Ian preparing a return to the Alliance Party?


In his latest post on his blog, Ian Parsley has explained that he has resigned from the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland.  This is not entirely a surprise as Paula Bradshaw, his partner, resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party and recently joined the Alliance Party in early November this year after failing to be selected by the South Belfast Ulster Unionist Association to run for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections to take place in May 2011.  Paula and Ian had both been 2010 Westminster candidates for the UCUNF project.  No UCUNF candidates were elected.  Some of the Westminster candidates have found themselves on the Assembly election ticket whilst others have not.

Ian has been a local Councillor in North Down Borough Council since 2005, first as an Alliance councillor and then as a Conservative councillor.  In his present state of resignation that will mean he will be an independent councillor, until someone takes him in.  

This now takes the total tally of Conservative Councillors down from three to two (Dierdre Nelson and Peter Bowles).  

He had previously been the 2009 European candidate for the Alliance Party before joining the Conservative Party in September 2009 when he was employed by the Centre for Social Justice, which eventually published an interesting document 'Breakthrough Northern Ireland'.

A lot of work seems to have been put into this and it will be interesting to see if Ian continues in this role as well or if he has also resigned from this as well in which case it will be interesting to see who is supposed to drive forward the policy recommendations.  Will the CSJ maintain a presence in Northern Ireland? or will we once again be forgotten about?  

Does his resignation, along with a slap to the Conservatives and a wistful reminiscence of his time in the Alliance Party point to a wish to rejoin the Alliance Party?  Indeed the last few paragraphs of his blog post point out his regret at leaving the Alliance Party in the way he did and he apologises for the hurt he caused.  Definitely sounds like he is looking to rejoin the Alliance Party.  

He is a capable politician, amiable gentleman and has a vision.  I hope he finds a home he is able to continue his work from, whether or not that will be from a home in the Alliance Party?  I am not too sure. 

There is also a good run down on this by Aldous Duke on Slugger O'Toole

UUP confirming prospective candidates for Assembly elections


Just hearing through the vine that the UUP have been confirming with Assembly hopefuls that they are now being recognised by the Party as official prospective Northern Ireland Assembly candidates.  I am also hearing that more information will come from the Party on Monday though some names such as Jo-Anne Dobson and Mark Finlay have been confrimed. 

The NI Assembly election will take place on 5th May 2011.  Elections for the local 26 councils will take place on the same day.

If that were not enough there is a major possibility that we will also have to vote on voting!

Hacks and Hackers hack hackable hack day


On Saturday i had the great pleasure of attending ScraperWiki's Hacks and Hackers Hack day held in the University of Ulster, Belfast.  It was run by Scraperwiki.

Scraperwiki, is an award-winning data mining tool, funded by 4iP.  Hacks and Hackers Hack Day (on twitter the hashtag was #hhhbel ) was a one day event where web developers and designers got stuck with journalists and bloggers to produce projects and stories based on public data. It was sponsored by the School of Media, Film and Journalism at the University of Ulster and The Guardian (Many thanks for the opportunity!) and the Belfast visit was all part of the ScraperWiki UK and Ireland Hacks and Hackers tour.

Personally, I was totally unsure of what to expect.  I don't code (so I am not a hacker) and I only vaguely make sense on this blog, sometimes (so I could only loosely claim to be a Hack).  So I felt I was being a bit of a cheat when I arrived. Thankfully I found Alan in Belfast and cimota  to vaguely hang around with and use to deflect any pertinent questions as to what I do.  Scraperwiki's goal was to attract 'hacks' and 'hackers' from all different types of backgrounds: people from big media organisations, as well as individual online publishers and freelancers.  They certainly accomplished that.  There were more Hacks than Hackers (Hacks For The Win in turning up!!) but I think it actually worked out OK as the technical side could only happen once the ideas had been suitably worked out.  As with any project, brainstorming and creating a plan of action is just as important as the doing.  You need to know where you are going in order to get there.

