04/02/2014 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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up in the next 30 minutes:


The Justice Minister faces tough questions from his committee over


his change to the Chief Constable job criteria.


If you don't get your way, is this a resignation matter for you?


I think you are straying way beyond this committee's remit.


We get a new planning policy, but the minister holds firm on fracking.


My position is reaffirmed there should be a presumption against the


exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until the


department is satisfied that there is sufficient and robust evidence.


I'm joined in the studio by Dr Orna Young.


The Justice Committee has agreed to write to the Executive demanding no


change to the criteria for selecting a new Chief Constable. The decision


follows a meeting this afternoon between the committee and the


Justice Minister, David Ford, who caused controversy when he announced


his intention to set new minimum criteria for the post. Mr Ford


clashed with committee members this afternoon over the issue and refused


to be drawn on whether he believes the Executive has the power to


over-rule him. I believe my decision is the right one. That I have acted


within and in accordance with the powers given to me and I have


consulted more deeply and more widely than I was required to. That


my decision in no way undermines the role of the board, indeed, it


enhances it. If concluded in the time scale that I intend it to, it


should not cause any disruption to the process that the policing board


will have to follow in recruiting a successor to the current Chief


Constable. You do accept, it is however now,


called, well FM and DFM have called an issue into the Executive and I


will report back to the Executive. Just to be clear, you are accepting


that if a majority of members on that Executive decide to retain the


status quo, that is a binding decision of the Executive and you


can't... With the greatest respect to you, my relationships with the


Executive are discussion with me and the Executive and not with me and


this committee. It is a purely legal question. Can you as Justice


Minister decide to take a different decision contrary to what the


Executive may decide when it meets to deal with this particular issue?


And I repeat, I will be discussing that issue with the Executive.


Surely minister, you are in a position or your officials have


advised you that the legislation empowers the Executive to call in


anything deemed significant. That makes it an Executive decision as


opposed to a ministerial decision of that particular department?


Do you accept that that is legally the position that the Executive has


taken in respect of this particular issue? I will discuss that issue


with the Executive. A very interesting response to that. Either


you accept the Executive has got the legal authority to have called this


issue in which has deemed it an Executive decision as opposed to a


Minister for Justice decision or you don't. It is a simple yes or no. Is


the Executive acting within its legal remit to have called this


decision making it an Executive decision. Yes or no? I will be


discussing that issue with the Executive.


OK, minister. Based on what you are saying and clearly this is a


particularly strong issue for you in terms of your relationships with the


Executive. If you don't get your way, is this a resignation matter


for you? I think chair, you are now straying way beyond this committee's


remit with respect, I have come here, I have answered questions for


necessarily need to answer, minister. But when you keep asking


five times, it suggests you don't accept that.


The Justice Minister, David Ford. Joining me is commentator, Orna


Young. I suppose it was no surprise there would be differing views


around the committee table this afternoon? No, absolutely not, Mark.


Building on previous comments coming from the DUP indeed that David Ford


was a little near owe, it was always going to play out in this manner


with hostile exchanges or robust exchanges today.


Paul Given was very persist apt, he did -- persistent. He did keep


asking the question over and over again and he glared back? Yes. There


was a line of questioning, it may have been persistent, Paul Given's


questioning, but indeed, it led to an end which was to ask him was his


position going to be tenable if his plan came to pass? That's a really


interesting point. What do you think happens next? The minister is


consulting he has two weeks to do that. He brings his deliberations


back to the Executive table. Then other ministers will decide what


happens. If they don't agree with his position and it looks likely at


the moment that they might not, where does that leave David Ford? It


is questionable in terms of David Ford's position indeed. I think it


is not happening in a vacuum. We have seen this with the Haass talks.


People are mindful of the election that we have coming up and this does


seem to build on an issue with Alliance more generally. It will be


interesting to see how much they do, whether it the DUP or Sinn Fein


decide to go after David Ford on this issue. David Ford spoke to me


on Thursday night. He said he can't see why this issue was called in


which Executive colleagues when other issues weren't


which Executive colleagues when saying not that you have got


sympathy with that, but you can see how he reaches that conclusion?


