02/07/2012 Stormont Today


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

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Good evening and welcome to Stormont Today. We've been kicked


out of our usual studio in the bowels of Parliament Buildings and


are coming to you from Broadcasting house. It's nothing personal. Last


week's weather has played havoc with the Stormont facilities.


power to Stormont had been cut off on Wednesday evening as a result of


the problem with the transformer on the estate. Following that, that


power was off on terms to an Friday and the weekend. Also... The Conor


Murphy discrimination row spills over to the chamber. In order to


ensure that the Unionist community believes that in terms of


ministerial appointments, there will be fair play. There will be no


upper limit legislation in this society because the manner up as it


has always been an opposition. return to the Stone Age for a


debate on archaeology. And we consider the Assembly's performance


this year with Professor Rick Wilford from Queen's University.


The heavy rain which brought so much misery last Wednesday also hit


Stormont's facilities. Earlier, I spoke to the clerk and director


general of the Assembly about how it was affected. As you will have


understood from the news, the power had been cut off on Wednesday


evening as a result of a problem with the transform work on the


estate and following that, the power was off on Thursday, Friday


and over the weekend. But staff have been working very hard with in


a e to get the power restored and it was restored last night and we


are operating normally again today but in these situations, we have


got contingency plans and the standby generator cake tin and we


could operate with a limited level of electricity but normal business


was maintained. The committees met as normal and business continued.


Nothing has fallen behind? Indeed not. We have managed through the


plans and good work of everybody to keep business running and B are in


a good place. Just the BBC is affected? You might have your own


problems! Everything has gone extremely well for us. The plans


have worked well and we have worked well particularly with Northern


Ireland Electricity who have worked tirelessly over the weekend to get


things back online. Because of the location, yes, it has been


inconvenient but in terms of the water damage, you have not


suffered? Thankfully, we are at the top of the hill and the water has


gone down below was so the building's lower on the estate have


suffered but everything is drying up here and our feet are drive.


exactly a good way to see out the session, but how has the rest of


the year gone for the Assembly? With me now is Professor Rick


Wilford of Queen's University. Overall, what Mark would you give


them? The plus. B plus. They could do better and the Assembly, it


looks like a scant return to many members of the public and we are


all familiar with the polls that show that the public holds our


ministers in relatively low regard. It is an admission that they need


to up their game. Much of the early part of the year was spent dealing


with private members' business rather than executive business


because there was not any. We had to wait for 12 months for the


programme for government to be approved and the SDLP was supposed


to be for the programme and they voted against in the chamber and


that has had the knock-on effect of slowing down legislation so it


looks that the Assembly chamber has not been particularly busy but the


committees have, producing 20 reports over the past year. They


have been beavering away and scrutinising government and what


little legislation there is but if you think about this in terms of


what has happened in the Assembly building after the rain, it is now


underpowered and people would say the Assembly itself is also


underpowered. He said the committee's have performed well.


Are there any departments or ministers that stand out?


really. I don't think anybody has had a stellar performance, but


there has been steady progress. When you think back, we had this


agreement among parties to allocate the departments so there was a


relatively smooth beginning, not as tricky as the first time around,


but the slowness in getting the programme going, the slowness in


getting the legislative package together. If you remember the early


part of the year, the speaker himself was complaining about the


lack of legislation and on the economy there has been some attempt


to promote growth in Northern Ireland. The issue has been the


imbalance between the private and public sector and a lot of parties


are pinning hopes on the reduction in Corporation Tax but that looks


as though it is flailing in the water and drowning. That will


affect any prospect for the economic minister and Arlene Foster,


who has an opportunity to shine, but she will be hampered as a


consequence. Thank you. More bad news for customers of the Ulster


Bank as it emerged late this afternoon that the problems aren't


going to be solved this week. It is nearly a fortnight since a computer


breakdown left thousands of customers unable to access their


accounts. The First Minister, Peter Robinson, was asked about the


crisis this morning in the Assembly. It is inexplicable to many of us


how it can take so long to resolve this issue. Also, why it takes


longer in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Meanwhile, people are


