Special Spotlight


Noel Thompson chairs a political debate as a panel of public figures answer topical questions posed by a studio audience.

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Hello, and welcome to this Spotlight special, where the studio


audience has a chance to put their questions to the panel. Among them,


but politicians to shape our lives. Tonight, Mitchel McLoughlin, Sinn


Fein's spokesperson for victims. Our line etched -- the minister for


trade and investment. Bernadette McAliskey. Stephen Agnew. And the


Strangford MLA, Mike Nesbitt, who heads the Ulster Unionist Party. We


want to know what do you think about the talking points of the day.


You can text the programme. The details are on your screen. Calls


cost five pence per minute from most landmines. Let's go to our


first question, from a teacher from Belfast. His fear being eight


Unionist Unity candidate in Mid- Ulster a step backwards for


Northern Ireland? This is a question based on the decision to


field an agreed's candidate in the Mid-Ulster by-election, which led


to the resignation of John McCallister and Basil McCrea. I


expect big question is asking, is this a step back to its sectarian


headcount, Mike Nesbitt? It is not new for either this party or for


other parties in Northern Ireland. Bernadette was elected in 1969


because Sinn Fein withdrew a candidate, and she had a clear run.


At the last Westminster elections in South Belfast, Alex Maskey


withdrew and Dr Alasdair McDonnell had a clear run for the SDLP. Gerry


Adams described it as bold leadership about protecting and


defending nationalist seats. It is not new. We had an agreed Unionist


candidate at the last Westminster election for Fermanagh South Tyrone.


I have been listening to the people of Mid-Ulster and they are saying


that on this occasion, for a variety of reasons, including the


recent murder of a prison officer but also because for 16 years they


have had an abstentionist member of parliament, that they would like to


see a single Unionist candidate. I am an Ulster Unionists, so my first


preference is that an Ulster Unionist wins the seat. There was


no possibility of that. What is my second option? It is not to give


Sinn Fein if free run. My second preference is to see some form of


Unionist over the line. The best way of maximising the opportunity


for that is to field one, not three, four or five pro-union candidates.


Basil McCrea said it is a good decision for Sinn Fein, be you


agree? It is a matter for the Unionist parties. I hope the by-


election is contested on social, economic and political issues. At


the end of the day, I hope the electorate will decide. De you


believe this is a neutral step or a step backwards? -- do you believe


it. My sense of it is that Unionism, for some time now, the House


cohesion. -- has lacked cohesion. What might emerge is a coherent


voice. It is difficult when you are looking for partners to build a new


democracy to fade partners in Alienist PAPA Obree -- to the park


is in the Unionist Party who are afraid to take decisions.


depends what future you want for Northern Ireland. The thing that I


find quite sad is that in 1969, as a young student, and around quickly


a platform of raising the absence of democracy? The parties which


were meant the old Nationalist Party and the old republican club


Sinn Fein, allowed a unity candidate, which happened to be me,


precisely because neither want or the other could elbow each other


out of a position of authority in the election. It was a very


temporary solution for them. Ironically, they wondered what harm


I could do in one year! They were seen to discover. That was a long


time ago. What is the relevance for today? That we have not moved


forward. In terms of developing a Northern Ireland as a democratic,


Equitable, shared society which respects Rights, which builds peace


and prosperity, which respects difference, which embraces


diversity, that the conversation is still locked in parties simply


around the issue of national identity. For me, what a sad to see


is that there is not the emergence of new alliances in politics Evra


and shared the social and economic ideas. The reality is that within


the major parties, the differences on fundamental things, which is


what this election should be about, the level of unemployment, the


dismantling of the Health Service, the absence of affordable social


housing, that absence of any coherence around our health care,


but there is no clear challenge to the consensus politics on a hill


about how that should be dealt with. I suppose the last thing you want


is a challenge to the consensus? The original question is, does this


take us back? Absolutely not. It is a good move forward for Unionism.


It will come as no surprise that I believe in the Union and therefore,


I want to see the people of Mid- Ulster represented in parliament.


First of all represented, because we have not had a representative in


parliament for such a long time, but also to have a unionist


representing Mid-Ulster. It is a rational political ID. I do not


understand they argument that says it is sectarian? I do not accept


that. The argument might be that you are not offering a choice?


are saying that we believe in the union and if you want to vote for


it, vote for Nigel Martyn. If you believe in Sinn Fein, vote for them.


