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
Gormley-Heenan and journalist Sam McBride.
establishing an official opposition cranks up a gear. This time it is
the turn of the Ulster Unionist Party the party chairman has tabled
an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill which would pave the way for
opposition. The party NI21 have the stated
intention of campaigning for an opposition.
Welcome to the programme, Lord Empey, first of all, why are you
making a case for formal opposition at Stormont at this stage? Because
there is a piece of legislation in front of Parliament that allows me
to do so, the Northern Ireland miscellaneous provisions Bill and
allows you to put forward items of a wide range of areas.
I have put forward a series of amendments. There is a legislative
vehicle in front of us at this point. So you can do it, the
question is why choose to do it? It looks to the public, I suggest,
that it is a change of tack on the part of the Ulster Unionist Party.
You were not in favour of opposition, now you appear to be. I
am afraid you are wrong. Our 2010 manifesto had provision for
opposition. In our manifesto for 2011 it is included, and at Mike
Nesbitt's maiden speech he raised the question of opposition. Whether
we as a party would ever seek to be an opposition is a totally different
issue from whether we have an official opposition or not. We want
the provision could be applied because we think it will strengthen
Stormont, it will move us one stage towards more normal politics and I
cannot see any reason why anyone would be opposed to it.
In the public mind, John McCallister stood for the story -- Ulster
Unionist leader against Mike Nesbitt, he stood on a ticket of
wanting to take the party into opposition and Mike Nesbitt oppose
that. Now the former leader looks to be supporting opposition. Can you
see how that looks strange to the public? John wanted to take the
party into opposition there and then.
party into opposition there and executive and just sit there. There
is no status, you will get no speaking rights, supply days or
anything and opposition would get. John McCallister, do you accept that
analysis? My Private Members' Bill would
create that, and effectively at the minute we are looking at two former
leaders of the Ulster Unionist Party effectively wanting to take powers
away from the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Legal advice in this is quite clear. We can do this at Stormont, and that
is the place this should be being done. I welcome the debate, but if
he wants to do something in the Northern Ireland miscellaneous Bill,
what he should be doing is tackling the bits we cannot do at Stormont,
like designation or particularly tackling the way we elect the
Justice Minister. You are saying tackling the way we elect the
this debate is unnecessary because you think the powers already reside
at Stormont? Let me be clear on that, they reside
at Stormont. The legal advice is that they reside
at Stormont. That is where this should be decided and debated. But
that would be for something of informal opposition rather than
formal opposition. What he is wanting to do, all of
that is decided at Stormont, and we can change that.
The best vehicle to do that is in my Private Members' Bill. This point
about trying to normalise politics - you cannot have a party leader out
fighting a culture where -- culture war and then talk about normalising
politics. The public will not understand that message. You cannot
talk about opposition as you would claim, Reg, for about 16 years and
not want to go into it, not see that we believe strong enough to go into
it. We believe in having it but do not want to go into it seems to be
the message from the UUP. John McCallister is saying, Reg Empey,
that this should be the preserve of the MLAs at Stormont.
No, if he looks at his own party's website on the 27th of August,
No, if he looks at his own party's wants to go down and leave it at
Stormont you would be the way thing of the shin of -- of Sinn Fein and
the DUP, they can snuff you out like that. Standing orders at Stormont
can be changed at any point by the largest two parties. We want to have
it in statute so there is no question that the stat us of an
opposition is not dependent on the goodwill of the two parties who
happen to be in control. -- the status. Does that mean that Mike
Nesbitt would want to take the Australian unionists into
opposition? He can do that at the moment anyway.
-- the Ulster Unionists. No, he cannot.
All you can do is become a group of backbenchers with no status. First
of all, any party that thinks in an election fights to win. You fight to
win, to get support for your policies and implement them in over
a month. But on occasion, parties do not win. -- implement them in
government. We want to have an opposition which is officially
recognised which cannot be the plaything of any two parties at
Stormont. The methodology for electing ministers and selecting
them is all in the Northern Ireland act, so should opposition be. There
is not very much separating you, is there?
The point is, opposition is not mentioned in the Northern Ireland
act. mentioned in the Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Assembly, there is not the legal adviser. And Professor
Rick Wilford doesn't know what he is doing?
The advice from the Assembly is that opposition is a devolved matter and
when you read through Reg's amendment we can change that in the
Assembly and that is the best vehicle to do it.
Reg talks about being snuffed out by the DUP and Sinn Fein if they wanted
to. You mention endorsement of the Ulster Unionist
Party being in government. -- the A5. This is a debate we should be
all on. You cannot do that while in government and fighting a culture
war at the same time. All of those things contradict each other.