Absolutely. . But we have to bear in mind how concerned Stormont has been


with in general since 1998 with the idea of the depoliticisation of


policing and for this point the DUP and Sinn Fein have a point with


this, but indeed that it is entangled in the idea of the


Alliance and his role on that with the up and coming elections. As far


as the issue is concerned, whether or not the minister had the right to


change this particular element of the job description. Do you think


people outside the Stormont bubble are persuaded of the importance of


the matter? No, but I think with the reaction of the DUP and Sinn Fein


that they maybe. I don't think on the ground it bears any difference


on how policing is played out really on a day-to-day basis if you look at


the situations in terms of the cost of policing over months and years.


That's mainly what is concerning people, not really who is heading it


up at this point. Interesting stuff. We will talk to


you later. Orna, for now, thank you.


Planning decisions on fracking should remain a matter for the


Department of the Environment following the devolution of powers


to the new local councils. As he brought his Strategic Planning


Policy statement to the House, the Environment Minister said hydraulic


fracturing is a matter of regional significance. Mark H Durkan said the


statement would facilitate the transfer of planning powers and


create a system that is "fast, fair and fit for purpose". This strategic


planning policy statement will ensure we have a shorter, simpler,


that provides clarity and certainty tor all users of the reformed


planning system. It consolidates 20 separate pieces of planning policy


to a single statement. Reducing 800 pages of policy to less than 100.


The SPPS supports my vision to create a better environment and a


The SPPS supports my vision to employment and aid economic


recovery. Can I ask the minister to outline what changes and steps he


made to change and improve the planning system thus far?


I thank Mr Eastwood for that broad question and I will give him a broad


and in no way prepared answer! LAUGHTER


Could the minister indicate if by his actions of having to withdraw


the planning Bill, if he had to make any changes to the strategic


planning policy in relation to that? I thank Mr Elliot for his question


and as outlined in my previous answer. A lot of the changes


proposed in the Planning Bill as intended can and will be implemented


though not through legislation. I think what people will want to know


is, if his draft statement today proceeds and becomes operative, will


large scale planning applications that have the potential to deliver


thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland, for example, like one


outside Lisburn and one near Londonderry. Will they be able to be


delivered taking account of any objections there are in good time so


that people can get the economy regenerated and people in those


areas can benefit as a result of this statement? I am not aware of an


application like that that currently exists outside Lisburn. I don't want


to get called into particular applications, but I am not sure of


such an application is live outside Lisburn that would meet that


description. However, I do assure the member that all steps will be


taken to ensure quick and proper decisions on all applications. Can


the minister tell us what about the vexed issue of fracking? Would


the minister tell us what about the considered by a local authority


the minister tell us what about the by a central planning director rat


and where are we with both? That's a boring subject.


LAUGHTER I thank the member for the question.


Given the controversy surrounding the issue of fracking I would


expect, if not insist, that it is a matter of regional significance and


therefore, would be treated as an Article 31 application and


therefore, the decision on that would still be made centrally.


Within this document, the draft SPPS, my position is reaffirm there


should be a presumption against the exploitation of unconventional


hydrocarbon extraction until the department is satisfied that there


is sufficient and robust evidence and all environmental impacts.


Mark H Durkan. The Education Minister John O'Dowd


has paid tribute to pupils at the Boys' Model School in Belfast who


spoke up for their teacher, a Sinn Fein councillor who's been receiving


threats. During Question Time, he said the boys had demonstrated


courage and vision through their comments on social media sites.


Ulster Scots funding and the use of schools outside the academic day


also came up for discussion. No hesitation in promoting the greater


community use of school buildings. Only recently I launched a guidance


document along with the Minister who was also launching a document in


relation to sports clubs. The extended schools programme is an


excellent way of doing that, integrated schools into the


community and drawing parents and others into schools to encourage


them to use the facilities and encourage them to become more


involved in their children's education. The Minister will be


aware in education. The Minister will be


he put into the education system and the sectors across Northern


Ireland? Indeed, can I ask the Minister, in terms of the ongoing


disparity between Irish and Ulster Scots, what more can he make


available to help address that issue? My department funds on the


basis of need. The member will be aware that we have a thriving Irish


medium sector. We have over 4000 children being taught through the


medium of Irish and it continues to grow. We have over 20 specific units


or schools. I do not have any in relation to Ulster Scots. I do make


funding available for the promotion of Ulster Scots material. I asked


the Ulster Scots agency to come back with further details of support and


I await that response. I am happy to engage with anyone promoting Ulster


Scots to see that we work closely together to promote Ulster Scots


language and culture. Does he agree there are objections to a Sinn Fein


councillor working in a state school? Ministers have put


substantial investment into state schools including Boys' Model School


which have improved the quality of life and made the prospects much


better for many Protestant children. It is worth remembering the


objections came from outside of the school. Came from outside the pupils


and the teaching staff. Those who made the Texans clearly need to be


educated in the broader sense of the word -- made the objections. I stand


by my support. I know my predecessors can stand by their


record in terms of support for education within what


record in terms of support for funding formula it will be shown


that where there is need we will support it. We will not judge it on


the basis of creed. The Education Minister John O'Dowd.


