03/11/2015 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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It was 2008 when pupils here last sat the 11-plus transfer test,


but seven years on the politicians still seem no closer to agreeing


And clashes in the chamber between Sinn Fein


Seven years since the 11-plus was scrapped, there's still no consensus


Those schools who decide to follow down the path of academic selection


decide to use dodgy dossiers. There is no educational reason for doing


it. With a protest against arts cuts at


Stormont, the Minister responsible I'll certainly be a champion for the


arts. I will argue for additional money to the arts and I look forward


to parties are bought on that argument.


And joining me to share his thoughts on today's developments


is Professor Rick Wilford from Queen's University.


The 11-plus was scrapped in 2008, but fast-forward seven years


and academic selection and transfer tests are still in existence.


Today our politicians once again clashed


over how to move the system on from its current unregulated state.


It seems to me the transfer test has become the elephant in the room. It


is a difficult issue but ignoring it will not make it go away. The only


conclusion I can come to after the restoration of devolution in 2007 at


some point, Sinn Fein and the DUP came to a truce on this issue. Since


then can say they have abolished the 11 plus that the DUP can say they


have salvaged through the root of the unofficial test. It is wrong to


portray the current system of the unregulated test as some form of


disaster out there. We were told whenever this party help negotiate


the right for academic selection to be put in legislation in 2007, we


were told by the education minister a system that was not regulated


would be a disaster, it would be overwhelmed with challenges. The


whole system would collapse quickly. But it has been indicated that tens


of thousands of pupils have gone through these test. We have to


change the regulator transfer test system. The current system including


private test fees but additional pressure on children and families


from socially deprived backgrounds. Children have two sets of two or


more tests. This also affect our primary schools. This does become a


wee note that parents when considering which primary schools


and send their children to look to see if two singers provided for the


local school transfer test. Our debate on education and as the same


debate. We always come back to this issue. I don't know what the


solution is. In terms of the motion, the call on the Minister to convene


talks with all the major stakeholders to build a consensus


you can see how much consensus that is here today. It doesn't exist. We


have two sides of this argument that are poles apart. Every Bully Boy


tactic is used by the Department to threaten the primary schools to dare


to do with their parents would expect, namely to prepare their


children for the next step in their educational journey. If that step


includes undertaking a Kiwi test or something else, the full weight of


threat and authority from the Department is brought down on behalf


of its of the schools to how dare they try to do with the parents


would expect. To equip their children, to make the transition


from primary to grammar or secondary school. Why do need to separate


those children? At age 11 or age 14 and send them to a different school.


Why do you need to separate them? Because all the other national


evidence shows this. We can ignore it. You could ignore the part of


education in this matter and that is OK. But there is a lengthy list of


bodies that point to the fact educational election doesn't work.


It has a detrimental impact on the education system.


And it was no surprise that academic selection came up again


during today's questions to the Education Minister.


John O'Dowd was also asked about how schools meet the needs


It is my believe the transfer process would be much better if the


schools followed the Department guys. They should project it into


school. I thank the Minister for his answer.


Minister, would you not agree that what you have done is effectively


privatised transfer system? Know, those Board of Governors who make a


conscious decision every year. Every year a Board of Governors meeting


meet to discuss the criteria. Every Board of Governors assistant and


decides not to use academic selection follows a pathway which


does not reject any child. Those schools who decide at a Board of


Governors meeting to follow down the pathway of academic selection decide


to use dodgy dossiers. There is no educational reason for doing it.


There is a social reason for doing it and it it is for social


selection, they should say so. I find it unacceptable the Minister


uses such a statement as dodgy dossiers. In relation to the


selection procedure. Does the Minister agree that in the main, the


system works extremely well because we don't have educational


authorities or boards involved in it? The fact they are kept out of it


the system works well. Protestant and Catholic parents are happy with


it in the main. The member stands in an elected Assembly, as an elected


representative who is charged with holding public funds to account and


makes the statement that the system works better because the Education


Authority 's and bought a keep out of it. That is probably one of the


most undemocratic statements I have ever heard in this chamber. What is


the purpose of this chamber? Was is the purpose of elected


representatives? What is the purpose of the ballot box if we do not elect


politicians to govern our society? Following on from a written response


received last week on the meeting the needs of transgender students


with regards to uniforms, changing rooms and toilet facilities, whether


he agrees guidance for schools should be accepted? I want to send


out in form guidance and I have commissioned a survey across our


schools to ensure that a meeting the needs of LGB young people within our


schools. A survey has been commissioned and will be distributed


and information brought back to me. Our post-primary transfer system is


a bit of a mess, really, isn't it? This is the 75 time we had a vote on


the issue. It is the fifth time yesterday we had a discussion on


same-sex marriage. We are in a situation where there is no


alternative. Now we have the kids who last weekend were celebrating


hijinks and looking forward to a weekend of high anxiety with their


first round of tests. Some of them will be sitting to round of tests.


