04/03/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


04/03/2012

Tara Mills looks at the political developments of the week and questions policy makers on the key issues.


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In Northern Ireland are we hear from the justice minister David

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Ford as another supergrass trial collapses.

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 1773 seconds

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A are struggling homeowners here Welcome to the programme.

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Are we ready for the benefit changes coming down the line from

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London? Is it fair to treat the whole of the UK the same way?

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hoping the Executive will take the opportunity to include some

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commitment to initiatives which will help to manage the situation

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for people here. Happiest in the UK, apparently. We will be finding out

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from two of our MLA is what keeps them smiling.

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We start today with justice, and the Department lives to fight

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another day after the Assembly back to its survival beyond May's sunset

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clause. Friday saw the collapse of yet another loyalist court case

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after four men walked free after that prosecution failed to present

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any evidence. The judge rejected testimony saying it was infected

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with lies. David Ford is worth a. Let's start with that child. The

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lack of conviction has been described as supergrass Mark two.

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Since the law was changed in 2005 there have to be reasons why

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assisting offenders get reductions in sentences. It is clear, open and

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transparent. The judge in this case said there was a case to answer

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because when the prosecution evidence closed there was an

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application by the defence to have the case thrown out. And he

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proceeded at that stage, so clearly there were issues to be determined.

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The conviction was not on the base of the supergrass evidence. No. But

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the issue is not about whether we're talking simply about

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supergrasses, it is if we have an open and transparent way that shows

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how it defendants are being treated. But the outcome is the same. It did

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not work in the 1980s because a discredited the justice system, and

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surely it is in danger of doing it this time. The judge except at the

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operation of the law as it currently is. He made no

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recommendations for changes in the law. What he said was the evidence

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did not stand up to prove that it be for all reasonable doubt. The

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Public Prosecution Service determine whether they think there

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is a case to answer, up one which is worth putting before a judge and

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the judge determines. That is the way the system works. There are

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other cases in the pipeline using this accomplice evidence. Is there

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anything you can do us justice minister to sure we're not back in

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his position in two or three years' time? It is not my job to second

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guess the job of the police, or to second-guess what a judge

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determines. It would be my job to go to the Assembly if there were

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regions to -- reasons to change that law. If more cases fail, do

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you think there would be more reason to change the law? They cost

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an enormous amount of money. have seen a conviction using this

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evidence. The case of Brown were eight conviction was upheld on

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appeal. The judge in that occasion said the law worked. We have had

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similar cases under the same lob. These have carried through across

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the water as well. It is not that the law was wrong, it is that the

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evidence did not persuade a judge beyond all reasonable doubt. Given

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the hundreds of interviews that were carried out with these

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brothers, are there not people you could look in and say, that was

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never going to persuade a judge? You are now asking me to be the

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Director of Public Prosecutions, that is not my job. But it is your

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job to make sure we all have faith in the justice system, is it not?

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Then you should listen to what the judge said. The legislation works.

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The evidence did not add up. What about what the director of

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prosecutions has been saying this week. 50% of cases they get from

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the police have to go back. Some of them in very serious cases. Is

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there nothing you can do about that to try and speed up the system and

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make the process better, the police files more robust? As I understand,

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he did not say 50% of all cases, where he said 50% of serious cases.

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That is why I am making the issue of speeding up just as one of my

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priorities. That is why I went to the Criminal Justice Board and my

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second week in of us whether senior officers of all the agencies come

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together, that is why I have set up a group which we have had judicial

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involvement with to see how we address this issue of the delay.

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One of the key issues is getting better working between the police

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and the PPS. We have greater engagement between them, and we

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have much more constructive and positive atmosphere. At think the

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new director and then the assistant chief constable are helping it in

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that respect. There is a lot still to do, but I believe we are

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starting to see improvements. is a review going on about the

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relationship between the BPs and the Department of Justice.

