20/10/2013 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


20/10/2013

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


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Hello, and welcome to Sunday Politics in Northern Ireland. The

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Ulster Unionist Party faithful met this weekend for their annual

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conference. With the party's first major electoral challenge under the

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leadership of Mike Nesbitt now just months away - did he persuade

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members he can turn their fortunes around? If the right message is sent

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and the hard work is put in, I believe we can make a comeback. We

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have a great youth wing. We have a great leader. Mike Nesbitt joins me

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live in studio. And as the First Minister, Peter Robinson, praises

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the GAA's efforts in peace-building, a leading GAA commentator plays

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hardball over clubs and tournaments being named after republican

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paramilitaries. I'll be asking Peter Sheridan, the man who organised

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Thursday's dinner at which Mr Robinson made his comments, if it's

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now a case of one step forward and two steps back? To discuss that and

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more I'm joined by today's commentators, Sheila Davidson and

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Malachi O'Doherty. The Ulster Unionist leader has unveiled his

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alternative to a peace centre at the Maze. Mike Nesbitt used his

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conference speech to call for the setting up of a world class trauma

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centre for those suffering mental illness. The conference was told the

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party is more united than it's been in years. Here's our Political

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Correspondent, Gareth Gordon. He is a man the critics claim who is

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pedalling as fast as he can, but still getting nowhere. Unfair, say

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the vast majority of people here who believe that under Mike Nesbitt,

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they are finally moving forward. It is a year and a half since he became

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Ulster Unionist leader on this very stage in this very room. As good a

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time as any to ask what has changed under his leadership. Those who are

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left claim they are better off without the likes of Basil McCrea

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and John McCallister. No sign of division, there is united approach.

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There is a dedicated attitude and we are moving forward under the sound

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and capable leadership of Mike Nesbitt. All the people who

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disagreed with him are gone! We are not interested in what has gone

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before. The next test will come next year under the election. Their

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European candidate was talking about speech-making. We have got to show

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improvement and that is obvious. We are up for that and are prepared to

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do it. We believe we have the policies and you will hear later

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today some ideas going forward. We are trying to bring forward a new

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generation of people. You have to have a mix of experience and youth.

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Certainly there was a sprinkling of youth among the more mature

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membership, so who are they and why did they join? For me it was the

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youth wing. The party itself, its policy, the great leader we have,

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that is why I joined. Do you see a future in politics? Possibly. In the

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past youth was not promoted, is that changing? It is. There are dozens of

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young candidates coming through. I have been selected to run and there

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are a number of other colleagues doing the same. If the right message

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is sent and the hard work is put in, I believe the Ulster Unionist Party

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can make a comeback. Mike Nesbitt has been accused of taking the party

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to the right and here he was prepared to take a risk, posing for

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photographs with an organisation many unionists are trying to get rid

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of. It is a good thing with the political leader to engage with

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anyone who has a part to play in the future of Northern Ireland. The

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Parades Commission has a future to play in Northern Ireland. You know I

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would like to see them replaced, that is on the agenda for talks, but

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that is no reason not to show ability to people who want to engage

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with a political party. His conference idea was a mental health

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centre to replace the troubled Peace Centre at the Maze. Who would it be

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for? Let me be clear, this centre is for everyone. Even those for whom we

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may feel little or no sympathy. The conference closed for the first time

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with a performance by a pipe band from County Antrim, a change of

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tack, if not of tune. Gareth Gordon reporting - and Mike

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Nesbitt is with me now. Several commentators said yesterday's speech

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needed to be the best of your political career - do you think you

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hit the target? People in the room seemed happy, people on social media

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seemed happy. I am not happy because I have never done that and thought I

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could do a bit better. In broadcasting and politics, people

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are quick to tell you what they do not like, they are not so generous

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in terms of saying when you have done something they do like. The

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feedback I am getting has been surprisingly positive and there has

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been a surprising volume of it. Might that be because there has been

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no internal debate because some of the key people opposed to your

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leadership or were unhappy have now left the party? Only two people left

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the party. We had a lot more people in the room today that we had last

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year. We had a Friday afternoon session about party development, it

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was in the same room it was in last year, that room was three quarters

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full a year ago, people were up yesterday. Two figures left the

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party and there was much talk about that, give me an example if they are

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not significant, of a hotly contested policy issue in the Ulster

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Unionist Party at the moment? All the issues we have been talking

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about, like abortion, are matters of conscience. There are some debates

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in the party. Welfare Reform Act is something that is coming down the

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tracks now. The DUP said the sky would fall in if we did not bring in

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the legislation and here we are in October, the sky has not fallen in,

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but it might, because this package will take 750 million out of the

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Northern Ireland economy. Is that a debate in your party? Yes. We are

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arguing about it internally, we are having debates. We are having robust

