Belfast Telegraph

January is over and the books need to be balanced after December promises

So, that was January...With the clock ticking away in the first week of February, it has been a pretty hectic few weeks to start 2015, as Norn Iron’s political ‘elite’ eek their way to making their December promises reality after the Stormont House Agreement.

Budgets - every household, every business, every organisation has to have one, and seemingly Norn Iron plc also has to have one. And, like the aforementioned, it has to balance the books.

With much bickering the ‘borrowing’ budget for 2015/2016 was ‘debated’ in the chamber.

But what must irk the MLAs more than an ill-tempered debate, is when they are not even allowed to take part in the debate...

There are the cynics who claim that politicians love the sound of their own voices; which may, or may not, be the reason why the DUP – backed by other parties – were so annoyed to be left out of the Westminster election televised debates.

Even the Green Party is to be included, who have the same number of MPs as Alliance – one.

Of course with pollsters and pundits predicting a ‘hung’ Parliament, the DUP could hold the balance of power in the Commons. Even the SDLP were claiming they’d have a big say in the formation of the next UK Government...

Householders threatened with increased rates bills in the shake-up of local government may breath a little easier as it was announced that the new district councils are to receive a helping hand adjusting to the new rates; but there was no news of whether those who are moving into cheaper rates areas will have to stump the extra cash...

A man who is not short of cash is former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He faced a grilling by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee on the infamous ‘On-the-Run’ letters sent to paramilitaries. While the committee session produced some great soundbites, the victims’ families of the Hyde Park Bombing at least appreciated Blair’s apology.

Another apology featured was that of Phil Flanagan – who the Assembly Speaker Mitchell McLaughlin ruled had challenged the authority of the chair. Roy Beggs was sitting in the chair at the time, trying to preside over a debate about having the Union Flag on drivers’ licences. Mr McLaughlin banned his Sinn Féin party colleague, Flanagan from speaking in the chamber until an apology was made. It wasn’t possible on the coverage to see whether Mr Flanagan said sorry through gritted teeth.

As the frigid temperatures of January merged into an even more frigid first few days of February, weather presenters obsessed over Katesbridge as the coldest place on the planet...or Northern Ireland. We’re not sure, but the world of Norn Iron’s people seemed turned on its head yet again when snow and ice arrived for a few days.

But at least the month saw some changes from normal habits. The SDLP emerged as ‘limited’ supporters of the National Crime Agency (NCA) operating in Northern Ireland.

The NCA has been compared to America’s FBI, which it should be said some other US crime-fighting agencies refer to as the ‘Feebs’. Weak, and ineffectual.

The biggest challenge facing the NCA may be breaking up criminal gangs, but for English operatives they have a massive hurdle to overcome; the language barrier.

Not Irish or Ulster-Scots, but the many interpretations of English across the north of Ireland. From Ballymena to Derry, from Fermanagh to Belfast there is many a variation. In Belfast, they will have to acknowledge the greeting “Bout ye big lad”, even if the operative is five feet five tall. They’ll have to learn to finish every sentence with a redundant preposition, or the word “like”. And, when providing information that is dubious they will be told “you’re talkin’ ballix”.

The language barrier may be so bad that the operatives may chose to work in the leafy lanes around south Belfast’s Malone Road...

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