26/01/2014 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


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

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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


involvement in


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