave it a cautious blessing. Not that our local politicians have any real say in the matter.

While NAMA may have been courted this Valentine’s Day by asset managers, the Norn Iron Executive seems to be destined only to receive red roses from the media for giving them such ‘juicy’ stories.

Hardly a day has passed recently when health or education issues haven’t been in the spotlight.

Health(y) minister Edwin Poots stepped into the row over A&E waiting times contributing to deaths at the Royal Victoria Hospital by ordering a review across all hospitals in Norn Iron. The media interviews with families of the deceased and hospital staff must have made difficult listening, given that he has personally invested so much in making our health service fit for purpose.

A victim of its own success, the health service in Norn Iron treats more people than ever before and provides some of the best healthcare on these islands, but is it the case that demand has now out-stripped supply? In England the coalition government has brought in a retail expert – the former head of Marks & Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose – to advise on making the NHS ready for present and future challenges. Could Mr Poots do the same here? Who would that business man or woman be?  

In education too there has been lots for the media to focus on … While reading and arithmetic minister, Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, has said no school will lose out as a result of the common funding formula changes, the DUP say his sums don’t add up and that this is a stay of execution.

And, at the same time, a ‘stay of execution’ has been given to the unique Dickson Plan type of education transition applied in parts of Mr O’Dowd’s Upper Bann constituency. This sees pupils being allocated grammar or ‘other’ schools at a different age to the rest of Norn Iron.

Some may say that Mr O’Dowd has conceded to the grammar school lobby, others will say that he has merely listened to the ‘people’. To which the DUP may say has he really listened to them over the allocation of funding for schools.

Either way, ‘constructive’ debate seems to be the order of the day away from the feuding and squabbling in the glare of the media; or at least that’s how it seems until the elephant in the room - welfare reform – once again emerges from cover to ask, who will pay the bills….