Assembly Elections 2016: South Belfast – it’s anyones game

Lamp posts covered by posters, knocks on the door after dinner every night and a bare minimum of four leaflets coming through the letterbox every morning. Just some of the tell-tale signs that we in Northern Ireland are firmly in election mode.

Hard as it is to believe, we are indeed at the end of another five-year cycle. Over the last five years the ‘house on the hill’ has seen more break-ups, make-ups and dramatic moments than a series of The Only Way is Essex. And now, in the next few days the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls and the cycle will start all over again.

This time around, the election is threatening to throw up some intriguing results. Even areas like West Belfast, which has elected the same amount of seats to the same parties on the last three occasions, is looking likely to buck the trend. However, of all eighteen constituencies, there is unlikely to be a more absorbing conclusion than in the nip-and-tuck constituency of South Belfast.

In the 2011 elections, South Belfast voted for representation from each of the five ‘main parties’, with the SDLP taking two seats. Fast forward 5 years and not one of the elected MLA’s from 2011 are standing in the race again. This means that whatever happens, 6 candidates who have never previously been elected into position will take up a post at Stormont.

Tough time to be a postman. The parties leaflets
Tough time to be a postman. The parties leaflets in South Belfast

So, what can we expect?

Let’s start with the SDLP, the only party to currently hold more than one assembly seat in the constituency. The party as a whole has undergone a great deal of change since 2011, both in leadership and personnel. This is very apparent in South Belfast, candidates Claire Hanna and Fearghal McKinney are both current South Belfast MLA’s having taken over from the South Belfast stalwart Alistair McDonnell and Conall McDevitt in 2015 and 2013 respectively. The election will therefore act as something of a litmus test in terms of seeing how the constituency has taken to their co-opted MLA’s.

Whilst the party remain confident of returning two MLAs to Stormont from the constituency, it is difficult to ignore the bruising times that the SDLP has endured of late. A common argument against the party during the election campaign has been that the party themselves are unclear as to whether they wish to be part of a government or opposition at Stormont. Despite these protestations, we can be assured that at least one candidate will be elected with relative ease, and it is more likely to be the impressive Hanna, who in recent TV and radio appearances has dealt with issues such as abortion and gay marriage rights in some style.

That’s not to say the party’s deputy leader McKinney is out of luck. He is, however, likely to be involved in a bit of a scrap for the fifth and sixth seats in the constituency.

Another poster seen in South Belfast with two faces is that of the Alliance Party. Unlike the SDLP, this is the first time that Alliance have run with two candidates in the area. As calculated risk taken, one would presume, on the back of the 2011 election where the outgoing Anna Lo topped the poll with 19% of first preference votes to be elected on the first count. The Alliance Party now clearly sense an opportunity to gain another seat at the Stormont table in South Belfast and their two candidates, Paula Bradshaw and Duncan Morrow, both have genuine aspirations of election.

Much like the SDLP, we can expect to see at least one Alliance candidate elected with comfort. Despite her lower split of the area, it is more likely to be Bradshaw whose ground work in the community during previous campaigns (which saw here finish third in the 2015 parliamentary elections) should see her to the finish line.

Alliance received a great deal of criticism, particularly from unionist quarters, during the now infamous flag protests which began in 2012, remember them? But South Belfast candidate Morrow believes that the party can look forward and offer genuine change for the people of Northern Ireland,

“Part of my job as an MLA, should I get in, would be to ask myself what bring people here [to Northern Ireland]? What keeps people here?”

Morrow also believes that the cross-community stance which often sees the party labelled as ‘fence sitters’ is one of their strengths, and this stance is recognised for what it truly is, in South Belfast,

“We have championed the cause of the right of people to live safely right across this community”.

The potential for a second Alliance seat is dependant not only on how the second SDLP candidate fairs, but also on how well received the DUPs two candidate tactic is. Christopher Stalford and Junior Minister Emma Little-Pengelly both have reason to believe that electoral success could be coming their way, but their biggest stumbling block will almost certainly be the potential split in the South Belfast Unionist vote.

With candidates from the UUP, UKIP, PUP and former DUP member Ruth Patterson who is now standing as an independent, the unionist ticket is well populated. It all really depends then, on whether or not unionist voters are willing to transfer their votes in the STV electoral system to other unionist parties. Either that, or we will see a stalemate situation where each party takes a split of the unionist vote thus allowing the likes of SDLP, Alliance and Claire Bailey of the Green Party to share a greater number of 2nd/3rd preference votes.

