14/04/2013 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


14/04/2013

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Coming up on Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland - Alex Maskey on

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issues raised at Sinn Fein's weekend ard fheis in Castlebar. And

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is it time for the Civic Forum to make a comeback? Join me in half an

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2180 seconds

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Hello and welcome to Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland. It

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was into the west for Sinn Fein this weekend as the party held its

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annual Ard Fheis in County Mayo. Staged at the Royal Theatre in

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Castlebar, some 2000 delegates last night heard the party president,

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Gerry Adams, mark his thirtieth year in charge with a promise to

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continue to build alliances with unionists and loyalists. We'll be

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picking up on that theme along with some of the others raised in the

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course of the conference with Alex Maskey who is with me in the studio.

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And remember this? The Civic Forum - costly talking shop or vital link

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with the society? Whatever you think, is now the right time to

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bring it back? Joining me to discuss that and more

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are Liam Clarke, the Political Editor of the Belfast Telegraph,

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and the journalist and commentator Fionnuala O Connor.

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The weather didn't quite manage to top the soaring temperatures in

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Killarney for last year's Ard Fheis - but the agenda for this year's

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conference touched on a number of familiar themes including

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continuing dialogue with loyalists and unionists. Here's our

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correspondent, Shane Harrison. Castlebar in the heart of County

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Mayo. The political base where this party holds four of the five seats.

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A Sinn Fein is to continue growing, it will have to do so in places

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like this in the West. That is why this year ard fehis attracted the

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party faithful and some new. would like to take this opportunity

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to welcome a representative of all three British... The shadow British

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Secretary of State, a member of the Labour Party. I am very pleased to

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have been asked. It was a significant moment for me. I

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understand it to be the first British shake-up -- Shadow

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Secretary of state to be invited to the conference. Anti-abortion

:40:06.:40:16.
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campaigners picketed the conference. They say they are not pro-life. It

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allows for abortion. But the party believes the option to terminate

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should be available in cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse or

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where a woman's life is in danger. As for free will as far elected

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representatives, they said, no way. Sinn Fein is a party that is not

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afraid to take on challenges. It is not a collection of independence.

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We consistently criticise our opponents. Although beaten in the

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vote by the leadership, some suggested abortion was the main

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issue the party has faced since it started on the peace process.

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can sit here all weekend, but it is a sad state of affairs that the

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Tory party and Cameron will allow a free vote on the marriage. They in

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his leadership speech, Gerry Adams said it was essential an imperative

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that Republicans try to build alliances with working-class

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loyalists and Unionists about social and economic issues. He said

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Republicans should not shirk away from their obligations to those who

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died as a result because -- he says cause the conflict. I am prepared

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to meet the victim's families in the state debt they think this will

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be helpful. Before leaving County Mayo, delegates voted to call on

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Alex Attwood to find a more up suitable name for the Royal

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shopping Exchange development in north Belfast. The vote took place

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in Castlebar's Royal Theatre. Joining me now is Sinn Fein's Alex

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Maskey. Gerry Adams talked in his speech last night about the

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importance of continuing dialogue with unionists and loyalists.

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They're not going to go away, he said & Sinn Fein doesn't want them

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to. But Martin McGuinness talked about unionists being inward-

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looking and intransigent. So which is it? You got the impression that

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abortion was a divisive issue. There was a farm mood of optimism

:42:47.:42:57.
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about the future. The North was being held up as a shining example.

:42:58.:43:03.

The several speakers boasted of we have stopped water charges in the

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north. Northern Ministers talked about the achievements there, it is

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being held up as an example of what Sinn Fein can do, which was a bit

:43:14.:43:18.

of a change of what we think of Stormont. What about the mixed

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message in that people pointed out? Gerry Adams talking about

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continuing dialogue with Unionists and loyalists. Martin McGuinness

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told to bet -- talked about stepping up to the plate. I do not

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think anybody would see that as a message at all. The supporters was

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that this is what the party should be doing. Gerry and Martin have to

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keep reaching out and say we want a further reconciliation. But

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Unionists are not doing their bit and Unionists are putting us back.

