03/03/2014 Stormont Today


03/03/2014

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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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up: one week on and the issue

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of letters to On the Runs rumbles on. There are major questions about

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how the scheme was established, the way it has been misrepresented and

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the way it has led to the current confusion. The education minister

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makes it clear he won't bear the brunt of any cost rising from the

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delays in setting up the Education and Skills Authority. It is not I

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who has incurred this cost but the political failure of some parties

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and I expect the Executive to cough up for it. Our political

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and I expect the Executive to cough correspondent Gareth Gordon is here

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to cast correspondent Gareth Gordon is here

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threaten resignation and the British Government to apologise. An urgent

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question tabled by the DUP's Paul Given ensured that the issue of On

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the Runs and the so-called letters of assurance remained on the agenda

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today. The On the Runs scheme had no

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statutory basis and at the point where justice was divulged, there

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was no provision for the Northern Ireland office to continue with its

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operation, so can the Minister of eyes if the NIO has usurped the

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responsibility to this assembly and has the criminal to agency,

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including the police service and Public Prosecution Service, only

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complicit in aiding and abetting the Northern Ireland officepos-mac

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unlawful actions by taking this schema forward? Will seek a

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declaration from the High Court in determining whose responsibility is

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this issue? I am afraid he is premature. I am seeking advice on a

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range of issues. He has correctly highlighted the fact that there was

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no statutory basis of the scheme and there will be no statutory basis for

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stopping it but that was the difficulty we are in. I welcome the

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fact that after some effort, I obtained an apology from the

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Secretary of State. Clearly, there are many questions and it may be

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that it will not be possible to have answers until the report comes at

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the end of May. It is also clear that in this assembly and in my

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department, we, as yet, unaware of what the details are. We will have

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to see what we get emerging but it is clear that there are major

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questions about the way the scheme was established, the way it was

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carried on and the weight has been misrepresented and the way it has

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led to the current confusion arising out of the trial.

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I'm joined now by out of the trial.

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issue of On the Runs continues to occupy minds here at Stormont? With

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a different day this could have been had we gone over that precipice last

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week. The crisis blew up from nothing. We may have got over it

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last week but the issue certainly has not gone away and it won't go

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away before the judge led enquiry reports at the end of May and I

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would not think even then, so no surprise that it did dominate a lot

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of the proceedings at the Assembly today. It would have done so even

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more had Peter Robinson carried out that resignation threat. Last week

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was full of political drama. There is still plenty of mileage left in

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it when figures like Peter Hain go on the airwaves and add fuel to the

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fire. The Justice Minister David forward played a prominent role in

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the drama even though he knew nothing of the OTR letters. What was

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happening there in that clip we saw was an urgent oral question from the

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Justice chair, Paul Given, of the DUP. He was asking that since

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justice powers were developed to the Assembly in 2010, did the NIO even

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have any legal staters to run this administrative scheme which provided

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letters of comfort to On the Runs after this date. David Ford said he

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was obtaining legal advice. He still has not got that advice. We know

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that there were 38 such letters issued since 2010 but he has not got

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this advice yet and he was giving away little else. There are also

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questions that his permanent secretary in the Department of

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Justice did know about the scheme where as David Ford did not. Many

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people find that a strange situation. The issue dominated first

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Minister 's questions as well? First Minister 's questions as well? First

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advice to determine whether the NIO had the authority to carry on that

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scheme since 2010. He does not think they did and he says it may be an

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issue for the judge in the forthcoming enquiry, as well as one

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for the Attorney-General. Peter Robinson says he intends to raise

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the issue with both the PSNI undersecretary State, so much more

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on this to come. As we have been hearing, the fallout

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dominated questions to the First Minister today. Peter Robinson told

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the Assembly that the responsibility for On the Runs should have been

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transferred following the devolution of justice in 2010.