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Obviously we have to wait to find out, but do you need more powers as

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the minister of justice? One of the things not in the review his powers

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for the minister. It looks at things out the role of the

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Attorney-General. I do not think there is any question that the

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Ministry of Justice would have any direct role in the decisions of the

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DPP. The issues are with the work we're doing and with the Criminal

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Justice Board to speed things up, to enhance co-operation and find

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better ways of working. That has a knock-on effect right the way

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through the system. Almost a third of those in prison are there on

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demand because it has taken so long to get them to trial. That means it

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is more difficult to work with them. I want to ask you about divided

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societies. Since you have been justice minister we have had a

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Peace Wall come down. What else is coming up in the future? There's a

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lot of work going on in different areas. You may have seen a couple

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of weeks ago that its significant amount of money has been given to

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reduce tensions in communities. We have now got into the programme for

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government a specific proposal for working to reduce tensions, to

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remove these barriers. That is a sign of partnership between local

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communities, my department, and number of agencies we are all

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working together to bring about the circumstances were barriers can be

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opened. We have seen a lot of progress in the last few months.

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There are other programmes on the way. Let's bring on our guests,

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Caitriona Ruane and, obviously you colleague was giving his operation

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-- opposition to the supergrass trials. What is Sinn Fein's

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alternative? The minister spoke about the supergrass trial, saying

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they stood up in court. I would question the legislation that

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underpins these trials. We saw in the past what happened when we had

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supergrass trials. It undermined the legal system. Using this

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legislation has the potential to further undermine the legal system.

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The alternatives are a good policing, good court work, and

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making sure that the hard graft is done in building up evidence. Not

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being expedient, not taking short cuts. The other point here is that

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the minister mentioned Mark Haddock. The victims of the UVF did not get

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just as this week. The justice they will get is when we get absolute

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truth. One of the big factors in all this is the role of agents of

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the state and the role it played. When you get into the realms of the

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murky world of criminals, it is difficult to get evidence from

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people. Surely it worked in the case in Dublin with that of a case

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of the murdered journalist. It has been used in other jurisdictions.

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Are they not occasions when it can bring successful prosecutions?

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not believe we should be taking short cuts in relation to the

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gathering of evidence. I have been a human rights activist all my life.

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If you look at where we have good justice systems, it is where you

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abide by the rule of law. Where you have good standards of human rights

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compliance legislation. The legislation these trials were

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carried out under his flawed legislation. What are your

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constituents saying about the supergrass trials? I do not often

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find myself in a position where I agree with Katrina Rwanda, but I

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agree with her on this case. -- Katrina row man. I believe that

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that supergrass trials are easily discredited. I believe there has to

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be a better way of bringing in these people to justice. Minister,

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a final word from you. It does appear that people are unhappy

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across this across the political divide. Just to remind David, we

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did have a successful case a couple of years ago. The two dreadful

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murders were brown was convicted on the evidence of an accomplice who

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got a reduced sentence for his part. He was a credible witness who stood

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up in court. But it does not happen often enough, and that is the

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problem. Clearly there is difficulty, but when you have

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circumstances were two people took part in criminal activity and are

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prepared to give evidence, we have to treat that very seriously.

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Unlike what happened previously, there are real issues about

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insuring that the director has referred back the lenient sentences

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for consideration as to whether the Stuart brothers should have

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received those lenient sentences. That is something which do not

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happen previously. We will have to leave it there.

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House prices and incomes are falling and repossessions are

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rising. That is the reality for thousands of homeowners struggling

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to pay their mortgage. What are local politicians doing to help

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those who face using their homes. - Property auctions are for the quick

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and of the brave. For those who hold their nerve, there are Burke -

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- bargains to be had. At this auction most of the properties were

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repossessions. Houses are being sold a 20,000, 25,000. We're

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attempting to hold four auctions this year. We advertise this three

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weeks ago, and the response we have got has been tremendous. Many of

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the homes were snapped up by cash rich investors. I do not think the

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banks want to lend anyone money, let alone the young people. Young

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people are less likely to hold down a job. What did you think of the

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prices? Brilliant. I could not get over it. Houses were going for

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nothing. Houses you could very easily turn into a dream home.