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They are always saying there is no reason to reconcile. I do not think

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that sense a mixed message at all. There is a two audience there.

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There is the wider audience who are also paying attention to what is

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happening. They might see that as a mixed message. Her they might see

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that as that. Sinn Fein is working very hard to reach out. There is a

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limited sector of them that will talk to them. I don't think they

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are at all worried about saying this. It is the other way round, if

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there is a mixed message to the, Martin McGuinness wants to say

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Peter Robinson has not been sharing. There are unionists, we have heard

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them saying it, do not stock about reaching out. Sinn Fein would say

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the Unionists are the ones who are refusing to move forward. You did

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sense frustration from Martin McGuinness. The message was that he

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believes Unionists lacked confidence. They are not coming for

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words. I do not get a sense it was any threat of pulling out of

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Government. He just said, we need to do business more quickly and

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more efficiently. What about some of the other issues that were in

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the background? Like for example, Economics north and south, welfare

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and changes that are happening in Northern Ireland. And of course the

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abortion debate. We saw that in the report there. These are big things

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for Sinn Fein. I do not think they are giving them that much trouble.

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There was a debate, there is division regarding abortion. It is

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not something that will tear them apart. I think there is an attitude

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of we must be compassionate. It fits very well with the general

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feeling in the south. I think Sinn Fein have this luxury of being in

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opposition, they can move back and forward on various issues. There is

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very little opposition in the south, I think, for bashing them for what

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they say. They can do that will the cows come home and not be

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criticised by the people they want to reach. High what about those

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issues, Economics? On economics, the main focus was on the economy

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of the South. They held up the north as an example of what Sinn

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Fein can do in Government to stabilise the economy. They send

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out a signal that they would do some reform on the Bedroom Tax.

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Abortion I think is a serious issue because it is the sort of issue

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that people will vote on. You might not agree with them on education,

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but you could agree with them on abortion. We are joined now by Alex

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Maskey. There you were down in the conference, you picked up on some

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of the issues dealt with there. Gerry Adams talked about the

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continuing need for discussion. We heard Martin McGuinness talking

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about Unionists being inward- looking and intransigent. Which is

:48:48.:48:58.
:48:58.:49:04.

it? It is both, actually. There are a lot of people within Unionism

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across society who know that there has to be dialogue and want to have

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dialogue. NI recent attempts over last year to have dialogue around

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reconciliation, we do not believe... Sinn Fein talks the top, but

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doesn't walk the walk. You say you want to work with Unionists, you

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want engagement. Then you adopt what they regard a belligerent

:49:41.:49:51.
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attitude. We think our position on the flanks is consistent. -- flaks.

:49:57.:50:07.
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-- flags. That is the purpose of having a dialogue. The T U P was

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meant to argue it around the Good Friday Agreement. -- DUP. It

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compels the parties in both governments to deal with the issue

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of flax. -- flags. Equality is at the cornerstone of the Good Friday

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Agreement. That was a tricky issue for you or party to navigate over

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the weekend, given it is such up divisive issue both north and south.

:50:54.:50:59.

You are not a pro-abortion party, but nobody said you are pro-choice.

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I think the debate on that question on the weekend was appropriate. I

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think the recent arguments, and scandalous debate in the north

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around the Assembly debate, it was to exploit the issue. The party

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rejected that motion. The party has a very settled view. There are

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people in it who are very pro-life and there. They have spoken

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publicly. There are people in our party who have views on abortion in

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the same way that people in every other walk of life in Ireland. When

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I hear people talking, it is an issue of conscience for every

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person. People have a pinions and every party, but the clear debate

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at the weekend shows that we have a settled view on it. Her let's talk

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about the welfare issues that we have discussed on his programme

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before. Her you are in Government in Northern Ireland, you are

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commenting on austerity measures. We will argue, we are a Government

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in the north that doesn't have tax raising powers which we want to

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have transferred here. We are operating a Government were we have

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had �4 billion taken away from our Government. We have the ministerial

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influence and that cuts across the programme for Government. On only

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on one issue, that is the Spare Room Subsidy, has your party

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threatened to use, promised to use, a petition of concern. We might do

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that. I have had a number of bilateral with a number of people

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from other parties, we made it clear that there are issues of

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welfare reform that we are not going to support and we are not

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going to except. Give me an example of another issue of where you might

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use the Petition of concern? There are issues around disability

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entitlements which the British Government want to take away 20%.