Sinn Fein have taken the decision to only stand one candidate in South Belfast. Not taking the risk of two candidates means that their candidates Máirtín Ó Muilleoir will be elected without much fuss. Votes from large republican areas such as the Lower Ormeau road will see the Sinn Fein candidate easily past the post.

So it’s all to play for in South Belfast. A race so tight that it will most likely take two counting days until the 6 MLAs have been decided. For now though, the tense waiting game for every candidate begins.

Green Party Candidate to propose Legislation which will see Men Prosecuted for Illegal Abortions

Clare-Announce-310x200

South Belfast Green Party Candidate Clare Bailey has said that if elected in the upcoming Assembly Election, she will put forward legislation which will see men face prosecution if their sex partners seek illegal abortions.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply and as many as 1000 women travel to other parts of the UK to seek terminations. However, many cannot afford this and are forced into other ways of ending un-wanted pregnancies.

Clare voiced her intentions after a 21-year-old woman was given a suspended sentence at Belfast Crown Court in April this year, for buying abortion pills online and using them to induce a miscarriage.

To find out more about this case please click below:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-35962134

I caught up with Clare to find out what her reasoning is behind bringing men into this issue and what the proposed legislation will entail.

“I am absolutely outraged that in this day and age we are still convicting women and passing a sentence that she will have for the rest of her life”.

“My challenge to the legislature is that we need to sort this issue out because it’s not going away. Putting this legislation forward is an effort to change people’s thinking. I have yet to meet a woman who got herself pregnant so why are we only convicting one person in a criminal justice system? Why are men not equally responsible for their lack of reproductive choices? Here we have a young woman convicted with no mention of the male involved.”

However, many have said that this proposed legislation is nonsense as the decision to seek is an abortion is solely down to the woman. Furthermore, many have argued that women have fought for so long to gain control over their reproductive rights, so I asked Clare if am woman has control over her own body should she therefore not have full responsibility for what she does with it?

“I absolutely do, but if we as a society are going to convict her for what we believe to be a crime in our law – she didn’t get pregnant on her own so why is there not two people being held responsible for that crime?”

“My challenge for the next 108 MLA’s is for them to take this issue very seriously because I believe that the current law we are convicting women under (Section 58 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861) is gender discrimination.”

Abortion in Northern Ireland is still a very contentious issue. There have been many cases in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (where it is also illegal) that have raised the debate on both the pro-choice and pro-life sides. I asked Clare why she thinks abortion continues to be such a sensitive and polarising topic.

“I think it’s largely because we have the conversations wrong and it’s a cultural understanding of what’s going on. I think we as a society still believe that women are irresponsible and get themselves pregnant because they’re just having casual sex and it’s an easy choice to go for an abortion when the reality is something very different.”

“We need to break the silence on this issue. What we don’t know is how many women are buying abortion pills online, this is the modern day equivalent of back-street abortions and our law is not stopping women needing this health care. The challenge with this legislation is to change conversations, to focus minds, and really putting a challenge out to the electorate.”

The Green Party is the only party in the assembly which is for the 1967 Abortion Act being extended to Northern Ireland.

“Many MLA’s claim to be pro-choice and want this issue to be resolved but the 1967 Act is not the way forward because it’s a flawed law and it over 50 years old. Well we are operating under acts which are 150 years, that were in place before women had the vote, before women could run for office so I believe that the extension of the 1967 to Northern Ireland is the quickest way to face up to the problem that we’ve got.”

The Assembly have debated on certain aspects of abortion such as in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, however actual legislation regarding these issues has yet to be passed through.

“I don’t believe these debates are enough when it comes to this issue. Many women who seek abortions need it because of their own health reasons, through poverty, they may already mothers and know what it means to have a child, or for many other circumstances which would make raising a child very difficult.”

“It’s good that these debates are happening because we really need to move on. Women are suffering and are taking high risk strategies to sort themselves out because our MLA’s fail them every single time.”

If elected in the upcoming Assembly Elections, Clare plans to change the conversations surrounding this issue and promises that as an MLA she will do everything she can to ensure that women are no longer criminalised.

