Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

The Northern Ireland Executive: Whose job is it anyway?

Northern Ireland Executive meetings are set to become even more fun! Yes, the usually dull round of “he said, that you said, that he said” disputes about future constitutional issues, flags in the wind or the size of ministerial allowances is now set to burgeon with ‘interesting’ issues.

Following on from the High Court ruling on the ‘gay blood ban' in which the court said health minister Edwin Poots should have brought the issue to the Executive, we could be set for a storm of issues cluttering up the Executive’s in-tray. 

First in line appears to be enterprise Arlene Foster, who has said that the contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is now a matter for the Executive.

With the environment minister Mark H Durkan seemingly set against it we could have a unique situation where ministers will have to discuss – wait for it – science!

All of this is timely. This week Mrs Foster issued a press release announcing a scheme which will see MLAs paired with scientists for an exchange of information.

The release said: "Scientists will inform MLAs about their area of expertise and gain an understanding of how the Northern Ireland Assembly works, how legislation is made and how they may inform the process.

"Northern Ireland is the first regional assembly to roll out the scheme, which will focus on geosciences."

Geosciences? Rocks, minerals, oil, age of the earth etc.

But the age of the earth stuff may be a little bit contentious. After all,  some of our MLAs believe the earth is about 6,000 years old, whereas most geologists put the figure at around 4.7 billion years.

The announcement of this science/MLA pairing scheme included quotations from a professor of astrophysics. Astrophysicists date the start of this universe at around 13 billion years old.

Therefore while scientists and the scientific method will be introduced to the Executive and MLAs, the scientists in return will receive a solid grounding in theology and political fighting.

Good luck for all involved in this knowledge exchange!

Mixed bag on the economic front

Economics is such a fun topic... Actually no one in the recorded history of mankind with a sense of humour has ever uttered that sentence, but apparently it is at least important.

This week has seen mixed fortunes on the economic front: unemployment down, economically inactive up and buying Canadian. 

The jobs picture appears to be getting better; while not totally perfect with the rise of the economically inactive it is certainly improving.

With millions of pounds being poured into attracting foreign direct investment from the ever-popular Invest NI, and despite a spate of companies going into administration there seems to be new jobs outweighing job losses. Some may say that some of these new jobs are part-time, but a job is a job...or so it is claimed.

And just today the Norn Iron optical specialists Andor Technologies has bought a Canadian firm for what could end up as a £10m deal.

This is a good sign, not just because it could boost the balance book of Andor, but because it secures intellectual property...and by coincidence an Assembly Committee is considering an Intellectual Property Bill.

So, with investment conferences, global leaders, money ploughed into investments it could be that the future of Norn Iron’s economy is in securing intellectual property and copyright protection on innovations. Which means we should patent everything we can think of: unfortunately rioting is not patent protected, but the balaclava, band uniform, Orange banner, mural painting devices and such like may still be available.

In the meantime it seems that the rest of the economic picture is getting rosier if not yet totally in the pink. So how come it doesn’t feel that way?

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