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That is a real conversation you are having within the party? Absolutely.

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This kind of austerity has been imposed on us by London. This

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battle is not over yet. We will leave it there. Thank you very much

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for joining us. Tributes to Baroness Thatcher,

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tough talking from the Secretary of State and the troubled A5 dual

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carriageway project. It's all in the week in 60 seconds, with Gareth

:54:36.:54:46.
:54:46.:54:47.

Gordon. Baroness Thatcher's debt -- death

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is marked by the divisions in her life. I am in the despatch box

:54:53.:55:03.
:55:03.:55:04.

making positive remarks. Others held street parties to the

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:55:14.:55:15.

displeasure of Martin McGuinness. It is not something I would do.

:55:15.:55:19.

Government warned that the economic package could be withdrawn if

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progress was not being made. If we cannot agree, it is a fact that we

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may not be able to deliver some of the things we have been talking

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about. Which could also apply to the troubled a five dual-

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:55:42.:55:47.

carriageway project between two towns.

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Fifteen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the

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Assembly has supported a motion by the SDLP calling on the First and

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Deputy First Ministers to reconvene the Civic Forum. The body was set

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up to allow people from outside the political world to influence

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decision-making over social, economic and cultural issues. It

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was suspended along with the devolved institutions in 2002.

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Unionists are not happy the motion squeaked through by one vote - many

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of them say it was a costly talking shop. Community worker Alan McBride

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was a member of the Forum between 2000 and 2002 - and he joins me now.

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Thank you for joining us. Do you think it is an organisation they

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should be brought back and does have an contribution to make?

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not think it ever achieved its potential because when it was put

:56:37.:56:47.
:56:47.:56:48.

in place in 2002, I think that the idea of bringing other voices from

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civic society to be a rotten, is a good idea. It should be something

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that should be thought more about. Does it need to be established as a

:57:03.:57:06.

Civic Forum when individuals are Brotton, when there is a

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significant cost to the public purse? There is a cost to their

:57:12.:57:22.

public purse. It does cost money to set the thing up. Depending on how

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you set it up, we could save money. We might not need to go to big

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fancy hotels for meetings. We could go to community centres, there are

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ways to save money. In terms of working out whether it will because

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they are not, it should be about what it achieves and delivers.

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you aware of other individuals like you come into contact with as you

:57:47.:57:57.
:57:57.:57:58.

work -- through your work as a community worker, who feel that

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this would be of value? Absolutely. If you had people around a table

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from the business community, from the church is talking about issues,

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something could come from that which could make a difference.

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have a public debate, you have it on the air ways and newspapers. To

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have those public debates, their argument seems to be, we'll listen

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to people who vote to us, we'll listen to these organisations, we

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do not need to set up a separate forum to do that because it was not

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successful the last time. It did not go far enough to let it run its

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course. It was not just a talking shop. Those things had to run their

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course and could have achieved positive things in Northern Ireland.

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There was a view on the Civic Forum was -- and there was no desire to

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see a reconstituted. Do you think there was a change in view? I think

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there is a potential for it to achieve something. The idea, the

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concept, I think is still a good concept. Her thank you very much

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were coming in. Picking up on what Alan had to say,

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do you think it is something that would contribute? An irate bomb

:59:38.:59:48.
:59:48.:59:53.

killed Alan's relatives. -- IRA. It is two big parties that run the

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show. It is not something they would want. That was a bad time to

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give it a try in the first place. To talk about practical things is

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one of the few ways we are going to have any kind of reconciliation

:00:11.:00:18.

here. It will give more victims and bereaved people a voice, what could

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be wrong? Asking you about looking ahead, there is the funeral of

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Margaret Thatcher. Is that likely to continue to dominate the

:00:30.:00:34.

political discussions? Her I think it will dominate the agenda with

:00:35.:00:44.
:00:45.:00:45.

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