Belfast Telegraph

It's a bit rich of Stormont to make cuts that ended in schoolboy's death

By Lindy McDowell

Never let it be said that we skimp on the important things in Northern Ireland. Figures released in recent days (due to the dogged persistence of Stormont's OMO - its One Man Opposition, Jim Allister) show that the cost of running the OFMDFM is almost on a par with the cost of running the White House.

Bargain or what?

The Americans get Barack Obama, the most powerful man on earth, the leader of the free world, the Commander in Chief.

We get Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

The cost of keeping the bloated OFMDFM ticking over is now almost two-thirds as much as the running costs of the White House. The OFMDFM has a staff twice the size of that the Prime Minister of the UK. If the extravagance of the Stormont Raj stopped there it just might be forgivable. But week in, week out we learn of more money squandered by our great, bloated, cosseted, self-serving, ineffectual, inefficient apology for an administration.

Stormont throws money around like an oligarch in a car showroom. The difference being that at least the oligarch's money is his own.

Stormont is to canny budgeting what Kim Kardashian is to modesty. And while there may have been times in the past when we could overlook executive extravagance as the price of the peace process and tell ourselves, och sure, plenty more where that comes from, not any more.

Not when Stormont-administered cutbacks impact on just about every aspect of all our lives. Not when they're closing hospitals and pruning health staff, unable even to fix street lights or properly fund policing.

How utterly, utterly shameful that we learn of the full extent of OFMDFM excess in a week in which we also learn that the only MS respite facility in Northern Ireland (at Dalriada Hospital) is set to close. That decision, we are told, is part of a "financial rebalancing programme".

Most of us would feel that such "financial rebalancing" is more than a bit skewed.

And equally skewed, equally shameful, are the cutbacks and economies that have led to one of the most shocking and heartbreaking stories of the year. The decision to save money by not sending a school bus to pick up a family of young children and bring them to their primary school in Cloughmills.

That saved money all right. But it cost the life of a little boy. Those close to the child, understandably enough, blame the education board to which they had appealed.

But surely it goes higher up than that. It is Stormont, bumbling, improvident Stormont, which has overseen the cuts which have placed workers further down the chain in a position where they have to make the call on who gets transportation to school and who doesn't. It is Stormont whose party petty bickering over budgets has led to this. Stormont that splurges on its own staffing but can't save the Dalriada.

Stormont that can afford to send Peter and Martin on five-star, fact-finding jaunts to China, Brazil and Hollywood. But can't afford to re-route a school bus half a mile up a country road.

Shame on the whole damned lot of them. Not just the OFMDFM double act. But the whole overpaid, mint-sucking shower of them. (Although respect at least to Jim Allister for his continuing exposure of Stormont squandering.) Nobody is suggesting that a bit of belt-tightening at the big house would be the answer to all our economic woes. But it would be a start. Stormont is over-staffed, overpaid and pandered to from all sides.

Not only does the OFMDFM cost over two-thirds what it takes to run the White House ... given the number of American special envoys the US keeps sending us, we could open our own Oval Office. And you'd laugh at the farce of it all if it wasn't for the thought of the MS unit threatened with closure, hospital services elsewhere cut and curtailed. But above all, that haunting scene from a rural road in Co Antrim. The ultimate responsibility for all of this stops with Stormont. The buck - not just those megabucks - stops here.

Jamie’s punishment  is food for thought

Spare the rod and spoil the child, the mantra of the pro-smacking lobby, has been served up with a whole new foodie twist by celeb chef Jamie Oliver, whose reworked recipe is spare the chilli and spoil the child. Mr Oliver has revealed that he punished one of his daughters for bad behaviour by serving her apple slices swiped with very hot chilli.

There’s reprimand with added antioxidant. What the menu would describe as fusion. Needless to say this fusion (which was possibly tongue-in-cheek) has created a great fuss.

Using food as punishment is, according to critics, as low as a parent can stoop. Even if the child lapped it up.

Talk about making a fuss over nothing

When former blacksmith Barney Devlin, inspiration for Seamus Heaney’s poem The Forge, appeared in an episode of the BBC’s Countryfile they gave him subtitles. Mr Devlin comes from Castledawson in Co Londonderry, not that far from my own neck of the woods.

In fact, compared to where I come from, Castledawson is a metropolis. Should we see this as an insult, as some have suggested? A slight to Irish people and Irish culture? I think we need to calm down a bit.

The local accent to the untrained ear can be a bit hard to make out. Where’s the harm in helping make things clear? They gave Nadine Coyle subtitles on US TV. It’s no big deal.

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