26/01/2014 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


26/01/2014

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


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With me throughout with their thoughts, academic Cathy

:01:17.:01:18.

Gormley-Heenan and journalist Sam McBride.

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establishing an official opposition cranks up a gear. This time it is

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the turn of the Ulster Unionist Party the party chairman has tabled

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an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill which would pave the way for

:01:43.:01:51.

opposition. The party NI21 have the stated

:01:52.:01:57.

intention of campaigning for an opposition.

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Welcome to the programme, Lord Empey, first of all, why are you

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making a case for formal opposition at Stormont at this stage? Because

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there is a piece of legislation in front of Parliament that allows me

:02:10.:02:15.

to do so, the Northern Ireland miscellaneous provisions Bill and

:02:16.:02:21.

allows you to put forward items of a wide range of areas.

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I have put forward a series of amendments. There is a legislative

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vehicle in front of us at this point. So you can do it, the

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question is why choose to do it? It looks to the public, I suggest,

:02:33.:02:37.

that it is a change of tack on the part of the Ulster Unionist Party.

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You were not in favour of opposition, now you appear to be. I

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am afraid you are wrong. Our 2010 manifesto had provision for

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opposition. In our manifesto for 2011 it is included, and at Mike

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Nesbitt's maiden speech he raised the question of opposition. Whether

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we as a party would ever seek to be an opposition is a totally different

:03:03.:03:06.

issue from whether we have an official opposition or not. We want

:03:07.:03:10.

the provision could be applied because we think it will strengthen

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Stormont, it will move us one stage towards more normal politics and I

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cannot see any reason why anyone would be opposed to it.

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In the public mind, John McCallister stood for the story -- Ulster

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Unionist leader against Mike Nesbitt, he stood on a ticket of

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wanting to take the party into opposition and Mike Nesbitt oppose

:03:33.:03:38.

that. Now the former leader looks to be supporting opposition. Can you

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see how that looks strange to the public? John wanted to take the

:03:42.:03:45.

party into opposition there and then.

:03:46.:03:46.

party into opposition there and executive and just sit there. There

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is no status, you will get no speaking rights, supply days or

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anything and opposition would get. John McCallister, do you accept that

:04:05.:04:07.

analysis? My Private Members' Bill would

:04:08.:04:13.

create that, and effectively at the minute we are looking at two former

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leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party effectively wanting to take powers

:04:18.:04:19.

away from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

:04:20.:04:26.

Legal advice in this is quite clear. We can do this at Stormont, and that

:04:27.:04:30.

is the place this should be being done. I welcome the debate, but if

:04:31.:04:38.

he wants to do something in the Northern Ireland miscellaneous Bill,

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what he should be doing is tackling the bits we cannot do at Stormont,

:04:42.:04:46.

like designation or particularly tackling the way we elect the

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Justice Minister. You are saying tackling the way we elect the

:04:49.:04:53.

this debate is unnecessary because you think the powers already reside

:04:54.:04:55.

at Stormont? Let me be clear on that, they reside

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at Stormont. The legal advice is that they reside

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at Stormont. That is where this should be decided and debated. But

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that would be for something of informal opposition rather than

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formal opposition. What he is wanting to do, all of

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that is decided at Stormont, and we can change that.

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The best vehicle to do that is in my Private Members' Bill. This point

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about trying to normalise politics - you cannot have a party leader out

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fighting a culture where -- culture war and then talk about normalising

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politics. The public will not understand that message. You cannot

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talk about opposition as you would claim, Reg, for about 16 years and

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not want to go into it, not see that we believe strong enough to go into

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it. We believe in having it but do not want to go into it seems to be

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the message from the UUP. John McCallister is saying, Reg Empey,

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that this should be the preserve of the MLAs at Stormont.

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No, if he looks at his own party's website on the 27th of August,

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No, if he looks at his own party's wants to go down and leave it at

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Stormont you would be the way thing of the shin of -- of Sinn Fein and

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the DUP, they can snuff you out like that. Standing orders at Stormont

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can be changed at any point by the largest two parties. We want to have

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it in statute so there is no question that the stat us of an

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opposition is not dependent on the goodwill of the two parties who

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happen to be in control. -- the status. Does that mean that Mike

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Nesbitt would want to take the Australian unionists into

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opposition? He can do that at the moment anyway.

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-- the Ulster Unionists. No, he cannot.

