Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Lindy McDowell: Are MLAs just driving on the road to nowhere?

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

You have to wonder about the timing. The country is in recession. In the real world every penny is being scrimped and counted.

In the real workplace the talk is of reining in needless extravagance.

But has this registered up at Stormont? Has it hell!

Rev up that bus engine and get the show on the road.

Like a reformed Seventies pop group, the Northern Ireland Assembly is going on tour.

In fact, make that not 'the Northern Ireland Assembly' but the much snappier and intimate 'your Assembly'.

The much more accurate 'your Assembly' given that you are picking up the tab for it.

Just as you will be paying for 'The Northern Ireland Assembly Roadshow - Bringing Your Assembly to You'.

OK, so the glossy promotional material advertising, the 11 gigs (mostly in Belfast/Down), may not have cost all that much.

Ditto the hire of venues and the cost of the tea and coffee.

And I'm assuming the liveried luxury bus on the brochure is merely a computer mock-up.

MLAs will presumably be making their own way to their local event (and they won't be charging expenses, will they?).

But the point is, however low costs can be kept, is there any justification for this PR stunt in the first place?

Supporters will reel off the usual guff about need to engage and outreach but if 'your Assembly' was doing the business up at Stormont, then there would be no need to take the show on the road in order to 'talk about the work of the Assembly'.

They'd actually be doing the work of the Assembly. As for hearing about 'the issues which concern you' ...

We have over 100 well-paid MLAs up at the Big House.

We pay them well.

We feed them well (subsidised Tilapia in Herb Crust).

Is it really beyond them to get out and about under their own steam and learn about these 'issues which concern you'?

Let's be blunt about it.

People are bored rigid with the Assembly and its interminable wrangling and petty in-fighting.

Stormont, if not exactly a waste of space, is seen by many as a waste of money.

We have more public representatives per square metre in these parts that just about any place else in the Western world.

But far from being represented by a dizzying diversity it's just more (and more) of the same ...

The DUP/Sinn Fein coalition which makes Jordan and Peter look like a marriage made in heaven.

And outside of that, the bickering rest of them.

When were you last inspired, enthused, struck or even mildly impressed by something said, or the someone saying it, up at Stormont?

The Assembly has disappeared up its own backside.

Irrelevant to many, and viewed as an extravagance by many more

The very fact that it sees the need to take the show on the road smacks of desperation.

This is the local version of New Labour's Big Conversation. Stormont's Wee Chat ...

The money spent on the Assembly Roadshow may not, as I say, amount to all that much in the great scheme of Stormont spending.

But I bet more than a few of those voters with whom the tour team wish to 'engage' could suggest much better ways of spending that cash.

As for demonstrating how in touch with the electorate they are ... ?

The Assembly is going on the road at a time when an increasing number are claiming it's already reached the end of the road.

You really have to wonder about the timing.

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