Saturday, 28 December 2013
As Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan work to bring this current process to a conclusion it is clear that there will be no surprises. Many years ago the republican movement ceased to believe in the rapid achievement of its objectives by political or military means and settled instead for a process of progressive realisation. As a consequence that which is considered an agreement by other participants, whether Belfast Agreement, St Andrew’s Agreement or this latest attempt by Haass is considered to be a mere step in a process by republicans. Therein lies the source of unionist frustration in that republicans are always pressing for more where unionists are placed immediately on the defensive, having formerly tried to reach that final elusive agreement which allows us all to move on. That final agreement will not come, while Haass may resolve some issues unionists will know that whatever republicans fail to achieve this time will form the basis of future negotiations, future demands for concessions and again unionists will be presented as the intransigent partners. Unionist frustration will be intensified not only by the words and commitments as they appear in any Haass proposal but by the extensive reinterpretation of their meanings by republicans. One example to be released by those involved in the negotiations was the early call by Haass for the introduction of a Bill of Rights as agreed in the Belfast Agreement. That is a republican interpretation of the consideration of whether rights supplementary to the existing legislation, to take account of the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, was required. The subsequent process resulted in the development of, what some advocates considered to be, the most expansive Human Rights demands in the world. So what of this process which cannot give justice, cannot give truth, cannot solve the parades issue and may only provide for the flying of the Union Flag in limited circumstances. At best the victims of the conflict will have access to a support service worthy of the name, some victims may get some answers, both honourable objectives. At worst, hundreds of thousands of former soldiers and policemen will spend the rest of their lives waiting on a call to appear before a panel to be quizzed on where they were and who they were with 20, 30 or 40 years ago knowing that the only answer acceptable to republicans will be the rewriting of history. It was George Orwell’s narrative on the authoritarian government in his novel 1984 which stated “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ The mantra, the objective and the authoritarian control are the same in fiction as in real life republican politics in Northern Ireland. Where now for unionists? Whatever the results of this process it is not the end there will be more negotiations. It is time for unionists to determine what it is they really want, what will get them on the front foot, what will put pressure on republicans or governments. Too many times we have entered the process on the defensive it is time to change the rules of the game.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 11:32
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Posted on January 4, 2013 by stephennicholl So Basil first voted Ulster Unionist at the time of the Belfast Agreement, which begs the question of just what political allegiances, if any, he exhibited before that time. In a recent Belfast Telegraph interview he states “I first voted Ulster Unionist at the time of the referendum on the Belfast Agreement. I later joined the UUP to find a way forward that encompassed the spirit of the Agreement and I shall be asking the party if those principles are what it still believes in.” Basil of course would have recognised that the Belfast Agreement itself was a defining moment in Ulster Unionist history with many in the party still committed to the view that the agreement was too one sided. Indeed what Unionism in general is discovering is that whether it was the Belfast Agreement or the St Andrew’s Agreement the term agreement is meaningless when it comes to how Republicans interpret history. For them the progressive realisation of Republican objectives remains the priority whether it is advancing symbols of Republicanism or removing symbols of Britishness. As Unionism struggles to decide how to both address an imperfect political system which is delivering poor governance at the same time as dealing with opponents whose word will never be their bond Basil decides to chart his own course. He complains that the party is moving away from what he perceived the position to be in 1998, in truth his perception was wrong. Ulster Unionism stretched itself to breaking point to advance the Peace Process, Ulster Unionism considered the Agreement to be the end point, Republicans and Basil have taken it only as a start. Basil joined the UUP and entered politics, not because of his unionism, but because of his opportunism. His defining ideology is egotism to the point where he has actively and successfully undermined the political careers of several UUP candidates. His politics are parasitical and while I have no doubt the media will feed his lust for attention I doubt if any other party could afford to bask in his shadow as no doubt they would have to should he seek to join them.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:49
Posted on November 22, 2012 Strategic issues to be considered in relation to the Antrim-Ballymena area plan. In considering the options presented within the Antrim-Ballymena area plan there were a number of strategic issues within the plan which required clarification, it is also clear that the options presented represented a narrow selection of the range of options that could have been considered. Given that the plans as presented represent the infrastructure available to deliver education over the next 20 – 30 years The change in the proposed profile of Parkhall students will require a re-profiling of the of the enrolment figures for Parkhall and Antrim Grammar by reducing the number of pupils at Parkhall and increasing the numbers attending Antrim Grammar in the 16-19 age range. In option 2 of the area plan Cullybackey High School becomes an 11-16 co-educational school with 850 pupils, an increase of 150 pupils over its current enrolment 700 pupils drawn from the 11-19 age group. This raises the issues of where the additional pupils are to be drawn from, what the cost implications are of increasing the school size or the increase in travel costs due to taking pupils from a larger catchment area. The proposals in the area plan options presented are contrary to the widely accepted view that educating children together is the best model to address sectarianism. The absence of such an option severely limits the public discussion on the area plan process. In this context an option which created a partnership between Antrim Grammar, Parkhall and St Benedicts would have been worthy of inclusion. The merger of Ballymena Academy with Cambridge House Grammar school will create an all ability comprehensive school albeit with the ability to self-select the pupils in attendance. Again this raises the question of why this particular merger is presented in isolation from the range of alternative options available. What are the long term strategic benefits to society of considering a merger between St Louis Grammar and Ballymena Academy or a merger between Cambridge House and Slemish College? Why were such options not placed before the community to discuss? Given the reduction in pupil number in any merged Ballymena Academy/Cambridge House model it is likely that such a reduction would be achieved by restricting intake numbers through the selection process. Should any merger not take place a reduction in Grammar school numbers by restricting the numbers of pupils which could be taken with lower grades would quite possibly negatively impact upon the intake of one or other of the Grammar Schools unequally. Such a decision would result in a further change in education provision in the near future in an unplanned, unstructured manner. The need to ensure clarity and focus around the delivery of the 16-19 entitlement in relation to subject areas is not best served by trying to present most schools as 11 – 19 schools. There has been no consideration in these proposals for the need to focus 16-19 provision on a limited number of sites. The area plan also fails to adequately outline the integration of the NRC into much of the current 16-19 provision. In summary the proposals presented in the area plan represent the wishes of a few schools as opposed to a structured rational assessment of all of the potential options for the delivery of education in the Antrim Ballymena area in the future. A wider discussion, focussing upon delivery as well as infrastructure is still required to ensure that all of the best options have been considered.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:48
