01/10/2012 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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. It has been a busy day here are on


the hill, following the news that the leader of the Ulster Unionist


Party has sacked his deputy. It was only a few weeks ago they showed a


united front at their party conference but that has now been


shattered, ironically following a row over Unionist unity.


And another unity row was staring, about same-sex marriage. I am


opposed to gay marriage and I would have no intention of bringing


forward earlier legislation to this House to make easier gay marriage.


People can pretend it is the same as other partnership but it is not.


And a testing time for GCSEs of. have been in office for 18 months


and I do not believe any members It has been a lively day here in


Stormont. Our reporter is here to talk us through what has been


happening. First, those ructions in the Ulster Unionist Party. Yes.


This started with a speech given over the weekend, when the leader


said the party was sleepwalking into unity. He said the DUP had


given the impression the Unionist rain had left the station and that


Peter Robinson was in good dry's cab smiling broadly. He yesterday


denied this was an attack but they did not see it that way. Jim


Allister was sacked as leader. what has he said to say about that?


He has not given any interviews but he has issued a short statement,


saying he was disappointed with the decision but accepted he had the


right as leader. At the same time, the Press Office released a


statement for the Assembly grid saying Mike Nesbitt had received


many complaints about the use of the phrase "sleepwalking into


Unionist unity". They said when the United Front was required the UUP


would not be found wanting. What about anything from anybody else?


No other word from any body today but we have heard from Basil McCrea.


He is very close to Jim Allister on the liberal end of the party. He


was speaking in Belfast at an event organised by the Conservative Party.


If I am not sure there is a difference between the two. I will


make it clear I supported John and I think he is an excellent


politician. He made a speech a few days ago, actually, which set out


what he considered to be the right way forward for the party and I am


sure people, having read it, we understand the content is something


we can all agree with. The other big talking point - the


debate on gay marriage. Yes. In Westminster, the governments are


consulting on plans to bring in gay marriage. Here, any changes to


marriage or fall in the domain of the first and Deputy First Minister


us and the Department of Finance. Councils have been debating the


issues and all but one have come out of favour. Today it was the


turn of MLAs to debate the issue. The Green Party MLA was there as


well. Thank you. That call for marriage quality did naked to the


House today. The Finance Minister was called on to introduce


legislation to make sure all couples should have equal legal


entitlement to the protections and benefits of marriage.


If whether this motion is passed or not today and whether we legislate


for equal marriage, this will have little or no impact on our lives.


However, there are those who happen to love and wish to commit to


somebody of the same sex. And they are currently denied the


opportunity to marry. If we as an Assembly have the opportunity to


say today that we see these couples as equal and see their love as


being equal. This is not a debate about the quality. Rather it is a


debate about redefining the centuries old meaning of the word


marriage. It is simply a myth that Mrs and equality issue because the


quality already exists. People are free by marriage or civil


partnership to take on the same rights and bear the same legal


burdens, no matter what type of relationship they choose to enter


into. If we fail in this motion, we are sending out a message that the


lesbian, gay and trans-gender community are not equal and


creating conditions in which their basic rights are eroded and this is


unacceptable. We support the extension of civil and marriages to


same-sex couples. There we are very clear that robust protections are


provided and encapsulated within legislation to we sure faith groups


and religious groups will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriage


ceremonies or to have them conducted on their premises. It --


to ensure. I would ask one member from the Unionist benches to speak.


I am aware many people in my community are deeply uneasy about


it and respect their position. And I am surprised that the DUP have


felt the need to present a position of concern on a matter that should


clearly be a free vote. It is also about real people. It is about sons,


daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. And it is about


parents who want to see their children in loving, secure, stable


and permanent relationships. Protected by the legal institution


of marriage. Members will know my party believes issues of this


nature should be subject to individual conscience and not party


dictates. And as someone with a clear personal faith, yet tolerant


of the right of others to hold and express their views, I want to set


out my personal position on the subject of same-sex marriage. I do


not and cannot support the principle of same-sex marriage.


am opposed to gay marriage. I would have no intention of bringing


forward any legislation to this House to facilitate gay marriage


and I believe that in doing that I do reflect what is a general view


in this society, in Northern Ireland. The proposer of the motion


has to think about the right to get married, the right to private


family life, etc. But equally the other ministers talked about the


rights of people to have religious freedom and religious beliefs. And


in this particular case, the two are not compatible. People across


the way can pretend, or some people, can pretend civil partnership is


the same as equal marriage. It is not. To pretend a words do not hurt


young and old... That is an absolute pretence, and take


responsibility for our words. That's what we have to do.


proposal needed a cross-community majority -- needed a cross-


community majority to succeed but only 45 voted to back the move.