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The bottom line in this matter is that everybody in the community was

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aware that there were On the Runs, everybody was aware of the fact that

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Sinn Fein was pushing for something to be run on this issue will stop

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everybody was aware that the government had acknowledged there

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was an anomaly, but when then looks at all of the documentation that is

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available, both in terms of the minutes of the Policing Board and in

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terms of the comment in the book of Jonathan Powell, where he

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indicates, wrongly, but only technically, that they were

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references made in the joint declaration where there was no

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reference is made but there was a reference in a separate paper on the

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On the Runs. Does the first Minister believe there was authority from the

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Northern Ireland office to maintain the scheme for the On the Runs after

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the devolution of policing and justice in April 2010? I think this

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touches on the issue raised by my friend, the Member for East

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Londonderry area on. I don't claim to be a lawyer but I have to say,

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even with the fact that I have been a lawmaker for probably the best

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part of 35 years, looking at the negotiations that were held on

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policing and justice, it seems clear to me that matters relating to the

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PSNI, to prosecutions and other matters to suggest that the

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no legal authority for either the PSNI to be responding in the way

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that it did, and certainly no authority for the NIO to be issuing

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letters. That is a matter that the enquiry judge will want to look at

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all stop it may well be an issue that the Attorney General will want

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to look at. It will be a matter that we will take up with the PSNI and

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arrangements have been made, but to have meetings with the PSNI, and the

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Secretary of State on these issues. The authority does not lie somewhere

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out there, to float around between the NIO and the devolved

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Administration as to who wants to take an issue out. Authority is laid

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down in law as to whose responsibility it is. He will be

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aware of the anger from the general public and victims of terrorism at

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the dodgy deal which was struck between Sinn Fein and success of UK

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governments on runaway terrorists. Given the smug and insensitive

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response from Sinn Fein on this issue, but indications does he

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believe that this House for the leaders talks on flags, the past and

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parades? People are outraged and on a number of different level. They

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are outraged at the implication of one-sided justice and that damages

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the whole of the justice system, but circumstances are available for one

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set of those was once work -- responsible for crimes are not for

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the others. The fact that the removal by the then government of

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the legislation dealing with On the Runs was on the basis that Sinn Fein

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withdrew their support because they did not want soldiers to enjoy the

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same kind of privileges that terrorists would have. That is an

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outrage, I think, in any society. The First Minister continuing to

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voice his anger over letters given to On the Runs. John O'Dowd was also

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at the dispatch box today. The much anticipated Education and Skills

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Authority, the single body intended to replace the five regional

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education boards, to replace the five regional

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Does the Minister accept that many parents who do not place a high

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value on schooling had a career in education themselves, but they

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cannot bring themselves to engage with the education establishment

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again. What is the department going to do to preach to the script?

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Parents who had a poor educational experience themselves and do not

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value education, I have launched an advertising campaign to encourage

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all parents to become involved in their children's education, to make

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society realise that education that does not begin and end at the school

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gates. Despite the highly qualified and motivated staff we have, I left

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parents and communities are involved, it will not succeed. Can

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the Minister remind the chamber of the importance of security

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arrangements in terms of savings to the public purse and educational

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well-being of our young people? This was initially involves as a method

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to improve educational outcomes for our young people and to modernise

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the management layers within our society and therefore to make

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savings as well. It is estimated that we could have saved ?20 million

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a year if we had had the political will to move forward. That

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apparently does not exist. We are now facing this scenario that with

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councils moving to their new numbers, the education and library

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boards have to be reconfigured to meet those boundaries. If there is

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financial consequences for the Department of education as a result

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of this not going through and I happened to bring forward

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legislation, I will be going to the Executive and pointing to them that

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it is not I who have incurred this cost but the political failure of

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parties around the Executive and I would expect the Executive to cough

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parties around the Executive and I up for it. It is vitally important

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parties around the Executive and I of parents. They have a legal

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responsibility to ensure their children attend school. It is also

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important that we encourage parents to do so. My department has an

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education campaign and a policy document detailing what actions can

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be taken on and also the work of the education and welfare service.