Posted on October 18, 2012 by stephennicholl So during the debate on the 2nd stage of the Education Bill just what did Mervyn Storey DUP Chairman of the Education Committee say. In response to a question from David McNarry on the future of grammar schools Mervyn stated; “A legal document, in the region of 10 or 11 pages, that was made available to us was as conclusive as the answer from the Education Minister a few moments ago about how to break down the definition between the employing authority and the employer. Not having any legal background, I do not want to tread too far into that territory other than to say that their (OFMDFM) heads of agreement was an attempt to ensure that the concerns, particularly among voluntary grammars, about the voluntary principle were enshrined in legislation in such a way that it did not take away from them the autonomy, responsibility or place they have had but recognised that we were still moving to a place where there would be the establishment of a single employing authority. In direct answer to the Member, I believe that there will be no change to that current arrangement and system other than that the employer will be ESA. The Committee needs to take time to be clear in members’ minds that that is the case and to have every possible assurance that we are not moving to a situation in which this Bill will be used for some other purpose, reason or means.” Surely if the heads of agreement was signed off by Peter Robinson then it should represent more than just an attempt to ensure that concerns were met. Surely if the DUP delivered on the heads of agreement they would not need the additional reassurance that the Bill will be used for other purposes. Mr Storey then, in response to a question from Basil McCrea about the recognition of the voluntary grammar school principle said; “That is where we want to get to, and that is why I believe that the issue that I raised at the start about schedule 2 and the linkage between the Bill and the ‘Heads of Agreement’ needs to be clear. It should have been clearer before we got to this stage. However, having got to this stage, the work that we have ahead of us with your party colleagues on the Education Committee is to ensure that recognition is reflected in a way in which we understand…….. Unfortunately, however, when you are dealing with the party that is responsible for bringing the Bill to the House or with the Department of Education, one can never be sure that that is exactly how it is, but the duty and role that has been vested in the Committees is to ensure that, when it comes to the minutiae and the detail, we are as clear as we possibly can be and that we have as many checks and balances as possible in place to ensure that those who have concerns have them mitigated.” So Mervyn is clear then, the heads of agreement negotiated by Peter is not the robust protection required and there remains concern about Sinn Fein’s intentions. And so Jim Allister asks; “Has the Member any concern that the Trojan Horse for moving matters towards the destruction of the voluntary grammar schools might well be the area-planning powers now in the Bill?” To which Mervyn replies; “I share his concern, and not only on area planning. We need to look at every element of the Bill, and I will come to the inspectorate later on. It will raise more concerns for me, although I share concerns about the area planning process.” So Mervyn shares Jim Allister’s concerns about the process not just about area planning but about other elements as well. He continues, “As mentioned by Mr Allister, the Bill will make ESA the area planning authority for schools in Northern Ireland. The Committee recently spent some time considering the operation of the area planning process. I do not intend to discuss that at length at this time. It is sufficient to say that the majority of Committee members are most unimpressed by the area planning and viability audit process that has been exercised to date……… We have issues with the current process, and, if we have issues now, I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we will have issues with the area planning that is outlined in the Bill. Clause 27 requires an adequate opportunity for persons to make representations to ESA on revisions to area plans. Given its recent experience, I expect that the Committee will wish to deliberate on exactly what will constitute an adequate opportunity.” Still stating the fundamental flaws in the Bill he states, “The Education Bill is yet another cause for concern for many in the education sector, including, as I said, our principals, teachers, boards of governors and others……. The majority of Committee members are just about content to allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage, albeit with some reservations and issues that they believe will have to be further explained and ironed out and amendments that will have to be agreed.” On his party’s concerns he states, “The Bill seeks to confer certain responsibilities on ESA and the board of governors with regard to the Irish language sector.” “when we come to the Bill, lo and behold, the integrated sector has disappeared. It is not in the Bill, but the Irish-medium sector is.” “Furthermore, there are differences in the approach to the role given to boards of governors in the controlled sector with regard to being the submitting authority for schemes of management and the approach to the role in the Catholic maintained sector. That is another area that has given rise to concerns. We, as a party, need to be satisfied that no deals will be done by the Minister or his officials outside the Bill.” “That brings me to the clauses that deal with the inspectorate. I know that it was unfair to ask the officials, on their first outing to the Committee on Wednesday past, about that issue, but we took the opportunity to say to them that we had great concern about the inspectorate seemingly being used in the pursuit of political or departmental objectives.” “I get concerned when I see the powers that the Bill seeks to confer. Although it has been said that the powers will try to bring the inspectorate into line with other arrangements in the United Kingdom, I am concerned that we will have a situation where we have an inspectorate that is very strong in its powers. The provisions, we are told, are similar to those previously drafted, with the exception of the removal of the inspection powers for library premises, as requested by DCAL. I have to ask why the Department feels it necessary to have an inspectorate that can lift papers and lift computers. I place it on record that I trust that it is not being used by the Department as another method of spooking or spying on primary schools that are being put in a very difficult position around transfer.” Despite all of these concerns about the implications of the Bill and what the Minister would use the powers in the Bill for Mervyn and his colleagues were committed to supporting it. When considering why this should be the later exchange between Danny Kinahan and Mervyn are illuminating. Danny suggested that the “First Minister realised that he could not sell to his own party what he had agreed.” Mervyn’s angry intervention in response was to state, “Let me make it very clear: there are no differences between Peter Robinson and myself; and there are no differences between Peter Robinson and the members of this party.” So the question is, are the DUP supporting the Education Bill because it is a robust and transparent piece of legislation which they are happy to endorse? Alternatively are the DUP supporting the Education Bill because Peter stumbled on the heads of agreement and they have no option other than to vote for their leader?
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:45
Posted on August 28, 2012 by stephennicholl The recent decisions of the Parades Commission have sought to change the environment for the celebration of culture and tradition in Northern Ireland by establishing new precedents. In Belfast the decision to demand the return parade by North Belfast Orangemen had to be completed past Ardoyne shops by 4.00pm defied any logical understanding of time and place. It did however reflect the inability of the Commission to ban a parade even though it is clear that given the opportunity that is precisely what they would do. Their bizarre decision was further compounded by the decision to permit a parade of several thousand dissident republicans, intent on attacking police, along the same stretch of road from which a few dozen Orangemen had been restricted from walking after 4.00pm. In Crumlin the decision to restrict the return parade to only local Orangemen went some way to meeting the demands of Republicans. The decision, far from being the success Peter Osborne believes has established a precedent which will be repeated in towns and villages across Northern Ireland as 12th demonstrations are rotated through local Districts. As in Crumlin, in each town and village Sinn Fein will agitate their supporters, being generous in their assertion that they do not hate all prods just the ones who don’t live in their town. Osborne’s victory will deliver years of antagonism and tension across Northern Ireland. The uproar over the playing of Sloop John B was typical Sinn Fein opportunism with a number of members of the Parades Commission readily accepting of excuses to again change the parameters. The subsequent banning of the YCV band from that stretch of road was a possibility, the decision to ban all music from being played was the ramping up of a peculiar theological twist which elevates chapels above all other places of worship. Such a precedent, if applied elsewhere, will again give Sinn Fein the opportunity to protest outside every chapel during parades. While the Parades Commission has taken the opportunity to increase tension and act as facilitators of the Sinn Fein policy of progressive realisation of objectives their decisions have also given succour to the DUP. Since the DUP/SF parades agreement was rejected by the Orange Institution and others including the UUP the DUP have been working to take control again of the issue. Fortunate then, that the Parades Commission should be so obliging as to take a series of decisions so bizarre that the DUP/SF agreement is back on the table. Anyone taking an interest in Northern Ireland politics over the past 10 years will be well aware of the intricate coordination that takes place between the DUP and SF to deliver a desired result. Both seek the ultimate in power politics in Northern Ireland, two one party communities, existing in a state of benign apartheid, under the complete control of each party. The parading issue is just another box to be ticked. The DUP/SF proposals are not a solution and the longer the DUP hold onto their arrangement with SF the longer we will see ever more outrages decisions from the Parades Commission.
