04/03/2014 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 on the programme:


The Health Minister plays down any risk from illegal meat entering the


food chain. The main risk arising from this type of operation is


microbiological contamination of product. In the inventor of


contaminated product entering the food chain, aside from removal, the


main way of dealing with bacteria is to cook your meat well. Cafe culture


comes a step closer. The bill provides a regulatory framework to


allow pavement cafes to operate better, enhance our town and city


centres, and have due regard and respect for other street users. And


I'm joined in the studio by the political commentator, Alex Kane.


It was one of those days when you could be forgiven for thinking


nothing much was happening up here on the hill. But, there were two


things that stood out today - an unexpected end to Arlene Foster's


Question Time, and a nearly empty chamber postponed, briefly, a vote


on the final stage of the Financial Provisions Bill. This bill is a


short but important and necessary piece of legislation, the main


purpose of which distilled tidy up routing financial matters about


financial legislation. It has a number of noncontroversial and


missions, and I would like to thank everybody for the work they have


done. On that note I again commended a bill to the house. Order, members.


As it is not quorum in the house, I cannot put the question. So, I will


therefore order the division Bell is to be wrong. -- wrung. This is our


opportunity to shine, and I hope everybody takes that opportunity. We


have reached the end of the list of speakers, so I thank you for your


attendance. Is that the first time that has happened? The house will


take it easy. -- ease. The Principal Deputy Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin,


bringing proceedings to a temporary halt this afternoon. Joining me now


is the commentator Alex Kane. So, not enough people in the chamber to


vote on a bill and a break of five minutes in Question Time. Is this


the aftermath of an unusually busy timetable last week? Possibly. I


think the problem is also that the Finance Bill, it's a necessary piece


of legislation, but it's terribly dull and people aren't bothering to


come in. Obviously the Chief Whip did not give people an indication to


be there in time for the vote, which is why they had to run when the


division Bell came. But it happens in Westminster and the Scottish


parliament. It's not surprising people don't turn up at those


meetings. Then the surprising situation with Arlene Foster. It is


ten people listed to ask questions, and maybe she was succinct with


answers or one or two of them or not there, but she finished before the


next piece of business was due to start, so there was a gap. Yes, she


galloped through the ten questions and I don't think a couple of people


were there. I don't understand why if anybody else wanted to ask a


question, it is a topical question Time. It's one of those strange


things. You think they would trust the members enough to say, I do have


a question but it was unlucky not to be chosen at the ballot and I could


ask it now. The house saying it can take its ease and do nothing to the


next five minutes, because there's nothing worth talking about in


enterprise or business, or anything? It's very old-fashioned, very


parliamentary, but the precedent had been established and it's up to the


speaker to say there is a five-minute gap, and if everybody


wants to ask a question, asking now. I don't know why he did not do


that. Plenty of other business and we will be talking about that


between now and the end of the programme. There were no Haass talks


this week, as there have been on previous Tuesdays. I think Mike


Nesbitt said in the debate on Friday that he was pulling out UUP. I don't


know whether they had responded to see what would happen, but the


reality is, the last time they were on and we've had this in


conversation before, the process is dead. There's nothing to talk about.


David Lord said they would go ahead without Mike Nesbitt and if you want


to put himself outside of it, he can, but we will continue. They are


continuing with nothing. This process went on with 18 months and


then three months of talk, then the leaders talk and nothing has been


produced. Sinn Fein have said they will not budge. It is dead. I wish


people would accept it. It's the Monty Python thing, it is a dead


process. Get over it and move on. We heard today that events in the


Ukraine should not have an impact on a planned Invest NI trade mission to


Russia in June? They say that now, but we have no idea what will happen


in a few weeks with 20,000 Russian soldiers there. It's not a devolved


matter. The Foreign Office will make a final call. We will see. And speak


to you later in the programme. Alex Kane thanks for now. A police


operation that uncovered a suspected illegal animal slaughter and meat


operation in County Armagh was brought to the Assembly today. In an


Urgent Oral Question, tabled by the UUP's Roy Beggs, the Health Minister


was asked for his assessment of the risk to public health. This is a


matter for the Food Standards Agency and they have advised me that they


are closely monitoring any possible risks to public health as a result


of the operation. Food risk managers -- management procedures will be


implemented by the FSA and if investigations reveal that products


entered the food chain, the main risk arising from this type of


operation is microbiological contamination of product, and in the


event of contaminated product entering the food chain, aside from


removing it, the main way of dealing with bacterial is to cook the meat


well. This means that even if product has entered the food chain,


effective cooking would minimise the risk to public health. I noted the


minister talked about the bacterial influence, and that the solution was


around cooking meat properly. Can the Minister give guarantees,


therefore, to this house today and to the wider public that there is


indeed, and will not be, any risk to public health? We are giving you a


advice on the basis that if you are buying meat, you should be buying it


from butchers that identify clearly that they are part of the insurance


scheme, and the same -- farm assurance scheme, and the same


applies in supermarkets and so forth. So by your meat from an


approved source rather than out of the back of a van. In most


instances, people can have absolute certainty, and absolute surety, that


the meat they are buying has been raised on very high quality


standards, and that the method of killing has been carried out


humanely, and has been carried out in a way that ensures that,


microbiologically, everything has been done correctly, and people can


take those steps. If people are buying meat out of the back of a van


from an unknown source, they are potentially asking for trouble.


