02/06/2013 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


Andrew Neil and Mark Carruthers with the latest political news, interviews and debate, including the latest on the lobbying scandal with Francis Maude and Jim Murphy.

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Ulster Unionist whip is withdrawn from Lord Laird after he's caught up


in a lobbying sting - we hear from Mike Nesbitt. And Alasdair McDonnell


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2446 seconds


defends his leadership of the SDLP. Northern Ireland. The Ulster


Unionist peer Lord layered fans and self caught up in a row over


political lobbying after agreeing to carry out Parliamentary work for pay


them -- back payment. We will have reaction from the Ulster Unionist


leader. Is it a case of back to the future for the STL P when its former


deputy leaders Seamus Mallon and Brid Rogers appeared to


emphasise... The man with his hand on the tiller, Alasdair McDonnell is


with me in the studio. With me to comment on it is Alex Kane and the


former Victims' Commissioner Patricia McBride. The Ulster


Unionist peer Lord layered and Lord Cunningham and Lord Mackenzie have


been accused of carrying out Parliamentary work for payment. All


three have denied breaking any rules. Let us listen to a bit of


what he said. Our political editor joins me now. This is a breaking


story. It is happening as we are an air. Mike Nesbitt has issued a


statement saying that Lord Laird has ruling wished the party whip.


initial response of the Ulster Unionists to this episode was that


Lord Laird was correct in referring himself to the Westminster


authorities. He became the target of an investigation by two teams of


undercover reporters. The Sunday Times posed as representatives of a


South Korean energy company and the video you saw was from a separate


investigation by the Daily Telegraph and it was on the Panorama


programme. They posed as lobbyists on behalf of the G. The rule is that


members of the House of Lords may undertake work but not work for the


parliamentary duties. Lord Laird has denied any wrongdoing. Initially he


was backed by the party, but having reviewed the video footage, Mike


Nesbitt decided that more action was required. On Friday, he made me


aware of the situation. He was at pains to say he was very confident


he had done nothing wrong but in the in stretch -- in the interest of


transparency he referred himself to authorities at Westminster. Waking


up this morning, looking up the papers and reviewing the video


footage, I decided that we needed to go a bit further, so I contacted him


and the web and is being relinquished pending the outcome of


the Westminster review. We will take it from there. Has he resigned or


was it taken away? It has been taken away, it has been suspended. We are


making a gesture to say that this is a particularly serious series of


allegations. We want Westminster to do what they have to do. The Ulster


Unionist Party expect high standards of all our elected representatives


and that includes looking at rules and not saying how can I work around


that, that involves looking at a rule and saying how do I give


meaning to both this period and the letter of that rule. You are


concerned that he has not stuck to the spirit of the rules? There is


some evidence. On the face of it, it does not look good and I expect our


representatives to honour the spirit as well as the letter of rules and


laws. David Cameron made a speech in which he predicted that lobbying


could be a big scandal, is this something which applies not only to


Westminster but also to Stormont? This would be an appropriate time to


look at it. As you walk around Stormont, it is always full of


people and some of them are there, obviously lobbying, and perhaps we


need to look at some clarity about the status and the relationships and


to make sure that nothing is happening, either by omission or


ownership that is not the way it should be. That was Mike Nesbitt


speaking to you earlier. What do we know about these two separate sting


operations that appear to involve Lord Laird? The Daily Telegraph,


which has been working with Panorama reported that Lord Laird had told of


their undercover reporters that he was interested in taking a payment


of �2000 per month to represent a company that is backing the


interests of the G. No money was paid over. In relation to the other


investigation, he is quoted in that newspaper saying that whilst he


would not ask questions, what happens in the House of Lords is


that appears at their friends and colleagues to as questions. That is


the thrust of the other report. Lord Laird is saying he is confident he


has broken no rules and he has passed this on to the Parliamentary


authorities. The question will be whether you can keep to the letter


of the rules and not necessarily to the spirit of them. What are the


implications for the Ulster Unionist Party? It is an embarrassment. That


is why Mike Nesbitt has moved quickly. It is not the first time


that Lord Laird has been involved in controversy. Back in March,


questions were asked about his role as paid adviser to Christopher


Knight who was interested in buying the Belfast Giants. That got


embroiled in scandal when it emerged he was on the sex offenders register


in Florida. Lord Laird referred to the charges against him as a minor


misdemeanour but then apologised for that comment. Thank you. Alex Kane


joins me now, he is a former director of communications for the


Ulster Unionist Party and former Victims' Commissioner Patricia


McBride. How damaging is this situation? It is embarrassing. It is


embarrassing for Mike Nesbitt because it had nothing to do with


him. It is to do with a peer who is linked to the party. If you listen


to him this morning, he used the term when he watched the tape that


it was an edifying viewing. If you look at how he dealt with Ken


Maginnis and David McNarry, he moved quickly, he wants to close this


down. It is nothing to do with him or the party. What do you think?


think he should have done his due diligence. He was criticised. He did


not think it was his role to undertake due diligence in concern


with the Belfast chance. He should have learned from that lesson.


