Category Archives: Uncategorized

Populists thrive when the Technocrats fail

All cats have four legs; my dog has four legs; therefore my dog is a cat.

This looks like an obvious logical fallacy, yet increasingly across Europe (not least in the UK on 7 May) people are expected to fall for it.

Let us try it another way.

The economic orthodoxy caused a crash; I don’t support the economic orthodoxy; therefore anyone who opposes me supports the economic orthodoxy.

Increasingly proponents of “progressive change” – something I absolutely and unreservedly support, by the way – have become more shrill in their “Our progressive change or no progressive” demands. Be it building houses for £60,000 each, leaving the UK with no border control (or a mega-border control, depending on which populist you listen to), or even simply printing money and handing it to the poor, any hint of opposition to this specific “progressive change” is cast aside as “supporting the economic orthodoxy”.

It should be no surprise that supporters of “this progressive change” choose the articulate, savvy and stylish Nicola Sturgeon as their role model. Scotland has always produced far beyond its fair share of top-notch politicians and she is no exception (although, by the way, the SNP really only has one other in her league).

The problem is, of course, it is quite easy to talk about “scrapping Trident” (something with which I am sympathetic, by the way) or “opposing austerity” (here I am less sympathetic for the simple reason the term is nonsensical) when you do not have to do it. It is easier still when your opponents have not read up on your record. And it is easier still when they have no concrete vision of their own.

Therein lies the problem. Populists are able to get away with making their demands – some actually very sensible, others totally nonsensical – because the mainstream parties have no vision whatsoever. We are now through the first political generation of technocrat professional politicians with no real-world ideas whatsoever. Now that they have overseen a bust, we are into a second such generation, except the next one adds populism into the mix to the extent that some of the ideas it proposes (and gets support for) are self-contradictory or even outright dangerous.

What is striking is how little relation any of these politicians – populist or otherwise – have with real world. Even on hustings, we are predominantly watching a performance, with few politicians able to relate to the real world in any way whatsoever. Oh yes, we have to do lots more good things and far fewer bad things, they say, but when challenged on exactly how they have no concrete ideas which would work in the real world whatsoever.

When populism triumphs, democracy fails – because in the end it becomes all broken promises (think the LibDems’ populist position on tuition fees in England pre-2010). When democracy fails, all hell breaks loose. It is about time the mainstream parties found some real vision and maybe even some real people – and soon.

Bullying of candidates unacceptable

Two weeks ago a young man named John Coyle entered a TV studio to put his case, as part of a panel, to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

This is not a target seat for his party, the SDLP, and it was evident he was not prepped as he is not a key candidate this time around; this was unfortunate, because in a fit of selfish lunacy one of his senior colleagues, Alex Attwood, had contrived to forget Mr Coyle’s name when quizzed about the constituency.

Given all of this, Mr Coyle managed admirably. He came across as a genuine young man doing his civic duty. In a democracy, why not?

He was then subjected to a barrage of abuse from Twitter trolls purporting to be supporters of Sinn Féin, the current incumbent’s party. In fairness, it has to be said, that party’s local representatives acted swiftly to quash the activity, to the extent much of it was deleted. Nevertheless, evident and totally unnecessary harm was done to a young man whose only offence was participating in democracy.

This is far from the only example of what is, in fact, a totally unacceptable level of bile and abuse levelled at people who are merely *candidates*, nothing else!

Like her colleague Naomi Long next door, my wife Paula Bradshaw is a big girl. She has worked in the inner city for over a decade. However, it bears mentioning that she is a full-time working mother who, like Mr Coyle, now has additional Council commitments as well as hobbies and so on. On top of all this family, professional and civic activity (unlike all her main rivals who are full-time politicians), she is a candidate for election.

I do not know how many communications she receives daily purely in the candidate capacity, but I am sure it is over 100. Most are respectful, some are exceedingly kind – yet some exude vitriolic bile.

This bile is not personal; usually it is directed equally at all the candidates. Yet it is time we recognised it to be totally unacceptable in a civilised democracy. Candidates – particularly those not holding office in the area from which the bile originates – are frankly entitled not to be subject to straightforward nasty communication.

