03/02/2014 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. Coming up on the programme: Comments


about the Irish language made by a leading Orangeman at the weekend are


criticised. I feel it was an attempt to relieve people into not learning


Irish and not embracing that part of their culture. It is going to fail.


Dissension in the DUP ranks as MLAs disagree with the Health Minister


over cigarette packaging. I am not a supporter of smoking but I recognise


that a quarter of the population for one reason or another wish to engage


in. And our political reporter, Stephen


Walker, is with me to cast his eye over proceedings.


The Irish language is once again at the top of the political agenda


after weekend comments from a leading Orangeman. George Chittick,


the County Grand Master of Belfast, warned Protestants that if they


learn Irish they're following a Republican agenda. I'm joined by our


political reporter, Stephen Walker. It is a subject that found its way


up to the Hill today. What is the background to what was said? These


remarks from George Chitty were made over the weekend. He told a crowd of


around 500 people I will quote, " the word of warning to people who


will learn Irish, it is a part of the Republican agenda. " He was


addressing this weekly gathering that is up in North Belfast. They


are protesting the re-routing of Norwich parade. The comments have


produced a reaction. Norwich parade. The comments have


headlines today, lots of discussions Norwich parade. The comments have


mixed, the Orange order have backed him. David Hume defended the


remarks. He said the disease section of the Protestant community who


believe that is a onslaught. There has been criticism from the SDLP.


There are criticisms from people like Linda Irvine. There has been


criticism from Sinn Fein. I can't understand what would make someone


say that. I feel it was an attempt to lead people into not learning


Irish are not embracing that part of the culture. Inevitably, it is going


to fail. People of all communities in the North are learning Irish and


embracing it and want to have it as part of their life. Whatever his


motivation for making those remarks, he is sadly misled. That was Sinn


Fein. It will be interesting to see if that will be the end of the


matter. There is another row brewing over a situation involving a teacher


at the Boys' Model in North Belfast. That has been grabbing the


headlines. Another row relating to North Belfast. This relates to


online abuse that was directed at a Sinn Fein councillor who teaches at


Boys' Model will --. Sinn Fein say she has been subjected to these


taunts from the Protestant coalition. That has been rejected by


Willie Frazer from the collation. He said he contained -- condemned the


threats. The online threats have been condemned by the Irish National


teachers organisation. They said no one should put up with this.


teachers organisation. They said no teacher. Governors from the Boys'


Model and officials from the education board have been meeting to


discuss this. Thanks very much. Earlier today, MLAs debated a


measure allowing for the introduction of plain packaging for


cigarettes. Introducing the legislative consent motion, the


Health Minister said the aim was to prevent the uptake of smoking by


young people. However in a rare breaking of ranks, opposition to the


move came from Edwin Poots' DUP colleagues. There is a massive sign


on every packet of cigarettes that smoking kills, smoking will give you


long pants and a range of other health implications. There are


gruesome pictures. -- we'll give you long cancer. YN Earth as cigarettes


companies spending millions of pounds a year designing attractive


packaging? That is a total waste of money. When you go into a


tobacconist on a newsagent UCB have spent months developing their new


packaging. Why? To attract new smokers. The reason is simple. If


you have a legal product and that is a market, you have to differentiate


yours product from other markets that are unavailable to the


consumer. That is way they look different. It is not to make a


glamorous glitzy packaging that nobody can say no to. Quite frankly,


that is not the case. It is to differentiate their product from


other product in the marketplace. I am not a supportive of smoking but I


recognise that a quarter of the population for one reason or the


other wish to in gauge in it. It does create health problems but so


does drinking of alcohol. He is indicating a quartered of people


wish to smoke. A high percentage wish they don't smoke and that is an


important element of it. Many of those people choose to smoke


whenever the knot in the house. those people choose to smoke


children and young people to pick up an addictive habit. The Minister


says there are people who wish to give up. I am not disputing his


figures, 83% wish to give up. But if banning advertising, stopping them


smoking in public places and all of the other measures we have


undertaken have not resulted in people giving up, the question we


have got ask ourselves is this the way of dealing with it? It will


impact on employment in Northern Ireland. In Mike is the truancy


there are hundreds of people who are unemployed in Ballymena. -- in my


constituency. Those people 's jobs or be affected not as a result of


stopping people smoking but as the result of switching people to the


criminal gangs who import cheap cigarettes and sell them in the


market. The big message is smoking kills. Nothing could be clearer. Let


me say also to the members, she is a package which does not look


glamorous. Or seductive. There is a clear message, smoking kills. It


tells me the brand I want to smoke as a smoker which I bought this


morning, and I may add that so I don't does appoint the Minister.