Stormont's MLAs stepped into deep water today as they discussed a new


piece of legislation to govern our reservoirs. The bill will regulate


the 151 reservoirs across Northern Ireland. It was brought to the


Assembly by the Agriculture Minister. The purpose of the bill is


to introduce a legal framework for regulating reservoir safety to


reduce the risk of flooding as a result of dam failure in the North


of Ireland. This legislation will provide assurance that people, the


environment and economic liberty are better protected from the potential


risks of flooding from reservoirs. It will regulate reservoirs which


are capable of holding 10,000 cubic metres or more of water. And which


are created wholly or partially by artificial means. They will be known


as controlled reservoirs. It is the volume of four Olympic sized


swimming pools. The breach of a reservoir is recognised as a


possible source of flooding that has the potential to cause catastrophic


damage to those living and working in the inundation area. Hence the


need for legislation to prevent it in Northern Ireland. The committee


has been told the proposals for the bill are designs to create a legal


and manage risk from flooding from reservoirs. Considering there is no


legislation regarding reservoirs prior to this in Northern Ireland,


the reservoirs bill is important. There are many reasons and it is


timely that this is debated in the agricultural committee and in the


assembly. As stated earlier, the EU requires such legislation. England


and Wales have legislation since 1930. Scotland has legislation since


2011. 1930. Scotland has legislation since


important to insure a joined up approach. -- ensure. As we look at


the bill in more detail, we must ensure it sets out clearly how


abandoned reservoirs will be managed and also consider what issues may


arise once this legislation is in place should Northern Ireland water


for instance start selling disused reservoirs as their duty of care


were then passed to new owners as a result of legislative safeguards.


Nowhere in these regulations is there any requirement for assessment


relating to risk of flooding from reservoirs. It just is not there.


Therefore, I was amazed when I started to read the explanatory


document that comes with this bill. It too peddles this mess. The member


is referring... Let us not do anything because... Let us wait and


see if something bad happens. This is a preventative approach. The EU


directive is relevant but it is about taking a protective approach


based on risk, not being disproportionate, but very much


based on risk. That is what we are trying to do.


Michelle O'Neill and the second stage of that bill was passed. The


Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin also faced


questions today and she was tested on a variety of topics. Ulster


Scots, boxing and the Giro D'Italia were all on the agenda. But first up


was Irish language funding. I'm sure the Minister is aware that there is


a high degree of dissatisfaction among some of the language groups


here in the North. They are not very hopeful about the new process. Can I


ask the Minister what she can do to ensure that these


ask the Minister what she can do to would be included in the funding


net? I thank the member for this question. It gives me an opportunity


to repeat again that there is still an opportunity for these four groups


in the three of which are eager, I understand, to try and fit into new


arrangements, and one decided for whatever reason not to apply. I am


willing to make sure that for those who are eager and keen to protect


the values of they work -- of their work, and enter into the varnish it


with the other groups, the change manager needs provided needs to be


integral and not transition. Have you any intention to review the


current models or funding structure for Ulster Scots bodies? Do you


recognise Ulster Scots as an official language? Well, I am


surprised the member asked that question given out when city was on


the committee and should have had a working knowledge that Ulster Scots


is protected in legislation. Don't be silly. In relation to reviews, we


will be reviewing at some stage the working arrangements between Ulster


Scots agency and the ministerial group to make sure that they work


they are doing is still providing value to the community and value for


money in terms of the investment we have made and taking on board the


ideas and taking on board the projects and themes emerging through


their work. I think it would be best served to give them a bit more


support rather than making cheap and silly remarks. In particular support


for the establishment of a Northern Ireland Association of amateur


boxers, would be Minister care to join in giving her support for such


an enabling organisation in order to an franchise and open up


opportunities for all young boxers in Northern Ireland?


