01/07/2013 Stormont Today


01/07/2013

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.


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Transcript


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Good evening. Welcome to Stormont Today.

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Coming up on tonight's programme: We look at some potential changes

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at Stormont's top table. Could this be the last time we see Sammy

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Wilson as Finance Minister? And is the SDLP about to change its only

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Minister in the Executive? And as police warn an illegal drug could

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be linked to the deaths of eight people, the Health Minister calls

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for action. The community and very often the people in this House are

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fed up with judges treating criminals with kid gloves. And it

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may be the end of term, but our political correspondent, Martina

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Purdy, was happy to stay after class.

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It's the final week of Stormont before the summer break and there's

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been a bit of an end of term feel up here all day. There's also much

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chatter about the probability of some movement at the top table.

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Before the end of the week there could be two new faces on the

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Executive. With me to discuss that, our political correspondent,

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Martina Purdy. There could be potentially quite a bit of movement

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on the executive There has been speculation about a couple of

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Ministers, for example, Sammy Wilson in the Department of Finance.

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He's supposed to leave in the next few weeks and be replaced by his

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parliamentary assistant. It's no surprise because when he appointed

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him Finance Minister in 2011 he indicated it would be a two-year

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appointment. At the same time he indicated there would be a mid-term

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review of staff, and he suggested that Edwin Poots after awhile -

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after midterm, could be replaced by Jim Wales, the MLA for South Down.

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Funnily enough we're not expecting him to take over health at the same

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time Simon Hamilton takes over finance. He could step into the job

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of parliamentary assistance and read himself into the health job,

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but so far, he's bearing up stoically. I rang him to ask, is it

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likely you're going to be moving? He said he was happy to serve. He

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hasn't heard anything but was happy to serve in whatever capacity the

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party want him to. I think there is fevered speculation - I don't think

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that's overstating it, about the future of the Environment Minister

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Alex Atwood. Alex Atwood, it's no secret, wasn't meant to be there

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much longer, and we have been hearing in recent days his

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departure is imminent. The question is who is going to replace him as

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Minister of the environment? The name we consistently have been

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hearing is Joe Burn, MLA for West Tyrone. I am hearing it's fairly

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controversial appointment inside the party because there are those

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who think it should be Patsy McGlone, who performed well in by-

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elections, that he's the best person to take over, but I am told

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he's made up his mind it will be burn. I think he wants to show Joe

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Burn appreciation for his contributions to the party over the

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years. I am hearing the Belfast councillor Nicola Maland will be

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the new Special Advisor to the Environment Minister. A file

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thought, the assembly is finishing. The final one is tomorrow we

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haven't seen the legislation brought forward perhaps we'd

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anticipated. No, it will be September at the earlier before we

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see the Education Bill, there to create new education structures.

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There is also the welfare reform Bill, pulled by the Social

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Development Minister in April no. Sign of it coming back on to the

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table, and that is causing problems we heard from Sammy Wilson today.

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He said there could be huge costs associated with this bill if it

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isn't passed by next January. He pointed it's costing the Treasury

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millions of pounds a month in lost savings and I think patients could

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wear out there. Thank you very much. So, we may not be seeing as much of

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Sammy Wilson in the future, but he was right in the middle of things

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today. The Finance Minister told the Assembly the total cost of the

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G8 summit in Fermanagh was �80 milliion. The figure came as Mr

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Wilson announced the redistribution of millions of pounds of Stormont

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finances. Departments submitted bids totaling �179 million in

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respect of resource expenditure and �233.2 million in terms of capital

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expenditure. Mr Speaker, there's been much focus on the cost of the

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G8 event. I have to say the most important thing that we

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successfully delivered - safe and secure event, and for that, I give

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my sincere thanks to the PSNI. Of course, this event did not come for

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free, and whitest the UK Government picked Up the majority of the costs

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the executive also picked up some funding. Security-related costs now

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stand at approximately �75 million. However, some �60 million or costs

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which the UK Government has agreed to cover - and that leaves a

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balance of �14.5 million, which the Executive agreed to allocate to DOJ.