Posted on July 23, 2012 by stephennicholl Peter Roberts defines urban regeneration as “comprehensive and integrated vision and action which leads to the resolution of urban problems and which seeks to bring about a lasting improvement in the economic, physical social and environmental condition of an area that has been subject to change.” This definition clearly moves the concept of urban regeneration away from the idea that there is one problem which, if corrected, will allow significant developmental change to occur by osmosis rather than by direct structured intervention. Whether the problem arises due to poor housing, de-industrialisation, un-employment or lack of educational or community facilities any solution which fails to take account of all of the interlocking issues will ultimately fail. Only by creating the opportunity for a long term intervention designed to comprehensively tackle all of the issues needing to be addressed by an urban regeneration process will success be possible. This is supported by the ODPM Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee who in their report on The Effectiveness of Government Regeneration Initiatives stated “One of the strongest messages we received was the importance of a ‘holistic’ approach to regeneration. The most deprived areas suffer from a combination of physical, economic and social problems. We are convinced that regeneration will only be successful and sustainable if programmes seek to address the array of challenges, striking a balance between ‘people’ and ‘place’ based regeneration, and recognising that neither can succeed without the other.” OPDM. The causes of urban decay can be varied and multi faceted, with one problem leading inexorably to another with each solution dependant on addressing additional problems. As early as the 1960’s the British Government recognised that urban decline and the breakdown in community were interlinked. This led to the establishment of Community Development Projects (CDP’s) which focussed initially on the social needs of the local community. As these developed through the early 70’s “resources were concentrated on educational projects, refuges for physically and mentally abused women, nursery care and provision for environmental schemes.” (Imrie and Raco, 2003, Pg 10). In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the change of Government brought a change of focus from social development to physical regeneration. “funding was made available for property-led projects that tended to prioritise economic development and business interests over those of local residents and community groups” (Imrie and Raco, 2003 Pg 11). This was symptomatic of the trickle down economic theory prevalent at the time where it was believed that by increasing the available private development in an area everyone would benefit. In 1999 the European Commission adopted a communication entitled Sustainable Urban Development in the European Union: A Framework for Action that highlighted four interdependent issues. These were • strengthening economic prosperity and employment in towns and cities (which in fact account for 80% of the population of the Union); • promoting equal opportunities, social integration and the rehabilitation of run-down areas; • improving the urban environment (management of transport, waste, energy etc.); • contributing to good urban governance and increased participation of local actors and citizens. http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docoffic/official/communic/caud/caud_en.htm It is clear that where the achievement of one or more of these objectives without the clear commitment to achieving all of the objectives occurs there remains a clear deficit in the long-term sustainability of the area. In Belfast the problems facing both physical regeneration and social development have been compounded by the political circumstances. These are clearly outlined by Gaffikin The combination of civil disorder, political uncertainty, terrorism and economic recession left Belfast with an inheritance of: poor housing; economic degeneration; low business morale; unemployment at around 20 per cent for much of the period; an ageing population; emigration; a declining city centre; a neglected river and waterfront; deepening community division; loss of external confidence; and poor educational achievement in innercity areas. Gaffikin pg 198. In Belfast the redevelopment of the city core around Castle Court, in conjunction with an improving security situation has provided the impetus for progressive development from that centre. Further intervention by Government to create a series of development initiatives such as the Cathedral Quarter, Laganside and the Gasworks redevelopment have all contributed to the improvement of the fabric of the city centre. However in many of these initiatives the opportunity to address the core issues affecting local communities has been negligible. As noted by Gaffikin “while cities need to sell themselves to the outside world, they can be marketed in forms recognisable to their inhabitants rather than in ways that sanitise all contention and contest inherent in city life. Taking neighbourhood as the building block ensures that community development transcends the solidarities of parochial space, opening up to the development agenda for the city as a whole. The quest is for a long-term economic renewal programme, geared to new high value-added sectoral specialisations, alongside a short to medium-term rescue programme, which lays the foundation for a sustainable city. This involves the integration of the physical with the social and economic.” Gaffikin pg 230 In 1994 the European Union introduced the URBAN programme with a focus on the community in need “URBAN targets neighbourhoods in extreme deprivation. It addresses the problems of isolation, poverty and exclusion of their inhabitants through interventions that improve the ensemble of their physical and social entourage. Thus the neighbourhood becomes the milieu that sets the conditions for increasing individual prosperity.” http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/urban2/urban/initiative/src/frame1.htm It also has a focus on the environment in which they live ”URBAN’s integrated approach takes account of all dimensions of urban life. It thus applies a package of projects that combine the rehabilitation of obsolete infrastructure with economic and labour market actions. These are complemented by measures to combat the social exclusion inherent in run-down neighbourhoods, and measures to upgrade the quality of the environment.” http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/urban2/urban/initiative/src/frame1.htm In Northern Ireland the URBAN 1 programme provided 17 million euros towards projects in the Greater Shankill and Upper Springfield in Belfast and in the Creggan and Fountain areas of Londonderry. In the Shankill area the URBAN programme focussed on the development of services for families and children in an area of high deprivation. The results were within the expected range in terms of numbers of participants and the physical development of three new centres used by nearly 600 children with 118 jobs created, however the long term benefits of such intervention have yet to be quantified. The project has been developed as part of the wider introduction of Surestart and as such is now core funded. However the creation of the integrated service model into secondary schools in the Shankill and West Belfast suggests that the benefits of early intervention through URBAN have not carried through as the same children benefiting from the URBAN 1 programme are now subject to further intervention as part of the Integrated Schools programme targeting secondary schools in the same area. A further URBAN II programme was delivered in the North Belfast area between 2003 and 2008 which focussed on a broader range of initiatives including the social economy, small scale capital improvements to buildings, community transport and a limited number of larger scale capital projects. Across a broad range of initiatives the funding applied to any one initiative was relatively small and as with URBAN 1 the short term nature of the intervention has left issues of sustainability to be resolved. The introduction of measures such as URBAN have focussed on those areas of highest deprivation which have not included the city centre. While significant private sector finance has lead city centre development such support has been absent in the deprived housing areas on the fringe of the centre. In the case of Belfast physical regeneration and social development have in many areas taken place as back to back development with limited cross-over. In the United States much of the drive for change in deprived areas since the late 19th century was the need to develop the land for economic opportunity. This could include slum clearances for commercial activity or to develop the road infrastructure in many areas. The major federal building programmes of the post depression era provided the resources and justification for such development. These programmes while focusing on the need for economic renewal had little concern for those being displaced from these districts. The passing of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 led to the Community Development Block Grant Program http://www.hud.gov which established the concept of regenerating deprived communities where they were rather than dispersing them. One of the main programme areas is described as “The CDBG entitlement program allocates annual grants to larger cities and urban counties to develop viable communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment, and opportunities to expand economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.” http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/communitydevelopment/programs/. Again the concept of urban regeneration being a programme which addresses a range of issues including social regeneration as well as the physical environment has been accepted. The practical results of the implementation of such a process can be seen in a number of US examples. In 1967 in the Central Ward of Newark New Jersey a series of riots broke out which left 23 people dead and 15 million dollars worth of damage (at 1967 prices a significant sum). The following year the New Community Corporation was formed to lead a process of regeneration in an area which at that time had witnessed isolation as various road building and neighbouring regeneration schemes had left it isolated. The key issue identified at that time was the need to develop new housing both to replace what was a poor housing stock but also to retain the remaining population in an area which had suffered significant de-population due the flight of white residents to the suburbs, a common feature of inner city America in the 1960’s. Progressively over the past 40 years the New Community Corporation has led the way in the regeneration of the Central Ward, first in building social affordable homes for local residents and then seeking to address the same range of issues that the EU has recognised in its Framework for Action. Where there was no child care the NCC built a day care facility and then trained local residents to work in it. The need to create a long term facility for older people led not only to the building of such a facility and the training of staff for such a facility but also to extending the training provided to encourage local people to work at the local hospital. Many of these employment opportunities required people to wear a uniform, so NCC established a facility to make uniforms. They have established their own security service and where there was no local supermarket they opened one. All of this work has been taken on and delivered not on the basis of short