being refused easy access and in some cases out of the country,


access at all, to their funds and I do implore the Ulster Bank to put


the necessary resources in place to get this matter finished within


hours rather than further days. Later, the Deputy First Minister


was on his feet taking his last question session today before the


summer break. Given that Martin McGuinness has hardly been out of


the news for the past fortnight, he might be grateful for the rest. So


when he was answering a question on the Commissioner for Public


Appointments, it wasn't long before the topic switched. The current


Commissioner is Mr John Keaney, appointed by the First Minister and


myself and he took up office in 20th August 11. He has the


important role to play in sustaining public confidence in the


appointments process by holding ministers and their departments to


account and he operates independently of government and set


standards for the department's by publishing a code of practice. He


got it's the process to check whether his code of practice has


been followed and he investigates individual complaints and publishes


its findings in an annual report. The commissioner provides an


effective, credible external scrutiny role and that is something


that I am sure everybody welcomes. I thank the Minister. Could he


outlined what further actions his department might be considering


after the finding on behalf of Conor Murphy to guard against


further discrimination on the grounds of religious belief in


public appointments. I am aware that the fair employment tribunal


has found against the Department of Regional Development and a case


involving the appointment of the chair of Northern Ireland Water.


The Department of Regional Development is currently


considering the judgment and I'm sure they will wish to consider all


the options available to them, including an appeal. The judgment


raises a range of serious issues. The implications on public


procedures will be fully considered by all concerned and any changes to


the Commissioner for Public appointments and the code of


practice arising from this case are a matter for the commissioner.


Speaker, the day after that handshake last week, the Deputy


Minister talked about the history of nationalist and a quality. Here


in Northern Ireland. And there for 40 years of his life he was


addressing that inequality. A is the inequality on appointments


recorded last week recorded through Conor Murphy, the change that he


was talking about then? As someone who comes from a community that has


been long discriminated against until these institutions were


formed, it is certainly not in the interests of myself or any body


associated with me to be involved in discriminating against anyone. I


understand that as a result of the ruling last week by the Fair


Employment Tribunal, a number of people associated with it every


decision was taken at the time and they're considering legal advice.


At this stage it is too soon to say what the outcome will be. I would


be very surprised if there isn't a very vigorous challenge to the


decision. The record did not change when John O'Dowd faced education


questions. Here is Gregory Campbell... Dos the Minister


appreciate the difficulty that he has been placed in courtesy of the


outcome of the tribunal last week in terms of his former colleague,


Conor Murphy? Does he appreciate the extent he will have to go to to


ensure that the Unionist committee believes that in terms of


ministerial appointments, there is going to be fair play from the Sinn


Fein minister? The Deputy First Minister outlined in detail were


that case is. Do you want the answer? OK... I will put this to


the member - if the member had his way, there would be no fair


employment tribunals because a member has always been imposed --


opposed to that in legislation and there would be no Equality


Commission because he was opposed to that and there would be no


employment legislation in this society whatsoever because the


member opposite has always been in opposition and has always been in


opposition to any form of equality being in legislation whatsoever.


That is where we would be if the member opposite had his way, so no


member of the public, no member of this assembly or anybody else will


be aware of the appointment process to my department or any other


department but I will assure the member this - I share the views of


the Deputy First Minister and I don't think there is a sector in


bone in Conor Murphy his body. Mr McCartney? -- sectarian bone.


raibh maith agat. Thank you very much. Can I thank the Minister for


his answer. It seems that some members have long memories


stretching back to me 2007 and I wonder if the Minister has any


opinion on the comparative figures under direct rule or under Jim


Allister and perhaps Gregory Campbell's old Stormont regime?


record shows that any attempt to introduce fair employment and


equality legislation in the society has been opposed by the two


gentlemen who have previously questioned me regarding this matter.


It is quite clear that they would be happy to return to a one-party


state which failed not only the Catholic community but the


Protestant community on the island of violent and we haven't place now,


despite the continued opposition, a much more equal society and I can


assure everyone in this house that I am none of my ministerial


colleagues will apply to the rigour of the law. --. Aghadrum, Bannagh


Beg, Ballysooragh. All townlands in County Fermanagh. And residents of


that county are appealing to the Environment Minister to protect


townland names. A petition of 6,000 signatures was presented to the


Townlands in a tractor and green Norman tie-ins. They were there


before parishes and counties came into existence. The first instance


can be found before the 12th century, but it was believed many


where in existence for at more than a thousand years. They're not


against changed but the what a robust system which incorporates


postcodes, house numbers and effective postal delivery.