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debates and that is perfectly healthy within a political party. We

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are a much healthier political party than we were in 2012. You spoke last

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year about being a liberal and progressive Unionist, that is what

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you said you wanted to be, but critics would say you have taken to

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the party on the right. I do not agree with that. All those issues

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are in the talks and that is where they should be and I think we should

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give the talks the space they need. Flags is tangible, parades is

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tangible, there are only so many ways you can cut and dice them. We

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can reach agreement on those. Dealing with the past is different,

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it is a major challenge and one of the little tokens of that has been

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the so-called Peace Centre at the Maze. They did not tell people what

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the function of it was and that is why I have come out with an

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alternative that everyone can buy into, because it is for everyone and

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offers practical help. Tens of thousands of our citizens suffer

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from PTSD and other mental health issues. Let us build a facility that

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is world-class, the whole world would look to say we want to come,

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we want to share in that, you have expertise that will help us. It

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seems that this has come out of the blue. I have studied these things

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for some time, I was a victims commissioner. You see on Wednesday,

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when they say that these people have been coming forward and these issues

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in terms of employment and training, mental health will be up there and

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everything else will be down there. Have you costed this? You can save,

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you can do it for a fraction of the 18 million euros that was set aside

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for the Maze Peace Centre. How can you build this that will be the envy

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of other countries for under ?18 million? I have spoken to experts

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who say you can do it for under that cost. The cost will depend on the

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venue and they do not want us to get hung up on a debate about venue, I

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said that there is a suggestion and it was only a suggestion, a venue

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that has been lying idle for a lot of years, it is on sale for ?1.6

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million. The taxpayer will never see the money back, two or three million

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would convert that into a mental health centre. It might, but you are

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going to talk about putting in place programmes of work and experts who

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will cost a lot of money to recruit. I would have thought you would have

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no change out of ?18 million? Are you confusing the capital costs and

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the running costs? Talk to the Health Minister. You can set up

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centre and the running costs, how long is a piece of string? That is

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the point. A report has been largely ignored which says we have huge

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mental health issues. I am suggesting this and the first step

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is to say here is a concept and the second phase is to buy in and the

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third phase is to say what can we afford. You think that idea will

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excite people? I think it is a big idea and it is the right idea

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because we have tens of thousands of our citizens who do not get out of

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bed with a sense of purpose because of mental health problems and that

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is universally acknowledged and it is for everyone, even people whose

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mental health is a result of bad choices, we have to help them and

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their families, because it is also intergenerational. How do you turn

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the fortunes of your party around? We are now in a better place and if

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we continue, we will be in an even better position next year. Thank

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you. Now let's pause for a look at the political week gone past, in

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sixty seconds. The row over gay men and blood

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donation continues, the Health Minister addressed criticism. In

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terms of breaking the ministerial code, I did it unwittingly. The DPP

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try to clarify the implications of the abortion guidelines. It is

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difficult to envisage a circumstance were anyone could be accused of

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aiding or abetting a crime of having abortion in England. A plan to

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reallocate school funding was defended by the Minister. I am not

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here to take money off schools but I need to tackle social deprivation.

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Peter Robinson reached out to the GAA, but another minister got there

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first. I opened a newspaper to see a photograph of my colleague Nelson

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McCausland playing Gaelic football. That shows that all things are

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possible. Gareth Gordon reporting - and we'll

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be discussing that speech by Peter Robinson - and the subsequent

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reaction to it - a little later in the programme. Let's return to this

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weekend's Ulster Unionist Party conference - and here to discuss it

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with me are Sheila Davidson and Malachi O'Doherty. You are both

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welcome to the programme. Let me ask you what you made of Mike Nesbitt's

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speech yesterday and also his defence of it this morning. He is a

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polished performer. Part of the problem is it shows the contrast

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with those behind him. A. I wonder would those who would mostly be

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concerned to have PTSD treatment, say in the British Army, would they

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want to come here. Would they really want to come here? Essentially the

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idea is a good one, but whether it is an alternative to the Peace

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Centre and considering it is a stroke played within the broad

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culture war where everything has to be, we win and you lose. Do you see

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it as a credible alternative to the Maze Peace Centre? It is an

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interesting idea. I have experience of PTSD in my family, I know

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first-hand how traumatising that is in any family. The lack of mental

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health resources that we have is not something that we should be playing

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out in that kind of political field, there is a different role for that.