If you believe in the SDLP's policies, more akin to Sinn Fein,


vote for them. What we are saying is, to give people a chance to vote


for a Unionist candidate and for him to be elected, the union at --


Unionist parties had to come together.


How can it be seen as a step forward for Unionism whenever it


has, in fact, divided the Ulster Unionist Party and there may be


another party created as a result? How can it be seen as uniting them?


Do you think that if a new party does emerge at Stormont that it


would be a good thing? Not necessarily for Unionism, but for


Northern Ireland. This is not new, and Mike Nesbitt is right. It is


all politics for a new way of thinking. We hear parties saying


they are putting the economy first, but they are putting the union


first. The union is not been debated at Westminster. It is up to


the people in the audience and at home to decide the future of the


Union. Let's talk about what we can't influence as politicians.


People do not want processed parties or politics. They want


parties that do what they say on the label. We have seen that with


the horsemeat scandal. People want to know what they are buying into.


If you start mixing two parties that... You should run at separate


candidates. This has led to a deep split in the Ulster Unionist Party?


I can test whether there has been a split, but I cannot let Stephen and


-- Stephen Aguiar's comments go. There is going to be a vote on


Scottish independence next year. The debate about the future of the


union is alive and Westminster is key to it. In terms of John


McCallister and Basil McCrea, we have well over 100 elected


representatives, 2000 members, 100,000 people vote for us, never


mind the DUP and TUV and other pro- union people involved in all of


this. It does not always have to be about John and basil. They say they


are men of principle yet they are not prepared to resign. Yet you


would still be 20% short. Nigel Lutton, I can see Catholics and


nationalists voting for him. Let me bring a few more people in. The two


Unionist leaders, Surrey, people, have been talking about the most


important thing. If you can sit in Stormont with Sinn Fein and work


with them on committees, why can't you two parties work together, make


one big union party instead of having all of these little ones


with arguments among the in cells? -- your selves? It is not getting


Was it a one-off or is at the start of things to come? What we want are


not necessarily Unionist or nationalist candidates. What we


want our people who we can vote for who will take leadership on


improving jobs and the economy in Northern Ireland. We want it to be


one party. Maybe Mike is heading that way. No, I don't think


Unionist unity is a possibility. But I think Unionist co-operation


can be done and at times should be done. I believe I demonstrated by


winning this one I believed that time was right so to do it. What


I'm talking about is not so much... Well, it is, yes, an experiment


that has been done before. It's the right thing for Mid Ulster at this


time. I can't look beyond that, as people would like it to do, for two


reasons. First, we have to see how the co-operation between all the


group's goes between now and 7th March, and then we have to see how


the result goes. On the basis of that we will make a decision.


think it's putting the constitutional issue right back up


the top of the political agenda. Any type of normal politics should


be moving us beyond simply the constitutional issue. To go to


Stephen's point about constitutional politics. It is


important we do give people the opportunity to vote for a candidate


who might actually get elected. The way to do that is for both parties


to come together. Because at present there is no representation


at Westminster. We're talking about the union, we should be talking


about the economy. Of course we should be talking about the economy


in the context of the United Kingdom. At like ask another


question now. The economically and politically, is it more beneficial


for NI to remain in the UK? We had a recent opinion poll which showed


38 % of Catholics would vote to stay in the UK, 27 % of Sinn Fein


voters said it. And it also identified a new sector of about a


quarter who consider themselves to be Northern Irish. What do you


think, is it time to give up the republican struggle and throw your


lot in with the UK? No, I think the first thing that people really


ought to do is recognise that there has to be a certain integrity about


the way you do things. You can't just keep chopping about and


interchanging, say, cultural conversation around people's


national identity with religious conversation, around people's


religious beliefs. And then political ideologies around how


people think, around social and economic issues. Because those are


all very complex and different. So if you ask people in Northern


Ireland, would you vote for a united Ireland tomorrow, and they


say no. Then the question you have asked is, would you vote bought it


to be united with Ireland tomorrow and the answer you've got is no, I


would not vote to be in a united Ireland tomorrow. It is not know. I


am now, by virtue of being a Catholic, for or against the idea


of national unity. I am a Unionist. I am something else. You can't play


this game, which we do all the time. We have created those markers for


ourselves and then judge them. They have always been, right through the


history of this country, Catholics who always have and always will be


unionist and British in their national identity and national


thinking. There may not be the majority. Not enough for them,


perhaps. Not enough for Mike Nesbitt or whatever. Also, people


who have a particular view on separate this or rearranging the


relationship between these islands, politically, socially and


economically, are not necessarily nationalists. I do not and never


have considered myself to be a nationalist. There is not a


Hibernian bone in my body. There is not a Hibernian thought in my head.


