Sunday, January 31, 2010

Home (the film)

Film poster for Home

Last night we settled down in front of the TV to watch the film Home.

It’s the story of a family who live in a peaceful rural setting. The kind of family that plays roller hockey at night on the expanse of tarmac – an unfinished and thus far abandoned motorway – in front of their home.

The fragile mother (played by Isabelle Huppert) stays at home while the DIY-prone father (Olivier Gourmet) works. The eldest daughter spends all day lying outside on a sun lounger listening to heavy metal music while the two younger children go to school.

On the surface it’s a calm existence, but the shadow of the motorway and its potential for disruption is never too far away. The film follows the family’s reaction to the reopening of the highway, and the toll the traffic takes on their mental and physical health.

Some have described Home as a black comedy. Personally, I found more darkness than laughs in the 93 minute film.

The distress quickly spreads across the household. Each person reacts differently. But the net result is that we watch the family choosing to become more and more reclusive and shut in as the traffic builds up outside the front door. (There is practically no dialogue between family members and people in the outside world throughout the entire film.) Stir crazy, they are ill-equipped to tackle the problem.

The saddest point comes near the end of the film when the family’s isolation leads them to miss out on an opportunity for reconciliation. It was pointed out to me that Home is really a giant allegory for what can happen to anyone facing difficult issues. Running away from a problem – or, as in this case, just burying your head in the sand – does nothing to alleviate the stress and deal with the predicament at hand. Fear is contagious; paranoia is infectious.

The QFT’s review describes Home as

“A nightmarish metaphor for the modern world and car culture in particular, Home is one of the most quietly disturbing films you will see this year.”

Directed by Ursula Meier, Home is a beautifully crafted film, with superb cinematography to accompany the bleak plot. The Swiss (French) film has been picking up awards at festivals and is well worth seeing in a cinema or on DVD.

Still from the film Home - crossing the road to go to school

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TUV - nul points pour la communication

If there was to be a list of core competences for political parties, communication would have to be up there in the top three.

For a lot of the time, politicians seem to be keen to justify what they're doing and the positive/negative impact it's going to have on our lives. And every few years - more often in Northern Ireland - parties go through a focussed period of pleading with voters to choose them above the other parties on the ballot paper. It's all about communication.

Of course, party manifestos often bear little relation to the democratic body they're seeking election to - eg, very little mention of Europe in most of the NI party literature last June. And given that few NI parties end up in control of an institution, individual parties often have little influence, and there is therefore little match-up between the manifesto promises and the decisions taken.

TUV press release - doesn't mention the starting time of the event they're advertising

But back to communication.

If you were a relatively new party, aiming to capture the hearts and minds of East Belfast voters by holding a public meeting, would you leave the time off the press release?

TUV - nul points ... pour la communication.

And that's before the questions about why they've chosen to have a public meeting in an Orange Hall, whether they're paying the market rate to use the premises and what people will perceive about the links between the Orange Order and the TUV. However, answers to those questions and more should probably be discussed over on the thread on Slugger O'Toole.

Oh, and the public meeting's at 8pm.

Update - through the TUV website Contact Us, I did ask about the time and the venue - but a day later, no reply. Funny, didn't get any reply the last time I asked something. David Vance - who very publicly joined the TUV recently and is tipped to be announcing tonight that he'll run for them in East Belfast be the new party spokesperson - did however give some replies on Slugger:

[Gerry Lvs castro] Just to put this in context, the only orange hall most people in NI (including many Unionists) have ever set foot in is the one in the Folk Museum. If ‘all are welcome’ would a more neutral venue such as a hotel not be more likely to gain you a wider audience?

[David Vance] If unionists are unhappy to enter an Orange Hall then that is going to have to be a risk we take. I do understand your point and it is fair enough but we are where we are and as best I understand no one is required to wear a Sash.

Further Update - The TUV did issue (on Thursday) a subsequent press release listing the start time, but still didn't update the previous one on their website.

Stop motion animation music video - "Her Morning Elegance" (Oren Lavie)

Stop motion animations seem to be everywhere. We've used it at PCI Tech Camp for the last couple of summers as a quick and fun way of exploring the techniques that you need for any kind of film-making.

Photographer Eyal Landseman took 2,231 photos to create the music video that accompanies Oren Lavie's song "Her Morning Elegance". And the video has now received a 2010 Grammy Award nomination for "Best Short Form Music Video".

What the Apple iPad tells us about technology evolution and miniaturisation!

I wasn't going to mention the new Apple iPad, but then I stumbled across this evolutionary slide!

It shouldn't come as a surprise that compared to the latest iPhone 3GS handset (16GB is around £450 Pay As You Go), the iPad seems relatively cheap (16GB/wifi iPad likely to be priced about £390, with the 3G version an extra £100).

The iPad's larger display is obviously more expensive, but that is offset by all the extra room inside the case that negates the need for component miniaturisation.

And the 3G version of the iPad comes with Assisted-GPS, which should allow for some comedy-sized car mount kits! At the moment, the iBook Store will only work in the US. Will be interesting to see how quickly international deals are put in place with publishers, and whether it's possible to import in ePub books that haven't been purchased through the iBook store.

Of course, the notion of an Apple iPad wasn't entirely new ... and Apple's PR department obviously took a risk that we'd get over the iTampon jokes quite quickly (and they'd be able to sort out the trademark issue with Fujitsu).

(Thanks to @janeruffino. Happy to update and acknowledge the source of the Evolution poster if an owner can be traced!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Open Arts Community Choir

Open Arts Community Choir singing at Out To Lunch arts festival 2010

Open Arts Community Choir were on stage at lunchtime as part of the Out To Lunch Arts Festival. Wow. They bring a smile to your heart and a tear to your eye.

Open Arts Community Choir singing at Out To Lunch arts festival 2010

Fundamentally, they're a choir. They were down in numbers - not everyone can get off to work to gig at lunchtime - so perhaps that dinted their overall sound. But all the same, they rattled through a wide repertoire, with some lovely solo parts. The choir's website explains:

"Inclusive best describes the Choir. It features people with disabilities and those without, from every section of the community. The age range is extensive, from seventeen to over seventy. Blind people work alongside people with mental health difficulties and people with learning disabilities. The members are united by their love of song."

Signing the songs as well as singing them added a whole new layer of interpretation. While they should be judged as a choir on their musical abilities, I found it impossible not to be additionally bowled over by their get up and go attitude and achievements. Blending voices together, countering many forms of disability - visible and invisible - coordinating singing in parts across sighted and unsighted singers, and making it look like it's the best feeling in the world.