That is a compliment to him for badgering at times about smoking.


The evidence that the emerge from it was that smokers would indicate they


had less satisfaction with their was that smokers would indicate they


South Wales which showed a 78% increase in the number of calls to


quit lines in the months after standardised packaging was


introduced. There is evidence from Australia it was happening and


having impact on smokers. What we are targeting here with standardised


packaging is not smokers, what we are targeting is younger people to


ensure that they don't get the habit of taking nicotine. Edwin Poots


making the case. Those packaging and the motion passed on an oral vote.


Stephen Walker is still with me. It is unusual to see DUP MLAs


disagreeing like that in public. That was the most fascinating thing


about the debate. It was to see members of the DUP not just


disagreeing with each other on the benches that also disagreeing with


the Minister. From the clips we have seen, you can see there may well be


a geographical split. You had East Antrim taking one position and then


you had the Minister and Jim Wales from Southdown taking another


position. It was fascinating to see not just a difference of opinion


that fascinating to see people questioning eight DUP minister. In


the minds of people like Sammy Wilson he is worried about jobs, he


is worried about the people in his constituency. Sammy Wilson and Edwin


Poots art to Executive colleagues, two senior members will stop you


almost think he has got rid of the shackles of office, he feels he is a


free man and he feels he can speak. He feels as if he can argue with his


colleagues in public and from the clips we have seen he did that. He


is a big beast on the backbenches. He may cause problems for Peter


Robinson. He is still an MP and the big question that


Robinson. He is still an MP and the House of Commons? Thank you very


much. The DUP says it has made a formal


complaint against an academic who wrote an email claiming the party


may have been responsible for young gay and lesbian people taking their


own lives. Jim Wales confronted Dr Graham Ellison from Queen's


University at a meeting of the Stormont Justice Committee last


week. The meeting concerned Lord Morrow's Human Trafficking Bill. If


passed, the bill would make it illegal to pay for sex in Northern


Ireland. Do you remember writing an e-mail to an academic on the 13th of


September 2013? Due remember what you said? This is in reference to


clause number set. Why have you hooked yourself up to that lot in


the DUP? Have you any idea where they stand for on social issues


around women's issues, gay and lesbian issues and so forth. In


terms of gay and lesbian politics, that I have an interest in the now


one of the most social Aqua parties you can imagine. -- backward parties


you can imagine. I wonder how many gay people in Northern Ireland have


committed suicide because of this bloody party? I can remember the


party... VI simply latching onto this idea that sex described in


biblical in teaching. Your opposition to this clause and this


will is more because of York prejudices against the key... It is


nothing of the sort. There are a number of issues I do feel strongly


about. I thought I could talk around it. There are a number of


fundamental issues where she and the DUP do not agree. You may agree on


the criminalisation of paying for claimed rape within marriage was


allowed. That was made about six years ago. There are a lot of gay


and lesbian young people in Northern Ireland who have committed suicide


because of issues around their sexuality. Your party is opposed to


those. That is not what you said. Because of this bloody party.


Because of the stands your party takes on these issues. I am not


involved in the local politics. What I do find interesting is I just


presented evidence from 100 sex workers, some of them work in


Northern Ireland, to say what they feel. Here we go and talk about...


