Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Stormont compassion and tasty grub
I was up at Stormont yesterday evening ( you have to go up – the parliament building stares down your throat and insists you do). I’d been invited by Conall McDevitt of the SDLP, who’s a big noise with Jim Wells (DUP) on the All Party Group for International Development, so I restrained my urge to tell them there should be a hyphen between ‘All’ and ‘Party’, and went.
It was partly interesting and partly depressing.
The interesting bits included talking to a man called John Bailey, who’d spent four years working as a scientist/missionary in Papua New Guinea (in their first year there, his family’ security guards were equipped with bows and arrows); trying to get Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff to tell me what time he expects to do in the Omagh Half-Marathon in early April (he wouldn’t); and seeing the sad-proud faces of families as they trooped up to receive posthumous awards for their loved ones’ work with the developing world.
The depressing bit was...well, it was boring. Two hours, mainly of speeches from Conall McDevitt, Jim Wells and Jim Nicholson (who does things to the English language that should be actionable). Lots of talk about the need for the north to be outward-looking and supportive of north-eastern Uganda, the area the Assembly has decided on as their target (so to say). The fact is, most of us know, from reading and watching TV, that we live in a world stuffed with lethal inequalities, Listening to politicians tell us it’s important is like listening to your mother telling you the importance of loving your parents. Gimme a break, Ma.
I did get one memorable statistic, though: the average wage in north-eastern Uganda (how fitting that it should be linked with north-eastern Ireland) is $300 a year. We were still shaking our heads at this when the catering staff started carrying in trays loaded with sausage rolls and nice little scones and pastries, and tea and coffee and wine. A truly depressing thought then occurred: why, at eight in the evening, were all these well-fed-looking people in such need of nourishment? And if we had all skipped that bit and the saved money been sent to north-eastern Uganda, wouldn’t it have made a serious difference to at least half a dozen lives?
I didn’t bother making my excuses, I just left.