03/12/2013 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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Welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme: After an


international comparison shows our education standards are being


overtaken, strong words from John O'Dowd The previous results blew the


myth we were world class education system. Everyone was telling us we


were. We were standing up saying, no we are not but we can achieve that.


And how does the Executive plan to get thousands back to work? To


develop policy initiatives to help those who are long-term sick and or


persons with disabilities and those with family commitments to reengage


with the labour market And I'm joined by the political columnist,


Brian Feeney. We start tonight with the findings of the Smithwick


tribunal into the murders of RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob


Buchanan. The report has found there was collusion between Gardai and the


IRA, which has been described as a damning indictment by the DUP MLA


Gregory Campbell. He called on the Taoiseach to issue an apology for


all wrongdoings by previous Dublin governments. The report has been


long-anticipated and this afternoon in the chamber, the DUP's Paul Givan


raised the issue even before the findings were published. Members of


the House will know that the Smithwick tribunal has been carrying


out an investigation into the potential collusion between the


Gardai and the IRA in respect of the murder of RUC officers. That report


and its publication is imminent. I would want to establish the remit of


this Assembly in being able to consider it and debate it, is that


something this party would want to do?


What we will do, is consult with the business office and we will be


advised by them on the procedural options.


Joining me to reflect on the pubcation of the Smithwick report is


the political commentator Brian Feeney. Should we be surprised,


first of all by the findings? I don't think so. People were


surprised at the time when the then Chief Constable Sir jok Herman and


the Gardai Commissioner both poo-pooed the idea that there was a


mole and it was difficult to believe because this was not an operation


set up by the IRA on speck. There were a lot of men involved and cars


involved and they knew which road the two police officers were


travelling on. It wasn't something done within half an hour. We have


seen unionists welcoming the report, a statement from Tom Elliot of the


Ulster Unionist Party. And we had comments from Gregory Campbell no.


Surprises there, I suppose of the No. I think unionist also try to use


this to widen the whole area and look at other occasions when there


were suspicious activity on both sides of the bored other which may


have been because of Gardai telling the IRA that something was happening


and they will ask for more inquiries, I should imagine. And


some of the unionists will be trying to widen it out to the role of the


Irish government as far back as 1969. What sort of reaction do you


expect from the nationalist community? I think there will be a


more guarded response from the nationalist community. I don't


expect much from Sinn Fein at all. Their relationship with the Gardai


was very fraught indeed. Afterall they did kill some Gardai and a lot


of IRA men ended up in jail and the IRA always sought to intimidate gar


vaghy Road die who lived among the community and didn't have the sword


of protection that RUC officers had - to intimidate the Gardai who lived


among the community. Do you think it'll be difficult for


Sinn Fein to deal with politically. It is a party that made so much of


alleged collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and authorities in


the north. It will be difficult and an added difficulty is that the


judge rejected the testimony of former IRA men who went to the


tribunal and gave their version of what happened. Not only did he


reject their testimony but he accepted the testimony of assistant


Chief Constable Drew Harris who was strongly criticised by counsel for


the Gardai Commissioner and Smithwick accepted Drew Harris'


opinions. It is interesting. It was a fairly lengthy tribunal. That is


he at first thing to say and judge Smithwick scathing about some of the


evidence that witnesses gave to the tribunal, not least from the former


gar guy detective Owen Carrigar. -- Gardai. He said it was he lusive,


vague and inconsistent. It is damning. Union Unionists politicians


have always pointed the finger at Corrigan and a couple of other


figures have been named. Another Gardai Colton who was said to have


inappropriate relations with the IRA but the judge did not name anyone as


guilty of collusion. He simply said, on the balance of probabitity there


was collusion and that these two Gardai had inappropriate relations


with the IRA. Finally and briefly, what are the implications, do you


think, of the tribunal for the wider, current political debate?


Haas goes into the final stage next week? Interesting, judge Smithwick


actually suggested that in future if there was to be any inquiry, there


should be documents that could be compelled from both jurisdictions


which is a dig at the fact that the British Government didn't pass stuff


over on the Dublin Monaghan bombings. Lots more to come on that


in the next few days. For the moment, thank you very much.


Education standards here are not world class - but they could be,


says the Education Minister, John O'Dowd. His comments come after an


international comparison of 15-year-old pupils showed Northern


Ireland's school performance slipping down the league tables.


