Sunday, February 21, 2010

A-Politics Now // Winter Base

Steven Agnew facilitating a table talking about the Environment at A-Politics Now

Last Thursday lunchtime, A-Politics Now brought together thirty or more people up to the Group Space at the Ulster Hall to discuss four topics before listening to the views of four local political representatives. A bite to eat, and then ten or so minutes spent at two tables out of the four looking at Environment, International Development, Arts Funding and Human Rights.

Amongst the chat about public transport, night buses, the difficulty businesses have in recycling glass, there was a fascinating discussion about dog poo at the Environment table with the Green Party’s Steven Agnew.

Imagine taking a DNA sample from dogs at the point that they get chipped and registered. Then when dog wardens stumble over dog poo, they could take a sample, get it tested, matched with the register, and send a fine to the owner. (A bit like the vehicle recognition cameras that match car license plates against the car tax system.) The very idea that it would be so easy to trace would either drive dog owners to be more careful, or to avoid registering their canine friends. Tel Aviv and Calgary have been testing this approach. Update - Turns out this idea also features in Mark Thomas' book The People's Manifesto (see post for full review) in which he (over-the-top) observes:

"... people have actually suggested that we set up a dog DNA register, a multi-million-pound dog-turd database, so police could work backweards to track down the offender, starting at the scene of the crime, complete with cordoned-off area, a little white tent and forensic experts in hooded bodysuits."

No surprise that the Bill of Rights came up at the Human Rights table with Amnesty’s Peter Corrigan. Do we need an additional codification of rights in law? Why new legislation specific to Northern Ireland? Who currently suffers from discrimination, despite the existing legal protections? Will it keep lawyers well fed, or will it reduce the lengths to which under-served people must litigate to seek redress? The arguments were most convincing when looking at specific, non-conflict, examples of abuses in local society.

Three Belfast councillors and a South Down MLA listened in and fed back at the end: John Kyle (PUP), Bernie Kelly (SDLP), John McCallister (UUP) and Michael Browne (SF).

A-Politics Now - Winter Base, Belfast

It was encouraging to watch some of the representatives sharing their contact details with people who’d raised particular issues about local government services at their tables and offering to help resolve individual situations. It was also encouraging to hear local councillors speaking about subjects in a non-party political way.

Michael Browne spoke at length, and while admitting that the long-serving Castro may not be a great role model, our four year (re-)election cycle leads to populist policies and a shying away from difficult changes that would be better for society in the longer term.

John McCallister made a comment that lots of people scribbled down to check out. He claimed that there are two and a half times the pipes in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the UK. (I’m assuming that’s two and a half the length of underground pipes per head of population … rather than smoking pipes or bag pipes!) And two and a half times the number of roads … He might be right, but if I’d come prepared, my instinct would have been to hold up a big BLUFF card! (Please do leave a comment if you've any opinions or data on the pipe situation.)

While the event format could be tuned, it was a great start, and offered some accessible lunchtime thinking and imagining. Kudos to Adam Turkington – who has a passion for these kind of sessions – and to the Winter Base festival.


Aly McLoughlin-Harte said...

Very good point re approachability of politics today. I suppose it's a generation thing, we often think ignorance is bliss. I was just wondering on a very fickle level, how do you get your flickr account onto your blog? Trying to improve the look of mine!

Alan in Belfast said...

The Flickr badge page describes how to configure a set of pictures. Then use Blogger's Customise to add an HTML/JavaScript widget in the sidebar, and paste in Flickr's code.