03/12/2012 Stormont Today


03/12/2012

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. On the programme tonight:

:00:26.:00:29.

After MLAs were told off by the First and Deputy First Ministers

:00:29.:00:33.

for not being in the hamber last week, today it was the turn of the

:00:33.:00:37.

Speaker to do the scolding. He's written to every MLA warning that

:00:37.:00:42.

he'll re-introduce sanctions if the conduct continues. But in the

:00:42.:00:52.
:00:52.:00:55.

chamber he was in a more forgiving One member who was definitely in

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his seat for questions was the leader of the Ulster Unionists who

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wasn't happy that the First and Deputy First Ministers will be

:01:04.:01:14.
:01:14.:01:28.

The first thing on the agenda wasn't quite the norm for a Monday

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afternoon. The recent conduct of MLAs was very much on the Speaker's

:01:34.:01:37.

mind specifically their attendance or in too many cases their

:01:37.:01:42.

nonattendance in the chamber. Our political editor was watching.

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Remind us of the background to this. This all relates to events last

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week in the chamber. It was during questions to the First Minister,

:01:51.:01:56.

Peter Robinson. Five MLAs were not present and two questions were

:01:56.:01:59.

withdrawn. It was probably the quietest Question Time in recent

:01:59.:02:03.

weeks. It annoyed the First and Deputy First Minister, the fact so

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many questions weren't asked. Martin McGuinness described the

:02:07.:02:12.

lack of attendance including one of his own MLAs as a disgrace. He

:02:12.:02:18.

wanted the Speaker to look into this. Today Willie Hay made his

:02:18.:02:28.
:02:28.:02:32.

feelings clear. Members not being in their places at Question Time,

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and let me say the unacceptable member of questions that are being

:02:38.:02:48.
:02:48.:02:58.

withdrawn - this was an issue that Written to every member about these

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issues and my letter is clear about what I expect. I will also be

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raising the issue once again at the Business Committee, reminding the

:03:12.:03:18.

whips of what their responsibility is, and in my letter as well, I

:03:18.:03:23.

have made it absolutely clear I am not responsible for ensuring that

:03:23.:03:30.

members are in the chamber. That is clearly a responsibility for

:03:30.:03:36.

parties themselves and parties alone. So why do remind the whole

:03:36.:03:42.

house and all sides of the house where the responsibility lies. I

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hope that all parties will make every effort to avoid a repeat of

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the situation last week. It is for all members and ministers to uphold

:03:54.:04:04.
:04:04.:04:10.

the rules and conventions if -- of this house. I will be monitoring

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the situation and I will not hesitate to reintroduce sanctions

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on members who are not in their place when it comes to Question

:04:18.:04:28.

Time. I hope that is clear and let us move on. I was one of those

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attending members who did not turn up for Question Time. I apologise.

:04:32.:04:42.
:04:42.:04:46.

I was chairing a committee and I was detained - fact and I was

:04:46.:04:56.
:04:56.:04:59.

detained there. I appreciate the member's apology. We do sometimes

:04:59.:05:03.

have confessions were members come forward and confess their sins. But

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let it be a reminder for the whole house that Question Time is an

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important piece of business of this house. Some members will see it as

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the most important business in this house. Mr Speaker, will you do any

:05:21.:05:25.

more analysis of the number of questions that were withdrawn and

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the number of members who were not in a position and break it down by

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party? Let me say, from time to time, all parties are to blame.

:05:36.:05:46.
:05:46.:05:48.

Although I have to say, there are some worse than others. my office

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and the Business Office will be monitoring which members are absent

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at Question Time. The reading of my letter is clear. We had members who

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came up to the table to withdraw questions and then leave the

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chamber. Some members have actually questioned the withdrawal of their

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questions and then they leave the chamber. It cannot go one. The

:06:18.:06:28.
:06:28.:06:34.

situation will be monitored and we will find who are the culprits.

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heard Speaker mention the letter he had sent. You manage to get hold of

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a copy. What does it say? It is a strong rebuke and concentrates on

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the attendance of the MLAs. He talks about what he expects a from

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Assembly members. Here were the main points. He says attendance at

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Question Time should be given priority, and he made that clear.

