21/04/2013 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


Mark Carruthers looks at the political developments of the week and questions policy-makers on the key issues.

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And here in Northern Ireland: With the union flag issue refusing


to go away, the Alliance MP Naomi Long explains her party's


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2093 seconds


opposition to flying the flag at Hello, and welcome to the Sunday


Politics in Northern Ireland. It's an issue that won't go away -


the flying of the union flag in Belfast, with the focus now moving


to the Cenotaph. The Alliance Party MP Naomi Long


outlines her party's position. Also the yearly scramble for


nursery and primary school places. Why can't the authorities get the


numbers right? And with their thoughts, journalists Alex Kane and


Suzanne Breen. On Friday an attempt by the DUP to


have the Union flag flown every day from the Cenotaph at City Hall


failed and the Alliance Party is refusing to back the bid at a key


council committee. The party cited equality implications and


opposition from the Royal British Legion. But the issue has taken


another turn, with efforts to increase the number of days the


Union flag can be flown over City Hall itself back on the agenda. To


discuss the issue I'm joined by Naomi Long, the Alliance MP for


east Belfast. The flag's flying today to mark the


Queen's birthday. Why did Alliance vote against flying the flag every


day at the Cenotaph? Well, in terms of the Cenotaph, the


proposal came forward on the same evening that the decision was being


taken in respect to the flag flying on City Hall. It was lobbed into


the debate by the way of a grenade as a result of wider discussion


that had taken part earlier than that. About. We were said we were


willing to listen and we were willing to listen to the arguments


for and against an we would reach a judgment and that is what we have


done. The most compelling voice for me in that was the voice of the


Royal British Legion who made it very clear that as the national


body who are the custodians of remembrance they believe that the


current moves and the manner in which the issue had been raised in


City Hall risk politicising remembrance in a way that was


unhelpful and we have to take cognisance of that because we don't


want to exploit our war dead. They should be respected. It is


important that we put the situation to bed quickly. Is one of the


difficulties for your party that it looks not to have a settled opinion


on this. It looks to some people from the outside that the party has


changed tack on a number of occasions. Maura Hendron said at


the time that the original decision was taken that she would have no


difficulty with a flying over the Cenotaph every day but there has


been or change of ideas. No, there hasn't. She said she would have no


problem with it but it would have to be subject to a quality


assessment and we would have to take a reading from the community


and when we did that it was clear that it was not a good idea. She


had no personal animosity to the idea but she was willing to listen.


There is a problem that if you are willing to listen you are seen to


not take a position and then if you take a position you are told you


are not making decisions. It now looks as though the centre half has


gone away, is that your understanding? What the Unionists


seem to be suggesting is that the number of days on which the flag


could fly over City Hall could be examined and increased. They have


put forward suggestions of perhaps commemorations of the Battle of the


Somme or the Battle of Messines or maybe Ulster Day. That would mean


more days but not every day, would that be a compromise? There is a


difficulty with all of that because we don't know if the Cenotaph has


gone away and we don't know if people will pursue it. But it would


need your support. It would, and that means it would not happen but


that does not mean it has gone away. People already know hour position


on City Hall but a already bringing forward additional days as options.


That was our second most favoured option, not the first. The first


was designated days only. Our position is already clear and it


will not stop people bringing further proposals because I think


there is a will in City Hall for some people to keep the pot boiling


on the flags issued by what we want to see his clarity on how they are


flown, not just at City Hall but at every council across Northern


Ireland. This is crucial because in the next few years we will see a


reorganisation of councils and 11 new councils and each of them, if


we don't get an agreed position as part of the review of public


administration will waste a year or two years bickering over when the


flag should fly and what flag should fly at how we should slide.


Let us get a result that a political level so we take it out


of the equation and we have a settled decision. I personally


believe that should be designated days at every council across


Northern Ireland. He just to broaden the conversation for a


moment. You are the MP for East Belfast. There was this historical


UVF parade as those organising it build it. There were as many as


10,000 people taking part and they say it was a history pageant. Are


you satisfied that it went off as well as it could have done? I am


satisfied that he went off largely without incident and that is to be


welcomed. I am also pleased that those who organised the parade went


through the normal procedures of applying to the Parades Commission


in order to do with. That is how orderly parades should be organised


within the structure of Northern Ireland. There are issues arising


from the parade, not necessarily with the parade itself but in terms


of how residents are consulted around those issues because many


residents were not so Ray -- aware parade would go through the


neighbourhood until last weekend until the flags were being put up


on the lamp-posts. We need to look at those issues and start to


address those. Five do you want to see the flags taken down as quickly


they were taking up? Obviously that is what I want to see because I


don't believe there is a place for that kind of public display.


