04/11/2013 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up in the next 30 minutes: It


is another difficult week for Gerry Adams, but he can count on the


support of the Deputy First Minister? I don't believe there is


any similarity whatsoever between the case of the cardinal and Gerry


Adams. The First Minister makes a promise


to Translink workers about the future of the organisation. There is


no intention on the part of the executive to be involved in any


privatisation. And to look at those stories and a


whole lot more, I'm joined by our political correspondent, Gareth


Gordon. He may no longer be a member of the


Assembly, but one political big-hitter turned out to be the talk


of Stormont today. The Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, has been


coming under pressure because of his alleged past and today in the


chamber the Deputy First Minister had to defend his party colleague.


Martin McGuinness was answering a question from the DUP's, Mervyn


Storey. I think that the issue around the terrible circumstances of


child abuse have been well articulated and well aired in the


course of recent times and Gerry Adams has made public his position


in relation to the role that he played given that this was first


reported to both the social services and to the RUC in 1987. I believe


there is a huge responsibility on everybody within society without


exception, that whatever information they have in regard to situations of


child abuse has to be brought forward to the proper authorities


and over the course of I think many years now, many organisations I


think have learned a lot from what have been quite scandalous cases


that have been thrown up in the course of the last ten, 15 years.


Does the Deputy First Minister following on from his logic when he


called for the cardinal to resign given the allegations in relation to


child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, does he believe it


is time for his party president to resign and to ensure there is


transparency and there is openness and consistency in regards to the


approach of what is a heinous and an evil crime and that's abuse of


children? I don't believe there is any similarity whatsoever between


the case of the cardinal and Gerry Adams. In the case of the cardinal,


a child was sworn to secrecy. In Gerry Adams' case, Gerry Adams was


fully in support of his niece, travelled to Buncrana and confronted


his brother and supported niece and her mother when she reported the


abuse to the social services and to the RUC.


I think the other thing that, you know, you can clearly see that


sometimes in situations like this people like to take political


advantage. Without recognising for example the trauma that Gerry Adams'


family went through as a result of the abuse that was inflicted on them


by their father and in many ways that entire family are victims


including Gerry Adams and I think people need towned stand that and


they need to place themselves in that situation where quite clearly


something was happening within that family which was terribly, terribly


wrong. So I think that the two situations in regards to the


cardinal and Gerry Adams are not the same.


Our political correspondent, Gareth Gordon, is with me to discuss this


further. The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has told MLAs he


doesn't believe there's any similarity between the case of


Catholic Cardinal Sean Brady and his colleague Gerry Adams


Martin McGuinness will be expecting this question to be asked of him


because he what he said about Cardinal Sean Brady last year and it


is surprising no one has got asking it of him before today. Following a


BBC documentary last year in which Cardinal Brady was accused of


failing to act after allegations that a #14r-year-old boy had been


sexually abused by the paedophile priest, Father Brendan Smith. Mr


McGuinness was asked what he thought and he said that the cardinal should


do the right thing, meaning he should resign. So what a lot of


people are asking is the difference between Cardinal Brady failing to


act and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams failing to act. For


reasons he outlined in that clip there, Martin McGuinness says the


two cases are not the same. They are different. But others will disagree


and I suspect that as far as Gerry Adams is concerned this matter is a


long way from being at an end. The SDLP have been quick to pick up


on Mr McGuinness's remarks? The SDLP had a statement out saying that


Gerry Adams and the republican movement had a growing number of


questions to answer. He claimed Mr McGuinness's defence of Mr Adams was


double standards. Alex at wood claimed the same people who made so


much about the Catholic Church's involvement last year, Sinn Fein,


were n saying and doing little about allegations of abuse of children by


republicans. Gerry Adams was already in the news


today because of another episode from the past which simply refuses


to go away? And Gerry Adams all over the news today because of the issue


of the disappeared and new allegations that he ordered the


murder of one of those who have become known as the disappeared and


that's Jean ma con vil. A documentary which aired tonne on RTE


and the BBC, Mr Adams played a starring role, a central role and he


once again denied the allegations that he was involved or ordered the


killing of Jean Mc Conville. Both these issues. The question that we


don't yet have an answer to is what damage this is doing to Gerry Adams


and to Sinn Fein particularly in the south?