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Questions can only be withdrawn before noon on the day of questions,

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not during proceedings. He say he may be introduced sanctions, and

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this is something some MLAs were asking about. So the whole issue of

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sanctions is interesting. He says he may we introduce sanctions if

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people do not turn up. Previously, people have been barred from asking

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questions for two weeks. That is quite tough. Absolutely. MLAs want

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to be seen asking questions and holding ministers to account. We

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know MLAs wants a more spontaneity in the chamber, but the proceedings

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are being looked at. It does not have the cut and thrust of

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Westminster. It doesn't and people are saying it is dull and formulaic.

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Some of these issues are being looked out, but Willie Hay is very

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clear on this. Storm at -- Stormont is a political institution and he

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hopes that members can show each other respect and avoid bringing

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the Assembly into disrepute. Thank you. Now, or you can drink alcohol

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promotions will be banned from January. Nelson McCausland said the

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:08:41.:08:43.

impact of binge drinking on health is out of control. During the

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passage of the 2011 Amendment Bill, a commencement was given that the

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detail of regulations to tackle irresponsible drink promotions will

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be questioned. A public consultation ran for eight weeks on

:09:01.:09:11.
:09:11.:09:11.

proposed regulations to ban irresponsible drinks promotions.

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The focus is on two promotions - all the country and for �20, as in

:09:17.:09:27.
:09:27.:09:42.

a fixed price promotion and also the pricing of certain drinks. The

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Social Development Committee expressed doubt that a ban on bulk

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purchases would have the desired effect. Having considered the

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result of the consultation, and that the use of the Social

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Development Committee, I have decided to proceed with the

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introduction of the regulation to ban a fixed price promotion, such

:10:00.:10:10.
:10:10.:10:11.

as the all you can drink for �20. A weather, -- however, bulk purchases

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will not be banned at this time. The ban on fixed price promotions

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:10:27.:10:32.

will make this sort of drinking illegal for the first time. That

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regulation will become effective on the 1st January 1920 13 and

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:10:48.:10:51.

therefore I beg to move. committee are mindful of the impact

:10:51.:11:01.
:11:01.:11:06.

this is having in terms of been shrinking. We do understand the

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implications for the health of the individuals themselves. On that

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basis, the committee supports this regulation. After an eventful

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Question Time with Peter Robinson last week, it was the turn of

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Martin McGuinness to take to be Despatch Box. Here is the Deputy

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First Minister Updating the Assembly on the outcome on the

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recent visit to China and Hong Kong. It is hugely important that we

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build on the contacts that are there. There are opportunities

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opening up. There is something like I think that's something that can

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be clearly built upon, and there will be a huge responsibility on

:11:52.:12:02.
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the Derry department to seize every opportunity that comes their way. I

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thank the Deputy First Minister. I note in his original answer he told

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the meeting diplomats and business people, but no word of politicians.

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Given the Chinese party Congress coincided with your trip, do you

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accept you didn't get within 1200 kilometres of anybody of any real

:12:24.:12:34.
:12:34.:12:39.

political significance? It's obvious from that question that the

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view of the Deputy Mayor of Larne that the Ulster Unionist party is

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in tatters is clearly an indicator of the ignorance of the question

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that's been asked. The reality is the trade mission to China was

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organised well before the Chinese Communist Party convention was held.

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At that stage the First Minister and I agreed we would lead the

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delegation and be part of it. It wasn't our fault the Chinese

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Communist Party decided to change the date for their event. They did.

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The advice we received from diplomats on both the British and

:13:15.:13:25.
:13:25.:13:25.

Irish side was that the First Minister and I should still go. I

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think the opportunities that presents for us in the future are

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unlimited. I think it's a very small minded question that's been

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asked by the leader of a party that is now much smaller than it was

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before. I am very pleased the Deputy Minister's gone to visit my

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homeland. I hope he enjoyed the trip over there. You're right.

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We've done well in establishing links with China in terms of our

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two university, but they have worked very hard to do that, but I

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think one thing perhaps we haven't done enough is developing tourism.

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I have a number of travel agents who have talked to me from the Far

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East to say about the potential for developing tourism. Titanic is very

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big in China because of the movie and various issues, so can I ask

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the Minister have we any solid plan in developing tourism between China

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and Northern Ireland? There was a talk about flights from Belfast to

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Beijing and I wonder if there is any solid plan on that. I want to

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thank the member for her question. We took great pride when we were

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there in being able to tell the Chinese people that we were very

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proud of the fact that there was a woman from China in our Assembly,

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and I think they were quite surprised at that, but it was a

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real opportunity for us to outline the way in which politics here has

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moved forward in a progressive way. The joint Ministerial working group

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met for the last time on October 18th. The work of this group is

