Friday, 1 July 2016

Onus on Foster to explain how on earth leaving Europe was ever a good idea

By Maurice Kennedy, Editor, Fermanagh Herald

WHATEVER about the rest of the UK, it is hard to see how leaving the EU can be anything other than very damaging for the North’s economy, and nowhere more so than in border areas like Fermanagh
Yes, we still have little idea how things will pan out  in terms of what new deals will be struck between the EU and post-Brexit Britain, but here’s what we do know:
• Farmers rely on EU payments to an inordinate amount - perhaps as  much as 90 per cent of their income comes from Brussels. Assurances from the leave campaign that the UK government will keep up this level of subvention simply don’t stand up to any scrutiny. It won’t happen.
• Border controls of some sort, and especially on freight, are inevitable. For anyone doing business across the border - and that includes almost every business you can think of in Fermanagh - that’s more paperwork, more delays, more cost and more reason for customers in the South to bring their business elsewhere.
• The decline in sterling may give Fermanagh businesses, including shops and those who export to the EU some short term gain, but the euro is also going to suffer from Brexit so don’t count on this having any long-term benefits.
• Attracting inward investment is about to get a whole lot more difficult.  Ask anybody thinking of setting up a new business whether they should go north or south. After all the uncertainty of the past couple of days it’s a no brainer and Stormont’s fixation with reducing corporate tax now looks even more like the irrelevancy that it always was.
• The border region has benefited from EU structural funding and ‘peace money’ on a massive scale - and not just in terms of infrastructure. The community sector, which provides a range of vital services, as well as being one of our biggest employers, has been hugely reliant on EU funding. Think of all the community centres, playgroups and programmes helping older people, young people, the unemployed, etc. that would never have got off the ground without EU money. Will the next Tory government pick up the tab the way they will with the farmers? Unlikely, I’d say.
• And here’s where it’s going to really hurt: the UK economy is going to take a massive hit no matter what. Another recession looks very possible and of one thing you can be certain: if there’s less to go around, places on the periphery that are most reliant on benefits and public sector employment, places like Fermanagh, will be worst affected.
And just to add to your post-Brexit woes, you can expect inflation to go up as imports become dearer - and that, of course, includes road fuel which is proportionately a bigger slice of family outlays in rural areas.
When you look at just how damaging Brexit could be for this part of the world - and there have been no coherent arguments made that suggest otherwise - it raises serious  questions about the part that our political leaders have played in this mess.
First Minister Arlene Foster has a serious amount of explaining to do. This is the same First Minister who has been banging on about inward investment and making the North more competitive. When virtually anyone and everyone in business here has been warning of the consequences of Brexit for our fragile economy, the onus was on Ms Foster to make a convincing case for just how leaving the EU was a good thing. In the absence of this, many of us have drawn the conclusion that she and her party were quite happy to put political dogma before the good of the region she presides over.

Not that the other government party, Sinn Fein, have emerged with much credit either. Sinn Fein’s support for Remain was about as half-hearted as Jeremy Corbyn’s and  Remainers are now wondering did SF, like the DUP, put their own narrow party interests before the interests of the people they represent.
Within minutes of the referendum result Sinn Fein were just a little too fast out of the traps calling for a poll on Irish unity and there were plenty of cynics wondering why, Martina Anderson aside, they had heard so little from Sinn Fein over the course of the campaign.
The argument goes that Brexit would suit Sinn Fein very nicely if it made the case for a united Ireland stronger. All very well, but if the people who they claim to represent are going to suffer as a result, we have a problem.
We in the North now need to make the best of a bad job. The big winner in all this has to be the Republic. It may  be adversely affected in the short term by the turmoil gripping its biggest trading partner, but as the only native English-speaking state left in the EU and a long-standing reputation as a prime location for foreign investment it is well placed to cash in.
In the financial services sector alone, an estimated 50,000 jobs are set to relocate fromthe City of London; expect Dublin to get a fair share of them. Brexit has the potential to transform the economy of the Republic and if we are not to end up the basket case of the British Isles we need to find a way to share in its good fortune.
Talk of a poll on Irish unity is at this stage only a distraction. Equally, the idea that hardening the border can possibly be good for the North is patent nonsense. At this criticial stage we need our elected representatives to act with honesty and integrity. And we now need them to do what they should have been doing all along - listen to the people and act in their interest.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Reality check: half of us don't actually support Northern Ireland

 While there has been any amount of bon homie surrounding the Euros - England and Russia excepted - it seems, well, unsporting to drag politics into it it. But sure here goes…

A journalist colleague carried out a vox pop on the streets of Enniskillen recently to establish which Irish team local people would be supporting in the Euros.  One  randomer declined to comment other than to say "I'm not really into politics". Which says it all really.

The BBC tried to have a bit of craic  posting on Facebook a kind of bluffer's guide to the two Irish teams explaining, with what the BBC thinks passes for humour, why there are two national football teams in this country, I mean island.

But amid all this hilarity nobody in the BBC - or anywhere else in the media that I can see - is prepared to even as much as allude to the blindingly obvious, that almost half the population here is, at best, ambivalent about the so-called national team.

To tune into the BBC or read the pages of the Belfast Telegraph or the Irish Times you would be forgiven for thinking that clubs and pubs from west Belfast to east Tyrone were heaving with lads rooting for Northern Ireland in their opener against Poland. Or that GAA fans were rallying home from the Fermanagh game in Ballybofey to catch their national team in action in Nice, when that was clearly not the case.

I can understand why unionists might  feel a deeply held sense of  hurt that their Catholic neighbours don't support the place they live in, but anyone who believes that  sorting out a few details like the flag and the anthem would make it all alright is missing the point entirely.