There is no consensus on this issue. Unlike yesterday's debate, John


O'Dowd has the weight of evidence on his side of the argument. This was


about conscious and opinion. In terms of whether they should or


shouldn't be academic selection, some kind of 11 plus, the weight of


evidence clearly is we should abandon it and go for a free


integrated system. Maybe streaming and differentiation shown within


schools but not at the point of ten, 11 determining their immediate


academic career. Others take a different view from the one you have


articulated. Both sides politically seem as far apart on this issue as


ever. There is no agreement. Perhaps post the next election in May we


might get a new education minister from a different part of the House


who takes a different view. I cannot ever seen a particular meeting of


minds on this issue. Some people are so entrenched in the belief of


academic selection is a good discipline for children that it can


differentiate among these skills. Others believe that if we are going


to have some form of selection it should come later, if at all. What


matters is educating the whole term. I do think, I am up product of


grammar school. I can remember vividly being told the result of our


11 plus on a day trip to London from South Wales to go to see the Queen.


The headmistress went up and the train telling us whether we have


passed or failed. For those children who were told they had failed it


ruined the day. It is a cruel system. I think it is something that


it's time is up and we should focus on a more integrated, holistic,


focus system of education. Is be interesting to see if the


politicians can move in that direction any time soon. We will


talk to you later in the programme. Outside the Chamber today,


several hundred artists, musicians, writers and actors protested


against cuts in the arts budget, and that was because the


Arts Minister was answering Not surprisingly,


the same topic was top of the agenda, and Caral Ni Chuilin


was repeatedly asked about what she's doing to help organisations


struggling with reduced funding. The Minister be aware of the


spirited protest outside the Assembly today. Perhaps that spirit


belies the deep anger that is felt by those protesters and many of them


and in the chamber here this afternoon. They express themselves


alarmed and disturbed at the courts resulting as it has in loss of


employment, insecurity and taking away from vital programmes that are


instrumental within the community. Whether Minister reaffirm her


commitment to the arts and reaffirm she will restore those monies to the


Arts Council? First of all, I was going to see


people are here, the artists are here in the chamber. It is good to


see given some of the badges, there is cross-party support for the arts.


It is good to see there is pressure being brought to bear on how


important the arts is. I can't give a guarantee and will not give a


guarantee because I think it is a plus that I will be able to restore


the budget that I definitely want to do in absence of any security. Not


only from our side finances security we need as an Executive in terms of


monies that we have had taken from us in July 2011. It is earmarked for


more of the same from July this year. I will be a champion for the


arts, I will argue for additional money for the arts and I would look


forward to party support. I asked the minister how she can


justify imposing media cut on funding that has been committed to


arts organisations and then siphoning off the money to projects


with no application process and no transparency. Is that good


practice? I think you have a brass neck giving your history around red


sky and others. You have an absolute brass neck. First of all,


transparency. I didn't meet anybody in rooms and conjure up Eddie deals.


The whole process was done in an open, transparent way, with a


business case, and it wasn't siphoning off. All other ale bes


were consulted. In light of Ulster Park stadium not being suitable, and


is though not a possibility of the savings being passed to other arts


areas? Bearing in mind that one is a programme and one is a resource, I


hope the member is in suggestion that Ravenhill can be redeveloped


and then money for the games be given away, because that is not


going to happen. Certainly not on my watch. I fully support the need for


additional money in the arts sector, and I will argue for that, but I


don't think anybody from that sector or anywhere would even hint suggest


that money should be taken from the games to be given to somewhere else.


Away from Stormont, the big news of the day was


the announcement that the Michelin factory in Ballymena is to close


That triggered an urgent question in the Assembly this afternoon,


when the Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell, was asked


The recent announcement is due to overcapacity in truck tyres and a


substantial increase in import from the Far East particularly China.