It's not that we are necessarily getting worse, though, it's that


other countries have improved their performance. So, should we have


expected to do better? Martina Purdy has been talking to the Minister.


Well, we are involved here in a programme of change. That programme


has to continue. The previous results blew the myth we are a world


class education system. Everyone was telling us we were. We were standing


up on our own saying no we are not but we can achieve that. The


programmes have -- the programmes of change we have been bringing in need


to continue and it'll show results in years to come. But maths is a


major problem. The Chief Inspector has said so. What can be done to


change things? We've identified through our own Chief Inspectors


report that maths continues to prove a challenge for us. It is also the


calibre of new students into maths in terms of the teaching profession


we want. Those who are highly-motivated when the maths


subjects are being snapped up in the private sector and industries, etc,


we want to motivate those and be able to afford to bring those


students into our system. I'm looking at options around how we


promote students coming into maths teaching. How we keep them there.


How we, in terms of around stimulus of pay, etc. But the report shows


too many 15-year-olds are formering at the lowest level in these key


areas. That's your quote much it is not good enough. What are you going


to do? Average is not good enough for our education or our young


people and we have to learn from world leaders. Whether it is an


uncomfortable conversation to have or not. What many of the world lead


remembers showing us, is that academic assessment is unnecessary,


social division at 11 is unnecessary and those who do not carry out those


functions are moving ahead. The other reforms will take a number of


reforms to imbed but I think will pay dividends. If, not next report,


there isn't an improvement. Will you take responsibility? Of course I


will, I'm the Education Minister. As with many social policies, whether


it is through education or health t takes a number of years for those


policies to bed in and pay dividends. I believe the policies we


have are the right policies. We have to continue to imbed them in our


system. Martina Purdy quizzing the Education Minister there. By


coincidence, a Sinn Fein debate was scheduled for today, questioning


whether or not school terms, opening hours, holidays and teacher training


days were delivering for pupils. It also called on the Minister to


ensure they were in line with international best practice. With me


now is one of the proposers of that motion, Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard.


Thank you for coming in to join us on the programme. What is wrong with


the current system, first of all? We have a situation where we need to


look at educational culture of our society. Too often we find different


parts of the education system not in harmony. They need to be synced. Be


that the straight-forward issue of school holidays, school starting


times. Even the subject we touched on today, the school starting age,


but the wider issues of the effects perhaps of an over-ly long summer


holiday. International research would show us we need to have a


conversation - we should talk to all aspects of community and society to


see what is it we wanted from our education system. A lot of people


might think about the issues you have talked about, of irritations of


minor setbacks but mieted not see them as more significant than that.


You are saying they are. I think they are very significant. When we


look at, for example, the OEC d. Report that comes out today. We see


various countries improving by a long way. Poland, for example, in


the mid-1990s, Poland sat back and zoomed out. They got away from


tinkering the systems. They said what can they do differently? They


looked at the school day and looked at how instruction was delivered


most effectively to the schools. We have seen over the last ten years it


has made a big difference. You have also talked about the difference of


socio economic issues as far as a child's performance is concerned.