Another great lunchtime event from the Out To Lunch festival. There are a handful more events running in the Black Box this week. Check out their website and booking page for details of what's left. And the addition of yoghurts to the free lunch is a wonderful extra.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lisburn City Council - all the bits you won’t read in the Ulster Star

Lisburn City Council

Tonight’s meeting of Lisburn City Council was surprisingly well attended this evening. Jeffrey Donaldson (MP and MLA) and Edwin Poots (MLA, Minister for Environment) both made it. However, the UUP’s Basil McCrea and Alliance’s Trevor Lunn (both MLAs in “another place”) were absent ... perhaps involved up in party discussions at Hillsborough.

The council meeting opened with fulsome tributes from each party to Councillor Peter O’Hagan who had died just before Christmas. All parties agreed that he was sharp, detailed, well prepared, generous with his time and more committed to public service than most. While many may at times have disagreed with his stance and style (including his own party by their admission) they all felt that the council was poorer without him.

In every Lisburn council meeting I’ve attended, there’s a school boy atmosphere and a feeling of pantomime that quickly descends into a lack of respect for councillors from other parties. The UUP and DUP mock each other, but gang up to heckle and jeer councils from Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

While tributes were still being delivered by other parties, one DUP councillor was passed a laptop with the Slugger O’Toole blog clearly visible across the screen and he spent the next while staring intently at the screen. A party colleague flicked through a magazine. Much later, another colleague checked out the BBC Sports football results!

These are public representatives (some of them holding down multiple public jobs) being paid public money to serve their constituents ... and perhaps even pay attention during the bits they find boring?

picture of Councillor John Drake - from Ulster Star / Lisburn Today

Councillor John Drake gave his maiden speech, thanking the other councillors for unanimously backing his co-option (rather than forcing a by-election as will be the case as Castlereagh Borough Council seek to replace Iris Robinson).

He was notably open-necked and tie-less ... in notable contrast to all the suited and tied men around the circular council chamber. Will be interesting to see he eventually conforms to the prevailing dress code, or continues to fight for SDLP informality!

Later on in the meeting Councillor Crawford rejoiced that it was “good to have someone from Translink on the council” – John Drake works as an inspector for Translink – before outlining his view of the discriminatory bus and rail services in Lisburn and highlighting a public meeting being held by NITHC/Translink in Belfast next month that he encouraged councillors to attend. (Grosvenor Hall Conference & Training Centre on Glengall Street at 7pm on 4 February)

The best quote of the night came at the end of a discussion about the length of time it had taken to set up an emergency meeting with Roads Service officials to discuss the salting of pedestrianised Bow Street. Raised in the Planning Committee meeting on the 11 January, the emergency talks have finally been scheduled for 5 February. Councillor Leathem explained:

“There was a better ice rink on Bow Street than in Castle Gardens!”

The mayor visibly disapproved with this analysis.

There was criticism of a tourist initiative that saw the city of Belfast running street promotions in Lisburn over the Christmas period. The Economic Development Committee will be writing to ask if Lisburn can promote itself in Belfast!

A dearth of information about Lisburn in Northern Ireland-wide tourism literature was raised by Councillor Tolerton. She’s obviously not looked at Lisburn Council’s own tourism website that has a look of tumbleweed at the moment.

After council intervention, £1.6million of rates bills have been issued to vacant properties that weren’t actually vacant “allowing the rates burden to he shared out more evenly”. The insinuation was that people were informing Land and Property Services but still not being sent bills.

SDLP Councillor Heading is upset that the Library Authority has £100,000 set aside for marketing, but has not yet produced a marketing strategy. He sees them prioritising the closure of libraries over the promotion of their services.

Oh, and they squeezed in a couple of jokes about the DUP taking over the UUP.

With a light agenda, there wasn’t a lot else that happened at the council meeting other than the passing of committee minutes and the Bible reading, quick sermon and a prayer delivered by the mayor’s chaplain at the start. The Ulster Star will no doubt pick up the important stuff I’ve missed ...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Forum for Alternative Belfast - launch (video)

Vacant sites in red on a map of districts in Belfast within 20 minutes walk of the city centre - Mark Hackett - Forum for Alternative Belfast

Last Thursday saw several hundred people scoff the available nibbles and pack into the crowded Reception Hall upstairs in the newly refurbished City Hall. Architects, planners, community workers, ratepayers, and even the odd Flip camera-wielding blogger gathered to listen to the launch of the Forum for Alternative Belfast’s analysis of the city’s potential.

You might remember news stories during the summer about a group of architects and planners getting together for a week long summer school to draw up a map of Belfast’s empty land. The participants found that around 32,000 people live within a 15 minute walk from the city centre with 73% of them living in rented accommodation.

But conservative estimates suggested that the 265 football pitches worth of vacant land could support at least additional 50,000 people in the central city, without resorting to high-rise buildings or creating a concrete jungle with no green spaces.

The video highlights some of what was conveyed during the launch meeting that was kicked off by Belfast’s Lord Mayor Naomi Long, featured input from Ken Sterrett and Mark Hackett, before being wrapped up by Belfast City Council Chief Executive Paul McNaney.

There was a lot to take in and think about.

Over the last 35-50 years, people have been moving out of living in the centre of Belfast. Yet the city centre population doubles each week day as commuters travel in to work. The Council’s Chief Executive was quick to point out that bringing more people back to live in the city would boost the rates the council can collect to subsidise the daytime migrants.

Those speaking steered clear of demonising cars. But they insisted that they should be managed and used for good. Free up land wasted on flat car parks – one example was at the recent Gas Works development off the Ormeau Road – and instead allow cars to park along the side of the road. Stationary cars can protect pedestrians from the noise and the danger of busy roads.

Waste ground together with expanses of ground level parking can host criminal activity and certainly make passers by feel fearful.

The Forum criticised some of the buildings that have been erected over the past 35 years. In particular, some social housing schemes were singled out as poor use of public money that created dysfunctional spaces. Yet Mark Hackett was willing to admit that the very architects and planners who were backing the Forum for Alternative Belfast were guilty too.

The Forum is independent of statutory bodies. It’s a set of expert but outside voices pitching in ideas to the public square on the potential that Belfast could realise if it grasps the “fill up” strategy.