I am a republican. I am a socialist. Economically and politically, is it


more beneficial for Northern Ireland? Economically, politically


and socially, it is at this point almost irrelevant, in the immediate


sense, whether Northern Ireland is within the context of an Irish


Republic that is owned by the European Union and by IMF, or in a


British economy that very soon will be. The main problem facing people


in this particular part of this particular island is an absence of


democratic control. Over decisions that would allow us to reallocate


resources. That would allow us to generate resources for the social


and economic things that we need. What do you think, Stephen?


you'd have asked that question five years ago, people might have said


Ireland. If you ask it to date, people might say the UK. So we are


a selfish lot. Only interested in our immediate gratification. What I


think is the DUP and Sinn Fein have got exactly what they want. Sinn


Fein's motion at Belfast City Council got us talking about flags.


At Ulster, they got us talking about the union. This is the


politics of distraction. At a time when our economy is at its worst,


we are talking about these issues. This is all the will ever get when


you have parties defined by their constitutional position first and


foremost. I don't think these are the issues we need to be talking


about at this time. Educational under-achievement, the economy, the


challenges we face. That is where we need to get to. But is it more


beneficial for people in Northern Ireland to stay where they are now


rather than join the Republic? we are going to have that


conversation, let's talk about the future rather than the past. People


want to talk about the past, so let's talk and -- about the pros


and cons, the economy has been mentioned. The UK has a national


health system, is that a benefit? What about trading across islands?


It doesn't keep me awake at night. It's up to these people at home.


Does it keep you awake, be sure? Sometimes. The question really has


to be answered in the experience... Fall of six of the last 90 years...


What Mr Schweiz me, Unionists, when you want to discuss an alternative


approach, delegating the fiscal power, they start talking about the


price tag. About the size of the deficit, or about the scale of our


bankruptcy. I don't know how anyone can argue over that. Gerry Adams


has been talking about it most recently. It's not really is a


venture that pour from Westminster. It's a rather strange analysis.


What we have taken of the figures produced by the British Treasury


and the figures produced by the finance minister in Stormont. We


demonstrated that the assumptions that are made, which Gibbs raised


to these exaggerated claims. But the real issue at the end of the


day is not the size of the deficit, but the reason why there is a


deficit. His partition good for the note? It doesn't answer that


question. What we can talk about are the alternatives. We were


starting with a green field. If I could stay that in terms of this


small island of 6.2 million people. There are European cities that have


a bigger population. So we can get the balance right between the


different traditions. Would the first decision be, let's have two


economies on this island? I think the answer would be no. We are


managing the mistakes that were making history. But there are two


sides to the house and Arlene is on the other. The people of Ireland


would and decide to have two economies, 0 two Health Systems,


nor two educational systems. Here is where we are. We are in a


situation where we are in the UK, whether Mitchell likes it or not,


and Benavidez and. End of the talks about this, so let's talk about


something other than the economic figures, let's not talk about the


economic figures. But those are economic realities and people need


to understand those, if we're talking about the UK and how we


benefit from membership. Economic and, yes, it's the right decision.


Politically, for me, it's the right decision. Socially, culturally and


every other reason it is right to be in the UK. I firmly believe that


and that's why I'm a Unionist. short answer to the question is yes,


we are better off in every sense being in the UK. Amazing! We are


one of the 10 strongest economies in the world. Bernadette has been


very clear where the Republic's economy is. That is not in


anybody's best interest. I'm a Unionist, but before I was in


politics when I was working in the private sector, I work with Mr


George quickly, a great thinker, and a North-South economic corridor


between Belfast and Dublin. I will give you a quote from John Hewitt,


I am an Ulsterman but I am also and I am British and I am European. And


to deny any of those diminishes the. In terms of our economic, cultural


and social freedoms, we have to have relationships across all those


different sectors. However, to get to the point where we are talking


about the economy, education, health, housing, all those issues


we want to focus on, you have to first settle people in terms of


their culture and identity and make sure they are comfortable. When


republicans weren't happy with the way their cultural identity was


being treated in Northern Ireland, 3500 people had to dive and the


economy was brought to its knees. We mustn't go back there. Everybody


must feel comfortable with who they are and how well they are respected.


