29/04/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


Tara Mills looks at the political developments of the week and questions policy makers on the key issues.

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In Northern Ireland: more arguments this week about exactly how much


paid the wealth -- the welfare reform will bring.


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 1679 seconds


Hello and welcome to Sunday politics in Northern Ireland. David


Cameron has been accused of not doing enough to help poorer people


in tough times, what more can our politicians do? Is there still a


chance to make changes and ease the pain some have warned is bound to


come? Also on the programme: The short


sittings and poor debates, R MLAs doing the business on the hill?


They are not doing anything else of scrutiny so the evidence shows no


work at all schedules for April and May. And we will have news of some


unwanted guests in the Department of Justice.


While the Social Development Minister has repeatedly cautioned


against breaking parity on the welfare bill, we have heard a lot


this week about the need to make changes to reflect the needs of


Northern Ireland. Are we a special case? You are very welcome to the


programme. Simon, have you been overly defensive about the


children's Commissioner's report this week? We recognise there are a


lot of people out there because of the economic downturn who were in


pain. For many that is compounded by the spectre of a welfare reform.


Trying to ease those concerns has not helped by this report. Its


evidential base is out of date and figures are included that the


Department for Social Development does not recognise where they have


come from. They would say they are from the website. They say they are


on the website or provided by the Department. There are figures that


are simply do not stack up. Some of the language is incredibly clumsy.


If you go to page 11 of the report it seems to suggest that the


Assembly should consider limiting the family size of those who on


benefits. I am sure that the Children's Commissioner who is


charged with protecting the rights of children would not be advocating


a Chinese style policy. What they are saying is that when it comes to


a 6th child, should benefit be withdrawn to try ended centre by


his people not to have huge families if they cannot afford it,


is it a bad idea? I think it is an outrageous decision -- suggestion


that the Assembly should social engineer families. I would call


upon the Children's Commissioner to come forward immediately and


clarify the status of this suggestion because it is an


outrageous suggestion and I would hope that the Children's


Commissioner who was meant to protect children would not advocate


such a position. What do you make of this report? Whether the


statistics are right or wrong, I think with our own eyes we can see


there are problems in society. I think we can see that austerity is


biting very hard on families. Families with one child, three


children, five children, six children... When it comes to big


families, should people make decisions, people who have plenty


of money make decisions all the time about their family size?


think everyone should make decisions about their family size


but it should not be legislated for. That is the key. People should have


the wisdom and common sense to recognise how many children are


they can adequately provide for. Rather than having more children


than they can provide for they should use, shall I use the term?


Restraint. It is not up to the Government to dictate how many


children a family should have a. Thank you very much. Sinn Fein --


Sinn Fein's Alex Laski chairs the commission, this is all about


parity. Do you fundamentally disagree with parity? This has been


used to kill off any discussion about the way we administer the


system of benefits. I understand Parity and it is a huge issue and I


cannot dismiss it. It is a big issue. There are some people who


would say that they agree with it so they are entitled to have that


view but not everyone shares that. It is not easy for you because


you're not in the social development committee, you are on


the committee but you do not hold the ministerial position. We have a


statutory responsibility as a scrutiny Committee. Across all of


the parties in the past year, I have chaired this committee in the


past year and we have taken a range of presentations. The commissioner


has the responsibility to bring forward reports, no matter what the


content is a. We have discussed with the trade union sector, we


have had presentations from a whole raft of organisation says... Lots


of people are really unhappy... Department themselves, last year,


gave us a figure and after the introduction of the new welfare


changes, that department quoted a figure of a reduction in the


overall money of �450 million. Others have written that figure to


more than 700 million. I would say to people let us deal with the fact.


Scrutiny committee only deal with facts and evidence and we will do


that robustly. What can you do for the people along watching today who


feel they will be badly hit, their children will end up being reduced


into a poverty situation, what can you do to make a difference to


them? Is the answer nothing? answer is not nothing and should


not be nothing. Parity should not be seen as, there is parity so


there was nothing we can do. There was a halt system to underpin this


new put -- reform. They are a raft of sanctions which are very


draconian so we are saying that if we do not have the same type of


housing stock as exists elsewhere, how can we penalise people for


having to live in a home that they cannot move out of, to something


more suitable for their family size? So we should not be capping


money for that and they should not be sanctions. We are looking at


areas of flexibility so we're trying to agree on a range of ways


in which we can do things Tiffany to meet the needs of people here.