Of course, while bringing 50,000 people back to live in the city centre could make a massive difference to Belfast, it would also have an effect on the outlying commuter towns (and city). It could partially relieve the housing pressure in Bangor, Holywood, Lisburn, Dromore, Banbridge. Yet it would cement Belfast’s commercial dominance and cast an even darker shadow over it’s smaller provincial rivals.

Good for Belfast? Not so good for everywhere else?

Whatever the answer – and no doubt you’ll let me know what you think in the comments – the Forum for Alternative Belfast has built up an impressive head of steam with its credible arguments for changing the planning assumptions and public perceptions. Good luck to them.

A day in PARIS

I was blown away by this video on Vimeo - though anything that features La Défense will tend to catch my eye! Moving Image students, watch and learn ...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alliance party conference - determination laced with hope

As I discovered before Christmas, Northern Ireland political party conferences are funny affairs. The most enthusiastic members turn up to listen, applaud, vote (generally en masse), pick up a stash of free pens, chat to old friends and eat. I imagine that most go away quite tired, feeling good about their party but not having changed their minds on many policy matters.

It is obvious that the arrival of the media – in particular, live streaming on BBC News website – has sharpened up conference time keeping and changed the agendas to talk to the people outside the conference hall as much as the people inside.

Members of the Alliance Party followed their traditional route this morning and turned up in bigger numbers than normal at the Dunadry Hotel outside Templepatrick.

Delegates crowded in to hear Alliance leader David Ford's speech

Arriving late, as I pulled off the main road and up in towards the hotel, I was greeted by cars parked in the verge on both sides of the lane, the overflow from a packed hotel car park.

During David Ford’s leader’s speech, the main conference auditorium was packed, with every seat filled by delegates and interested stall holders from the exhibition areas. There were a fair number of younger faces in the audience.

The leader’s speech was really the sandwich between a set of motions that the conference was debating.

  • Climate change – demanding that world leaders try harder after the failure of the Copenhagen Conference
  • Young people not in education, employment or training – calling on the Departments of Employment and Learning to partner with the Department of Education to address the fifth of 16–24 year olds not in education, employment or training.
  • Criminal justice system – reducing offending and making prisons about rehabilitation and not just security, as well as building a shared future
  • Afghanistan – calling for coherent plan for withdrawal within one year
  • Drugs policy – wanting a new NI drugs strategy based n evidence rather than fear
  • Kickstarting NI’s economy – which included tackling the billion+ pounds wasted annually on providing services to a segregated society
Alliance leader David Ford delivering his speech at conference

The mood of the conference seemed upbeat and confident. David Ford’s speech – at nearly 40 minutes long, perhaps it should have been described as a lecture – ticked a lot of boxes. Update - You can now watch it on the BBC website. Also check out Mr Ulster's blog posts and videos of the speeches.

He referred back to the party’s beginnings and its early members, including Oliver Napier and Bob Cooper.

“Just forty years ago this year, a group of people had a dream. They came up with the ludicrous idea that politics in Northern Ireland should not be dominated by division, but should be about co-operation, partnership and reconciliation. The sceptics had a field day.

How could such a naïve bunch of do-gooders have any prospect of success? The notion of overcoming tribal politics was preposterous. Commentators generally predicted that a party founded on such principles could not survive a single election.

They were wrong. Alliance stands here today as a mature party, confident and capable, determined to play a part in transforming Northern Ireland. Out vision and our values have stood the test of time. We are more relevant today than we have been for many years.”

He paid tribute to elected representatives, in particular drawing attention to the four Alliance councillors in Castlereagh. Lagan Valley’s Trevor Lunn was thanked for his role in chairing the four party talk on “the transfer procedure debacle” while the party’s deputy leader Naomi Long was singled out as “the epitome of what a public representative should be”.

Commenting on the dissident attack on Constable Peadar Heffron just a few miles from the hotel, Ford reflected on the reasons why he was targeted.

“First, because he is a police officer and second, because he is exactly the sort of police officer this community needs: a Catholic, an Irish speaker, a Gaelic player. Today, on behalf of this party, I wish Peadar and his colleagues well and salute the courage of every member of the Police Service.”

Ford also led his audience on a short bus tour of stately buildings.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Coming to a screen near you ... Belfast City Council?

Belfast SDLP Councillor Niall Kelly

One night back in early December I posted about Niall Kelly’s suggestion that Belfast City Council should start streaming its meetings online.

An SDLP Councillor for South Belfast, he brought a motion to the December Council meeting that was then forwarded onto their Strategic Policy and Resources Committee to look into. At the time he explained:

“This motion is an attempt to bring forward a new era of openness and transparency to Belfast City Council by ensuring that in the future the monthly council meeting is streamed online, through the council website. The technology for this has been around for many years and I firmly believe that it is about time the council embraced this opportunity and moved into the twenty first century.

Already more than 80 local authorities in England and a number of larger councils in the Republic of Ireland, including Dublin City Council, not only stream their meetings online but archive the meetings, allowing people to see exactly what goes on in the chamber, at a time that suits them. As the largest council in the North of Ireland, Belfast should be leading the way on matters such as this.

At present there is provision for members of the public to watch the council proceedings from the public gallery but for many people this is neither practical nor convenient. It would be much easier for people if they were able to watch what is happening in the council in a way that suits them best.

Anything that we can do to highlight to the public to let them know what we are doing is to be encouraged. At a time when the public are increasingly suspicious of the actions of politicians I believe that we should be thinking of new and innovative ways of showing them the positive work that we are doing.”

This afternoon, Niall Kelly published an update on his new blog* to explain that the Policy and Resources Committee had agreed in principle to the live streaming and archiving of Council meetings. (* His first attempt at blogging - Belfast Stoop - ended abruptly, but good to see him back on the horse.)

“I am very happy that the Policy & Resources committee has backed my call to stream council meetings online. Belfast City Council has a reputation as a progressive Council, which has led the way in taking informed, transparent decisions which provide the public with as much information as possible and today’s decision has shown this.

I am a firm believer that new technologies should be embraced and that Belfast City Council should take every step to ensure that we are open, transparent and accountable. As the first Council in the North of Ireland to agree to go ahead with live streaming Belfast is showing real leadership and a desire to engage with it’s citizens. I am hopeful that in 2011 this system will be up and running and that it will be the benchmark for transparency and accountability in local government.”