What evidence would you point to there? International evidence, there


is various American reports that have been done that suggest children


from a more wealthy background have the opportunity to attend summer


camp and museums, go on holiday, pick up books, whereas kids from


socially disadvantaged areas don't have the same chances. So when they


looked at end of June reports compared to end of September, it was


clear to see that kids from the sociodeprived backgrounds had


continued to gross. It is hard to do something about that. It is hard to


put your finger on to what needs to be done to turn that around. It is a


perennial problem. It is a change to the culture. Not tinkering and


tweaking of the system or the finer detime of it is the sitting back and


zooming out progress. We said today - lets a very a conversation,


parents, families, teachersers trade unions, everybody involved and say -


what st we sfwhant are the strategic aims of our education system? Let's


tie them to the economic situation of the country as a whole. -- what


are the aims? Ulster Bank's latest IT problems


have caused damage to the organisation's reputation, the


Finance Minister told the Assembly today. Simon Hamilton was responding


to a question and told the Assembly he has spoken to bank officials. But


first the Finance Minister revealed more details about


It is expected onstruction of the new community training college will


commence in the new year. This delivery of this new Police Fire and


Prison training college is a key programme for Government commitment


and it'll deliver a world class training facility for essential


public services which have suffered from underinvestment by direct rule


ministers. Can I thank the minister for that announce am. Obviously this


has been a project we have been pursuing for a long period of time


and it has been bedevilled by delays but finally the minister has been


able to announce that progress has been made. In terms of Her Majesty


Treasury funding, how much is tied up in this project and when does it


need to be paid for? I thank the member for his follow-up. I'm very


glad we are able to announce that we have been able it make gross on this


scheme. It is - what is proposed and the member will know through his


chairmanship on the Justice Committee it is a world class


facility and a facility I'm certain that police forces and Fire Services


from around the world will want to come and visit and use as a facility


to train their own staff in. He is right to raise the issue about Her


Majesty's Treasury funding. Under the devolution of policing and


justice settlement, Her Majesty Treasury provided some ?70.3 million


which is in a ring-fenced fund for the Northern Ireland Community


Safety College. It enjoys end-year fliblingts for these funds and will


continue to do so until the end of this budget period in 2015. It is my


understanding of it, if these funds are not utilised by April 2015, then


there is a possibility that some of this ring-fenced element may be lost


to the Treasury. I have agreed with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury


we will continue to closely monitor the delivery of this project but the


message I want to send to the Department of Justice is they need


to proceed posthaste. I appreciate there have been delays not all of


their making by any means whatsoever but they need to ensure that in


order to access that ?07.3 million of funding that is ring-fenced and


set aside for this project, that they need to proceed post-Hayes with


this project. -- ?7 o 0.3. Can I ask the minister if he has had any


discussions with the Ulster Bank in light of the recent glitches in


their IT machines and what was the outcome of those discussions and did


he receive any reassurances? I thank the member for the question, a very


topical question. Probably the first topical question I have had in


topical questions, even though this is my fourth go at it. I have had


discussions, as soon as I became aware there were problems developing


last night and that customers were expressing concern they couldn't


make payments and couldn't access their own money out of cash machines


and the embarrassment it was causing some in stores when they couldn't


pay or whenever they needed emergency access from to their own


cash from a hole in the wall they couldn't get it. I made


communication overnight and early this morning with Ulster bang. I


have this afternoon spoken to the head of retail banking in the Ulster


Bank. I think, you know, they accept and understand this that this has


been bad news for their cows o tomorrow Merse. It is the third time


-- for their customers. It is the tired time this has happened


although not as bad nas June of 2012. We can see some solace in the


fact that I'm told it is not the same IT issue - I'm not sure whether


that is something to seek solace from, but it is not the same


problem, so one wouldn't expect the reoccurrence and longevity of the


last problem. I'm informed all problems have been overcome and that


the problem, that arose last evening, now seems to be fixed


although there are some indications in RBS across the water that some


problems do still exist. Other banks have had similar issues, I know but


this is the third third ti for Ulster Bank. I don't think they need


me to tell them it causes damage to their reputation and causes concern


for their customers. The Tobacco Retailers Bill has been


making its way through the various stages on its way to eventually


being signed into law, and today it was back in the chamber for its


consideration stage. The bill is intended to crack down on


shopkeepers selling tobacco to young people with a "three strikes and


you're out of business" policy. Much of today's debate was procedural


with a series of amendments, mostly based around setting up a central


registration system and there wasn't a dissenting voice to be heard.


Here's are some of the contributions. Amendment 1 basically


creates a registration authority which must maintain a register of


persons who are carrying on a tobacco business. The original


clause 1 proposed that there would be 26 separate registers, one for


each council area. The committee was concerned that a lack of a


centralised system could result in information not being shared between


councils as efishtedly as it could be. In particular, members were


concerned that details of people convicted of or given fixed penalty


notices for tobacco offences and people convicted of illicit tobacco


offences would not be routinely shared between the councils. The


committee, therefore, ask the department to explore having a


central register. Either as or in place of the 26 council registers.


We were pleased, therefore, that the department accepted the committee's


point of view and a registration authority is now to be established.


The fundamental ten at of the legislation is a "three strikes and


you're out principle" that's as a result of a mystery shopper, a young


person being sent by the environmental health department of


the local council. If in three occasions the person within five


years is discovered to be selling tobacco products to young people, he


or she loses their licence to sell tobacco. I think that's a very, very


powerful deterrent. Tobacco retail in Northern Ireland is not so much


the profit made in the cigarettes or tobacco sold but tobacco attracts


people in to buy other products, more profitable products within the


retail situation, be it newspapers or grossries or sweets or whatever.