What we know and everybody has agreed on this is that there will


be a significant reduction in the money available through the


benefits system. The benefits system is designed to support


people who were vulnerable, who fall out of any -- employment and


so one. That is a system which is a fail-safe mechanism. The benefit


levels are supposed to be at subsistence level. What we are


talking about here is �450 million being taken out. That means people


will lose money, family by family. Most of the changes we have heard


about so far I Nasir that -- methods of payment. It may not take


on board the payment to the head of household. Are we may pay directly


to the landlord in said of the tenant. That will not help people


who have mental health issues and will get their DLA cut. We have put


a fair amount of concentration into this. Some of these measures relate


to both departments and we are concerned that people who have


mental health issues, and we have a very high rate of that unfortunate


the... Are you satisfied they will not be targeted? It is probably


easier because if you have a broken leg you can see it, but a mental


health issue is not visible. There is sympathy towards that but no


more than that at this point in time. I have been the chair of this


committee in the past year and I have not raised it every week to


grab a headline that I have refused to do that. When the legislation


comes before you, what can you do? What fundamental differences can


you make? What we are doing at the executive level is we are looking


at areas of what we call flexibility. That will allow


agreement on what those flexibilities may actually be. How


can we administer the system better? How do you assess people


with mental health issues? We have a private company at the moment


that has been given a contract to assess people. They are not even


fully qualified medical professionals. We have had a long


argument about medical health practitioners and medical health


professionals, it is very difficult to work it out. We're interested in


the process by which people will be assessed for these particular


conditions and they have been a lot of problems around that. What we


will be looking for is how the system can be administered better


in the interests of people that we all represent here. We will


certainly be watching with interest. Thank you. Tomorrow the Assembly


will debate a DUP private member's motion about the Chancellor's plan


to limit tax relief on charitable donations. Since the executive has


no power, why is it being raised at Stormont? It will raise -- it will


use up some time during the plenary session. There are concerns that


MLAs are running out of things to to talk about. The Assembly is


adjourned. Monday's plenary at the Assembly ended after just four


hours. Members have had an early bath on several occasions recently.


It seems there's just not enough to talk about. This is a farce. We


turn up here two half days a week to discuss the notions and to fill


the time and try and put a face on But is the Assembly really so


unproductive? In the last mandate, 69 bills passed through and


received Royal Assent. Three of these were from private members.


Since the new Assembly began last summer, three bills have reached


Royal Assent. During the last mandate in Scotland,


53 bills were passed, but a larger proportion - a total of 13, came


from private members. In this parliament, two bills have reached


Royal Assent. We are not even a year into current


Assembly and things do take time to be drafted up, and given the


circumstances in NI there are more hurdles to be overcome and so


things tend to be slower. This Former Deputy Speaker agrees


that the recent lack of business is frustrating, and he has a possible


solution. I suppose one way of getting round this is reducing the


today's, Monday and Tuesday, two one-day and using that extra day


either for specific constituency business or even more importantly,


I think, committee business. In all legislatures it is the committee


business which is where the work is done really.


But according to a former senior official at the Assembly, the


committees aren't as busy as they could or should be, either. Half


the committees are not doing an inquiry at the moment. So few bills


at legislation in front of them. They are not doing any financial


scrutiny except the Personnel Committee. The evidence... Some of


the fall would work programmes shown no work at all schedules for


April and May. The L in MLA stands for legislative


and since there's not much in the way of actual legislation coming


through the executive, this would seem to be the perfect opportunity


for members to introduce their own bills. And that's what's happening


here today. The Green Party's Stephen Agnew is


launching a consultation on his proposed bill aimed at co-


ordinating children's services. should be judged in this Assembly


term by the end of it on what decisions have been passed and how


that legislation will improve life for people in Northern Ireland or


the governance of Northern Ireland. Beverages are sold in all


parliament out legs... Some observers feel the Assembly is


occasionally wasting their time on matters that might be worthy but


are now not pressing. While there is space for no other business,


people will select these because there is nothing else to discuss.