Joining need to discuss the matter is Gavin Boyd from Equal Marriage.


Obviously, if you look at those figures, there is no overwhelming


appetite to change the law. Do you accept that? No. I think what we


saw today was an enormous vote in favour of couples. I think what we


saw today would have been completely inconceivable a few


years ago so it is a great move forward for us. But they are still


in a minority and there is a bigger set of legislators opposed to the


change? Absolutely. The issue of rights for same-sex attracted


people have always been minority issues, particularly in Northern


Ireland. What we are seeing is that they are not that much of a


minority issue. It is increasing in number. Can you tell me why it


civil partnerships are not enough? In terms of legal recognition,


couples in civil partnerships are barred from adopting. That is just


one reason... Is that your main point of concern? No, I think if


you were asked to talk to people, young people in particular, they


don't see them as being equal and afforded the same recognition.


Because you could just campaign for a change in the adoption law?


is already going on and there is a judicial review being defended by


the Department of Health at the minute and we expect the ruling


will come out of favour of allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.


But even if that does happen, you think equality as far as marriage


is concerned is important? Absolutely. It is unreasonable to


expect gay people do not want any part of that institution. Can you


see the DUP changing its mind? It might be the numbers are better


than they were five, 10 years ago, but the DUP will never accept this?


I am not too sure about this. If we look at the demographics, I think


it is a bit early to tell what they will be voting in favour of. What


we can see from the language is that the DUP is not the same party


it was 30 years ago. They were very careful not to use the same emotive


language today and I think that is a real sign of how far they have


come. If there was also a disagreement amongst members of


other parties as well. We saw that in the Ulster Unionist Party, the


SDLP and the Alliance Party? That is true. I think what you saw is


that there is a breadth of opinion on this. There is cross-party


support and what we saw today was the work there is still there for


us to do. But the vote is still very close and if it was to happen


again 18 months from now, two years, it would be much tighter, if not an


outright majority. Thank you. John O'Dowd told the Assembly today


the time has come for a review of GCSEs and A-levels. It follows the


recent decision by the Education Secretary in Westminster to replace


GCSEs by a proposed baccalaureate. This will mean an opportunity for


all, including a pupils, to consider how the education system


meets the needs of our children as well as those of our economy. I


also want to reassure pupils Curran is studying for GCSEs or A-levels


that the examining process is fit for purpose and to those past


pupils of the system, they, too, should be proud of their


qualifications. If our education system is to be recognised as world


class, I do not go for change for the sake of change. But if it is


deemed to be appropriate, I would be tempted to stick with what we


have. But we want to satisfy myself with research across the


educational business sector that this is the case. If I consequently,


I am committing a review of GCSE and A-level qualifications taking -


- to ensure they continue to meet our economic needs in the future. I


would ask them to take for this review. I have asked them to


provide two reports, one in January 2013 and another in March, and


another in June 2013. We will consider the findings and


recommendations to point the way And does the Minister still believe,


as he in earlier this year, that it is important that the standard of


exams remains the same as in England? Yes. Maybe not exactly the


same, maybe better. I did that students from here and prospective


employees here have to be confident that the qualification certificates


that they carry are equal to, if not better to, any qualification


system across these islands. I want to make sure their qualifications


are portable and transferable. It will be to work either across these


islands or internationally, whatever qualification system we


decide on. Is it not clear that the present GCSEs are too weak the tool


to command educational and employee or respect. Therefore a more


rigorous exam is necessary. If most -- with most of the rest of the


United Kingdom moving in that direction it would be wholly


prejudicial to allow students to seek to hold on to what could be


seen to be dumbed down exams. Can the Minister assure us that that


option is not an option and would be taken? Well, none of the


research backs up the comment on the fact... I don't think they are


a discredited exams process. There are clearly points of view in


regards this matter but none of the research would suggest that GCSEs


have failed the functions that an exam is there for. To test the


ability of an individual on their learning and ability to carry out


functions. I don't accept it on a premise. However I do want to watch


a short, and I have said publicly that Michael Gove may have fatally


flawed the product of GCSEs and that perception may build and grow.


I don't want any young person leaving hour examination system


with a certificate which may, for all the wrong reasons, be looked


down on. I want our young people to leave our education system with


examinations they can be proud on and are portable and transferable


across these idols -- Island and further afield. I have no interest


in dumbing-down any examination process because it does no favour


to the individual and no favour to our society. I have asked to meet


Michael Gove and he has refused to meet me. It is not a case I have a


phobia of meeting Michael Gove. We may not be on the same page in


regards many things but he has refused to meet myself and I


understand he has refused to meet the Welsh education minister as


well in relation to the subject of exams. He has offered a meeting


with one of his junior ministers. Setting my ego aside I may take him


upon that offered to meet a junior minister. However I believe that


Michael Gove should be meeting his counterparts and I cannot speak on


behalf of the Welsh counterpart but I certainly believe he should be


meeting me. Surely after that statement by the education minister


the Assembly debated the issue further in the DUP motion


expressing concerns about the possible implications of any


replacement to GCSEs will have on students in Northern Ireland.