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All you can do is become a group of backbenchers with no status. First

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of all, any party that thinks in an election fights to win. You fight to

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win, to get support for your policies and implement them in over

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a month. But on occasion, parties do not win. -- implement them in

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government. We want to have an opposition which is officially

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recognised which cannot be the plaything of any two parties at

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Stormont. The methodology for electing ministers and selecting

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them is all in the Northern Ireland act, so should opposition be. There

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is not very much separating you, is there?

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The point is, opposition is not mentioned in the Northern Ireland

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act. mentioned in the Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland Assembly, there is not the legal adviser. And Professor

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Rick Wilford doesn't know what he is doing?

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The advice from the Assembly is that opposition is a devolved matter and

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when you read through Reg's amendment we can change that in the

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Assembly and that is the best vehicle to do it.

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Reg talks about being snuffed out by the DUP and Sinn Fein if they wanted

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to. You mention endorsement of the Ulster Unionist

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Party being in government. -- the A5. This is a debate we should be

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all on. You cannot do that while in government and fighting a culture

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war at the same time. All of those things contradict each other.

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John is arguing to totally different things. Whether due as a party are

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in opposition is one issue. What I am dealing with is providing a

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structural mechanism to allow it to happen at Westminster where it

:09:01.:09:02.

cannot be interfered with by Stormont. Otherwise the parties that

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control Stormont can snuff you out at any time. You accept you can do

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it at Stormont? No, you cannot do that.

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You can. The legal advice is clear.

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You can change standing orders, not primary legislation.

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But the place to do primary legislation is at Stormont. It is

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not, you are totally wrong. I would welcome him to the debate behaviour

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is doing something, particularly around designation.

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We will leave it there, thank you both for now.

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Let's hear from our commentators, Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Sam

:09:44.:09:46.

McBride. Sam, some people think we may be dancing on the head of a pin,

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others think this is a fundamental issue that needs to be clarified,

:09:51.:09:56.

which is it for you? It is both. Sitting on the fence! It is going to

:09:57.:10:01.

be teased out at Westminster, whether the government takes this as

:10:02.:10:05.

an amendment to its bill. If it does, and Lord Empey as closer

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links to the Tories through the history of the Ulster Unionist

:10:10.:10:14.

Party, and if they do then clearly the legal advice that the government

:10:15.:10:18.

has is that it can. If they do not, there will be a question over that.

:10:19.:10:22.

There are two separate issues here. Is there a mechanism for

:10:23.:10:28.

opposition? Sometimes I think public unhappiness at Stormont has forced a

:10:29.:10:31.

debate into the parties, where the Ulster Unionist Party is reluctant

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about this, increasingly there is this

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about this, increasingly there is same thing. What is your opinion on

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where authority arrived as Michael resides?

:10:50.:10:55.

You are an academic and you know Rick Wilford and Alex Kane very

:10:56.:10:59.

well, you know the territory very well, do you side with John or Reg?

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I am not a legal expert. I am not prepared to side with

:11:06.:11:09.

either of them. I am heartened by this debate, today, because it puts

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the issue of opposition squarely onto the agenda. Last year the

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Assembly and review committee looked at this issue specifically. They put

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out a call for a consultation. Not many people got involved in the

:11:22.:11:24.

debate at the time under this forces us to have a thorough and robust

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debate on the mechanisms for an opposition and what that may mean

:11:34.:11:35.

for Northern Ireland, particularly for things like who would chair the

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Public Accounts Committee? Northern Ireland is the only area in the UK

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that has a Public Accounts Committee not chaired by the member of the

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opposition. That is important to me because an opposition at its core is

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about good governance and holding the government to account. You

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cannot hold yourself to account if you are holding the office and

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holding the accountability mechanisms, as well. That is why

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this debate, complicated as it may seem, is important. It is

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fundamental. The debate that has been hand, that

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people outside of the political village have had come is forcing the

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pace on this. -- the debate that has been hand.

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?15 million has been lost out of the executive budget already this year

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because of our failure to agree on welfare reform. The finance minister

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warned this week the penalty is expected to increase significantly.

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The welfare reform Bill was pulled in April because of a lack of

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agreement with the DUP blaming Sinn Fein for a delay. The finance

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minister, Simon Hamilton, said he was disappointed no progress had

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been made. I will have to return to the welfare reform issue.