Invest Northern Ireland has been in regular contact with senior Michelin


personnel, and was engaged in ongoing discussions related to


further investments. So clearly, therefore, today's announcement,


Deputy Speaker, is extremely disappointing. I can say my


department and Invest Northern Ireland can fully understand the


decision to close the plant, we appreciate the company's commitment


to supporting its employees to find alternative employment with its ?5


million development fund. This has been a catastrophic blow over


Ballymena on the back of the equally devastating loss of TATA, and what


my constituents want to know is did this Department, the executive and


Invest NI do all they could have done? Our responsibility now is to


see what we can do in terms of creating real employment and


training opportunities. I have just finished a very detailed meeting


with the Minister for employment and learning, as to what we can do


regarding putting the colleges to work alongside, to ensure people


that need accreditation for skills that they already possess that they


can have that, to see what the Social Security agency and all the


relevant agencies can do, and working alongside the minister, we


will put together individual programmes, and we will put together


group programmes. Can I ask the Minister, does he recognise now that


there is a crisis in manufacturing? If you don't listen to anything is


that I say, the thing that will transform and game change heavy


manufacturing in Northern Ireland is a reduction in our corporation tax.


I know the parties are working very hard, and I hope to see a positive


response with a date and a rate set to reduce corporation tax.


The passing of Private Members' legislation is relatively rare,


but it looks as if the Green Party's Steven Agnew could see


his Bill the third to become law so far in this mandate.


The Children's Services Co-operation Bill, which calls for greater


joined-up working between Government departments, passed its final stage.


The Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, explained why he


It is about social housing for people, health services the people,


delivering horizontally through all the various layers and Department of


Government to offer a holistic and individual package that meets their


needs. I am looking forward to the report on the operations and the


results of this in less than two years, and I'm looking forward to


seeing how we can learn and improve on that. I think we have all been


frustrated at one point with the silent mentality of Government, and


we hope that this bill will change mindsets in that regard. I would


like to see the roll-out of this collaborative approach to other


areas such as economic growth. This lobby measured in practice, and


given that the paint is not yet dry in terms of the content of the


bill, but given that there is a body of officials who have been working


at this, and have been thinking about this, and have been working


with ministers in relation to all of this, can the junior minister


indicate if there isn't now some further thinking about how this will


be mainstream into the life of Government? I would also welcome the


presence of the junior ministers to respond to this stage of the bill


here today, and congratulate Emma Pengelly on her appointment to


junior minister in the office of first and Deputy first Minister. I'm


glad I have the opportunity of knowing Emma E.ON the assembly and


have a good working relationship with her. She has received scrutiny


further to her appointment which at times I think has spilled over into


unfair and inappropriate criticism. Identifying we really want there to


have to be a statutory duty the people to cooperate, and I suppose


that is what I am tried to get at. A statutory duty is a last resort, and


what we would want is for agencies and Departments to want to work


together to reach better agreements for our young people. I think that


the work that we have carried on in the office of first and Deputy first


Minister, we do see that change starting to come across the


agencies, and I think it is a change of culture as opposed to one of


statute, so while I welcome this bill, I think it is a useful


contribution, we will continue to work our hardest to ensure there is


a willingness at all levels to cooperate and collaborate fully on


these types of important issues. Often we will talk about vulnerable


children, and let me be clear, this is about all children, but it is to


ensure that there are no gap through which vulnerable children can fall,


because when we provide the net for all, we catch all, including


vulnerable children, and it ensures that those who need the support get


it, because often we spend too much time trying to identify who the


vulnerable are, and not enough time in providing the services.


The Justice Minister brought a statement to the House this morning.


It was supposed to be about helping people access


the justice system, but David Ford found himself primarily answering


The overall purpose of the review was threefold. First identify and


prioritise those services publicly funded with advice, and reputation


should be provided, in order to meet human rights obligations, safeguard


the interests of vulnerable people and meet the wider public interest.