To see Clare’s letter to the editor, which brought her opinion on this issue to light please click below:

http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/clare-bailey-stormont-once-again-fails-to-bring-clarity-on-abortion-1-7297778

Furthermore, to find out more about the Green Party and it’s policies please click below:

http://www.greenpartyni.org/

Reduction of MLAs at a Cost

Source: MB Architectural
Source: MB Architectural

After many years of conflict in Northern Ireland, the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 ushered in a new era of peace to the province, and allowed for the devolution of government to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. Having voted via referendum, the majority of the electorate in Northern Ireland gave the agreement their approval. However, the system of government provided by the assembly is not without its faults or its criticisms. One such criticism is that the Northern Ireland assembly is over-governed. It is argued that there are simply too many MLAs for such a small population.

There are currently 108 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Stormont who represent a population of approximately 1.811 million people. This equates to there being approximately 1 MLA per 16,788 persons who live here. Comparatively there is around 1 Member of Parliament in Westminster for every 92,000 people in the whole of the UK. In Scotland’s devolved parliament at Holyrood, they have 129 elected MSPs, meaning that Scotland has just 21 more elected representatives than Northern Ireland for a population that is more than twice the size of Northern Ireland’s.

Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ireland_Assembly
Source: Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Ireland_Assembly

The debate around the reduction of MLAs isn’t exactly a new one. Political commentators, the general public, and politicians themselves have been having a seemingly endless discussion about the issue for a number of years. Having looked at the number representatives in Stormont in relation to the number of representatives in other UK parliaments, it would be difficult for any party to publicly denounce the reduction of MLAs. In recent years there has been increased pressure on the Northern Ireland Assembly to provide value for money. The parties at Stormont tend to be in agreement that there are too many elected representatives in the assembly, and yet despite many years of discussion, there has been little to no definite action taken to address the issue, until quite recently. Surprisingly it was the crisis talks that took place at Stormont in November, and the resulting “Fresh Start Agreement” that set the framework for the reduction of MLAs and assembly departments.

A section of the Stormont House Agreement, or “Fresh Start Agreement”, contains a proposal introduce a bill to reduce the number of government departments from 12 to 9, and to reduce the number of MLAs to 5 per constituency by 2021. The proposal would reduce the number of MLAs from 108 to 90. However, members of The Alliance Party have argued that changes should have been implemented before the May 2016 election, and brought forward an assembly motion to that effect last November. Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson who signed the proposal said, “Estimates are it would save the taxpayer around £2.2 million each year, or £11 million per Assembly term, in wages, expenses and office costs.”

The estimated savings that were suggested by Stewart Dickson are certainly attractive, especially in a time of public sector cuts and austerity. Nevertheless, other parties in the assembly voted against the motion to change the timing of the implementation. Following the vote, Alliance MLA for East Belfast Chris Lyttle slammed those who opposed the motion saying, “It is disappointing other parties decided to act in self-preservation and not follow Alliance’s lead to carry out much-needed reform, while still ensuring representation for smaller parties.” However, ensuring the representation of certain groups was one of the main reasons cited by some parties for not implementing the changes before the most recent elections.

During the debate Sinn Féin’s Pat Sheehan warned members of the dangers of comparing the Northern Ireland Assembly to its UK counterparts saying, “None of those institutions faces the same difficulties as we do here. None of them was established as a response to 30 years of conflict and the serious fault lines and divisions in society that we have here in the North”. He added, “In the Assembly, the question is whether a reduction in the number of MLAs would have a negative impact on representation or equality. There is, for example, a danger that some constituencies will be left without a nationalist representative in some cases or a unionist representative in others.”

Other MLAs who took part in the debate stressed the need for representation of smaller parties, and women in the Assembly. Danny Kennedy of the UUP said, “We also need to see what protections will be in place for some of the smaller parties.”
Women who are already represented in politics could suffer as a result of the reduction of MLAs. Caitríona Ruane said “I welcome the agreement. Let us put it in place now, but let us also make sure that each one of us is proactive in ensuring that we have more women on the ticket.”

If the changes were implemented at this current time, the reduction of MLAs would have affected certain groups within the assembly disproportionately. Based on current election results nationalists within the assembly would be set to lose a staggering 22.5% of their representatives, compared to a unionist loss of 12.5%. Those who designate as “others” would lose 16.66% of their representatives. Hypothetically speaking the Green Party would be the only party who designate as “other” who would not lose a seat. Their party press officer Sara McCracken said, “The Green Party will be working to consolidate its position and increase representation… Green Party supports the changes but have been working towards this coming in after the current mandate.” There would be a 13.33% loss of women in an assembly where women make up just 27.77% of its members.

