04/10/2011 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today where we hear the best from our


finest public representatives up here at the Assembly. On the


programme tonight: campaigners for Magee College say they need more


students, but before the debate gets going the Minister sets the


record straight. I have never said that there were 1,000 places based


on the resources allocated. I need to put it in contests -- context


before people work on the assumption that there are 1,000


places. Our guest of the day might see things very differently. He's


Magee campaigner Padraig Canavan. And is it a rootless debate or


exactly the level of discussion the Assembly should be aiming for? The


humble weed comes to the fore at Stormont.


A university city - that's what some campaigners want for


Londonderry. Today's debate centred on extra student places for Magee


to create more graduate,s which in turn would attract firms to invest.


One of the main champions of that cause is entreprenuer Padraig


Canavan. Her Thank you for joining us. You put your money where your


mouth is. What do you think the future holds for Derry? It is quite


promising. It will be the City of Culture and we are hoping for a


successful year. There is a draft copy for the programme for


government and there is not enough in that the sea sustainable


businesses. We are keen to see how the city of culture can be


maximised. How important are those extra student places at Magee?


is pivotal. The debate was focusing on the first step on that which is


something we have called for, the City Council has called for, the


University has called for, which is 1,000 extra students initially. The


plan for the regeneration of the city is building up overall. This


is the first step of many steps that will take the city into a new


era. Let us have a look at how the debate when in the chamber today.


If this is secretary -- Executive is serious about putting the


economy at the top of their agenda then they need to tackle the issue


with Magee. Mr Speaker, the time for lip-service is over. The people


demand action from this Executive. Posters went up all over Derry


telling us that Magee's expansion was going to happen. I just want to


put it on record before people get carried away that I have never said


on the record at any stage that there were 1,000 places available.


Not have I said there would be 600. -- nor have I said. A whatever the


number is, in the current context he has to make a decision on what


would be their impact in the north. If the minister is going to make a


decision where he is going to give the maximum delivery, at maximum


outcomes in terms of tackling a regional disparity then that is


what he should do. It is not an absolute declaration that we keep


pushing it more and more people into university when we cannot get


them jobs. We should be looking at the real skills and needs of our


people. We will not be supporting this motion. They have been calls


for me to allocate all the extra places to the University of Ulster


and directly to Magee. I do need to consider all the providers. The


rationale for university places is to manage demand across the system.


This will not be achieved by concentrating additional places in


one location. As sympathetic I am - - as I am to the Magee case and the


regeneration of Derry, I cannot commit if I do not have the


resources. Should the Executive make the resources available to my


department then the issue of increased student numbers can be


re-examined Magee. I will have no hesitation if the evidence is there


of going back and making their case. There is no-one in the House that


is opposed to this, but the problem the Minister has is there is not


enough money to make that demand and therefore the proposal as it is


it is currently worded offers no advantage to other campuses.


you disappointed the motion did not go through? Yes. It was a real


opportunity to address some of the key economic circumstances in


Northern Ireland. The commendable decision to keep the fees are low


or -- Low will create pandemonium next year. I read today that by


keeping them low, the accessibility of student places in Northern


Ireland will increase. It does not change it. There will be many more


students that we export to the rest of the UK and not many of them come


back again. They will now be faced with no option because of the


numbers being restricted to where they are. Yet the thrust of the


debate was why give it to Magee when some of the other institutions


in Northern Ireland will suffer? They have a point. If you want to


take that argument to its logical conclusion, there will be an


equivalent number of students in the north-west as there will be in


Derry. A tent of the population in Coleraine are in higher education


and it is nowhere near that in Derry. By the same logic, there


should be about 14,000 students in Derry. He run a business and you


know you need to balance the books. Surely you can understand and


appreciate the Executive has to do the same thing? Yes, and they


should do it. They need to know what their priorities are. To pay


for an economy you have to generate wealth, Business, us. The way to do


that is to have a strong universities with graduates coming


into the job market. They stop businesses of their own and support


indigenous businesses. It is a what priority to make a success for


economy. We will talk later in the programme. For now, Thank you.


Business kicked off this morning with the health minister reporting


back to colleagues about a recent north-south meeting. As he took


questions he was asked by the SDLP's Conall McDevitt about


inquiries into child abuse, something the minister has strong


feelings on. I would be opposed to going down the week that has


happened in the Republic of Ireland. I would be opposed to the judiciary


and legal people getting heavily involved in a process in Northern


Ireland to find the truth. I think that in too many cases us a far, in


terms of other public inquiries, for example, they had been taken


over, they have been dominated by the barristers and the solicitors,


who had made excessive sums of money out of other people's misery.


