Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

With Richard Haass gone the Assembly got back to discussing ... Haass

Haass is gone, and when the Assembly sat down for its first plenary session after the talks, one item of business dominated… the Haass talks.

However, strange as it may seem there was other business being done by the good men and women of the legislative assembly.

Much of it was not always satisfactory to the pundits and public phone-in green ink brigade, but it was nevertheless work.

Two of the main things that bother the vast majority of people are the parts of public life that affect most of us – the health service and education.

A series of development proposals for schools in south and east Belfast were unveiled by education minister, John O’Dowd, who at times must have thought that he had sipped from a poisoned chalice. No matter what course he took there would be pupils, parents, teachers and principals unhappy.

In the end he managed to annoy only a few of the commentariat. But this may only be a temporary accomplishment. In the year ahead the thorny issues of common funding formula and the almost stillborn education and skills authority lie ahead like landmines.

At the same time, joining Mr O’Dowd in donning his ministerial flak jacket is health minister, Edwin Poots. Shortly after it emerged that A&E services in Lisburn and Downpatrick were being scaled down, the Royal Victoria Hospital’s A&E department declared a major incident as a result of weight of patients.

Set against a backdrop of re-shaping health services for a population with no decrease in birth rate and is also stubbornly living longer, the inevitable fact is that health and personal social services will cost more year-on-year.

While brickbats will be fired across the chamber and the committee rooms, the issues around education and health – the strained budgets in classrooms and in hospital wards, will need to be met with maturity and ingenuity. Are these features that the average member of our legislative assembly displays on a regular basis?

No, you don’t have to answer that as each every one of the 108 MLAs think of themselves as mature, creative and all-round super people who can solve any problem. After all, what does Mr Haass know of their abilities!

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