‘I can see the benefit of these classes, but it is lot of money and you have to ask if there might be more deserving causes – Jim Allister
SNIDE remarks about Irish ‘curried yogurt’ or scandalous references about unionists could soon be consigned to the political history books (are you having a fucking laugh) with MLAs getting special lessons in learning how to communicate properly.
The new ‘politics’ classes are being funded to the tune of £600,000 by US billionaire philanthropist Chuck Feeney through his Atlantic Philanthropies organisation which has been donating money to the North of Ireland since the 1990s. Classes on offer during January and February range from ‘Politicial Leadership’ to ‘Speech Delivery and Communication’ and are being made possible thanks to the latest substantial donation from Mr Feeney, whose ancestors hail from Co Fermanagh. Delivered on behalf of the assemby ‘Politics Plus’, other topics on the MLA programme incude a master class in social media featuring sub-sections on how to protect online reputations, understanding hashtags and “actively listening to what the audience wants”. It is the second time the assembly has received money from the charity trust set up by Mr Feeney to assist “the development of political leadership” at Stormont (the House on the Hill).
The philanthropist has previously donated £400,000, with initial efforts in the North of Ireland supporting peace-making and strengthening higher education and expanding to cover programmes for ‘Ageing’, ‘Children and Youth’ and ‘Reconcilaton and Human Rights’. But, despite the generous offer, not all potential participants appeared overly-enthusiastic. On Friday, North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said he “wouldn’t kick a gift horse in the mouth” but wounderd if the “substantial amount” could not be better spent elsewhere. “I can see the benefit of these classes, but it is a lot of money and you have to ask if there might be more deserving causes,” he said. “I haven’t realised how many there are, so I am glad they won’t be at taxpayers’ expense.” However, Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, one of the trustees of the Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Strengthening Trust (NIALST) which administers the programne through ‘Politics Plus’, said it was an opportunity for skills improvement. “This is an opportunity for MLAs to cover a range of subjects which in other jurisdictictions simply don’t happen, or if they do happen, they happen at the expense of public funds,” he said. It is understood the assembly will allocate around £60,000 of public money towards funding the programme.
With many thanks to: Gail Bell, The Irish News, For the origional story.