02/07/2013 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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Coming up tonight: Should Stormont have a formal opposition? What about


more speaking rights? A review on procedures was before the House


today. Order, please. Order, please. The


member's speaking rights have run out. May be the last sitting of the


Assembly before the summer break, but the First Minister is sure about


the way forward. Northern Ireland of the future will ab a society able to


fulfil its real economic potential and lay permanent RAC Foundations


for continued peace stability and prosperity. The Script has been


written. Neither words must -- now the words must be translated into


action. And Alex Kane joins me to look at


the events of today and the Parliamentary year gone by. Most of


us would agree that Stormont is far from, but can we really expect it to


change substantially. In recent weeks we have seen the newest party


complaining about speaking rights. Today the executive re Executive


Review Committee reported on potential changes to the way


Stormont operates. First the commentator Alex Kane is with me.


What's the importance of the review discussed today? The interest was in


the looking at the business of how the Assembly works. It goes to the


review 16 years ago now when they wanted to change the mechanics after


a number of years seeing how it works out. During that time...


There's no consensus on most of the key issues nor on the need of having


formal opposition Government like you do in Westminster. Even in terms


of creating extra space and speaking rights, that hasn't been agreed


either. There's no consensus. Sinn Fein have said they're very much


against that. They're not only against the formal opposition, but


against informal opposition. Even where consensus exists it's


informal. At any time the executive party can say no you're not getting


these rights. We've had this discussion about the possibility of


an opposition, we know that John McCallister is bringing forward a


Private Members' Bill on that very subject. Are you saying that you


can't see it going anywhere? I think that Private Members' Bill is coming


out in the next few bill. He's looking for a formal, funded,


official opposition. Bearing in mind that the main parties in the


executive seem incapable of reaching consensus of any of the key issues,


but interestingly enough if you look at Jim McCallister, he managed to


get that through. If he can get the public behind him, get the lobbying


groups behind him, he may be able to make changes. As it stands at the


minute, there is no support for opposition. What do you make of the


fact that all of the causes for there to be an opposition seem to be


coming from the Unionist benches - not all of the Unionist benches but


from the Unionist benches? That's not surprising. Right at the


beginning of the process there was a fear that opposition was going to be


a way of squeeze squeezing Nationalists out of the process


that. Was never going to happen. Sinn Fein and the SDLP will still be


entitled to take the seats in the executive. More from you later.


Alex, for now, thank you. All of the issues were considered in


detail. Compare sons were inevitably made with other legislatures. The


committee remain mindful of our unique circumstances and the fact


changes whatsoever during the work in which the committee has


undertaken. That's is not the approach of the Ulster Unionist


Party. We think institutions must change. The Alliance Party has felt


that there are four particular problems with the current system.


Namely the institutionalation of sectarian division. The equality of


votes with elected MLAs. The inability to adjust to political


circumstances and the ability of political majorities to hold the


process. We need to have an effective opposition in place


because the last thing people want to see is some sort of bureaucratic


system here in Stormont where most of the parties comprise 90% of the


elected representatives, make up an executive where there is no


challenge, no opposition apart from the odd written question about the


cost of mint impeerials in the chamber, apart from that, there's no


effect effective challenging opposition. I'm delighted that the,


that you've come to try and let us get some speaking rights.


THE SPEAKER: Order. Order. I want you to keep that campaign going. And


keep on championing the cause of NI2 THE SPEAKER: Order please. The


member's speaking rights have run out.


John McCallister being cut short by the deputy Speaker John Dallat. Mr


John McCallister and Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan with me now. Did the debate


this afternoon achieve anything afar as opposition is concerned? I'm glad


you're giving me some speaking rights. I was disappointed that the


report. I thought it was a real missed opportunity to actually, you


know for people and parties that keep talking about opposition to


actually more or less put their money where their mouth is. They


failed to do that. With the report, yes, there's some difficult issues


about designation but the principles of establishing the opposition to


scrutinise the government and provide an alternative, I think the


report clearly missed that part. main parties aren't enthusiastic.