Given the urgency of the situation both with public health and the


reputation of the Northern Ireland meat industry, what meetings have


taken place between himself, the Minister of health, and the Minister


for agriculture, because this seems an urgent issue and needs to be held


-- dealt with at the highest ministerial level? I think we should


all calm down a little. This is not a large scale operation, in the


first instance. We should not be blowing this out of proportion. This


is not something which is common practice, and there is just not


evidence that that would be the case. We became aware of an activity


and there was a course of action taken yesterday, and it's now in the


public domain, as it should be. Actions are being taken, and it is


for the Council, potentially that the police, and possibly there would


be legal action -- for the police. I think they are allowed -- I think it


is important they should be allowed to get on with that action. The


Health Minister, Edwin Poots. That urgent question was asked by Roy


Beggs, who joins me now. Were you happy with the Minister's response


today? I think it was a bit laid-back, saying be calm, it's not


a big issue. They might not find a big quantity of illegal meat on the


premises, but let's remember that each of the last three years, almost


3000 cattle have been stolen or gone missing in Northern Ireland. That's


a considerable amount of beef. That will be over 1000 tonnes of meat, if


it was put into the food chain. Perhaps ?3 million have been stolen


from local farmers. The numbers can up, if that's what you're saying.


There was some sensible advice from the Minister, buy meat from a


reliable source and cookie properly will stop you can't -- cook it


properly. You can't argue with that. Yes, it's good advice, but we want


to see a more proactive approach by the range of agencies with an


interest in this, the Food Standards Agency, the police, and how many


proactive actions have they taken to identify who is stealing the cattle?


I suspect they're entering the food chain and taking them down south


using the food plant. It was highlighted that 3000 animals a year


were being stolen or had gone missing in Northern Ireland.


Primarily the Department of agriculture, do you think it should


be, could be, doing more as one of the lead agencies? Often theft is


involved so it is a major police issue. We probably need the National


Crime Agency to be involved, but we don't have it in Northern Ireland.


This is a ?3 million turnover of stolen meat or cattle in Northern


Ireland. This is big money. Criminals are raking it in at the


expense of small farmers. Some consumers might be concerned. The


food standards investigation is taking place. What action will you


call for if it finds that the meat has ended up in the food chain? What


I would like to find out is how many people have been prosecuted for this


type of activity? Particularly, how many businesses have perhaps been


drawn into this food chain, and if so, what is the cost to them? I hope


that the Food Standards Agency have the potential to put them out of


business and to stop them trading if such irresponsible actions can be


found. The Minister 's line was that people needed to calm down a little.


Are you saying there could be reputational damage to the beef


industry if it's not sorted out once and for all? I have no doubt that


Northern Ireland has the highest level of food security perhaps


anywhere in these islands. The level of traceability is huge, right from


farm to the fork. With the tracing through meat plants, veterinary


inspection, checking temperature and storage in the shops. All of that is


fine. But remember when the last major outbreak occurred, not that


far down the road. There is serious organised crime happening and we


need the public to work with all of the agencies to feeding information


of unusual traffic, perhaps what is happening to material that has been


dumped as a result of this activity, and we need information to allow the


police to prosecute. The number of illegal dumps in Northern Ireland


came up during questions to the Environment Minister today. Last


month a Spotlight programmed uncovered one in Campsie near


Londonderry which contained half a million tonnes of waste. Mark H


Durkan was also asked about the Northern Ireland Environment Agency


and its part in the running of Dunluce Castle. Visitor numbers to


the north coast attraction have fallen in recent years. Dunluce


castle is one of Northern Ireland's premier tourist attractions, but the


decline in visitor numbers over the last few years does not reflect its


true historic and economic potential. That is why the Northern


Ireland Environment Agency has already under undertaken substantive


steps towards addressing this issue. It has established an innovation


trial to create a world class visitor experience that does justice


to these ruins and brings economic benefits to the region. The agency a


has been successful in securing over ?300,000 support from the Heritage


Lottery Fund towards an exciting proposal to uncover the lost town of


Dunluce. The remains of this early 17th plantation town lie in the


fields outside the castle gate. I thank the Minister for his answer.


