03/10/2011 Stormont Today


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

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Welcome to Stormont Today. It is the best of the day's proceedings


from up here on the hill. It was a popular move to freeze tuition fees


but was that excessive? The rise is going to be considerably more than


you think. We have got 8,000 students currently a fraud. If a


small proportion stay at home, we cannot provide for them or stop --


currently abroad. Is there something in the broad -- in the


water? Not in that sense! Our guest First tonight, our Political


correspondent Martina Purdy has an exclusive look at the long awaited


government programme. What have we got? It is a draft of the programme.


It was run up by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's office


and since we have had other versions. It gives you an idea of


the administration's thinking. The top Parity and challenge his job


creation and improving the economy but it looks at choices given the


financial constraints. It looks at improving educational outcomes and


reforming healthcare and improving the efficiency of public services.


That is quite a vague description. Any flesh on the Bayern's? We are


looking at some targets such as providing 21,000 jobs. Getting


100,000 people off benefits and into employment. Increasing school


leavers to 66 % by 2014 and investing in a rural development.


Another target is planning to make certain all large-scale planning


applications are decided upon in six months. What does the


executives say? They have distanced themselves. They have said it is


just a draft. A spokesman said that they would simply not comment.


Student fees dominated questions to be Minister for Employment and


Learning. Not surprising. Before that it was Enterprise Minister


Arlene Foster taking questions. She gets a complement from an alliance


member. Can I welcome the Chancellor's announcement in


relation to air passenger duty and thank her for the work that she


did? Are there any other measures available that perhaps could


mitigate other additional pastoral landing charges -- passenger


I thank the members for his -- Member for his kind words. I deeply


appreciate the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is to be commended


for taking a personal interest in this mattered. I have to say,


without his assistants, this would have been a very different story. I


commend him for that. There was a lot of hard work behind at the


seams. -- behind the scenes. It is true to say that if this passenger


duty had not been addressed like that, it might have been very


different today. That would have had big ramifications in Northern


Ireland. Particularly in the respect of inward investment from


North America. I am pleased that is not the case. That might come in


useful for some people travelling for the music awards next month.


They will be spending lots of money, apparently. It is forecast that the


music awards will generate �10 million for the local economy. It


is estimated that media coverage will generate �10 million of public


relations funding. It will attract 20,000 visitors and 25% from


outside Northern Ireland and bringing significant benefit to the


area in the longer term will stop at currently less than 10---.


Currently less than 10,000 places have been booked as a result of the


2011 survey in Belfast. Can I ask how we are looking at the filming


of MTV? Are anybody -- is anybody considering directing? This is the


home of major productions. I would have thought he had enough stars


and wanted to share them around. I think the positive story from last


week is that we have got international superstars coming to


make big years in Northern Ireland. That sends out a very strong


message about the change in Northern Ireland. -- video footage.


On to tuition fees. What will happen if more people want to study


I understand budgeting and finance and resources that have to be


applied. But the rise is going to be considerably more than what do


you think. We have got 8,000 students currently abroad. If a


small proportion come here, we cannot provide for them. How can we


sort this out? The short answer to doubt is that I have the capacity


to get back to my colleagues based on the actual evidence. Then I can


seek additional resources. I have managed to secured a modest amount


of resources to allow student places and it is important to make


a start. But the wider point is that we have got a sense of realism.


The grant was premised on the assumption of tuition fees being


introduced at the same level as Great Britain. My department was


promised as well. We have to manage student finance and support at the


universities, a budget. To freeze these and look at funding was a


considerable achievement. And the pressure of places, it is asking an


awful lot on a fixed budget at a time of considerable crisis. I have


made the case quite robustly. I understand why we have got the


situation today. This is a consequence of what was viewed as a


very popular situation and we had a lot of pressure to do this. We have


to look at the consequences. Carry on Question Time in the chamber has


some members got a bit giddy about a very innocent remarks. Must be


We were at it... We were at it last week, Mr Deputy Speaker. If I could


ask another question?! I will leave if there. We will hold that thought


to another time and we can no doubt talk about that privately. Not in


Later than usual, he is our guest of the day, Brian Feeney. It was


all laughs but tough decisions ahead. We will see if the proposals


will actually ever be decided. We are reading through the programme.