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The education Minister John O'Dowd urging parents to ensure their

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children attend school. Meantime, the DUP was calling for greater

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North-South co-operation and criticising Sinn Fein for not being

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in favour of it. Usual positions in the Assembly were flipped on their

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head today as the Enterprise Committee's report on electricity

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was debated. The electricity grid needs to be strengthened. The

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planning commission must set an early date to talk about a permanent

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solution. It is a ridiculous situation. We do not have the

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infrastructure in place. The electricity prices we have in

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Northern Ireland dissuade people from investing here. Northern

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Ireland has lost several major inward investment projects because

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of this. We need to attract large energy users to Northern Ireland. If

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they are on the grid, it will reduce costs for others. Repay some of the

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highest energy costs in Europe. -- we pay.

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highest energy costs in Europe. -- pleased that everyone agreed to

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further examine the high energy costs. It is a welcome change of

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heart to hear a Sinn Fein deputy chairman talk about the high cost of

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energy and impact it has on people in Northern Ireland. Given the fact

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that his party has singularly tried to do all that it can to ensure that

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energy prices are held high in Northern Ireland. The interconnector

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is held back as a result of the attitude of Sinn Fein when it comes

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to the exploitation of our own resources. I welcome the call for an

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early date to be set to reconvene the planning application for the

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north-South interconnector. A specific route has in identified. As

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the committee has recognised the importance of the interconnector, I

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assume it will support the delivery of the interconnector without

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further delay and I would welcome confirmation of that. Wilber member

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indicate his support and perhaps his party 's support for a North-South

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interconnector? I have been trying to speak on behalf of the

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committee. We are talking about building a interconnector. A road

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from Londonderry to Dublin. Why can't the two projects be merged?

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Why can't it be road? It is completely feasible.

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Phil Flannigan with his proposals for a North-South interconnector.

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The devolution of powers in Scotland and Wales continue to be discussed.

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Earlier today, NI21 was discussing this school devolution. You table

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this motion. It effectively disappeared into the ether. It was

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quite a czar amendment. We were keen to debate the fact that devolution

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is changing around the UK and we are behind the curve on this. The

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concern expressed by other parties was that your idea of discussing

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these fiscal objectives was to far-reaching. When we posted the

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amendments, it got through by four votes. There are be concerned about

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the volatility of things like corporation tax. We need to look at

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this in a professional manner, like they have done in Scotland and

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Wales. I just think we are going to be left behind. What did you make of

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the financial Minister's comments. He

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the financial Minister's comments. benefits from Northern Ireland. That

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is what you would want. I was surprised with some of the DUP lines

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on this. They were saying yes, corporation tax is volatile, but

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that is all we focused on. They should have said, let us do this

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properly. Let us set up a commission that would run hard the independence

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vote in Scotland, but it would run into the next government after the

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next Westminster election. At the moment, we are locked in a place

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where we are hoping for the devolution and corporation tax in

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the autumn, but there is no guarantee it will happen. But isn't

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at sixes and sevens? You have described the the Assembly as a

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state of confusion. This is our road map to normalisation. We have spoken

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about and consistently had these things that you would want to see a

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government in opposition normalising our politics and taxes. It's in

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Northern Ireland that should be coming of age and standing for

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itself. Devolution means we can have fiscal powers and do things around

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the margins that make a big difference. That is our road map to

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how you normalise Northern Ireland. The ball is now in Simon Hamilton's

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court. He has to report back to the Assembly by the autumn. The issue

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has not gone away. Absolutely not. It has to come back in the autumn.

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We will be pushing hard on a decision on corporation tax. If that

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was to go against us, there will be huge pressure to say, if

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was to go against us, there will be that, what is your plan B?