Ministers will be making a historical decision. After


thousands of years, he can legitimise of Fermat townlands as a


legal address. How the law deals with young people


is a sensitive subject and one which has seen angry exchanges in


the chamber. The justice minister David Ford is backing the findings


of a report which has called for, among other things, changes to the


age of criminal responsibility. But the issue is a red rag to the bull


that is the justice committee chair. I can't recall when this was


initially announced, you Lamb bustard quite a few people are


about the age of criminal responsibility, those people were


deflecting away from a lot of other issues which people would say was


more important. Yet, it is still in this document and I think it is


clear in their DUP position on this matter. Why continue to push this


agenda which will, in my view, detract from a lot of the other


recommendations which people are willing to engage with? The issue


around that is how we handle recommendations from the review


which were overwhelmingly supported by those who responded. It is


almost like the first. You raised about the age limit - most people


winter woodlands rather than high Bank. We have in reality their tiny


number of offenders end that the 10 plus age group been tell -- being


dealt with by methods other than criminal sanctions. Should we say


it they should be enshrined as a statutory arrangement? I see the


benefit of statute recognising that we are not by a large applying the


full criminal sanctions to very young offenders. We deal with them


through care. All of the criminal justice agencies are extremely


reluctant, to give someone a criminal record below age of 18,


therefore why increase this age limits. In the face of growing the


young people who feel they are immune from the potential


prosecution that can come, you remove that threat and I asked


myself or where we going when we have some young people who have no


fear or at all of the criminal justice system. In your view, this


may be a view of as being progressive as a society and


recognising the rights of children and all of that, whenever I think


for a lot of people, they think we have moved too far with a hands-off


approach and young people do not respect the laws. The vast majority


do but there is a big number who do not and people think society have


gone too far to trying to beat what she would characterise as a


progressive society and that is why we should make this change. -- to


be what you would describe. We are talking about a recommendation to


increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to


12. We can agree there is a big difference between 10 and 11-year-


old and 16 year olds. You mention the surveys earlier, did the floods


in some way show up the cracks in the system? I think it probably


dent because most people are crying out and one's heart goes out to the


people who have been suffering. The Executive could announce an major


infrastructure project to tackle the source of the problem rather


than offer people �1,000 each as a salve and sticking plaster. That


represents the tough financial Executive -- tub financial


constraints the Executive exercises under. Do you see a point in the


future, Sinn Fein are calling for greater fiscal powers, do you see a


point in the future where we will have some other way of raising


revenue? I think so. The obvious issue is the introduction of water


charging. There are ways of doing it which her sensitive to


relatively deprived circumstances. In terms of greater fiscal autonomy


for Northern Ireland, last week has seen that take a step backwards


over the issue of corporation tax. All political parties agreed but it


has been bounced back to the Treasury and the Treasury shows no


appetite to devolve that to Northern Ireland.


The early years strategy for children aged up to six came back


to the chamber this afternoon having been discussed by the


education committee. But there was some bad behaviour by two members


who should have known better. Here's the minister John O'Dowd.


Enough time has been spent debating the issues, the time has come to


decide the strategic approach. It is vital we continue to build on


the positive actions we are undertaking. In May announced


additional funding of the 13 million for early years service.


This will expand services to 25 % most disadvantaged awards in the


north. It will increase in the availability of pre-school places


and close the gap in funding. This will mean that my department's


investments in early years service it is 84 million which compares


with 73 million when the strategy was launched. How does the Minister


propose to measure the success of his strategy, will there be


specific targets at varying stages or will we have to wait until a


child reaches the end of their education to find how successful it


has been? I suppose the ultimate test of how successful the strategy


will be when the child reaches young adult to it. We are involved


in many programmes currently which may take 10 to 15 years to know the


outcome. We are working on an evidence based programme which I


believe this fast. My feeling at the moment is we get the strategy


and I will build in measures and out comes within that and report


back to the Assembly. Let us get the strategy down on paper and move


on with fat. I refer to the Minister's statement and it would


appear that we are now here in response to the consultations two


years on. Does the Minister agree this is shambolic and appalling,


was the a strategy to begin meths? How did he and his predecessor get


this strategy so wrong up in the first place? Can he could so meet


on the bones of the action plan? waited the response of the SDLP in


the coming months. No doubt they have a strategy sitting waiting to


be wheeled out into the public domain. Listen to their member's


answer, they know how it should be done so I will listen to the SDLP.