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complete, and the report of the main findings was sent to the Prime

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Minister for his consideration on the 16th of November. The British

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Government must now decide whether the executive should be offered the

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opportunity of taking responsibility for the tax. The

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continued challenges faced by the business community as the economy

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struggles out of recession means that it is essential that the

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Government makes its decision as soon as possible. At our meeting

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with the Prime Minister during his visit on the 20th of November, 2012

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we discussed issues impacting on our local economy including the

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general implication of devolving corporation tax. The Prime Minister

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needs to consider further, so we agreed we would have a further

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meeting in London where we can make our case, and we wrote to the Prime

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Minister on the 29th of November to ask for this meeting as soon as

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possible. We were hoping this decision can be made quickly in

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order to alay speculation and unease within our local business

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community and have asked for this request to be given urgent

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consideration. I think that we're all very conscious and our own

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Finance Minister referred to this during the course of the weekend -

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that the situation in Scotland is something that can be either an

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advantage to us or a disadvantage. The person who has to decide which

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way that goes is obviously David Cameron. I think it's hugely

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important that he recognises that we have a special case, and indeed,

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David Gok from the Treasury whenever he came to Stormont to

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meet with the First Minister and myself and our Finance Minister and

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Derry Minister clearly acknowledged that the dissthrantion we face in

:16:40.:16:44.

regard to the border and the 12.5% corporation tax in the south is

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something that needs to be recognised and dealt with. So we

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hope that whenever a decision is made that the decision will be

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favourable. We're up for the challenge, but as I - as I've said,

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it's now in the hands of the British Prime Minister at Ten

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Downing Street - it's up to him to decide, and I hope he decides in

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our favour. The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. The

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potential cost of delays to the welfare reform bill was raised

:17:12.:17:16.

again during questions to Nelson McCausland. An ad hoc committee has

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been set up to examine the implications of the bill. Today he

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revealed that the Westminster Government has suspended talks on

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possible operational exemptions for Northern Ireland until the

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committee completes its work. member will be aware from my

:17:28.:17:34.

statement to the Assembly on the 22nd of October that I've already

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secured the deferal of the introduction of universal credit in

:17:38.:17:43.

Northern Ireland to April 2014, and flexible payment arrangements when

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the system does go live. However, from my discussions this week, Lord

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Freud has advised that he has put on hold any further discussions on

:17:55.:17:59.

flexibilities until after the ad hoc committee finishes its work.

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The ad hoc committee not only has the potential therefore to cost the

:18:05.:18:11.

Northern Ireland budget, but has now also impacted my discussions

:18:11.:18:17.

with WWP Ministers on a range of issues in relation to the welfare

:18:17.:18:23.

reform bill, and I would also add at a time we're seeking to ensure

:18:23.:18:26.

jobs in Northern Ireland, delivering welfare payments are

:18:27.:18:30.

actually retained in Northern Ireland, it's not the best time to

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start having a fallout with the Government - the coalition

:18:33.:18:43.
:18:43.:18:46.

Government at Westminster. I do feel it rather is an inappropriate

:18:46.:18:56.
:18:56.:19:05.

interference, Lord Freud, in the I'm looking at the moment, although

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it has, as I have already indicated, been hindered and halted - whether

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the member wants to remain in a state of denial about the truth or

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not is another matter, but the fact is that it has been put on hold. It

:19:18.:19:21.

has been halted, and slafs made absolutely clear to members of the

:19:21.:19:26.

Social Development Minister -- committee and members of the

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Subcommittee on Welfare reform. That was made absolutely clear by

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Lord Freud on his visit last week. I'd hoped that the visit was more

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productive. It was productive, useful, but it could have been even

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more productive, but for the difficulty that we faced. As far as

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I'm concerned, conversations with - and negotiations with Westminster

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about this are actually better done face to face rather than in the

:19:52.:19:57.

open chamber here. That's the way to get negotiations that are

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successful because that's what worked the last time. We were able

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to get what we wanted, and I believe we can get more in future.

:20:05.:20:09.

I thank the Minister for His work in getting the flexibility thus far,

:20:09.:20:12.

and he is aware of the concern that there is on all sides of the House

:20:12.:20:16.

regarding the implications of the welfare reform bill, but could he

:20:16.:20:20.

spell it out again? I know he's done it before, but could he spell

:20:20.:20:24.

out again the implications of the delay - those who exercised the

:20:24.:20:27.

democratic mandate in setting up an ad hoc committee and have done so

:20:27.:20:31.

and the cost for that and the further cost of the ad hoc

:20:31.:20:36.

committee takes an inordinate time to conclude its business. Yeah, I -

:20:36.:20:40.

