Beauty queens take over Stormont, as programme for government is revealed


Sometimes at Stormont you just can't make it up. I was trying to record a TV broadcast in the Great Hall, analysing the content of the executive's draft programme for government, when I found myself distracted not by headline grabbing investment targets, but by a collection of would be beauty queens.

They turned out to be contestants in a "Miss Ulster" competition taking place in the assembly building.

The Great Hall staircase, usually home to nothing more eye-catching than a bust of Lord Craigavon, is doubling up as a catwalk.

Not everyone at Stormont is happy - politicians discovered anonymous letters in their pigeonholes protesting about the use of Parliament Buildings for such a pageant.

But some MLAs agreed to act as judges, so they obviously don't believe competitions like "Miss Ulster" are politically incorrect.

Whilst the MLAs may be ready to judge the beauty contestants, the public now has something to judge the politicians by - a glossy programme for government containing 76 promises.

Its headline pledge is to promote 25,000 new jobs over the next four years.

On the face of it that's a big leap forward on the last programme for government which talked about creating just 6,500 jobs. So is Northern Ireland bucking the trend as the rest of Europe faces economic meltdown?

It's not that simple.


Although the executive would say it exceeded its own targets, promoting 15,000 new jobs and defending 5,000 existing ones, unemployment rose during the last assembly term to 8%, its highest level since the Good Friday Agreement.

Joblessness has now fallen back to 7.3%, but a recent Westminster report confirmed that some of Northern Ireland's parliamentary constituencies remain amongst the most deprived in the UK.

Ministers may create employment in one sector, but jobs will go elsewhere (indeed some of the plans for streamlining councils and education bodies presumably wouldn't be worth proceeding with unless they did cut public sector wage bills).

Stormont politicians might do their best to attract foreign investment, but ultimately they are not entirely in control of our economic fortunes.

Instead they depend on the wider economic climate and the powers they can wield (and we still don't know when Stormont might get responsibility, for example, for setting a local rate of corporation tax and what the price tag will be).

That's why we don't see a target to bring down unemployment per se. Instead Stormont promises to give with one hand knowing employers may take away with the other.

Some initiatives - like double glazing Housing Executive homes - should provide the embattled building trade with a boost.

Some obstacles - like streamlining the bureaucracy in education - have been overcome.

Others, like achieving consensus on academic selection, remain.

The first and deputy first ministers have forced through a compromise on cutting the number of councils, but only by countermanding the SDLP environment minister.

Before the Stormont clock strikes midnight the audience in the Great Hall will know who the new "Miss Ulster" will be.

Whether this programme for government is a hit or a miss won't be clear until we near the end of this four year assembly term.

Mark Devenport, Political editor, Northern Ireland Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Good to see its not only the Sinn Fein MLA,s who work into the night at Stormont to bring about a new future. You didn,t say Mark if the judges consisted of members of all parties and if the overall winner will need cross party support. Great to see double glazing will be provided to Housing Executive homes. No longer can we have "cold houses for catholics" or protestants.

    Eyes wide open

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Much ado about very little. I fear that what we have hear is a wish list rather than a rational goverment programme. In my humble opinion there are too many destinations with no directions on how to get there. Employment will still be an issue and the jobless number will increase (we are behind on the rest of the UK) Delivery on the economy is essential but expectations on this are low.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Doom gloom goodbye to the boom. Just this week some were saying the programme for government "would not come about". The same is said of unification of this island. It seems no, nay and never is the order of the day for some. Looking forward we can and have with our government partners set an example for others.

    eyes wide open

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    "Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself."
    - Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

    Food for thought????

    eyes wide open

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    It is all well talking the talk now its about walking the walk and if resent history shows us anything that is the our politicans and senior civil servants do not deliver. Lets face it if you look at what has come out of stormont in the last few years you could put it in the palm of your hand. What we need now is a strong decisive goverment who concentrate on turning our economy around.


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