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In addition to the policing and security-related costs there were

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additional costs registered by some departments including DRD and

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Health. This amounted to some �5.1 million and funded roads and

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improvements around Enniskillen, a publicity campaign to maximise the

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economic benefits of the event and pressure on the Fire and Rescue

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Service. Mr Speaker, we must recognise that the G8 event has the

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potential to generate huge economic benefits for Northern Ireland. That

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is why the event will be followed by an investment conference in the

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autumn. Of course we'll not know the full economic benefits for

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years to come. However, a recent report by Barclays estimated there

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could be significant net economic benefits in the short run with

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potential for greater long-term benefits for Northern Ireland.

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Pending further consideration of all options toond ensure that

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valuable time is not lost, the executive has agreed the Regional

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Development Minister can proceed with the MacElfield bypass project

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- this scheme costing around �40 million will address a key

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bottleneck on our roads network and the Executive's pro-active approach

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sends a clear message of confidence to our construction sector at this

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difficult. It's the anticipated work on the ground will start in

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the autumn of next year. I know that before the G8 happened, there

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was considerable doubt expressed as to its benefits to Northern Ireland,

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the cost there was going to be, and you always had the begrudgers and

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the naysayers and the whingeers and the negative people looking for the

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bad news story from it. I think - it has now been universally

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accepted that first of all, we put on a good show. The weather even

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helped us, for goodness sake. It was the safest and the most secure

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G8 and there have already been benefits from it in terms of the

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publicity. My question is how long will this take until its

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completion? Well, first of all, I am glad the member has welcomed the

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statement. I know both his and my party received some criticism

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because we didn't support the populist motion that had been

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brought forward to the Assembly a couple of weeks ago calling for the

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funding of the MacElFed bypass in this particular year, and of course,

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the reason for that as he'll well know, is money cannot be spend on

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the Macrofeld bypass in this particular year. There is still the

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vesting process to be done, the procurement process, and that's why

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I have said in this statement that we would expect work to begin in

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autumn of next year. Can he ensure this House that the cast costs that

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went into the G8 project would be able to be used in future policing

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operations and this wasn't just a one-off cost, that there will be a

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long-term benefit to the police for what they bought? Some of the

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expenditure was for capital equipment, surveillance equipment,

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drones, et cetera, which don't disappear after the G8 has gone and

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are not redundant after the G8 is over, and that would be capital

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equipment which would be available to the police, and therefore should

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be part of the normal budget. Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson.

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The Minister for Health was asked how his Department is responding to

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reports that at least eight deaths could be linked to an illegal drug

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currently in circulation. Edwin Poots said emergency departments

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are equipped to deal with drug cases, but communities, he said,

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need to stand up to the dealers. First of all, Mr Deputy Speaker, I

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am very concerned to hear there have been a number of sudden deaths

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across Northern Ireland that may be linked to drugs use. I would like

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to begin by passing on my condolences to anyone who has lost

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a loved one or a friend in these difficult circumstances. It is

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important to stress that investigations into these deaths

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are ongoing, and we do not know at this stage that they're drug

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related or what, if any, substance is involved. There's bad batch of

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drugs out there, whether they're illegal or legal that are killing

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our people, so can you give us as much information as you possibly

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can and let us know even some of the symptoms that the people need

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to be looking out for? And as our A&E departments made aware of the

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symptoms so if somebody does present themselves, then they're

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actually brought through the system quicker? Staff in our emergency

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departments are trained and equipped to deal with a wide range

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of scenarios, including people who have taken drugs - people who have

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taken drugs overdoses and so forth. It may be possible that these drugs

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have been bought off the internet, but it's probably unlikely, given

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the fact that there was a number of people died in one particular area,

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so there's a whole range of areas we need to be looking at and the

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message just needs to keep going out that if you haven't been

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prescribed drugs by your GP, obtained from a pharmacist, you

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shouldn't be taking them. Would he agree that those profiting from

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this are profiting with the death and the lives and indeed the ill

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health it is caution to many of our young and indeed other aged groups.

