Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Stormont dishes up menu free of spice

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

Given traditional republican tastes it says something about how far we've come in the peace process that, when asked to pick from his own recipe collection a dish for inclusion in a new charity cookbook, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams took the soup.

But then, so did Ian Paisley. Collusion between Sinn Fein and the DUP perhaps, with both parties privately agreeing not to go all out for main course glory?

Who's to say? But the very fact that Gerry's cauliflower and broccoli and Ian's sweet potato sit comfortably together in the new publication is a reflection of vastly changed political relationships.

In Northern Ireland politics we have, in culinary terms, moved straight from freezer to table-ready warmth without the usual long drawn out defrosting process in between.

Can this be healthy?

The politicos themselves certainly seem to have few if any reservations about this microwave method of processing peace.

Up at Stormont the only stirring these days is by the likes of the UUP's Basil McCrea. He's among those arguing that his party should consider spearheading some sort of opposition against the Chuckle coalition of DUP/Sinn Fein.

It's a valid point. Is a system which allows all parties to supply policy ingredients a classic case of too many cooks?

Meanwhile, from the electorate's point of view, there remains the suspicion that Stormont has become a bit like a five star restaurant whose patrons have lost touch with how the other 90% really live.

Our MLAs may well be focussed these days on the bread and butter issues. But you get the feeling they're only interested if they can be assured the bread is ciabatta made with finest virgin olive oil and the butter is organic.

Overall, though, the most intriguing aspect to the Stormont mix is whether simmering tensions might one day again flare up and boil over.

Thus far, head chef Ian Paisley and sous-chef Martin McGuinness (signature dish - a robust braised meatballs, apparently) have managed to keep the lid on things.

But whether Stormont à la Chuckle with Processed Peace will prove to have a long shelf life or whether, like so many local political combinations in the past, it will turn out to be just another helping of pie in the sky remains to be seen.

Sinn Fein and DUP traditionalists may well regard the fusion fare currently being served up by the Assembly as a recipe for disaster.

But if they're searching in the new political menu for a lingering flavour of their parties' respective roots (if not root vegetables) they should note the very distinct (and some would say predictable) colours of their party leaders' favoured soups.

Cue the music ?

"This is not just any cauliflower and broccoli soup. This is Gerry's cauliflower and broccoli soup, made with the finest, republican green broccoli?

"And this is not just any sweet potato soup. This is Big Ian's sweet potato soup made with a very orange sweet potato ... "



Creepy celebrities are a trial for jungle viewers

Cerys Matthews says of her on-screen jungle romance with Marc Bannerman (his previously spoken-for girlfriend has since dumped him): "My mother and father will be squirming."

Her parents will not be alone. The nearest and dearest of just about every contestant in this year's I'm A Celebrity must surely also be squirming with embarrassment.

The oil-slicked Janice Dickinson mouthing off. "Oh maaan!"

Rodney Marsh - Life on Mars without the charm.

John the mad chef who's been to anger management what Katie from the Apprentice is to female bonding. And the queen of psycho-babble cliché Lynne Edina Franks with her crazed dancing. Never mind their families squirming at them.

We've all been squirming at them.



Lots of work fixing fences

Good point of the week. John Lowry, general secretary of the Workers' Party speaking at the annual northern regional conference, spoke of the on-going sectarianism within our society. (We've now got 57 peace lines as opposed to 18 in the early 90s. What is our Assembly proposing to do about this?)

He also drew attention to how the Executive's plan for the future does not entail using resources to create publicly-owned companies providing high value jobs.

Whether or not you agree with the notion of publicly-owned companies, the point about high value jobs is an important one.

In the week in which a job fair is held to find 1,000-plus new workers for the Victoria shopping centre in Belfast, you might say that our employment prospects are rosy.

But the bulk of the jobs being established these days are in the service industry. Manufacturing in Northern Ireland seems to be going out of fashion.

Can the local economy sustain this?

Or more to the point, continue to be sustained by this?

Westminster sat back and watched as our textile industry went down the tubes. Will Stormont be more vigilant?

What (if anything) are they planning up there for the future employment prospects of those members of the population who won't get jobs in shopping malls?



£100 turkey is a choker

This Christmas sees the arrival of the £100 turkey. Not all turkeys, obviously, will cost that much. But what the farmer rearing them describes as "the Rolls-Royce of turkeys" will. What's more, the bird will feed merely an average sized family. Not, as the price tag suggests, half the entire townland.

The farmer argues that every care has gone into raising his poultry in an organic, stress-free environment.

It sounds a bit like the turkey equivalent of that ad on the television where the farmer reads bedtime stories to his cows and shields their eyes when the butcher's van passes. Still ? There's something about that £100 price tag that's hard to digest. Especially when you compare it with the sort of gifts the same amount of money could buy from one of those charity brochures where you channel the cash to Third World recipients. That £100 would buy a very, very large flock of turkeys for a village in Africa. And still leave you with enough change for a standard supermarket bird for your Christmas dinner.



Last word ...

...on the subject of England's humiliating Euro defeat by Croatia. Football commentator Mark Lawrenson sums up the moment the England keeper Scott Carson missed the first Croatian goal in that crucial game. "It was more Frank Carson than Scott." It's the way he misses them.

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