01/07/2013 Stormont Today


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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Good evening. Welcome to Stormont Today.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Purdy, was happy to stay after class.


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


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


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


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


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


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


on the executive There has been speculation about a couple of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of parliamentary assistance and read himself into the health job,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Minister of the environment? The name we consistently have been


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


controversial appointment inside the party because there are those


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


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


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


Burn appreciation for his contributions to the party over the


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


the new Special Advisor to the Environment Minister. A file


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Wilson announced the redistribution of millions of pounds of Stormont


finances. Departments submitted bids totaling �179 million in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


additional costs registered by some departments including DRD and


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


improvements around Enniskillen, a publicity campaign to maximise the


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


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


potential to generate huge economic benefits for Northern Ireland. That


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


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


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


could be significant net economic benefits in the short run with


potential for greater long-term benefits for Northern Ireland.


Pending further consideration of all options toond ensure that


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


Development Minister can proceed with the MacElfield bypass project


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


expenditure was for capital equipment, surveillance equipment,


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


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


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


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


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


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


currently in circulation. Edwin Poots said emergency departments


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


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


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


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


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


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


important to stress that investigations into these deaths


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


actually brought through the system quicker? Staff in our emergency


departments are trained and equipped to deal with a wide range


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


own community. And I also drive a very important


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


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


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


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


stand shoulder to shoulder with these people and give them


appropriate sentences and not some slap on the wrists because the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


people have managed to twist for political purposes the nature of


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


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


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


our planning experiences, and it is internationally recognised that


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


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


message that goes out to the international community to say,


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


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


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


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


was for political grandstanding purposes, no question or doubt


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


always protected his own independence from the Executive.


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


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


everything Peter said in relation to the arguments that were made


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


position of the retained buildings or other - the Peace Building


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


who also faced Members during Question Time. The Minister locked


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


was asked about potential changes to the defamation law in Northern


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


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


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


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


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


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


I think what we have to avoid is following the Westminster


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


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


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


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


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


devolved administrations to look at the situation in their own


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


suppressing freedom of speech. Before this act went through,


people were free to express themselves and newspapers were free


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


going through and us not implementing this act, freedom of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


distraction from the simple fact that there is no statement of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


enough! Sammy Wilson, in typically robust


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Northern Ireland is Constitutionally within the United


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


McDevit and Mr Bradley are endeavouring to do some political


grandstanding with this motion, they have got to be mindful


attempts to bring about a united Northern Ireland are failing


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


with practical, pragmatic, mutually beneficial, cross-border


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


respect of the elaborate north/south arrangements. It is


true that there are improved working relationships between


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


mainly down to the important changes within the Belfast


agreement, specifically, the removal of articles two and three


and the principle of consent. Unionist reaction to the SDLP


motion calling for further north/south cooperation. The motion


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


no problem with practical, pragmatic, mutually beneficial


cooperation, but he does have a problem with overly elaborate


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


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


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


very efficient approach to the cooperation. The money that is


invested is more than recovered either in inward investment or


cooperation through trade, in tourism numbers. Tourism Ireland is


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


importance - the first bridge across a border waterway in Ireland


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


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


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


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


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


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


our second largest export market with 533 million pounds in export


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


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


into the United States. We recognise that as the global


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


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


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


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


Ireland - it was more than coincidental after they returned


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


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


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


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


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


conversations have been taking place between the United States


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


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


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


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


representatives from all of the parties in this Assembly have


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


thought once we read report and some of the recommendations that


the scoping exercise has brought forward. Jennifer McCann, the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Nationalists but don't necessarily allow Nationalists to work the


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


accountability and nothing to stop a Sinn Fein Minister from hanging


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


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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