So, therefore, the right to say tobacco is absolutely crucial to the


small retailer. They could never survive alone on simply selling


tobacco products. 2,300 people die each year in Northern Ireland as a


result of smoking. It is too many. And of course many more suffer very


long-term illnesses as a result. The bill is timely and welcome and with


amendment, will help regulate smoking and curb the growing trend


in young people and that's the particular direction of this, that


it attempts to prevent younger people gaining access to


cigarette-smoking. It does strike me that if someone was convicted of


serious offence of smuggling, they obviously would have no regard for


the law. They were willing to profit by smuggling in illegal cigarettes.


Many of those cigarettes may even be counterfeit cigarettes, so they


would have no regard f individual's health and as such, I would say


there would be a high risk of those individuals having no regard to


whether they sold cigarettes to young people. Every Dee attempt to


deter our young people from starting such a filthy habit in the first


place and warn them of the deadly dangers must be strongly supported


and this Assembly is, as our deputy Chair of the committee has said, is


leading on this very important issue.


Kieran mar Karthi making his feelings clear. That has moved


another step closer to becoming law. The Stormont Executive has unveiled


a strategy to get 30,000 more people into work over the next ten years.


The plans are targeted at what's known as "the economically inactive"


- that is people who are not in work or claiming benefit. The rate of


economic inactivity is higher here than in other parts of the UK.


Here's the Employment and Learning Minister outlining the aims of the


scheme. To develop policy initiatives to spe specificically


help those who are long-term sick and/or persons with disabilities and


those with family commitments to reedge gauge with the labour market


to. Help older workers back into work through dabbingling


discrimination barriers, increasing opportunities and addressing issues


of self-confidence and skill levels. To utilise the outcomes of in-depth


analysis in order to pinpoint specific policy areas for


intervention. To develop initiatives with key stakeholders, including


health professionals, that will motivate the economically enactive


to adopt a positive approach to work and to help women and lone parents


to move into employment. The over-arching goal is to


contribute towards a stable and competitive employment rate of over


7 0% by 2023 through a reduction in the proportion of the working-aged


population classified as "economically enactive." This


reflects our assessment of what constitutes a more balanced labour


market in terms of more fully engaging people and utilised their


skills and talents. That all sounds good in theory from


Stephen Farry, but how will it translate into real life? With me is


Susan Russam from GEMS NI, an organisation which helps get people


back into work. Welcome to the programme. Thank you for ginning us.


Let's be clear. Who precisely are "economically enactive" people? They


can be students, they can be people who have caring responsibilities.


They can be people who are sick, unwell, who are not actively seeking


work. They are mot mandated by the current benefit they have, be that


Incapacity Benefit another range of benefits, so they are not mandated


as if they would be on Jobseeker's Allowance which means they must


report to the jobs and benefits office and explain they are actively


seeking work. Is the point is that this is an untapped well of talent,


potentially? Absolutely. It is very welcome and very heart-warming to


hear the minister announce this. I think, as you intimated there that


the devil will very much be in the detail. It's interesting to note


that the minister places employers at the central tenant of this and


looks at things such as inSeptemberives for employers. We


need to have a balanced incentive for people who are currently


economically enactive. If you are going to hit that target of 30,000


more people into work in the next ten years, you need to be doing


something and you need to be doing it quite quickly. Quite an ambitious


target, do you think? It is. It makes we wonder whether or not


that's 30,000, less the 25,000 targeted for new new jobs that the


Assembly has already set. So are we really talking about 5,000 or is it


going to be a 55,000? What is your hunch? Those two figures are pretty


different, aren't they? Well, I think that all of us have spooblt,


Mark, to do all we can to help people to get into work. We know the


damage that being economically enactive and long-term unemployed


can do to a person's health and well-being and to their lf-esteem


and to their ability to access work and to their ability to think that


work can actually be for them. What is your answer? What is your


organisation's approach to it? We start where the person is at. We use


our skills and our knowledge and our networks and community grassroots'


work to ensure that we can help that person to, first of all feel that


they can become employable. To lack at the barriers that are actually


preventing them to become employable. To look at the skills.