welcome the announcement made by the Minister this morning to


undertake a review of GCSEs and A- levels in Northern Ireland. It does


not go unnoticed that this announcement was made on the


morning of this debate. The minister has quite rightly


acknowledged that following Education Secretary Michael Gove's


announcement, he has a duty to undertake this review. I am pleased


that in the response to questions today the review will encompass all


aspects of the examination system. I think his comments about it being


a consultation rather than a knitter Association may give cause


for concern that he may already have a predetermined view. All


consultations should be reviewed through the lens of legal


requirements. The Secretary of State for England has made his


intentions known about the changes he intends to make to the GCSE


system. I believe that it is now the job of this assembly and our


own education minister, in particular to mitigate against any


potential negative implications for students here in Northern Ireland


and ensure that our examination system is highly regarded across


the whole of the UK and Republic of Ireland and further afield. There


is no denying that the major implications that Michael Gove's


recent announcement could have on students in Northern Ireland. Once


education has been devolved the two administrations throughout the


United Kingdom, it is no mean feat that our educational policy has


remained relatively harmonised. I don't doubt for one moment the


authority with which he can speak but I do believe it shows a failure


in effective working relationships that he was in a position to make


such a radical announcement without having engaged in even minimum


consultation with his devolved counterparts. Despite the


criticisms were some members of the GCSE system, I have been in office


18 months and I don't believe that any member has taken an interest in


GCSEs before Michael Gove stood up in Westminster and made his


announcement. Alex Attwood was at the despatch box for questions to


the Department of Environment. Road safety, driver training and marine


conservation zones or on the agenda. So far this year there have been 31


deaths on the roads, compared with 41 at this time last year. I would


not draw any conclusions from that, given that we are now entering into


the winter months as to what the figure will be at the end of the


year but it does suggest to me that through a range of measures, we are


bearing down on this issue of road deaths. Can I ask the Minister that


a new proposal he is thinking of and that is restricting young


drivers in the first six months not to be able to carry a very young


passengers? Not only do I intend to go forward with this because there


was virtual unanimity and very strong endorsement of the proposals


are put to the executive in principle in the first week in July


in terms of graduated penalties on one hand and the changes to driver


training regime on the other. One of those proposals, borrow from


international best practice, which you see in this part of Ireland,


the most radical driver training regime in this island is we will


restrict newly-qualified drivers for six months after qualification


as to who they may carry. Can the minister indicate if emergency


payments will be extended to include those whose properties are


affected by flooding? I will certainly look at the situation but


the council has not yet raised with me. The scheme has been extended


even in recent days and weeks in order to capture further flooding


events were the they might be. fishing industry is supportive of


the marine the bubble concern. Given that the fishing industry and


that environmentalists agree that the displacement is an important


issue, will he ensure that the process does examine this issue


thoroughly to ensure there is no unforeseen or negative consequences


as a result of designating his own? I can give that reassurance. If


there is an area that might be designated a marine conservation


zone, there will be in-depth discussion in that regard and part


of that will be to get a good understanding of the geology, the


wildlife, habitats, and the ecology of the area. So far we have not


heard the full number of marine conservation zones yet that are


intended to be created. When will you be able to tell us how many you