That's what the Ulster Unionist Party did 15 years ago with the


Belfast Agreement. Mutual respect, consensual and not majority rule


politics. I want to take a quick straw poll on it being more


beneficial for Northern Ireland to remain in the UK. What are your


views? I would agree with Mike. I do think it's better economically,


politically and socially to remain in the UK. Who thinks the same? I


would say quite a big majority of people here. You agree? Yes, a huge


majority. A comment to make their quickly? It's all about division.


Not about what we can do it together and shared. It's not about


Northern Ireland. We are Northern Ireland, we can all identify with


that. Not everyone identified with that. That is what the NI 2012


campaign was about last year. Hugely successful campaign, which


was to attract more people to come to Northern Ireland. It was also


about civic pride in Northern Ireland, and it was something


everybody could take part in. I was proud of that campaign. I think


it's something we can build on. Johnson is a nurse. Your question,


please. I just wonder what the panel think the impact will be of


the recent vote in the House of Commons in favour of gay marriage,


and what impact they feel that were having Northern Ireland? It was


carried by a majority of 225 in favour of allowing marriage with


members of the same sex in religious institutions which


consented to that. Of the Northern Ireland MPs, two voted for, nine


against and two abstained. All the DUP voted against. Arlene Foster,


why did you all do that and what impact would it have, or will it


have in Northern Ireland because it has been passed? It doesn't have


any impact in Northern Ireland in so far as the assembly has the


power to pass laws in relation to that matter for Robben Island, and


therefore we will continue with the definition of marriage as it


currently stands. We believe that marriage is about a man and a wife.


People say to me, what about equality and equity? Equity doesn't


mean equality in all things. Actually, there is equity because


civil partnerships are now in place for people who are homosexual, to


come together in partnership. How are they not equal? You can't have


a religious reading with a civil partnership ceremony, no religious


music, no religious symbols. says that? The Church says that, as


opposed to the law. In the law, you cannot have any civil partnership


ceremony any religious ceremony. Are you sure that is not from the


church as opposed to the law? As I understood it, his civil


partnership event, it was a matter between the parties as to what they


had done their partnership event, as opposed to in a church. But I


very firmly believe in marriage. I believe in the institution of


marriage and I believe it is between a man and a woman, and that


is the position I have. David Cameron says Love makes societies


stronger. This kind of marriage will promote commitment, which can


only surely be a benefit to the wider society. That is happening


already through civil partnership. That is why they are there, to


allow people who are homosexual to come together in a relationship.