Now, let's catch up with the rest of today's questions to the Deputy


First Minister, where the subject of the disappeared also came up. But


Martin McGuinness began by giving his unequivocal backing to one


long-running project. Yes, I am committed to the new bridge and I do


so on the basis of the tremendous success that a small bridge in my


own city made to the life of that city. ?17 million sterling was spent


on it and it had a massive impact on the city. And effectively represents


a new iconic image for the city. Like wise, I think that the


construction of a bridge at Narrow Water would have a similar effect


for the people of the area and add immensely to the tourist potential.


We understand the difficulties in terms of the tendering process and


the scale of the tender that was way in excess of what was expected and


since that, there have been, I think, a number of discussions


around whether or not a remedy could be put in place and myself and


another minister was involved in discussions in Ross Trevor. Would


you recommend to provide the funding which would fill the existing gap in


the Narrow Water project? It would be wrong to identify our Finance


Minister as the problem in regard tor -- to Narrow Water. There is


effectively a responsibility on the Irish Government, on ourselves, and


the SUPB and on the councils on both sides of the Narrow Water to come up


with a solution. I don't know if that solution can be found. I would


like to hear the Irish Government say more about it.


What particular help can he offer given his republican background to


enable and ensure that those bodies are returned for family burial?


Well, my full sympathy and compassion is with all of those


families. They are by far and away the most important people in the


course of this discussion. I believe that what happened to these families


was totally and absolutely wrong. I believe it was cruel. I believe it


was unjustified and of course, the IRA were responsible. I and other


Sinn Fein leaders, other republican leaders have over the course of a


number of years been involved in ex-health authoritying anyone --


exhorting anyone with any scrap of information about the location of


these bodies to bring them forward. And that has brought considerable


success for some families, but sadly not for others and I would again


reiterate my appeal to anyone out there in the community who in anyway


were involved in any of these situations to bring forward that


information, to bring forward it to the commission, to bring it forward


to anybody in a responsible position within society and to bring it


forward to republican leaders who I think are anxious to see this


situation resolved. So my full compassion and support is with the


families. It has been a terrible ordeal. It has been a despicable


ordeal and I believe there is a huge responsibility on everybody


including myself as a republican leader to appeal to anybody out


there who can assist these families out of the nightmare that they face


on a daily basis. .


The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness. Privatisation by another


name - that was the subject at the heart of a debate about Translink in


the Assembly today. In one corner was the Regional Development


Minister and in the other, his committee, arguing that private


operators should be allowed to tender for running services. Mr


Speaker, I want to nail this spurious accusation at the outset.


At no time either during the course of the inquiry or in the reporting


of the committee findings and recommendations have I, the deputy


chair or the committee called for Translink to be privatised. They did


not and were not used. How does the department deliver against its


legislation? Against its strategic business case? It awards


TransLibbing a ten year contract. And on top of that, promises a


contract to deliver Belfast Rapid Transit. Where is the opportunity


for competition in this? Where is the drive to attract meaningful


delivery. The department had the opportunity to make a real


difference, but I suggest chickened out for convenience sake. At no time


did the committee as the chair said agree to privatisation of our


transport system. The terms of reference set out by the committee


clearly set out objectives in order to improve transport solutions for


all of society. It is time to review the public transport system and who


delivers it. To maximise the organisation and delivery structures


and improve efficiencies. Nowhere in the terms of reference was the


concept of tisation mentioned. In the 21st century, public transport


should be people's first choice, not last resort. I have spoken to


drivers and other personnel and to their trade unions and they have


shared with me their frustration because they know their routes, this


he know the systems and they know their job and yet rarely is their


advice on how improvements could be taken into account, it is by and


large ignored. At this point, Mr Speaker, it is worth pointing out


that we should debunk the notion that the report is anything to do


with privatisation of public transport in Northern Ireland. The


report is about were providing appropriate competition and ensuring


that Translink deliver the best public transport system for Northern


Ireland. The Northern Ireland transport holding company with the


three subsidiary companies of Northern Ireland Railways and the


City Bus and Ulster Bus is a very tangled web of governance. It is a


cumbersome structure. I think that's really what the report is trying to


attempt to deal with. I confess that I'm disappointed with the thrust and


indeed, the quality of this report from the committee. I have


acknowledged and continue to acknowledge the valuable input and


support from the committee in the past on other issues, but there is


simply nothing in this report that I can properly take forward and I hope


that the committee will he therefore review its conclusions. I have no


intention of legislating for powers that either already exist or indeed,


to review something so recently reviewed and I am certainly not


prepared to privatise Translink. The First Minister spoke to


protesters from the Unite union outside Parliament buildings. Peter


Robinson told them there are no plans to drastically alter


Translink. There is no plans to be involved in privatisation. From an


Executive point of view, it is a matter for the Department of


Regional development and they will be working on it. But any changes


that take place that come under the heading of being significant or


controversial come to the Checktive so it is not a case of us being


sidelined on the issue. There will be nothing that will happen without


us having a full debate and discussion about it and what you


have to say will be taken into account by us when that decision


comes around. Peter Robinson speaking to Unite


union members outside Parliament Buildings.