Mr Speaker, I welcome the question from the member because, first of

:20:40.:20:44.

all, there is the issue of the financial cost, and the current

:20:44.:20:48.

estimated cost to the Northern Ireland bloc from potential delays

:20:48.:20:52.

in the welfare reform bill not securing Royal Assent and the

:20:52.:20:57.

associated regulations in time is �18 million. That's based on a

:20:57.:21:00.

three-month delay in the current timetable, and it represents an

:21:00.:21:04.

estimate of the annually managed expenditure controls which will not

:21:04.:21:08.

be achieved and the funding which may have to be found by the

:21:08.:21:10.

Northern Ireland executive for the discretionary elements of the

:21:10.:21:14.

social fund, so it sets out very clearly the basis on which that

:21:14.:21:18.

figure was obtained. It's not some figure somebody conjured up out of

:21:18.:21:22.

the air. I have stated clearly the two elements that make up that

:21:22.:21:29.

figure. I mentioned the three-month - I had a discussion with one

:21:29.:21:33.

member of the chamber who told me the work could be done in three

:21:33.:21:37.

days of the ad hoc committee. Human trafficking was on the agenda

:21:37.:21:40.

today as MLAs discussed a report on the issue. A group of experts on

:21:40.:21:42.

Action Against Trafficking have issued a report suggesting several

:21:43.:21:45.

recommendations to help in the fight against the crime. Lord

:21:45.:21:48.

Morrow, who has a Private Members' bill going through the House on the

:21:48.:21:51.

issue, is calling for the Justice Minister to implement those

:21:51.:21:58.

recommendations that are relevant to Northern Ireland.

:21:58.:22:02.

In Northern Ireland, some potential victims of trafficking from EU

:22:02.:22:06.

countries who are referred to the national referral mechanism were

:22:06.:22:10.

repatriated two to four days after their referral. Mr Speaker this

:22:10.:22:14.

concerns me greatly. Vulnerable victims of trafficking who had been

:22:14.:22:19.

referred to the NRM need to be supported effectively. This is not

:22:19.:22:23.

facilitated by deporting victims soon after they have been

:22:23.:22:26.

identified. What will the Minister do to ensure this practise does not

:22:26.:22:32.

happen again? A further problem that the report identifys is that

:22:32.:22:36.

page 75, paragraph 332 and 333 is that according to information

:22:36.:22:39.

provided by the Law Centre in Northern Ireland, victims of

:22:39.:22:43.

trafficking have been prosecuted and detained in Northern Ireland

:22:43.:22:49.

before it was established whether involvement is unlawful activities

:22:49.:22:55.

had been due to coercion. GRETA understands there have been cases

:22:55.:23:01.

of victims prosecuted and convicted in relation to migration and non-

:23:01.:23:06.

migration cases including those convicted for cannabis cultivation.

:23:06.:23:09.

It is concerned about the high numbers of trafficking who are

:23:09.:23:13.

detained. There is no data on the number of potential and confirmed

:23:13.:23:16.

victims of trafficking who are detained. Again, I find this

:23:16.:23:22.

situation deeply concerning. These individuals should not be being

:23:22.:23:24.

prosecuted, and they need to be protected. What will the Minister

:23:24.:23:32.

do to ensure that they are? The report at page 9, paragraph 353

:23:32.:23:35.

outlined there have been only two successful prosecution for

:23:35.:23:39.

trafficking in human being offences in Northern Ireland, which has a

:23:39.:23:43.

detrimental impact on victims and fails to provide them with the

:23:43.:23:46.

option of claiming compensation from the offender in the framework

:23:46.:23:51.

of a criminal trial. I would submit to him that given the scale of

:23:51.:23:54.

trafficking in Northern Ireland, this state of affairs is completely

:23:54.:23:59.

unacceptable and requires a step- change. At the current time, the

:23:59.:24:02.

