04/02/2014 Stormont Today


04/02/2014

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:

:00:25.:00:30.

The Justice Minister faces tough questions from his committee over

:00:31.:00:33.

his change to the Chief Constable job criteria.

:00:34.:00:37.

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

:00:38.:00:45.

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

:00:46.:00:48.

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

:00:49.:00:52.

My position is reaffirmed there should be a presumption against the

:00:53.:00:58.

exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until the

:00:59.:01:00.

department is satisfied that there is sufficient and robust evidence.

:01:01.:01:06.

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

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

:01:12.:01:16.

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

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follows a meeting this afternoon between the committee and the

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

:01:24.:01:26.

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

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clashed with committee members this afternoon over the issue and refused

:01:31.:01:33.

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

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

:01:40.:01:45.

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

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

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

:01:53.:01:56.

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

:01:57.:01:59.

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

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

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Constable. You do accept, it is however now,

:02:07.:02:16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

:02:41.:02:45.

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

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Minister decide to take a different decision contrary to what the

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

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

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

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advised you that the legislation empowers the Executive to call in

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anything deemed significant. That makes it an Executive decision as

:03:14.:03:18.

opposed to a ministerial decision of that particular department?

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

:03:23.:03:26.

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

:03:27.:03:30.

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

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

:03:35.:03:40.

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

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

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the Executive acting within its legal remit to have called this

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

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discussing that issue with the Executive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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with hostile exchanges or robust exchanges today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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which Executive colleagues when other issues weren't

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which Executive colleagues when saying not that you have got

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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people outside the Stormont bubble are persuaded of the importance of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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you later. Orna, for now, thank you.

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Planning decisions on fracking should remain a matter for the

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Department of the Environment following the devolution of powers

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

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Policy statement to the House, the Environment Minister said hydraulic

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

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statement would facilitate the transfer of planning powers and

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

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

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that provides clarity and certainty tor all users of the reformed

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planning system. It consolidates 20 separate pieces of planning policy

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

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

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The SPPS supports my vision to employment and aid economic

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

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made to change and improve the planning system thus far?

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

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and in no way prepared answer! LAUGHTER

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

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

:09:25.:09:33.

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

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

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

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

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

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large scale planning applications that have the potential to deliver

:10:03.:10:07.

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

:10:08.:10:11.

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

:10:12.:10:15.

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

:10:16.:10:18.

that people can get the economy regenerated and people in those

:10:19.:10:22.

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

:10:23.:10:30.

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

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

:10:35.:10:38.

such an application is live outside Lisburn that would meet that

:10:39.:10:43.

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

:10:44.:10:49.

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

:10:50.:10:56.

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

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

:11:02.:11:08.

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

:11:09.:11:17.

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

:11:18.:11:20.

LAUGHTER I thank the member for the question.

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Given the controversy surrounding the issue of fracking I would

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

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therefore, would be treated as an Article 31 application and

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

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

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should be a presumption against the exploitation of unconventional

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hydrocarbon extraction until the department is satisfied that there

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is sufficient and robust evidence and all environmental impacts.

:12:05.:12:11.

Mark H Durkan. The Education Minister John O'Dowd

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

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

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

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courage and vision through their comments on social media sites.

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

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

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

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

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relation to sports clubs. The extended schools programme is an

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excellent way of doing that, integrated schools into the

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community and drawing parents and others into schools to encourage

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them to use the facilities and encourage them to become more

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

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aware in education. The Minister will be

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he put into the education system and the sectors across Northern

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

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

:13:35.:13:36.

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

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

:13:45.:13:52.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:14:24.:14:34.

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

:14:35.:14:39.

councillor working in a state school? Ministers have put

:14:40.:14:42.

substantial investment into state schools including Boys' Model School

:14:43.:14:47.

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

:14:48.:14:52.

better for many Protestant children. It is worth remembering the

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

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

:15:02.:15:07.

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

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

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record in terms of support for education within what

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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to introduce a legal framework for regulating reservoir safety to

:15:57.:16:00.

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

:16:01.:16:03.

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

:16:04.:16:09.

environment and economic liberty are better protected from the potential

:16:10.:16:13.

risks of flooding from reservoirs. It will regulate reservoirs which

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

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

:16:28.:16:33.

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

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

:16:40.:16:42.

possible source of flooding that has the potential to cause catastrophic

:16:43.:16:48.

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

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

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

:16:57.:17:02.

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

:17:03.:17:07.

legislation regarding reservoirs prior to this in Northern Ireland,

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

:17:13.:17:17.

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

:17:18.:17:23.

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

:17:24.:17:29.

and Wales have legislation since 1930. Scotland has legislation since

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2011. 1930. Scotland has legislation since

:17:31.:17:42.

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

:17:43.:17:52.

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

:17:53.:17:56.

abandoned reservoirs will be managed and also consider what issues may

:17:57.:17:59.

arise once this legislation is in place should Northern Ireland water

:18:00.:18:05.

for instance start selling disused reservoirs as their duty of care

:18:06.:18:09.

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

:18:10.:18:14.

Nowhere in these regulations is there any requirement for assessment

:18:15.:18:21.

