Archives for December 2010

Sammy's Christmas Present?

Wendy Austin | 09:07 UK time, Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Talkback heading en masse for Stormont   - the budget announcement starts at 12.30 - we'll be in the studio there . Tipped so far -  public sector wages frozen for those earning above 21K, cash reserves of local housing associations tapped,and the regional rate going up in line with inflation. On the revenue raising front,  Belfast Harbour asked to contribute #125M to the Executive over 4 years,and  a plastic bag tax could raise #16M over that time.


Finance minister Sammy Wilson says its a Christmas present for the people of Northern Ireland - do you agree?

We'll be live from the Stormont studio from 12 usual numbers  for your input - 08459555678 text on 81771.

 Look forward to it!

NI Prisons - up to the job?

Wendy Austin | 14:43 UK time, Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Yet another damning report on prisons  - this time its from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate - it reveals that the cost of keeping a prisoner in jail here is now almost 95 thousand pounds a year - almost two and half times more than anywhere in the UK.

Prison officers in Northern Ireland are paid on average a third more than staff in the rest of the British prison system - a hangover from the bad old days -  and despite the fact that there are more people working in prisons here than inmates to supervise, the report says the prison service is still ineffective.

The Inspector Dr Michael McBride describes industrial relations as destructive,  talks about the influence of the Prison officers association as being the "elephant in the room" , and says the only way major reform will be achieved will be through improved management practices and industrial relations.

Those elements raised too by Pauline McCabe  the Prisoners Ombudsman on Talkback last week after her report into the death in custody of John Deery - management, leadership and culture needed to change she said. 

 A CAJ report too has claimed that 27 different action plans on prisons have come up with 1200 separate recommendations which have not been implemented.

But on Talkback today, serving prison officer Desmond vigorously defended the prison service and particularly the officers. The fault ,he said, lies with management; he claimed those reviewing the prison service never spoke to the people on the front line, and that the "majority" of officers, especially long serving guards like himself were in fact those best qualified to take the service forward.

Who's right? Tell me - here or tweet @wendytalksback

Belfast Giants - All I want for Christmas

Wendy Austin | 11:29 UK time, Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Lots of people make a video for Christmas - maybe send it to their family and friends - but they don't expect it to go whizzing around the world , like the Belfast Giants Ice Hockey Team's interpretation of Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas".

Its come to the attention of the woman herself - she tweeted on her  verified Twitter account (3,553,820 followers!) :

The Belfast Giants show off some festive moves in their video version of All I Want For Christmas Is You. Watch @

And its been played on CBC Edmonton's evening news.

 Its had 17,000 hits on You Tube - and  if you click on that link , you'll be able to add to that total. It is fun isn't it?

And Colin Shields, the Giants' Captain will be talking to me on Talkback about 12.45 ( he's the one with the wee beard and a C on his shirt).

mfl ( as we say in the business.......)

The nightmare before Christmas....

Wendy Austin | 13:45 UK time, Thursday, 9 December 2010

So - you've the presents bought and wrapped, they're all under the tree, and you think you're pretty well organised. Then in the middle of the night someone breaks into your house, and pinches the lot. You're so stressed you have the baby you're expecting early, and by the way you've also lost all your family photos - they were on the special laptop which the burglars also stole.

Yes - it is the nightmare before Christmas - its what happened to  Tara Davis who lives in South Belfast. She's still struggling with insurance claims, and is hoping Father Christmas will fill the breach as regards presents for her eight year old daughter.

According to the PSNI, its a real problem at Christmas - Supt. Karen Baxter told me its a combination of opportunistic burglars and old hands - they see the chance to make a few quid and some of us just make it too easy for them - putting presents in a well lit hall perhaps, or leaving them on the back seat of the car - although some people who did that last year received letters from the PSNI telling them not to do it again!

Supt Baxter says they'll use any means to get the message across - the PSNI is on Twitter these days can follow them @policeserviceni they have a facebook page as well . But many of YOU wondered if some more visible police patrols might not be a more effective deterrent that cyber campaigns and LCD screens in towns and villages warning residents to lock their doors and keep their presents out of sight.

