Belfast Telegraph

All very strange in the first and last quarter of 2015

Most of the people start the year in January, but in the world of business and the revenue the months from January until the end of March are the final quarter of ‘their’ year.

The practice dates from when we adhered to the Julian calendar when the new year started on 25 March.

Tax collectors seemingly take a long time to catch up with new trends like 1 January now being the start of the ‘calendar year’.

It also seems that Northern Ireland’s political classes are taking a long time catching up with what is the ‘real world’.

In the real world, outside the hallowed halls and corridors of Parliament Buildings, there are fears that the green shoots of recovery are being sprayed with the new brand of austerity weed killer.

With the Westminster election in the second/first quarter of the year, the months from January to March have been filled with twists and turns.

We have seen pacts, pouts and pressing issues on a variety of issues...

January, to be fair, started on a pretty optimistic note after the last minute Stormont House Agreement signing in December.

Even the Budget Bill debates were relatively uneventful; but in those debates the discord was beginning to show as the Executive parties began a round of point-scoring.

With the Agreement having numerous deadlines to meet, the welfare reform agenda seemed all set to go forth until, within 48 hours of its annual conference concluding in Derry, Sinn Féin pulled the plug. The party withdraw its support for the Welfare Bill just as it was about to cross the finishing line. Once again the process was left in limbo with the Norn Iron Executive facing the prospect of a further cut in its block grant; a Treasury imposed penalty for not implementing the welfare changes.

This also puts the plans of thousands of public sector employees to quit their jobs to take up gardening and golf into jeopardy. A key point in the Stormont House Agreement was that the Treasury would ‘lend’ the Northern Ireland Executive millions of pounds to pay for what is euphemistically termed a ‘Voluntary Exit Scheme for the Northern Ireland Civil Service’. Golf courses across the land had been planning for an influx of civil servants clogging up the greens...

With all the jockeying and posturing over welfare reform you would almost think that there was an election in May...

And, with an electorate not exactly eager to engage with the political classes, parties have been desperately trying to maximise their vote. The DUP and UUP have agreed that they should be maximising what they are calling the unionist vote through pacts in four constituencies. Sinn Féin courted the SDLP for a similar deal, but were re-buffed.

The ‘unionist pact’ has been robustly defended by all concerned, not least by Ulster Unionist chief Mike Nesbitt, who will stand down his party’s candidates in north and east Belfast in return for a clear run in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and Newry and Armagh.

That the two parties couldn’t agree on more constituencies is because of a variety of reasons, which to be honest are too tiresome to rehearse. After all, come the 8 May, political anoraks and punters from across the land will be going through the successful candidates votes and share of vote with the proverbial fine tooth comb.

Before then, the DUP has been feeling rather put out by those dastardly broadcasters for being left off the TV debates. Whether it would have helped them  to garner more votes in a GB focused debate is questionable, but the publicity they have received for making such a song and dance about their exclusion has more than made up for any slight they may feel.

Perhaps that is why UKIP saw it as opportune time to reach out to the DUP about working together to force a referendum on EU membership, come the day after the election on 7 May. Of course, the prospect of UKIP and/or the DUP holding the reins of a minority government must be in the mind of many a person, not least Enda Kenny...

When Ireland’s Taoiseach  addressed a CBI dinner recently, any talk about the Stormont House Agreement was dealt with quickly in favour of expressing grave concern over any potential exit of the UK from the European Union.

With the outcome of the general election on a pollsters knife edge, the importance of snagging a few MPs here and there gives added significance for all the parties – apart from Sinn Féin, who won’t be taking their seats in the H of C...

Akin to Stalin decreeing a five year plan, Peter Robinson has a five-point plan that outlines what Norn Iron wants, claiming it’s not just a plan for the party.

More money, no bedroom tax etc. These sorts of demands aimed at catching the eye of voters no doubt, but how many voters will turn out after so many have been turned off politics over the last year or so.

One would have to have a Ouija Board to figure that out, but East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell wants them banned (he asked the UK Government to regulate sales of these alleged predictive devices...).

As if things weren’t hot and heavy enough pre-election, it has emerged that the Assembly committee for regional development has referred the minister for regional development to the Public Prosecution Service over the Coleraine to Derry~Londonderry railway project. Now that’s taking the scrutiny role of committees seriously!

As to common sense, we'll have to reserve judgment on the new so called 'super' councils. These behemoths of local government are already showing signs of becoming rich seams for satirists to plough. But as they assume their full powers - on April Fools' Day -  we can but hope that they look up the word 'responsibility' in the dictionary, and get down to real work, not bickering.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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