That is not damaging the institution of marriage, as I


believe it would be damaged if If we do not have equality of


access in Northern Ireland, then having quite rightly discussed that


we are members of the United Kingdom and we are British, it is a


requirement of British law that all British citizens be treated equally


before the law. And so, if it is the case that once again, in this


particular part of the United Kingdom that people are going to


half less rights because of the particular religious persuasion are


the majority parties here, then we will be over a period of time


looking at a case, and quite properly, looking at a case going


before the European Court of Human Rights on that very issue. Gentle


man in the front row. It is important to note that the vote in


the House of Commons was for England only. The position of


Northern Ireland is not technically Defford -- different from Wales,


Scotland or Northern Ireland. the end of the day, the government


of the UK is the government that has the statutory obligation for


human rights protection to Europe. If we again have human rights


protections by postcode lottery and region, then they will quite


rightly, as they were on every other issue, be taken to the


European Court of Human Rights and found wanting and they will be


required and forced, just as the stake was taken out of the


teacher's hand by the European Court, just as every other piece of


prejudice was taken out of hand... The lady over there. It is wrong to


oppose gay marriage. You can be Christian and gay. It is wrong as


well, I do not see how the Protestant religion can remarry and


divorce as much as they want in a church setting but a gay person


cannot even get married in a church. It is just wrong. Gentle man in the


blue jumper? The Church's due on gay marriage is that it is wrong,


it says in the Bible it is wrong. Surely be a church should have a


choice whether they will have gay marriages because it's a -- it says


in the Bible. The day and a man in the back row? I do not think


religion has any place in politics. Mike Nesbitt. Marriage is not a


political construct, but is the difficulty. I can't do this as a


churchgoer and a struggling Christian, but I led a become --


congregation of the church I attend. I think they would feel that


permitting gay marriage would make the Church are colder place for the


majority of them. I look at this idea of equality and I think there


is a contrary argument for the one Bernardette put forward. If you


have a choice of civil partnership and marriage for the gay community


and you do not have the same available to the heterosexual


community, as would be the case, you do not have equality, you have


inequality. That could be challenged in the European courts.


It is a matter within my party, where people have a free vote and


take different stances... What is your stance? I am against. You


mentioned the vote in the Commons. Two of the Ulster Unionist Lords


voted in favour and that is perfectly fine, because it is a


matter for individual conscience, not politics. Does that mean, that


if they are bringing equal marriage, would you be forcible partnerships


-- fought civil partnerships in straight relationships? I would be


pro anything that represents equality. The bottom line for me


his commitment. A commitment between two people, whether they


are same-sex are not, I will support. I think it was a


regrettable decision by the Assembly. By Westminster? Not by me


Westminster. I agree with the decision-taking. If people can be


legally married in England and they come off the steps of an aeroplane


here and they are no longer married, that is ridiculous. My sense is


that we made the wrong decision and once again, religious opinion


dominated a political decision. That is a matter for regret.


APPLAUSE. Good to hear that the British got


something right! Not everything, just most things. I am pleased with


the decision Westminster have taken and I am pleased that Caroline


Lucas voted for it. I am pleased to have brought it forward in the


Assembly. It is an issue of equality. There is a lack of


religious freedom as we speak. Churches cannot perform a civil


partnership, even if they want to. An atheist heterosexual couple can


have a religious ceremony but a Christian gay couple cannot have


any religious paraphernalia at all at their civil partnership. This is


something we need to address. We need to ensure consistency. The


question was asked, what will be empowered be for Northern Ireland?


Scotland have said they will legislate for it and the English


and Wells seem to be doing it -- West seen to be doing it, as are


the Republic of Ireland. We could find ourselves in a legal quagmire.


Those uncivil partnerships in Northern Ireland cannot adopt


either. You could have a married gay couple with children coming


over to Northern Ireland from England, what is the status of


those children in Northern Ireland? I do not know it Billy. Answers but


those are questions we will have to face. Yes, sir? This legislation


would not force any church to carry out the ceremonies. If the Unionist


Party are still fighting strongly against it, does that not point out


their homophobic undertones? I want to go back to John. As a Christian


I do not agree with gay marriage. Although I totally agree with what


Arlene has said, that their rights are protected is of a partnership.


I think, 100%, people's rights should be protected. Marriage is a


biblical concept that should be preserved and a sure touch -- and


the Church should be allowed to say no. There was an accusation of


homophobia and I resent it. resented as well. There is an anti-


Christian feeling against people who take a stand on particular


issues. People say you have to take religion out of politics. If you


take religion out of politics you are taking the religion --


personalities art. I am an Anglican, I cannot believe that at the door.


You reject accusations of, for beer, that is fine and we have accepted


that. -- accusations of homophobia. Is it bad news for Northern Ireland.