So while some councils still don’t publish their council minutes online (or have just started), and while the councils in Lisburn and Castlereagh wait to ratify their joint committee’s decision to publish minutes of their transition meetings, Belfast are forging ahead – in principle at least – with a new chapter of transparent, accountability … and perhaps also a painless way to drift off to sleep in the comfort of your own house if you end up listening in to a boring meeting!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sony introduces their "Bloggie" pocket video cameras with an on-stage dramatic demonstration

Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5

At the recent CES show, Sony have introduced their “Bloggie” range of pocket-sized video cameras. Of most interest to me are the MHS-PM5 and MHS-PM5K models. (It’s my blog, so you have to live with the fact I’m going to skip over the new pistol-grip MHS-CM5 model!)

So how are they different from the well known Flip cameras? (By the way, other people swear by Kodak’s offerings.) The embedded video will be a lot more amusing than my description below!

Looking no chunkier than the Flip Ultra cameras (thicker than the slimline Flip Mino) the PM5 features a retractable USB arm, tripod mount point, 4x digital zoom and uses SD/SDHC as well as Memory Stick (PRO) Duo cards for storage. The NP-BK1 Lithium Ion battery is rechargeable (via USB) and also removable – best of both worlds.

Video is recorded at up to 1920x1080 HD (1080/30p compared to the Flip HD’s 720/30p). Being a Sony product, it comes with SteadyShot stabilisation and face detection “so faces are captured more clearly and skin tones look more natural.” You can capture stills as well as moving images. Sound recording is mono. (Flip Mino HD is mono, though Flip Ultra HD is stereo.)

According to Sony, an 8GB memory card (not included) would hold a fair amount of video: 1080/30p = 80 minutes, 720/60p = 160 minutes, 720/30p = 240 minutes,VGA/30p = 480 minutes.

The unique selling points are a top mounted lens that swivels 270 degrees, allowing you to film forwards as well as backwards. (Filming yourself? Weird!) The even more unique selling point is that the PM5K comes with a 360 degree attachment that plugs on the top of the swivel lens.

360 degree accessory for Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5K

360° Video recording lets you capture the world around you. Just attach the included 360° Video Accessory to record a high-quality, panoramic video that encompasses a 360° field of view. Once you’re done shooting, you can play back your 360° videos with the included Picture Motion Browser software [requires Windows XP SP3, Vista SP2 or Windows 7; not supported by Mac OS], as well as share them over e-mail or upload them to popular video sharing sites.

The jury’s out on whether 360 degree is just a gimmick or actually a valuable feature. I can’t find any examples of the output – not even from Sony – and the one review I’ve seen that actually mentions using the 360 degree in anger, explained the reviewer’s disappointment with the quality of the 360 degree imaging. But I’d love to try it out to see for myself.

Some of the models are listed on Amazon UK as being available from mid-February, though the pricing hasn’t been fixed.

Pricing of Sony MHS-PM5K on, £30,000 is unlikely to be the final price!

More widely, it’ll be interesting to see how pocket-sized HD video cameras develop over the next 12 months. Flip were bought over by Cisco, and it would be no surprise if their range of cameras started to take advantage of wireless network connectivity. Meanwhile Sony are introducing swivel lens and panoramic views with the Bloggie. And other manufacturers are starting to take sound seriously, and add external mix sockets to compensate to the poor quality/low level audio on some of today’s cameras.

Boyle in National Theatre debut

Snippet from BBC News online homepage

I read the headline and thought: Susan Boyle, a woman of considerable talent.

Then I clicked on the link and discovered the story was about director Danny Boyle, better known for Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire than Britain's Got Talent!

£2,700 per annum to serve on a public body that won't talk about what it does

Review of Public Administration logo

The results of the Review of Public Administration were published in November 2005 and March 2006. The review included health, libraries, education and local government.

  • In April 2009 the old eleven heath trusts were reduced to five.
  • The single Library Authority took over bookish responsibilities from the five education and library boards in April 2009.
  • The remaining functions of the five education and library boards were to be replaced with a single Educations and Skills Authority (ESA) this month, but that has run into problems.
  • By May 2011, there is a plan to reduce the number of local councils from twenty six to eleven. Voluntary transition committees made up of members of the affected merging councils are up and running. However the legislation to give them statutory powers and enable the May 2011 switchover is under pressure due to boundary disputes.

The voluntary transition committees have been meeting monthly. With the possible exception of disputed areas around the fringes – important, but disputed, areas – Lisburn City Council and Castlereagh District Council will be merging. The Castlereagh/Lisburn committee will be working through issues around the delivery of public services as well as property and staffing.

As the transition date approaches, more and more decision-making responsibility is being pulled away from the two separate councils and being put into the hands of the combined committee that can take a collective and strategic view of the future merged operation. So the transition committees are not without clout and power.

The Department of the Environment’s Local Government Policy Division oversee all of this. Recognising the importance and significance of the decisions that will be taken by the voluntary (ie, non-statutory or pre-legislation) transition committees, they issued guidance on reporting, transparency as well as setting the allowances that are paid to councillors serving on these responsible bodies.

Circular LG 16/08 – 28 October 2008 [highlighting mine]



5 Reporting and Transparency

Transition Committees will be subject to the accepted norms of internal and external scrutiny. They will operate to best practice in management of meetings, reporting arrangements and general administration.

The terms of reference for Transition Committees provide advice on meetings, agendae, and reporting. In particular, the terms of reference state that ‘minutes of meetings will be in action format listing key decisions and actions to be taken and will be prepared by the Secretariat. Copies of such minutes should be submitted to the Strategic Leadership Board.’ The Strategic Leadership Board and Department of the Environment will require regular reports on transition progress for the effective coordination and strategic management of the reform process.

To ensure transparency, Transition Committees will make arrangements for public access to the decision making process. A communication strategy should be developed to regularly inform the public and stakeholders.

8 Responsibilities and Allowances

The Terms of Reference set out the responsibilities of a Transition Committee. As these responsibilities will constitute an important role for the Councillors appointed to Transition Committees they will be paid from the DOE allocated block grant an agreed supplementary allowance for the additional responsibility involved. The amount proposed is £2700 pa, in parity with the Strategic Leadership Board and Policy Development Panels. Members appointed to Transition Committees should have the time, capacity and commitment to contribute effectively to the development of new Councils.

A December 2008 briefing Circular LG 19/08 also make clear ...

In addition, expenses may be claimed and travelling will be paid in accordance with the rates determined by the Department under the Local Government (Travelling and Subsistence Allowances to Councillors) (No 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1973, as amended.

Lisburn City Council

Lisburn City Council told its ratepayers (well, it issued a press release) back in August 2009 that:

“Minutes from the Lisburn-Castlereagh Transition Committee are available to view online at

But they’re not.