Minister has brought forward a Criminal Justice Bill. This bill

:24:02.:24:05.

does propose changes to the legislation in the area of human

:24:05.:24:09.

trafficking. Although these changes are welcome, they do not welcome a

:24:09.:24:15.

number of proposals of GRETA report. I do appreciate this was due to the

:24:15.:24:19.

fact the Criminal Justice Bill was produced before the GRETA bill was

:24:19.:24:23.

published. However, now that the members have had the opportunity to

:24:23.:24:26.

consider the report they should consider amendments to the criminal

:24:26.:24:30.

justice system bill as a means of implementing outstanding GRETA

:24:30.:24:35.

recommendations. It is important to stress human trafficking highlights

:24:35.:24:37.

social inqualities both in the countries which the trafficking

:24:37.:24:42.

comes from and in the countries of destination. The trafficking of

:24:42.:24:45.

human beings is a violation of human rights and is perpetrated by

:24:45.:24:50.

individuals and organisations solely for the profits - purpose of

:24:50.:24:54.

profit. Basically, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people

:24:54.:24:57.

from society, particularly women and young people, who become the

:24:57.:25:02.

majority of those trafficked. a number of the recommendations of

:25:02.:25:05.

GRETA actually talk about coordination, cooperation,

:25:05.:25:08.

supporting one another and agencies working together, and I think if

:25:09.:25:14.

there is one message that comes out of this, that should be it, and

:25:14.:25:20.

that is that agencies both within the United Kingdom and Northern

:25:20.:25:23.

Ireland and indeed within wider Europe and the rest of the world

:25:23.:25:29.

need to be working together. They need a coordinated approach between

:25:29.:25:34.

the Security Services and customs and indeed all the relevant

:25:34.:25:38.

agencies. I think it's imperative that we actually listen to those

:25:38.:25:44.

that are impacted by it. Those from an individual perspective and those

:25:44.:25:51.

from agencies and authorities that actually know what happens in human

:25:51.:25:55.

trafficking, and I have heard some horror stories, I have to tell you,

:25:55.:25:59.

from people who have actually seen people being brought into Northern

:25:59.:26:03.

Ireland, and we may actually think that this doesn't happen in

:26:03.:26:06.

Northern Ireland. But that is where we're wrong. It does happen in

:26:06.:26:12.

Northern Ireland. But I do have to say, Deputy Speaker, we can have

:26:12.:26:17.

all the reports and acknowledgments that we want, but unless there is

:26:17.:26:20.

actually action on the ground and a proper coordinated approach on the

:26:20.:26:24.

ground, then that's not actually going to work. It's an issue that I

:26:24.:26:29.

know from my role both as chair of the Organised Crime Task Force and

:26:29.:26:34.

from engagement with MLAs and NGOs alike is extremely emotive, and I

:26:34.:26:38.

want to tap into that emotion and the enthusiasm that comes with it

:26:38.:26:41.

to maximise the efforts of this society against this wicked crime

:26:41.:26:47.

because only by working in partnership and taking a holistic

:26:47.:26:54.

approach against the three fronts of prevention, protection and

:26:54.:27:00.

prosecution can we tackle this. DSSPS have responsibility and all

:27:00.:27:05.

the departments must play their part. The Justice Minister, David

:27:05.:27:10.

Ford. Stephen Walker, our political reporter, is with me again. Stephen,

:27:10.:27:13.

an early finish today - does it look like it's going to be any

:27:13.:27:17.

busier tomorrow? You're right. It was a quiet day today with

:27:17.:27:21.

proceedings ending at 3.30pm. Tomorrow looks different. It looks

:27:21.:27:25.

a lot busier. We'll hear from the Education Minister, the Health

:27:25.:27:28.

Minister, and there will be questions to the agriculture

:27:28.:27:31.

Minister. Interestingly, there will be a debate from the afternoon

:27:31.:27:36.

about the narrow water bridge, and that whole project has been in the

:27:36.:27:40.

headlines recently. The European Union is giving 17 million groorst

:27:40.:27:46.

fund it, and they hope this bridge will be built by 2015. The DUP want

:27:46.:27:50.

an investigation into the funding into the way the project has found

:27:50.:27:53.

its way to the top of the list. They want that to be looked at. The

:27:53.:27:57.

First Minister made this call relatively recently after he was

:27:57.:28:01.

challenged by the SDLP that claim he wanted money diverted away, so

:28:01.:28:05.

did whole issue has been in the headlines. That claim was made by

:28:05.:28:09.

the SDLP by Margaret Ritchie at with the whole issue of this bridge

:28:09.:28:14.

is going to come up tomorrow. Peter Robinson has rejected those claims,

:28:14.:28:18.

and what the SDLP want tomorrow is the Finance Minister to back this

:28:18.:28:23.

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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