9,000 children leave school each year without reaching required


levels in reading, writing and counting? The Audit Office brought


out a report today saying to out of five pupils failed to achieve the


basic standards of five GCC -- GCSE passes above grade C. Is this bad


news? It is bad news and it is not new news. If we go back to a report


a number of years ago, at that time it was clearly identified. We are


not talking about people in Northern Ireland now, who do not


have English as a first language. That was a report when we had very


little immigration. It said that one in every four at that was 25 --


in every four, 25% of the adult population of Northern Ireland,


were fun actually illiterate. That is 15 years ago. Every report since


has continued to indicate that a society that sense it's children


into formal education, almost earlier than anyone else in Europe,


that provides compulsory education, the drains the people still come


round, parents do what they think is the best for their children and


at the end of that compulsory education system, we are still


producing young adults and teenagers were that the basic


ability to be numerate, to be literate. -- without the basic


ability. Where does the fog like? That cannot be totally removed from


the way we view education. We have segregated education on the basis


of intellectual lines, for a long time on gender lines, fundamentally


on class lines. We are not educating children to read and


write and critically think, and the reflective. We are educating to


meet market demand. We are producing some of the highest


qualified school-leavers and we are part of the downside of that, the


concentration of our resources on meeting that high-level market is


directly related to the number of children that we are not


concentrating on, because we are continually reinforcing the go-


getter. This report points out that 90% of grammar school children get


that level, only 40% of secondary children. That is a serious


disparity. That tells you where the problem is. I am going to identify


the failure and point a finger at Sinn Fein. Every child in this


country has ability. I do not care if it is academic, vocational,


technical, sporting, artistic. The educational system should allow the


child to bring that forward. To do so they need basic levels of


literacy and numeracy. Over all the years Sinn Fein have held the


Ministry, it has been clear that the same groups of people are the


ones most likely to under-achieve. Yet Sinn Fein have done nothing...


Bernadette was pointing out a report from 15 years ago, before


the Assembly. It is important to recognise it is not all down to


teachers or schools. Academics who look at these issues say up to 70%


of the influence of a child's education is outside school. When I


was elected in 2011, I went to John O'Dowd and put forward proposals


about a scheme called but bodies, which operate in the United States.


You have one on one teetering between children whose literacy is


below the national standard and people in a fold. They found that


the young people, their levels of literacy went way above the state


average but also, the people in the fold, there are medication levels


dropped off because they found a new purpose in life. There are a


lot of schemes, which are cheap and gave a sense of purpose, which are


just there. It is new thinking on education. This report is very


interesting. It points out some successes as well. There was an


earlier inquiry. I remember the Public Accounts Committee, and we


reviewed education difficulties in the workforce. -- I am a member of


the Public Accounts Committee. We found that 30% of the workforce had


profound literacy and numeracy difficulties and 25% had moderate


difficulties. That is over half. This goes back many generations.


The problem has been there for a very long time. We are trying to


make it right. One of the main things we are attempting to do when


we looked at the disparity between crime whiskers and post-primary is,


we believe that the 11-plus his discrimination. -- between grammar


schools and post primary schools. The 11-plus stops young people


achieving their potential. We would like support from the other parties,


including b Younis parties, in bringing forward reform. -- the


Unionist parties. I was certainly told through school that our


education system was one of the best in the world. We have focused


on those at the top, and that is a good thing, but we have swept under


the carpet those children you referred to. Special educational


needs have almost been an afterthought. Tackling these issues


takes resources and if we continue to educate separately we will


continue to waste resources. If we educate together we can tackle


educational and social issues with that. We can put the money into the


early years, were all the evidence suggests. We can do the best work


before children enter school. We need to shift focus on to the early


years, when the child's brain is in development. All of the parties


know this, we get hold it all the time. We need to put the resources


I went to Belfast Royal Academy. It is a disgrace that someone would


want to take away their privilege we had died taking away the


I believe in academic selection, because it gives those children who


come from a working-class background to have the aspiration


to better themselves and to move further on. But shouldn't everyone


have those basic building blocks? Yes. A but they don't. The which is


why we shouldn't destroy a grammar system and think that is going to


solve all of the problems. It's not. If you change that 90 % to 40 %


ratio. It would. How is that going to help anybody? What we need to


have is a system set for everybody. Those people who struggle and also


at the grammar school level as well. It is mostly down to the individual


how well they do. I come from a working-class background, I went to


a state school, I failed the 11 plus, I've now got three A-levels.


I didn't have any money to pay Browett and I managed to come out


all right. The fact you will remove grammar schools and say we're down


to segregated schools, or it's down to how much money your family's


debt. It's not. It's down to self- motivation or, unfortunately in


Northern Ireland, other key issues involving education in family life.


