04/03/2014 Stormont Today


04/03/2014

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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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme:

:00:25.:00:28.

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

:00:29.:00:36.

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

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microbiological contamination of product. In the inventor of

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

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

:00:51.:00:56.

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

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

:01:00.:01:03.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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short but important and necessary piece of legislation, the main

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purpose of which distilled tidy up routing financial matters about

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financial legislation. It has a number of noncontroversial and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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operation that uncovered a suspected illegal animal slaughter and meat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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implemented by the FSA and if investigations reveal that products

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

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operation is microbiological contamination of product, and in the

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event of contaminated product entering the food chain, aside from

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

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

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

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

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around cooking meat properly. Can the Minister give guarantees,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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microbiologically, everything has been done correctly, and people can

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

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

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

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reputation of the Northern Ireland meat industry, what meetings have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:09:17.:09:20.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:10:00.:10:02.

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

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

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

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

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

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were being stolen or had gone missing in Northern Ireland.

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Primarily the Department of agriculture, do you think it should

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

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

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

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

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

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

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food standards investigation is taking place. What action will you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are you saying there could be reputational damage to the beef

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

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Northern Ireland has the highest level of food security perhaps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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came up during questions to the Environment Minister today. Last

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month a Spotlight programmed uncovered one in Campsie near

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

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Durkan was also asked about the Northern Ireland Environment Agency

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

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the north coast attraction have fallen in recent years. Dunluce

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

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

:13:12.:13:15.

true historic and economic potential. That is why the Northern

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Ireland Environment Agency has already under undertaken substantive

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steps towards addressing this issue. It has established an innovation

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trial to create a world class visitor experience that does justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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investigation is very much site specific works the Minister agree

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that without a further and perhaps more comprehensive inquiry there

:15:52.:15:56.

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

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

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

:16:09.:16:12.

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

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

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

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

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

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is vitally important that the severity of sentences reflects the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:17:13.:17:17.

The Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan.

:17:18.:17:19.

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

:17:20.:17:22.

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

:17:23.:17:26.

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

:17:27.:17:30.

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

:17:31.:17:37.

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

:17:38.:17:42.

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

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

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

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

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capability strategy, we will have that wider discussion around

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

:18:10.:18:13.

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

:18:14.:18:16.

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

:18:17.:18:20.

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

:18:21.:18:23.

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

:18:24.:18:26.

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

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

:18:32.:18:38.

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

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

:18:47.:18:49.

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

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education and financial capability through the strategy that the credit

:18:53.:18:58.

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

:18:59.:19:01.

as well. # Could I ask the Minister to give

:19:02.:19:06.

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

:19:07.:19:11.

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

:19:12.:19:15.

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

:19:16.:19:22.

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

:19:23.:19:27.

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

:19:28.:19:31.

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

:19:32.:19:34.

Singapore. He was particularly pleased that his recently had

:19:35.:19:41.

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

:19:42.:19:46.

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

:19:47.:19:51.

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

:19:52.:19:55.

taken from Great Britain, from Northern Ireland and from the

:19:56.:19:59.

Republic of Ireland, all complemented each other in what they

:20:00.:20:03.

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

:20:04.:20:09.

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

:20:10.:20:14.

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

:20:15.:20:19.

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

:20:20.:20:23.

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

:20:24.:20:29.

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

:20:30.:20:32.

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

:20:33.:20:37.

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

:20:38.:20:43.

at a good rate. In terms of Tourism Ireland,

:20:44.:20:46.

industry partners are going to participate in Visit Britain's

:20:47.:20:51.

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

:20:52.:20:58.

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

:20:59.:21:04.

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

:21:05.:21:10.

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

:21:11.:21:14.

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

:21:15.:21:19.

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

:21:20.:21:24.

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

:21:25.:21:28.

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

:21:29.:21:33.

planning these events in the upcoming months to bring trade

:21:34.:21:37.

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

:21:38.:21:43.

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

:21:44.:21:47.

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

:21:48.:21:50.

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

:21:51.:21:53.

potential boost to the local economy, the legislation seeks to

:21:54.:21:56.

create clear guidelines for businesses that want to put tables

:21:57.:21:59.

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

:22:00.:22:02.

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

:22:03.:22:07.

generally regarded as positive development. There are no measures

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

:22:13.:22:15.

is no legislation to regulate the operation or development of pavement

:22:16.:22:21.

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

:22:22.:22:28.

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

:22:29.:22:34.

free flow of pedestrians and vehicles or hinder public safety.

:22:35.:22:39.

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

:22:40.:22:43.

advisory committee, these were around the potential for pavement

:22:44.:22:48.

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

:22:49.:22:55.

pedestrians. This morning the Minister provided assurance that the

:22:56.:22:58.

guidance on the regulations which will implement this bill will put

:22:59.:23:03.

the needs of the pedestrians, including those with disabilities

:23:04.:23:08.

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

:23:09.:23:12.

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

:23:13.:23:17.

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

:23:18.:23:21.

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

:23:22.:23:25.

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

:23:26.:23:33.

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

:23:34.:23:39.

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

:23:40.:23:44.

responsibility seriously and that pavement cafe requests are mindful

:23:45.:23:49.

of the needs of persons with visual disabilities and impairment.

:23:50.:23:53.

Organisations did come to the committee and raise concerns about

:23:54.:23:57.

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

:23:58.:24:00.

assurances that the needs of people with mobility and sight issues

:24:01.:24:04.

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

:24:05.:24:09.

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

:24:10.:24:14.

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

:24:15.:24:18.

give the new councils the authority to chase businesses in camera

:24:19.:24:21.

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

:24:22.:24:28.

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

:24:29.:24:33.

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

:24:34.:24:38.

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

:24:39.:24:45.

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

:24:46.:24:51.

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

:24:52.:24:56.

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

:24:57.:25:00.

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

:25:01.:25:04.

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

:25:05.:25:11.

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

:25:12.:25:16.

matters is quite difficult. The member himself referred to sporting

:25:17.:25:22.

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

:25:23.:25:27.

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

:25:28.:25:36.

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

:25:37.:25:40.

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

:25:41.:25:45.

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

:25:46.:25:51.

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

:25:52.:25:56.

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

:25:57.:26:00.

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

:26:01.:26:06.

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

:26:07.:26:11.

any condition it considers reasonable in order to promote a

:26:12.:26:16.

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

:26:17.:26:21.

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

:26:22.:26:25.

Clause 16. And more importantly, and I think it

:26:26.:26:29.

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

:26:30.:26:34.

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

:26:35.:26:40.

normal laws of the land. The Social Development Minister,

:26:41.:26:43.

Nelson McCausland, explaining the rationale behind the proposed new

:26:44.:26:46.

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

:26:47.:26:51.

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

:26:52.:26:56.

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

:26:57.:27:00.

somewhere nice to sit when the weekly parades and processes pass

:27:01.:27:07.

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

:27:08.:27:13.

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

:27:14.:27:18.

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

:27:19.:27:22.

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

:27:23.:27:27.

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

:27:28.:27:32.

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

:27:33.:27:36.

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

:27:37.:27:40.

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

:27:41.:27:44.

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

:27:45.:27:48.

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

:27:49.:27:56.

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

:27:57.:28:02.

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

:28:03.:28:08.

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

:28:09.:28:11.

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

:28:12.:28:15.

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

:28:16.:28:20.

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

:28:21.:28:27.

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

:28:28.:28:31.

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

:28:32.:28:38.

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

:28:39.:28:46.

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

:28:47.:28:48.

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

:28:49.:28:52.

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

:28:53.:28:55.

everyone in the team, bye-bye.

:28:56.:28:58.

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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