term funding cycles as in the case of URBAN funding but in taking advantage of mainstream funding either federal or state to create sustainable development. Throughout the last 40 years the project has faced many difficulties, the rise in drug culture, gang warfare, political change and ever increasing demand. However it is clear that while the work to regenerate the area continues and is never ending the work that is carried out is founded in a long term vision of what the community could be like and it is a vision that people can buy into. There is a sense that the work is about regenerating people and place and everyone is able to identify key wins from the ongoing process. (Guskin and Pierce, 1994) In the United Kingdom the inter-related nature of the problems of decline and the need to provide long term integrated support has been recognised. As noted by the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment quoted in Imrie and Raco “UDC’s cannot be regarded as a success if buildings and land are regenerated but the local community are bypassed and do not benefit from regeneration.” (Imrie and Raco, 2003, Pg 11) The reliance on physical regeneration without the accompanying social development has exacerbated problems or led to displacement of the social issues. “Regeneration projects tended to encourage gentrification and rising land values, but did little to tackle and endemic shortage of affordable housing, job insecurity and the proliferation of low-waged employment.” (Imrie and Raco, 2003, Pg 11) However recognising the problem and addressing it continues to prove difficult where differing inter-departmental priorities and objectives mitigate against the joined up working needed to deliver real change. As noted by Lewis the legacy of Conservative Party policy in this area during the 1980’s resulted in a position where “government over recent years has placed too much faith in the ability of market forces to solve problems and has failed to match the complex and inter-locking nature of the problems found in urban areas with a co-ordinated inter-departmental and inter-agency response.” (Lewis, 1992, Pg 58) Since the early 2000’s a new strategic process defined as “community planning” has provided the basis for structured development in the United Kingdom. Through this process statutory and voluntary organisations, under the stewardship of local government, will work together to address the range of issues affecting local communities. “The two main aims of Community Planning can be described as: * Making sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them; allied to * A commitment from organisations to work together, not apart, in providing better public services” With a further two key principles defined as “# Community Planning as the key over-arching partnership framework helping to co-ordinate other initiatives and partnerships and where necessary acting to rationalise and simplify a cluttered landscape. # The ability of Community Planning to improve the connection between national priorities and those at regional, local and neighbourhood levels.” (THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN SCOTLAND ACT 2003 Community Planning: Statutory Guidance) By taking a long term view and addressing issues in a comprehensive manner, with inter-agency barriers reduced if not removed, the expectation is that physical regeneration, integrated with social regeneration with lead to improved outcomes. Experience has shown that where physical regeneration proceeds in a vacuum the result is often gentrification and the transplanting of the resident population. Social issues are not addressed merely geographically relocated. Where social action takes place in the absence of physical regeneration then those whose education has been improved, training enhanced or employment improved will move to more affluent areas. This leaves behind a community with an increasing level of social problems, unemployment and ill-health. Long term interventions covering a wide range of inter-related issues including social and physical regeneration provide the best model for the delivery of urban regeneration objectives. While in the UK the introduction of community planning provides the framework for such delivery the commitment of government to long term multi faceted intervention will determine the long term outcome of the policy. References Gaffikin, Frank. City Visions : Imagining Place, Enfranchising People. London, , GBR: Pluto Press, 1999. p 215. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/queensbelfast/Doc?id=2001155&ppg=230 30/11/10 15.00pm Guskind, R. and Peirce, N. Against the Tide New Community Corporation 1994 http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docoffic/official/communic/caud/caud_en.htm 30/11/10 15.00pm http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/urban2/urban/initiative/src/frame1.htm 30/11/10 15.00pm http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/communitydevelopment/programs/ 30/11/10 15.00 pm http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2004/04/19168/35271#8 30/11/11 15.00pm
Posted on July 5, 2012 by stephennicholl Some time ago I posted an article about the Social Investment Fund which highlighted my scepticism about the process. Having recently attended a briefing by departmental officials I have to say my scepticism was probably underplayed. Focussing on the Northern Trust area there is to be one working group for the entire area covering 10 councils. The 10 councils will have to agree on one individual to represent local government. There will be a further 3 statutory representatives who will only be appointed after the area plans are determined and the most relevant departments are identified. There will be 4 political reps chosen by d’Hondt based on party strength in the Northern Trust area. There will be 4 community reps representing the community sector from Magherafelt to Coleraine, Ballycastle to Newtownabbey and everywhere in between. When questioned about the timescale to develop an area plan based on targeting need in such a wide area the answer was that OFMDFM were confident it could be done in three months. When questioned about who would be responsible for approving grants for delivery of services the answer was the working group. When questioned about the legal status of the group to protect members the answer was that they would expect one agency to be lead agency and bear all responsibility. (Note: since only the local government rep will be appointed and local government will be the only statutory agency on the group guess who will be leading) When questioned about the application and tender process as well as the development of business plans it was pointed out that the business plans would be developed in parallel with the area planning process. When it was pointed out that you could only know what projects would come forward once you knew what was in the area plan the answer was that there were very good projects with business plans sitting on the shelf just waiting for funding and they would form the basis of the area plan. The reason why departments won’t be around the table at the start, they expect to draw down funds and don’t want it to look like a carve up. Instead they will join after they get the money. So, there you go, open and transparent government NI style.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:43
Posted on July 5, 2012 by stephennicholl Recent events have been promoted as representing continuing progress in what is termed our “peace process” yet the truth is that while a handshake can mean a lot, it can also hide a lot. Magicians the world over make their careers out of convincing people to focus on gestures of the hand and as a consequence they miss the more radical happenings elsewhere. The current and previous Peace programmes have focussed on the need to build relationships on a North-South basis as well as between communities in Northern Ireland. A feature of the funding source this prioritization has seen many from Unionist communities travel south to find, for the most part, a society with its own financial difficulties whose only desire is to be a good neighbour. For Irish Republicanism there has been a limited engagement locally and certainly none of note at a national level. The war continues in a different form and Republicanism will have no truck with the reality that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so for a very long time if not for the lifetime of everyone alive today. As members of the Unionist community have travelled south to engage with those who share this island there has been no balancing engagement between the Republican movement and those who share these islands on an East –West basis. When we talk of peace do we mean the absence of violence or real peace between people who respect each other and their cultural identity. When we talk of reconciliation do Unionists mean the coming together of communities in a shared understanding of each other, do Republicans mean the national reconciliation of the territory of their dreams. Is shared space about creating space for everyone to use or is it, in Republican terms, about neutralizing space as part of the transition of perceived Unionist territory to perceived Nationalist territory. If we do not have a common agreement on what the terms that we use mean then are we not involved in a sham of a process designed to deliver an absence of violence for a generation with a guarantee to return to the conflict later. Is this really the process we should be touting as an example to the world. Orwell in his novel 1984 stated “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” If we all accept the lie that the society we are building was worth the pain of the last 40 years, the lie that we have a clear and unambiguous understanding of the way forward, the lie that we are not storing up problems for our children then what becomes of the truth of the past and who really does control our future.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:42
Posted on May 27, 2012 by stephennicholl What makes the Girdwood proposals so important in the future development of Northern Ireland? Let us start by first debunking the idea that this proposal is about a shared future, it is not. Through many years of negotiation the DUP and SF have arrived at a solution that both can live with, for now. There remains in these proposals a peace-line dividing the two communities, albeit that the vertical walls of the past have been replaced with the horizontal barriers of sports pitches and buildings. We can also be certain that the proposals for this site have only been agreed as part of a wider strategy of social engineering in North Belfast. At the heart of these proposals is Mr Nelson McCausland, Minister of Social Development and avowed supporter of the concept of benign apartheid as an alternate to the development of community relations in Northern Ireland. With control of housing in Northern Ireland he has started the process of dismantling the framework of a shared society to develop a system where two communities co-exist independently and hatred and mistrust is managed rather than addressed. Such a system suits the DUP where the politics of fear drives forward their every move, it also suits Sinn Fein since the concept of single party rule within Nationalism is as attractive to them as single party rule within Unionism is to the DUP. The SDLP are reviewing their support for the Girdwood plan, the Ulster Unionist Party must do likewise. The Alliance Party have prematurely walked from discussions on CSI and have left the stage. We either accept the future as defined by Nelson McCausland that meets his needs for the next election or we robustly defend the shared future we are honour bound to deliver for the next generation.
