04/12/2012 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, building bridges, not


mending relationships this time, but the whys and wherefores of a


new bridge at Narrow Water in County Down. Until this project is


completed, the risk of all of the cost of the bridge rests with the


executive in Northern Ireland. Also, a bit of straight talking


from the Sports Minister during Question Time. I resent the


implication that within the last 12 months, because I am in the


department, there has been some sort of dip.


And with me to discuss the vexed issue of unadopted roads, the


Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson. Last month, the European Union said


it would provide EUR17.5 million of funding for a new bridge at Narrow


Water in County Down. Nationalists back the building of the bridge,


which they say will provide a boost to tourism in South Down. But


within days of the funding announcement, the First Minister


Peter Robinson said he wants an investigation into the decision.


Today amid differing views and significant unionist opposition, an


SDLP motion called for the department of finance to back the


project. In 1979, an engineering survey was commissioned. This


showed that a bridge would be feasible. The proposal has enjoyed


widespread support since then. Buy- back this project because it is a


genuine cross-border project providing the first bridge linking


Ireland north and south. It makes good sense at a social and economic


level and on every conceivable measure of community benefit.


find it offensive to refer to this project as a tourism boosting,


rush-hour beating objective in terms of improving infrastructure.


Any publicity surrounding the bridge has focused only on tourism,


yet tourism alone is hardly a strong enough argument for an


expensive undertaking. The project has caught the imagination of the


people of South Down. The prospect of this great connector has given


people hope for economic prosperity. Two other projects will be


harnessed to create an economic boost in our east border region.


Connecting the two historic areas allow an important cross-border


projects that will develop the entire region's tourism potential


by facilitating access to a spectacular area of mountain ranges,


shimmering locks and a coastline. This area has been deprived of


investment for too long. Considering the cost of the bridge


in terms of overall infrastructure spending, a bridge at Narrow Water


will provide a boost for the entire region. I will support this motion


and support the construction of the bridge, as long as it is not at the


expense of a sudden relief road, which offers huge benefits to Newry


and right across the South Down area. It will be very much for


tourism traffic. I would have serious concerns about the


infrastructure on the County Louth side of the bridge. Just checking


if the member has any idea of the figures as did the amount of


traffic it would carry per day? have no idea what level of cafe


there would be. But I am sure the minister will be happy to take my


honourable friend's intervention and question him on that. A bridge


is a huge symbol for humanity. Settlements have grown into


villages, into towns, Inter cities around 14 places and around the


bridges. Sir bridges are a proven stimulus to growth and development.


And building of this bridge will link Northern Ireland and the


Republic, and it can be seen as a local piece of infrastructure


linking County Down to County Louth. It will facilitate local people and


encourage good neighbourliness. It can also be seen as a valuable


piece of tourism infrastructure. Some of the members who spoke


probably no the economic appraisal better than I do. Actually, the


main reason given for this bridge is not the tourism potential. The


second most important reason given is not the tourist potential. And


indeed, the appraisal itself states that given that it is unlikely "in


our view that a large proportion of additional visitors will come to


the area specifically attributes will able to the existence of the


bridge". This is not an issue. For �1 million, you get a bridge. First


of all, the amount of money which will come from departments in


Northern Ireland is to �0.8 million. But more importantly, until this


project is completed, the risk of all of the cost of the bridge rests


with the executive in Northern Ireland. If this bridge is not


completed on time, the final bill will be in by June 2015, then we


lose all the money which is put into this project, because we will


have missed the European deadline. The final decision on this has not


been made. The DFB is the accountable department. Once a


decision is made by the programme's steering committee, which it was on


24th October, then all of the paperwork comes to the Department


of Finance and Personnel. All of the relevant documentation is


sorted. We will look at the costs, benefits, value for money and the


risk before we make a final decision. It is my job, once I have


received information, assessments by the officials, the professionals


within of my department, on all of the relevant documentation and


issues, to make up my mind. The one thing I can say, however, is that


no one has ever been able to accuse me of making up my mind on the


basis of whether I like who proposes that a motion or who


opposes a motion or where it comes from. Unlike ministers from both


Sinn Fein and the SDLP, I have not had my judgment called into


question by the courts, and I don't intend that to happen. For that


reason, I will not be making a pre- judgment on the issue today. I have


never had an application for any European money where there has been


the degree of political interest, political involvement, political


dabbling that there has been with this application.


The finance minister Sammy Wilson. And the proposal calling on the


department of finance to support the new bridge was passed. 85


members voted, 47 in favour and 38 against.