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I am hugely disappointed no progress has been made on this issue. As a

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result, the executive had no option but to set aside ?50 million to

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result, the executive had no option returning to the Treasury, which is

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now unable to be spent on services that benefit our citizens. Those who

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resist, Mr Speaker, the inevitability of welfare reform, can

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answer why our health budget, roads budget or schools budget has to lose

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out this year. It is my party's view that in terms

:13:25.:13:28.

of the ?15 million of welfare money, that is not dead money. That

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15 million is still in the pockets of many low income people. It is

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more likely to be spent, in terms of local economy and retail and other

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areas. That 15 million is not dead money, it is money that is quite

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important to the local economy. The differing views of Simon Hamilton

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and Daithi McKay. With me is Les Allamby, an expert in

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welfare law. Where do we stand on this complicated issue? All of the

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main political parties are critical of welfare reform as it is in

:14:09.:14:11.

Britain. You can understand why, because

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Sheffield Hallam University recently did a survey that said ?750 million

:14:17.:14:21.

will come out of the economy if we slavishly follow the GB reform, and

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of the local authorities across the UK seven out of the top 20 were

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actually in Northern Ireland. Where we are is the two main parties in

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government, Sinn Fein and the DUP, worked very hard over the summer to

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try and get a deal, and they got a measure of agreement on a number of

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issues on this in the public domain, such as the bedroom tax

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which has gone very badly in Britain. They will only introduce it

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for new claimants. You think that is the deal they have reached? That is

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not the whole of the deal but it is part of it.

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There are other parts of the deal, I think they have followed the

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Scottish model, which is to put more money into what will be called the

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discretionary support fund here and to do other things. Where the two

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parties are parting company that at the moment is that is the deal as

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far as the DUP are concerned, but for Sinn Fein I think the issue is,

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is that a staging post in the deal? for Sinn Fein I think the issue is,

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they have an awkward position of, if they implement austerity there in

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Northern Ireland, they obviously have a very strong equality agenda,

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but welfare reform will increase economic and social inequality. They

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are between a rock and a hard place, Sinn Fein. People would say

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that if the bones of a deal are in existence, the sooner they get it

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published and signed up to in public the better.

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Potentially, Northern Ireland plc is losing ?5 million per month now to

:15:58.:16:01.

the Treasury again. We know that has not been imposed as yet, but

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potentially the amount of money we are going to lose from our budget is

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significant. We had an earlier legal debate, and

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there is -- interesting legal debate about how the Treasury can implement

:16:15.:16:19.

the ?5 million financial penalty. Do you think it is a hollow threat? I

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don't think it is a hollow threat, because they could do it relatively

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quickly. On the other hand, I think it is

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clearly important. We would have been pushed into a decision much

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more quickly if welfare reform and universal credit and Personal

:16:38.:16:40.

Independence Payments had gone with the timetable in Britain, but it's

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slowed down on the universal credit side because of problems with IP. In

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my view on the Personal Independence Payments side it has slowed down

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because it has played very badly for people with disabilities and the

:16:54.:16:56.

government has slowed that down because of an election. Therefore

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most of the pain will be felt in the early period of the next government.

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That has given us some breathing space. I would personally like to

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see what the two parties agree on being published, so that we can see

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where we are now and then have a debate about other things we may

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want to do above and beyond that. The two main parties may agree on

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something of deal to move this forward, but it requires wider

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society to agree on that. But also, critically, the other

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parties at Stormont. Absolutely, and both the Ulster

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Unionist Party, particularly Michael Copeland as the spokesperson, and

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the SDLP have been largely kept out of the loop, and they are

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particularly very critical. One of our worries is that what will happen

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with welfare reform is it will become a political football, whereas

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actually what we are dealing with is the importance of Social Security

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for people, particularly of working age, and it may well prove to be

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counterintuitive, just as the economy is getting back on its feet,

:18:02.:18:06.

that we do the number of things in Social Security that actually take

:18:07.:18:10.

us in the other direction and have a negative impact on economic

:18:11.:18:16.

recovery. It is a tough, bread and butter issue for our politicians to

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deal with this. What makes it interesting is that it is outside

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the usual binary political debate. It is. If we look at the local

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authorities worst affected by this - Belfast, Strabane, Coleraine - it

:18:31.:18:36.

affects heartlands of both the main political parties. This will play

:18:37.:18:40.

very badly in the heartlands of both the DUP and Sinn Fein, and they are

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both very aware of that. Therefore, the politics of this are really

