21/04/2013 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


21/04/2013

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

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

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2093 seconds

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

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

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

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to the Cenotaph. The Alliance Party MP Naomi Long

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

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

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

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Suzanne Breen. On Friday an attempt by the DUP to

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

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

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council committee. The party cited equality implications and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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body who are the custodians of remembrance they believe that the

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

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City Hall risk politicising remembrance in a way that was

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

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

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

:38:13.:38:17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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gone away, is that your understanding? What the Unionists

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

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

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put forward suggestions of perhaps commemorations of the Battle of the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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will not stop people bringing further proposals because I think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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believe that should be designated days at every council across

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Northern Ireland. He just to broaden the conversation for a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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through the normal procedures of applying to the Parades Commission

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

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within the structure of Northern Ireland. There are issues arising

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

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of how residents are consulted around those issues because many

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

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neighbourhood until last weekend until the flags were being put up

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

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

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

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

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Particularly when they are imposed on the communities with no public

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consultation and not listening to the sensitivities of the people

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

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

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Tylenol because somebody responsibly takes them down. Winnie

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

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

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at the end of the parade? Journalists were prevented from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ironic that they would inhibit journalists from recording what was

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

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

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and they need to give an explanation for that themselves.

:43:11.:43:21.
:43:21.:43:23.

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

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

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journalists were not allowed to cover that because recently they

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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has been atrocious compared to nationalists and republicans. They

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constantly complain of censorship and then they deny freedom of

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

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

:44:14.:44:17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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absolutely ridiculous and the wasted resources in terms of

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parades and Policing and the trouble that has been caused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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politically manipulated by the DUP because they want to oust Naomi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commission stuff and the Alliance stuff in September and the thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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additional days they should be included, take them to the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:48:01.:48:05.

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

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from Suzanne and Alex later in the programme.

:48:07.:48:10.

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

:48:10.:48:13.

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

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

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

:48:21.:48:24.

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

:48:24.:48:27.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:49:04.:49:08.

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

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

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

:49:15.:49:20.

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

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

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

:49:29.:49:33.

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

:49:33.:49:36.

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

:49:36.:49:42.

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

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

:49:48.:49:52.

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

:49:52.:49:56.

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

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

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

:50:02.:50:07.

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

:50:07.:50:10.

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

:50:10.:50:15.

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

:50:15.:50:18.

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

:50:18.:50:21.

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

:50:21.:50:26.

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

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

:50:31.:50:35.

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

:50:35.:50:39.

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

:50:39.:50:43.

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

:50:43.:50:47.

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

:50:47.:50:51.

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

:50:51.:50:56.

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

:50:56.:51:00.

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

:51:00.:51:04.

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

:51:04.:51:08.

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

:51:08.:51:11.

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

:51:12.:51:15.

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

:51:15.:51:20.

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

:51:20.:51:24.

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

:51:24.:51:30.

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

:51:30.:51:36.

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

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

:51:40.:51:44.

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

:51:44.:51:46.

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

:51:47.:51:50.

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

:51:50.:51:54.

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

:51:54.:52:00.

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

:52:00.:52:05.

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

:52:05.:52:11.

We have supported Our applications for additional places and

:52:11.:52:15.

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

:52:15.:52:19.

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

:52:19.:52:23.

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

:52:23.:52:28.

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

:52:28.:52:32.

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

:52:32.:52:34.

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

:52:34.:52:37.

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

:52:37.:52:43.

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

:52:43.:52:45.

parish or community is oversubscribed. There are pockets

:52:45.:52:50.

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

:52:50.:52:54.

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

:52:54.:52:58.

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

:52:58.:53:06.

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

:53:06.:53:08.

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

:53:08.:53:12.

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

:53:12.:53:16.

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

:53:16.:53:19.

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

:53:19.:53:22.

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

:53:22.:53:26.

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

:53:26.:53:29.

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

:53:29.:53:34.

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

:53:34.:53:37.

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

:53:37.:53:41.

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

:53:41.:53:45.

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

:53:45.:53:50.

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

:53:50.:53:53.

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

:53:53.:53:56.

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

:53:56.:54:02.

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

:54:02.:54:06.

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

:54:06.:54:09.

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

:54:09.:54:14.

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

:54:14.:54:18.

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

:54:18.:54:21.

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

:54:21.:54:25.

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

:54:25.:54:29.

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

:54:29.:54:33.

board working together on area planning then it is good because

:54:33.:54:36.

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

:54:36.:54:40.

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

:54:40.:54:45.

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

:54:45.:54:49.

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

:54:49.:54:58.

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

:54:58.:55:01.

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

:55:01.:55:08.

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

:55:08.:55:12.

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

:55:12.:55:15.

progress. They need to wake up and smell the

:55:15.:55:18.

coffee and start taking decisions instead of frustrating the good

:55:18.:55:21.

government of Northern Ireland. should be going into rooms and

:55:21.:55:27.

sitting down and talking through the issues. The row frustrated

:55:27.:55:31.

leading industrialists. If they were a business they would be

:55:32.:55:35.

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

:55:35.:55:40.

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

:55:40.:55:43.

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

:55:43.:55:47.

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

:55:48.:55:56.

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

:55:56.:56:02.

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

:56:03.:56:11.

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

:56:11.:56:16.

hear a final thought from Alex and Suzanne.

:56:16.:56:21.

Talk about political disunity in the executive, particularly between

:56:21.:56:25.

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

:56:25.:56:29.

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

:56:29.:56:33.

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

:56:33.:56:37.

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

:56:37.:56:41.

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

:56:41.:56:45.

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

:56:45.:56:49.

is any great ultimate disagreements between Peter Robinson and Martin

:56:49.:56:52.

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

:56:52.:56:56.

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

:56:56.:57:00.

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

:57:00.:57:03.

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

:57:03.:57:07.

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

:57:07.:57:11.

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

:57:11.:57:18.

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

:57:18.:57:22.

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

:57:22.:57:25.

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

:57:25.:57:29.

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

:57:29.:57:34.

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

:57:34.:57:37.

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

:57:37.:57:42.

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

:57:42.:57:46.

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

:57:46.:57:49.

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

:57:49.:57:53.

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

:57:53.:57:57.

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

:57:57.:58:01.

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

:58:01.:58:04.

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

:58:04.:58:08.

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

:58:08.:58:11.

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

:58:11.:58:15.

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

:58:15.:58:18.

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

:58:18.:58:22.

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

:58:22.:58:28.

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

:58:28.:58:35.

disconnected from the situation there. All that raises their

:58:35.:58:37.

interest his expenses, civil servants, foreign junkets,

:58:37.:58:42.

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

:58:42.:58:49.

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