For these reasons and others I didn’t comment on the events to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Duke Street Civil Rights March despite my continued admiration for those who made every effort to improve things here and succeeded in a number of areas. Other reasons for not marking the occasion included two newspaper statements, one from a man claiming to be indignant over the lack of publicity he received for his part in the original civil rights movement and the other from a man accusing Sinn Fein of hijacking history. Both statements were just petty and self-serving.
I am no fan of Sinn Fein but would agree that they had as much right to commemorate the original march as the DUP had to host an event offering an alternative view. My only surprise came from the fact that Sinn Fein didn't carry a ‘one man twenty votes’ placard on their march (vote early and vote often).
I have lost all faith in wider politics, not that I ever had much to begin with but what little I had has now gone. I did have hope, which much like the promises of the Good Friday Agreement too has gone. The Good Friday Agreement which continues to be hailed as a model of best practice and of importance, more recently during Brexit negotiations, has served mostly to divide, provide window dressing, to buy off and quell resistance to any harsh measure imposed by either Stormont or the Mothership Westminster. But hey, what would I know? People like me with the tendency to think independently outside of the orange and green box are only troublemakers who just don’t see the benefits of trying new things such as wearing rose tinted glasses, admiring window dressing or appreciating the time and effort that goes into making false promises and hoodwinking!
Today we awoke to two major news headlines, one affecting Derry directly and the other in relation to the administration of the OFMDFM Social Investment fund. The planned medical school at Magee is to be postponed until 2020 in the absence of a Stormont Executive, which will no doubt come as a real blow to those who actually believe it. Then we had news of a report from the Audit Office into the administration of the OFMDFM Social Investment Fund. This report highlights how the administration of the fund lacked accountability and transparency in relation to minute keeping and no proper application process among other things.
This will come as no surprise to many with the fund widely regarded as a slush fund for pet projects linked to the two main Stormont parties. The press have touched on this on a number of occasions. In fact, my first blog covered this issue with regard to the refusal to fund a HURT and Foyle Search and Rescue joint Crisis Intervention project in 2014. In 2016 when some parties in Stormont called for an independent inquiry into the SIF fund the proposal was blocked by the DUP and Sinn Fein who said the scheme was fully above board but then they claimed the same about the RHI scheme.
I have been following the RHI inquiry, a smokescreen for backdoor dealing if ever there was one. The Renewable Heating Incentive Scheme which saw the collapse of the Stormont Power Sharing Executive in January 2017 is set to cost the public purse an approximate £500 million with participants in the scheme paid £1.60 for every £1 of outlay. The collapse of the Stormont Executive followed an emotional statement from a very frail Martin McGuiness who in his resignation letter raised concerns over the lack of scheme cost controls, a failure to heed warnings, the financial strain and the pressure this placed on public confidence in the political institutions, amongst other things.
To date the RHI inquiry has cost £4.6 million and has uncovered a lot of what we could have guessed considering previous scandals. Without the appropriate checks and balances a senior advisor to the DUP advised people to fill their boots in the belief that the money for the scheme was coming from the British treasury. In respect of Sinn Fein, despite them being aware of the concerns around the RHI they still campaigned to keep the scheme open, this was a year after Martin McGuinness and his advisor Mark Mullan were both personally advised about the flaws by Malcolm McKibbin the head of the Civil Service. Obviously Sinn Fein denied this, however the audit trail proves otherwise.
Maybe this is why Sinn Fein like the DUP are adverse to minute keeping? What is shocking is that the RHI scheme was so lucrative that in 2015 farmers realised it was better for them to burn oats by the ton than to sell them. Moreover, we had a DUP Special Advisor who used the scheme to heat an empty farm shed containing a tractor so as to financially gain from the scheme. Then we mustn’t forget the family members of special advisors and others who also made a fortune out of RHI. So whilst the initial thinking was that the money was coming from the British treasury when it was discovered the money was actually to come from the already stretched block grant these scoundrels continued to 'fill their boots'.
To see the RHI Inquiry documents including transcripts and emails visit the link below and scroll down to section 111 dated 26th October 2018: Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry website
So there we have it - millions of pounds and tons of oats up in smoke at a time when our most vulnerable are having to choose between heating and eating and as others are left in destitution following the roll out of Universal Credit under Welfare Reform. A system which should see the benefit system renamed the persecution system. Something the Stormont parties deny involvement in despite handing devolved welfare powers back to Westminster in 2015 for the purpose of implementation. And what makes this crass denial worse is that they pretend to actively protest against the very system they helped implement.
But as we think about £500 million going up in smoke, we have to consider the complete ineptitude of not just the politicians, their advisors and senior civil servants but the ongoing impact of this collective yet very well paid ineptitude.
In recent weeks parents from local schools have been advised of the impact stringent budgetary cuts are having on their children’s education. In a letter from principals representing the Catholic maintained, controlled, integrated and Irish Medium sectors, principals expressed concerns over the impact the cuts are having. The letter further pointed out the disparity in school budgets with regard to other parts of the UK despite the significantly higher poverty rates here. This was followed up yesterday by a meeting in the Holy Child Primary School here in the city where concerns were further raised over the potential loss of teaching staff due to budgetary cuts.
The idea that educators, many of whom are already overworked and underpaid have to make a public appeal for the good of our children is scandalous and needs to be met with solidarity and protest. It comes to something when the schools are having to take the fall for those who are clearly incapable of governing or prioritising our most vulnerable when administering their budgets, those who think little of filling their boots or creating transgenerational debt through the use Private Finance Initiatives .
Last week the principal of a primary school stated to a committee of MP’s “I've actually found myself in the humiliating position of begging my parents to support the wellbeing of their children by providing Pritt Stick, reading books, tissues and soap," He went on to say "I actually have parents - and this isn't a joke - who are donating toilet roll to my school.” If that doesn’t exemplify the failings of Stormont and its machinery I don’t know what will, but maybe it’s just a case that the school principal doesn’t wear rose tinted glasses either.
It would seem that the role of the teacher has changed dramatically and we should be grateful for everything they do for our children. Yet teachers are also in the sights of those Stormont elite, sorry inept, with qualified and experienced teachers being penalised under Stormont’s Investing in the Teaching Workforce Scheme which has been miraculously rolled on from the Pilot scheme in the absence of a Stormont Executive.
This scheme means that those qualified to teach before 2013 can no longer apply for teaching jobs advertised with a prefix of ITW. Whilst the scheme is designed to give younger teachers a chance it clearly discriminates against those with experience who qualified before 2013. So much for all this talk of equality and respect!
I could sit for days and write volumes on our ‘representatives’ but what would be the point when people will continue to vote them in on the strength of a flag and on a them and us basis. The reality is it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, we are all getting sidelined by those who claim to have your best interests at heart. Arlene Foster is pushing a pro Brexit agenda despite a majority here voting to remain in the EU. So the question for Arlene and the DUP is whose interests are they representing? In contrast, locally, Elisha McCallion MP does not take her seat in Westminster despite more of the electorate voting for candidates who would take their seats if elected. So the question for Elisha and Sinn Fein is whose interests are they representing?
This is the crux of the continuous failings of the Stormont regime. Both sides for want of a better phrase, want completely different things. It is maybe time to take a look at what passes for politics here. There may be a peace process and for the most part guns are silent, but when you have more people dying through suicide then through the course of the troubles then we must question the true success of the process.
We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.And to use my own words we need a miracle and leaders not in love with themselves!
Pauline Mellon blogs @ The Diary Of A Derry Mother