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People don't sell drugs for the good of a community. People sell

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drugs because they can make profits. Huge profits by selling drugs, and

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they don't occur for the individuals that they sell the

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drugs to, whether they can afford them, whether it has an impact upon

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their families, what hurt it does, what harm it does or what damage it

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does, and that's why I'm saying very, very clearly today that

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communities need to hand these people over. They are poisoning our

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own community. And I also drive a very important

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message home today to our judges and our courts that when the

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communities stand up to these people - because it isn't very easy

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to do because they're nasty and violent individuals very often -

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that when the communities stand up to these people, that they will

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stand shoulder to shoulder with these people and give them

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appropriate sentences and not some slap on the wrists because the

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community and very often the people in this House are fed one judges

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treating criminals with kid gloves. The gloves were certainly off when

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it came to the subject of the former Maze Prison site at a

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meeting of the OFM/DFM Committee last week. While the First and

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Deputy First Minister were taking questions, it was the DUP's Jimmy

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Spratt who made headlines after he referred to opponents of a proposed

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peace building as "nutters". The Maze, however, wasn't the only

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issue generating heat, as we can see in this week's look at

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committee business. In relation to the first matter about planning, I

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have read some of the hoo-haw in the newspapers, and you know, how

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people have managed to twist for political purposes the nature of

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what was being sought in terms of the planning - I - I have been in

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many parts of the world where I have spoken to people who are

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looking to invest in Northern Ireland and have been put off by

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our planning experiences, and it is internationally recognised that

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Northern Ireland has a poor planning outcome, and if you have

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that out in the international community, there has to be a

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message that goes out to the international community to say,

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things have changed, and I believe that that's the kind of message

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that'll be sent out by what we have done. I have to say I think there's

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been a lot of scare-mongering over the course of the debate that we

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have had in the Assembly in the course of this week, and I think it

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was for political grandstanding purposes, no question or doubt

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about it whatsoever, and it came basically from a Minister who has

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always protected his own independence from the Executive.

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He's not a team player. It's someone who has his own political

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agenda, and even during the course of the debate - and I concur with

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everything Peter said in relation to the arguments that were made

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about this being a land grab by OFM DFM - it's absolutely nothing of

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the sort. I sit here as a member for the valley, and Maze Prison is

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right in the middle of my constituency. When I say when I

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canvass now, there is no opposition to the Maze. The Ministers have

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said that the people of Northern Ireland not only voted with the

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ballot box but they voted with their pockets. Thousands of them

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paid money to go into the Maze. Nobody dragged them in. You're

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talking about Lagan Valley. It is in my area, and the jobs that it

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brings for all of Northern Ireland put us on the world stage. Let's

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not conflate the development of the Maze site. We need to look forward,

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chair, on how we're moving Northern Ireland forward and the Maze is a

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vehicle for that. We can either all get onboard or... Mr Chairman you,

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can't get away with that argument you're attempting to put forward,

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which is not to mistake the development of the site with the

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position of the retained buildings or other - the Peace Building

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centre. That's an inaccurate and you know a totally wrong position

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to adopt. The decision to place the Peace Building centre had already

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been taken. The decision to retain the buildings had already been

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taken. Those were facts that couldn't be changed unless there

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was going to be a Damascus Road experience on the part of Sinn Fein

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and the SDLP for that matter. don't want to get bogged down in

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this, but - I think some of your interventions, like calling the

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people who are against the Peace Building - the centre of the Maze -

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calling them nutters I don't think is helpful. I didn't say that.