MLA change new

The Assembly passed the Reduction of Numbers Bill in February of this year which will implement the changes to the number of MLAs as outlined in the “Fresh Start Agreement”. Parties need to work to consolidate their own positions. They also need to consolidate the diversity of representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Reduction of MLAs will certainly save money, but it could be at a heavy price.

Change for Northern Ireland Assembly

Assembly

With the elections only days away, people may be wondering how the Northern Ireland assembly will change after last year’s announcement to reduce MLA’s and Stormont departments, and how it will affect the party they’re voting for.

However, for this year’s elections, it won’t affect any individual party. Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, announced in March 2015 that Stormont will be reducing the number of government departments from 12 to nine.

The change, known as the Departments Bill, was introduced on 30th November 2015, proposing the changes to the Northern Ireland assembly. The parties agreed to name the departments as follows;

 Department for Communities
 Department for the Economy
 Department of Education
 Department of Health
 Department for Infrastructure
 Department of Justice
 Department of Finance
 Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Finally, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First minister would now be known as The Executive Office.

These departmental reductions are said to be brought in to result in more “efficient administration” resulting in better value for money, as well as some “consequential cost savings” according to the NI assembly.

Mr Robinson said no functions would be rid of and “no policies terminated.”

He went on to say, “Staff will follow functions, and there may be a certain amount of early disruption,” he added.

“But once the changes have been effected, there will undoubtedly be greater efficiency.”

He said the executive had also agreed the drafting of a Departments Bill and a Transfer of Functions Order to provide a legislative basis for the changes.

“We aim to introduce the Departments Bill to the assembly after the Easter Recess,” he added.

“A more detailed Transfer of Functions Order will be available for assembly scrutiny later this year.

“There will be extensive opportunity for the assembly to consider and debate these changes.”

It was also announced that the assembly will reduce the number of MLAs by 2021. The deadline was set by the Stormont House Agreement which states the number of MLAs will be reduced from 108 to 90, meaning five MLAs will be elected for each constituency rather than the six that currently are.

These changes will be implemented in time for the 2021 elections, increasing the pressure on the parties that currently represent each constituency.

The Green Party’s Stephen Agnew, who is one of the MLAs elected for North Down, said, “It will make the election that bit more competitive of course. It’s a slight concern for every party in the constituencies throughout Northern Ireland, not just us.

“I have full confidence we will get voted back in, though, in the 2021 elections. Our voters will get behind us and we’re predicting we will get our highest number of votes in this election. So we remain positive.”

He added, “It is quite a long way away, but of course we need to start preparing for the change as the election will be that bit more competitive (in 2021).”

So any confusion caused by our ever-complicated government, don’t fret. This was your summary of what is going on in Stormont just in time for the elections on May 6th.

Mid Ulster Council Under Fire

Since the new councils where elected, Mid Ulster council have had many highs and lows. The new council has come under heavy criticism over the new traffic system in the town of Dungannon.

The new look Market Square in Dungannon

Several messages of complaint were posted on the Dungannon Life page on Facebook regarding changes to the layout of Market Square which resulted from the first phase of the Public Realm Scheme.

https://www.facebook.com/dungannonlife/?fref=ts

The comments were received after details on traffic management, which will be in place as the second stage of the work continues, were announced by the Council.

The Council took responsibility for the services of 3 former Councils – Cookstown District Council, Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council and Magherafelt District Council – as well as a range of new services, on 1 April 2015.

The Council stated: “Lagan Construction Group are working on Thomas Street and Scotch Street from this week in the second phase of the public realm scheme in the town centre. Thomas Street: One-way traffic will be introduced from Market Square via Thomas Street to the Feeney’s Lane junction, with traffic exiting the Square maintained.”

Details for traffic between Greers Road and Feeney’s Lane were also announced.

The latest traffic arrangements drew some criticism from those using the Dungannon Life web page, with one woman stating: “Dungannon has some great shops only destroyed by the new traffic system its a joke”, while another user added: “Second phase of the public mess scheme I hope the designer of the first phase is proud of his/her disaster.”

Overall ‘masterplan’ of the Dungannon Town Center.

A spokeswoman for Mid Ulster Council responded to the criticism: “We have undertaken extensive consultation in the development and implementation of the public realm scheme in the town centre, and continue to engage with local people at every stage.

