Wheels falling off Stormont's Social Investment Fund clown car

<span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: sans-serif, Arial, Verdana, &quot;Trebuchet MS&quot;; ">Sinn F&eacute;in health minister Michelle O&rsquo;Neill unveiled yet another landmark report on reforming Northern Ireland&rsquo;s health system</span>
Sinn Féin health minister Michelle O’Neill unveiled yet another landmark report on reforming Northern Ireland’s health system

Healthcare will consume 90 per cent of Stormont’s budget by 2026 at current trends.

This jaw-dropping projection was revealed to the assembly by Sinn Féin health minister Michelle O’Neill as she unveiled yet another landmark report on reforming Northern Ireland’s health system.

The report makes recommendations for a more holistic approach to healthcare and health inequalities but the blunt fact is that almost all growth in NHS costs is driven by the unavoidable consequences of an ageing population.

Addressing it will mean taking decisions that make welfare reform look easy.

As welfare reform actually was easy but still almost brought Stormont down, how will the executive cope with this?


The wheels are still falling off the clown car that is Stormont’s Social Investment Fund.

UDA-linked loyalist Dee Stitt has come under pressure to resign as chair of grant-seeking enterprise Charter NI, after a laughable interview to the Guardian in which he described his North Down Defenders flute band as “homeland security, here to defend north Down - from anybody”.

On a more general note, he added: “Loyalists groups are doing some brilliant work, they are involved in community development running flute bands.”

It might seem like a statement of the obvious that loyalist flute bands are loyalist-run but it is a useful confession from the funded horse’s mouth, given the determination of the DUP to throw public money at such bands, from ‘cultural’ as well as social budgets.

If this is going to continue we need more in return than tuneless music from the strutting sectarian flute-tooters.

As with bonfires, cash should at the very least be contingent on demonstrable improvements in behaviour.


Just as Gordon Brown described every penny he spent as “investment”, Sinn Féin’s Mairtín Ó Muilleoir likes presenting everything he does as a ‘stimulus package’.

He did the same at Belfast City Council and now he is doing it at Stormont.

However, the £30m cost of what is being grandly called the First Steps Stimulus Package is borrowed against staff redundancy savings under the Fresh Start agreement.

Nearly all of it will be spent on overdue road maintenance and replacement buses.

So fully funded wage spending has been converted into debt to cover underspending. How stimulating.


If the UUP’s opposition to Brexit seems a little half-hearted that only further emphasises the commitment of leader Mike Nesbitt, who drove through a pro-Remain policy despite his party’s Eurosceptic leanings.

So why was he not approached, as he claims, to join the judicial review against Brexit at Belfast High Court?

The case is funded by a number of human rights groups but has been brought in the names of the leaders of the SDLP and Greens, former leaders of Alliance and the PUP plus a backbench member of Sinn Fein.

Main funders Atlantic Philanthropies and the Human Rights Consortium were heavily involved in the doomed bill of rights project, which the UUP walked away from in 2008 claiming unionists were being ignored.

However, that was two years before Nesbitt even joined, so if this is revenge it has been served very cold indeed.


Academic trade union the University and College Union has been surveying staff at Queen’s University Belfast to gather evidence on what it calls “a widespread crisis of confidence in senior management.”

The survey, returned by over two-thirds of Queen’s 3,600 employees, showed just 29 per cent feel they are provided with effective leadership.

Unfortunately, while there may well be serious management problems at Queens, trying to prove this by getting academics to complain about their jobs is confusing coincidence with cause - or committing the fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc, as those of us who went to a good university might say.

Academics are always complaining about their jobs. It is remarkable that 29 per cent said they were provided with effective leadership.


The GAA has revised its Casement Park plan with a park-and-ride solution to the stadium’s transport problem.

Project chair Tom Daly says this will require a “travel culture change” and his is not mistaken.

Gaelic games have a mainly rural following in Ulster and rural Ulster has a ‘travel culture’ straight out of the Dukes of Hazzard.

When Casement Park previously hosted large fixtures, cars were occasionally dumped along motorway slip-roads and up the hard shoulder of the M1.


There was “outrage” over the staging of a play by former IRA hunger striker Laurence McKeown at the PSNI’s Newforge Country Club. Or at least there was according to headlines.

Unionist politicians and victims campaigners contacted for quotes either did not respond or replied in the manner of DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who conceded some people might find the location “somewhat insensitive”.

This was the first time the south Belfast police club has been in the headlines since 2005, when the IRA cheekily stashed £50,000 of stolen Northern Bank notes in the toilets then tipped off the Police Ombudsman to search there for ‘drugs’. After that, frankly, an ex-Provo’s play is small change.