And Castlereagh District Council don’t publish minutes of any council business online – though that might change with the level of scrutiny they’re under following the allegations made against a councillor in the recent Spotlight programme!

Given that Lisburn has eight councillors appointed to the transition committee, each being paid £2,700 per annum for the privilege – that’s a shade over £21,000 of public money being handed out, plus the same again for the Castlereagh councillors involved – it seems reasonable that ratepayers should have some idea of what they’re up to.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Orthodox Heretic – Peter Rollins

I attended the launch of Pete Rollin’s second book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief and quickly read the first handful of chapters. Eighteen months later I’ve still to finish the book!

His next book, though, is much more accessible and I completed it a matter of weeks after I got hold of a copy at an Ikon gathering.

book cover of The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins

The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales is a collection of parables from the pen of Peter Rollins. They’re brilliant in their simplicity. As he explains in the introduction:

“Parables subvert [our] desire to make faith simple and understandable. They do not offer the reader clarity, for they refuse to be captured in the net of a single interpretation and instead demand our eternal return to their words, our wrestling with them, and our puzzling over them.

This does not mean that the words contain no message ... Parables do not substitute sense for nonsense, or order for disorder ...

A parable does not primarily provide information about our world. Rather, if we allow it to do its work within us, it will change our world – breaking it open to ever-new possibilities by refusing to be held by the categories that currently exist within that world.”

In one story – Being the Resurrection – Rollins paints a picture of a group of disciples who “packed their few belongings and left for a distant shore, for they could not bear to stay another moment in the place where their Messiah had just been crucified.” They fled and set up an isolated community far away “where they vowed to keep the memory of Christ alive and live in simplicity, love and forgiveness, just as he had taught them.”

Over a hundred years later, some missionaries arrived at the remote settlement and realised that the community “had no knowledge of the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, for they had left Jerusalem before his return from the dead on the third day.”

There is much celebration, but the members of the community are shaken. Their reason for following seems no longer about Jesus and his “radical life and supreme sacrifice”. Instead they worry that their rationale will turn inward and be selfish, “because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life”.

Sometimes, rather than create an entirely new situation, Rollins borrows from an existing gospel parable, and merely changes one aspect, often the opening line or the final punch line.

In The Prodigal Father, the father steals away in the middle of the night leaving the two sons at home! This kind of adaptation throws off balance the normal dynamic of the reader’s understanding of the original parable and kicks off an explosion of ideas and questions.

In general, Rollins’ doesn’t seem to be making new radical points with the stories. Instead he is reinforcing old truths.

“The idea of the weak and oppressed having priority in the kingdom of God can be seen in the life of Jesus ... It was not that Jesus had a deep love for tax collectors or Samaritans over other careers and ethnic groups. Rather, what was important was the place that the tax collector and the Samaritan held in society. Jesus was moved by the oppressed and the excluded wherever he found them, always seeking to reach out to those who had nothing and who were considered to be nothing.”

It may not be new, but it is still radical.

Yet he returns to betrayal and freedom in the eponymous parable. In order for nurtured students to surpass their great teachers “a painful separation must take place between [them]”. The student will be asked to stop following the teacher and move beyond the lessons thus far learned.

“Of course this is a strange, almost paradoxical teaching, for it is only by following the teacher that one will heed the command not to follow. Yet these words, when truly grasped, have the potential to set the disciple free, allowing her the chance to apply her learning in ever new innovative ways. This I not a betrayal in the sense of a rejection, nor is it a blind fidelity that seeks to live by the letter of the law.”

It’s a great book: accessible, could be read in short chunks, and it started to poke holes in assumptions that I’ve carried around for a long time. Questioning is good. Perhaps the more unsure and the less arrogant your faith, the stronger it becomes?

As a bonus, I’ll post some audio in a day or two of William Crawley interviewing the author Peter Rollins (now published) at the October 2009 Ikon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lost :: 5 series in 8 minutes 15 seconds

Lost Season 6 poster

Like many, I watched the first couple of series of the US television drama Lost while they were being shown on Channel 4, and then it disappeared into the dark abyss of Sky One and I watched no more.

Turns out that there have now been five series and a sixth starting to air at the beginning of February. What have I missed? About 50 hours of my life watching Lost.

The Lostpedia Blog has condensed the five series down to a manageable 8 minutes 15 seconds. (h/t to Lee Munroe.) It’ll ruin sales of boxsets!

Suddenly even the first two series now make sense. Hopefully they’ll inflate it to a round ten minutes and add in what happens in the 18 hours of series six.

I was about to mention that Channel 4 had commissioned another show called Lost, and then I realised I’d blogged about it in November 2007 on the occasion of Channel 4’s 25th birthday. But for those who missed it ...

Lost - perhaps the show with the most potential and the least impact. Back in 2001, three two-member teams were dropped off near each other in unknown locations with only a backpack of clothes and their wits to help them. Followed by a cameraman who couldn’t help them (but could often slow them down) they had to race back to London. Successful teams went on to compete in the next race.

Lost by Nikki Arend

There was an interesting book by Nikki Arend to accompany the late night series that diarised the team's travels, commented on the exploits of the competing teams and revealed the workings of the show. Wikipedia describes the teams being:

“abandoned in Northern Russia, Mali, Venezuela, Quebec and Azerbaijan. The teams had to race back to Trafalgar Square, London, except in the Azerbaijan episode, where the destination was the Angel of the North statue in Gateshead.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Daily Strife - through to the next round of RTE Storyland competition

Daily Strife clapper board - photo by Karl Burke

“Meet Glenn who wants to change his life and leave his wife but daily strife keeps getting in the way.”

RTE Storyland is a competition in its second year for film makers to win an online drama commission. In the first round, entrants had to submit the first two scripts along with a synopsis of the rest of the series, a budget (limited to €8,000 per episode) and a marketing plan.

Six winners impressed the judges and were funded (I hope!) to produce a couple of episodes. Starting at the end of the month – 29 January – online audiences be able to view the first episode from each of the six successful shows and you’ll have a week to vote for their favourites. One show will be voted off, with the rest getting to live on for another week. The second episode will then go online, and the remaining five will face the public vote again.

Daily Strife is through to the final six and is written and directed by Cecilia McAllister and produced by Mairin Murray. It’s the only show in the competition to be commissioned from a company operating in Northern Ireland. But better than that, it looks like a funny concept, and the first couple of episodes throw in snow balls as well as scary men with guns. Normal for this island, huh?