Underlying all of this is the notion that someone putting their experience and ideas forward for office suddenly becomes – even while still a full-time working mother – public property… and not just public property, but public property to be freely abused and ranted at by complete strangers.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of course – but with that right comes responsibility. It is not quite good enough to say “ah well, you just have to have a thick skin”. Actually, why? Why must someone voluntarily putting themselves forward for election to office in a peaceful liberal democracy be subject to any form of wanton abuse? We would not accept physical abuse against them, so why is verbal abuse acceptable?

Fundamentally, Mr Coyle was the victim of bullying. He’ll get over it, but we have to recognise it is unacceptable, even (indeed particularly) in the democratic arena which is supposed to be an arena for exchange of ideas, not vitriol.

All the candidates putting themselves forward for election deserve respect for doing so – particularly those having to fit responses to hundreds of items of communication in between full-time work and family commitments plus canvassing. Let us show that respect – and call those out who do not.

Guide to the UK Election (Overview)

The United Kingdom General Election takes place on Thursday, 7 May to elect 650 members of the House of Commons, the primary legislative chamber in Parliament.

Government

Unlike in other countries with Presidential systems (such as the United States and France), the outcome also determines the Executive – in effect, the House of Commons is also the “Electoral College” which will endorse or reject a prospective Prime Minister and his/her Cabinet of Ministers.

Typically, since the War, a single party has held the majority of seats in the House of Commons and has therefore been able to form a single-party government with its Leader as Prime Minister. Where no single party has a majority (as was the case at the last election and in February 1974), it is said to be a “hung parliament“.

System

The electoral system is simple yet controversial. 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected individually from 650 “constituencies” of roughly equal size (533 in England, including 73 in London; 59 in Scotland; 40 in Wales; and 18 in Northern Ireland – London is under-represented and Wales over-represented currently). The candidate achieving the highest number of votes is elected directly – there are no “run-offs” or preferential voting, nor is voting compulsory.

In practice, this system favours larger and regional parties (Conservative, Labour, SNP, DUP) and frustrates smaller parties with evenly spread support (Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP).

Results in each seat are often shortened to give the name and party of the winning candidate plus the number of votes they won by – so, if he/she wins by a gap of 1,000 votes, this is referred to as a “majority of 1,000” (a specifically electoral term – no doubt it jars with mathematicians!)

Phraseology

The constituencies are identical in 2015 to those in 2010. This means that, during Election Night, it will be possible to predict the overall outcome even from early results, depending on whether each party’s vote share is generally up or down – this includes a concept, for comparing Conservative versus Labour performance, known as “swing” which shows how many seats each party would take from the other if each of the two parties’ vote shares changed similarly across Great Britain.

Results are generally declared compared to the previous election. Where the same party wins the seat, it is declared a “hold“. Where a different party wins the seat, it is deemed a “gain” (this equates to the American “pick-up“). Where specifically an incumbent MP loses a seat, he/she is said to be “unseated“. (Occasionally, where a seat has been lost during the term, for example through a defection or by-election, other terms are used – “win” for if the seat is retained by the party holding it at dissolution of the last parliament if that is different from the one which won it at the last General Election; “regain” if it is regained by the party which won it at the last election but lost it during the term. Nevertheless, the overall scores are now typically tallied solely by “holds” and “gains” versus the previous General Election, regardless of what happened in between.)

A constituency which is close is said to be a “marginal” (equivalent of an American “swing state“). A constituency which is predominantly urban (known as a “borough constituency“) has different spending limits from one which is predominantly rural (a “county constituency“) – as well as being smaller, urban areas typically see lower turnout and thus declare their results much earlier.

Parties or candidates which form a common “faction” in the House of Commons are said to “take the whip“, meaning that they agree to vote the same way on every issue where there is an agreed party line. This is most notable with regard to Northern Ireland: the Ulster Unionists traditionally “took the Conservative whip” until 1973 (and expressly would have done so again in 2010 had they won any seats); the SDLP does “take the Labour whip” (although has not absolutely committed to it from 2015); the Alliance Party, although aligned in Europe, currently does not “take the Liberal Democrat whip”.

The final UK General Election outcome is declared usually in terms of the largest party and how many seats it is above or below an absolute majority (for which 326 of 650 seats are required). The 2005 result, therefore, is stated as “Labour victory with a majority of 66 – meaning that Labour had 66 more seats than all the other parties put together; the 2010 result is stated as a “Hung Parliament with the Conservatives short by 19″ – meaning that the Conservatives were the largest party, but needed another 19 seats to have a majority over all the other parties.