Posted on April 25, 2012 by stephennicholl In the days of the Soviet Union party apparatchiks would be dispatched to make announcements on increasing factory production rates or ever improving grain harvests. Such good news stories were vital in maintaining the illusion that the system of government that existed was working and delivering ever improving conditions for the masses, even if individually people’s perceptions were to the contrary. During questions to the First and Deputy First Minister this week their very own apparatchik, Jonathan Bell, was delegated to deliver a “good news” story. By changing the way in which we measure child poverty in Northern Ireland the administration has decided that less children live in families that are poor. Because we measured relative poverty in the past by comparing our income to that in the UK we were relatively poor, but if we only compare ourselves too ourselves then because we all have less money then less of us are relatively poor. It is the reverse of the scenario where if there were 10 millionaires in the room, 9 worth £2 million and 1 worth £1 million then the one worth £1 million is relatively poor. Simply by changing the way you calculate poverty you can’t assume that you have actually achieved anything. If the issue is that we must have a better understanding of poverty then a simplistic analysis of income levels is inadequate. The OFMDFM has not taken account of the higher costs in Northern Ireland and has no real understanding of how to identify a baseline level of poverty measurement which allows for effective intervention to address the issue. We now find ourselves in the ridiculous situation where if regional pay levels are introduced reducing pay in Northern Ireland then the knock on effect will be a further reduction in poverty levels as measured by OFMDFM. Having the power to manipulate figures to your advantage is not a sign of responsible government. Ensuring children have enough food, heat, light, good health and an acceptable quality of life is.
Posted on April 24, 2012 by stephennicholl This year, as in every other year recently, parents of young children are traumatised by the process of trying to find a nursery place for their child. While extra funding has been made available and a commitment has been made by the Minister that there will be a place for every child the complicated and at times unfair allocation of places across the country means that not everyone is satisfied. Parents who live next door to a nursery can find that due to demand from others who have a higher priority their child is offered options many miles from home. Given that the local primary school may prioritise children from certain nurseries in their allocation process parents are concerned that for their child’s entire time in education local is no longer an option. There is absolutely no guarantee as to the number of children who will be born in a specific area in a specific year. Therefore the rigid adherence to a rigid number of children who can be catered for by a nursery school in a certain year seems naïve. The concept of a flexible system of funding and placement which allows parents to access the services closest to them should not be beyond the capacity of the myriad of advisors in the Department of Education. Such a system would also resolve the issues arising from the priority given to children from socially deprived backgrounds. While initially intended to provide additional support to such children the reality is that since the Minister’s decision to ensure every child has a place in a pre-school setting there is no additional support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. If we are to close the gaps in educational under achievement, health inequalities or child poverty then we must ensure that additional resources are invested in supporting such children. The question for the Minister therefore is this, having levelled the playing field what do you do now to support children who are disadvantaged over those who are not?
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:40
Posted on April 17, 2012 by stephennicholl Instead of just reforming the institutions, reducing the number of departments, reducing the number of MLA’s Councillors and MP’s why don’t we take a further step and change the way we think about politics and politicians. For many people inside and outside the system politics is about power, yet such a term sums up the inadequacies within the current system. Power can be used for good or bad, in fact it doesn’t have to be used all it can just be held onto to prevent others from getting access to it. Do power politics meet the needs of society, not if that power isn’t used to generate the changes needed to improve society. If we are to change society we must start by changing the concept of politics from being about taking power to one of taking responsibility. What difference would we see if those who were elected were held personally responsible for every child growing up in poverty, for every delayed operation, for every jobless individual. Personal responsibility brings with it the necessary democratic accountability, it moves electoral manifesto’s beyond the aspirational to the practical and deliverable and becomes the driving force behind a changed society. How many of those who hold power today would take responsibility tomorrow.
Posted on April 6, 2012 by stephennicholl In the run up to the 2011 Assembly elections the Executive announced the establishment of an £80 million Social Investment Fund. Almost a year later and we still await clarity on how the money will be spent. I have collated some of the comments I made during the consultation process. Any decision to focus on the need to invest resources to address poverty and deprivation is to be welcomed. Such decisions bring with them the responsibility to ensure that any interventions move beyond paying mere lip service to the issue and strategically deliver meaningful change to the lives of those affected. The Social Investment Fund will not address the causes of poverty and deprivation nor will it have the resources or time frame to break the poverty and deprivation cycle to ensure that equal opportunities are available for all. In this context the SIF must not become a barrier to further investment or development of more strategic and long term plans to ends all forms of inequality. The timescale for introduction of programs and funding suggest that the earliest resources are applied for the purposes intended will be September 2012. This shortens the time available to make meaningful change which can be measured and evaluated. A commitment to re-profile the budget will increase the annual spend which will either be reduced in future years or require additional commitments from the Executive to maintain the same level of activity. The high-level aim of the social investment fund is comparable to government objectives generally. The reality is however that the sums of money involved are less than has been applied to the same purpose over many years without a significant change in circumstances in most areas of deprivation. The areas of deprivation remain the same and the variation in the quality of life between those in the most deprived areas and those in the more affluent areas continues to widen. While the fund may encourage strategic partnership responses to issues it is reasonable to ask if such methods of working should already be mainstreamed into the day to day activity of the relevant agencies. The failure is not that there is not the finances to do this, the failure is that the system of government or more accurately the system of administration is based on a silo mentality where the first priority is to move the problem onto someone else’s desk or into another department. A streamlined system of delivery based on such working to address specific issues will deliver more effective interventions with a more efficient use of resources. The social investment fund proposal states that it does not displace any existing government schemes or programmes but will seek to optimise their impact and increase potential for synergy. As noted above it is questionable why such schemes are not already optimising their impact and increasing their potential. There is a concern that while government schemes are immune from displacement, schemes within the voluntary and community sectors are not offered the same protection. Similar schemes have not succeeded in the past and there is nothing new or innovative in these proposals to suggest that they will be any different from those have been tried before. If these schemes are to run parallel with neighbourhood renewal partnerships, community empowerment partnerships, community planning initiatives and other government programs then what form of evaluation will determine precisely which intervention leads to the eventual results. It is clear that the finances do not exist within this particular program to address all the issues targeted. This suggests there is a need to re-evaluate the use of central government funds to change the way government deliver services as a mechanism to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation. Poverty and deprivation are not short-term issues to be addressed by short-term funding. They are a long-term intergenerational failure of society to ensure that everyone benefits from the opportunities presented by a first world economy. Too often in the past there has been a focus on trying to address the consequences of poverty without making a long-term policy driven commitment to addressing the causes. Making some money available for a few years misses the point that those who live in poverty will be only the latest of a generation who live in the same poverty that their parents and grandparents lived in. While the intervention in communities must address the needs of all generations the investment must also be maintained for a generation. What have been classified as systemic issues linked to deprivation represent many of the consequences of poverty and deprivation. Tackling such issues cannot be seen as addressing deprivation in itself. Clarification must be given as to whether or not the social investment fund will provide additional resources to the projects and programmes already addressing the issues identified or will new competing programs be established. The process of regenerating and refurbishing existing facilities must clearly identify these will enhance local provision and how the revenue streams required to