We'll hear why in a moment. Where does this leave your Private


Members' Bill. It's dead in the water. I wouldn't be as pessimistic


as you. The difference is this was a report that no-one was really forced


to take up very hard and change positions. They didn't post


themselves. The advantage of a Private Members' Bill will put the


chance of tabling amendments, of making changes, of really putting it


up to all the parties to say, if this is something you believe in and


want to see in the Assembly, then get out and back it. What has Sinn


Fein got to fear from the establishment of an opposition?


don't have anything to fear at all. Parties are able to go into


opposition now if they so wish. They can opt out of the executive, if


they don't want to be in it. And provide opposition within the


Assembly. The point is it wouldn't be a very effective opposition


because they wouldn't be properly funded and they wouldn't have proper


speaking rights. You have to remember the arrangements that we


have were designed to suit the situation that we have here. The


Professor when he was in giving evidence said the arrangements here


must be seen as an organ organic whole. If you try to tinker around


the edges or pick and mix, it will have a knock-on effect. To give you


an example, if 30 MLAs went into opposition, they would be able to


sign petitions of concern and block every single piece of legislation


coming from the executive. So we be at stand still. That's just an


example of how it wouldn't work. If we tinker with one bit it will have


an effect somewhere else. The point. This is a very carefully balanced


system that we've got in place with lots of checks and balances. If you


unsettle it, it will grind to a stand still. The very example Pat


used about the positioning, the one party that has abused most of the


petition of concern is the biggest party in the Government, namely the


DUP. Oppositions aren't there just to oppose everything. They're there


to oppose things they don't agree with. If the Government brings


something sensible they're not going oppose it for the sake of


opposition. Are you happy for the debate to continue? Happy for John


McCallister to table his Private Members' Bill and for that to be


discussed? Absolutely. But what you have to remember, and this was clear


in the evidence given to the committee during its review that we


have the strongest system for scrutiny and holding Government to


account of any of the political institutions on these islands.


very much. The G8 summit may have been two weeks ago, but the benefits


of hosting the international event are very much at centre of Northern


Ireland's thinking. That's what the First Minister told the Assembly


today as he revealed further details of the executive's plans to build a


more prosperous society. It's important -- this important


initiative contains measures to rebalance the local economy and


secure a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland. The Assembly


will be aware that this package was in development offer the last


two-and-a-half months and was only finalised just ahead of the G8


conference. There have been some criticisms that the significant


economic pact which affects the House and the executive was agreed


without a statement to the Assembly. The facts are that the pact was


subject to executive approval and indeed, the executive ratified it at


the very next meeting following the G8 last Thursday and today, at the


first available opportunity, I'm now in a position to provide members


with the details. It is important to note that the measures in building a


prosperous and united community are not a substitute for the executive


aim in relation to corporation tax. The executive will therefore


continue to push for corporation tax powers to help provide the necessary


stimulus for economic growth. I believe, like the many hundreds of


people who responded positively to the public consultation on this


issue, that this measure above all others has the ability to deliver


the necessary economic step change. Devolution of this power would allow


the executive to meet its shared objective of rebalancing the local


economy more quickly than if it was reline on the policy levers


currently available alongside those outlined in this package. As members


will be aware, the executive faces unique challenges in rebalancing the


local economy and addressing disadvantage and continuing


divisions. The current 100% assisted area status enables it to provide


targeted support to a range of private seconder-led projects


through Northern Ireland. For example, selective financial


assistance provided but invest Northern Ireland has helped to


promote over 3,000 new jobs here in the last three months alone. The


package also contains measures for increased support for trade and


investment and the executive is delighted bit Prime Minister's


decision to return to Northern Ireland for the executive's G8


investment conference in October. The world leaders came to Fermanagh


several weeks ago. They admired a society that has been transformed.