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important as well as the actual outcomes for the people on the

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ground. If the Personal Independence Payments are introduced as it is,

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then 25% of people of working age under Disability Living Allowance

:19:00.:19:01.

will lose benefit altogether when they move across to that. That is a

:19:02.:19:05.

lot of money coming out of the local economy, a lot of hardship, and that

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will have to be picked up somewhere else as -- in terms of health or

:19:11.:19:13.

housing problems. In Britain this is happening, other places are happy

:19:14.:19:17.

that Michael having to pick up the slack. It is not saving the money

:19:18.:19:22.

the government originally intended. -- other places are having to pick

:19:23.:19:30.

up the slack. Cathy, do you get the sense that the

:19:31.:19:35.

two main parties are inching toward something of agreement on this?

:19:36.:19:43.

Inching is probably the right word. There is the possibility of an

:19:44.:19:46.

agreement on the horizon, in part driven by

:19:47.:19:56.

agreement on the horizon, in part first quarter of penalties at ?5

:19:57.:20:04.

billion per month. -- 15 million. ?5 million per month. The Treasury has

:20:05.:20:09.

said they will levy the penalty if they did not detect any progress.

:20:10.:20:13.

Progress and agreement are two different things, and I think the

:20:14.:20:18.

two main parties can say they are inching towards an agreed position

:20:19.:20:21.

on this, so they are making progress without moving very fast. The reason

:20:22.:20:25.

for that, I think, is that moving at a slow pace allows the politicians

:20:26.:20:30.

in Northern Ireland to really zone in non-where the problems are in the

:20:31.:20:35.

rest of the UK, so that those mistakes are not made here, for

:20:36.:20:37.

example around the competing problems that they have had. It

:20:38.:20:41.

example around the competing sounds a little bit like a carrot

:20:42.:20:45.

and stick approach on the behalf of the Treasury.

:20:46.:20:50.

Do you think this matter will be sorted out clearly once and for all.

:20:51.:20:55.

No, because I think last year Nelson McCausland said publicly is that

:20:56.:20:58.

four of the six areas he had agreed behind the scenes with the

:20:59.:21:02.

government would be concessions to Northern Ireland.

:21:03.:21:06.

We seem to be no further forward. I find it extraordinary that was not a

:21:07.:21:08.

single party that supports the welfare reforms giving that polling

:21:09.:21:14.

suggest they are popular. -- given that. Let's take a look at the week

:21:15.:21:17.

in 60 seconds with Stephen Walker. It was friends this united as old

:21:18.:21:32.

pals fell out. He was prepared to go forward to the

:21:33.:21:38.

destruction of the party. But the current DUP leader was keeping his

:21:39.:21:41.

own counsel. I do not intend to take part in

:21:42.:21:45.

these kinds of recriminations. Others suggested Doctor Ian Paisley

:21:46.:21:49.

was on his own. What Ian Paisley has done is expose

:21:50.:21:53.

himself as a billy no mates. Another leading man said he would

:21:54.:21:58.

exit the stage - Matt Baggot is to step down as the PSNI chief

:21:59.:22:01.

constable. At Westminster, David Cameron said

:22:02.:22:05.

the government would not intervene and

:22:06.:22:05.

the government would not intervene help, I think we can make progress.

:22:06.:22:17.

Even before it hit the stage, a spoof play on the Bible was shown

:22:18.:22:21.

the final curtain by Newtownabbey Council.

:22:22.:22:30.

Stephen Walker reporting. Cathy, has the dust finally settled on the two

:22:31.:22:39.

Ian Paisley documentaries? I don't think so, I think people

:22:40.:22:42.

will be interested in this story for a long time as the uninterested in

:22:43.:22:46.

any political dynasty. It is of particular interest to us because

:22:47.:22:53.

we're from Northern Ireland. -- as they are interested in any political

:22:54.:22:58.

business -- dynasty. But coups were leaders are

:22:59.:23:03.

overthrown, then we come back to the leader to the previous one who had

:23:04.:23:06.

just been deposed. It is fascinating for us at a local level but this is

:23:07.:23:10.

in practice practising politics internationally.

:23:11.:23:16.

The intriguing place -- the intriguing thing is to wear all of

:23:17.:23:22.

this leaves Ian Paisley junior. Even though he seems to have had limited

:23:23.:23:24.

involvement in

:23:25.:24:05.

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