“While there have been some concerns expressed about traffic, we have to emphasise that the changes to traffic flows which began this week are temporary and are simply to allow this particular stage of the works to take place. There are no new traffic arrangements in Dungannon as part of this second phase of work.”

However, a leading Dungannon businessman has described the town’s public realm works as “not friendly for pedestrians”.

The comments by Stephen McCammon on Menary’s came as it was revealed that the £7.5million spent on public realm schemes in the Mid-Ulster area is the second lowest in Northern Ireland.

Only the Fermanagh and Omagh area has had less spent on their schemes at £3.7million.

The schemes, which often involve installing natural stone paving, new lighting, new benches, bins and trees, have frustrated shoppers and traders alike due to over-running and projects going over budget.

In Dungannon, some traders are unhappy with the impact the public realm schemes have had so far.

Mr McCammon said: “I’m very much in favour of public realm schemes but the key thing is planning and I think the planning in phase one in Dungannon has been very difficult.

“We’ve now got a town that is quite simply not friendly for pedestrians, it does not enable pedestrians to shop the town, particularly Market Square, easily.”

Adrian McCreesh, from Mid-Ulster District Council, said phase one of the works scheme had been “an interesting challenge”.

rdo-dungannon-masterplan-part2 Pic-of-Public-Realm-Scheme

He said the council was “taking a professional assessment of the traffic, the parking and all the issues that our traders have highlighted as part of phase one”.

“If there’s anything we can do to further develop and further enhance the success of phase one, we will do it.

“We will not be found wanting.”

Meanwhile it has been suggested that public realm schemes are unlikely to have a direct positive economic impact for towns.

It was also revealed that Mid-Ulster Council has contributed the least council money at £191,500.

Phase two is now in action and many residents and shop owners hope to see a vast improvement.

Phase two of the new planning scheme

The Jungle Book review

Movie:– The Jungle Book

Release date :- April 15th 2016

Rating:- 4 Stars

As a proclaimed Disney fanatic, I was rather sceptical about the remake of a Disney classical. I thought what on earth is the point of remaking Walt Disney’s great and possibly greatest masterpiece, the glorious animated musical from 1967, based on Kipling’s tales, all about the “man cub” Mowgli, brought up by wolves in the Indian jungle – famously the last film to get Disney’s personal touch? A remake which furthermore leaves old-fashioned animation behind.

Well, no point really, other than simply to create a terrifically enjoyable piece of old-fashioned storytelling and a beautiful-looking film: spectacular, exciting, funny and fun. It handsomely revives the spirit of Disney’s original film, while also having something of old-school family movies about animals like The Incredible Journey (1963).

Perhaps most strikingly of all, it re-imports into the story elements of the Disney classic The Lion King (1994) which The Jungle Book influenced in the first place: there’s a special rock for the animals to gather round, a stampede scene and an evil feline with a facial disfigurement.

http://movies.disney.co.uk/the-jungle-book-1967 –  Click here to find out more about the original movie

Newcomer Neel Sethi plays Mowgli himself; Ben Kingsley voices Bagheera the panther; Idris Elba is the evil tiger Shere Khan; Scarlett Johansson is the hissing snake mesmerist Kaa; Christopher Walken is the voice of King Louie the fire-hungry ape and inevitably – but pleasingly, and very amusingly – Bill Murray is an outstanding vocal turn as the notorious ursine slacker and pleasure-seeker Baloo the bear who teaches Mowgli the importance of kicking back and enjoying the bare necessities of life.

I’ve never seen digital rendering of talking animals look so persuasive and this film also creates witty and ingenious twists on the story we all know, including a new plot development concerning wolf-leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Shere Khan – and even creates a backstory for Mowgli which explains how he got that modesty-preserving loincloth of his. It’s not a musical and yet the deployment of two famous songs – The Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You – feels easy and natural. 

Interestingly, behind the scene shots show how this movie was made, most of it being shot with a green screen, making young actor Neel Sethi’s role all the more spectacular! It’s still stunning to imagine that computers can turn hand puppets into talking bears and giant orangutans.

But what a tremendous success this is. The Jungle Book 2.0 is the unexpected treat of the week.