Particularly when they are imposed on the communities with no public


consultation and not listening to the sensitivities of the people


within the community. The pattern has been when they go up they go up


quickly and when they come down it is because the weather takes it


Tylenol because somebody responsibly takes them down. Winnie


proposals on how to deal with flags because the current situation is


not sustainable. Were you concerned about the speeches that took place


at the end of the parade? Journalists were prevented from


witnessing what was said. I don't think anybody expected that to


happen. Did that concern you? seemed particularly strange, given


that the purpose of the parade, according to the organisers, was to


commemorate the people who formed the UDF and then went on to fight


at the Battle of the Somme and preserve people's right to freedom


of speech and an open and Alan Quinn society. It seems rather


ironic that they would inhibit journalists from recording what was


happening at the event. It was said to be an inclusive and open event


and they did not on the media to cover that. I can understand that


and they need to give an explanation for that themselves.


we will leave that there now. Let's hear from my other guests,


the journalists Suzanne Breen and Alex Kane. I was surprised that the


journalists were not allowed to cover that because recently they


have been complaining that the BBC is distorting all of their messages


and so you would have thought and a big celebration like this they


would allow the speakers to be questioned. Ice asked yesterday why


it they did that and they told me they were toughening up and showing


to the media that they could not be their puppets. This is


extraordinary. You cannot blame the media and then refused to co-


operate with them. The loyalist policy of dealing with the media


has been atrocious compared to nationalists and republicans. They


constantly complain of censorship and then they deny freedom of


speech and turn journalists away and banned journalists. It is are


unacceptable and on called for. did not understand it, unless there


is something that they eat was saying that they did not want to be


reported. I don't get that impression at all. I suspect, and


this is my cynicism, I suspect they may have expected some mistakes


there maybe if they thought there was going to be heckling they might


say something unscripted but it looked the other way round, a look


to have though they would try to stop people hearing anything they


were saying. The issue of the flax is not resolved as far as Belfast


City Hall is resolved but are we inching towards some sort of


resolution, not the Cenotaph but maybe a proposal to an increased


list of designated days. The amount of time spent on this has been


absolutely ridiculous and the wasted resources in terms of


parades and Policing and the trouble that has been caused.


People really, really need to grow up. A decision has been taken by


the council and there should be a. Personally, given the recession a


people losing their jobs and people are struggling on low income I


don't care if the Union Flag, the tricolour or the skull and


crossbones flies at City Hall, and that is the situation for so many


people. That is not a major issue in our society but it has been


politically manipulated by the DUP because they want to oust Naomi


Long from her feet and also by Sinn Fein who are calling this a victory


to hide the fact that Sinn Fein have accepted partition and the DUP


has its own reasons for wanting it on the streets because it wants to


proper pace did against the Alliance Party. I think Suzanne is


substantially right. What strikes me about all of this is that


usually the DUP is pretty canny in the territory it chooses to fight


and fight it chooses to have. Back to last August with the Parades


Commission stuff and the Alliance stuff in September and the thing


about the corporals a few weeks ago and now the Cenotaph. On every


issue they seem to be getting it wrong in approach and a tactics.


They are going into battle that they must know they cannot win. I


don't understand why they are doing. Yes they thought it might damage


the Alliance Party a few months ago but now they have done so much


collateral damage to themselves and the UUP is out of the equation any


damage to be done to alliance has been lessened. Interesting to get


your thoughts on that, Naomi. We have had discussions about it


before. You would say it is absolutely about you being targeted


for political reasons in east Belfast but do you agree that the


tide has now turned and the wind is now in your back? I agree with Alex


and Cezanne on the fact that most people are thoroughly sickened with


it the whole debate and want an end. We are not continuing to bring new


proposals to the table, we want it to be put to bed for once and for


all. That is one of the reasons why these proposals for additional days,


we know there is a list of additional days that people are


looking at that could carry us through one a month until the next


elections. We are concerned about will simply keep the window open.