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heard you. Point of order. You made reference to a word - I was

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speaking to my colleague, and you made reference to - as an

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independent chair something totally out of context in terms of what was

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said, so I want you to apologise to me for doing that. It's the usual

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way that you try to spin things on the media and everything else to

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suit your own agenda. I certainly was not calling anybody in this

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room or indeed people who have opposition to the Maze nutters, so

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get your facts right before you try to spin and make statements in the

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future, and if you have any guts at all, you'll apologise for not

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independently chairing the meeting at that point. I know what you said,

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Jimmy. Well, let's see - Jimmy Spratt and Mike Nesbitt

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differing on the course of events there but Hansard, in the end,

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sided with Mr Nesbitt. It was a busy day for Sammy Wilson today,

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who also faced Members during Question Time. The Minister locked

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horns with Sinn Fein over his fiscal policy, but before that he

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was asked about potential changes to the defamation law in Northern

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Ireland. I've no plans to initiate a review of the law of defamation

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of present with the passing of the Defamation Act 2013. There have

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been a number of far-reaching changes in the law and in England

:17:15.:17:19.

and Wales, and it's my view that what we should do - and it would be

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prudent to see how those changes work through before we make any

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decision how we want to progress that issue here in Northern Ireland.

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I think what we have to avoid is following the Westminster

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legislation - we have to strike the right balance for here in relation

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to the balance between freedom of speech and a private gap and not

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allow the gap to be exploited by poor journalism. The point I would

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make to the member, and indeed, this was recognised by the Minister

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when this issue was discussed in the House of Lords is it was up for

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devolved administrations to look at the situation in their own

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localities then make decision about that. There is no question about

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suppressing freedom of speech. Before this act went through,

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people were free to express themselves and newspapers were free

:18:09.:18:13.

to carry stories, so somehow or another, as a result of this act

:18:13.:18:18.

going through and us not implementing this act, freedom of

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speech is being suppressed in Northern Ireland is just a lot of

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nonsense. I would love to be able to say to the member - because I am

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sure she'd love this answer - that when it comes to the net fiscal

:18:30.:18:34.

balance report, we just plucked the figure out of the air and say,

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"There it is" and stick it down on paper.

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These are not figures that are made up. These are figures which are

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subject to a degree of rigour, to a degree of international scrutiny,

:18:46.:18:50.

and therefore, wriggle as they will, Sinn Fein will never be able to

:18:50.:18:57.

make the case that somehow or other we owe money to the rest of the UK

:18:57.:19:04.

rather than we get a positive flow of money from the Treasury to

:19:04.:19:08.

Northern Ireland and therefore that is the value of being British and

:19:08.:19:15.

part of the United Kingdom. Minister, all of this is a

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distraction from the simple fact that there is no statement of

:19:17.:19:21.

revenue here in the north. The figures we have are not comparable

:19:21.:19:27.

to those in Scotland. Can the Minister outline how and when he

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plans to provide accurate figures? I know Sinn Fein would love to wish

:19:31.:19:35.

away the billions of pounds which come from the Exchequer to Northern

:19:35.:19:39.

Ireland in their pursuit of their political objective, but even the

:19:39.:19:43.

fairies wouldn't believe that, and I don't think their own supporters

:19:43.:19:49.

believe it, and the fact that 25% of their own voters now wouldn't

:19:49.:19:52.

vote for a united Northern Ireland is an indication that they haven't

:19:52.:19:57.

even sold the story to their own voters. If the Minister were to

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find that he again had sufficient spare time to go back to marking

:20:03.:20:08.

economic papers, what mark would he anticipate giving Sinn Fein on

:20:08.:20:16.

their economic submissions? I don't know if there is a grade set low

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enough! Sammy Wilson, in typically robust

:20:18.:20:22.

form during what could well be his last time at the despatch box as

:20:22.:20:25.

Finance Minister. And voices were also raised during a debate this

:20:25.:20:27.

afternoon over a motion tabled by the SDLP's Conall McDevitt urging

:20:27.:20:30.

more North/South co-operation. We'll hear from him in a moment,

:20:30.:20:38.

but first here's a flavour of the debate. East-west cooperation, like

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making these institutions work is not something we do because we have

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to. It's something we do because we know we need to and we want to.

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Northern Ireland is Constitutionally within the United

:20:49.:20:54.

Kingdom. Let's be clear on that fact, and whilst I believe Mr

:20:54.:20:57.