We do not need and inquiry that draws might officials and my staff


away from important work they are doing. To go after the truth of the


past at the price looking after children today it is not a price I


want this Assembly on my department to be paying. It is important we do


not get dragged into a long judicial inquiry where staff


involved in child protection have to spend inordinate amount of time


dealing with that as opposed to protecting children there currently


need protecting. On to Question Time and first up was interim


deputy minister wearing his education minister's hat. I keep


hearing words that we are making progress and a decision will be


announced shortly. Can the Minister tell us when he expects the


announcement to beat made and what will the total cost be to set up


that body? -- to be made. The costs are rising and that is keeping me


focused. ESA is important and that is why the spend was made.


Legislation was at an advanced age but it was stalled and stop. I have


never said we will make a decision shortly. I have said we are


required to make a decision. I am acutely aware off what is happening


with the ESA project. Could I thank the Minister for his answer, but in


order to progress ESA and establish it, it is necessary to encourage


and bring about political consensus. One is the Minister going to


convene a meeting of all the political parties to thrash out


this issue and to establish you say? Mr Speaker, I did not realise


I was dealing with such a Shaikh group of individuals in this


Assembly. My door is open to any party or any individual MLA to


discuss any matter. I have not refused talks with regards this


issue. Previous to be establishment of the current Executive it was


agreed then that parties should come forward with parties regarding


ESA. I am aware of some public responses and some parties have


indicated their views around ESA, but I am still awaiting documents


We seem to be in areas of more scientific interest as one member


made cliff. When they were first introduced, there was an enormous


opposition from land owners and farmers. I cannot recall a time


when there was a notice put up to keep officials a way from their


land. But given that these concerns, has been minister convinced that he


has done everything to preserve the best and the environment? Everybody


will be treated equally and they will not be a disadvantage for


anyone in relationship to developments. I do can care that


looking beyond this particular matter, part of the character of


the society has been resistance to change. But there has been many


other aspects of experience. It is often had too high a price and too


high a cost. I think there is a more settled abuse in relation to


the importance of -- more settled matter in relation to the


importance of these matters. race for deputy is simpler with the


withdrawal. Dolores Kelly will take the No. 2 spot and she told me how


she felt about that area today. think it is a great honour to be


nominated in the first instance. I feel very privileged to get that


endorsement across the many branches. Now that I have got a


clear run, I want to pay tribute to my contender who has stepped aside.


I feel very privileged and very committed to ensuring that the


party and the fortunes of the party are restored in the dock. Brian


Feeney said last night that the SDLP is finished if they do not get


his leadership race right, if they did not pick the right person.


has made comments before. But the fortunes of the party have had


predictions in the past that have been proven wrong. But a a sense


among the membership at we do need to make the right decision and get


it right. It is time to work as A- team and to get the priorities


right and get everybody in the same direction. It is an important


decision in November. What is your assessment of what has gone wrong


in terms of the party's fortunes at the ballot box? I think they are


historic. We have had concerns about how the British and Irish


governments treated at the party and we got the compromise with the


Good Friday Agreement and these institutions have stabilised. But I


think we have also got an emphasis on us as a party connecting with


the concerns of the electorate. We understand the numbers turning out


have been falling. That is a feature across western democracy.


It is a challenge for all political parties but particularly the SDLP.


I think it is about confidence. We must stop looking over our


shoulders and set our stall and what our vision is for be people in


the community we represent. We hope that will reflect the concerns of


these people. Will you have a ministerial portfolio soon? I do


not think that is anything of any immediate concern. Alex Attwood has


done a very fine job and he has a very quickly grasped a portfolio of


the Environment. I did not see any necessity for any change any time


since. Is the party in danger of tearing itself apart given be


people running are all reasonably high profile in their positions?


The candidates and myself and the wider membership understand that we


have to have 18 approach. We have to unite behind the leadership. I


did not see the party tearing itself apart. I think it is healthy


to have these democratic debate and principles. That is unlike other


parties which are running on the basis of dictatorships. We have


seldom if ever had elections of their leadership. Last year it was


high hedges but today it was about weeds. The green-fingered in the


chamber would try to get to the good of the problem of overgrown


paths and roads. It might sound trivial but millions of pounds had


been paid out for trips and slips. It was just a plant growing in the


wrong place, maybe. There does seem to be an opinion that this question


has been put in the wrong place. To be honest, I can understand some of


the reasoning behind that. But I have got the benefit of being


present when the matter was raised initially. I feel bound to say


without any hint of criticism but of a dejectedly stating the tax,


but had it been more effectively dealt with on that occasion, we


might not have been here today. It might be an inconvenience. But


people actually do worry about weeds on the side of the road.


appreciate his efforts to justify this debate. We are back for six


weeks and we have not had any legislation brought before this


house. We have got a draft programme that does not make one


commitment to one piece of legislation. With the greatest


respect, is is not more about covering up the inadequacies rather


than addressing the problems? able to advise the House that


procedures are already well in hand to ensure the issues that have


resulted in a late start to the control element of the contract


this year will not be repeated next season. We will increase the


manpower and provide additional training for opera tickets.