John is arguing to totally different things. Whether due as a party are
in opposition is one issue. What I am dealing with is providing a
structural mechanism to allow it to happen at Westminster where it
cannot be interfered with by Stormont. Otherwise the parties that
control Stormont can snuff you out at any time. You accept you can do
it at Stormont? No, you cannot do that.
You can. The legal advice is clear.
You can change standing orders, not primary legislation.
But the place to do primary legislation is at Stormont. It is
not, you are totally wrong. I would welcome him to the debate behaviour
is doing something, particularly around designation.
We will leave it there, thank you both for now.
Let's hear from our commentators, Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Sam
McBride. Sam, some people think we may be dancing on the head of a pin,
others think this is a fundamental issue that needs to be clarified,
which is it for you? It is both. Sitting on the fence! It is going to
be teased out at Westminster, whether the government takes this as
an amendment to its bill. If it does, and Lord Empey as closer
links to the Tories through the history of the Ulster Unionist
Party, and if they do then clearly the legal advice that the government
has is that it can. If they do not, there will be a question over that.
There are two separate issues here. Is there a mechanism for
opposition? Sometimes I think public unhappiness at Stormont has forced a
debate into the parties, where the Ulster Unionist Party is reluctant
about this, increasingly there is this
about this, increasingly there is same thing. What is your opinion on
where authority arrived as Michael resides?
You are an academic and you know Rick Wilford and Alex Kane very
well, you know the territory very well, do you side with John or Reg?
I am not a legal expert. I am not prepared to side with
either of them. I am heartened by this debate, today, because it puts
the issue of opposition squarely onto the agenda. Last year the
Assembly and review committee looked at this issue specifically. They put
out a call for a consultation. Not many people got involved in the
debate at the time under this forces us to have a thorough and robust
debate on the mechanisms for an opposition and what that may mean
for Northern Ireland, particularly for things like who would chair the
Public Accounts Committee? Northern Ireland is the only area in the UK
that has a Public Accounts Committee not chaired by the member of the
opposition. That is important to me because an opposition at its core is
about good governance and holding the government to account. You
cannot hold yourself to account if you are holding the office and
holding the accountability mechanisms, as well. That is why
this debate, complicated as it may seem, is important. It is
fundamental. The debate that has been hand, that
people outside of the political village have had come is forcing the
pace on this. -- the debate that has been hand.
?15 million has been lost out of the executive budget already this year
because of our failure to agree on welfare reform. The finance minister
warned this week the penalty is expected to increase significantly.
The welfare reform Bill was pulled in April because of a lack of
agreement with the DUP blaming Sinn Fein for a delay. The finance
minister, Simon Hamilton, said he was disappointed no progress had
been made. I will have to return to the welfare reform issue.
I am hugely disappointed no progress has been made on this issue. As a
result, the executive had no option but to set aside ?50 million to
result, the executive had no option returning to the Treasury, which is
now unable to be spent on services that benefit our citizens. Those who
resist, Mr Speaker, the inevitability of welfare reform, can
answer why our health budget, roads budget or schools budget has to lose
out this year. It is my party's view that in terms
of the ?15 million of welfare money, that is not dead money. That
15 million is still in the pockets of many low income people. It is
more likely to be spent, in terms of local economy and retail and other
areas. That 15 million is not dead money, it is money that is quite
important to the local economy. The differing views of Simon Hamilton
and Daithi McKay. With me is Les Allamby, an expert in
welfare law. Where do we stand on this complicated issue? All of the
main political parties are critical of welfare reform as it is in
Britain. You can understand why, because
Sheffield Hallam University recently did a survey that said ?750 million
will come out of the economy if we slavishly follow the GB reform, and
of the local authorities across the UK seven out of the top 20 were
actually in Northern Ireland. Where we are is the two main parties in
government, Sinn Fein and the DUP, worked very hard over the summer to
try and get a deal, and they got a measure of agreement on a number of
issues on this in the public domain, such as the bedroom tax
which has gone very badly in Britain. They will only introduce it
for new claimants. You think that is the deal they have reached? That is
not the whole of the deal but it is part of it.
There are other parts of the deal, I think they have followed the
Scottish model, which is to put more money into what will be called the
discretionary support fund here and to do other things. Where the two
parties are parting company that at the moment is that is the deal as
far as the DUP are concerned, but for Sinn Fein I think the issue is,
is that a staging post in the deal? for Sinn Fein I think the issue is,
they have an awkward position of, if they implement austerity there in
Northern Ireland, they obviously have a very strong equality agenda,
but welfare reform will increase economic and social inequality. They
are between a rock and a hard place, Sinn Fein. People would say
that if the bones of a deal are in existence, the sooner they get it
published and signed up to in public the better.
