Open Unionism


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‘Best of the Web’

By Geoff McGimpsey

Happy new year! So 2011 has arrived… bringing with it a fully blown water crisis, a VAT rise and the death of Gerry Rafferty. January truly is the most miserable of all months.

Despite Laurence MacKenzie’s departure, the catastrophe of NI Water is threatening to engulf the devolved Executive. The principle that a Minister cannot be removed irrespective of performance or public opinion is a source of ire among bloggers.

Jeff Peel’s Dairy is emblematic of a growing view that “… the buck should stop at the Minister. The Executive, and an unquestioning Assembly, are more responsible for under-investment in Northern Ireland’s water infrastructure than the body required to deliver such investment.”

Perhaps Conor Murphy has been foolish, but Rodney McCune’s blog feels that the system which permits foolishness needs to be recast.

“We don’t need to have second rate public services run by a second rate Executive,” he blogged. “We have capable and able alternatives and it is high time we get them in there and get them running things. Conor Murphy may be a fool, but he isn’t the only one.”

Similarly, while some blame the individual, A Tangled Web blames the state. According to David Vance: “This utility needs fundamental change and massive investment and it seems to me that only a change of ownership away from the State and into private hands will suffice.”

East Belfast Diary agrees the present system with Go-Cos needs to be reviewed. “The Minister is blaming NI Water senior management and says he has no cause to resign. Senior managers are blaming the weather and under-investment… This incident should provoke a debate about accountability in Government Owned Companies.”

But at least one twitterer bravely ponders whether the defenestration of Laurence MacKenzie doesn’t represent some cruel and unusual punishment. According to @CB_PRandPA: “I think we might have a new understanding of being ‘water-boarded’. Surely NIW CEO has rights under a UN convention?”


But while being deprived of water during Christmas amounted to a terrible situation for the many, it represented a tremendous opportunity for the few. According to Eye on the Hill: “Let’s face it, Christmas is a pretty slow time on newsdesks and call-in shows; as they struggle to fill schedules – so the water crisis came along as a blessing for sober-voiced presenters and shrieking call-in hosts.

“And politicians – who otherwise would have been starved of the oxygen of hyped publicity – were quick to jump into the fray. To summarise – NI Water was the bête noire of choice.”

But it’s not all about poor practice this January. Ian Parsley’s blog pays tribute to those who have helped to transform Northern Ireland’s road safety figures.

“We can now legitimately use our experience to teach others some positive lessons. However, the main message is that having worked so hard to deliver one of the safest road systems in the world, we must continue the good work to keep it that way.”

Just so.

Elsewhere, Alan in Belfast notes the immediate effect of the VAT rise in the canteen – 5p on a cup of tea. Outrage! But there’s some understanding for shop owners.

He added: “I think cafe owners have a difficult time. They have had to deal with rising purchase costs of their own due to inflation, and also now this VAT rise… So, although I don’t like price increases myself, there is so much going on in the economy that I can understand it happening.”

And finally, @eamonnmallie kicks off 2011 with this invocation to press officers everywhere.

“What is it in the breeding of many press officers that they want to make life impossible for journalists? Why not learn? We don’t go away.”

So the message is clear press officers – stop deflecting and stop breeding. You’ve been told.


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