A question over funding for sports clubs in east Belfast prompted some


straight talking during questions to the culture, arts and leisure


Minister Caral Ni Chulin. But first, here is the minister answering a


question on the lasting legacy of the World Police and Fire Games.


The accommodation has been raised as a possibility that might cause


difficulty in delivering the Games. I would like to welcome the


information road shows beginning this week. Could I ask the minister,


does she think there are any lessons that can be taken from the


efforts to create a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympics and


Paralympic Games that can be applied to the World Police and


Fire Games? I do think there are lots of lessons we can learn,


particularly the more positive aspects. We have young ambassadors


who were involved in the Olympics and Paralympics. The Games Makers


and volunteers around those games, we had to translate that to the


World Police and Fire Games. The role of charities and under-


represented communities, as well as looking at accommodation, which


will be a big challenge. One idea that the City of London employed,


we can perhaps learn from. We need to look at the overall position of


where we are at in terms of enhancing the opportunities for the


World Police and Fire Games. The incident that happened in Belfast


last night does not add to the image of the friendliest games ever.


I am concerned that long-term unemployed and young people in


particular are given opportunities during the construction phase of


the stadia. That was part of the specification for the procurement.


I can give that comfort to the member. For a long time, we have


been hearing about long-term unemployed, among but I am talking


at least 12 months and beyond. In relation to the social causes that


are included in the procurement contract, in the Ravenhill contract,


we are looking to employ seven long-term unemployed people, to


have 5% of the workforce in apprenticeship schemes, to have two


student placements and produce five practical proposals put contract


which will develop social returns for that area. Poor of the


Department support of the IFA's idea of having a museum? The first


time I heard about this was on the radio the other morning, and I just


caught the tail-end of what was said. Within our museum family, we


do need a sports focus. We have a proud history, and it is not


reflected. Looking at the museum in Croke Park, it is a tourist


attraction that brings people into the stadia. It adds to the economy


and gives a history, reflecting the sport. That and so will come as a


shock. Within the last of months, not one penny of money has gone


into the East Belfast constituency. It is a very large constituency


which has a high number of sports clubs actively pursuing sports in


the area of. One can only question why that sudden drop-off has


happened over the last 12 months. Can I ask the minister what she


intends to do to reactivate the level of funding? I think you have


got a question there. May be the member did not hear the beginning


of the answer, so I will repeat it. No clubs in the East Belfast


constituency have applied for funding within the last 12 months.


I resent the implication that within the last 12 months, because


I am in the department, there is some sort of dip in sports


preparation in East Belfast. I wish the member would clarify their


position. I am happy to meet him and also meet groups in East


Belfast to hear what the sport needs are. But I will not tolerate


people making inferences because they had not applied for funding


rather than had not received funding.


A very firm Caral Ni Chulin. The Agriculture Minister Michel


O'Neill told the chamber this afternoon her that up to 8000 trees


have now been destroyed here in an effort to contain ash dieback.


During question time, she also revealed that there are now 16


separate outbreaks of the tree disease across Northern Ireland.


Our strategy for dealing with the disease requires surveillance off


likely sources of infection, detection and eradication of


diseased trees. Some councils have landfill facilities and have made


these available for burial of trees that need to be destroyed. One


council has been involved because trees were recently found on their


land. The council is working to destroy the trees. The chief


executive is compacting council chief executives when diseased


trees are found in that area to advise them of the finding, to


brief them of the actions that need to be taken and timber offer basic


biosecurity advice. Recreation officer has also play an important


part in the monitoring of trees and alerted department when they are


concerned about disease. In terms of current spread of the age of


disease, the position this morning was that there had been 16


confirmed outbreaks at recently planted at sites. The confirmed


outbreaks are in County Antrim, Derry, down and Tyrone. Again, as


of this morning, there were four separate sources, two of which were


planted out, all linked to imports from continental Europe. To date,


no cases have been confirmed on forested land. This disease is a


high priority for our department. Resources are being committed to


tracing the disease. In addition, we have surveillance under way and


are targeting 1000 sites. Our strategy going forward to eradicate


the disease will depend on the outcome of this violence and the


development of scientific advice. The Diamond Jubilee site was


established in County Antrim last year with the planting of some


60,000 trees in conjunction with the Department of Forestry. The


condition of the grant was that around 20,000 ash trees had to be


planted. Is it good practice to insist that such a high percentage


of single species tree in any project has a condition? I can't


speak about that case, but I can confirm that this strain of this


disease is different to what we have seen in Europe, which is why


there are particular problems with identifying the effective treatment.


