29/04/2012 Sunday Politics Northern Ireland


29/04/2012

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

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paid the wealth -- the welfare reform will bring.

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 1679 seconds

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Hello and welcome to Sunday politics in Northern Ireland. David

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

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

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

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come? Also on the programme: The short

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

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

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

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unwanted guests in the Department of Justice.

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While the Social Development Minister has repeatedly cautioned

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

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

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

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programme. Simon, have you been overly defensive about the

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

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

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

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

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

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Department for Social Development does not recognise where they have

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

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

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

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

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Assembly should consider limiting the family size of those who on

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

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charged with protecting the rights of children would not be advocating

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

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

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

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

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that the Assembly should social engineer families. I would call

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upon the Children's Commissioner to come forward immediately and

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clarify the status of this suggestion because it is an

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outrageous suggestion and I would hope that the Children's

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Commissioner who was meant to protect children would not advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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families, should people make decisions, people who have plenty

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

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think everyone should make decisions about their family size

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

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the wisdom and common sense to recognise how many children are

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they can adequately provide for. Rather than having more children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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statutory responsibility as a scrutiny Committee. Across all of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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be a significant reduction in the money available through the

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benefits system. The benefits system is designed to support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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to both departments and we are concerned that people who have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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at areas of what we call flexibility. That will allow

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agreement on what those flexibilities may actually be. How

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

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

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

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fully qualified medical professionals. We have had a long

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argument about medical health practitioners and medical health

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

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the process by which people will be assessed for these particular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Royal Assent. During the last mandate in Scotland,

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

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

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Royal Assent. We are not even a year into current

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

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

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things tend to be slower. This Former Deputy Speaker agrees

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

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

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

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either for specific constituency business or even more importantly,

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

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business which is where the work is done really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April and May. The L in MLA stands for legislative

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

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

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

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here today. The Green Party's Stephen Agnew is

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launching a consultation on his proposed bill aimed at co-

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

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

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that legislation will improve life for people in Northern Ireland or

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the governance of Northern Ireland. Beverages are sold in all

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

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occasionally wasting their time on matters that might be worthy but

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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concerns about the changes the rules and Westminster are having on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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expect their lives to change because they have locally

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accountable government. It does not always require legislation to do

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

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

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

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be easier for them to get legislation through the system.

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

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

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

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ministries moving from one party to another, different ministers from

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different parties will have different priorities and one

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different legislation. The conclusion of legislation can take

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

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what you will probably see is something similar to the last

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

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

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we cannot move legislation as quickly as a majority government.

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The perception is exactly as you have identified. This mandate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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government for 10 months and remember what a programme of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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difficult system and it is distinct and different from elsewhere.

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

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

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60 seconds. The Attorney-General told the High

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Court why he is prosecuting Peter Hain over his memoir.

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That organisation responsible for regenerating Londonderry faced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:49:13.:49:16.

A certain irony in the politicians in Dublin discussing conflict

:49:16.:49:22.

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

:49:22.:49:26.

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

:49:26.:49:30.

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