“Glenn has got to the point where he can't make a decision about anything – not even what he'll wear in the morning or what he'll have for breakfast. Played by Jim Roche, Glenn is a cross between Ricky Gervais and Mr Bean.”

If you like what you see, you can become a fan of Daily Strife on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, see behind the scenes, track their progress ... and be reminded when you can vote! And I’m sure Mairin and the team would be delighted if you were impressed and engaged enough to blog and tweet about it and spread the word.

I’ll be following Glenn’s adventures, and Daily Strife’s progress – hopefully long and successful – on the blog over the coming weeks.

Jim Roche playing Glenn in Daily Strife - photo by Karl Burke

Photo credits - Karl Burke.

Ulster Museum - a help cord you'd never reach and an emergency door that doesn't look like it would open?

So Littl’un and I retraced familiar steps on Saturday afternoon, walking up the steps, through the steel snail sculpture and into the sub-tropical climate of the Ulster Museum. Like all new buildings, there are obviously bits still waiting to be finished – like the scribbled writing on the walls above some of the projectors – as well as things starting to suffer from early life failures like one of the chair lifts.

There’s something odd – perhaps alarmingly unsafe – about the glass doors at the far end of the ground floor. As the pair of us sat demolishing a healthy chocolate muffin, lots of people came up to the glass double doors and tried to push them open to get out into Botanic Gardens. But they just rattled, locked no matter which door people pushed.

It was then that I noticed the fire exit sign hanging above the door, indicating that in the event of an emergency, straight ahead – through the locked doors – is a route out of the building. Except they’re locked. No push bar.

Ulster Museum - locked emergency exit?

Now some doors have fancy fittings that automatically fail open whenever an alarm is triggered. If this set of doors has such magic, it’s well hidden. (And normally such doors have a notice fitted to explain that they’ll open in the event of the alarm sounding.) Instead, it looks like these ones are locked and unlocked with a key.

I did report it to a member of staff at the time – who looked quite concerned about it – so hopefully it’s fixed (or officially known to be magic) by now. Update - the door should have been open.

Emergency help cord tied up with cable tie near ceiling

I’m sure I’ll get told off for using the disabled toilet.

But you try taking a five year old girl to the loo in the male toilets and squeezing two of you into a cubicle – or surviving the glares as you queue up and wait for one to be free!

While in there I couldn’t help noticing the emergency pull cord.

Neatly coiled up and secured with a cable tie, well out of reach of anyone sitting on the toilet. Now I don’t make a habit of taking photos inside toilets, but ...

Emergency help cord tied up near the ceiling ... out of reach

Who? What? Why? When?

Update - According to the museum, "the pull-cord in the disabled toilet has been fixed – with over 170,000 visitors it’s hard to believe this hasn’t been spotted before."

Other than that, Takabuti was still asleep in her case, William Crawley was booming out short talks from the video wall cycling through an abbreviated Blueprint programme, and while the Discover Art room had finally run out of Scully sheets to colour in, they did keep us entertained winding wool around cardboard to be stapled up onto their the display.

Visit Lisburn ... but is there anything on?

On Saturday, I wondered whether there was anything child-friendly happening in and around Lisburn. While the Farmers’ Market is now on holiday until the spring, the city centre management company has been know to run events and activities for little people and their willing parents. It wasn’t yet time for the regular trip to the library, and while I could hear the Ulster Museum calling, it seemed a shame to pass up something fun nearer to home in the town city centre.

So off to Lisburn City Council’s tourism site –

Home page of tourism site - still showing Christmas light switch on in January

Good sign – the website’s working. But wait, Christmas Light Switch On? Not sure that’s still relevant. Click on Events in Lisburn ...

Not sure Boxing Day race meeting is still relevant in January -

Boxing Day race meeting, Christmas Market, ... no. Seems a little out of date. Up at the top left there’s a link to Events 2010 and then January 2010.

January 2010 events on ... none


More than half way through January and it’s obvious: Lisburn must have abandoned culture and entertainment for 2010. Cost cutting? Blew all the budget on the ice rink? Forgot to ask someone to update the website?

First event in the 2010 calendar is a Garden Show in Hillsborough between 21-23 May, and then you’ve got to wait until sometime in the summer for the Highland Games in Wallace Park.

We went to the Ulster Museum and checked that the mummy was still sleeping!

Update - 21 January - The Visit Lisburn website has been updated - restyled - though there still aren't any January events other than visiting Hilden Brewery which is a hangover (excuse the pun) from December!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Out To Lunch – Karl Spain, Brian Keenan, Jane Austen

Out to Lunch Festival 2010 logo

2010’s Out To Lunch arts festival is now well under way. With lunch time events for £5 including lunch, it’s nearly cheaper than grabbing lunch elsewhere in Belfast and you get free entertainment thrown in.

After the free opening show, comic Karl Spain was up on stage on the Thursday 7 January. Ten days later, I remember laughing, but can’t remember any of the jokes.

Brian Keenan at 2010 Out to lunch arts festival

Last Wednesday Brian Keenan took to the stage to talk about his new memoir I'll Tell Me Ma. It was a unusual event, with Keenan spending at least the first half hour talking at length about the process of deliberating whether to write the book, before reading a few snippets.

Keenan sees a difference between history (with its straightforward linear timeline) and memory (which engages you emotionally and spiritually). Despite initially having no memories of his life before the age of seven, he found that they weren’t “trapped in a black box” after all, but could be accessed as he remembered growing up with buck teeth, traced back his relationship with his circumspect parents and walked around Duncairn Gardens and Tigers Bay.

Interestingly, Keenan often uses euphemisms to describe his incarceration in Lebanon between 1986 and 1990 – “ when I was on my holiday …”

Turns out that book ended up being written in a convergence between a place (his childhood streets in Belfast) that had gone and the imminent death of his mother. Keenan was losing the tangible foundations of his life.

He described his mother as being in “the lulu land of Alzheimer’s”. Yet her condition brought her back to her childhood. And after years of growing up with parents who didn’t talk about their experiences, all the history that he’d wanted to know came out in her last months.

Thunder Eagle - as referred to by Brian Keenan at 2010 Out to Lunch arts festival

For anyone reading this rambling post who was there at the event, you’ll remember Keenan talking about “Thunder Eagle”, a stone sculpture that he’d seen as a child and laterally spoke to him (no, not in a literal way!) as he questioned how to deal with his mother’s pending death.