sustain such facilities will be provided. It must also be clear that play facilities and environmental improvements should not be seen as simply another funding stream for local government or other statutory providers to access simply to avoid meeting their current financial obligations. This strategic objective must be assessed against all of the other initiatives that have sought to achieve the same objective. Intensive focused investment through programs such as urban I and urban II along with a number of years of neighbourhood renewal initiatives give some idea of the task ahead. It should also be noted that general Government investment carries a much greater potential to influence the physical and social regeneration of deprived communities. For example if businesses targeted to locate at the Maze/Long Kesh development site were directed to Girdwood, Mackies or Titanic Quarter the potential for individuals from communities with high levels of deprivation to benefit would be higher. The 8 strategic plans seek to address issues which are already priorities for a wide range of government agencies and departments. If the objective is to create linkages between all of these issues then the total investment available must reflect the entire budgets available to address all these issues within all of the departments. If the process is not intended to properly integrate the delivery of services then it can only add to the complexity of government intervention which already exists. The areas identified have no relationship with any existing government structures. The absence of any concept of co-terminousity with existing structures will only add to the confusion that already exists over who can access the funds and who is outside the geographic areas as identified at present. The development of the Area plans makes it very clear that the vast majority of people in the investment zones will not be eligible for support under the inclusion guidelines. It is not clear whether or not the steering group should be made up of representatives who are in the potential investment zone as detailed above or should be restricted to representatives of those areas listed as suitable for inclusion as identified below. The questions in relation to the overall funding available for capital initiatives must include how a particular capital investment will drive social change. For example there is a need in inner city South Belfast for three primary schools to come together to create one sustainable school on a single site. Partnered with a strong commitment and ethos to changing educational outcomes such a development has the potential to address poverty and deprivation in the longer term. Should such investment be a basic core responsibility of the Department of Education or will be seen as something additional to be supported through the social investment fund. There is a need to clearly show that investment from the social investment fund is additional to general departmental spend but that departmental spend is still targeted on addressing the same issues relating to poverty and deprivation. The structures proposed represent a hierarchical top down approach with the final decisions being taken by OFMDFM. Such a structure also presents the potential for individual steering groups to work at different levels with different inputs, outputs and outcomes. There remains a significant issue of the existing delivery bodies such as Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships and CEP’s as well as the future role (if any) of Local Government through the community planning function. A simplified framework could be led by local government through the community planning role with direct Ministerial oversight through a Minister led task-force on addressing poverty and deprivation capable of holding departments as well as community planning partnerships to account for delivery of agreed targets. There remains one over-arching issue in relation to the proposed programmes and themes, none can be addressed satisfactorily in the time –scale envisaged or with the funding that has been committed. Such goals can only be achieved by a fundamental shift in departmental resources being focussed on a transformation of service delivery and a clear signal that inter- departmental co-operation is a priority
Posted on March 2, 2012 by stephennicholl What hopes and fears, dreams and aspirations did they have? During the recent debate on the commemorations to be held over the next 10 years there was a plea for people to “learn the history” of the period. Such an approach would serve only to diminish the sacrifices made by individuals from all backgrounds during that period. While those who played a part in those events have passed away their sons and daughters, grandsons and grand-daughters remain and their lives were forged in the experiences of their parents and grandparents. It is important that we do not just “learn the history” of that time, we must understand it. We must come to understand the people, our people who lived it and took the decisions that have shaped us all. Remembrance and commemoration must be about more than knowing dates and names, we must come to know the hopes and dreams, the fears and aspirations of those who made great sacrifices. Then and only then will we know the real challenge of the next 10 years, have we in any way created a society worthy of the sacrifices made 100 years ago. Would those who marched and drilled 100 years ago accept that today so many children still live in poverty. Would those who left their trenches on the morning of 1st July 1916 accept that for some their descendants would, 100 years later, leave school with no qualifications and barely able to read and write. Would those who formed the Government of Northern Ireland and wanted a single shared education system accept that today nearly 100 years later we live and learn apart. In the words of John McCrea’s poem In Flanders Fields: To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields. Over the next 10 years we must do more than learn the history of that time, we must answer the questions, have we dropped the torch? Have we broken the faith?
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:38
Posted on December 15, 2011 by stephennicholl So the Finance Minister’s Small Business Rate Relief scheme is to proceed albeit with a few minor changes. First we should congratulate Glynn Roberts and those who lobbied for such a scheme, in the field of lobbying Glynn has his own style and finds common cause with like-minded individuals to ensure that the issue of the day is foremost in politician’s in-tray. Being a lobbyist, does not however mean that your argument is always right. The process proposed by the Finance Minister is an exercise in the redistribution of wealth, a crude attempt to take from those perceived to be better off (the big retailers) to give to those perceived to be struggling (the small retailer). But we should consider whether or not this represents value for money. Certainly it is more likely that the revenue will remain in Northern Ireland if redistributed to small local businesses, however, should one large retailer pull out of Northern Ireland or delay expansion until post 2015 then the benefits to Northern Ireland PLC will be lost as will the employment and rates income attached to the larger retailers. Now let’s consider the 8,300 businesses which will benefit from the extra £15 per week they will gain from this measure. At such a marginal level some of these businesses will fail anyway so any money they gain from this process will be lost. Many of the businesses will continue irrespective of whether or not they receive this relief therefore as such the investment provides little or no return on the investment. Finally what about those for whom the relief will make the difference between surviving or going under. There will be few, if any, for whom £15 per week will be the deciding factor, there may be several hundred however for whom £250 per month would make a significant difference. So a smaller more focussed initiative may deliver the intended results, but that means setting aside those who lobby for groups rather than individuals in need and that is something this executive still lacks the maturity to do. The political philanthropy which passes for government in Northern Ireland may wish to believe that many thousands of small retailers will thrive on their generosity. I suggest however that many of the independent retailers lined up to argue for this relief will find that eventually their £15 will end up on the balance sheet of the retail distributors whose company name adorns their corner shop or garage forecourt.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:37
Posted on December 4, 2011 by stephennicholl There has been much heat generated by the actions of the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast’s decision to avoid presenting a Duke of Edinburgh award to a young female army cadet. Within the intense anger at his clearly juvenile decision it seems to have passed the notice of many commentators that here was a leading representative of the republican movement presenting an award established by the husband of Her Majesty The Queen himself a former active member, now honorary member, of the same military establishment which gave young Niall O Donnghaile the heebeegeebee’s when confronted by a 15 year old girl in uniform. What the incident does illustrate is that the relationships between our communities still need to be built on and the glaring omission in the Peace Process in the absence of any East West process will leave an unwanted legacy for years to come. While Unionists have been ferried up and down the road to Dublin to ensure that 30% of the Peace III budget is spent in the south their activities have mostly involved learning aspects of their history that were sadly neglected in a school system too frightened to take on the difficult issues during the years of community conflict. Nationalists on the other hand have not been required to engage with their fellow UK citizens in Liverpool, Birmingham or London. There have been no trips to the Imperial War Museum, the Tower of London or the Palace of Westminster for community represenatives from the Falls or Crossmaglen. The Lord Mayor’s actions were those of a young man who hasn’t yet realised the conflict is over. Like many young republicans he won’t understand unless he is told and unless republicans sign up to understanding the United Kingdom in which they live.