Tomorrow the Special Advisers' Bill reaches the final stages in the


Assembly. At one point it looked like it would fall after the ST LP


threaten to lodge an petition of concern. It changed its mind.


Alasdair McDonnell says the party will probably abstain when it comes


to the vote. As a result, the bill is expected to pass. Whatever the


outcome, has the controversy damage the party? The murder of Mary


Travers shocked community used to killing. For decades, her wore her


brief in silence until Sinn Fein appointed Mary McArdle, the only


person convicted in connection with the killing, as a Special Adviser to


the Culture Minister Carol McCallan. At the time of the murder, Alistair


McDonnell was the family doctor and he understood the herd them


appointment will cause. Initially the party appeared sympathetic. It


changed its mind when they would not accept amendments. We have made


every attempt that we possibly could to shape this into good law and it


has not been successful. I think at this stage we are considering


supporting a petition of concern. Will you do it? I think we will.Ann


Travers met with party leaders who were less banking to talk about it.


Can I ask you how the meeting went? Show some respect! Finally the party


appeared to have a change of heart and agreed not to block the bill and


denied it was ever an option. Crime who was going to veto the bill?


There were no hints coming from the party. Dominic Bradley raised the


issue that because Jim Allister was being so awkward and unhelpful, we


were having great difficulty. more than a week, the party wrestled


publicly with the issue of what to do about the Special Advisers' Bill


before coming to a conclusion loaded with potential pitfalls. In a way


they were dammed if they did and downed if they did not. The


impression is left of the party that is not sure where they are going.


There have been pressure from the party of old guard. The macro and


younger all coming from Mass was shot dead. To put those people who


have that type of record into the top of the administration in


Stormont is to actually negate any of the basic philosophies of the


Good Friday Agreement in terms of reconciliation. It is giving two


fingers to the Unionist community. When Seamus Mallon and Brid Rogers


weighed in, it made things impossible for Alasdair McDonnell


who had looked as though he was beginning to get to his feet steady


on the ground and get a grip of things. The role of the leader is to


make a decision and to lay down policy and get on with it and seemed


to be a few days when the party was struggling. Alex Attwood struggled


publicly when he was asked questions. People clearly felt


strongly. Some people in Sinn Fein were suggesting that some


individuals may support the petition of concern. Alasdair McDonnell is


with me now. How difficult has it been to have the issue of your


leadership raised and the direction of the party raised in the way it


has been? It has not been difficult. It is a difficult issue. We are


dealing with it in a democratic fashion. We discuss things. Other


parties operate difficult -- differently. We discuss things


openly and honestly. This was a difficult issue, in some ways it was


the lesser of two evils, there is a serious victims issue out there that


has been neglected for many years and victims are brushed under the


carpet, brushed out of the way by the present Executive at Stormont in


many ways and the victims issue has to be one of our priorities. We


cannot create the processes we want to see until we deal honestly with


the past. It is embarrassing that the two former deputy leaders of


your party appeared to weigh in and effectively criticise the tact you


appeared to be taking? I am not embarrassed at all. I respect their


point of view. They are members of the party in good standing and they


are welcome to express their point of view. That is the culture of the


party. We are not a top-down party, we are a bottom-up party. We listen


to them. We listen to victims. that demonstrate that you got it


wrong in the first place? No, I am sorry, things involved in politics.


We are between a rock and a hard place in terms of this bill. The


bill is flawed, we want to see a better bill, we worked very hard to


repair that Bill. Jim Allister would not tolerate the repairs and neither


would the DUP and Sinn Fein voted against our amendments. In


frustration, one of our members did raise the question of the


possibility of a petition of concern. He raised it in a


conversation with me. We deal with facts. The facts were that that was


a possibility. He said that he thought he probably would. He was


quite entitled to say that because he was deeply frustrated and angry


about the way he had been treated. Our membership has victims as a top


priority. We will continue to do that going forward. Sorry. I have


worked for 30 years as a GP. Ann Travers was a patient of mine, an


employee of mine. Ann Travers asked us for a meeting. We matter.


thought you were getting it wrong. will not criticise Ann Travers.