I got a shot of it as I walked back to work. Belfast architecture is full of surprises just above eye level.

Last Thursday was a completely different experience with Rebecca Vaughan’s one woman show, Austen’s Women, rattling through female characters in Jane Austen’s books.

Rebecca Vaughan in Austen's Women at the 2010 Out to Lunch arts festival

With a nearly entirely female audience, and a very simple set, the corsetted Vaughan changes voice and dons shawls and dresses as she switches through thirteen characters in 75 minutes.

I’ve never read (or watched – the modern way to read!) any Austen, and having listened to the show, I’m not inclined to start. But that’s not to detract from the fantastic range of 19th century feminist rants that were played out on the stage of Belfast’s Black Box. A great show, and worth going to hear if you find it on in a venue near you.

With another 20 or so events (mostly musical) still to come, it still merits looking at the Out To Lunch website and picking up a few tickets for some diversionary lunchtime entertainment.

Call Sign GI3GGY - Jimmy Porter’s an amazing man'

Photo of Jimmy Porter - amateur radio enthusiast (c) BBC

Sunday lunch was cooked to the accompaniment of Inside Politics. But it was eaten to the background of an amazing half hour of radio – Call Sign GI3 GGY. (Not sure there really should be a space in the middle of the call sign.)

It was an amazing portrait of Jimmy Porter, an amateur radio enthusiast who has been active on the airwaves for more than 70 years. (He’s also been reading the news on the radio for over 50 years.)

At first the programme shone a light onto a little-understood hobby. Then it moved across to be social history and political intrigue as it examined the repercussions of Porter’s recording of army radio traffic (partially downloadable) on Bloody Sunday. And finally it switched to his personal story uncovering his past and finding out who his mother really was.

The tapes – which provide a very accurate timeline of army activity on the day – were ignored by the discredited Widgery Tribunal set up in 1972 to look into the events of Bloody Sunday. Afterwards, Lord Widgery advised Jimmy Porter to destroy the tapes. Instead Porter gave the tapes to an fellow radio ham across the border and then endured years of the army searching his electrical shop and home … and years of soldiers pretending to search his premises but instead drinking tea and listening to opera! It seems like the Saville Inquiry was paying more attention to the evidence Porter’s hobby provided.

An amazing story, and terrific radio. Well worth a listen - available on iPlayer until 13:30 on Sunday 24 January, and repeated on Radio Ulster at 19:30 on Thursday 21.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

PMS saga continues

Over the last ten days or so, the Northern Ireland news agenda has been dominated by the emerging Robinson-gate saga, revelations and clarifications around Liam Adams political involvement as well as a renewed focus on resolving the roadblocks (and parades) standing in the way of the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland. This has squeezed the coverage that other news stories perhaps deserved.

(For out-of-NI readers, NI’s police and court system is still run from London, whereas the power to run hospitals and schools has transferred to the control of NI politicians already.)

Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) logo

There have been a few developments around the Presbyterian Mutual Society which has been in administration since November 2008. I’ve mentioned PMS on the blog a few times before. The administrator’s eighteen month term runs out in May 2010.

In an unusual move, administrator Arthur Boyd, went to the High Court to apply for a five year extension. The Newsletter reported:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sir Allen McClay

Sir Allen McClay - image (c) Almac Group

Sad news broke yesterday with the announcement that local entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Allen McClay had died in a US hospital (where he'd got married in November at the age of 81).

Qualifying as a pharmacist in 1953, he went on to establish Galen in 1968, floating the multi-national business on the stock exchange in 1997. Retiring as Galen's President in 2001, he was back in business less than six months later with a series of acquisitions that created the Almac Group.

Throughout all of this, the Cookstown-born entrepreneur has maintained a business presence in Craigavon, and helped keep Northern Ireland on the international pharmaceutical and biotech map. Paying tribute, staff spoke warmly of the boss who ate alongside them in the firm's canteen. He seemed to have earned the intense loyalty of his staff and colleagues.

Through the McClay Foundation (and before that, the McClay Trust), he also invested in local education - with multi-million pound donations QUB for Chemistry and Pharmacy education and scholarships, a research centre over at the City Hospital, and a £10 million contribution to the new central library.

Still from Below the Radar/BBCNI profile of Sir Allen McClay

Hearing the news reminded me of a television programme a year or two back that profiled this humble and generous figure. And as if by magic, the Thinking Big programme that local indie Below The Radar made for BBC NI has been put online. Well worth a watch.

Sir Allen McClay - one of Northern Ireland's giants.

Update - the programme will be shown on BBC One NI after the Ten O'Clock News at 22:35 on Tuesday 19 January.

I/we have not and will not canvas or solicit any Member, Officer or Employee of the Council ...

Belfast City Council are commissioning a piece of public art for the City Hall “which reflects the Irish history and heritage of many of [its] citizens”. But that’s not the story.

At the back of the issued Expression of Interest / Quotation document (which outlines the specification and contract conditions) there is an appendix with a form that applicants must fill out.

Applicants must promise not to canvas or solicit support for their application from councillors (“members”) or council staff.


I/We hereby certify that I/we have not and will not canvas or solicit any Member, Officer or Employee of the Council in connection with the preparation, submission and evaluation of this Expression of Interest or award or proposed award of the Contract and that to the best of my/our knowledge and belief, no person employed by me/us or acting on my/our behalf has done, or will do, such an act.

I/We hereby certify that, to the best of my/our knowledge and belief, no person who is a Councillor, Officer, Servant or Agent has any direct or indirect interest, in or connection with, the Organisation.

Signed .....................................................

Pity Castlereagh Borough Council didn’t have that in place when they were tendering for the Lock Keeper’s Inn café. Or maybe they did?

Someone out there with a copy of the Expression of Interest advertised in January 2008 and re-advertised later that summer may be able to comment further. But a cursory read through the Castlereagh minutes doesn’t point to anything more elaborate or lengthy than a simple advert in a newspaper. And I’m not about to go and request a copy of the Expression of Interest just to prove a point!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There’s going to be an election ... a by-election in Castlereagh East?

large red tick

There is a lot of talk about elections. Given that there have been 21 Northern Ireland-wide polls (plus one referendum) in the last 21 years, it’s no surprise that there’s always a lot of talk about elections. And of course, I meant to add that there's a council by-election in Craigavon today!

Most people’s money is on a Westminster election being called on the 6 May. The mood music is surprisingly positive around the reinvigorated Policing and Justice negotiations (with no doubt a few other issues on the side of the main political debate) and perhaps the Assembly can motor on until Spring 2011 without collapsing into an early election.