The science is not there because this is a relatively new disease,


only found since 2011 in England. We are trying to develop the


science and treatments moving forward. At this stage, it is about


taking the new plants so that it never gets into the older plants.


But it is not because there was no Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As


the Minister said, England has covered this last year - has the


Minister engaged with parts of England and Wales where it's


affected? You know, the best practise is what they have been


doing to address this problem... can assure the member that it's my


priority to make sure we eradicate this disease. That's very much the


stage we're at in terms of eradicating the disease. We're very


much involved in surveillance and research. We'll look to everybody,


particularly to England because of the position they're currently now


in. We also look towards the south of Ireland, and we have very much


applied for this discerning approach when it comes to keeping


it out. That's important work. It's very important we engage


particularly as we develop the science. We don't want to reinvent


the wheel. We'll also use that method. We're working with DEFRA


and with the south. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I


thank the Minister for Her answers so far. Could the Minister answer


what steps she is taking to ensure that the four sources identified


for this disease in Northern Ireland are the only sources?


assure the member we're currently out surveilling. As I said, we


don't want to survey about a thousand site, which we want to


make sure there are no symptoms present. At this moment in time I


think we have been to over 200 sites, but there is like a trade


trace, if you like, so anything that's been imported from those


potential sites or those sites where there has been cases detected,


we're very much tracing that whole movement. The officials are


currently working through that process at the minute. We have


diverted a lot of staff to make sure they're on the ground doing


the inspections and getting as much information as possible.


The Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill. The controversial issue of


flying the Union flag over Belfast City Hall has dominated the news


headlines in recent days, and flags were also on the agenda at Stormont


today when members had an opportunity to ask questions about


the running of the Assembly. The arrangements, Mr Deputy Speaker,


for the flying of the Union flag from Government buildings in


Northern Ireland are set out in the flag's regulations, Northern


Ireland Order 3,000 as amended by the flag's regulation, Northern


Ireland amendment 2002. The Assembly Commission's policy is to


follow those regulations. The list of designated days of which the


member will be aware of on to these -- under these regulations is


regulated by OFMDFM each year. Generally, 15 days in total, and


it's not zuded by the -- decided by the Assembly Commission. The issue


the member has raised will be considered at the next Assembly


Commission meeting next week. Alastair for supplementary. Could I


ask the Commissioner to confirm that the flag's regulations of 2000


do not by law apply to this building, nor the designated days,


but rather by the choice of the Assembly Commission, who choose to


cruise them as the temp plait they follow. There is no compulsion on


the Commission to do that by law. It is their choice. Therefore, the


commission could change that policy, that the Commission has by its


voting measures a Unionist majority when it comes to voting, and is he


telling us that not a single member, including those who went through a


process of faexu anger about the absence of the flag on Ulster day...


The onset of devolved governments in Northern Ireland has decided to


implement the policy, and we shouldn't be any different from


that. I can confirm the member - picking up on his second point. In


my time on this Assembly Commission I have never had or received any


other requests to fly the flags on any other day. Could I ask Mr


Ramsey - given the disgraceful scenes outside City Hall yesterday


evening - THE SPEAKER: Order, please. That's


not a relevant question. Absolutely. Let me finish. Could I ask if the


Commission has considered establishing either a subcommittee


or an ad hoc committee to discuss the whole flags issue and perhaps


give a lead to other - the rest of the region? I certainly agree with


the member, certainly. The flags issue is a very emotive and


sensitive one and is one the Assembly Commission going forward


is always mindful of, and in those circumstances we will reflect and


will note members' concerns on that. We always are going forward try to


achieve the most consensus on any issue irrespective of how important


or how other members would see it as a priority. It is a case that I


don't feel it necessary at this stage for the Commission - because


they are mandated by the parties to represent each party on the


Assembly Commission, and I am sure in our discussions next week, and


specifically, on a formal request from a member of this House may


lead to some deliberations, may lead to some discussions, but at


the present time, I do believe the leadership has been taken by the


Assembly Commission by having a designated 15 days, which is


consistent with other policies in other public buildings across


Northern Ireland. The SDLP's Pat Ramsey. The problem


of abandoned roads need to be addressed. That's according to the


Regional Development Committee, and it wants the Minister, Danny


Kennedy, to urgently address the current backlog of unadopted roads


and sewers. The issue was debated in the chamber following an inquiry


into the problem. During the course of the inquiry, the Committee were


advised there were anywhere between 1,200 and 3,500 unadopted roads and


some 1,200 sewerage gains in backlog. DMD and AMA Water are


unable to quantify the precise numbers, something which the


committee believes to be a significant weakness in itself.