It is clear that the constraints from Westminster will be here for


another four years. They have brought forward some plans quite


quickly. Reducing the number of councils. Big plans for education.


Do you feel inspired or optimistic that things might be a bit quicker


this time? They will have to be. One of the disappointing things is


marking time. A lot of things in the programme has been in the


previous programme and achieved nothing in four years. Particularly


in education. They did not do anything about 26 councils. They


have to do something. The Secretary of State have said if they did not


manage it is in the next four years, they will have lost credibility.


They will have been in office eight years and achieved nothing. It is


imperative to get something done. It is imperative to get the


councils reduced. That will save millions. Perception is the problem


as well. Members of the public really do feel that we have got


inefficiency happening here. They are not seeing the jobs they want


to see created and unemployment is rising. The public is quite right


about that. The programme is really mother had an apple pie. More jobs


and more investment. There are things I frankly do not believe.


Getting 100,000 people off benefits and into jobs. Where are these jobs


going to be? People are looking at more civil servants in the office


of the First Minister and in the Cabinet Office. They are dealing


with a population of 60 million. Is that the best use of public money?


What about corporation tax? We have had much discussion about that and


we will hear more about that later. Is that a key to boosting the


economy? I heard that at the Conservative conference. That is


much more dangerous than it has ever been. He is not banking on the


prospect. I think they have been attacked by the Scottish Office, by


people like Alex Salmond. They are talking about reducing it to 15 %


by 2020. But he is not very hopeful. Thank you very much. The Finance


Minister Sammy Wilson says if London does not its Stormont the


powers to cut, they will have to come up with alternative ways to


boost the economy. He was talking to the Secretary of State and


setting up a committee to examine the cost implications of reducing


the tax in Northern Ireland before I will be concerned about by the


setting up the committee is a way of saying, let us keep it into the


long grass, and I suppose it is only when we start talking, you


will find out whether that is the case. Once the Government makes up


its mind that politically it wants to do something, once the


Chancellor realised, he took the right political decision and it's


saved the link between here and North America with the airlines. So


I am not overly worried at the moment, but I think into a three


months' time when we see how it works we might have a better idea.


Some people have accused you of putting corporation tax on the long


finger. That is not the case. What I said


and is still the case, it is that we are seeking to have the powers


devolved as quickly as possible, but the actual reduction in the


rate will be some time down the line, because there is no point in


reducing the rate immediately if you are not getting some benefits


from investment decisions. Since investment decisions take about two


or three years to make, why would you cut the rate of corporation tax


before you get the benefits? You would be paying and getting no


benefits. First of all we need a decision to devolve, the


legislation to devolve, and then we will announce a date, probably at


the end of this period of the Executive, when that will be


reduced. That gives investors the certainty, that they know when than


that they are going to pay the lower level of corporation tax?


I think there has always been an element he did not want to see it


devolved - they did not want to hand over more tax powers to


devolved administrations, they were also -- always fearful that what


happened in Northern Ireland... So there was always the resistance


there, so I am not surprised at that. Even in the discussions we


had earlier warned there was always those tensions between people who


quite clearly were not committed to devolving corporation tax and does


who wanted to look at it. What happens if London cool off and


say we are not going to give you the powers?