Posted on October 25, 2011 by stephennicholl Sometimes making a statement to the press can help a politician show that they have clearly thought through an important policy issue. Sometimes making a statement to the press shows that they haven’t really considered all of the implications of what they are saying. Over the weekend Basil McCrea expressed the desire to challenge the current situation in relation to student fees. Students in Northern Ireland will be expected to pay less than half the fees charged for students from England and Wales to attend university in Northern Ireland. Students from the Republic of Ireland will pay the same as students from Northern Ireland due to European regulations. There is no doubt that this unequal situation creates tension between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland must take note of how far we can stretch our fellow citizens in England and Wales who supplement our standard of living. However Basil’s solution of charging all UK citizens the same for studying in Northern Ireland creates its own problems. For many years Unionists have complained of a perceived brain drain as students from Northern Ireland leave to study at UK universities never to return home. Basil’s proposals will significantly increase the numbers of UK students seeking to study at Queens and the University of Ulster thereby displacing Northern Ireland students to mainland universities and reinforcing the very issue that politicians have complained about for many years. How Northern Ireland lives up to it’s responsibility to manage the resources provided to it by the UK as a whole is a major challenge and student fees, along with water rates and free prescriptions, provides an example of where we take chances with our relationship with our fellow citizens. Where Basil has identified the right issue he has suggested the wrong solution.
Posted on October 9, 2011 by stephennicholl • In the past two weeks several issues have arisen which show the inability of the current administration to deliver strategic governance for Northern Ireland. It was some surprise to learn that 60% of Northern Ireland Housing executive properties have only single glazing. Those who live in social housing are more likely to have less income and their ability to overcome fuel poverty is restricted. Further to this revelation came the announcement that Invest NI is to return over £17,000,000 to DFP. Given that DETI invests in creating jobs and the obvious need to upgrade in excess of 50,000 Housing executive properties, surely within the Northern Ireland executive someone will see the obvious overlap and benefits. The opportunity to create employment within the construction sector at the same time as addressing the long-term commitment to reducing fuel poverty seems too good to miss. Clearly the economic situation has reduced the opportunities for invest NI to promote new growth, that is not to say that they should not try but it does demand a flexible approach to job creation and meeting the wider needs of society. Fuel poverty places a significant burden on many families and as fuel costs increase this burden becomes greater to the point of impacting upon health and well-being. This creates greater demand for health services in an already overstretched health system. The costs of dealing with the impact of fuel poverty through the health service are far greater than the costs of dealing with inefficient heating systems and poorly insulated homes. The current boiler replacement scheme has attracted great interest but those qualifying for assistance are numbered only in hundreds yet the number of people affected by fuel poverty is measured in hundreds of thousands. No doubt there will be those in government who will tell us why such things cannot be done surely as a society we deserve a government who will tell us what can be done.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:35
Posted on September 18, 2011 by stephennicholl No doubt Sinn Fein spent many hours considering whether or not to submit a candidate for the Irish Republic presidential elections. The considerations will have led them to believe that irrespective of the chances of success the damage they would do to an already dysfunctional Fianna Fail was worth the expense. What people so far seem to fail to recognise the potential damage to relationships in Northern Ireland arising from a self-confessed IRA commander taking the salute at the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising. The idea that the IRA and its leadership are the legitimate successors of those who staged the uprising will be well promoted. Even if unsuccessful this time there is no doubt that a leading Sinn Fein member maybe even Maguiness will challenge for the position in 2018 hoping to ensure that an IRA man will take the salute at the Centenary of the formation of the Irish free State. The IRA through its political wing continues to advance its cause.
Posted on July 22, 2011 by stephennicholl The Big Conversation is the phrase used by some in the health care field to describe the process that we in Northern Ireland must go through in defining the future of our health services. It defines the need to be open about many of the real issues that affect the health of our community and the services that are provided to help them. As a former non-executive Director of the Public Health Agency I am well aware of the demands placed on resources by an acute health sector which struggles to meet expectations, at the same time limiting the ability of the sector to invest in the development of a service fit to meet future demands. The transformation currently underway in Belfast is about delivering better services. This should always be the driving force in health service change. While some politicians will always demand everything for their own constituency the reality is that sometimes demands for buildings are not met with the delivery of appropriate services. Making people better, sooner should take priority over keeping ineffective, inefficient and sometimes dangerous services operational simply because of where they are. Stopping people becoming ill in the first place by addressing the social determinants of health such as poverty must be seen as the longer term mechanism to reduce the cost of provision of acute services. The challenge in this process is not that there will be too much change but that there won’t be enough or that the funds required to truly transform delivery will not be available.
Posted on June 15, 2011 by stephennicholl Today a child will go to bed hungry because they live in poverty. Today a child will prepare to leave primary school unable to read and write. Today a teenager will prepare to leave secondary school with no qualifications, no job, no training opportunity, no further education, no hope. Today a young woman will find she is pregnant and alone and will fear for her future. Today a worker will lose their job with no possibility of gaining employment again in their lifetime. Today a senior citizen will lock themselves in their home frightened of the community they live in. Today someone will have their hospital treatment delayed causing them to suffer pain and anguish. What will tomorrow bring?
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:33
Friday, 22 November 2013
Several years ago Randalstown was fortunate to access funding to commence the process of upgrading the public realms works at the lower end of the town and over the bridge. The intention was that the remainder of the town would be completed when money was available. The funding has been available, some £650,000 but regrettably due to the actions of a few traders and politicians the entire investment is about to be lost. This will have a significant negative impact on the town in the longer term. When answering a recent question about improvements in Comber the Minister of Social Development replied “There is very clear evidence that public realm works, as part of a wider package of measures in a town centre, can make a real difference to the town centre. Revitalisation schemes for shops nearby can often add to that. Generally, a public realm scheme emerges out of a master plan for a town centre. That is a great opportunity for all those involved — the local authority, local traders, businesspeople and my officials — to work together to see what is the best way forward for that town centre. It is a very challenging time for town centres. Recent figures for empty properties were quoted. We need to boost town centres by making them more attractive and by encouraging greater footfall and more people to shop there and, thereby, provide greater viability for traders.” Unfortunately refusal to permit the completion of the public realm works will leave Randalstown well behind areas such as Antrim and Ballymena where extensive improvements are being made to entice shoppers into town centres. As the town deteriorates shoppers will travel elsewhere and those who will suffer will be the very traders who have blocked progress. There may still be time to complete the scheme to the benefit of traders and residents. Randalstown deserves the best.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 08:39
“While ratepayers will be aware of the careful management of ratepayers funds by Antrim Council over the years they will be shocked at some of the practices currently in place in Newtownabbey. For example the Mayor of Newtownabbey is transported to events in the Mayoral car an extravagance which a conservative estimate suggests costs the combined local government rates of 150 households. Ratepayers in Newtownabbey may have been happy with this state of affairs over the years but it is clear in this time of austerity and declining household incomes the Newtownabbey system of local administration needs to change. A major issue going forward will be the massive indebtedness that Newtownabbey will bring to the table as the most indebted council in Northern Ireland. With an annual rates income of £24 million Newtownabbey has a debt of some £47 million pounds based on figures from the Department of the Environment. Antrim in contrast has a capital debt of some £20 million with an annual income of £18 million. While the interest rates obtained may be generous a general principle that the debt burden should not exceed the annual income is a sensible position to take. The new Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has much work to do to achieve a balanced position at the same time as maintaining high levels of service provision. With that in mind the little extras such as the Mayoral car will need to be set aside for the benefit of ratepayers both domestic and business.”