I'm not sure if he believes it or not, because he was struggling


reading that out. Dunluce castle had 88,000 in 2010, and 44,000 in 2013.


A drop of 30,000. Your predecessor and the deputy Minister opened the


new tourist facility worth ?208,000. I hope you are going to spend this


money wisely. The Minister said he would undertake a root and branch


review on the radio. There's undoubtedly been a huge decrease in


visitor numbers over the past numbers to Dunluce. He heard me on


the radio speaking about NIEA, so he will know I don't defend something


if I don't think it is defensible. In this case however I do not


believe that's solely or even largely down to the management. I


don't think that's attributable to the decline in number numbers to


that. I am conducting a review of the agency. I don't think it is the


agency's fault that these numbers are down. However, I think the


agency in partnership with others has a key role to play in ensuring


we bring numbers back up. It is vital that this ?300,000 is spent


wisely and I look forward to input from Mr Swan from all stake holders


as to how they envisage a world class visitor attraction would look


like on that site. Given that the report and even the PSNI


investigation is very much site specific works the Minister agree


that without a further and perhaps more comprehensive inquiry there


will always be unanswered questions, are there other illegal dumps in the


North-West? After operation sycamore, the investigation, the


department launched Operation Tooth-fish - I don't know who thinks


up the names. It is investigating waste crime at 33 sites across the


north and regrettably some of them are in the North-West as well. I


think it is important and I have said this before in the House that


my department and NIEA work closely with other departments and with the


PSNI on this issue. I've met with the Minister for justice on this. It


is vitally important that the severity of sentences reflects the


seriousness of the crime. Here we are talking about serious crime. It


is hardly victimless. The outcome of it is a cost to the rate payer. It


is my ambition and hope that we can make the polluter pay for the


clean-up of this site and every site that we found in the absence have


been able to bring the perpetrators to justice it would be left to the


rate payer and taxpayer to foot the bill. That should be reflected in


the severity of sentences that are there for this type of crime.


The Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan.


The unrest in Ukraine came up during questions to the Enterprise, Trade


and Investment Minister today. Invest NI is due to take a trade


mission to Russia in June. But it was credit unions, and what could be


done to help them help the public that we go to first. Given the


number of voids left by bank closure closures and hikes in interest rates


for lend lenders and non-street lenders, could I ask the Minister to


give a firm commitment that it will be raise raised at the executive in


terms of looking at programmes to en enable credit unions to fill the


void left by the banks? What I will say is obviously in relation to the


capability strategy, we will have that wider discussion around


education and capacity building and I think it is a capacity building


piece he may be referring to in relation to finance. He will know


that in GB the Government came forward, the Department for Work and


Pensions I think it was, came forward with an amount of money to


try to get more people involved in the credit union. But of course it's


the nearly 40% here in Northern Ireland. You can see that reflected


in the number of members that get to their feet that say, "I would like


to declare an interest in such and such credit union." Even in this


House. We don't need the same sort of stimulus to get people involved


in the credit union movement. I do think there's a piece of work around


education and financial capability through the strategy that the credit


union will play a key role. I hope the post office will play a key role


as well. # Could I ask the Minister to give


her own assessment of its relative success or otherwise, and what


future plans might she have to engage in further joint ventures,


which must be of benefit to both parts of this island? It was a


successful mission. Just today some members might have noticed that I


met with the High Commissioner from Singapore, who is based in London.


He looks after the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for


Singapore. He was particularly pleased that his recently had


delivered the first ever joint mission, and he could go down in


history for his part in it. But I think the success of the


mission was really in and around the fact that the companies that were


taken from Great Britain, from Northern Ireland and from the


Republic of Ireland, all complemented each other in what they


were trying to do. They weren't competing against each other.


Russia seems to be a key theme today in Question Time. But from my


perspective and the department's perspective there've been a number


of looks at Russia to see what the opportunities are and Invest


Northern Ireland are bringing a trade mission, God willing, to


Russia on 3rd June this year. It's a multi-sector mission. We think that


there are good opportunities for us in Russia. In fact, if you look at


the export figures in terms of Russia, they are continuing to grow


at a good rate. In terms of Tourism Ireland,


industry partners are going to participate in Visit Britain's


Destination Britain. Sales missions to Moscow. They are doing that to


try and sell the region, Britain and Ireland together. I do hope that the


way in which we were able to work together, Visit Britain and Tourism


Ireland, that we can work together for the Commonwealth games as well.


And attract visitors from across the world to come and view the spectacle


of those game. Can I say, we will continue to watch and see how our


Government relates to what's going on in Russia, in the Ukraine, but as


far as we are concerned it is business as usual and we are


planning these events in the upcoming months to bring trade


missions and Tourism Ireland to go out as well. Arlene foster.