At the G8 Northern Ireland showed the world it is an increasingly


outward looking society, open for businesses, focussed on improving


the local economy. The economic and social pact that was unveiled by the


Prime Minister in recent days is a potent symbol of the executive's


vision. Under its custodianship and direction the Northern Ireland of


the future will be a genuinely shared society able to fulfil its


real economic potential and lay RAC Foundations for continued peace,


stability and prosperity. The Script has been written and the words must


be translated into action. I think anyone, even our pessimists in the


press recognise that the G8 was successful in Northern Ireland


terms. It is always difficult, though we will attempt to indicate


by way of the report that will be carried out by the executive, the


extent of the advantage to Northern Ireland in the longer term. At this


point, we see it not just being beneficial in terms of the


reputational enhancement that there is for Northern Ireland where people


around the world can see that Northern Ireland was a bright, sunny


and peaceful place, the kind of destination that one might want to


go for holidays or indeed, to invest. That's good for Northern


Ireland. I'm not sure what figure anybody can put on that. I think


what is also important is that the Prime Minister committed and


encouraged his colleagues at the G8 to support our economic conference


in October of this year and that, again, could real aisles very


considerable benefits. -- realise very considerable benefits.


Planning was back on the agenda today, after last week's controversy


over OFM/DFM's plans to create special economic planning zones. The


environment minister was back in the driving seat. This afternoon he


welcomed a policy aimed at conserving Northern Ireland's


natural heritage. Last week members recall the


Planning Bill, how could you forget, which focussed on reforming the


planning system and also ensuring that economic considerations are


embedded in the system in a proper way. But I've always maintained the


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 45 seconds


planning system was about striking the appropriate balance between


Minister when he's given an opportunity to say that my opinion


is wrong that the opinion of all those who disagree in terms of the


law with the deputy and First Minister in this matter they don't


take the opportunity to rebut that either. This morning Edwin Poots


claimed he wouldn't be surprised to seat police turning a blind eye to


the activities of drug dealers in return for information. By the time


he took to his feet in Question Time this afternoon Mr Poots was saying


he was assured by the Chief Constable that there are no


untouchables. First up, the question about waiting lists. Recent figures


announced for waiting times in England have been described as


representing a crisis over there, yet they're still significantly


better than in Northern Ireland. Does he accept that had he been a


minister in England that he would have been out of office by now?


Yeah, well, maybe so. We have to wait and see. If you're going to


hunt ministers out of office, perhaps in 2008/9, we had 2280


people waiting. By the time that minister left office, there were


7,379 people waiting for more than 12 hours. If you want to talk about


ministers not performing, I think you better look closer to ho.