It is important we establish the integrity of the individuals in


front of us. He has brought the attention of the committee and the


public something which I believe is material. We will come to the


evidence you have come to. We both have research. The phrase you used


about the DUP was extremely offensive. I wish to apologise for


that. I've tried on about 20 occasions, I've got records of


e-mails and stuff, to contact you both, way before this research


started asking for an interview in connection with the project. I've


spoken to Lord row's PA, I've spoken to your press office. I've had no


luck whatsoever in getting anyone from the party, nor indeed from


care, to come and speak to me. I guess I was a bit frustrated. I was


thinking, why is this party, Hugh is promoting


thinking, why is this party, Hugh is Committee. The Social Development


Minister faced questions in the Assembly today and he was in the


mood to set the record straight on housing allocation in his own


constituency. Nelson McCausland was also asked about overspending by the


Housing Executive, but first he defended an accusation of 21st


Century gerrymandering from an SDLP MLA. She said, any objective


analysis or examination of the fact, this was in the context of


north Belfast, can come to only one conclusion. That Catholics in need


of housing are being discriminated against. The conditions that the


people of north Belfast have been subjected to an intolerable, she


said, and would not be accepted by any other functioning democracy. She


emphasised again her words, Catholics in need of housing being


discriminated against. She went on to use the term, she said, this is


nothing short of 21st century gerrymandering. I want to put on


record today the actual figures for North Belfast. Not the myths that


have been manufactured and peddled by the SDLP and by Republicans and


by the dissidents who were out on the streets of Belfast on Saturday,


about 50 of them turned up for their rally. But the truth of the matter


is they have manufactured and peddled myths. There is no


disadvantage. There is no determination. The waiting lists in


the North Belfast constituency as of September last year were as follows.


That the people in the Protestant community, there were 2059


Protestants on the waiting list. There were 1986 Roman Catholics. The


need in both communities is roughly the same. It is not the level of


disadvantage and discrimination that has been manufactured and invented


by people like Dolores Kelly, who concocted these ridiculous figures,


matter is these are the facts, these are the figures and people like


Dolores Kelly come as much as they want an it, argue about it, dispute


it, query it, calculate what ever they want to do. They can't get


around the fact that these are the Housing Executive's own formally


presented figures. On the 10th of June you came to this House and


announced there was an overpayment of some ?18 million likely to be a


conservative figure. Do you regret rushing into the House at that


time, given that the figures now seem to be considerably less than


that? First of all, in terms of the report being provided to the


committee, it is not for me to either hold back or inhibit in any


way the work of the committee. And therefore he will receive very soon


the document. As regards the announcement last year in regard to


the contracts, what is clear from the report is this. That the manner


in which the Housing Executive grew up contracts, monitored them and


managed them was deeply flawed. It is a pretty damning indictment in


that regard as to the way in which the Housing Executive managed and


monitored contract. It was not done properly. It was open to all sorts


of difficulties that would arise. And that is one of the issues that


goes back quite a number of years, because the contracts were basically


set up a number of years ago, in fact, I think it was just towards


the end of the period of direct rule before the assembly came into


operation again. It goes back a number of years. It is a problem


that was there, it was endemic within the organisation, all


institutional within the organisation. In that regard, I


think we are in a better place now because the report has identified


what the because the report has identified


Social Development because the report has identified


during questions to the Agriculture Minister today, as Michelle O'Neill


was asked about flood defences. But first on the agenda were Single Farm


Payments, and just how many farmers have yet to receive their 2013


allocation. This has been an accident due in terms of processor


payments. The highest ever number of farmers have received their payments


prompted this year. My priority is to speed up the process of the


inspection cases that occur every year. I anticipate the last case


will be paid approximately two months faster than last year and oar


months faster than the year before. They have been concerns expressed


about remote sensing cases, and I can reassure farmers that those


cases have now been put through for the final stages before payment. I


expect a significant number to be in the accounts by the end of the


month. It's been an excellent year for the payment of Single Farm


Payments. Not if you are one of my farming constituents. Who, utterly


unexpectedly, have had their payments withheld because of the


remote sensing. Why could those payments not have been paid in


December and recovery in subsequent years, if there was anything found


wrong? Rather than punish them all with this punitive approach across


the board will stop We are working under European rules, and one of the


rules as you can't make any payment until the whole Rowe says has been


completed. That's the reason we're not able to make payments. We are


trying to improve things and do more inspections by remote control


sensing so the we are able to get in a position where we are able to make


the repayments. The House has called for that repeatedly. We've had quite


a few debates on it. I want to be in that position to pay people early.