We need to find ways of respecting emblems and singles and flags and


doing it in a way that does not cause upheaval. That is not a war


of attrition at City Hall. If people have serious proposes an


additional days they should be included, take them to the


Department of Culture and, Media and Sport, who decide on designated


days and let them do that as they do for every other designated date


but it should not be fought out on the floor of city council. People


should be focusing on what is good for the City as a whole, for


business and all the people who live in the City, this constant


warmth lacks is not good for the City, not good for the city centre,


not good for businesses across the city and not good for local


communities. Thank you very much for joining us. We will hear more


from Suzanne and Alex later in the programme.


According to the Education Minister we've too many empty desks in our


primary schools, but try telling that to the dozens of parents who


found out this week there's no place for their children in their


preferred primary schools. And it's not just primary places. Every year


we hear about nursery or pre-school units being over-subscribed. While


the situation has improved in recent years, why is it so


difficult to plan for primary and nursery provision? We'll hear from


Danny Kinahan, deputy chair of the Education Committee, and Joanne


Browne, principal of St Ita's Primary School in south Belfast, in


just a moment. But first the thoughts of some parents in south


Belfast. I am a working parent, so for me a


place is very important. If the criteria has led by parents who


don't work, then that would be a concern. They think you should be


prioritised for people who are out working. For there are a lot of


shortages, particularly in pre- school and nursery placements and I


have not seen any evidence of many changes to deal with increasing


population or additional places be needed and I have not seen any


extra nurseries opened, other than private nurseries, which cost a


fortune. We have another couple of years until the two of them are in


schools so it is something I will meet other look at but I don't


really know how the schooling system works. I need to go away and


work out what is the best thing for the two of them. We are being told


by friends and family that it will be very difficult because my


daughter and her husband work full- time and there is a lack of places


generally anyway. I cannot register where I live, it is much more


difficult now to get your child into a pre-school place or a


nursery or playgroup than it was 25 years ago. Danny Kinahan and Joanne


Browne are with me now. Why does this continue to be such a problem?


I think the department and the minister do not bother to sit down


on lookout the short-term plans that are needed each year. It is


better this year in certain areas but we are constantly looking at


long-term strategies rather than looking at the grand to see where


parents want to send the children, almost like marketing, looking at


whether places are needed are trying to fit to it. We have area


planning going on that frightens everyone else at the top but down,


local issues, no one seems to be planning. It is enormously


difficult to get it right because you have to plan a number of years


in advance. The minister is dealing with many schools where, actually,


the role is falling so he has excess capacity but in some pockets


he has under capacity so it is quite a difficult trip for any one


tooth Wolof. It is far he has got to have people on the ground and


the boards are being run down so no one is contemplating whether a


school needs 20 places next year or five. It has got better but we have


got to find a way of helping the working families as well. At the


moment there is a bias against them. Because parents on benefits trump


working parents? Yes, and quite rightly, but at the same time if we


were to look at a certain level below which we had to help working


parents then that would be important as well. You have had to


turn parents away from the school and that is not what you want to be


doing? Absolutely not. In the last couple of weeks parents have been


very upset. On the 10th letters were issued for nursery places and


parents were disappointed that they did not receive a place in our


nursery unit. On top of that, they can accept the nursery school, but


what they are afraid of is December -- SEP- 2014, what happens them? We


have had the primary letters issued and many parents have also been


disappointed and they may not even have got into the second, third or


4th choice and they may have to consider going to a different


sector away from home and they are very upset and we empathise with


them. Where does the problem lie? Is it with the Minister or the


boards or area planning laws core principles? If no. Not the


principles! It is everybody else's fault for! We are doing our best.


We have supported Our applications for additional places and


thankfully we have got extra places. This has been three years coming.


First of all we applied for minor works and it did not materialise


and again last year. Ideally you have to have the children there


before you get, before it makes sense to have a developmental


proposal. You are a good school in an area of high demand and you have


a catchment area where the numbers are going up and knock down. But


the minister has to balance that with a very different picture, the


absolute opposite in many parts of the country. Absolutely. Not every


parish or community is oversubscribed. There are pockets


that need to be addressed. I think it is difficult for parents. They


have to actually move out of that but the reality is that schools


have a maximum capacity and we cannot take everybody. As much as I


would want to take everybody our school is a restricted by our side.