Northern Ireland Executive to change post-election, but MLA numbers stay the same for now

stormont
Stormont set for administrative changes

After Northern Ireland goes to the polls on May 5th the executive will have a new structure, while proposals to reduce the number of MLA’s from 108 to 90 are still being debated.
Prior to the 2016 election, the Northern Ireland Executive was comprised of 12 departments. This includes the office of the First and Deputy First minister and a cabinet/committee of 11 ministers. Each minister runs a different department i.e. Health, Justice, Education, etc. However after the Stormont House Agreement was signed, it was decided that the current departments should be streamlined.
During the Stormont House meetings, it was suggested that the number of executive departments be reduced from 12 to 9. The office of the First and Deputy First Minister will now also be kNown simply, as the Executive Office. Some departments will remain while others will be amalgamated to in a way reduce the bureaucracy involved in running the executive. Speaking in 2015, when delivering the names of the new departments, then First Minister Peter Robinson said that “there would undoubtedly be greater efficiency”.

 

executive
The Northern Ireland Executive is to be condensed into 9 departments

Arguably the most prominent issue of the Stormont House Agreement was that of finance and welfare. Given austerity policies and welfare cuts, removing three ministers from the payroll would be considered no bad thing. However, that may not be the end of the reductions, as there are continued calls to reduce the number of Assembly members, earlier than the given deadline of 2021. This deadline was assured by the ‘fresh start’ document; a result of the Stormont Agreement.
One of the most prominent supporters of this proposal is the Alliance Party. Alliance candidate for East Londonderry, Yvonne Boyle reiterated the Parity’s wish to see the numbers of MLA’s reduced. Her and her party actually wanted to see the reduction in MLA’s happen in the upcoming election, not after 2016. “Reducing the number of MLA’s from 108 to 90 could save [the taxpayer] £2.2million every year” she said “Over the next five years that could represent a saving of £11 million”. No small sum, when finance and welfare are such important issues

Yvonne Boyle is among those calling for earlier reductions to MLA numbers
Yvonne Boyle is among those calling for earlier reductions to MLA numbers

It may seem odd that the Alliance party are so keen on the reduction. Being a smaller party in terms of seats, reducing the number of seats per constituency may actually harm their chances in future elections. In an assembly debate in 2015, East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson argued that to reduce the number of MLAs required only a simple piece of legislation. He said that “the principle that the Assembly is too large and needs to be reduced in size has been accepted and is won.” As for waiting until 2021 he said “why not now?”
Mr. Stewart did mention the potential risk to the Alliance party in such a reduction, but argued that “it was the right thing to do”. During the same debate though, DUP MLA Peter Weir claimed that the Alliance were simply attempting to take a “moral high ground” and that the Alliance was merely attempting to quickly usher in changes, which would benefit their party. While supporting the proposal to lower the number of MLAs in 2021, Mr. Weir warned against any further reduction of MLAs saying that would be a “dreadful attack on democracy” Mr Weir claimed that the Alliance were “grandstanding” on issues which would actually improve its electoral performance.
“Why not now?” is an interesting point however. The Assembly has had to focus its efforts on saving money, and operating with a reduction in welfare. Yet Northern Ireland is clearly over-governed. As of the last census, the population of Northern Ireland is approximately 1,800,000. That equates to each MLA representing approximately 16,700 people. Comparing that with other governing bodies around the UK; Scotland have approximately one MSP per 40,300 people and Wales have roughly one Assembly member per 51,000. If we were to apply those ratios respectively to Northern Ireland, Stormont would only have 44 or 35 MLAs. Considering the number of local councillors and the 18 MP’s in the province, total public official salaries in Northern Ireland are disproportionally high. A non-ministerial MLA can cost £127,000 a year to sustain (including salary, expenses, office costs, etc.) Yvonne Boyle and the Alliance may have a point.

constit
Northern Ireland has 6 MLAs for each of its 18 constituencies. A total of 108

Unfortunately, this is now unlikely to happen any time soon. The 2016 election is around the corner, so it looks set to be 2021 before there is any change in the number of MLAs. The early fragility of the institution since the Good Friday Agreement may be one reason why there has been a reluctance to change the makeup of Northern Ireland’s local government. However, it has been almost 20 years since David Trimble, Seamus Mallon and that first group of MLAs sat at Stormont. It may be now time to bring about some more structural changes. The decision to condense the Northern Ireland Executive has shown there is a capability to do it, while several MLAs have shown a desire to do it.
One heartening prospect can be inferred though. Perhaps now there is sufficient stability at Stormont to survive a ‘shake-up’. Even if it is a slow ‘shake-up’.