Second, to consider the delivery models that might be best suited to


the provision of publicly funded legal services through mechanisms


other than legal aid. Third, to consider whether there are aspects


of the justice system where if fish is might contribute towards reducing


the cost of publicly funded legal services while sustaining the


quality of service provision. I have now received a very comprehensive


and detailed report. Today I am pleased to publish the report, and


to begin a period of public consultation on the findings. Does


the Minister accept that there has been a failure to set realistic


legal aid budgets, and can I ask the Minister what he intends to do to


rectify this situation prior to the setting of the 2016 /17 budget.


Mr Speaker, it is quite clear as Mr Douglas says that the cost of legal


aid has remained stubbornly high, and has not significantly changed


over the five years since devolution. I could say what would


have happened if we hadn't implemented some of the reforms, and


indeed some of the criminal reforms we went through in an early stage,


and we have been looking at a further ?20 million or more on legal


aid costs at the same time. The reality is we had the budget that we


had when justice was devolved, and we have sought to work with that


given all the other pressures across the justice system, and my officials


who I shall be having a discussion with later today are looking towards


the budgeting process for next year, and they are looking at the balance


of the jet between different aspect of the justice system. Clearly the


figures which applied on the basis of the budget and the application of


cuts by the executive are inadequate to meet the current legal aid costs,


but nor can it be the case that legal aid can be protected for ever


when other aspects of the justice system are seeing their budgets go


down. He did ask the reviewer to consider models to deliver publicly


funded legal services through mechanisms other than legal aid.


What mechanisms of that nature have been recommended? And is he still


flirting with the idea of a public defender office? We need to look as


I have highlighted and as the report highlights at a range of alternative


dispute resolution, but I'm not quite sure that I was flirting with


the public to defender system. The report recommends and I maintain


that we should keep the current system. But adjacent jurisdictions


have looked at least in part at managing the costs that may make


that a necessary way in which this jurisdiction might have to look at


some point in the future. Yesterday's debate into same-sex


marriage saw the use of Petitions Today, Stewart Dickson of Alliance


questioned the Speaker on the rules following some


speculation that petitions are being signed in advance by MLAs


before a topic is even tabled. Mr Speaker, you will be aware in me


Saint -- recent days that there have been accusations of Tippex being


used on these forms, the clear influence that individual members


are not using their own personal discretion when it comes to


completing such forms. May I ask you to investigate both the efficacy of


doing that and whether or not it makes the appropriate standing


orders. In fact, I was aware of this situation, and standing orders and


procedure is very clear. We have to be satisfied at the speakers office


that the signatures are genuine. But the petition are concerned requires


the issue. That is as far as my ability to take this forward. The


Tippex on the sheet is nothing I can do anything about as long as the


signature is visible and is genuine. Mr Speaker, you say that you have


looked at the signatures. Have you found any discrepancies or any


reason for you not to accept it them as genuine and authentic signatures


on the petitions? I understand why you are asking the question, but


clearly if I announced it was a valid petition of concern, it was


valid. The Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin,


responding to enquiries from And Professor Rick Wilford is with


me again for a final few thoughts. Petitions of Concern again


attracting attention. It's proving very divisive between


the DUP and the other parties. Yes, although it is a case of pots


calling kettles black, because they have both made use or misuse of


them. This has become, the risk is if you give politicians a tool, they


will miss use it. We are seeing that in spades with the Petitions of


Concern. It is certainly not being used for the purpose for which it


was originally intended. And now it is, here is one I made earlier, all


you have to do is sign it, and it makes a complete mockery of that.


And the final one, Ukip has confirmed today that Councillor


Henry Reilly has been expelled from the party. What's the political


fallout from that likely to be? And minimal, a small splash. He may run


as an independent at the next local council elections, or indeed for the


assembly next May. The likelihood I think is that he will become


independent because he does have a basis of support in his area, and


that is where his real strength is. I think he will end up as a


politically marginalised figure. Just before we go tonight,


we inadvertently captioned David McNarry as a member of NI21


last night. Join me for The View on Thursday


night at 10.35 on BBC One. There's an extra special line-up


on Nolan Live this week. We'll be linking up with


RTE to bring you debates And revealing the results


of our cross-border survey on a range of political


and social issues. Join me in Belfast. Join me,


Miriam O'Callaghan, in Dublin. That's tonight after


the news on BBC One. The knives are sharpened and the heat


is on. It can only mean one thing. Britain's best chefs


are back in town. They're here because they want


this title. I'm really excited. MasterChef: The Professionals


starts cooking...


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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