I went to a state school and there was a lot of emphasis on grammar


and spelling and punctuation. My daughter, who just finished school


about five years ago, at her school there wasn't any emphasis on


grammar and spelling and punctuation. How is she, no matter


how well she does in her GCSEs, and she got her GCSEs and A-levels, but


how could she even fill in an application form if she doesn't


know the grammar? Is that part of the education now in state schools,


that there isn't the emphasis on that? Do you not think that's


important? The gentleman in the front and then we will have to move


on. For the past 10 years the focus hasn't been an early years or


improving. The sole focus has been on destroying the grammar school


sector. Sinn Fein for the past 10 years have had disregard for


improving the education system. Their focus has been on destroying


the grammar school sector. My own son, he's 14. At the moment his


reading level is aged 8.1. I said to the school, I got a school


report home which had the full curriculum on that I know of,


history, geography, French. My child can't read or write English


and yet he's been taught French. I approached the school. On the


curriculum, we have to spend so much time per week on all of these


objects. I want my son into macro years' time to be able to read and


write when he leaves school. Or what chance does he have in life?


The CBI is calling for a complete review of the primary curriculum.


We have to move on. Thank you very much. Clare MacGowan is a baker


from Belfast. What are MLAs doing to help local traders who are at


risk of losing their businesses due to the ongoing flag protests?


you know, before Christmas I said that I felt the flag protests on


the street needed to end and we needed to get into a process of


discussing the issues that many people have raised, very relevant


issues. A forum was set up to deal with those issues. I have been


around the country meeting people, listening to their concerns about


those issues. Street protest is a viable way to indicate your


annoyance about an individual decision. Illegal street protests?


No, street protests. What we have to look at now is, what is the


purpose of the continuing protest? I firmly believe there is a process


to listen to those concerns, and the process is through the Unionist


forum. I do also believe that the traders have suffered. It's one of


the reasons why I put money into back in Belfast through the


Northern Irish Tourist Board. It has provided a lot of help and


support to traders in Belfast. I hope that they will be able to see


the benefits of that in the coming weeks and months. Putting local


businesses first, from spearheading the Green Party, encouraging people


to shop in their local town centre, right up to our stance on


corporation tax. The enterprise trading and investment committee


heard from the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and he said it was under


the best interest of Belfast traders. We tried to put local


businesses first, grow the local economy and ensure that where our


priority is. What response should there be to the flag protest, which


has cost 15 to �25 million and upwards? First of, I do agree that


the legitimate right to processed. The protests have in many instances


boiled over to illegal activity. I think we need... We didn't need to


comes back to what I said earlier. If we continue to have the


polarisation of politics in Northern Ireland along sectarian


lines, we will continue to have these types of social protests.


What concrete help should MLAs be giving to these businesses? To be


fair, I will say that the present Belfast Chamber of Commerce did set


up the campaign, so credit where it's due. I'm not going to be in


opposition for the sake of doing so. But we have had a genuine


expression from the public of disengagement. We need to bring


them into the political process. We need to have a Sibbit conversation


about the number of issues, including the reform of the


assembly which ultimately is a reform of the people's agreement.


We need to bring people back into these discussions and stop having


them enclosed room discussions. think there are a number of issues


that you can go off on a tangent about. But I always find it


interesting how we are all told about rights not being absolute,


they are all balanced. So when we are talking about important rights,


like a right to equitable education, you have the balance that against


the privilege of the grammar so -- grammar school set who are here. If


we want to talk about rights of people do housing and welfare, we


have to balance that against people not abusing the system. But God


forbid that anyone should challenge an absolute right to wave flags up


and down the streets in Northern Ireland. People who go on about


their lawful business. That is an absolute right on everybody's part,


and everybody has to walk round tiptoeing around it. I think the


first thing you have to do his challenge that nonsense head-on.


But that's the job of the police, about what is legitimate and what's


not and what should be done about it. In terms of hard pressed, small


business people, I think there are two things that have to be done. We


heard a lot about corporation tax, which doesn't really help anybody.