Recommendations to negate this weakness have been made. It was


also estimated that it would take some 300 million to bring roads up


to a standard sufficient to allow for adoption and somewhere in the


range of �41 million and �100 million to allow for adoption of


waste water schemes. As can be expected in today's economic


climate, it is extremely unlikely that these levels of inquestment


can be required from central Government. However, the committee


is not suggesting that actions cannot be taken to rectify this


significant problem, but rather, a coordinated effort by all sectors


involved in the process could see major improvements in the most


critical cases. The committee does not waste - prohibit recovery in


the construction industry. It has received sufficient evidence to


indicate that the level of bond coverage is currently insufficient


to cover remedial walks. That may be required to bring


infrastructures to a standard where they could be adopted. As someone


with a background in financial services, I am well aware costs of


bonds are based on the financial risk that the financial institution


granting the bond has to undertake. We seem in the past to have been


reluctant to enforce bonds. In my time as a councillor I find it


frustrating when attempting to push for a resolution the road service


seems to be reluctant to force the hand of the developer in relation


to the bond. For that reason I -- the department reviews a more


prompt reaction to calling on the bond. I feel a priority must be


given in relation to a prioritisation audit within each


council area. We must see this completed as quick as possible. We


must also see the basis of priority based on intervention implemented


as soon as funds become available. Time and time again each member


will know that they get their the run-around in terms of who is


responsible for a particular problem, and that needs to end. We


need to find a solution arising out of this report that puts an end to


that. The committee has made a very sensible recommendation that NOGA


coordinates and prioritises an audit to allow for the possibility


that unadopted roads and infrastructures causing risk to


public health and safety could be addressed by the department and/or


Northern Ireland Water. This is in my view a sensible way for us to


try and deal with the problems that already exist. The vast majority of


private street sites determined for adoption go through without the


need for additional intervention from my department. For example, in


the past five years, road service has adopted some 416 kilometres of


new roads and housing developments, and Northern Ireland Water has


adopted sewage schemes in 772 developments. That said, I do


recognise there are an increasing number of problem sites - in some


cases a consequence of the economic downturn, but I think in all cases


as a result of developers washing their hands of their


responsibilities, and I'm absolutely determined to tackle the


- these developers and that legacy. The primary responsibility for


providing new roads and sewers in housing developments lies with the


developer, and whilst I have no immediate plans to change the


private streets legislation, it doesn't follow that I would rule


out changes in the future to broaden the legislation. Developers


must have that clear warning in mind when meeting their obligations


under existing legislation. Roads Minister Danny Kennedy. And


I'm joined in the studio by the Alliance MLA, Stewart Dickson, who


sits on the Regional Development Committee. Your committee clearly


thinks this issue is a problem. How big a problem? Well, that in itself,


is a problem, Mark, because we estimate it's between 1200 and


maybe as many as 3,500 properties are affected across Northern


Ireland by the issue of unadopted roads and the consequences of that.


In fact, we have accepted an offer from and encouraged the Minister to


take up an offer from NOLGA, the Local Government Association, to


actually survey in the 26 councils across Northern Ireland to actually


get an accurate assessment of the number of properties affected.


the people who find themselves caught in this trap, it's a very


difficult situation for them to deal with. Do you think we need


tougher legislation to actually sort the problem out, because the


Minister is not particularly keen, but he hasn't ruled it out in the


longer term? He hasn't. While it might be nice to contemplate a


complete package of legislation to deal with this problem, I think


there are things which the Minister can actually do with existing


legislation. For example, it's a little disappointing he hasn't


taken the opportunity with the current water bill to include


Northern Ireland Water in the bonding arrangements, which they're


currently not in, so therefore a property could actually have been


built and not have a proper water supply delivered to it, and if the


building goes - builder goes out of business or something else happens,


the householder is left without a proper water supply. Briefly, there


are bonds in place... There are. Why can't they be used more


effectively? The bonds are in place primarily for the road, but they're


not necessarily in place for water, and they are at the end of the day


an insurance-based policy, and the builder has to take out the bond.


The insurance company has the pay up. I can't let you go without


asking you about the flags issue. It was raised here, as we have


heard, in Stormont today. This evening, if anything, the situation


seems to be getting a little bit more hot and heavy. Yes, that's


very disappointing. It's particularly disappointing that


alliance people seem to be getting the brunt of this in terms of what


is going on. After all, Belfast city council is actually only doing


what the DUP and others have agreed to do in Lisburn city council.


people need to take a step back? Absolutely. Thank you very much for


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.