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 08:38
Saturday, 13 July 2013
The events of the 12th of July will be assessed and debated for some time to come but of one thing we can be certain, Unionism lost. Unionism lost for several reasons, not least that the Parades Commission as a body remains incapable of rationally perceiving Orange culture and tradition as a worthwhile element of the cultural make up of Northern Ireland. From a starting point of accepting the Republican view that such culture is inherently sectarian all decisions are coloured by that view. Last year the Parades Commission introduced a ruling that was impossible for the Institution to meet, that the parade past the Ardoyne shops should be finished by 4pm, yet the Institution found a way to cool tensions and maintain dignity. With the announcement that the parading issue along with flags and the past would be resolved by Christmas it is even more difficult to understand why the same decision was not made this year, why raise tension now. Clearly the decision involved more than the Parades Commission, Mutual Aid policing is responsive but not as quick as indicated by the speed at which mainland forces arrived. Was it a priority to end Orange parades past the shops prior to some settlement so that Unionist politicians taking oversight of future parading decisions could claim “nothing to do with us we can only start with the status quo the Commission left us” Whatever the comments of senior figures that violence was not inevitable the truth is that it was, it was always going to be unless there was a clearly thought out strategy to prevent members, bands and supporters advancing on police lines. If there was such a strategy, it did not show, instead many young people will find their lives changed over the coming weeks as evidence is gathered over actions they took in the heat of the moment in politically charged rage. Many will come from the very working class deprived communities where political leadership has failed in the past and has failed them now. Republicanism continues to give the impression of moving forward because of its belief in the progressive realisation of its long term objectives. In the scheme of things the Union is no weaker today than it was yesterday but Republicans believe that it is and that message continues to be the message heard by young men and women from the Shankill and the Newtownards Rd whether it is because of a change in the days the Union flag can fly over city hall or the length of road that they can walk on the 12th. The reality is not that Republicans have won victories but rather that we have gift wrapped them and handed them to them. Had Unionists voted in elections the flag would still fly over City Hall, had we had the confidence in our position years ago to talk, not negotiate, about parading then things could have been different. What then is the next step? Clearly protest is not an option unless the sight of young men throwing themselves at police lines fits someone’s political agenda. The Institution and bands can put pressure on those who will sit with Richard Haas to resolve the issue by declaring now that engagement with police and Parades Commission will end on the 31st December 2013. Such a statement threatens no-one but makes clear that the current inequitable and divisive system must end. Politicians are elected to give leadership, in the next 5 months we shall know if they are up to the task.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 10:11
Wednesday, 3 July 2013
With the declaration that the police college at Desertcreat remains £18 million overbudget surely someone in authority is asking if this project remains viable. Given that David Cameron continues to transfer disused army bases to the Northern Ireland Executive surely one of these such as St Patricks in Ballymena or Massereene in Antrim offers far better value for money. The idea of a world class police college sounds good but in the absence of a world class education estate or a world class Women's and Children's hospital wouldn't a functional police college suffice. As our children continue to be educated in 30 year old portacabins and patients are treated in Victorian era institutions is there no one in the Executive capable of standing up and saying to David Ford "enough is enough". As a society we cannot always have everything we want but those in authority should be focussed on delivering the infrastructure that we need. There are greater priorities in our society than a so called world class police college so massively over budget, even when the bells and whistles have been removed.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 05:43
Thursday, 13 June 2013
So NI21 has arrived with all the technological razzamatazz expected of Team Jasil. Did we learn what they stood for, not really – we learned that while John thought a decision on gay marriage was one for individual conscience Basil made it clear, as leader, that support for gay marriage was the first item in their policy portfolio. It was also noticeable that their policy on gay marriage now reflects the Alliance position which also calls into question just how much clear blue water can they create between them. The first couple of days were however dominated not by #Freshpolitics but by an inability by Basil to rule out support for polygamy when challenged on the Nolan show. While the subject was a strange one to get hung up on the core issue was Basil’s belief in Libertarianism as his key political philosophy. Such is Basil’s belief in the right of the individual to determine his or her values and morals he rejects the right of the state to interfere or in the case of the Union in certain circumstances the right of the state to govern. This attempt to reject the morals and values of a developed society is reflective not of a carefully considered political movement but more of an anarchistic desire on the part of a semi-charismatic leader to gather support from amongst those who reject society. For Northern Ireland, at this time in its development the most concerning quote from Basil came in his speech at the party launch when he asked “Am I alone in thinking that I do not need a peace and reconciliation process because I didn’t kill anybody, or support anybody who did.” To date the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland has been made on the basis that we all have a role to play in moving forward. Basil’s rejection of any culpability or responsibility to be part of that process opens the way for some in society to opt out, to wash their hands of the problems in society and live as I, myself and me. Whether it is in addressing social deprivation, poor health outcomes, educational under achievement or any other issue that divides us libertarian anarchism offers no solution other than allowing some in society to escape their responsibility. NI21 will offer a home for the discontented, but as they develop they will need structures and rules, all determined by Basil, as these are put in place those who have flocked to hear his message will realize these are the very rules and structures they rebel against. The seeds of NI21’s destruction are woven into the anarchic foundation of its creation.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 03:21
Monday, 13 May 2013
So what have we learned from the Residential Home debacle over the past few days and weeks. We have learned that Stephen Nolan still has the power to influence Government, for right or wrong. We have learned that Transforming Your Care is the correct direction of travel for the delivery of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. We have learned that the management speak in Transforming Your Care has not been translated into operational guidelines for Trust staff and we have also learned that when politicians seek to avoid taking responsibility then things go wrong. A change in how society cares for its older citizens is a natural progression as we recognize the need to improve individual quality of life. Thirty years ago older people were to be found living in wards in Geriatric Hospitals, no privacy, no freedom and a poor quality of life. The change to residential care was a welcome advance but such advances should be viewed as a progression not as an end goal. The public loyalty to institutions or buildings undermines the drive to improve conditions. While the move from ward accommodation in hospitals to individual rooms in residential homes was a welcome step, the opportunity to provide higher quality accommodation including en-suite facilities and up to date tele-medicine interventions should not be held up due to misplaced loyalty. The process we have been through has not faltered because the end goal was wrong, it faltered because not enough time and care was taken to explain the outcomes. Trust staff did not understand the goal and as a result a great deal of trauma was foisted on some of the weakest in our society. There are many examples of good practice in terms of supported housing, they illustrate what can be achieved and should be promoted heavily for all to see for themselves what improvements are possible. The priority must now be for the Minister for Social Development to take the lead in determining how much supported housing he will develop to meet the needs of an aging population. Why should it fall to the Minister of Social Development? Age is not an illness, it is a natural part of life’s progression, we should plan for it, build for it and always strive to make improved quality of life a fundamental part of it. Economic reality tells us that to do something in a new way we must stop doing something in the old way, we should not be concerned at such a process but insist always that we do things the best way.
Posted by Stephen Nicholl at 02:34