There was a nice introduction from the Scraperwiki team and a bit of background on what Scraperwiki was. Now, as I said I am not a hacker and most of the language went over my head, however I began to see the concept.  It would help find information that is already publicly available but not very easy to find.  The spin for hacks and jhackers was that the aim of the event was to show journalists how to use programming and design techniques to create online news stories and features; and vice versa, to show programmers how to find, develop, and polish up stories and features.

The Scaperwiki team pushed this forward on the day by brainstorming 'datasets', or themes to likes of me, and then teams would form to create a real piece of datamining software (it would find stuff on the web in a thrice which would take you or me a very long time to dig up).  Hmm, I think I have just decided I now like the word datamining.  It makes me sound like I know what I am doing.

So armed with our mandatory laptops and free WIFI, four intrepid teams of journalists and developers began to develop their chosen themes into ideas and then into a final project to be published and shared. Each team would present their project to the whole group. There was also a bit of a competition with a prize at the end of the day.

I maintained my limpet like attachment to Alan and Matt whilst grasping onto poor Rob Moore from Learning Pool - the sucker who would be our coding monkey.

We eventually got down to something vaguely approximating working on the project theme, that of politics (shock horror).  In particular we were minded to do something around voting.  Through a bit of idea making, in between watching RSAnimate on changing education paradigms, we started a creation journey towards voting patterns and perhaps how that would fit with socio economic levels within constituencies.  This could provide a better picture for instance where instances of political disengagement was highest and the economic background.  We used a number of websites for initial research including the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service, ARK, and a few others, we refined the idea to an initial step of pulling down the information on the ARK website to firstly create a visual of voting patterns.
There was even pizza!!!
Dear help Rob and Alan (who can also code) who struggled with the coding and the government websites.  Rob would look up every so often muttering '
why do they use
?? Grrrrrr'  I thought it best not to ask and let him get on with it, feeding him some caffeine every no and again.  In the end we decided that the project is a goer but we would only look at the voting statistics first as that was easier and would test the practical coding.  Lo and behold, it worked.  And it showed something we had not seen before.  Or at least as clearly before.  The lack of people voting.

At the last Westminster election, we could see quite starkly, 17 out of 18 constituencies had Minority MPs.  That is to say the number of non voters, who we called Mr No Vote, outstripped the number of those who did and out did the winning candidate by a mile.  This caused us to discuss the issue of legitimacy.  Yes over 50% in each constituency voted, in some cases only just, but the winner had no where near the number of votes that Mr No Vote did not cast.  So apathy is winning out at the minute.  The 18th constituency where the  winner beat the number of no votes? Fermanagh and South Tyrone.  This raised our eye brows, was the only motivator to get bigger numbers out to vote sectarianism?  Looked like it as a riled divided community seemed determined not to let the other side in.

OK, this is a bit simplistic but the graphics were quite stark.

So coding done? Check.  Visuals done? Check.  Ready to present the findings? er, really? Had forgot about that.

So in we went a bit nervous about it all and the presentations began.  One group created a scraperwiki to glean NI Court decisions to investigate how effective the judicial process was and how effective the process was,  one group created a scraperwiki to scrape the NI Jobfinder website and summarises the public/private/voluntary pay levels, another group created a Scraperwiki to scrape contracts awarded for repairing buildings and so on, by the NI Housing Executive (I did not think of a red sky at this point at all, no no no. Not at all.) The we presented our project, MrNoVote.  After the presentations a number of judges went out to discuss the projects and come back with a winner.  And guess what? It was us that done it!!  I could not believe it at all.  I was still asking Matt afterwards if we had actually won.  He quietly insisted in his usual MacDaddy way that yes it was true, now stopping asking.

Overall I really think, after seeing it in practical use, scraperwiki has huge potential and a myriad of applications.  It even makes me want to relive my coding days and learn to work with things like Python (I was disappointed to learn this is a coding language and not Eric Idle and co) or PHP.

A great big well done to the developers of Scraperwiki and I hope the madness continues into the future.  As for our little project I think I saw a twinkle in Alan's eyes so MrNoVote will continue on and, unfortunately for politicians, will be very much alive to help assess the Assembly and Council elections next May.