The idea first came to light during his party conference speech, and


today the Ulster Unionist leader brought a motion on an International


Mental Health Centre to the floor of the Assembly. He suggested funding


for the stalled Maze Peace Centre should be used for a new trauma


centre. The need to tackle mental health issues garnered support from


across the chamber. The motion is the declaration of intent. We


therefore do need to develop the concept. We need to be very clear


about central issues like who is the centre for? What will the outcomes


be? Where will the centre below kated? How will the centre be


funded? We need to put more meat on the bones in relation to development


all of those proposals. The SDLP are supportive of a health


centre of international standing, but we want to design such a


facility, a collaborative effort must be sought. It is a case of


designing it to its best capacity and it will deliver in a much more


comprehensive way. This motion, it would appear, it would seem comes in


the context of the UUP's misguided and opportunistic campaign against a


peace and reconciliation centre the Maze. The UP put forward this


proposal as an alternative to that development. This should not be


framed as a choice. There could and perhaps should be room for both. We


have to make sure that whatever concepts or whatever initiatives


that we launch that they are effective and it is very easy to


make broad statements and soundbites be certain issues, but when we are


dealing with a very personal issue. A very traumatic time in the lives


of people who suffer from mental health issues, it is important that


we are looking for an effective solution and something that will


work and help these people who need the help and need the support of


Government as well. I would have preferred had the motion said today


that it was calling on me to support the creation of as opposed to


supporting the creation of a new international mental health centre


for Northern Ireland that would be a world-class facility for all. I


would have preferred it if it had been the development of mental


health services that would be a world-class facility for all because


I don't think that the creation of a new building will create a


world-class service. Mike Nesbitt joins me now. You must


be glad that the motion was carried, but there were a few dissenting


voices? Yes. Well, the hour-and-a-half was positive. There


was a bit of party politics in it and you have captured most of it in


that report, but not enough for anyone to say I want to put this to


a vote. I made the call over two weeks ago. Overall a positive


response to it and I am pleased we were able to get it into the chamber


so quickly. We have had that debate. The next phase is to start fleshing


out what it might look like now. The minister is saying the building


isn't the key to it. Well, if that's the case, that's fine. If it turns


into an international mental health set of centres, so much the better.


Or if it becomes an international mental health initiative, fine. It


is the outcome. It is the end rather than the means to the end that


matter to me and that's helping because we acknowledge in the


chamber per head this problem of poor mental health affects Northern


Ireland more than just about any country on planet earth.


That's right. What would work better and Edwin Po ots touched upon it. It


might be improving mental health services for people that live here.


You talked about it being a centre of excellence that would draw people


into Northern Ireland to benefit from our experience. The two things


are not the same? I think there are three functions that you would look


at it. One is treatment. One would be training and one would be


research. Now, in terms of treatment, I am very clear that you


can't expect people to travel to one centre. I am, very informed on this


by a man from Fermanagh who survived three assassination attempts. His


daughter used to drive him, when he left to go home, they were great and


by the time they got to Augher, Clogher, they could feel the stress.


This could be instead of the Maze Peace Centre, that's is a move that


some people feel strongly about? Let's talk about that. Everything is


negotiatable if it means people with mental health having better mental


health. We are saying let's talk about this in its own right and


everybody did agree that in its own right it is aing big issue and it


needs more resource. That doesn't mean that you are


warming to the idea of the Maze Peace Centre. I wouldn't want to say


that people with poor mental health have to suffer because of party


politics. We can all agree that we will do this and I went around the


parties of the Exec TV and -- Executive and they agreed that we


need to discuss this with experts and if that works, there maybe


another meeting and somebody else, another political party can chair


it. Mike Nesbitt, thank you.


Who precisely is in charge of Northern Ireland Water was under the


spotlight during questions to the Minister for Regional Development.