McDevit and Mr Bradley are endeavouring to do some political

:20:57.:21:00.

grandstanding with this motion, they have got to be mindful

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attempts to bring about a united Northern Ireland are failing

:21:04.:21:10.

miserably. Members will note that the amendment does not take issue

:21:10.:21:13.

with practical, pragmatic, mutually beneficial, cross-border

:21:13.:21:20.

cooperation. What it does take issue with is the squander in

:21:20.:21:25.

respect of the elaborate north/south arrangements. It is

:21:25.:21:29.

true that there are improved working relationships between

:21:29.:21:33.

Stormont and the Doyle. That is to be welcomed. However, that is

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mainly down to the important changes within the Belfast

:21:37.:21:41.

agreement, specifically, the removal of articles two and three

:21:41.:21:44.

and the principle of consent. Unionist reaction to the SDLP

:21:44.:21:48.

motion calling for further north/south cooperation. The motion

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passed comfortably. I am joined by the MLA who tabled it. It was

:21:54.:21:58.

comfortable, 52 votes to 37, but the House was divided down the

:21:59.:22:04.

middle, wasn't it? Funnily enough, unionism is divided within itself

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because two members took what I think was the right decision and

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supported it. There is no threat. We're just saying a long overdue of

:22:14.:22:18.

north/south cooperation should be published. In fact, the review will

:22:18.:22:24.

deal with lot of the problems raised by Unionists. He says he has

:22:24.:22:29.

no problem with practical, pragmatic, mutually beneficial

:22:29.:22:33.

cooperation, but he does have a problem with overly elaborate

:22:33.:22:38.

north-south relations, and that's what he think exists. Two thing

:22:38.:22:46.

points to make, someone the north- south institutions have a - by the

:22:46.:22:49.

people of the Good Friday Agreement. They're not stripped down. There's

:22:49.:22:51.

very efficient approach to the cooperation. The money that is

:22:51.:22:55.

invested is more than recovered either in inward investment or

:22:55.:23:00.

cooperation through trade, in tourism numbers. Tourism Ireland is

:23:00.:23:05.

held up by the DUP Minister herself. She was a great success. She was

:23:05.:23:10.

only just last week congratulating tourism in the House over the work

:23:10.:23:17.

it did over the G8. You mentioned the Narrow Water Bridge. That was

:23:17.:23:20.

divisive. It was because people chose to make it so. I think the

:23:20.:23:24.

problem some politicians - it is a minority of this House, and I think

:23:24.:23:27.

it's a growing minority in the sense it's getting smaller, if you

:23:27.:23:31.

know what I mean, seemed to see politics where it doesn't exist.

:23:31.:23:36.

That is just good news for the peninsula and the South Morns. It's

:23:36.:23:40.

great news for the tourism of the coast. It's fantastic news for the

:23:41.:23:45.

economic development of the area, and also, it has a huge symbolic

:23:45.:23:49.

importance - the first bridge across a border waterway in Ireland

:23:49.:23:53.

since partition - it says it all. We'll leave it there, Conall

:23:53.:23:57.

McDevitt. Thank you very much. Did the Northern Ireland experience

:23:57.:24:00.

inspire world leaders to engage in talks with the Taliban? That was

:24:00.:24:03.

one question put to the Deputy First Minister when he took the

:24:03.:24:06.

floor in Question Time earlier, with the G8 fallout also remaining

:24:06.:24:12.

high on the agenda. After the south of Ireland, the United States is

:24:12.:24:21.

our second largest export market with 533 million pounds in export

:24:21.:24:28.

sales ending up to March 2013, so any action taken for lower tariffs

:24:28.:24:33.

between the US and EU can only help us expand our market export further

:24:33.:24:36.

into the United States. We recognise that as the global

:24:36.:24:44.

economy becomes freer and much more open, it must benefit developed and

:24:44.:24:51.

developing nations alike. Trade must not be one nation's success at

:24:51.:24:56.

the pension of another. Would the First Minister agree with me that

:24:56.:25:00.

the time that's been spent by the leaders of the world in Northern

:25:00.:25:03.