At some point this week, Iris Robinson is expected to resign her seat on Castlereagh Borough Council. (Update - I'm reminded that resigning from council has actually not yet been mentioned - only resigning as MP and MLA - though her husband did talk about her political career being over. Further update - She has apparently now resigned as MP, MLA and Councillor.) Normally parties try to avoid a costly by-election and get wider council agreement to co-opt a new member of the losing party onto the council.

But will this happen in Castlereagh?

No. It only takes one opposing vote to veto a co-option and trigger a by-election, and you can be pretty sure that there will be a are quite a queue of TUV Independent, UUP, Alliance and SDLP councillors willing to say no on this occasion.

The DUP dominate Castlereagh Borough Council, currently holding 12 of the 23 seats. However, with the loss of Iris that shrinks to 11 out of 22. No longer a majority between her resignation and a by-election.

Of course, with DUP holding four seats out of the seven in Iris’ old district of Castlereagh East (TUV, UUP and Alliance holding one each), they’d need to lose a lot of votes to lose the by-election.

However, if one orange bottle was to accidentally fall the DUP don’t regain the seat, and they won’t regain their overall majority on the council whenever the other parties all gang up against them. And with an increased chance – through sheer number of councillors – of other council members being in hospital or indisposed, the day-to-day majority could shrink further.

No doubt it’ll be quite a fight when the electorate in Castlereagh East are given the opportunity to make their opinion known about recent events.

Peter Robinson: "Please, cease and desist!"

Book cover of Peter Robinson - Strange Affair

I mentioned the author Peter Robinson in a post a few days ago. His books have terrifically apt titles. And then I noticed a BBC report saying that the author Peter Robinson is getting fed up with being confused with the political Peter Robinson. The report explained:

More used to writing about the adventures of Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks on the streets of the fictional town of Eastvale, Mr Robinson has been sent condolences about his wife's behaviour.

Writing on his website Mr Robinson, the pen behind the Inspector Banks novels, thanked people for the offers of sympathy, before stating the obvious.

What the BBC sensitively omitted – no doubt thinking about younger website viewers – was the first part of the author Peter Robinson’s statement on his website:

“Many thanks to all of you who have offered me your support in my time of difficulty – especially the person who said my wife was a homophobic slut who needed a good slapping around, and the other who suggested that I turn to Jesus Christ as my Saviour – but I must stress that I AM NOT Peter Robinson the politician, Norther [sic] Ireland’s First Minister.”

He went on to add:

“I would have thought would be the first clue, as would even the most cursory glance at the site, but I guess people who send rude and insulting emails or push religion at the vulnerable were not, alas, at the front of the queue when the brains were handed out.

Please, cease and desist!”

Local papers slowly piecing together the Lock Keeper’s Inn timeline ... Council not sure when they're meeting! (updated - 6.30pm)

IRish News banner

Picking up on the confusion and council investigation around the opening of the Lock Keeper’s Cottage I posted about on Saturday, this morning’s Irish News (not available online) reports

“that Iris Robinson's son [Gareth Robinson], a member of Castlereagh Council, supported a change in the official opening date of the Lock Keeper's Cottage so that assembly members could attend.” (BBC NI newspaper round-up)

Belfast Telegraph logo

It only took a week for Castlereagh to make council and committee minutes available to the Belfast Telegraph. A week is a long time to make Word documents available … though shorter than the 20 working days - often to the hour – it takes councils to respond to requests from members of the public.

Along with other local papers, the Belfast Telegraph has learned more about the tendering process for the Lock Keeper’s Inn café by going through the minutes from the Economic Development sub-committee.

According to Castlereagh Borough Council’s website, there’s little evidence that they have an Economic Development sub-committee. It isn’t listed along with the other committees on their Committee page. Though one councillor claims to part of the non-existent committee. Not terribly transparent!

This morning’s paper explains that a total of five people expressed an interest to run the café.

In the first round, one local East Belfast woman was invited “to present her ideas for the business to members” of the committee in March 2008 and was later asked to submit a business plan. Not receiving a response, she fell out of the tendering process. (Though she is now running a successful café in East Belfast!)

Subsequent to the “Expression of Interest” being readvertised, four people responded and were asked to submit their plans to a council panel by 23 July 2008. The Telegraph report that the minutes show that “Mr McCambley was the only applicant to submit a business plan by a July 18 deadline.” The next evening at the meeting of the full council, councillors voted to offer Kirk McCambley the lease.

The council fitted out the kitchen in the Lock Keeper’s Inn café after accepting “£6,338 quote from DMC Catering Equipment Ltd”.

At the August economic development sub committee meeting members were told that Mr McCambley had requested that, apart from the £6,338 for essential catering equipment, the council make a “further financial contribution” towards establishing the business.

The economic development manager recommended to the committee that it should offer Mr McCambley a seven-month rent free period rather than make any “further contribution”, which was worth £4,084.

At the August 28 full council meeting, councillors, including Iris Robinson, voted in favour of granting the lease to Mr McCambley. They also approved all the conditions such as the rent free period and absorbing the catering equipment costs.

So what does £6338 buy you in terms of kitchenware? According to the shadowy (!) Economic Development subcommittee minutes from 8 August 2008, it amounts to:

  • Stainless steel wall benches and infill benches
  • Wash hand basin
  • Stainless steel dump bench
  • Moffat double bowl sink unit
  • Extraction canopy (fan, filters, ducting, etc)
  • Solid stainless steel 4 tier shelving units

Castlereagh Borough Council logo

Castlereagh Borough Council will gather at Castlereagh council’s headquarters at Upper Galwally for a special council meeting tonight to agree the terms of reference for the council’s investigation into the conduct of Iris Robinson and potentially the process of awarding the Lock Keeper’s Inn café lease.

Given previous expeiences with Castlereagh it was no surprise to me that just after 9am this morning, the council’s switchboard didn’t have details of the meeting, and no one was available in the Chief Executive’s office to respond. Just in case local Castlereagh ratepayers want to start holding the council to account, I’ll update this post with a time and whether or not members of the public are welcome to attend.

Update - 6.30 pm at Headquarters, Upper Galwally. The agenda item is “Approval of Terms of Reference for Independent Investigations & Associated matters”. The public are permitted to attend, but as with all council and special council meetings, they have to be signed in by a councillor. (I'm sure you'll find a friendly one!)