Devil's Advocate


I’m growing increasingly convinced that every decently sized organisation needs to employ someone with a suitably cynical attitude in the position of Devil’s Advocate.  Such a position would not be designed to ensure that we suddenly start to become Satanists, in fact such a stupid suggestion would be exactly what the Devil’s Advocate (DA) would oppose.  Their main purpose in any organisation would be to counter those in direct power and the sycophantic yes men/women that seem to predominate in pretty much any organisation that I have ever dealt with.  I would imagine that in board room or other project meetings, pretty much every contribution they gave would start with the immortal words, “Catch yourselves on!”

The position would need to have some clout, like the veto that can be exercised by any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  OK, perhaps that is a bad example because it is used politically, but you get the idea.  So why do I think this is necessary?  Perhaps a few examples would help to explain my reasoning: -

 Bangor, City Status:      If you have read a few of the posts on this site, you will know that I live in Bangor, Co. Down; I have done all my life.   The town became a city as part of the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration.  If you want a good laugh the full bid document can be downloaded here:  You really need to know the town, and the local council’s role in running it down over the last thirty to forty years to truly understand just how ridiculous this document really is.  I will cover just a few points from this document, and these are from the bid document pages below, but the happy shiny picture it paints of the town would be barely recognisable to residents like me.  Just think of Bangor as a dying Victorian seaside resort and you will have the basic picture.  It exists now solely because of its proximity to Belfast, as a dormitory town and is a long way off being an up and coming City.  The Council would do well to fix what it has before it goes on with any more of these ego projects.  By its own admission, there is absolutely no financial benefit to Bangor becoming a city, yet they spend cash and time on this (having already blown any reserves that the Council held on other stupid projects).  Why?



Just 2 pages from Bangor’s city status bid document

Ballyholme Beach:  Yes, this beach could be lovely, and the beach itself has history, from Viking burials and treasure being found here (including one burial of a complete longship), to pioneer aircraft flights, and being used for practice landings before D-Day.  It is however marred by currents/ tides that bring in a lot of ‘stuff’ that was initially put into the sea from a large sewerage station on Luke’s Point at the western side of the beach.  Clean it ain’t, despite what the water quality readings say.  I can only presume that the measurements are taken at ‘convenient’ times.

The Costal Path:  As you can see on the 2 pages above, the Council make a big thing of the wildlife you can see along the costal path in the bid document.  The path is pretty wild in places, but it is beautiful.  I have seen everything from seals and porpoises, to seabirds diving into shoals of herring fry.  There have been rare visitors like basking sharks, minke whales, and otters too, although I personally have not seen these.  Despite this, the Council planned to widen what is a very varied, occasionally almost non-existent path, into a 5 meter wide route that would have been shared with pelotons of fast moving cyclists.  At the moment, cyclists do use the path, but not in huge numbers and they are supposed to give way to walkers.  The Council’s proposal was to give half the path to cyclists, and the other half to walkers.  I have no idea how walkers are supposed to communicate to their dogs that they cannot cross the white line in the path that would have separated them from the cyclists for fear of getting run over.  Neither have I any idea of how much damage this lump of tarmac and the increase in fast flowing traffic would have done to the numerous shrews, Sparrowhawks, hedgehogs’, rare plants etc.

Since none of these plans were widely known about, the Council simply assumed their acceptance by the public and went ahead with them.  Fortunately, someone noticed and started a resistance movement.  Despite this widespread resistance the Council was still determined to go ahead until the resistance group started to hold mass pickets outside the Council meetings.  Only then did they eventually accept that the townspeople did not want their development plans for the costal path.  One of the slogans used by the resistance sums up the situation, ‘The Costal Path is a destination, not a route’.


I suppose that in days gone by, the local paper would have kept inhabitants informed about the Council’s plans, but who reads a local rag these days, and that assumes that the local rag still exists!  At any rate, a Devils Advocate in our Council would have given the Councillors and staff the reality check that they seem to be so much in need of on these and many, many other issues.




Think of all the businesses you know of that have gone bankrupt.  BSA (remember them?), where the exploits of Sir Bernard Docker and his wife Norah spring to mind, or Arcadia Group, controlled by Sir Philip Green, to name but two.  Think of the banking crash back in 2007/ 08.  Think of the exploits of people like Boris Johnston.  All these could have used the ‘catch yourself on’ veto of a good Devil’s Advocate.  The ‘yes’ men and women of this earth will inevitably lead us like lemmings towards the nearest cliff (so long as they don’t have to jump too).  We need a good dose of cynicism once in a while, someone to ask the why question and to make people in power justify themselves.  I’m for the whistle blowers and those who do not necessarily agree with the status quo.  Long may they oppose on our behalf.

I could tell some very scary stories about the failings of one company I have worked for, but is was bought out to save going bankrupt, and it still exists, so that is for another time perhaps.


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