Dawson derails Tottenham’s title charge.

 

Football Soccer - Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion - Barclays Premier League - White Hart Lane - 25/4/16 Tottenham's Harry Kane applauds the fans after the gafme Action Images via Reuters / Tony O'Brien Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane applauds the fans after the game

Craig Dawson scores at both ends to earn West Brom a point at White Hart Lane to all but diminish Tottenham Hotspur’s hope of winning a first ever Premier League title.

Spurs were full of confidence going in to the game from their scintillating form of late, and unsurprisingly started off the much brighter of the two teams, confining the Baggies to their own half for the opening 15 minutes of the game.

It wasn’t long before the deadlock was almost broke, Harry Kane’s shot from close range in the seventh minute was tipped on to the post, after Deli Alli neatly played him through in a flowing Tottenham move.

Christian Eriksen was next to rattle the woodwork with a 25 yard free kick that skimmed the top of the crossbar. Tottenham were cruising it seemed, but without a goal. Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier were dictating the play as usual.

Chances continued to fall for Tottenham, Kane trying his luck from the edge of the box, before Boaz Myhill, making his first appearance since January for the injured Ben Foster, tipped another Eriksen free kick wide.

West Brom offered very little in the opening 30 minutes, but signs of pressure began to slightly show in the Tottenham midfield. Claudio Yacob, West Brom’s anchor man, had a coming together with Alli mid way through the first half after persistently fouling the PFA Young Player of the Year.

But nobody could begrudge Spurs their fortuitous goal in the 33rd minute to open the scoring. A dangerous Eriksen free kick delivered in to the six yard box to a diving Jan Vertonhen, and defending Craig Dawson, the latter bundling it into his own net.

After a presumably rallying half time team talk from Tony Pullis, West Brom came out a different opposition. Tottenham continued to create chances, Lamela hitting the post 15 minutes in to the second half, but it was the visitors who struck next.

In the 73rd minute Craig Dawson made amends for his first half own goal, heading in a Craig Gardner corner from six yards after some poor Tottenham marking.

West Brom continued to frustrate their opponents, highlighted by 20 year-old Alli, who appeared to punch Yacob during a tussle in the away side’s box.

Spurs were out of ideas after the equaliser and left to rue missed first half opportunities. The 1-1 draw has left Tottenham 7 points behind Leicester, who now know that a win at Old Trafford will seal the Premier League for Claudio Ranieri’s men.

 

Links: http://www.tottenhamhotspur.com/matchcentre/tottenham-hotspur-vs-west-bromwich-albion-25042016/

http://www.premierleague.com/en-gb/matchday/league-table.html?season=2015-2016&timelineView=played&matchNo=35&tableView=CURRENT_STANDINGS

http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/sport/football/match-reports/tottenham-1-west-brom-1-11237190

 

Special Correspondents – nothing special

Special Correspondents
Special Correspondents

Special Correspondents is Gervais’ adaptation of a 2009 French comedy about two journalists who were sent to Ecuador to cover a story on the war, but missed their flight resulting in some pretty ‘hilarious’ consequences. Okay, I’ve made this sound like a Harold and Kumar movie, which is doing the film a slight injustice, but only slight.

The Netflix comedy-satire is Ricky Gervais’ latest attempt to write, direct and star in a film, with some pretty familiar, underwhelming results. Like in his hit comedy series, Extras, Gervais uses personal aggravation to mock and highlight his issues with life in the modern day, but it doesn’t seem to have us laughing as much on the big screen.

This time it was journalism and fame at the heart of his message, poking fun at the digital era journalism finds itself in through dull gags. The premise of the story is big shot, local radio broadcaster, Frank (Eric Bana), idolised by sound man and side kick, Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais) miss their flight to Ecuador and find themselves hiding in the attic of a restaurant in New York, rather than confessing to their boss what has happened.

The jokes are often created around the stupidity and dim witted nature of the restaurant owners, while Gervais tries his best to play the geeky, timid right hand man to Bana’s larger than life character.

The pair are frequently asked to do live broadcasts, which are assumed to be from Ecuador, but it becomes too much for the duo to keep faking, so they fake a kidnapping instead. Gervais’ wife, who incidentally slept with Bana’s character the week before the ‘kidnapping’, sees this as an opportunity to gain money and fame by releasing a charity single to raise money for their ransom.