He will be Education & Skills Authority be part of the solution


when it is up and running? If it is up and running. We wanted to place


in a different form and it is. It could do it and again we are going


up to higher level. We need something at a lower level, whether


it is board-level local groups that can actually deal with what is


happening on the ground and look at the numbers from year to year


instead of five-year plans or ten- year plans or even longer. So what


is the optimum time scale, do you think, that those responsible for


planning need to think about because you have year on year, as


Joe and has said and you have just spoken about 10 years. It is a


conjuring trick, the like of which I think we are all agreed that we


are not being asked to pull off. absolutely but you have to have a


system in place that is looking at the parents that are coming and in


each counsellor at birth rates and other things to go by, there must


be ways of doing it. Do you accept that their situation is getting


better every year? Is that if that was my aim now particular area it


is not. We have done a lot of surveys... That is another thing


you're going against the trend on! There is a lot of rapid growth and


new developments in our area. We analyse baptismal register so we


are prepared for the next few years and we know that the figures are


rising so we know what will happen in the next two years and it is


frightening in our particular area. Again with area planning and the


board working together on area planning then it is good because


they will put sustainable measures in place and it will happen at the


time but there is an emergency now to get children sorted for


September and September next year and it has to be addressed fairly


urgently. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. A lot of


disappointed people in the past, that is for sure. Thank you very


much. Now, let's take a look back at the political week in 60 seconds.


Here's Gareth Gordon. Trouble at the executive. The DUP


and Sinn Fein crossed swords over who was to blame for lack of


progress. They need to wake up and smell the


coffee and start taking decisions instead of frustrating the good


government of Northern Ireland. should be going into rooms and


sitting down and talking through the issues. The row frustrated


leading industrialists. If they were a business they would be


bankrupt. A bomb attack on the Boston Marathon leaves three people


dead and hundreds injured. All of those who have been to Boston won


over the city is at once American, European and Irish. The funeral of


Baroness Thatcher took place and 1,000 lined the streets to play


their last respects. A after Francie Molloy made success in a


by-election he became the deputy speaker. Is there a second for him?


I would be the second. Gareth Gordon reoporting. Let's


hear a final thought from Alex and Suzanne.


Talk about political disunity in the executive, particularly between


the DUP and Sinn Fein. We keep hearing a lot about it, we hear the


relationship at the top has not good. Alex Attwood said on Thursday


that there is a frosty relationship in the executive, frostier than


eager as ever known. What is the answer? The whole of Stormont is


dysfunctional, the whole set-up is dysfunctional. This is really about


two parties playing to their grassroots. I don't believe there


is any great ultimate disagreements between Peter Robinson and Martin


McGuinness, I don't think there is any particular personal problems,


it is really just about both parties appeasing their grass roots.


It is a very phoney war. They actually get on a lot better than a


lot of people with thing but they are aiming to keep their grassroots


on board with these walls and is nit-picking. Do you think people


get on better than people think or do you think the frostiness is 100%


genuine? I think it is not 100% genuine but it is genuine. What is


the difference? I think they are almost hate each other, but not


quite. These are two men leading to parties who do not want to be


around the same table. They don't want to be the same government they


do not have the same duffer of -- agenda. The only reason they stay


together is mutual assured destruction if one of them pull out.


Is mutual veto, mutual hostility. They despise each other's presence


in government. They are playing to their own galleries because they


have no other option but to play to their own galleries because there


is no one else to play two. they say that they want to be there


and they want to make the system work. That is a delight the parties


saying, we want opposition but we will not go into it. This is the


reverse. We want to be together because we tried to send us some


sort of message but as soon as you say you do not want to be there or


share, you will come back and ask them why they are there. They are


there because they have to be and there is no love involve. Four we


saw an extract of John Cunningham saying that the executive would be


bankrupted it was a business. Is it a fair,? Absolutely fair,. I think


it would be bust. The reality is that most people on the ground are


disconnected from the situation there. All that raises their


interest his expenses, civil servants, foreign junkets,


thousands of pounds being wasted. That is there any interest in


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