I would say to them politically, but if you do not believe that the


devolution of corporation tax is the means to achieve that objective,


then tell us what you do believe. Tell us what we can do to rebalance


the economy. It is not in London's interest or our interests to keep


this heavy reliance on the public sector. We have seen the impact


that when there is reductions in Government spending, it is


magnified, the effect is magnified in Northern Ireland because of our


dependence on the public sector. We need to rebalance the economy, and


I will make the argument that if that is not the means then tell us


what you are going to give us. You cannot simply say that the public


sector is too big in Northern Ireland - and then say we have no


ideas how to rebalance. It is a must have provided it is devolved


at the right price, and it is devolved in the right way. I think


that is the important thing - it is not the only answer, it is not


going to solve all of the problems, but I speak to businessmen on a


regular basis, many of them are keen to see it devolved. Most of


the honest ones will tell you that it will not solve all their


problems, or not lead mad jiggly to massive investment tomorrow, but


nevertheless it will be important for us to have it in the toolbox.


The Finance Minister Sammy Wilson speaking to me earlier.


Brian, you are a former member of the SDLP. What do you make of the


leadership contest? It has now gone behind the scenes as the various


candidates to their canvassing and tried to twist arms and show people


how attractive they are. I think there are too many candidates and


they may do each other damage. Alastair Macdonald make a mistake


standing this time, because the people who rejected him two years


ago will not fought find this time either, and he may damage his


opponent by standing. But his thoughts will probably go to


somebody else in the end. I think they were people who


thought they had to throw their hat in the ring to give themselves a


leg up in the party. I don't think either has a chance of winning, in


the case of, McDevitt, he has only been elected since May. He was co-


opted to the Assembly before that, but only elected in his own right,


and people will think he is too soon. Throwing his hat in the ring


means he will become more senior in the party.


Is it a prize worth winning? It is really a crown of thorns.


Whoever gets collected this time may well be the last leader of the


SDLP. If they do not get the party together for the Assembly elections


in 2015, the party will be reduced to such a small number, maybe six


Assembly members. Added Will's ceased to be a force to be reckoned


with. So it is crunch time, they have got to get it right this time,


because they cannot choose another leader of next year.


They were highly charged scenes in committees this past week. When


should children become criminally responsible? That got tempers


frayed at the Justice Committee, but at Agriculture emotions ran


high as a senior civil servant was asked about the mistakes that led


to the Crossnacreevy land deal disaster.


There are two events here. And there is a link between them, it is


not a straightforward link. One event is the management scheme


which I maintain was very desirable, endorsed by farmers, very necessary


to the economy. A good outcome. The second event is that we sought to


dispose of an asset to bring in �200 million, and we have failed.


bogus exercise? No, I do not accept that. We have failed having done


the work. We have not retreated, we have said that when it reopens we


will return to the job. We but we have failed in the task we set


ourselves of disposing of the assets within the spending review


period. That is not a good outcome for us as a department, to fail at


any task that we put our minds to. So do you feel you have learnt


lessons? I think we have. I think we have learned a lot about how to


approach a major capital assets and how to seek the advice... We have


learned a lot about the constraints on disposing of an asset, and I


suppose that is what we carry forward with us. I do, and again,


it is a joy of my life that occasionally I get to talk to the


young people coming into the service, and I had that experience


in the last week of bringing in a young fast track graduate. What I


would say is that the recommendations of this committee


are very important and are taken very seriously by all of us. It


will be... It will be of concern if we end up driving out, particularly


younger people with careers in front of them. The measurement and


the management of risk. I would just put that on the table as


something to bear in mind. It would have been possible, frankly, in


June 2007, for both the department and ministers to say, we have our


processes, and there is nothing we can do. And there you are -


Agriculture, industry, you have a problem with you at slummy - deal


with it, you are the polluter. -- you slurry. We did not do that, we


took a risk. Retrospective,... But I would be genuinely disappointed


if we end up driving out that management of risk as a concept and


as an issue for the young people coming into the department.