The post was advertised in March of this year, but in October it was


revealed that the position hadn't been filled, despite the fact that a


recruitment agency was being paid to find the right candidate. Can the


minister outline how much the failed process has cost the public purse


and when the new Chief Executive will be in post? I am grateful to


the member for her question. I can confirm that costs to date are going


to be in the region of ?70,000. Obviously, efforts will be made by


the board of Northern Ireland Water in conjunction and in consultation


with the department as to how quickly we can move forward to


resolve this situation. It is better to wait for a candidate of the right


standard than appoint a top applicant to fall short of the right


standard? I agree and it is important to secure the best


candidate for any position and particularly that of the Chief


Executive of Northern Ireland Water and I think the principle of merit


should be the abiding principle. A total of 34 candidates expressed


interest in this position, but after careful contribution, the panel


concluded that it was not satisfied to make an appointment. I regret, of


course, the potential cost, but I think everyone is agreed that the


appointment when it is made has to be the right appointment.


The DRD committee has been told by Northern Ireland Water they intend


to look at erecting 350 foot high turbines in the silent valley area.


Can he give an assurance that he will neither encourage such a


development and indeed, will actively discourage a development of


this nature that would destroy the landscape in the area, would hurt


the tourist industry and of course, would damage his constituents? Well,


I am grateful to the member for his question. I am grateful to for the


opportunity to set the record straight on this because I believe


there has been some unhelpful comments on this and misguided


comment on it. I can confirm that Northern Ireland Water have no


current proposals. I can confirm also that I have no proposals or any


plans for windfarms in the Mournes. And Northern Ireland Water advised


it doesn't foresee the development of windfarms in the Mournes and of


course, he will know any such proposals would need to go through a


business case, regulatory and planning approval processes, but I


am happy to place on record that in an area of outstanding natural


beauty in the Mournes that I have no intention of putting forward


proposals and I don't believe Northern Ireland Water have either.


The Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy.


Education, as ever, proved a contentious topic between the two


main parties. The DUP brought a motion calling on the Minister to


review enrolment procedures in the light of some schools being


oversubscribed. In his response to the debate, the Minister wanted to


know how the DUP would solve the problem. The motion doesn't present


the DUP proposal on how we ensure that all local children attend their


local school. It calls on me as minister, the person who spent the


opening part of his speech telling the world and its mother that I


can't run the department. Well, so, it seems a bit of a contradiction...


Is the minister telling us in the House today in the light of the


lecture he has given us that computer based assessments that the


department got it right. Levels of attainment, the department got it


right. If he is, then he really is not living in the real world. He is


the minister and he knows he is in the wrong. The providers did not get


it right and we are going through that. Levels of progression, not


only have I proposed levels of progression. The Education Committee


agreed with the levels of progression and sent them to this


House agreed with them. The Education Committee agreed with my


proposals on levels of progression and passed them through to


legislation. I believed the member is a chair of the Education


Committee. I spent my weekend off studying the DUP's response to the


common funding formula. I was no more enlightened at the end of the


weekend than I was at the start of the weekend in relation to a


contrary proposal from the DUP in regards to that matter either. When


you introduce a formula or criteria for entry into a school and you are


dealing with around 24,000 applications every year, you are


going to run into a number of difficulties where you do not meet


the circumstances of individual pupils or individual families.


That's the reality of the situation. I believe the formula we have in


place and the legislation we have in place is working well with a 96%


firs preference and 97% and third and second preference. I have no


difficulty in reviewing it to ensure we increase the rate and ensure that


we, if there is any anomalies in the system we identify them and move on.


It would be nice to come into the chamber when somebody came in with a


thought out proposal. The Education Minister, John O'Dowd, giving vent


to some of his frustrations. Gareth Gordon is back with me again. What's


happening tomorrow? The Health Minister will take centre stage.


First of all, you will remember he announced back in September that he


was setting up an inyrry into child sexual exploitation and that was


following the disclosure that over 30 people in Northern Ireland have


been arrested as part of a major investigation into into the sexual


exploitation of children and young people. Tomorrow, the minister will


reveal the name of the person that will chair that inquiry and in the


afternoon a Sinn Fein motion on the ban on gay blood and of course,


that's the ban which led to a High Court judge finding against Edwin


Poots and accusing him of breaking the Ministerial Code.


That's all for now. I'll be back at 11.20pm tomorrow on BBC Two. For


now, bye-bye.


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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