Additional machinery will also be available. -- operatives. I have


mentioned the controlling of weed growth and the priorities in terms


of financial allegations given to this operation. Can I acknowledge


that the service delivery was not satisfactory this year? I apologise


for that. Jimmy Spratt proposed the motion and he joins us now. Was it


a waste of time? It was not a waste of time. The Minister apologise, as


we have just heard. The issues that I wanted to raise in relation to


that procurement process which appears to has failed, the minister


gave some details about that. I think we have got other issues that


he will respond to the in due course. The whole fiasco has cost


the Department additional money in terms of overtime and all the rest.


It has been an unsightly problem. What about the �4 million figure?


We are talking back foot paths with weeds growing. That is a


considerable figure considering the Times. It is a very considerable


vigour. -- figure. It is a substantial amount and it is


connected with it slip roads. I hope that this can be sorted out.


Some people have said it demonstrates the enacted with his -


- inadequacies of the Assembly... We are looking at massive public


sector cutbacks. People are worried about more than weeds growing on


the roads. We have also got an issue that people have raised. I


have raised it on a bay leaf -- daily basis as I walk the streets


of Belfast. It is an issue that does actually get into the minds of


people and they do have pride in their areas. Some of the local


councils have put a lot of work into this problem. When people come


out, they find the area is unsightly with weeds. Councils are


going down the tubes, if you like. Should the Assembly spent time


discussing problems like this? think this is the business of the


hygiene factor but it should never get to this level. When it is not


right, it should be dealt more quickly -- dealt with more quickly.


It was interesting looking at the breakdown of the people in the


chamber. Were we trying to appeal to the garden centres? I was


looking for answers and I think we got some answers today. The


minister has told us it will not happen again and I take his word on


that. The test will come next year and I hope that has been resolved.


If you have got tickets for the London Olympics and are thinking of


selling them, you might want to think again. The Assembly has


agreed to increase the fines or ticket touting of the Olympic and


Paralympic Games to �20,000. It is to keep Northern Ireland in line


with the rest of the UK, as David Ford explained. The current maximum


penalty is �5,000. The Department of Culture Media and Sport wish to


increase the maximum fine to �20,000 across the UK. We are


concerned about the lower potential oxide �1,000, given the likelihood


of -- of �5,000, giving the likelihood of the problems. This


makes the likelihood of touting materially higher than other events.


This offers a lucrative revenue to criminals. It is important to


frustrate the money-making activities of criminals and prevent


them seeking to use in Northern Ireland as a backdoor opportunity.


I would not wish the penalty in Northern Ireland to be any lower


than that in England, Wales or Scotland. The Scottish government


is proposing to have the Bill to increase the penalty likewise in


Scotland. We have been warned. The long awaited reduction in local


councils has not been straightforward set up. It looks


like nothing has changed. Alex Attwood said he was not consulted


on a day that he believes the DUP and Sinn Fein have struck on a deal


on reducing councils from 26-11-. Mark Devonport gave me the


background to be issued. At an executive meeting we had an


announcement about a number of initiatives, including an agreement


that they reached about local councils. It was essentially going


back to a compromise before in relation to previous councils. But


in an interview on The Politics Show, the First Minister made it


clear that this was a Sinn Fein and DUP initiative and not from the


Environment Department. We have got over the line. We have informed the


Environment Minister of our position. He can bring the paper


forward. Ultimately, if he does not, we can bring the paper forward


ourselves. And it came up today in question time? Yes. When we look at


possible shake-up, Alex Attwood made it clear that he had not heard


any formal understanding and that he was looking forward to seeing it


between Sinn Fein and the DUP. I caught up with him and asked him if


he had been consulted at all before this deal was announced. I have not


but they did say that they were afforded me a paper. The best part


of two weeks later, I have not seem that paper. I look forward Tim


interrogating them and making the judgment about what they say and


what others say is the best way forward. This is a once in a


lifetime opportunity to get this right. We need to get this right


and make certain that the lego government is moving forward.


you surprised, given that this is part of your ministerial brief and


they did not consult you before? Sometimes the character of this


government is that a couple of parties decide what is best for


everybody else. I did not think that is healthy. But I look forward


to seeing the level of understanding between the First


Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I will make a judgement


about the right way to go forward. This has been about numbers from


the very beginning and it still appears to be about numbers.


have got a discrepancy between what the DUP and Sinn Fein are saying.


They had previously hatched an agreement. The Environment Minister


is saying that he still thinks it is possibly the best outcome to


have a 15 councils. He says everybody has got to take a step


back and look at the progress with sharing services and the recent


proposals at Westminster constituency boundaries which he


things could affect the shake up of. Disappointments today in terms of


the motion but what should the government be doing to regenerate


the economy? We have got a number of things. I think we should have


increased participation and increased graduate. We should keep


existing graduates in Northern Ireland. We should look at


graduates from elsewhere. It is a critical part of a growing economy.


I am a great supporter of the corporation tax. I think that will


attract inward investment. The -- this can only work together if we


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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