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person's dream is another's nightmare. The programme has spoken

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to David who missed his mortgage payments when he was injured and

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unable to work. Everything went pear-shaped. Instead of getting in

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touch with that mortgage company, I buried my head in the ground

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thinking the problems would go wave. I was getting depressed and not

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sleeping. Eventually the letters were coming in about repossessions.

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You are up in court and then it is repossession. Dividend up in the

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High Court, but thanks to the help of charities he was able to keep

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his home and reduce his mortgage repayments. Between April and 20th

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September 10 Mortgage lenders made a lot of money. The number of cases

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that went as far as repossession surged to nearly 1000. An increase

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of nearly 50%. It used to take a year from one an

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order was granted to when a householder could be evicted. Signs

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to the allocation of resources to the enforcement of judgment offers

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that time has come down to six months. Northern Ireland has the

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highest level of repossession activity compared to anywhere in

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the UK. What we really need to see is some collective action on behalf

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of our Executive here locally. That is what we have been asking for.

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Also the programme for government is due very shore leave. We are

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hoping that the Executive will take the opportunity there to conclude

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some commitment to initiatives that would help to manage the situation

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for people here and mitigate the impact. The minister has previously

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expressed support for the idea of a mortgage rescue scheme here, but to

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DST told us in a statement they believe there would only help a

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small proportion of those facing repossession or would be extremely

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expensive to operate. It seems unlikely the department will

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replicate the scheme is currently Grim news for people who are

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struggling to pay these mortgages. It is indeed. Than the news

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yesterday were some other banks and building societies are about to

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increase their mortgage lending rates, if they start others will

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follow. This will exacerbate the problem. There are so many people

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out there and the figures that had just been given indicate that they

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have risen in 2011 by 50%. Katrina Rwanda, your party is one of the

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strongest in the Executive. This issue of parity keeps coming out.

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Here is a classic example of where we are losing out. What we need to

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do is everything we can do to support people who are suffering

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dreadfully during these difficult economic times. This comes under

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two ministers in the Executive. Margaret Ritchie told us she was

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going to bring a mortgage relief scheme and we are still awaiting

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that. It looks like it will not happen. Should Sinn Fein not be

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putting more pressure on? We are very clear that housing

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associations should be given the power to buy some of the houses

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that are being repossessed and then ran them back to people. David Ford

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was just here, his department also has a responsibility. They do give

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advice to people going to court. But in England there is funding for

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legal-aid, here in the north of Ireland there is not that same

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funding. People are the disadvantaged taking on big banks.

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We have to look at the role of banks in our economic situation.

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They are putting some of the most vulnerable in court without legal

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advice. I do want to pay tribute to the housing rights associations,

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they are doing good work but not getting the support they deserve.

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It has finally been confirmed, despite the recession, we are the

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happiest area in the UK. Or are we? The week began with the First

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Minister explaining one idea at on how to deal with the past. There

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should be a storytelling archive, we have talked about that even at

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the new centre we are building. MLA even had trouble remembering

:49:15.:49:25.
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the past. The member of the Covent was signed this year, 100 years ago.

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Pensioners are told their free bus passes might have to go.

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Terry George arrived in style in Holywood, picking up an Oscar. Back

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home we were told we were the happiest in the UK, but David

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Cameron needed some convincing. am delighted to hear the people of

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Northern Ireland are the happiest in the UK, I have to say to the

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honourable gentleman, their representatives in this House do

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not always give that impression. David McClarty, are we really happy

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or rather rest of the UK even more miserable than us? We are a happy

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people, but some of us do not tell our faces that we are. The people

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here have a wonderful sense of humour, and even in hard times we

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see the humour in it. That is the great thing about being from

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Northern Ireland. You mentioned being a human rights activists,

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that obviously means a lot of problems you're looking at. What

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keeps you smiling? We live in a beautiful island, it is green.

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We're coming up to St Patrick's Day and everyone is celebrating. After

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I leave here I'm going to plant my potatoes. And my little grandchild

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