Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness toasting the Queen, holidays, healthcare and education

By Will Chambre

Our wonderful MLAs are about to adjourn for their easter recess, but what a week they have had – surely enough for them to retreat to their constituency offices for a break.

We have seen the visit by Michael D Higgins over-shadowed here by Deputy First minister Martin McGuinness toasting the Queen at a state banquet in the Irish president’s honour. There has also been a crisis conference over A&E and rumours of the demise of the Education and Skills Authority.

While Mr McGuinness was arousing suspicious comments for toasting Her Majesty, phone lines and the commentariat were going into overdrive about the issue, while the Queen and the president were the model of diplomacy.

Somehow all this diplomatic bon homie left unionists at a loss as to what to say about this model of reconciliation. Victims were much more voluble than all shades of unionism, but then again what point could unionists make without seeming to snub the monarch to whom they profess their loyalty.

Much more relevant to the lives of the proverbial man and woman on the street are the healthcare stories that have been blossoming across the media. The good news is that according to reports and assessments, things are getting better...even men are living longer. MRSA infection rates are dropping and waiting times, such as for hip replacements are also dropping.

While at the same time, the RQIA has published a less than flattering report into the emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the deaths of five babies at the Northern Health Trust are under investigation. Health minister Edwin Poots must be at his wit's end trying to show that for most of the time the health and social care services here work pretty well.

Another member of the NI Executive at his wit's end is education minister John O'Dowd. He must have grabbed some shut-eye after his Wednesday grilling at the hands of the Assembly’s Education Committee, only to wake up to screaming headlines in the Belfast Telegraph that the Education and Skills Authority was dead in the water.

It is likely that the troubled Education Bill will fade from the Assembly's consciousness, despite Mr O'Dowd's forthcoming paper to his executive colleagues, and is not likely to be resuscitated until well after the May elections.

Of which more later...

But in terms of good news at least the phones were buzzing, as call centre jobs topping 1,000 were announced by Concentrix amidst much back slapping by ministers.

Nice to see that our Norn Iron accent's dulcet tones will be heard around the world.

With this all going on MLAs are away to roll painted eggs down hills, eat chocolate Easter bunnies, pray on Good Friday, celebrate 1916, observe temperance directives, issue statements, or whatever they intend to do during their time off.

However, when they return to the Hill on April 28, it will be a headlong charge towards the May 22 local and European elections. For all intents and purposes, this means that real work – at least any controversial work – will be held in abeyance lest a stray word or comment is picked up by rivals.

In this context, we shall see each party’s vision for Northern Ireland. At least that is when we strip away the green and orange name calling and spats.

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