Order please. Could I ask people to address their marks through the


chair. I was studying their early years strategy and will use those


elements which are workable. Historical artefacts were under


discussion after it emerged that nearly one and a half million of


them have not been passed onto local museums by the commercial


companies that have found them. The Northern Ireland Archaeology Forum


is pushing for more joined up thinking between the departments of


culture and environment. This debate for archaeologists and for


their heritage sector in Northern Ireland is massive. We believe they


are currently about 1.7 million artifacts held in private companies


across Northern Ireland. This is the fruit of results of well over


thousands of licence are Kiddish -- excavations. The material is all


that is left of the sites being excavated before those sites which


have planning permission. The problem we have is there is no easy


manoeuvre for this material to leave those country -- those


companies who extracted things and put them into at museum or another


accredited body. How interesting are some of these artefacts?


the artefacts are interesting weather Ritter's stone things from


a prehistoric past, right through to material from industrial


heritage sites. It can range from pieces of pottery right through to


the objects that we see in museum collections in boxes, you will find


objects of gold or occasionally, high-status items. This material


reflects the everyday objects that people had write a throughout her


cultural past. Who would benefit from seeing it? I think the public


would benefit from seeing it. There is a lust opportunity here. If we


estimate the size of the Op material that is out there,


researchers would have fantastic benefit from having access to this,


helping us discover more about our cultural past. Put it into


perspective for us about the quantities involved. The know that


in 2007, the National Museums estimated that there are probably


around 320,000 artifacts or objects classified as archaeological. If we


look today at how much material is sitting in company hands, as a


result of development led excavations, that is four times the


amount of material which is currently held in museum


collections. What would you like to see the ministers do? We would like


them to be able to see whose responsibility this is to solve the


problem. It is not a problem which can be sold by one department on my.


The Minister for the Environment, they have the responsibility for


protection of the monuments. Where they give licence permission to do


excavations, then of course when the material is out of the ground,


this is where the gap seems to happen. Museums would ideally be


the repository. But at the moment there is nothing in a legislative


framework which allows that framework to pass to them.


Evicted from Stormont, our political team have spent the day


like fish out of water here at Broadcasting house. I managed to


pin down Gareth Gordon, who's definitely not in Kansas anymore.


For reasons which have already been explained, we are doing Stormont


sedate in Broadcasting House. We're not at Stormont but we have not


missed a second of the action. there was plenty of action to watch


today. When approaching the end of term, any means winding down. At


Stormont it is the opposite. There has not been enough business for a


MLAs to do in the last few weeks. There had been a lot of early


finishes. This week it is completely the opposite. A lot of


end of term cramming going on. Lots of the sense been tied up. A very


long day today with lots of ministerial statements. Tomorrow


looks like being even longer. No lunch break. We have our fair share


of bizarre events that parliament buildings and we had won today.


That's right. Stormont had a visit from one of the most successful


Irish teams of recent times. That is the team which represented


Ireland in the Cup stacking competition. It is a recognised


sport. The committee invited the team to Stormont and we had an


exhibition of Cup stacking. Some committee members even had a go.


They should have left it to the professionals. The Irish team


amassed 32 medals. Wreck looking ahead to the next session. One of


their it big thing it is reducing the size of Stormont, you have had


you say, what do you think you will do for the Assembly? They have got


to seize the nettle on this one. They have to reduce to a least 96,


given that there will be 16 constituencies. I think they should


go further and reduced to 80. One thing I had been concerned about is


the fact that the members of the committee had been looking at this


issue and they had been party animals rather than committee


creatures because they have deferred to their respective party


leaders to make the decisions on both issues. That is a failure of


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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