Quite simply, I have been dealing with victims, I have a lot of


people, patience of mine walking around with bullet holes in them. I


do not need any lessons from anyone in terms of victims. Why are you


going to probably abstain tomorrow? Is the bill is flawed. We will not


vote for it. It is the lesser of two evils because it is the issue of


victims, the majority of victims we have spoken to feel that this bill,


bad as it is, let it go and let the courts deal with it. The vast


majority of victims, I would have thought would have been much happier


for you to support it. Ann Travers has a point of view. There are a


whole range of points of view. I am on good terms with Michael


Gallagher. Paul Kavanagh says he was a victim. He was convicted of


killing in the IRA and he says it is unfair. There is a hierarchy of


people. There are a handful of people who are an elite within Sinn


Fein. There are interests unfortunately do not take precedence


over the interests of thousands of victims. It means that Paul


Kavanagh's victimhood and needs are down the pecking order compared with


the innocent victims that are out there. Why not support the


legislation because by abstaining it looks like you're balancing Ann


Travers concerns whether Paul Kavanagh's concerns. I am sorry if


you want to look at it that way. We are looking at this, it is a flawed


bill, we have made the point it is flawed, we would have supported the


bill had our amendments to make the bill a decent bill been accepted.


They were not accepted and we are withdrawing. Quite simply, that is


the honourable position. Three members of your party are concerned


about this. They are coming under an enormous amount of pressure. There


is a lot of speculation that somebody might break ranks. It only


takes one of your MLAs to break ranks and a petition of concern


could be raised. There is a lot of spinning going on. Are you sure that


will not happen? I am quite sure it will not happen. I am absolutely


sure. Do you wanted in writing? The party had never been more united and


never more functional and never more clear-cut as to whether priorities


lie. You are clear that all of your party members will abstain? That is


a different question. You asked me was a sure that nobody would sign a


petition of concern. Are you sure that all the members will abstain?


Yes. Let us hear from Alex Kane and Patricia McBride. You wrote a


critical piece about their handling of the situation. You said that the


party had been embarrassed and shamed into changing its position.


Do you retract any of that? I do not. He talks about the use of


probably in relation to what Dominic Bradley said. It was the use of that


and the fact it was not stamped out immediately by you as leader which


caused Brid Rogers and Seamus Mallon to enter the debate. What made that


newsworthy is the fact they normally do not. That is the first time for a


long time I have heard either of them coming to a public debate and


say something, whether you like it or not, it sounded critical. The


fact that you have ended up saying we are going to abstain. That also


seems weak, because you're either for a bill or against a bill. It is


a personal criticism in one sense, but it is a criticism I have made of


the UUP and the DUP. I do not know where you stand on this. Do you want


to answer that? He is objecting to the democracy that works within my


party. We have tried to fix this bill and they will not allow us.


DUP, UUP, TUC work to obstruct any amendments. We are united in this.


We are quite able to stand united tomorrow or any other day. You are


former Victims' Commissioner, where do the victims fit in? We need to be


aware that Alasdair McDonnell has said that he believes that should be


a hierarchy of victims. That is concerning. It undermines everything


that his party has stood for up until this point. A lot of people


would agree with that. It is an about-face in party policy. The


second issue regarding this is that the public opinion believes that the


intervention of Seamus Mallon and Brid Rogers has had an impact on


this. I am asking, where are the victims who have been consulted? My


colleagues and I established the forum for victims and survivors,


that is the proper mechanism. Has the party been to that for? Who have


a spoken to, I am not aware from my discussions of people over the last


week. Let us look at the political weight in 60 seconds. -- wake. Would


they are wooden day, the STL P finally decided not to block the


special advisers Bell? We will not be supporting a petition of concern.


Sinn Fein called a bad law. This bill is for anyone who has been hurt


in the past. After two years in prison, Marian Price was released.


We do not feel anyone should lose their liberty on the basis of that,


it is not open to challenge. Siam illustrate whether the party will


make the decision to fish or cut bait. Only implement the Good Friday


Agreement will they allow it to be undermined by bad law. A final


Andrew Neil and Mark Carruthers with the latest political news, interviews and debate, including the latest on the lobbying scandal with Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy. Plus Nadine Dorries MP on MPs' expenses.

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