The absence of legislation creates a huge space for Mr. I thing the


Assembly is left feeling that there are full-time members of full-time


salaries doing full-time -- part- time jobs. What is the point in


tomorrow's motion when you have no power to change it? I think it is


important that from time to time and we bring forward the concerns


of their constituents. In this case it is charities that will have


concerns about the changes the rules and Westminster are having on


Northern Ireland. It is important we project our boys from the


Assembly on the national voice as well when it is appropriate. I


think it is unfair to criticise the Assembly because we have not passed


a lot of legislation. We have only been back in recession since last


year and legislation is not all we do. There is constituency work as


well as committee work and the committees are busy despite what he


said in nappies. Legislation is not the only way in which a minister


can act to improve lives of people in Northern Ireland. There are lots


of things going on. They have been over 100 questioned and fashions in


the Assembly and there have been 70 oral statements... People don't


expect their lives to change because they have locally


accountable government. It does not always require legislation to do


that. If you look at the piece on Scotland's, they have only had two


Bills pass this session and they do not have the problems that we have


in terms of the system. They have a one-party government and it should


be easier for them to get legislation through the system.


you go out and talk to people, how can you change the perception?


appreciate the perception is there and it is far from ideal what we


have. We are encumbered by the system we have. Because you have


ministries moving from one party to another, different ministers from


different parties will have different priorities and one


different legislation. The conclusion of legislation can take


two years. There is a lot of legislation in the pipeline and


what you will probably see is something similar to the last


session where towards the end there will be about 30 bills in the last


18 months. That is far from perfect but we have a different system and


we cannot move legislation as quickly as a majority government.


The perception is exactly as you have identified. This mandate


commenced one year ago. Part and parcel of the current problem is


the fact that if you cast your mind back, the programme for government


was not agreed until March of this year. That was 10 months later.


Within that ten-month period, what happened, we had a lock of talk


about things that did not affect the individual's life and


livelihood and how people go about their lives in Northern Ireland.


The First Minister during a debate on the publication on the programme


for government, that stated that what they wanted to do was change


people's lives. I am assuming that what they wanted to do was change


people's lives for the better. No one would suggest for a moment that


within the past 10 months anybody's life in Northern Ireland has been


changed for the better. We see everything going from bad to worse.


That is what the perception and the reality out on the streets is. That


is why people are becoming more and more disenchanted with politics...


In fairness we have had a missions in the past couple of weeks and we


are in tough economic times. What did I hear last week, people were


saying, what are they talking in the Assembly? They have a 10 - --


they have entertained some monks and some sheikhs. It is perception.


They do not seek delivery. If you do not have a programme of


government for 10 months and remember what a programme of


government is meant to be, it is the context of setting the Budget


and the context in which you set your economic strategy if you have


one and two investment strategy. Everything has been done, cart


before horse. When you're in the Assembly, it was more than down --


down and that. There was very little time to do anything because


Assembly was collapsing (centre. It think it is unfair to characterise


everything that is going on as being an interesting. We were


debating health and security issues. These are important people. We are


trying our best to turn this country around. The point is that


it is not giving delivery. system that we have is a very


difficult system and it is distinct and different from elsewhere.


have to leave it there, we are completely out of time. Thank you


very much indeed. And now for a look at the political headlines in


60 seconds. The Attorney-General told the High


Court why he is prosecuting Peter Hain over his memoir.


That organisation responsible for regenerating Londonderry faced


questions about irregular spending. I am confident we will deal with


what is going on. We got it wrong and we will put it right.


The IRA murders of senior I r -- RUC officers were authorised by


Martin McGuinness has been rejected. I certainly would not be giving my


opinion that you will go home with no money. Staying with four legs,


we have heard of unwanted guests in the Justice Department. Rats,


vermin, to have their money through a place of work and the damage and


debt that it brings, is not very pleasant at all and is is something


that the Department want to get to grips with very quickly.


A certain irony in the politicians in Dublin discussing conflict


resolution and yet we have had some security alert some problems here.


I was in Dublin yesterday at the rugby with thousands of people from


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