04/10/2011 Stormont Today


04/10/2011

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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Transcript


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

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finest public representatives up here at the Assembly. On the

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programme tonight: campaigners for Magee College say they need more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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humble weed comes to the fore at Stormont.

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

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

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

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One of the main champions of that cause is entreprenuer Padraig

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

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

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

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

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government and there is not enough in that the sea sustainable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:03:56.:03:56.

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

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

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

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

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:04:29.:04:29.

outcomes in terms of tackling a regional disparity then that is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This will not be achieved by concentrating additional places in

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

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

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resources. Should the Executive make the resources available to my

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department then the issue of increased student numbers can be

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

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

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

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

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:06:13.:06:17.

it is currently worded offers no advantage to other campuses.

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

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opportunity to address some of the key economic circumstances in

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

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

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keeping them low, the accessibility of student places in Northern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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that is to have a strong universities with graduates coming

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

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

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

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Business kicked off this morning with the health minister reporting

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

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

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inquiries into child abuse, something the minister has strong

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

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

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and legal people getting heavily involved in a process in Northern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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not get dragged into a long judicial inquiry where staff

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involved in child protection have to spend inordinate amount of time

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dealing with that as opposed to protecting children there currently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:10:56.:11:06.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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convene a meeting of all the political parties to thrash out

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

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

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

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

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

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agreed then that parties should come forward with parties regarding

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

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

:12:46.:12:56.
:12:56.:13:02.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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anyone in relationship to developments. I do can care that

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looking beyond this particular matter, part of the character of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I feel very privileged and very committed to ensuring that the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Friday Agreement and these institutions have stabilised. But I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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people running are all reasonably high profile in their positions?

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The candidates and myself and the wider membership understand that we

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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weeks and we have not had any legislation brought before this

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

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commitment to one piece of legislation. With the greatest

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

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than addressing the problems? able to advise the House that

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

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

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

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manpower and provide additional training for opera tickets.

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

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mentioned the controlling of weed growth and the priorities in terms

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of financial allegations given to this operation. Can I acknowledge

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

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

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

:20:24.:20:32.

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

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that procurement process which appears to has failed, the minister

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

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

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

:20:51.:20:58.

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

:20:58.:21:02.

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

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considerable figure considering the Times. It is a very considerable

:21:08.:21:18.
:21:18.:21:19.

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

:21:19.:21:28.

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

:21:28.:21:33.

Some people have said it demonstrates the enacted with his -

:21:33.:21:42.

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

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

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

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

:21:58.:22:05.

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

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

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

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

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

:22:28.:22:34.

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

:22:34.:22:39.

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

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

:22:47.:22:50.

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

:22:50.:22:55.

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

:22:55.:23:01.

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

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

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

:23:11.:23:14.

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

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

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

:23:23.:23:29.

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

:23:29.:23:36.

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

:23:36.:23:42.

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

:23:42.:23:48.

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

:23:48.:23:54.

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

:23:54.:24:02.

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

:24:02.:24:06.

makes the likelihood of touting materially higher than other events.

:24:06.:24:12.

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

:24:12.:24:15.

frustrate the money-making activities of criminals and prevent

:24:15.:24:19.

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

:24:20.:24:24.

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

:24:24.:24:29.

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

:24:29.:24:32.

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

:24:32.:24:38.

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

:24:38.:24:41.

councils has not been straightforward set up. It looks

:24:42.:24:47.

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

:24:47.:24:51.

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

:24:51.:24:57.

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

:24:57.:25:05.

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

:25:05.:25:09.

announcement about a number of initiatives, including an agreement

:25:09.:25:13.

that they reached about local councils. It was essentially going

:25:13.:25:19.

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

:25:19.:25:23.

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

:25:23.:25:28.

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

:25:28.:25:36.

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

:25:36.:25:39.

Environment Minister of our position. He can bring the paper

:25:40.:25:44.

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

:25:44.:25:52.

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

:25:52.:25:58.

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

:25:58.:26:02.

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

:26:02.:26:06.

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

:26:06.:26:12.

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

:26:12.:26:19.

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

:26:19.:26:24.

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

:26:24.:26:29.

interrogating them and making the judgment about what they say and

:26:29.:26:33.

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

:26:33.:26:37.

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

:26:37.:26:42.

and make certain that the lego government is moving forward.

:26:42.:26:46.

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

:26:46.:26:51.

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

:26:51.:26:54.

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

:26:54.:27:00.

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

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to seeing the level of understanding between the First

:27:03.:27:07.

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

:27:07.:27:11.

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

:27:11.:27:15.

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

:27:15.:27:22.

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

:27:22.:27:28.

They had previously hatched an agreement. The Environment Minister

:27:28.:27:33.

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

:27:33.:27:36.

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

:27:36.:27:42.

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

:27:43.:27:45.

proposals at Westminster constituency boundaries which he

:27:45.:27:50.

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

:27:50.:27:55.

the motion but what should the government be doing to regenerate

:27:55.:28:01.

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

:28:01.:28:07.

increased participation and increased graduate. We should keep

:28:07.:28:10.

existing graduates in Northern Ireland. We should look at

:28:10.:28:17.

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

:28:17.:28:21.

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

:28:21.:28:31.

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

:28:31.:28:34.

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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