Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Peter and Martin's Brazil trip would be all about the getting off-side rule

First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

Proof, if proof be needed, of the reconciling power of football ... a month ago, with an election looming, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were at each other's throats. Now there's talk that they could both be off soon on a team-building away fixture to the World Cup in Rio.

Martin has already signalled he is supporting Argentina in the contest. Peter says he's backing England "for as long as England remains in the tournament and then I will go for whoever the underdogs are at that stage". (Which when you think about it, is hardly a resounding vote of confidence in Roy's boys going all the way.) In Brazil, however, they would both be supporting 'inward investment' which is, presumably, in the same group as 'strengthening ties' but certainly not – no, perish the thought – in the same group that features 'junkets'.

How knowledgeable our Stormont strikers are about the beautiful game; whether they are both au fait with the offside rule, we don't know. But they are certainly up to speed with the getting-offside rule. Previous gruelling trade missions for these two have taken them off to China, Brazil and even a red carpet movie premiere in Hollywood.

It's a tough job and all that ...

A supportive 'source' denies the World Cup invite, if accepted, would qualify as a junket.

The source points out that if the men just wanted to watch World Cup action, they'd see more on the telly at home than, er, in the stadium watching the live, thrilling action from a VIP seat soaking up the electric atmosphere of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, we all accept this. No question that if Robindinho and Martinho do go, it will constitute major sacrifice on their part. The thing is, most people – football fans especially – reading about their proposed trip, will see it as the sort of sacrifice they'd be only too happy to make themselves. If only they had the chance. The money. The time off work.

For any number of reasons, a trip to Rio for a World Cup tournament is beyond the wildest dreams of the vast majority of true fans. And while they may not exactly be seething with envy at the thought of Pete and Marty getting an all-expenses-paid invite to the finals, it's entirely legitimate for them to question how befitting this is, coming as it does at the end of yet another season when Team OFMDFM have not exactly been hitting the back of the net in the local game. We've had weeks, months of their posturing and bickering and the follow-on ratcheting up of tension that impacts upon us all. The grating thing is that, like football itself, the relationship between the pair (and their respective parties) is a cynical game of two halves. One week they're sniping at each other like Mourinho and Wenger. Next, they're smiling buddies in trade-mission mode.

Let's be honest, people would be less sceptical about their ability to turn on and off the mateyness if the smiley, chumminess didn't always seem to coincide with first-class air travel and five-star, fact-finding foreign jaunts.

The invitation to the World Cup bash in Brazil comes from a firm that employs hundreds of people here, so yes, there is a fair argument that Robinson and McGuinness should fly down to Rio. But at a traditionally fractious time of the year, might it not also help if they could work to lower tensions by turning out as OFMDFM United for the home crowd as well as for the away game? Supporting investment and economic growth starts back here. Not in Brazil. In Northern Ireland.

Actually, Belfast isn't that cosmopolitan

Michael Lombardo, president of programming with HBO (which makes TV series Game of Thrones) has apologised for describing Belfast as "not the most cosmopolitan of cities". Speaking of two HBO executives who've worked here, he'd opined: "It's a little bit of a personal challenge I don't think they contemplated when we initially found our location in Belfast, what that meant for them personally ..."

Those of us who love this old city and feel protective towards it were understandably piqued. A challenge to live here! Yet on the US scale, Belfast is indeed a bit of a backwater.

However impressive we like to think our Cathedral Quarter is, it's hardly Venice Beach. Or TriBeCa. Hurtful as Mr Lombardo's original comments might seem, if we're being realistic as opposed to emotional, he does have a point.

Let's save lives, not money, Mr Poots

There are 38 drugs used to treat cancer which are available to patients in England that are not available here in Northern Ireland.

Isn't this just shocking? We have one of the leading cancer centres in the world, but patients are not able to avail of certain breakthroughs in treatment because of lack of funding.

Money in the budget has to be found elsewhere. There is talk, for example, that if prescription charges were reintroduced, it would help. But in the great scheme of things, this is not a massive amount of money we are talking about – around £5m. And people are dying while we try to work out where it will come from.

Fund the drugs now, Mr Poots. The financial balancing act you can sort later.

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