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I think that the interesting thing that you take out of the party

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conference was that he needs to be careful he is not turning into a one

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trick pony in terms of it is all about this culture war. This is a

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party which aspires to take back the leadership of the Unionist community

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and unless he is talking about the big issues, the economy, we are not

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actually going to get a feeling that he is going to be that leader in the

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future and I am not sure... His performance was good, and he perhaps

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needs to work harder on that. They need to play on a bigger stage. What

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about the way in which Mike Nesbitt has or hasn't pulled the party to

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the right? Where does that leave Liberal Unionist members of the

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Catholic community? That is the problem. It is part of the

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architecture of the agreement that this must happen. That militates

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against the possibility of unionism drawing in Catholics or nationalism

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drawing in Protestants. I do think that in time we have to look at that

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architecture and see how it can be changed. I would not like to be

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leading liberal unionism and having to show most of the time that you

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are more opposed to Sinn Fein than Peter Robinson is. That is a losing

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form. Thank you. The sight of the DUP leader at a high profile event

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praising the work of the GAA would, as Peter Robinson acknowledged

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himself, have been unimaginable just a few short years ago. But today the

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question is: has the move been overshadowed by comments made by the

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the high profile GAA commentator Joe Brolly who said it's no-one else's

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business if GAA clubs or tournaments are named after republican

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paramilitaries? In a moment we'll hear from the Chief Executive of

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Co-operation Ireland who organised Thursday night's event, but first

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here's a reminder of what Peter Robinson had to say and Joe Brolly's

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subsequent reaction. Joining me now from our Foyle studio is the man who

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organised the dinner at which the First Minister spoke about the GAA,

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the Chief Executive of Co-operation Ireland, Peter Sheridan. You are the

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man who was responsible for the dinner on Thursday night in which

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Peter Robinson made his comments, do what extent has Joe Brolly's

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reaction undone the efforts of Mr Robinson? I think it was

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disappointing to hear him, who has shown a generosity of spirit in

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other ways, to be so exclusive in his comments. What the GAA are

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trying to do is reach out to another community where they want to see

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young Protestant people playing their sport, they want people from

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the Protestant community coming to games and the director-general made

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that clear. For Joe Brolly to use that language word he says you can

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join it, you will have to abide by us, I think Peter Robinson in his

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remarks talked about the need for understanding, reaching beyond our

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own communities and unfortunately he was not reaching beyond his own

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community and trying to have that understanding of what that might

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mean for the other community. Why do you think that is the case? Why did

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he say what he said? Given that he has taken a different tack in public

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on other matters in the past. He has appeared to be more middle of the

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road in the past. You would have to ask him. When we use language like

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that, it pushes back the other community and then ignited a

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response from people who then were suggesting that Peter Robinson was

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wrong to outreach and try to move this into a different place by

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reaching out to the other community in some of the remarks he made. His

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speech was littered with positive comments. In 18 months, we have had

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negativity around flags, parades, Long Kesh and Maze, it was a move

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towards a positive speech, but then for Joe Brolly to push it back and

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say it is no one else's business, but the GAA are a sporting body and

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they want to encourage people of all traditions across this island to

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become involved in the sport. You have to understand the barriers

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which might prevent people from doing that. Who is more embarrassed?

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I think it has enhanced Peter Robinson's position because it

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demonstrated someone who was reaching out from his constituency

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and a willingness not to acknowledge the role of the GAA, but to praise

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it in peace building. He demonstrated that the GAA had out

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reached and were making moves. In some ways I think it put Peter

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Robinson in a better light. He has been criticised from people like Jim

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Allister who said he was foolhardy to make the speech. There were also

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people like Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson, they have not overly

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criticised him, but they have been clear to set out their stall of what

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they think of the GAA needs to do to be acceptable on the issue of naming

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its clubs and tournament in future. Anyone who was there would have

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acknowledged that Peter Robinson's statements were more statesman-like.

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We know what nationalist politicians stand for and we know what Unionist

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politicians stand for, but what we want to know is what they will do

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for the other side? Unfortunately the ethnic nature of politics here

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mean we always champion our own side, but Peter Robinson did not

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just do that on Thursday night. Unfortunately the remarks from Joe

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Brolly did not take into account what needs to be done for the other

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side. The people attacking Peter Robinson are doing the same thing.

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Were Joe Brolly's comments embarrassing? They were in contrast

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to what the director-general and Danny Murphy were saying. Thank you.

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Let's have a final thought on this from Sheila Davidson and Malachi

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O'Doherty. I think when you get anything like this, you scratch the

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surface, you get to a polarised point and that goes for both the GAA

:21:58.:22:04.

and anyone on the loyalist side. We have to understand the language we

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use and that is something we have to be more mature about. We need to

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recognise and understand that there are polarised positions, we will not

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get away from that, but if we get more statesman-like in the way Peter

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Robinson got and the GAA as well, then we have a way to go for the

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future. First of all, Peter Robinson going to the GAA dinner, and

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secondly, Joe Brolly's response. It is great that Peter Robinson did and

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there were times when he looked more statesman-like and yet lapsed back

:22:38.:22:50.

into it. As for Joe Brolly? If that represents the views of people in

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his community, he was right. That is it from us.

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