Typically, a majority of over triple figures (as in 1945, 1959, 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2001) is referred to as a “landslide“, giving the winning Prime Minister huge freedom and leeway in Parliament; a majority of between 20 and 100 (1955, 1966, 1970, 1979, 1992 and 2005) is referred to as “working“, giving the winning party enough room to lose a few seats during the term and still serve for the full five years; any majority of less than 20 is referred to as “narrow” and is seen as unstable and usually precipitates an early election (which is possible even under fixed parliaments by losing a Vote of No Confidence, as last happened in 1979).

Position

In 2010, the outcome was:

  • Conservatives 307 (including one delayed by-election) – Conservative whip 307;
  • Labour 258 in Great Britain only, plus SDLP 3 in Northern Ireland – Labour whip 261;
  • Liberal Democrats 57 in Great Britain only – Liberal Democrat whip 57;
  • SNP 6 in Scotland and Plaid 3 in Wales – Nationalist whip 9;
  • DUP 8 in Northern Ireland – DUP whip 8; and
  • Greens 1 in England, Alliance Party 1 in Northern Ireland, an Independent in Northern Ireland, and the Speaker (from England) – non-aligned 4.

This adds up to 645 – Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland won five seats in 2010 but does not sit in the House of Commons.

This outcome gave the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition subsequently formed a “majority of 76″.

Versus 2010, therefore, this means the Conservatives need 19 net “gains” for an absolute majority and Labour needs 68 (perhaps a couple fewer if the SDLP in Northern Ireland continues to take its whip, as it has since foundation in 1970). With Sinn Fein likely to retain four of five seats (not actually taken) and the Speaker retaining one (bound by convention to vote with the government, with minor exceptions), in practice 322-323 seats would theoretically suffice for a majority.

Debt defines the economic situation

The headline here, that the UK has the fourth highest household debt in the world, is slightly misleading but the basic point stands: household debt is a huge problem – perhaps more so than government debt.

We talk a lot about government debt or “national debt” and rightly: ultimately in comparison with elsewhere the government can only spend what it can raise (including what it can borrow), and if it loses control of its debt it will run out of money altogether – cf. Greece and Venezuela.

However, the key there is “what it can raise”, most of which still comes from you and me. If you and I are ourselves hugely indebted, however, we are practically limited in what we can pay – in other wises, significant tax rises become impossible.

The figures are unclear, but all the evidence suggests that Northern Ireland is in an even worse place, in terms of household debt, than England, Scotland or Wales. This makes sense – spending in Northern Ireland is 4% higher than the UK average but household income is 4% lower (each excluding household taxes, as they are effectively irrelevant to the comparison).

Advice Centre will confirm the huge numbers coming through their doors with debt problems – from problems arising from endless pay-day loans right through to desperate attempts to cancel phone or TV contracts. This problem is largely classless too, affecting all social backgrounds.

A lot of this does come down to expectations. The accepted “middle-class” lifestyle – several holidays a year, premium-brand cars on the driveway (and there is a driveway), household mod-cons, regular changes of furniture and frequent nights out and city breaks – costs considerably more than the average “middle-class” household actually earns. The pressure to keep up with (or even access) this lifestyle is evident – pressure which can result not in sensible restructuring of household finance but in the development of addictions as a way of escaping the reality of the debt, which themselves add to the debt. Everyone in Northern Ireland will know people in this predicament.

This is no one’s fault in particular – it is the inevitable consequence of a consumerist culture.

The best we can do for now is identify the issue and try to be more honest about it. All thoughts welcome!

Just because something is unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue

“Just because something is unpalatable, doesn’t make it untrue”. So said former world record triple jumper Jonathan Edwards about losing his faith, as it happens. However, the phrase has sprung to mind very often since I first read it, not least when looking at the local and global economy we live in.

As they got out the begging bowl to the UK Government in the Stormont Castle Agreement in mid-December, the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Ulster Unionists all put their name to a document which states:

  • “Structural level social divisions create inefficiency” (Paragraph 44)
  • “Additional costs have been driven by duplicating services” (Paragraph 44)
  • “Division tends to impact disproportionately on those who experience poverty” (Paragraph 45)
  • “Initiatives which would assist…[would include] acceleration of integrated and shared education” (Paragraph 47)
  • “[Shared education will] bring about future savings in the Budget” (Paragraph 48)

It’s magnificent stuff – go and read it yourself.