will create and the cost? We have not yet got the bill on the floor


of the chamber and it maybe that I will try to prevail upon my


executive colleagues to support further amendments that are coming


out of the committee stage but it is likely that the first area that


might become a marine conservation zone is in the south. Tourism


dominated questions to the enterprise minister Arlene Foster


today. Topics ranged from promoted orange and Unionist cultures as a


product of tourism to the success of Titanic Belfast. First there was


the question about the gay quarter in Belfast. Promotion of Belfast as


a tourist destination. Belfast City Council integrated framework for


tourism was developed in partnership with other Northern


Ireland Tourist Board. Through the framework they have been supporting


Belfast City Council in the development of the city centre. It


includes the quarter. We have a rich culture of heritage that we


should celebrate and I celebrate -- look forward to showcasing many


aspects of our culture. Following on from the success of the


celebrations at the weekend, when thousands of tourists came to


Northern Ireland, can the Minister advise what she's doing to promote


orange and Unionist culture as a product of tourism within Northern


Ireland? I will take it because this is culture and tourism. In


relation to the Ulster celebrations at the weekend, they were a huge


success. I commend the Unionists centenary and everybody at the


Orange Lodge of Northern Ireland that brought together all the


elements of Unionism to commemorate what was a hugely significant


anniversary in our history. As the years have come on and follow on,


there will be many events which will mean more to some people than


others. We must, all of us, respect the right of everyone have to


remember the significant events in the past and in one way or another


we must recognise that they all have contributed to making us the


people we are today and indeed Northern Ireland the place it is


today so this is the start of the decade of centenaries. As members


are aware we are working in relation to the centenaries and we


hope we will have as good a day as we did on Saturday for the rest of


the celebrations. Can the Minister provide some additional information


about the tourism campaign for 2013 and if she feels that 2013 will be


an improvement on 2012? Furthermore as the minister any plans to


publish the tourism strategy? relation to 2012, I don't in there


is any doubt it has been a huge success. Obviously in terms of the


official tourism statistics, we won't have the final statistics and


tell quarter to of 2013. Of course we have heard of Titanic Belfast


welcoming its half-million visitor. A tremendous feat when you think


about what some organisations had to say about Titanic Belfast before


it actually opened its doors. We all remember what the Audit Office


had to say about Titanic Belfast. They were querying if we would


reach 400,000 a year and Titanic Belfast has only been open since


30th March and they have already welcomed 500,000 visitors.


tourism minister. More than happy to share those numbers with her


fellow MLAs. Chris Page is with me again. Let us go back to that issue


of gay marriage that was debated earlier. Talk us through some of


the details over how the voting panned out. The motion was defeated


by 50 votes to 55. It was always likely to fail because it was


basically impossible to do it without DUP support. Three


Unionists voted in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry.


They were all Ulster Unionists, Basil MacRae, Michael Copland and


one more. The Alliance Party is in favour of gay marriage but one


member voted against it. As Forest the SDLP goes all their MLAs in the


chamber voted in favour except Paul McGuinness who abstained. Where


does the whole idea and drive that we heard about to change the


legislation go from here? Basically there are new plans to bring


through legislation as became clear in that debate. The executive


parties are divided, the DUP are set against the whole idea of


allowing same-sex couples to marry so in the absence of their support,


although the issue is very much on the agenda in the chamber, it is


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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