Kill Bill (the double jobbing one that is)


Dawn Purvis MLA has just published a press release regarding the progress of her Private Members Bill on double jobbing in the NI Assembly.  The Bill aims to end local Councillors being MLAs at the same time.  Dawn had discussed the issue of double jobbing at a NICVA event in 2009.

Dawn says that the DUP will try to use a veto to kill her bill on double-jobbing by tabling a Petition of Concern to prevent the bill from becoming law.

The Bill itself  has been through five stages of the legislative process.  After that all that is left for the Bill is the Final Stage (bet you are shocked at that!).  After the Final Stage the Bill then goes for Royal Assent.  Once Royal Assent is given then it will become law.

Dawn's objective is to reduce the practice of individuals holding more than one elected office at a time, an issue sometimes referred to as ‘multiple mandates’. The question of ‘multiple mandates’ has been debated by the Assembly on a number of occasions, including on 10 March 2009 which focused on dual mandates between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK Parliament. On 23 November 2009, the Assembly resolved:
“That this Assembly notes the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, ‘Supporting Parliament, Safeguarding the Taxpayer’; calls on all political parties within the Assembly and Parliament to commit to an end to “double-jobbing”, including private sector employment, ideally by the time of the scheduled election in May 2011 or, failing that, by 2015 at the latest; and further calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to convey the opinion of the Assembly on this matter to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.”
It should be noted that the Assembly does not have the authority to legislate on disqualifying its members from being MPs.

Dawn is very strong in her reaction and said that "This is an outrageous attempt to block this legislation and prevent this important reform from being implemented. It also sets an extremely dangerous precedent. The DUP is using this procedure –which should be used with careful consideration – to support their own interests as a political party.  I would call on Peter Robinson to support the final passage of the bill – after all he gave a commitment to bring an end to this practice of holding dual mandates."

Dawn says on her website that she will be making more comments on the issue soon.  The DUP have done it now!

Gerry goes south of the border, down Dundalk way


Picking up on Sky and BBC that Gerry Adams will step down from the NI Assembly and, eventually, Westminster in order to run for a seat in the Irish parliament.  Mark McGregor and Michael Shilliday also pick up on this over on Slugger O'Toole.

He has indicated that he hopes to stand in the next Irish General Election (likely to be called by Brian Cowan for 2011).  He hopes to be a candidate in the Louth constituency. Arthur Morgan has been the incumbent Sinn Fein TD in Louth for the past 8 years.  However, he has publicly indicated that he will not be standing in the next Irish General Election in order to go back into business.  At least it is not to write a book.

Gerry said his Stormont replacement would be chosen within the week, and that he would remain as MP for West Belfast until the Irish general election is called.

Mr Adams said in his speech at Edentubber that his decision to stand was a "significant initiative by the Sinn Fein leadership."  he continued,

It is a measure of our determination to provide a real alternative to the consensus for cuts being pushed by the other parties.  Ireland needs political change. We need change in the Dáil. We need more voices that will stand up against the consensus for cuts – more voices that will stand up for ordinary people.  We need new politics. We need a political realignment. 

As the peace process has settled down in recent years, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has often looked bored. There is no longer a new political crisis every week in Belfast. As a result, Mr Adams has a reduced workload and a much lower profile.  That may not be the main reason he has decided to run for the Irish parliament, but it may well be a factor. While his right-hand man Martin McGuinness has, as deputy first minister, become the face of Sinn Fein at Stormont, Mr Adams has had a peripheral role.  He spends a lot of time south of the border, but as an unelected politician he is effectively shouting from the sidelines.  At 62, he has decided to try to re-invent himself. If elected he would try to lead a surge in support for Sinn Fein in the south.  If he loses, it could spell the end of his long political career.

Sinn Fein currently  has five MPs four TDs in the Irish parliament.  If Gerry Adams retains the seat then it could cement his all Ireland political career, if he fails then his career will indeed be over.  Either event will make an interesting centrepiece at the the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis next year, which for the first time, will be in Northern Ireland at the Waterfront Hall.

Mind you the potential Dail General Election has also provided a surprise in Ulster-Scots circles as i have also just heard that Dr Billy McWilliams intends to stand in Donegal for the the Dail elections.  Fair Fae Ye Billy, Fair Fae Ye.


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