Of course, one obvious thing you would need to do to address “societal divisions” is ensure teachers in schools are themselves well acquainted with the diverse society in which we live. Another obvious thing to do would be to stop the inefficiency of small teacher training colleges which require subsidies (leaving quite aside the fact they train too many students anyway). No doubt, we would particularly want to do this because of the particular penalty paid for those divisions by those experiencing poverty, say, in places like West Belfast. Naturally, to maximise the investment in “integrated and shared education” you will want teachers who themselves were trained in integrated and shared settings. And it goes without saying that merging, say, teacher training into a single University campus would not just deliver all the above benefits, but also future savings to the budget.

Here’s an odd thing though – when the Employment Minister specifically set out a reform programme of teacher training to achieve all of these things, exactly as the other four parties wanted in an Agreement they all supported, the other four parties went out of their way within two months to block him doing so. Just because something’s (electorally) unpalatable…

I mean, anyone would think those four parties aren’t serious about tackling the costs of division and the inevitable inefficiencies and poverty that goes with them! But that couldn’t be, could it…?

 

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BBC must remember “public service” ethos

Further to yesterday’s blog, I did subsequently appear on the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster to challenge why his TV show had on as a “commentator” somebody who was thoroughly uninformed and just outright abusive. The defence was that he was taking positions a lot of the public take – but that is fundamentally not the purpose of a commentator.

If there are views held by the public which are uninformed, it is the role of the public service broadcaster to challenge them through people who are informed, not to pay people with our licence fees to regurgitate them in a particularly insulting manner.

The BBC seems to have forgotten that “impartiality” does not mean letting a deliberately insulting view on air and then trying to counter it with someone from the opposite extreme. It requires informed debate.

There would have been no difficulty if this “commentator” had competed equally with others for his platform. He is entitled to his views and to express them freely. In fact, however, he was elevated beyond others and deliberately given a much greater say than anyone else – despite the fact he had not a single qualification for that say (having no demonstrable expertise in the subject, no evidence of detailed practical understanding of the implications of the reforms, and no electoral mandate).

It does so happen that I spent many years, mostly voluntarily but sometimes with a prominent think tank, researching welfare issues. However, I can think of countless articulate people – at our Universities, at NICVA, in the Law Centre, in independent consultancies – who would have provided an informed view. To be clear, this may very well have differed from my view, but it would have constituted legitimate opinion rather than gratuitous insult. In short, they would have provided a public service.

The BBC also has a role not to encourage stigmatisation. It is correct that the reprehensible and groundless views expressed were challenged on air, and that other people with informed views were invited to speak. However, the real issue is why someone of such resounding idiocy was given preferential billing even to those other people. He was in fact invited on deliberately to be provocatively ignorant. It is simply not the BBC’s business to do that, particularly when it risks increasing the stigma felt by people who are genuinely vulnerable.

As it happens, I have almost never come across someone who fundamentally did not want to work (yes of course there are those who do not fancy discipline, or getting up for 9am or whatever, but that is not quite the same thing). Yet I have come across hundreds, maybe thousands, whose lives could be transformed even by a relatively minor, targeted intervention in mental health. This is an informed opinion based on lengthy research backed up by many others, and it deserved an airing much more than the ignorant ranting of an egomaniac.

The BBC must stop sacrificing the “informed” for the sake of the apparently “impartial” in the quest for ratings. If that must be done, leave it to commercial broadcasters. The BBC has a public service duty to inform and educate – and therefore not to elevate the deliberately ignorant and insulting. There is no excuse for a single one of its programmes not to pay heed to that at all times.

Welfare Reform debate misses point

I was called in to appear on the BBC Nolan TV show last week only for the debate to degenerate into a disgusting and abusive rant about people with genuine mental health problems from the supposed “commentator”. Unfortunately treating such debates as despicable entertainment rather than informed debate is one of many things which contributes to our democratic deficit.

What I would have said, as someone with some real expertise on the subject, is that Northern Ireland may actually have a pretty good deal on welfare reform now. However, this depends on how the “£565 million” for “mitigation” is spent.