Potentially, Northern Ireland plc is losing ?5 million per month now to
the Treasury again. We know that has not been imposed as yet, but
potentially the amount of money we are going to lose from our budget is
significant. We had an earlier legal debate, and
there is -- interesting legal debate about how the Treasury can implement
the ?5 million financial penalty. Do you think it is a hollow threat? I
don't think it is a hollow threat, because they could do it relatively
quickly. On the other hand, I think it is
clearly important. We would have been pushed into a decision much
more quickly if welfare reform and universal credit and Personal
Independence Payments had gone with the timetable in Britain, but it's
slowed down on the universal credit side because of problems with IP. In
my view on the Personal Independence Payments side it has slowed down
because it has played very badly for people with disabilities and the
government has slowed that down because of an election. Therefore
most of the pain will be felt in the early period of the next government.
That has given us some breathing space. I would personally like to
see what the two parties agree on being published, so that we can see
where we are now and then have a debate about other things we may
want to do above and beyond that. The two main parties may agree on
something of deal to move this forward, but it requires wider
society to agree on that. But also, critically, the other
parties at Stormont. Absolutely, and both the Ulster
Unionist Party, particularly Michael Copeland as the spokesperson, and
the SDLP have been largely kept out of the loop, and they are
particularly very critical. One of our worries is that what will happen
with welfare reform is it will become a political football, whereas
actually what we are dealing with is the importance of Social Security
for people, particularly of working age, and it may well prove to be
counterintuitive, just as the economy is getting back on its feet,
that we do the number of things in Social Security that actually take
us in the other direction and have a negative impact on economic
recovery. It is a tough, bread and butter issue for our politicians to
deal with this. What makes it interesting is that it is outside
the usual binary political debate. It is. If we look at the local
authorities worst affected by this - Belfast, Strabane, Coleraine - it
affects heartlands of both the main political parties. This will play
very badly in the heartlands of both the DUP and Sinn Fein, and they are
both very aware of that. Therefore, the politics of this are really
important as well as the actual outcomes for the people on the
ground. If the Personal Independence Payments are introduced as it is,
then 25% of people of working age under Disability Living Allowance
will lose benefit altogether when they move across to that. That is a
lot of money coming out of the local economy, a lot of hardship, and that
will have to be picked up somewhere else as -- in terms of health or
housing problems. In Britain this is happening, other places are happy
that Michael having to pick up the slack. It is not saving the money
the government originally intended. -- other places are having to pick
up the slack. Cathy, do you get the sense that the
two main parties are inching toward something of agreement on this?
Inching is probably the right word. There is the possibility of an
agreement on the horizon, in part driven by
agreement on the horizon, in part first quarter of penalties at ?5
billion per month. -- 15 million. ?5 million per month. The Treasury has
said they will levy the penalty if they did not detect any progress.
Progress and agreement are two different things, and I think the
two main parties can say they are inching towards an agreed position
on this, so they are making progress without moving very fast. The reason
for that, I think, is that moving at a slow pace allows the politicians
in Northern Ireland to really zone in non-where the problems are in the
rest of the UK, so that those mistakes are not made here, for
example around the competing problems that they have had. It
example around the competing sounds a little bit like a carrot
and stick approach on the behalf of the Treasury.
Do you think this matter will be sorted out clearly once and for all.
No, because I think last year Nelson McCausland said publicly is that
four of the six areas he had agreed behind the scenes with the
government would be concessions to Northern Ireland.
We seem to be no further forward. I find it extraordinary that was not a
single party that supports the welfare reforms giving that polling
suggest they are popular. -- given that. Let's take a look at the week
in 60 seconds with Stephen Walker. It was friends this united as old
pals fell out. He was prepared to go forward to the
destruction of the party. But the current DUP leader was keeping his
own counsel. I do not intend to take part in
these kinds of recriminations. Others suggested Doctor Ian Paisley
was on his own. What Ian Paisley has done is expose
himself as a billy no mates. Another leading man said he would
exit the stage - Matt Baggot is to step down as the PSNI chief
constable. At Westminster, David Cameron said
the government would not intervene and
the government would not intervene help, I think we can make progress.
Even before it hit the stage, a spoof play on the Bible was shown
the final curtain by Newtownabbey Council.
Stephen Walker reporting. Cathy, has the dust finally settled on the two
Ian Paisley documentaries? I don't think so, I think people
will be interested in this story for a long time as the uninterested in
any political dynasty. It is of particular interest to us because
we're from Northern Ireland. -- as they are interested in any political
business -- dynasty. But coups were leaders are
overthrown, then we come back to the leader to the previous one who had
just been deposed. It is fascinating for us at a local level but this is
in practice practising politics internationally.
The intriguing place -- the intriguing thing is to wear all of
this leaves Ian Paisley junior. Even though he seems to have had limited