So what works for you? Officers on the ground or warnings given - and heeded?

Its also worth bearing in mind that if you buy something which you suspect might have been stolen you could be committing a criminal offence yourself. ..especially if you're offered a Pink Dell laptop US made with fingerprint recognition - now you KNOW its been stolen!

One good bit of news from this sorry story - Mum Tara and her baby - Trinity Faith-  are both doing fine.

Accident or emergency?

Wendy Austin | 13:45 UK time, Friday, 3 December 2010

Its bad enough suffering from cancer, but imagine how anxious you would feel if you ended up on a trolley in Accident and Emergency for nine hours while you were in that vulnerable state. That's what happened to 52 year old Janice Bell - she's terminally ill with lung cancer , and as the Belfast Telegraph reported this morning she's now written to the Health and Social Care Board asking for a review of the way cancer patients are treated.

The Patient and Client council have taken up Ms Bell's case -its Chief Executive Maeve Hully came on Talkback today to say that her's is not the only example of this problem they've come across...a number of people have contacted them about their experiences of having to go through the A&E department before they can be re-admitted to hospital.

Ms Hully says that just at the stage when cancer patients are at their most vulnerable - both mentally and physically - they end up in a situation when they have the added concern of the increased risk of infection from being cared for in such a busy, open environment.

Of course Talkback was keen to speak to the Trust - no-one was available. A statement said "There are a lot of complex issues involved in this lady's care and we are doing our very best for her.

Patients who are currently receiving cancer treatments or are experiencing complications of their treatment are admitted to the Cancer Treatment Centre at Belfast City Hospital.

Depending on the bed status within the hospital, cancer patients presenting at the Accident and Emergency Department who are not actively undergoing treatments may be admitted to the main hospital for the ongoing management of their condition.

We have looked into the all issues this lady has raised and are following up on them"

But two of Talkback's callers illustrated clearly the difference between care arrangements in different hospitals here. First Sean rang in with reference to his son Niall's treatment in the RVH - 17 year old Niall had a brain tumour, and was on a trolley for 10 hours before being admitted. He was treated and allowed home, but died a month later. Sean said he and his wife had highlighted to staff that another patient complaining of swine flu was walking round their son, until she was eventually put into isolation.

Siobhan's experience was completely different - her mother was treated in the Sperrin ward at Altnagelvin; when released home, they were given numbers to call at any time of day or night in an emergency, and Siobhan said they could not have had better treatment.

So who's got it right? Have you experienced the same kind of treatment as Janice, as Sean's son? Or Siobhan's mother?

A serious issue - and its our podcast today too - listen again here:

Any sign of Christmas?

Wendy Austin | 13:42 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Does Downpatrick have the worst Christmas tree in Ireland? A question asked by many of you today and indeed answered by some too - ( apparently not - if you live in Ballymoney, we're told the tinsel on their tree looks like its been thrown on..and there's nothing else).

Anyway - Downpatrick . To put it in a nutshell, the municipal tree is strategically located between the public toilets, and a large red letterbox.(See above - thanks for the picture text). Not exactly a prime site - something to which local MLA Jim Wells immediately acceded when he rang to put his ( and the Council's) hands up. Guilty as charged, he said. "I have to accept that outside the public loos is not the most appropriate place for a Christmas tree". He told Talkback the tree's being moved - in fact it's not just being re-sited, but a new bigger better tree will take its place. So that's all right isn't it?

According to Mr Wells, as soon as they saw it, they realised the mistake. It's on a different site this year because of the work going on round the St Patrick Centre -  all dug up around there, and they thought it would be safer (or something) if it was popped into that nice,convenient, sheltered wee space right between...the public toilets and letter box.

Were they really going to shift it before Talkback put in the phone call this morning? "Well pressure from the media and local traders certainly helped move things along", said Mr Wells.  

 So could Talkback help you? Back to the original question : Does Downpatrick have the worst Christmas tree in Ireland? Answers right here please! See you tomorrow.


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