If it is spent on a scatter-gun basis with no proper targeting of resources or medium-term plan, the outcome will be disastrous. It will mean we get the worst not of all worlds, but of most – a system based on assumptions which don’t apply here putting pressure on housing which is inadequate and on people to get jobs which can’t exist. We should be very, very clear about that.

On the other hand, we now have six years and £565 million to do something to tackle poverty for real. Given the right policies, that will be enough to make a good start.

Northern Ireland has three areas of particular difference from Great Britain which need particular attention – childcare, housing and jobs.

First, the Welfare Reform Bill assumes more wide-ranging state-sponsored childcare than we have here. It is no good pushing people into work if they literally cannot afford to do it! We need specific mitigation for parents, at least those on low income.

Second, the “Bedroom Tax” assumes that it is relatively easy to move social house. The legacy of conflict, sectarian segregation and other issues mean that is simply untrue in Northern Ireland. It is important that the derogation on this remains in place until the policy is abolished by the UK Government (which it will be, as it is unworkable even in Great Britain).

Third, we need to recognise that the only way to create jobs is through the private sector. We have not yet got around to understanding this. Public money is not going to continue to create “government posts” the way it did 10-20 years ago because there simply isn’t as much of it and we are not the special case we pretend we are anyway. The only way to create real work is through innovation and export. We must invest in the skills and training which will achieve this, so that at the end of the six-year period the jobs exist, well matched, for people to move into.

The fundamental problem with the debate is that it allows mouthpieces from both “Left” and “Right” completely to misrepresent what the Welfare system is. It is NOT a means of compensating people for being poor; it is a means of giving them a helping hand up from poverty. That is what it was designed to achieve. It is time we shifted the debate to recognise that basic point.

The *actively* sectarian nature of 80% of the NI Executive

The debate about teacher training places really is an incredibly simple one.

How many teachers do we need to train in Northern Ireland? Taking account demographics, retirement rates, later pension age and so on, certainly not more than 400.

The question then becomes, simply, how is this done most efficiently? By training them, as they do in similar locations like Glasgow and Dublin, within existing local Universities.

The Minister should now proceed to do that, with full Executive support.

That is, of course, where it all goes wrong. As a country recovering from decades, nay centuries, of sectarian conflict, for some reason 85% of those we elect (and thus 80% of our devolved government) think it is a brilliant idea to continue to educate our children along those same sectarian lines. In order to do this, it is apparently also a brilliant idea to train those who educate them along those same sectarian lines.

For decades, we have had money from elsewhere pumped into ‘peace’ funds on the assumption that Northern Ireland would obviously now proceed to break down the sectarian barriers which divided it and left it conflicted for so long. Instead, 80% of those we elect think it is a brilliant idea deliberately to maintain those barriers, from the age of four, and to secure them in place in terms of those teaching our children until about age 23. Far from bringing down the barriers, the Executive and 85% of the Assembly want to copperfasten them in place.

Which brings us to the next obvious question: why?

Just weeks after they went to the UK Government with the mother of all begging bowls pleading “special circumstances” because of the divided nature of our society, 80% of our Executive parties now thing we should bolt down those “special circumstances” and ensure the divisions remain in place for another generation. Apparently, this will bring us all to peace and the promised land.

Our sectarian politicians stamp their feet and rant and rave when they are not given money that they “need”. Yet when they are given the chance to prove they could spend money efficiently, they opt not just to spend it inefficiently, but to do so while maintaining in place the very conditions which led to conflict – actively and deliberately.

We would prefer to train 180 teachers we will never need (who will never ever be able to get a job in their chosen vocation here) in conditions deliberately segregated along sectarian lines than train 250 engineers in an integrated setting to provide skills which will encourage jobs and wealth for the same price.

That’s the bitter, inefficient and actively sectarian Executive 85% of you elected, folks. Today, they will no doubt prove it…

SDLP abortion stance a thundering disgrace

On Saturday SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell committed not just himself but also his party to absolute opposition to any change in abortion law.

This is disgraceful enough, but he would not even be open about the real reason. Abusing his GP credentials, he tried to argue that he knew that you could never be sure that a fatal abnormality was fatal. Of course, there are some cases of doubt, but it is a matter of fact that sometimes doctors can be 100% sure that the abnormality is fatal. So he is frankly making up myths to create a dodgy “practical” reason for what is in fact a profoundly and fundamentally religious stance.