The actual story has promise, it just wasn’t well executed. Gervais doesn’t do the underdog nerd well, he thrives on obvious and awkward situations. Bana’s character isn’t the bad guy he’s supposed to be, but most disappointingly Gervais’ typical situational humour isn’t in this movie at all really.

He toyed with it early in the film, when Gervais brings his high maintenance wife (Vera Farmiga) to a work party over an hour early. His wife complains bitterly while Gervais awkwardly makes small talk with the man on the door to try and play down the situation.

But these moments were few and far between. Gervais and Bana seem to have struck a genuine friendship off screen, but that chemistry didn’t translate on it. The film, like all of Gervais’ other movies, promises so much, but ultimately lacks the humour that made him a star in the first place.

 

Links: https://www.netflix.com/gb/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4181052/

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/gervais-special-correspondents-news-worthy-article-1.2613677

Women In the Creative Industries

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On Friday 22nd April three inspiring women hosted an event as part of the Belfast Film Festival, which demonstrated how women are treated and portrayed in this particular medium.

First to speak was Fiona McElroy, the Creative Enterprise Manager at Ulster University since 2006. Fiona founded the Honeycomb Creative Works project, a £3.58m program targeted at the digital content sector across the INTERREG IVA region of Northern Ireland, the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland and the western seaboard of Scotland.

She spoke about the work Honeycomb has done for women in particular. It conducted 19 research reports examining discrimination, bullying and sexism in the creative industries. It also works closely with women who want to either break into or get back into this kind of work. It is a particularly difficult place for young females as it is seen as a predominantly patriarchal occupation and Honeycomb helps them to find their niche. Furthermore, for women who have taken time out from the industry to have children and raise a family, the project works with them so they are not overwhelmed with having to re-join the workplace.

Honeycomb does this by nurturing talent and holds various workshops in order to build leadership skills and confidence as this is a tough industry and one must develop their own identity if they are to prove themselves.

To find out more about the Honeycomb Project please click below:

http://thehoneycomb.net

 

Next to speak was Sarah Edge, a professor in gender and film studies at Ulster University. She jokingly remarked that her course used to be called “feminism” but changed it to “gender studies” so as to attract more male students.

Sarah began by saying that in her opening class she asks her students to go out and ask others what a feminist is. Over the years the answer has gone from an ugly man-hating lesbian, to a ball-breaking career bitch who puts down other women who stay at home, then to a ladette, then finally the modern idea is a woman who simply wants equal rights for men and women.

Sarah gave an audiovisual talk, which explored how feminism has been portrayed in popular films over the decades and how the female role has changed throughout the post-feminist era.

The first films to be examined were Fatal Attraction (1979), Baby Boom (1987), Working Girl (1988), and Pretty Woman (1990). All of these films were released when the idea of feminism was a new concept. Each depict the clash between the new modern woman who is powerful and sexually liberated but is either damaged or un-fulfilled; and the ideal image of femininity which is what men really want.

Then after the year 2000, there were films like Miss Congeniality (2000), Legally Blonde (2001), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006) which featured women who have to alter themselves in order be successful, find romance, or be happy. Feminism is hinted at in each of these films but the women are not feminist characters even if they first appear to be.

Finally, with more recent films like Up in the Air (2009) and The Intern (2015) there is the introduction of the father figure. In each film the older man teaches the younger woman how be successful and happy in life, which presents the idea that women still need guidance from men.

 

The final speaker of the night was Margo Harkin, an award winning filmmaker from Co. Derry. Her work has spanned across many genres including documentary and feature films.

She spoke in detail about her lengthy career and said she wanted to become a filmmaker after Bloody Sunday as she felt the real stories weren’t being told on screen. Margo explains that workplace was “unbelievably sexist” when she started out and that “women were viewed in a suspicious light by men in the industry”. However, as she and her female colleagues proved themselves in their work it became a more supportive profession.

To find out more about Margo and her projects please click below:

http://www.besomproductions.co.uk/margo.html

 

One of the main objectives of this talk was to open up a dialogue between feminist researchers, academics, and women working in the creative industries themselves. It certainly was a superb demonstration of how far women have come over the years, and also how feminism has evolved in both the creative workplace and the work it produces.

For more info on the Belfast Film Festival please click below:

https://belfastfilmfestival.org