But we used to have a lower rate of tax for small areas of profit. So


small, local retailers and small business people who are not making


a large amount of profit should actually be paying less tax in the


pound on the profit they make, so that they have resources to


reinvest in their business. A return to the 10p tax, a return to


the 15 p tax until you are making the kind of profit that allows you


to avoid tax, like Starbucks and others, that would be helpful to


small retailers. A lot of hands up. I think the protesters get a bad


rep for the protesting. They are protesting because they are


frustrated. They are getting led by a certain other members of the


public and not getting led by the politicians. That is what is


happening in Belfast at the moment. My question would be to Arlene. The


Warwick former barrister and solicitor. The information we are


getting is the protests are illegal if the road is blocked but not if


there is a dividing line between the two lanes. The reason why I'm


asking the question of clarification is because if it's


illegal to stand in the middle of the road, will the same law apply


in Ardoyne... That's not really what the question was about. It's


always illegal, no matter what you do. You stand over there, it's


illegal. We always seem to be in the wrong, no matter what. These


time-bombs are going to tip us up all the time. While the politicians


not moving in at an earlier stage and making sure they things aren't


happening. They are our leaders. Given the money that has been


invested try and come back from this, does Arlene find it strange


that some of her own party councillors are already using


photographs of themselves as publicity the two will come of them


addressing the protesters? He I do think it is important. On many


occasions police have come to party colleagues and said they felt their


presence there was important to make sure that no trouble has


happened. That is a responsible thing to do as a public


representative, to try and keep the peace. There has been money put in


to try and sort this situation, but if we want to go back to pointing


fingers - why was the decision taken in the first place? There was


a consensus... People are going back to the question. I've got to


take a few more questions very quickly. There wouldn't be any


protest that people would listen to what we want. Why don't they stop


complaining about how much money it's costing the economy and listen


to what we want? Which is want - but what? We want the flags back up.


I'd just like to say, there's a lot of short-termism here about the


flanks and the cost to the local economy. Is no one looking at the


long-term effect of these protests? Tourism is a huge boom to Northern


Ireland and it is totally going to die. Is the money being wasted now


on policing or not policing... think the fact around the flag


protests is wrong in itself. This is about that is content within the


communities. This is about the failure of Stormont in general to


provide what was promised in the Good Friday Agreement. The flags


issue was the straw that broke the camel's back. They're all the other


things that are going on within the tactics of Sinn Fein against... We


had promises made to us. What are you going to help the people who've


been suffering economic it? We've already discussed the back in


Belfast. We support that approach. That type of approach is


appropriate. The issue clearly is, can we come as a society, cope with


the process of change? Belfast has changed. We should reflect and


celebrate that. We should be able to manage and cope with that change.


I look at the protests and what are they, they are a tactic to


illustrate a grievance over the flag went all the other issues, the


lack of peace, political failure at Stormont. But all the focus is on


the tactics. We said from the first week of December, move on to


another tactic and we will help you. We've created a forum to bring that


to. We called for this Saturday, led the parade to commemorate the


two people who were murdered 25 years ago go ahead. In terms of


supporting the traders, for example, nothing is done for retailers.


There's one in my constituency he says... I want you to tell me what


you think should be done. Gillibrand says he sells clothing


to the United States. He gets no support because he's not


manufacturing, but he is exporting. Let Northern Ireland take a more


imaginative look at supporting local traders. They have programmes


to help. If the gentleman in question would like to come to me,


I would send him to invest Northern Ireland. He's already been. Has he


I feel like it's lots of talk and no action. I'd trade out of St


George's and this is an immediate problem. It only takes a few bad


weeks for these businesses to go down. More action and less talk


would be helpful. The questions started off on a retail issue. We


mentioned invest Northern Ireland. But what are we doing to help


Northern Ireland's small businesses in totality? What were you going to


say? On the flag situation, we wouldn't be in that situation at


the moment. We are where we are. There's too much talk and not


enough action. What we need is more talk, that is the action we need.


If we bring the protesters into a process of engagement, we could


potentially take them off the street. Edu think we do need to


engage in a Sibbit conversation. Not just about the flags, about the


institutions of the assembly, about we are many years on from then Good


Friday Agreement. We need to change everything with their agreement.


What is it you want specifically, what would help you most?


protests going on outside St George's, they need to be stopped.


Honestly, it's a week-to-week basis and we need to be getting people in


there and making people feel they can come to Belfast safely and get


home safely. It needs to be immediate. And that's more


important than any financial aid that someone might give you? We did


put in for rent reduction with the council. Three times a week, if you


are not making any money, you could lose your business very quickly. We


We have come along to represent the traders at St George's Market


because we have all been affected. What do you need? On a Saturday


Sunday, we have a vibrant market at St George's. We have got families,


communities, all cultures working and trading at St George's. Com


Political debate as a studio audience puts questions to a panel of public figures, on the week's big talking points. Noel Thompson presents.

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