04/03/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


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


Ford as another supergrass trial collapses.


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 1773 seconds


A are struggling homeowners here Welcome to the programme.


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


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


hoping the Executive will take the opportunity to include some


commitment to initiatives which will help to manage the situation


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


from two of our MLA is what keeps them smiling.


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


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


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


after four men walked free after that prosecution failed to present


any evidence. The judge rejected testimony saying it was infected


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


lack of conviction has been described as supergrass Mark two.


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


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


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


because when the prosecution evidence closed there was an


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Public Prosecution Service determine whether they think there


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the hundreds of interviews that were carried out with these


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


have much more constructive and positive atmosphere. At think the


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


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


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


relationship between the BPs and the Department of Justice.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


government a specific proposal for working to reduce tensions, to


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


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


working together to bring about the circumstances were barriers can be


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


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


Caitriona Ruane and, obviously you colleague was giving his operation


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


alternative? The minister spoke about the supergrass trial, saying


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


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


supergrass trials. It undermined the legal system. Using this


legislation has the potential to further undermine the legal system.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Are they not occasions when it can bring successful prosecutions?


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


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


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


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


compliance legislation. The legislation these trials were


carried out under his flawed legislation. What are your


constituents saying about the supergrass trials? I do not often


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


problem. Clearly there is difficulty, but when you have


circumstances were two people took part in criminal activity and are


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


Unlike what happened previously, there are real issues about


insuring that the director has referred back the lenient sentences


for consideration as to whether the Stuart brothers should have


received those lenient sentences. That is something which do not


happen previously. We will have to leave it there.


House prices and incomes are falling and repossessions are


rising. That is the reality for thousands of homeowners struggling


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


sleeping. Eventually the letters were coming in about repossessions.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


to the allocation of resources to the enforcement of judgment offers


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


highest level of repossession activity compared to anywhere in


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


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


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


hoping that the Executive will take the opportunity there to conclude


some commitment to initiatives that would help to manage the situation


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


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


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


small proportion of those facing repossession or would be extremely


expensive to operate. It seems unlikely the department will


replicate the scheme is currently Grim news for people who are


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


yesterday were some other banks and building societies are about to


increase their mortgage lending rates, if they start others will


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


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


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


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


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


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


dreadfully during these difficult economic times. This comes under


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


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


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


putting more pressure on? We are very clear that housing


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


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


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


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


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


funding. People are the disadvantaged taking on big banks.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the past. The member of the Covent was signed this year, 100 years ago.


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


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


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


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


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


honourable gentleman, their representatives in this House do


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


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


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


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


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


Northern Ireland. You mentioned being a human rights activists,


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


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


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


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


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