Thankfully last year we had less people waiting for more than 12


hours than whenever your own minister left office. Can you give


us an update today on the recent incident in the royal A & E where


over 100 patients seen by a local doctor have been recalled? What I


can give you is the information that I have. A doctor was employed, as I


understand, I think that the doctor himself was a consultant, he was


employed at registrar grade. They had no concerns in terms of any


background information on the individual and that they felt it was


safe to employ him. It was later discovered that there had been the


potential for a couple of cases that hadn't been appropriately dying


nosed -- nighing knows and in terms of the reading of X-rays and so


forth. There after they decided to recall all of the patients that he


had dealt with. Could I ask the minister, given the seriousness of


the situation, wouldn't the minister consider the comments he made over


the radio this morning in relation to the PSNI, would he consider with


drawing that statement or perhaps an apology to the PSNI would be in


order? Well, I'm glad to say I've had a consideration with the Chief


Constable and the Chief Constable is making it absolutely clear that they


will go after anyone who's engaged in drug dealing, that there should


be no untouchables. I think that's what the community wants to hear,


because whether we like it or whether we don't, there say


perception out there amongst many in our community that there are people


who are untouchable, that there are people who are known to be trading


in drugs and who don't appear to be being arrested for it. Now, let us


get the message out to the community that they need to pass the


information to the police and the police have expressed a very clear


willingness, with me at the highest level this morning, that they will


pursue such individuals. If I could press the minister. He said this


morning and I quote that he would not be surprised if the police were


turning a blind eye to the activity of some drug dealers. Can I ask the


minister direct directly and explicitly, does he still hold that


view this afternoon? I certainly had instances over the years of dealing


with these issues and indeed taking people to the police with


information to be acted upon. The Chief Constable has made it very


clear to me that there are no untouchables, that they will go


after people if they have the information and I that I that we


have to take his word on that. It's for the Policing Board to hold the


Chief Constable to account. Edwin Poots. The Justice Minister David


Ford also faced questions today, asked about the state of the threat


from dissident Republicans and first of all, for an update on Northern


Ireland's first sex wal a Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Antrim.


The establishment of Sexual Assault Referral Centre is a step forward in


report reporting sexual violence and abuse. It will provide victims with


a safe, secure and confidential environment. This is a key


initiative to tackle sexual violence and abuse and is an excellent


example of partnership working with the relevant departments and


agencies. Sexual violence is a serious problem in Northern Ireland


which affects people from all cultural, social and ethnic


backgrounds and across all age groups. Independent sexual violence


advisors are intended to be specialist support workers who


assist and help victims of assault and abuse in the weeks and months


after an assault. In order to secure funding for the service, my


department is required to produce a robust business case which will


depend on operational data collected over some months. Work has been


ongoing to define and develop the roles and the links to the


independent domestic violence advisors given the link between


domestic and sexual violence. These roles will evolve. It is therefore


not possible at this stage to provide a difintive time frame for


the appointment. This is dependent on a business case an securing


funding. I can certainly give Mr Lynch the assurance that the opening


of the building is an important step forward in meeting the needs of


those victims of sexual violence. I plef it is a significant step


forward. We have to examine the issue of the business case to see


exactly how the SARK will develop in the future. I thank the minister for


his answer. I find it strange that the centre was opened without the


business case having been done. Why was it not worked on before?


answer is simple: Because the business case requires operational


data which can't come through until it is in operation. I have regular


meetings with the Chief Constable on a range of issues concerning


security, that includes the level of threat from all terrorist


organisations to different groups. In addition, my department regularly


keeps under review the level of threat to individuals holding


justice-related positions to ensure that personal security measures can


be provided and advice issued as required to those individuals within


my ministerial remit. Is the minister satisfied that all


necessary steps are taken to ensure that the safety of people is not


compromised? I think those steps which can be taken in my department


are taken. Clearly, there are issues which, as I've highlighted to Mr


Campbell, fall to the Northern Ireland office and not to the


Department of Justice. Most of those are the issues which are highlighted


by the two members at this stage, which specifically falls to our


employees around, for example, home protection for prison officers then


action has been taken in recent months to do that as best we can.


Alex Kane has rejoined me for a few final thoughts. What's your


assessment of the Parliamentary term gone by? I think it's actually been


very dull. If you take Jim Allister's bill, nothing happened.


The Welfare Reform Act has been dumped into next year. Even the


Better Together, nothing happening there. We are where we started at


the beginning of the year. Didn't affect the legislative process but


the flags dispute dominated the political debate. I think it did. It


soured relationship. It infected the whole process. There's still a


hangover from that. They'll have to get over that. The welfare reforms


can't hang about waiting for them. Back at the start of the September.


Welfare reform will be on the agenda. Opposition will be on the


agenda. Briefly, a change to ministerial questions, where they'll


have 15 minutes of unsubmited questions first of all. That could


be interesting. That will be brilliant. It will be a real test of


the ministers. They'll be able to get some, but it will be interesting


to see if they can manage. Very much. That's it for now. That's our


last programme of the run, Stormont today is back in September. Join me


for The View on Thursday night, 10. 35pm BBC One. It's the last


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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