opportunities for all young boxers gossip. The member will also be


aware of an independent report into boxing which did not recommend a


separate authority for boxing for the North. What he needs to do, and


he keeps bringing this up at every question Time in order to be given


the same answer... He needs to stop messing about with politics and


sport. It is unbecoming of any elected member. What role does her


department play in the planning for the Giro D'Italia? Perish the


thought of everybody in North Antrim wearing pink shirts. Especially pink


lycra. But we will not go there. Caral Ni Chuilin who seems to have a


problem with men wearing pink. Now, it's potentially the most


wide-reaching piece of legislation created by the Assembly. Today, the


Public Service Pensions Bill was passed. It will alter the pension


plans offered to more than 26,000 public servants employed in Northern


Ireland. The Finance Minister Simon Hamilton presented the bill at its


final consideration stage. This bill has 38 clauses and nine schedules


and is a complex piece of legislation. After having been


quoted extensively, I thought I might at least quote him at final


stage and perhaps a more favourable quote than the ones he hand-picked


for consideration. But I do agree with his comments at further


consideration stage last month and I quote, it is arguably the most


significant piece of legislation to come before the chamber thus far.


Returning to the bill itself, I would remind members that the Public


Service Pensions Bill revised framework enabling legislation for


the reform of public service pensions in Northern Ireland. Had we


taken the route to legislate on this important and sensitive matter, the


committee would not have had the opportunity to do such detailed


committee would not have had the matter across the House, both in


committee and elsewhere, provides another example of the added value


that can be achieved when we as a locally elected and accountable


representative work collectively and constructively to tackle difficult


issues and shape outcomes to meet local needs. It is important to


remember that pension is not some added all extra benefit, it is


simply pay witches and and pay witches deferred -- added or extra


benefit, it is simply paid which is burnt. Especially given the


government is already reneging on its promise of a 25 year guarantee


on pensions. The changes as a result of the bill are not desirable but


unfortunately are required. There has been a strong lobby from public


sector workers against these changes. It is frustrating for all


of us that reform is necessary. The current pension provisions are not


sustainable in their current form. But has been said in earlier debates


about increases in life expectancy at how the cost of pensions has


risen by a third in the past ten years. We need to be realistic and


continue to monitor the proportion of adult life spent in retirement


and this means continuing to assess whether scheme pension ages should


be in line with state pension age. Not completely desirable to make


these changes, but are they going to be necessary to safeguard the


future? Would the Minister or this assembly, while there are other


options out there? Could this assembly, could a minister, could


they have taken a hit to a block grant of ?300 million? Is that


something that we could have achieved? I think that would be


unrealistic to expect. It is imperative these reforms are


permitted on time otherwise a Northern Ireland


permitted on time otherwise a bill is important and necessary. The


main purpose of it is to provide primary enabling framework for


required reforms. It was important we got the primary framework


enabling legislation through and retain dealing with normal scheme


pension age and state tension age. The essence of the reforms of public


service pensions is to make them sustainable by dressing


ever-increasing pensions liability. The public service pension structure


in the UK has not responded flexibly to rising pensions costs and


increases in longevity in the past few decades. Change must happen now


to address these matters. The Finance Minister Simon Hamilton


and the bill was passed by 77 votes to 13.


Orna Young is with me again. That bill has now passed its final stage


so that will have a major bearing on a lot of public sector workers in


Northern Ireland. Absolutely. We have such a top heavy public sector


here that it is effectively a time bomb, considering the ageing


population we have here. The politicians have passed it, but


watching the debate, it was clear they were uncomfortable about having


to implement some of these changes. They see it as a bit of a necessary


evil. Absolutely. They are all in agreement in terms of their


reluctance in relation to it. It is not very popular. Given the fact


they are looking to extend the age in terms of pensions and retirement


and bringing those into line with the UK contacts. Do you think the


issue was resolved for a generation or will it have to be returned to in


the years ahead? Absolutely. Given the nature of the growing


population, as I said, one positive thing that has come out is that we


had legislation passed. Maybe as time goes on, given the fact they


are not feeling comfortable with it, they may have to come back and tweak


it. One final thing. The row over the history teacher who


it. One final thing. The row over have seen it played out over social


media. Outside Stormont itself, we saw the Protestant coalition wading


into the discussion on it, in terms of their support for why there would


not be a Sinn Fein representative working in a Protestant school and


for that reason it is very interesting to watch the debate and


people are countering that and supporting the diversity of teaching


staff. It is interesting to see pupils getting involved as well.


Good to have your new programme. Thank for joining me tonight. Join


me for The View on Thursday night at 10.35pm on BBC One. Until then, bye




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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