To look at opportunities and one thing that I would say is that one


of the opportunities that this Government, this administration must


look at is what opportunities are there in the public sector for


people who are economically enactive? Particularly our young


people but not exclusively as well. Well a very interesting question.


Perhaps we will return to that in the future. For now, thank you very


much. The Health Minister says he hopes to


reveal the future of Northern Ireland children's heart surgery


later this week. He told question time he is still in


talks with health officials on both sides of the border as he seeks a


resolution to the issue. He was expected to announce his decision in


the July but it has been postponed sefshl occasions. I'm continuing my


discussions with the Republic of Ireland's minister for both Dr James


Riley TD to establish whether it'll be possible to establish a


two-centre model within the island of Ireland to be located in Belfast


and Dublin. My overriding concern is the safety of the children and


obtaining the best-possible care for them. I am iming to make my final


decisions on this as soon as possible.


I thank the minister for that. Can I ask the minister, given the real


public concern around the timeline on this issue, can he confirm that


there will be a decision that will involve surgery being maintained in


Belfast, and can he confirm the timeline on that decision? I would


hope to be in a position to do it this week and to make my


announcement. But discussions are industrial ongoing. I think that


people should nted underestimate how difficult this process has been. The


challenges that have been involved in it. And we need everybody singing


off the same hymn sheet, working very hard on achieving that,


hopefully quite close to getting that. And, as soon as I can, I will


bring the information to the House and to the public. And I trust that


that will be very, very soon, as I indicated, I had hoped to do it this


week but I don't believe that of it should be necessarily much longer


and we will need to be getting that message out to the people who have


real and genuine concerns and obviously real needs.


I would also remind the member that there is not and never has been a


been on donations from gay pain, and the restriction relates to


behaviour, as opposed orientation. A number of other categories of


individuals are excluded from do donating. The judge included any


change in Northern Ireland to the donation of men having sex with


other men, was not my responsibility. Unfortunately I did


not have the confidence, of having to make findings against the highest


judicial figures in the land. I did not feel confident I would succeed,


nor did my skilled QCs, David Schofield QC and Mick Hannah QC.


Those aren't the words of Edwin Putts, they are the words of his


honour. Does the minister think an


investigation by the IQIA is independent or objective? Well, I


could comment further on that happening in other places, but I'll


refrain. In terms of independence regulation of health care, it


certainly is a big issue. I'm very happy for independent regulation of


health care. I think it is important that there is independent regulation


and we fund RQIA. But RQIA are responsible for their own actions


and activities, so we don't give them direction as to what to do. I


have to admit, it is a challenge to get aed abouty which is wholly


independent of Government because the truth is - who is going to pay


for it? You know, people will always be of the opinion, he who pays the


Piper calls the tune. I genuinely want independent regulation because


I think that it is good to keep everybody aware that that can be


carried out and to keep people on top of their game. The Health


Minister. Now, flooding, frozen pipes and


faulty heating. All potential problems in the winter. But would


you know what to do? Well our MLAs should, after being shown today how


to winter had of proof their homes by NI Water. Our Political


Correspondent Gareth Jordan spoke to Jimmy Spratt about being prepared


for winter. Since three years ago #2340r8d Water have been very good


in terms of actually promoting an educational spoeous -- Northern


Ireland Water have been very good in terms of promoting an educational


influence to their warnings. And indeed the bus is here today so that


MLAs from all the various areas around the province can come on and


get some literature so that they and their staff and assembly staff are


aware of the preparings being made. I feel they were slightly unfairly


vilified for what happened three years ago, do you think they have a


point? I think there were serious issues three years ago. I think


those issues have now been addressed and since three years ago, Northern


Ireland Water, the staff of Northern Ireland Water and the senior


management team of Northern Ireland Water have made major advances in


terms of making sure the same mistake didn't happen twice and I


think they need to be applauded. What has prompted that change? I


think that change was prompted through the work of the Department,


through the work of the Minister and, indeed, through the work of the


committee, because the committee took the issues very seriously, as


did the Executive at that particular period of time and it shows you,


that local people, local democracy actually pays in situations such as


this. Jimmy Spratt talking to Gareth


Gordon. That's it for Stormont Today this week. Join me on Thursday


evening for the View on BBC One at 10.35pm. Until then, from all of us,




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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