Even if we were foolish enough to accept Mr McDonnell’s reasoning based on his professional experience, he committed his party to absolute opposition to any change in abortion law – meaning that the SDLP joins the DUP in rejecting access to abortion services in cases of rape.

Let us be clear here, there is absolutely nobody who opposes abortion in case of rape – except on religious grounds. You cannot be human and believe that a victim of rape should be forced to carry a foetus which reminds her hourly of the very horror that she has just been through. This is, therefore, an invasion into civic space of an exclusively religious argument – i.e. where religious arguments have no place. It is an attempt to impose an exclusively religious view on a diverse, secular society. That is exactly what the Conscience Clause is designed to do too. It is unacceptable.

Remember, no one would be forced to have an abortion under the Department of Justice proposals, even if these were specifically extended to include cases of rape. People of religious view would have every right not to have them. But let us be very clear what Alasdair McDonnell is saying to rape victims here: “I, a man, have a religious view; and that means you, a woman and a victim, should be deprived of any choice. Oh, and my personal religious views are more important than your emotional wellbeing.”

This, of course, came at the end of a week when the SDLP had already disgracefully defended single-denomination teacher training, committing us to another generation of schooling along sectarian lines in a society recovering from conflict along sectarian lines (and to removing student places just so we can subsidise trainee teachers, around a third of whom we know we will never need). The SDLP is, therefore, content for students to be deprived of places on courses across Northern Ireland and for sectarian educational division to be maintained as long as specifically Catholic teacher training continues to be subsidised by our rates and taxes. This is from a party which laughably claims the title “progressive”?!

This would all be a thundering disgrace at the best of times, but let us also remind ourselves that the abortion issue is one which directly affects only women. Men are never faced with the lonely choice, the lonely decision, and the lonely recovery. The SDLP – and let us be clear that Mr McDonnell spoke for the whole party – is putting Catholic rights ahead of women’s rights. It’s so very telling, and it’s utterly contemptible.

NI needs direct links for business coming in, not tourists going out

The good news – Belfast “International” Airport is indeed to become more international over the next few months. The bad news – the “international” links are to, er, Iceland and, er, Florida… oh yes, and Croatia. Iceland and Florida and Croatia are delightful and remarkable places – but this is yet again an example of setting up routes for Northern Ireland tourists to take money out, not for foreign business to bring money in. Northern Ireland will, almost embarrassingly, have direct air links to two of Western Europe’s smallest countries – Malta and Iceland – but not to its largest. No, Germany remains off the map – available only from Dublin or via Great Britain. A quick glance down Assembly questions shows that MLAs continue to miss the point. “What about the link to Toronto?” they ask. They omit to mention that the Northern Ireland ratepayer is already subsidising the link to New York – a link which does not now even operate all year round; and they omit to mention that the flight to Orlando will also be subsidised and only be open to the rich – costing as it does fully £400 more than the equivalent flight/package from Manchester. Most of those paying that subsidy gain almost nothing from it – focused as it is on taking a select few Northern Ireland people out (particularly in the case of Orlando), not the reverse. As it happens, places like Germany and Sweden are every bit as interesting as Iceland and Florida. But we’ll not be easily able to find that out as residents of Northern Ireland, because there’s no direct air route from Belfast. The problem is much more significant than the difficulty it causes us, however. The real issue is that if you are a German or Swedish businessperson planning your next investment, you are not likely to plan it for somewhere you can’t actually get to! We are therefore making it incredibly difficult for us to trade with the people who are our most obvious trading partners. In fact, Northern Ireland’s trade with the Netherlands, a country with which it has a direct air link, is worth almost exactly the same (in terms both of exports and imports) as its trade with Germany – despite the fact the Netherlands has only a fifth of Germany’s population! If we could increase trade with Germany to the same level proportionately, it would literally be worth billions to Northern Ireland – each and every year – making the whole Corporation Tax debate look like small change! We would add further hundreds of millions to this if we did the same with the countries beside or near Germany – Austria, Denmark and Sweden for example. Mixed in with this huge boost would be thousands of jobs, many well paid. Of course, it would take a little more than a direct air link to secure this (actually teaching German at our main University would be a good idea for a start); but without a direct air link, it certainly will not happen. It remains truly astonishing that our efforts are so focused on taking money out of Northern Ireland when surely the objective is to bring money in! It is time we straightened up our flying priorities!

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