03/02/2014 Stormont Today


03/02/2014

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

:00:24.:00:29.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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in. And our political reporter, Stephen

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

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

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after weekend comments from a leading Orangeman. George Chittick,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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produced a reaction. Norwich parade. The comments have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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taunts from the Protestant coalition. That has been rejected by

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

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

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

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

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Model and officials from the education board have been meeting to

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

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measure allowing for the introduction of plain packaging for

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cigarettes. Introducing the legislative consent motion, the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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companies spending millions of pounds a year designing attractive

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

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tobacconist on a newsagent UCB have spent months developing their new

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

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

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yours product from other markets that are unavailable to the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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criminal gangs who import cheap cigarettes and sell them in the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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had less satisfaction with their was that smokers would indicate they

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

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quit lines in the months after standardised packaging was

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introduced. There is evidence from Australia it was happening and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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disagreeing with each other on the benches that also disagreeing with

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

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

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you had the Minister and Jim Wales from Southdown taking another

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

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that fascinating to see people questioning eight DUP minister. In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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much. The DUP says it has made a formal

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complaint against an academic who wrote an email claiming the party

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

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

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University at a meeting of the Stormont Justice Committee last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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biblical in teaching. Your opposition to this clause and this

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

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

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

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

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the criminalisation of paying for claimed rape within marriage was

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

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and lesbian young people in Northern Ireland who have committed suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It is important we establish the integrity of the individuals in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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thinking, why is this party, Hugh is promoting

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

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

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

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constituency. Nelson McCausland was also asked about overspending by the

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

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

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

:16:02.:16:06.

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

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of housing are being discriminated against. The conditions that the

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

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

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emphasised again her words, Catholics in need of housing being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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is they have manufactured and peddled myths. There is no

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disadvantage. There is no determination. The waiting lists in

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

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That the people in the Protestant community, there were 2059

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

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

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disadvantage and discrimination that has been manufactured and invented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:18:15.:18:20.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:19:15.:19:17.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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institutional within the organisation. In that regard, I

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

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what the because the report has identified

:19:54.:19:59.

Social Development because the report has identified

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

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

:20:08.:20:11.

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

:20:12.:20:19.

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

:20:20.:20:24.

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

:20:25.:20:27.

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

:20:28.:20:32.

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

:20:33.:20:35.

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

:20:36.:20:39.

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

:20:40.:20:44.

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

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

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

:20:52.:20:55.

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

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

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unexpectedly, have had their payments withheld because of the

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

:21:08.:21:14.

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

:21:15.:21:19.

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

:21:20.:21:25.

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

:21:26.:21:28.

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

:21:29.:21:33.

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

:21:34.:21:38.

trying to improve things and do more inspections by remote control

:21:39.:21:41.

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

:21:42.:21:46.

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

:21:47.:21:49.

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

:21:50.:21:53.

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

:21:54.:21:57.

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

:21:58.:22:02.

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

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

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

:22:08.:22:20.

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

:22:21.:22:24.

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

:22:25.:22:33.

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

:22:34.:22:36.

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

:22:37.:22:41.

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

:22:42.:22:46.

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

:22:47.:22:52.

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

:22:53.:22:56.

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

:22:57.:23:01.

happened, how everybody responded, and then there will be

:23:02.:23:04.

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

:23:05.:23:07.

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

:23:08.:23:11.

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

:23:12.:23:15.

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

:23:16.:23:24.

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

:23:25.:23:28.

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

:23:29.:23:32.

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

:23:33.:23:37.

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

:23:38.:23:41.

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

:23:42.:23:47.

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

:23:48.:23:50.

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

:23:51.:23:54.

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

:23:55.:23:56.

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

:23:57.:24:00.

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

:24:01.:24:04.

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

:24:05.:24:07.

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

:24:08.:24:14.

number of members received in their pigeonhole notification from the

:24:15.:24:18.

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

:24:19.:24:20.

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

:24:21.:24:34.

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

:24:35.:24:39.

responsible authority the assembly commission has developed protocols

:24:40.:24:42.

to deal with such circumstances through its data breach management

:24:43.:24:47.

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

:24:48.:24:53.

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

:24:54.:25:00.

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

:25:01.:25:04.

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

:25:05.:25:11.

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

:25:12.:25:15.

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

:25:16.:25:21.

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

:25:22.:25:26.

been for the delay in informing those whose information was passed

:25:27.:25:31.

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

:25:32.:25:41.

Wilson that this has been fully discussed, both with the

:25:42.:25:44.

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

:25:45.:25:49.

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

:25:50.:25:55.

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

:25:56.:26:01.

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

:26:02.:26:05.

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

:26:06.:26:14.

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

:26:15.:26:20.

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

:26:21.:26:24.

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

:26:25.:26:31.

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

:26:32.:26:37.

please talk to me outside the chamber or

:26:38.:26:46.

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

:26:47.:26:50.

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

:26:51.:26:53.

House that everything is under control. Stephen Walker has rejoined

:26:54.:26:58.

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

:26:59.:27:01.

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

:27:02.:27:09.

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

:27:10.:27:14.

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

:27:15.:27:17.

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

:27:18.:27:21.

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

:27:22.:27:26.

had been put forward by officials. Those discussions will continue

:27:27.:27:29.

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

:27:30.:27:34.

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

:27:35.:27:37.

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

:27:38.:27:45.

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

:27:46.:27:49.

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

:27:50.:27:55.

loyalist demonstration against a Republican anti-internment parade in

:27:56.:27:59.

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

:28:00.:28:04.

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

:28:05.:28:07.

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

:28:08.:28:11.

lodged a complaint. That investigation has concluded that he

:28:12.:28:15.

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

:28:16.:28:19.

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

:28:20.:28:23.

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

:28:24.:28:26.

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

:28:27.:28:28.

goodbye.

:28:29.:28:30.

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.