Opinion

Newton Emerson: Even in our dysfunctional democracy, you get what you vote for - eventually

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Irish News and is a regular commentator on current affairs on radio and television.

Daisy Hill Hospital
Emergency general surgery at Newry’s Daisy Hill Hospital was moved to Craigavon two years ago due to staff shortages

Emergency general surgery at Newry’s Daisy Hill Hospital was moved to Craigavon two years ago due to staff shortages. The Southern Health Trust said it was an interim measure but the Department of Health has now approved a trust request to make the move permanent.

This is no surprise: if the type of centralisation recommended by the 2016 Bengoa report on health reform is not delivered by design, something similar will happen haphazardly as services collapse.

Newry, Mourne and Down council has demanded the trust’s chief executive explain why 12,000 responses to a public consultation were “ignored”, as if signatures could recruit surgeons. In the last council election in the area, 54,000 people gave first preferences to Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and the DUP – the four parties who officially support Bengoa, yet keep objecting to its implementation.

Even in our dysfunctional democracy you eventually get what you vote for, one way or another.

Newry, Mourne and Down council has demanded the trust’s chief executive explain why 12,000 responses to a public consultation were “ignored”, as if signatures could recruit surgeons. In the last council election in the area, 54,000 people gave first preferences to Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and the DUP – the four parties who officially support Bengoa, yet keep objecting to its implementation

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Tanaiste Micheal Martin (left) and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris
Tanaiste Micheál Martin (left) and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. The UK government has written to Mr Martin to register its “profound regret” at a decision to take an interstate legal case against Troubles amnesty legislation (Niall Carson/PA)

The UK government has written to the Irish government to register its “profound regret” at Dublin’s decision to take an interstate legal case against the Troubles amnesty legislation. The Northern Ireland Office said the letter, delivered to Tánaiste Micheál Martin by the British ambassador, challenges “the Irish government to clarify the number of criminal prosecutions brought in Ireland since 1998 relating to Troubles-related cases, and presses the Irish government more widely to answer questions regarding its own record on tackling legacy issues in its own jurisdiction”.

In a multi-layered irony, this recalls the 2005 incident when Gerry Adams challenged Bertie Ahern to have him arrested if he believed Sinn Féin was lying about the Northern Bank robbery.

The Taoiseach had to remind Adams that arrests and criminal investigations “are entirely a matter for the police”.

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Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly and journalist Malachi O'Doherty
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly (left) and journalist Malachi O'Doherty

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly faces a legal bill which it has been claimed could reach £150,000 over his vexatious libel case against the writer Malachi O’Doherty.

Kelly was found by the judge to have brought a ‘SLAPP’ – a strategic lawsuit against public participation, designed to silence journalists, “rather than being a genuine attempt to defend a reputation”.

Sinn Féin has denied it has a “co-ordinated campaign” of targeting the media with defamation claims. However, certain habits can have a comparable chilling effect. Sinn Féin shares a tendency with the DUP to threaten legal action, then leave the threat hanging. Few libel cases ever reach court but solicitor’s letters can rain down upon newsrooms like confetti.



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Invest Northern Ireland
Invest Northern Ireland Invest NI says the Windsor Framework has resulted in increased interest from investors but it has refused a request for figures

Invest NI says the Windsor Framework has resulted in increased interest from investors but it has refused a request from the News Letter for figures. The economic development agency will not even disclose if foreign investment has increased or decreased, saying “this information is commercially sensitive as it would give other economic agencies, which we are competing with to attract investment, an insight into our pipeline”.

That has not prevented Invest NI’s counterpart in the Republic from publishing figures on its performance. IDA Ireland seems to have no concern whatsoever in revealing it secured 248 investments last year, up 2.5 per cent. It even breaks these figures down by sector and region, which is practically waving its pipeline in the air.

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A special meeting of Belfast City Council will take place at Belfast City Hall on Wednesday.
Commercial confidentiality is the reason Sinn Féin and the DUP cited for switching off cameras and excluding the media at Belfast City Hall, prior to discussing allocation of a £10 million building fund for community groups

Commercial confidentiality is also the reason Sinn Féin and the DUP cited for switching off cameras and excluding the media at Belfast City Hall, prior to discussing allocation of a £10 million building fund for community groups. Secrecy was ordered at two meetings: at the first, both parties cut all recommended funding for a special needs children’s charity and an art gallery and redistributed the money to a small number of other groups; at the second, some of the money was sheepishly returned to the children’s charity following a media outcry.

Smaller parties demanded to know why secrecy was required, as all the financial information was in the public domain, including estimated building costs. No further explanation was provided.

Council officials should be pressed on why Sinn Féin and the DUP are permitted to hide their carve-ups and climb-downs behind this blatant abuse of process.

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Kieron Brockhouse outside Birmingham Crown Court
Kieron Brockhouse was acquitted of two charges of supporting proscribed organisations, after flying UFF and UDA flags outside his home (Matthew Cooper/PA)

A West Midlands man has been acquitted of two charges of supporting proscribed organisations, after flying Ulster Freedom Fighters and Ulster Defence Association flags outside his home, then posting pictures of them on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Kieron Brockhouse, an Orangeman, bought the flags on a trip to Belfast.

Under the Terrorism Act, such charges depend on the accused recklessly encouraging others to support the banned organisation. It seems the jury found this unlikely in suburban Birmingham, especially as one of the flags was in a back garden.

The likelihood would obviously be different in Northern Ireland, where the same legislation applies. So the failure of this case does not get police and prosecutors here off the hook – it only emphasises how they are turning a blind eye.

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Traffic has been gridlocked during rush hour in the Titanic Quarter area of Belfast this week. Picture by BBC
A survey published has found Belfast to be the “most stressed out” of 17 major UK cities

Two weeks ago, US business publisher Forbes ranked Belfast the tenth best city in the world for work-life balance, outranked in the UK only by Edinburgh.

This week, a survey published in the Daily Mail has found Belfast to be the “most stressed out” of 17 major UK cities, with two-thirds of residents feeling “stressed or unable to cope”.

The discrepancy is not necessarily a contradiction. Forbes “crunched the numbers”, as it described its method, by comparing objective statistics. The survey in the Daily Mail just asked people how they felt. It seems that Belfast is a great place to live, as long as you do not actually live there.