Northern Ireland

What the papers say


Journalist Mike Philpott takes a look at what is making the headlines in Thursday's newspapers.

The Executive budget is the big talking point locally.

The Belfast Telegraph says it threatens thousands of jobs and will squeeze families, but it was "bludgeoned through" - in the paper's words - as Ulster Unionist ministers staged a revolt against it.

In a comment column, it says we can now look forward to a "blame game" as the Assembly election approaches.

The News Letter says politicians "clashed bitterly" and we're now left with a remarkable situation in which the parties of three Executive ministers have "opposed the financial blueprint that should underpin the devolved administration".

It concludes that the strains of making ends meet are stretching political systems to breaking point.

The Irish News relegates the budget to Page 6, and leads instead with a report that the police intend to recover tens of thousands of pounds in pension payouts which were made to Hazel Stewart after the death of her husband Trevor, who was an RUC officer.

Irish cabinet

The Irish Independent has a photograph taken at the first meeting of Enda Kenny's new cabinet as its headline talks of "a new era".

The main picture in the Irish Times shows the new taoiseach being applauded by colleagues as he left Leinster House to collect his seal of office from President Mary McAleese.

The paper comments that everything has changed, from the size of the governing coalition's majority to the increase in the strength of Sinn Fein and the appearance of Gerry Adams in the Dail.

It concludes that the new government will not be awarded a honeymoon, because the weight of public expectation lies upon it.

The Independent also remarks on the scale of the changes, and highlights Mr Kenny's promise to tell people the truth, no matter how difficult that might be. Even that, it says, would be a major departure from the past.

The Mail sums up Lord Hutton's proposed pension reforms with the headline: "Work longer and get a smaller pension". The Daily Express describes it as " a shake-up that will hit millions".

The Guardian reports that in response, public sector unions are already drawing up plans for strikes that could bring schools, universities, civil service departments and courts to a standstill.

The paper says everyone employed by the state will pay more into their pension schemes, retire later and receive less when they do.

According to the Times, the highest paid people - including doctors, head teachers, top civil servants and senior army officers - could lose tens of thousands of pounds a year.

Mystery question

Finally, the census has just been launched - but the controversy has already begun.

One of the problems, according to several papers, is that Question 17 reads: "This question has been left intentionally blank - proceed to Question 18".

One man tells the Daily Telegraph that he's tempted to write: "That's why I have intentionally not answered it."

But apparently the mysterious Question 17 does make an appearance on the Welsh version of the form. That's because it asks about people's knowledge of the Welsh language.

But the strangest story about the census also appears in the Telegraph.

It reports that a copy of the form was sent to a car park ticketing machine in Hampshire. It was addressed to "The Occupier, Pay on Foot shelter".

A warden tells the paper that the most difficult question was the one about the machine's religious beliefs.

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