That's why we have taken forward these measures in terms of the


remote control sensing. Given that the greater volume the river can


help the less likely it will flood, and given that the corresponding


bodies in England are now reviewing the policy of the non-dredging of


reverse to help alleviate the of the agency. They will be carrying


out a postevent analysis of how things performed. They will bring


forward recommendations on any measures that need to be taken. Will


the Minister commit to an audit of all coastal defences, to ensure


investment is available to secure our homes, farms and businesses when


there is future high tides or coastal erosion around the North of


Ireland? If I can correct the member. I didn't say... I said the


coastal agencies that they were held responsible held up where they were


needed to. There will be a postevent analysis of the events that


happened, how everybody responded, and then there will be


recommendations coming forward from the agency if need be, if there are


areas where we need to strengthen our defences. I look forward to


getting that. When they do come forward, we have to look at any of


the measures that come forward and look towards what funding we have


available. Question five. Apologies, can I ask the Minister,


it was bound to happen at some point, can I ask the Minister will


to update the assembly on the progress of the Rivers agency flood


alleviation works in east Belfast? The member will be aware that there


is already work ongoing. We are on target, we had set out we'd have the


work completed by 2016. There were delays at the start because we are


working in conjunction with Belfast City Council. Quite a number of


works have been started and we are pleased with the progress. Michelle


O'Neill. There was an unusual item on the agenda at Stormont today as


Sammy Wilson raised a point of order with the Speaker over a data breach


at the Assembly. Mr Wilson said that the personal details of some MLAs'


employees have fallen into the wrong hands. Mr Speaker, this morning a


number of members received in their pigeonhole notification from the


director of corporate services that they had been a breach of data


security, which resulted in the they had been a breach of data


released to a third party. Although the letter states that like any


responsible authority the assembly commission has developed protocols


to deal with such circumstances through its data breach management


plan, it appears that this breach occurred on the 24th of January.


Employees were not notified until either this morning or at the end of


last week. Indeed, the casual way in which this notification came to some


members, namely the letter appearing in their pigeonhole, is hardly the


act of any responsible authority. The point of order I wish to make


is, have you spoken to the director-general to get a report on


this, what action is being taken on it and what explanation has there


been for the delay in informing those whose information was passed


on to a third party in this way? First of all, if I could say to Mr


Wilson that this has been fully discussed, both with the


director-general and at our last commission meeting as well. All


commission members were informed of the issue as soon as it happened.


And they have been well kept up to date on the issue. So I would say to


members of this House, a la commission members are fully versed


of the situation. I think that is where we should leave it. There has


been a very wide discussion around this, both with myself, with the


director general and especially with our commission members. I am not


prepared to take any further point of order on this. We really need to


move on. But it members really want to talk to me about this issue,


please talk to me outside the chamber or


totally and absolutely kept up to date of the situation. That is


really where we should leave it. The Speaker, Willie Hay, reassuring the


House that everything is under control. Stephen Walker has rejoined


me. Stephen, we had more talks today about the Haass process, did


anything of interest come out of them? No great breakthrough.


Today's meeting was an extension of the meeting from last week. I am


told the mood was workmanlike and businesslike. I'm told the mood was


better than last week. I understand that last week things were a bit


fraught and tetchy. Today there was a discussion on parading paper that


had been put forward by officials. Those discussions will continue


tomorrow. I also understand there will be discussions tomorrow on the


past. But in terms of agreement, no agreement but clearly more talks


going on. Finally the Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland is in


the news? Yes, this story broke this afternoon. This relates to an


incident, an alleged incident, that took place last year during a


loyalist demonstration against a Republican anti-internment parade in


Royal Avenue in Belfast. You may recall that 26 police officers were


hurt during trouble. Afterwards, the Ulster Unionist MLA, Michael


Copeland, accused an officer of striking his wife with a bat on. He


lodged a complaint. That investigation has concluded that he


accidentally hit himself. Mr Copeland told the BBC he didn't want


to comment. The ombudsman and the PSNI also declined to comment.


Interesting. That's it for tonight. I'll be back with more tomorrow


night. Same time, same place - 11.20pm on BBC Two. Until then,




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.