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was to go against us, there will be not have a plan B if he does not get

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corporation tax. Interesting stuff. Thank you for joining us. There were

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some other important financial matters discussed in the chamber

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today, including inflation. Over ?1 billion is now collected in the

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business and commercial rates section. The regional rate

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represents half of the typical bill. The other half is made up of

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district rates which are set by individual councils. In order to

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provide certainty and stability for his Mrs and households, the rates

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have been partially frozen until 2015. We want to do whatever we can

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to make sure conditions for economic growth are in place for Northern

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Ireland. The ten one macro -- the Executive has taken a strong

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approach to this. We understand that household and businesses are under a

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lot of pressure. The committee did agree to recommend that there should

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be a freeze on some of the rates. Town centres are facing

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difficulties. Town centres are facing

:23:30.:23:42.

real pressure and rates are a major issue for them. I want an assurance

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from the minister that he is doing all he can to recognise that

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pressure. The Stormont Department responsible for employment fell to

:23:58.:24:03.

achieve its targets on sickness absence. The employment and learning

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committee learnt that sickness levels were on a downward trend. At

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last week 's committee, MLAs were taken through the figures. The trend

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is now downwards. There was a high of around 19 days in 2001. That had

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come down to 11.4 days by 2011. We did look at causes of absence, so in

:24:45.:24:53.

general terms within the civil service, it is long-term sickness

:24:54.:24:57.

absence that accounts for the majority of overall sickness

:24:58.:25:03.

absence. Within that mental health is recognised as the main cause. If

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people are off on long-term sickness and they are suffering from mental

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health and other issues, we need to be compassionate in how we deal with

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them. We need to offer whatever help and assistance we can. We need to

:25:29.:25:40.

look at the reasons why people are suffering from these illnesses. I

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would not disagree with suffering from these illnesses. I

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what specifically they have done about these absences. I am a little

:25:58.:26:07.

amused. The figures are interesting, but I wonder what the value is if we

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don't actually have any detail behind them? Is their value in us

:26:12.:26:17.

having this as a session in the committee because we don't know what

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is driving the figures. Obviously there is an issue because it is

:26:23.:26:26.

costing the public purse a lot of money. I often wonder whether it's

:26:27.:26:40.

self-defeating publishing some of these figures. We do need to monitor

:26:41.:26:47.

sickness levels, I often wonder if certain individuals will view the

:26:48.:26:52.

average figure, realise they are significantly lower than that and

:26:53.:26:57.

feel they can top up their sick days? In terms of the overall

:26:58.:27:01.

numbers that are off on long-term sick, what percentage of those are

:27:02.:27:12.

off on mental health reasons? 29 days is the average lost because of

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mental health issues. Some have longer absences. Gareth Gordon has

:27:23.:27:40.

joined me again. We heard today the office of the first and deputy first

:27:41.:27:49.

ministers making plans to launch a committee on the sexual orientation

:27:50.:27:55.

debate. committee on the sexual orientation

:27:56.:28:10.

Public consultation is to begin soon and the strategy will follow. It is

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aimed to promote and environment free from harassment and bullying in

:28:16.:28:37.

terms of homophobia. Finally, a familiar face is due back in

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Northern Ireland later in the week. Bill Clinton has not been here since

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2010. Tomorrow he will be in Dublin and Wednesday he attends a ceremony

:28:50.:28:56.

at Queens. He will also be going to Londonderry and I went be surprised

:28:57.:29:01.

if he puts in an appearance here at Stormont. That is it for now. I will

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be back tomorrow at 11:20pm. Until then, good buy.

:29:09.:29:13.

Nowadays we take the issue of fairness in employment for granted.

:29:14.:29:16.

I have never felt it important to ask anybody's religion

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when I'm going to employ them as a sheet metal worker.

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This is the story of fair employment in Northern Ireland.

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it masked a much greater problem in terms of educational disadvantage.

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The Fair Employment Act of 1989 changed Northern Ireland's society

:29:31.:29:34.

dramatically. We still have a way to go.

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But are we on the right track? Absolutely.

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In January, 1941, just months after the

:30:13.:30:14.

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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