I have a half notion of taking up astronomy. I have always wanted to see the Milky Way through a good telescope and if you are ever thinking of buying one now is the time to do so. It’s all to do with economics and a thing called the ‘Law of Supply and Demand.’
This law states that the more in demand an article is the more expensive it gets to be. You see this most of all at an auction; if only one person wants an item they will get it for buttons but if two or three want it then the sky is the limit.
So why buy a telescope now?
Because this winter Northern Ireland is going to become the star gazing centre of the United Kingdom. The new darkness is going to come about as a result of all the street lights being turned off to save money.
This is where our fighting over marches, parades, flags and the past has brought us too: we can’t afford to turn on the lights. Soon Belfast will return to the darkness from which it came and any man brave enough to walk the dark streets of the city shall be taking his life in his hand.
“Tens of thousands of street lights could be out across Northern Ireland over the winter due to budget cuts, a Stormont minister has said.
The warning comes from Roads Minister Danny Kennedy whose department is facing £15m cuts.
Mr Kennedy also said he has had to stop approving some new work for road maintenance, grass cutting and gully emptying.” (BBC News)
The gully emptying is another thing. What if we have a big downpour some evening and the lights are out and we can’t see where we are going; we will all be soaked in puddles, our shoes destroyed as we plod on in the dark!
Simon Hamilton, the DUP Finance Minister said, “Northern Ireland is facing extreme budget challenges. But it is important to lay the blame in the appropriate place.”
"Last week the executive agreed to reduce budgets by almost £78m and we face further reductions in the region of £87m. Why? Because of the foot-dragging and failure of leadership of Sinn Féin and the SDLP over welfare reform.”
Now pardon me for being so bold as to ask, but when the lights are about to be switched off because we can’t agree on anything is it not too late for political blame?
We can all refer to things that parties have done and we can all blame someone else but is there not a deeper question: Britain is broke, stone broke, and they are going to make severe cuts over the next few years to get their economy back into shape. Do you think they are going to keep us in the lap of luxury while the rest of the UK takes the pain?
Then on Friday we heard that Magee College in Derry is not to be extended because of budget cuts; an £11m expansion has been put on hold indefinitely.
Stephen Farry of the Alliance party, and Minister for Employment and Learning since 2011, said, “We are in a financial crisis through gross mismanagement that we should not be in.”
Foyle MP Mark Durkan accused Mr Farry of "downright shabby politics". He said it was "absolutely wrong" to use the expansion of higher education to make a political point."
Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle, Maeve McLaughlin, said the expansion of Magee was crucial to the regeneration of the city. "Stephen Farry is practising microphone diplomacy, announcing unilateral decisions on the airwaves and is playing politics with vital issues," she said.
In July, planning permission was granted for an £11m extension to the Magee campus. A spokesperson for the University of Ulster said: "We are disappointed with this announcement. The university will now be seeking an urgent meeting with the DEL minister. The Magee expansion remains a priority for the University of Ulster and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that positive impact of this project on the city can be fully realised.”
I took the liberty of looking up the birthdays of Mark Durkan and Maeve McLaughlin; they were born in 1960 and 1965 respectively. They are too young to remember the debacle of the setting up of the second university in Northern Ireland.
In the early sixties it was decided that Northern Ireland needed a second university presumably as a result of the Education Act and the Catholics starting to get educated.
Magee College in Derry was the obvious choice but the Unionists could let nothing important go west of the Bann and so Coleraine was picked for a new campus. Eamon McCann and John Hume and people like them took it mighty bad and in a very real sense this incident was one of the factors that led to the Civil Rights movement.
Coleraine opened in ’68 and Magee was made a minor campus in ’69. Nothing like rubbing it in!!
Even Maggie Taggart of the BBC made reference to this when she wrote: “There has been a lingering resentment in Londonderry since 1968 when it was not chosen as the main site for the new University of Ulster.”(BBC News August 8th)
When I hear all this about Magee being starved of money I can’t help but go back in my mind to those times.
When a country begins to cut back on education then that country is on a heading towards nowhere.
But there was a bit of good news this week; Casa Turlough and everyone else in the New North has solidified in value.
“The performance of Northern Ireland's housing market between April and June was at its strongest level since 2007, according to researchers. The findings are contained in the latest University of Ulster quarterly house price index. The average house cost £139,720, up 6.9% on the same period last year and 1.4% higher than the first quarter.
Researchers said rises in transaction levels and prices suggested a significant shift in market sentiment.”
After years of paying a mortgage for no other reason than to sit in a house that is going down in value, it is nice to see the prices going up again. I don’t know how house prices can be going up in a country that can’t afford to turn on the lights, such things are above me, but in a depressed and depressing climate we enjoy any bit of hope we can.
There is a price for everything. How much is six months of reasonably healthy life worth to a person who is dying?