Ireland - it was more than coincidental after they returned

:25:03.:25:08.

home, they decided that it would be better for the leaders to talk to

:25:08.:25:17.

the Taliban, therefore, saving lives in Afghanistan? Well, far be

:25:17.:25:24.

it from me to involve myself in US foreign policy, but I have to say,

:25:24.:25:28.

I did find it encouraging that given that we have been receiving

:25:28.:25:34.

reports over the course of the last three years - and direct

:25:34.:25:37.

conversations have been taking place between the United States

:25:37.:25:41.

administration and the Taliban. Now the direct talks appear to be on

:25:41.:25:46.

the horizon in the not-too-distant future. Anything that has been done

:25:47.:25:50.

to resolve conflict anywhere in the world will always be welcomed by

:25:50.:25:55.

ourselves, and indeed, we are in much demand ourselves because many

:25:55.:25:59.

representatives from all of the parties in this Assembly have

:25:59.:26:02.

travelled to many of the world's travel spots at the invitation of

:26:02.:26:10.

others, so I think, from my perspective, it's a positive

:26:10.:26:15.

development, and the hope has to be that it leads to an end of conflict,

:26:15.:26:21.

violence and death. As the member will be aware, the publication of

:26:21.:26:28.

the MacLease report into to the Maglin laundries - and about Tex

:26:28.:26:34.

peeciouss and the situations of the women who lived in them. We

:26:34.:26:41.

appointed a Senior Civil Servant to draw up a paper in regard to the

:26:41.:26:44.

Magnin Laundries so as to inform us what actions we might take. We

:26:44.:26:49.

received that report at the end of last week and intend to give

:26:49.:26:53.

serious consideration to the options. Can I ask the Minister in

:26:53.:26:57.

light of the compensation scheme announced, what plans they have to

:26:57.:27:01.

make a similar compensation scheme here? Could I just say to the

:27:01.:27:06.

member just in light of the answer I have just given her, it would be

:27:06.:27:12.

a bit premature for me before we'd do the scoping-out exercise to look

:27:12.:27:15.

at those suggestions that have come forward, but we have just received

:27:15.:27:19.

the report and really we're very mindful, as I said, of the callous

:27:19.:27:24.

treatment of those people who were in those types of institutions.

:27:24.:27:27.

Indeed, myself and a junior Minister met with some of the

:27:27.:27:31.

peoples who were the victims, the survivors, and there were

:27:31.:27:35.

horrendous stories they told. So we'll give very, very careful

:27:35.:27:39.

thought. We don't want to rush to judgment. We'll give very careful

:27:39.:27:42.

thought once we read report and some of the recommendations that

:27:42.:27:45.

the scoping exercise has brought forward. Jennifer McCann, the

:27:45.:27:49.

Junior Minister Martina Purdy has rejoined me with a few thoughts.

:27:49.:27:53.

Quickly, we were talking to Conall McDevitt. He put forward his

:27:53.:27:59.

proposal on north-south cooperation, won comfortably. What happens now?

:28:00.:28:04.

I think this motion was about putting the pressure on Sinn Fein

:28:04.:28:09.

and embarrassing the party for failing to build on the north-south

:28:09.:28:14.

bodies that were introduced in 1998. We expect there will be

:28:15.:28:20.

negotiations in the coming months so north-south bodies could be in

:28:20.:28:23.

the mix. Jim Alastair taking the traditional view that we shouldn't

:28:23.:28:26.

build on these bodies and they're not good for the union. Also, that

:28:26.:28:32.

keeps the pressure on the DUP, but in some ways they're symbolic for

:28:32.:28:34.

Nationalists but don't necessarily allow Nationalists to work the

:28:34.:28:38.

system any better or do more deals. Without the bodies there is no

:28:38.:28:42.

accountability and nothing to stop a Sinn Fein Minister from hanging

:28:42.:28:48.

up the force and doing a deal with a Dublin Minister. Thank you very

:28:48.:28:52.

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.


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