There are signs that the green shoots of economic recovery are emerging tentatively from the undergrowth of winter woe. The number of those in work is on the up and house prices are rising in some parts of Northern Ireland. But if our embattled populace is planning to take a well-deserved contented inward breath, it should think again.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has said that more and more public sector cuts are inevitable. With £300m of cuts to the NI Executive’s budget currently in the pipeline, the minister’s remarks aren’t designed to raise the spirits of the 30% of workers who get their pay packets directly from the public purse; nor the private and third sector employers whose wages rely on contracts from government.
Prior to this reality check, Dr Richard ‘Happy’ Haass seemingly dropped his sunny demeanour the day the all-party ‘talks’ collapsed. With a definitely Mr Grumpy head on, he warned a US congressional sub-committee on foreign affairs earlier in week that violence could return to the streets of ‘our wee country’.
Dr Haass said that the failure of the talks could herald dark times. But, with this warning resonating in congressional ears, the attentions of our political leaders are diverted to the St Patrick’s Day party. No! Not the drink-fuelled student parties in Belfast’s Holylands, the one in Washington DC.
As per usual, this time of the year sees a pilgrimage to the new holy land for Irish politicos seeking to court the power brokers on Capitol Hill. For some, if not all of us, it’s just a great chance to relax, watch sport, shop, or walk to the top of Slemish and toast our patron saint.
No matter that most of the stories about Patrick are myths, any excuse for a ‘jolly’ is a good one; whatever side of the Atlantic you happen to be!
Councils – the way of the future…
When the Assembly takes a breath after the St Patrick’s Day festivities, MLAs have set aside two days for the consideration stage of the local government bill. This important piece of legislation will dictate the governance arrangements for the 11 new ‘super’ councils. If you want to find out more about these councils and the extra powers they’ll have, keep an eye on the hashtag #participate14 as we countdown to the local government elections on May 22.
Elsewhere, the committee for the office of first minister and deputy first minister will be hearing from officials about the creation of an Equality and Good Relations Commission; an amalgamation of the Community Relations Council and the Equality Commission.
Class barriers will be the focus of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure when it hears evidence as part of its inquiry into inclusion in the arts of working class communities.
And, for those that – wrongly – think that MLAs are full of hot air, the committee for the environment is taking legal advice on its wind energy inquiry. Make of that what you will...