Now, we're not known for aping the cafe culture of Paris - or its


weather for that matter - but a bill aimed at regulating pavement cafes


did come before the House today. Seen by many in the Chamber as a


potential boost to the local economy, the legislation seeks to


create clear guidelines for businesses that want to put tables


and chairs out, while still keeping the pavements accessible for all.


These do provide more often than not a vibrancy to an area and are


generally regarded as positive development. There are no measures


in place to regulate them. A Bill is required for one key reason. There


is no legislation to regulate the operation or development of pavement


cafes. As a result we are left in the unacceptable position where road


surfaces are operating a toleration policy as long as they hinder the


free flow of pedestrians and vehicles or hinder public safety.


RNIB, guide dogs for the blind and the inclusive mobility and transport


advisory committee, these were around the potential for pavement


cafes to cause restriction of movement for at the end trans -- for


pedestrians. This morning the Minister provided assurance that the


guidance on the regulations which will implement this bill will put


the needs of the pedestrians, including those with disabilities


and other needs at the heart of the licensing regime. This is key to the


success of the regulation. The Minister noted in his response that


the guidance will have to be taken seriously by councils. It is


something that will help our tourism and hospitality trade and I hope


bring our town centres back to life again. Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to


add there was wide consult ace. We listened carefully. I hope that


local counts will take seriously -- local councils will take their


responsibility seriously and that pavement cafe requests are mindful


of the needs of persons with visual disabilities and impairment.


Organisations did come to the committee and raise concerns about


this bill. It is vital that the department now follows on the


assurances that the needs of people with mobility and sight issues


particularly are placed at the heart of the licensing scheme. Amendment


3, a one strike and you are out approach, was never fair on paper,


especially in a new bill. The new clause as amended will still however


give the new councils the authority to chase businesses in camera


diction of the licensing scheme. The bill provides a regulatory framework


which will allow pavement calf face to operate in ways that enhance our


towns and city centres and have due regard and respect for other street


users. This amendment will not affect the current bricks and mortar


premises of bars and cafes. They are already covered by elects. I believe


when a public space is being licenced to a private vendor we have


a duty to ensure that the space is shared and open to all and covered


by the same equality duties. We don't believe this is necessarily


the appropriate place where we try to tack tackle difficult issues like


this. Members will be well that wering are to defend some of these


matters is quite difficult. The member himself referred to sporting


emblems, which he says in themselves are not sectarian and problematic.


Would you defend someone sitting in a cafe with a Rangers scarf? I don't


know. What has been said clearly I think there's a time and a place for


all of these things. I want to make it clear that I am opposing the


amendment. The reasons for this are plain and simple. The bill as


currently drafted will allow a council to take action where it has


a concern that a pavement cafe area may not or is not providing a


welcoming environment. For example, a council may refuse an application


outright, Clause IV. Or if it decides to grant a licence impose


any condition it considers reasonable in order to promote a


welcoming environment. Clause 6. Where a licence is in force, a


council could vary the conditions of a licence for the same purpose.


Clause 16. And more importantly, and I think it


has been touched on by a number of contributors, any licensed pavement


cafe would remain a public area. As such, would be subject to all the


normal laws of the land. The Social Development Minister,


Nelson McCausland, explaining the rationale behind the proposed new


legislation. And Alex Kane is with me again. Do you think we could ever


be on course to rival the cafe culture of Paris? I'm not sure about


that, but it is going to be full of people smoking, but it would be


somewhere nice to sit when the weekly parades and processes pass


by. And tomorrow's Bill Clinton visit? He's arriving to do a


congratulatory thing for John Hulme. I wonder if he will get time to meet


the First and Deputy First Minister. The process itself is in trouble. I


wouldn't be surprised if they find a moment during the day to let them


bump into each other and chat. You think that makes sense given that he


was involve involved before. And Haass. Somebody needs to do


something. Haass will have briefed President Obama. We know that and I


think Obama will have briefed Clinton. I suspect they will talk to


each other. And the politicians are off then to Washington for their


annual St Patrick's Day gathering next week. Which of course is well


ahead of March 17. It is on 14th March, the ides of March, which


seems appropriate for a process that's in trouble for these men to


come and sort it out. Beware. I think they'll get the trip and


pretend all the well and come back on separate planes. It is an odd


thing that they all head to Washington, gets their shamrock,


meet the President and they are back on this island for St Patrick's Day.


St Patrick's Day in Washington isn't St Patrick's Day. I think they


expect them to do anything here on St Patrick's Day. It's a junket.


Nowadays there is no point to it. To be honest President Obama says if


you can't agree, I'm not bring you over here.


Alex, thank you. And that's it from Stormont for another week. Do join


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


everyone in the team, bye-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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