Whatever about polls in the Belfast Telegraph it is a given that most nationalists here identify themselves as Irish.  We know this because those who bother to vote vote mainly for Sinn Fein, and the rest by and large for the SDLP, both parties who define themselves in all-Ireland terms.

Like it or not national teams and national identity go hand in hand - which is precisely why most Catholics won't be weighing in behind the Green and White Army in any great numbers any time soon. That Northern Ireland presumes to represent them makes matters so much worse.

I'm maybe pushing the analogy a little, but you wouldn't get annoyed if your average Kosavar Albanian had an issue with supporting Serbia. Nor would you be terribly surprised if a Protestant from, say Ballyclare, didn't give a toss one way or the other how the Antrim hurlers did in the Christy Ring.

Not that I entirely get northern Catholics supporting the Republic. Maybe it's because they really don't have a lot of choice. There may even - God forbid -  be a bit of wilful spite in the mix, but supporting a team the bulk of whose supporters reckon you shouldn't be supporting them doesn't make a lot of sense either.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Beating Tyrone the height of Derry's ambitions

It's hard to figure out where it’s all gone wrong for Derry: Once among the real heavyweights of Ulster football; these days their year would be deemed a success - no doubt about it - if they beat Tyrone in Celtic Park tomorrow. Derry people might even concede, privately, that avoiding humiliation would be the height of their ambitions.

Yes, the narrow confines of Celtic Park might Tyrone’s style of play, but even allowing for Derry raising their game and all the usual vagaries of the Ulster Championship, it's hard to see anything but yet another win for Mickey Harte's men.

It's literally a lifetime since Derry were a force. It’s decades now since Derry and Tyrone was the mother of all derbies, an extension of that visceral loughshore rivalry between south Derry and east Tyrone. But while Tyrone have kicked on and consolidated their position as a serious contender at national level Derry football has closed in on itself.
The bookies have Derry as fifth favourite to win Ulster, and that's about right. Odds to win the All-Ireland are about 60-1 and that too is fair enough. 

How can this be in a county with, arguably, one of the most competitive, keenly fought club championships in Ireland? And how is it that every year Derry struggles to get its best players to field for the county? While Armagh might bemoan the loss of Jamie Clarke and Donegal might have to make do without Mark McHugh, Derry are missing the usual quota for a variety of reasons -  Ryan Bell, and Caolain O'Boyle and the McGoldricks, even Eoin Bradley and Gerard O'Kane would still have plenty to offer if they were playing football in any other county. And year in year out that seems to be the story.

The maxim that club will always prevail over county has never been truer, but that’s no excuse for the state of Derry at county level. From an outside perspective you would have to wonder why it is that so many of Derry’s best footballers don’t want to play for their county. Have they simply failed to keep the faith? Has the onwards and upwards trajectory of their deadly rivals left them so mortally demoralised? Whatever the answer, Derry football people need to take a cold, hard look at themselves. The warning signs are there: at underage level  Derry is falling away badly while at senior level they haven’t been in the mix in Ulster  for well over a decade

If Derry need a kick up the arse about where this might be going, they should take a good look at the inexorable decline of Down football. They might even take a look at their neighbours in lowly Antrim – a county with a clutch of strong club sides but with a county team that has  propped up the bottom of Ulster football for as long as anyone can remember.

Nobody’s saying that Derry are quite at that level just yet, but right now they seem to have a lot more in common with fellow qualifiers fodder than they have with a Tyrone side with realistic ambitions of days out in Clones and Croke Park.

- Maurice Kennedy is former founding editor of Gaelic Life

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Another new hospital?

Now that we have an opposition in Stormont -  Eamonn McCann, obviously, not Mike Nesbitt - it would be good to see someone in politics challenge some of the spectacularly idiotic things that government, in its many forms, has been getting away with.

Like building a brand new hospital in Omagh at the cost of several hundred million pounds when there's a perfectly new and woefully underused acute hospital some 28 miles down the road  in Enniskillen. 

To call it a scandal is probably an understatement: how  the Department of Health can justify this kind of outlay on a new hospital when the health service is, by all accounts, teetering on the brink, beggars belief. 

And if you think the new Omagh hospital might be, well, necessary consider this: if you're an adult living in Fermanagh and need to get your tonsills out you will find yourself making the four hour round trip to Derry. Yes, tonsills, not a liver transplant or open heart surgery. 
Which makes you wonder, if the new Enniskillen hospital (completed 2012) is in many ways surplus to requirements, how on earth will Omagh's new hospital be any different? 

At a time when the received wisdom is that future healthcare will see fewer, but bigger hospital serving society's every more complex needs, we're putting the finishing touches to a spanking new hospital 30 miles down the road from Altnagelvin. Mad.

And it's not just in health that our governors in the North of Ireland seem to have a fixation with capital projects. In education too there is a puzzling disconnect between the seemingly endless amount of money for new buildings and what we're being told by educators in our cash-strapped schools and colleges, namely that we're skint.

Maybe I'm missing something, but while literally shedloads of money are being pumped into the massive new Ulster University campus in Belfast the same UU is being forced to cut subject choices and 'let staff go'.

Down the road in Enniskillen we have the curious case of a proposed new campus for the South West College. We have yet to establish whether or not there's actually a need for it, although it must be said that the artist's impression of a swanky new glass and metal structure not unlike Arsenal's Emirates is rather nice. 
The point is, however, that there seems to be no end of money for these flashy building projects while secondary schools within spitting distance of this new college campus are suffocating under a mountain of debt as a result of swingeing cuts to their budgets. 

Now before you start the 'different pots of money routine', education and further education are devolved to Stormont and we all know how it works - we get a massive subvention from Westminster and,at the end of the day, our 'government' decides what to do with it.

Over to you Eamonn (or whoever the opposition is).