Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

MLAs have a fine life, but it's parking fines for rest of us

Belfast - Our Time, Our Place, Our Double Yellow Lines ... As visitors flocked into our capital city on Monday to compete, spectate or just to go shopping during the annual May Day marathon, witnesses describe watching a small army of traffic wardens descend like a red-coated municipal militia upon their cars.

No parkarán!

True, some of the visitors had parked on double yellow lines. And we all know you shouldn't park on double yellow lines.

But perhaps some of those visitors had also mistakenly assumed that Belfast was being serious in its stated claim to make 2012 a year all about attracting tourists.

Might there not be a better way of leaving people with a lasting memory of their time in our place than a parking ticket demanding immediate settlement or further extortionate hiking of fine?

Would it really be such an awful thing to suspend city centre parking fees on public holidays in Belfast - especially a public holiday dedicated to the workers?

In fact, let's be blunt, would it not be an idea to just scrap the on-street parking charge altogether?

The current system is a nonsense. It costs more to run than it rakes in for Stormont, so what precisely is the point?

It discourages shoppers and hits city centre businesses which already have enough on their plate, what with battling recession and Phoenix Gas bills.

But up at that ivory tower in Stormont it will, of course, make perfect sense. Stormont-on-the-hill where, as you will be aware, they don't have parking charges.

How many of our MLAs park and ride to work? How many take the bus? How many know the misery of having to budget a substantial whack of their weekly wage on parking costs? Or having to juggle a system with work colleagues that helps them cut down on travel costs?

MLAs are, of course, protected from all this because they can claim expenses. Like their subsidised meals, their paid-for office expenses, their perks and assorted jollies, it all combines to shield them from the real world.

Week-in, week-out up at Stormont they churn out pious, prissy new bans and regulations which they tell us will be better for our health or good for the environment yet all they are really doing is making life tougher for struggling consumers and business people alike.

They are kind to the environment, but remarkably inconsiderate to the people they purport to serve. Our education system is still a mess, the health system is falling apart, most of our main roads have deeper potholes than the Hindu Kush, the housing and construction industries stagnate and the young can't get jobs.

But never mind all that. We've sorted a fee for supermarket shopping bags and have hidden the ciggies behind the newsagents' counters so Stormont must be working, mustn't it? Up in that big gilded palace our two biggest parties - the bosom buddies of Stormont's self-serving coalition - farcically claim to represent the working class. But where is the evidence on the streets?

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