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

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

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

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

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

:18:53.:18:56.

directive is relevant but it is about taking a protective approach

:18:57.:19:00.

based on risk, not being disproportionate, but very much

:19:01.:19:03.

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

:19:04.:19:05.

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

:19:06.:19:08.

Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin also faced

:19:09.:19:11.

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

:19:12.:19:15.

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

:19:16.:19:20.

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

:19:21.:19:26.

a high degree of dissatisfaction among some of the language groups

:19:27.:19:36.

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

:19:37.:19:44.

ask the Minister what she can do to ensure that these

:19:45.:19:45.

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

:19:46.:19:57.

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

:19:58.:20:01.

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

:20:02.:20:06.

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

:20:07.:20:12.

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

:20:13.:20:20.

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

:20:21.:20:27.

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

:20:28.:20:31.

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

:20:32.:20:37.

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

:20:38.:20:40.

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

:20:41.:20:46.

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

:20:47.:20:51.

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

:20:52.:20:59.

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

:21:00.:21:02.

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

:21:03.:21:09.

will be reviewing at some stage the working arrangements between Ulster

:21:10.:21:14.

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

:21:15.:21:17.

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

:21:18.:21:22.

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

:21:23.:21:27.

ideas and taking on board the projects and themes emerging through

:21:28.:21:30.

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

:21:31.:21:34.

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

:21:35.:21:39.

for the establishment of a Northern Ireland Association of amateur

:21:40.:21:44.

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

:21:45.:21:51.

an enabling organisation in order to an franchise and open up

:21:52.:21:54.

opportunities for all young boxers in Northern Ireland?

:21:55.:22:05.

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

:22:06.:22:11.

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

:22:12.:22:15.

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

:22:16.:22:22.

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

:22:23.:22:26.

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

:22:27.:22:32.

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

:22:33.:22:38.

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

:22:39.:22:47.

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

:22:48.:22:51.

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

:22:52.:22:55.

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

:22:56.:22:57.

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

:22:58.:23:00.

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

:23:01.:23:06.

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

:23:07.:23:09.

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

:23:10.:23:14.

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

:23:15.:23:19.

and is a complex piece of legislation. After having been

:23:20.:23:27.

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

:23:28.:23:32.

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

:23:33.:23:38.

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

:23:39.:23:42.

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

:23:43.:23:45.

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

:23:46.:23:50.

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

:23:51.:23:54.

Service Pensions Bill revised framework enabling legislation for

:23:55.:23:57.

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

:23:58.:24:05.

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

:24:06.:24:08.

committee would not have had the opportunity to do such detailed

:24:09.:24:10.

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

:24:11.:24:24.

committee and elsewhere, provides another example of the added value

:24:25.:24:28.

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

:24:29.:24:33.

representative work collectively and constructively to tackle difficult

:24:34.:24:36.

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

:24:37.:24:45.

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

:24:46.:24:48.

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

:24:49.:24:55.

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

:24:56.:25:03.

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

:25:04.:25:07.

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

:25:08.:25:12.

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

:25:13.:25:16.

sector workers against these changes. It is frustrating for all

:25:17.:25:21.

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

:25:22.:25:24.

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

:25:25.:25:28.

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

:25:29.:25:31.

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

:25:32.:25:35.

continue to monitor the proportion of adult life spent in retirement

:25:36.:25:38.

and this means continuing to assess whether scheme pension ages should

:25:39.:25:44.

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

:25:45.:25:49.

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

:25:50.:25:55.

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

:25:56.:26:02.

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

:26:03.:26:10.

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

:26:11.:26:14.

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

:26:15.:26:20.

unrealistic to expect. It is imperative these reforms are

:26:21.:26:22.

permitted on time otherwise a Northern Ireland

:26:23.:26:23.

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

:26:24.:26:36.

main purpose of it is to provide primary enabling framework for

:26:37.:26:40.

required reforms. It was important we got the primary framework

:26:41.:26:44.

enabling legislation through and retain dealing with normal scheme

:26:45.:26:48.

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

:26:49.:26:52.

service pensions is to make them sustainable by dressing

:26:53.:26:57.

ever-increasing pensions liability. The public service pension structure

:26:58.:27:00.

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

:27:01.:27:05.

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

:27:06.:27:09.

to address these matters. The Finance Minister Simon Hamilton

:27:10.:27:12.

and the bill was passed by 77 votes to 13.

:27:13.:27:17.

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

:27:18.:27:21.

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

:27:22.:27:27.

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

:27:28.:27:32.

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

:27:33.:27:37.

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

:27:38.:27:41.

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

:27:42.:27:45.

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

:27:46.:27:50.

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

:27:51.:27:54.

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

:27:55.:27:57.

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

:27:58.:28:01.

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

:28:02.:28:05.

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

:28:06.:28:11.

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

:28:12.:28:15.

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

:28:16.:28:19.

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

:28:20.:28:24.

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

:28:25.:28:32.

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

:28:33.:28:34.

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

:28:35.:28:47.

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

:28:48.:28:50.

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

:28:51.:28:55.

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

:28:56.:28:57.

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

:28:58.:29:01.

people are countering that and supporting the diversity of teaching

:29:02.:29:06.

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

:29:07.:29:10.

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

:29:11.:29:15.

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

:29:16.:29:17.

bye.

:29:18.:29:23.

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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