British-Irish Council: What a waste of time and money!

Bernard Moffatt

Bernard Moffatt

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My reincarnation as contributor to the Manx Independent is sort of like a ‘second coming’.

Many years ago I wrote an occasional column for Isle of Man Newspapers’ business section, when I was trade union official in the old TGWU.

I remember opening one article with a quote from one of my favourite writers, William Cobbett, a 19th pamphleteer, journalist and campaigner who spoke out forcefully against government profligacy. One of my favourite Cobbett quotes is ‘The man who invented mirrors can have had very little else to do’.

I think of that saying whenever I see items relating to the British-Irish Council because quite frankly the man (or men) who devised that useless, time-wasting, self-indulgent, smug (running out of descriptive abuse) politically self-serving body ‘can have had very little else to do.’

Now most people’s experience of the BI Council is Allan Bell or some other senior ministerial apparatchik smiling out of the paper in a group shot with similar ilk from the other members of the body. The photograph is generally accompanied by a meaningless caption and an equally boring standard press release which generally conveys nohing at all about what (if anything) has been achieved e.g.

‘All member administrations reaffirmed their commitment to the British-Irish Council and to its key principle of facilitating the development of mutually beneficial relationships between these islands. They recognised the many positive achievements of the BIC to date and agreed that it was timely to update the working of BIC to ensure it best reflects shared priorities for the member administrations and delivers for citizens across these islands. They requested that officials, working closely with the secretariat, review the work sectors’ activities and report back on progress to the next summit in November 2015.’

It’s meaningless rubbish there have been no positive achievements – name me, one Allan – that’s made a jot of difference to our lives and could not have been achieved without these meaningless BI soirees.

I’m something of a masochist so I go back over all these ‘communiqués’ and it’s fair to say they bear such a striking similarity to each other that the civil servants who cobble this stuff together now use a standard template and just reshuffle the wording.

The BI Council does have ‘lofty objectives’ its areas of interest are:

Collaborative Spatial Planning, Demography, Digital Inclusion, Early Years, Energy, Environment, Housing, Indigenous, Minority and Lesser-used Languages, Misuse of Substances, Social Inclusion Transport.

The countries all take a ‘work sector lead’ role (their documents are littered with gobbledygook like this). The ‘work sector lead’ for Mann is ‘digital inclusion’. Now that’s sound significant! The council has been up and running for a few years now. Do you feel more digitally inclusive? What does it mean – nothing – it is rubbish?

Northern Ireland is responsible for ‘collaborative spatial planning’ – well that is just what Northern Ireland needs at the moment – if they get past the ‘collaborative’ bit they’ll do well!

If you want to really beat your brains out over this (as I have) check out their glossy online annual reports they are full of empty rhetoric and nowhere can you point to anything that has improved life, or well being, for the people in the countries that belong to this sorry club.

To be perfectly blunt it would be better if the annual report just published the menus of all the meals the delegates and their senior civil service hangers-on get to eat (apparently ‘national dishes’ are a favourite with the delegates and at our expense the host nation always excels itself) and then at least there would be something to slaver over.

All these countries (or more accurately entities – Ireland the UK are the only sovereign countries) have really serious problems that would benefit from radical thinking and progressive strategies.

Poverty, particularly child poverty, housing shortages, substance abuse etc are fairly common problems in all the areas of the British Isles and yet in the time this body has been up and running things have got worse not better.

They smile at the cameras and then ‘repair’ for a hearty lunch of ‘best national fare’ and meanwhile in the countries they represent some people wonder what ‘fare’, if any, they will find on the dinner table that day.

Scotland, Wales. Ireland, England and even Mann now have ‘food banks’. Now why don’t they make that a ‘work sector lead’?

There’s probably no time what with all the ‘spatial planning and digital inclusion’ etc to drone on about and then churn out some more empty waffle in the form a ‘council communiqué’. Don’t believe me? Well check this:

‘They noted the many different, creative and community-based approaches to supporting older people to optimise their independence and remain in a place they can call home, in a community they feel connected to, for as long as possible.’ (March 11, 2015)

The reality is older people are being forced to sell their homes to ensure their care and community-based approaches are needed because nursing and residential homes provided by the State have been axed! I mean this current Manx government is currently engaged in the most organised assault against older people of any Manx government in modern times!

Why is the Isle of Man involved in British Irish Council nonsense? More importantly why am I asking that question?

Why is there no one in the House of Keys or Legislative Council who has the courage to challenge these meaningless sideshows rattling around from capital to capital, a never ending circle of meetings going nowhere and achieving nothing.

This whole rotten edifice was founded on a lie.

There was no desire after the Good Friday Agreement (sometimes called the Belfast Agreement), where this monster was created, to have a British Irish Council that included ‘odds and sods’ from all around the UK, Ireland and their offshore appendages.

All the Dublin and London governments wanted was to get the two sides in the North of Ireland engaged and talking but they (the ‘Ulstermen’ as they have been for the last 40 years were engaged in the longest sulk in political history) and so the solution was ‘Strand 3’ to the agreement (I wonder were the Manx government ever meaningfully consulted – I doubt it) and to roll in a collection of convenient political dupes from Scotland, Wales, Mann etc to fill a room and make it feel inclusive.

Well, I don’t mind if Allan Bell and his colleagues want to be used for the benefits of this ongoing farce but I feel bloody hard of paying for a load of freeloading politicians from our neighbouring States to tuck into ‘fresh Loughtan chops etc’ when some people on the island are on beans on toast!

I’ll finish as I started with a quote from Willian Cobbett:

‘My opinions were my own. I dashed at all prejudices. I scorned to follow anybody in matter of opinion.... All were, therefore, offended at my presumption, as they deemed it.’

I do hope some in government are ‘offended’ by my presumption in holding them to account for wasting out time and our money on the British Irish Council.

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