01/10/2012 Stormont Today


01/10/2012

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

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

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

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united front at their party conference but that has now been

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shattered, ironically following a row over Unionist unity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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statement for the Assembly grid saying Mike Nesbitt had received

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many complaints about the use of the phrase "sleepwalking into

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House today. The Finance Minister was called on to introduce

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legislation to make sure all couples should have equal legal

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entitlement to the protections and benefits of marriage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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debate about redefining the centuries old meaning of the word

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

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quality already exists. People are free by marriage or civil

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

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

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

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

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

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unacceptable. We support the extension of civil and marriages to

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

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provided and encapsulated within legislation to we sure faith groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and permanent relationships. Protected by the legal institution

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

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nature should be subject to individual conscience and not party

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

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

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

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

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

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forward any legislation to this House to facilitate gay marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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saw today would have been completely inconceivable a few

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

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

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

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people have always been minority issues, particularly in Northern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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is concerned is important? Absolutely. It is unreasonable to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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come. If there was also a disagreement amongst members of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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recent decision by the Education Secretary in Westminster to replace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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another in June 2013. We will consider the findings and

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

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

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

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

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employees here have to be confident that the qualification certificates

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

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

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

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islands or internationally, whatever qualification system we

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

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to command educational and employee or respect. Therefore a more

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

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United Kingdom moving in that direction it would be wholly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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examinations they can be proud on and are portable and transferable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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understand he has refused to meet the Welsh education minister as

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

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

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

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

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

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meeting me. Surely after that statement by the education minister

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the Assembly debated the issue further in the DUP motion

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expressing concerns about the possible implications of any

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replacement to GCSEs will have on students in Northern Ireland.

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welcome the announcement made by the Minister this morning to

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

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not go unnoticed that this announcement was made on the

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morning of this debate. The minister has quite rightly

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acknowledged that following Education Secretary Michael Gove's

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

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

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

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a consultation rather than a knitter Association may give cause

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

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consultations should be reviewed through the lens of legal

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requirements. The Secretary of State for England has made his

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

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

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own education minister, in particular to mitigate against any

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potential negative implications for students here in Northern Ireland

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and ensure that our examination system is highly regarded across

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

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

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recent announcement could have on students in Northern Ireland. Once

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education has been devolved the two administrations throughout the

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

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

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

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

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such a radical announcement without having engaged in even minimum

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consultation with his devolved counterparts. Despite the

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:19:43.:19:44.

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

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

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GCSEs before Michael Gove stood up in Westminster and made his

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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was virtual unanimity and very strong endorsement of the proposals

:20:59.:21:03.

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

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

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

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

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

:21:23.:21:27.

restrict newly-qualified drivers for six months after qualification

:21:27.:21:34.

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

:21:34.:21:38.

payments will be extended to include those whose properties are

:21:38.:21:44.

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

:21:44.:21:50.

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

:21:50.:21:53.

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

:21:53.:21:59.

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

:21:59.:22:05.

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

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that environmentalists agree that the displacement is an important

:22:09.:22:13.

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

:22:13.:22:18.

thoroughly to ensure there is no unforeseen or negative consequences

:22:18.:22:23.

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

:22:23.:22:31.

there is an area that might be designated a marine conservation

:22:31.:22:33.

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

:22:33.:22:38.

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

:22:39.:22:48.
:22:49.:22:49.

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

:22:49.:22:53.

heard the full number of marine conservation zones yet that are

:22:53.:22:57.

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

:22:57.:23:01.

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

:23:01.:23:08.

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

:23:08.:23:13.

executive colleagues to support further amendments that are coming

:23:13.:23:17.

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

:23:17.:23:24.

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

:23:24.:23:28.

dominated questions to the enterprise minister Arlene Foster

:23:28.:23:34.

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

:23:34.:23:41.

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

:23:41.:23:47.

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

:23:47.:23:53.

a tourist destination. Belfast City Council integrated framework for

:23:53.:23:57.

tourism was developed in partnership with other Northern

:23:57.:24:01.

Ireland Tourist Board. Through the framework they have been supporting

:24:01.:24:08.

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

:24:08.:24:16.

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

:24:16.:24:22.

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

:24:22.:24:27.

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

:24:27.:24:31.

celebrations at the weekend, when thousands of tourists came to

:24:31.:24:35.

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

:24:35.:24:39.

orange and Unionist culture as a product of tourism within Northern

:24:39.:24:49.
:24:49.:24:52.

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

:24:52.:24:58.

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

:24:58.:25:01.

success. I commend the Unionists centenary and everybody at the

:25:01.:25:04.

Orange Lodge of Northern Ireland that brought together all the

:25:04.:25:09.

elements of Unionism to commemorate what was a hugely significant

:25:09.:25:14.

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

:25:14.:25:21.

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

:25:21.:25:25.

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

:25:25.:25:29.

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

:25:29.:25:34.

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

:25:34.:25:37.

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

:25:37.:25:46.

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

:25:46.:25:50.

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

:25:50.:25:56.

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

:25:56.:26:03.

the celebrations. Can the Minister provide some additional information

:26:03.:26:09.

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

:26:09.:26:14.

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

:26:14.:26:19.

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

:26:19.:26:24.

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

:26:24.:26:31.

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

:26:31.:26:38.

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

:26:38.:26:43.

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

:26:44.:26:47.

about what some organisations had to say about Titanic Belfast before

:26:47.:26:52.

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

:26:52.:26:57.

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

:26:57.:27:01.

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

:27:01.:27:07.

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

:27:07.:27:10.

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

:27:10.:27:16.

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

:27:16.:27:20.

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

:27:20.:27:27.

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

:27:27.:27:32.

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

:27:32.:27:38.

basically impossible to do it without DUP support. Three

:27:38.:27:43.

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

:27:43.:27:47.

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

:27:47.:27:52.

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

:27:52.:27:58.

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

:27:58.:28:05.

chamber voted in favour except Paul McGuinness who abstained. Where

:28:05.:28:10.

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

:28:10.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:19.

through legislation as became clear in that debate. The executive

:28:19.:28:22.

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

:28:22.:28:28.

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

:28:28.:28:32.

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

:28:32.:28:36.

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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