Well, according to the NHS it is not worth £90,000. This is the amount that a new drug for breast cancer sufferers costs. Seemingly the drug Kadcyla, which is produced by a drugs firm Roche, can give women with an aggressive form of breast cancer six extra months of life.
Isn’t it sad when life and death comes down to pounds and pence; but sure that’s the way it has always been.
“Kimberley Mawby, 44, who managed to get the drug through a trial at London's Royal Marsden Hospital, described it as "amazing".
She said: ‘I can have a great life. I don't feel ill, the side-effects are so minimal I lead a really normal life. And I know how much it costs but at the end of the day you can't put a price on your life and that's what [Roche] are asking people to do. For all the people out there that need this drug, I really believe they should be able to get it.’”
The problem facing us all is that big companies are going to develop new drugs at high costs, we won’t be able to afford them and hard choices are going to have to be made. We are entering a whole new world where money and the lack of it are going to determine everything.
One of the problems we face as a nation is the fact that we do not produce enough to warrant the standard of living that we have. There is no easy way around this, the British Isles does not have that much as regards natural resources, a lot of our heavy industry is gone and we are still chasing Thatcher’s elusive ‘service economy’ where men in suits get huge wages for producing nothing except greed.
Ireland has one great natural resource and thankfully no one can come and take it from us. Our grass produces the best beef in the world and our land is very fertile. Ireland produced enough food in 2012 to feed 35m people: not bad for a wee country.
Then we have tourism, which up here is a very underdeveloped asset. But take those two things out of it and what have we got. True, down around Tyrone is one of the main engineering producing site of Europe and they give a lot of employment for which we are grateful, but it is hardly enough to sustain a country.
At some point in Northern Ireland, we are going to have to ask ourselves where we want to go. Do we want to continue the same old ‘blame them’ politics that is based on sectarian hatred or are we going to move and try to build something for ‘us’ the all inclusive us.
On Friday evening the whole thing seemed to come to some sort of a head with Gerry Adams and Peter Robinson both in their own way, threatening the political institutions in Stormont.
Robinson said, “Sinn Fein are in shameless denial of economic realities” and their denial could end devolution in Northern Ireland.
Then Gerry Adams spoke on welfare reform: "We will oppose welfare reform - and it isn't welfare reform, its cuts in the entitlement of citizens, it's led by a very narrow Tory ideological position.”
“The way to oppose it is for the executive to be united. We're not and should not be in dispute with the DUP, the SDLP, the Alliance Party or anybody else on this island or in this state on this issue.”
There you have it; Gerry is in dispute with no one but everyone is in dispute with him.
I wonder who is right; I have no idea, I do not follow these things closely enough.
But look at the language of both Gerry and Peter; underlying it is the implicate threat to tear down Stormont.
Can you imagine any other country being run on a basis of ‘if we don’t get what we want we shall close down the government’ or to put it in more simple terms, ‘I shall take my ball and go home.”
Talk about a Mickey Mouse country with a cast of Disney characters for politicians. Why don’t they grow up and look at the reality of people living on the poverty line.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Nationalist politicians are now treating the nationalist people with the same contempt as we always believed the Unionists treated their people. Truly, I feel we have been sold out completely by men who have grown arrogant.
But there is always a bit of hope, even in the darkest days. Here is what the police had to say about the Apprentice Boys march in Derry.
“About 35,000 people attended the annual Relief of Londonderry event on Saturday, commemorating the ending of the 17th century siege of the city. The main parade passed through the city without incident in the afternoon. Later, there were two parade-related arrests, but police praised organisers after what was a mainly peaceful event.
Speaking on Sunday, police commander Stephen Cargin said it was the third consecutive year that the event had gone well.
"This is not a coincidence - it is due to the hard work of many agencies, ABOD, businesses, marshals and organisations involved in the partnership working that goes into the lengthy planning of the event.”
Even in Northern Ireland when people sit down and talk, agreement can be reached. It is all a matter of respect, treating your neighbour with respect and listening to their concerns. In a province where politics is seen as getting one over on ‘them’ it is good to see some people making a genuine effort to talk to each other.
When you look at the problems in other parts of the world, our problems pale in significance. Pictures of old women on Zimmer frames trying to climb mountains in searing heat would make any person sad.
The new state of ‘IS’ in what was once Iraq is some sort of Islamic caliphate, whatever that is. The soldiers of Isis have taken to marking Christian homes with an ‘N’ to mark them out for harsh treatment.
“N” was chosen to indicate Nazarene, the hometown of Jesus. Don’t know why “C” wasn’t chosen.
What a world we live in. Christians are now suffering more persecution than ever and there is not a word about it.
Ah well, come the winter we will all be able to sit in the dark and reflect on these things in the same way as our grandparents did before us. The long dark nights of winter are about to get a little darker, but sure we would rather police silly parades than keep the lights on.
Ah, the wonder of our political system in action!
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