We get some issues here about the UN Convention and the rights of


children. Where they say that you advocate we should dot dot dot


child welfare should be at the centre. There is a perception that


we are forgetting about the rights of society, of community, not just


the victim, but about community. How do we ensure that there are


checks and balances, and if you take the issue about age, about


moving from ten to 12 or about 12 to 14, when it 18? You have here,


quoting your report on page 76, the intention was to treat all under 18


year-olds as children. And you come back into this argument. The that


the point is you have to make the argument, that there is a better


way of dealing people than with the criminal justice system.


relation to the rights of the community and what we say about the


UN Convention on the rights of the child and particular article 3


which talks about representing the best interests of the child, what


we say is that the best interests of the child, according to


international instruments, should be part of the principal aim of any


youth justice system. In Northern Ireland, it is not. Protecting the


public, however, is. It is part of the principal aim. We are


suggesting that all of those things should be reflected in the


principal aim of the youth justice system. It is not just about


protecting the public, it is not just about preventing offending and


reoffending, but also about insuring the best interests of the


child. In showing that all the right components are part of that


principle aim. To see more from Question Time or


anything else going on in the chamber or at committee, go to our


Democracy Live page way can watch proceedings from Stormont,


Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Brussels.


Watching that committee, Brian, what do you think of the standard


of our watchdogs here at Stormont? First of all you can never


underestimate the pomposity and self-importance of the MLAs, and in


any case it is in inverse proportion to their ability and


knowledge. They do not specialise - what you tend to find is that


individual MPs become known to be experts on particular areas,


whether it be law, health, or education, and they become


formidable figures on those committees. Home affairs, for


example. Chris Mullin, the former chair, for years and years, became


an expert on that committee almost in his own right. A lot tend to ask


questions about all kinds of things. But they have not had a chance to


have years and years on the committee. That's right, but we


need to have more and more people specialising, so that instead of


asking questions on all kinds of subjects, they hone in on a


particular aspect and become somebody to be feared by officials


and ministers, because they know that particular MLA is the expert


on a certain area. We really do not have any of those.


MLAs want tougher sentences for fuel launderers and more cross-


border co-operation in catching those involved in fuel smuggling.


It is estimated the cost the Exchequer is around �200 million


and year in lost revenue. The DUP's Jim Wells was a number of MLAs who


call for a crackdown on the criminals involved.


It is a serious issue, and I will be interested to see what the


Justice Minister says. I do not think we as a society are taking


this seriously enough. For custodial sentences. If I still a


million pounds from a bank I would go down, but if somebody Launders


fuel and makes millions of pounds, all he gets is a suspended sentence,


a rap on the knuckles or a fine. If we take this seriously we would


like to see far more people going down, if they are caught doing this.


Only then will we should the community that the Department of


Justice takes this seriously. practical reality is that the


action he wants to see his action being taken by the Lord Chief


Justice and which he wants the judiciary to step up on. It is also


the case that this issue is a reserved matter. If we were to see


action on changing the level of sentences, it would be a matter for


the Westminster Parliament, and it is a matter on which I suspect the


Treasury would have a strong view with regard to the UK as a halt. I


doubt very much, whatever the will of the members of this house,


whether we would be given permission by the Treasury to


legislate within Northern Ireland alone on this particular issue.


That is the practical reality we have to deal with. It is fine to


say this is what we want, in practical terms it may be that we


cannot get what we want. In terms of our amendment, it is


our view that given this problem is a direct result of the border, it


is seemingly illogical that it cannot be tackled in any other way.


We do accept the minister when he says that there has been increased


co-operation across the border, but obviously not enough. I think I


would reiterate the question. By Mr Bradley asking how many times have


these parties met together, and how often and how much work had they


done? That is something that needs to be improved.


Brian, a final word. What do you make of the presidential election?


It is a new dimension to Irish politics to have Sinn Fein, a Sinn


Fein candidate. People have been surprised they hit the ground


running, and he is looking pretty close to some of the other runners.


He is ahead of the Fine Gael candidate, and they are the largest


party in Government. So it is difficult to know at this stage,


but all the candidates are quite close together and it is going to


depend on transfers. Sinn Fein is not transfer friendly, no matter


how good Martin McGuinness is. If he gets a good personal first vote,


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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