04/12/2012 Stormont Today


04/12/2012

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


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up, building bridges, not

:00:26.:00:30.

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

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

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

:00:42.:00:45.

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

:00:45.:00:49.

from the Sports Minister during Question Time. I resent the

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

:00:53.:00:57.

department, there has been some sort of dip.

:00:57.:01:01.

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

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

:01:09.:01:14.

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

:01:14.:01:17.

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

:01:17.:01:22.

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

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within days of the funding announcement, the First Minister

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Peter Robinson said he wants an investigation into the decision.

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Today amid differing views and significant unionist opposition, an

:01:34.:01:37.

SDLP motion called for the department of finance to back the

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

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

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

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genuine cross-border project providing the first bridge linking

:01:56.:02:02.

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

:02:02.:02:08.

level and on every conceivable measure of community benefit.

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

:02:16.:02:19.

rush-hour beating objective in terms of improving infrastructure.

:02:19.:02:23.

Any publicity surrounding the bridge has focused only on tourism,

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yet tourism alone is hardly a strong enough argument for an

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expensive undertaking. The project has caught the imagination of the

:02:32.:02:38.

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

:02:38.:02:43.

people hope for economic prosperity. Two other projects will be

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

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Connecting the two historic areas allow an important cross-border

:02:54.:02:57.

projects that will develop the entire region's tourism potential

:02:57.:03:01.

by facilitating access to a spectacular area of mountain ranges,

:03:01.:03:07.

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

:03:07.:03:10.

investment for too long. Considering the cost of the bridge

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

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

:03:20.:03:26.

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

:03:26.:03:35.

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

:03:35.:03:40.

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

:03:40.:03:45.

tourism traffic. I would have serious concerns about the

:03:45.:03:48.

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

:03:48.:03:53.

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

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

:04:02.:04:07.

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

:04:07.:04:11.

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

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is a huge symbol for humanity. Settlements have grown into

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

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

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And building of this bridge will link Northern Ireland and the

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

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

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

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piece of tourism infrastructure. Some of the members who spoke

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

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

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

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

:05:19.:05:24.

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

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the area specifically attributes will able to the existence of the

:05:28.:05:34.

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

:05:34.:05:38.

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

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

:05:44.:05:51.

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

:05:51.:05:54.

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

:05:54.:06:03.

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

:06:03.:06:10.

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

:06:10.:06:13.

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

:06:13.:06:19.

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

:06:19.:06:25.

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

:06:25.:06:30.

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

:06:30.:06:34.

of Finance and Personnel. All of the relevant documentation is

:06:34.:06:40.

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

:06:40.:06:45.

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

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received information, assessments by the officials, the professionals

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

:06:54.:07:02.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the degree of political interest, political involvement, political

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dabbling that there has been with this application.

:07:55.:07:59.

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

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

:08:03.:08:07.

members voted, 47 in favour and 38 against.

:08:08.:08:11.

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

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straight talking during questions to the culture, arts and leisure

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

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

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The accommodation has been raised as a possibility that might cause

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

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

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

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efforts to create a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympics and

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Paralympic Games that can be applied to the World Police and

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

:08:53.:08:56.

particularly the more positive aspects. We have young ambassadors

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

:09:03.:09:07.

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

:09:07.:09:10.

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

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represented communities, as well as looking at accommodation, which

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

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

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

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

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

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

:09:52.:09:55.

particular are given opportunities during the construction phase of

:09:55.:10:03.

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

:10:03.:10:09.

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

:10:09.:10:15.

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

:10:15.:10:21.

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

:10:22.:10:27.

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

:10:27.:10:33.

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

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

:10:36.:10:41.

student placements and produce five practical proposals put contract

:10:41.:10:45.

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

:10:45.:10:51.

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

:10:51.:10:55.

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

:10:55.:11:00.

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

:11:00.:11:10.

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

:11:10.:11:14.

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

:11:14.:11:22.

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

:11:22.:11:31.

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

:11:31.:11:36.

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

:11:36.:11:42.

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

:11:42.:11:47.

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

:11:47.:11:52.

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

:11:53.:11:57.

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

:11:57.:12:02.

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

:12:02.:12:05.

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

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

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constituency have applied for funding within the last 12 months.

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

:12:21.:12:25.

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

:12:25.:12:28.

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

:12:29.:12:34.

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

:12:34.:12:38.

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

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people making inferences because they had not applied for funding

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rather than had not received funding.

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A very firm Caral Ni Chulin. The Agriculture Minister Michel

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

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

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

:12:59.:13:02.

separate outbreaks of the tree disease across Northern Ireland.

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Our strategy for dealing with the disease requires surveillance off

:13:07.:13:10.

likely sources of infection, detection and eradication of

:13:10.:13:14.

diseased trees. Some councils have landfill facilities and have made

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

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council has been involved because trees were recently found on their

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

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executive is compacting council chief executives when diseased

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

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

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biosecurity advice. Recreation officer has also play an important

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

:13:48.:13:53.

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

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

:13:56.:14:06.

confirmed outbreaks at recently planted at sites. The confirmed

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

:14:15.:14:19.

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

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

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

:14:29.:14:35.

high priority for our department. Resources are being committed to

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

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are targeting 1000 sites. Our strategy going forward to eradicate

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

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development of scientific advice. The Diamond Jubilee site was

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established in County Antrim last year with the planting of some

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

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

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

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

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

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

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there are particular problems with identifying the effective treatment.

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

:15:32.:15:38.

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

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

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

:15:48.:15:58.
:15:58.:15:59.

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

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

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

:16:09.:16:14.

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

:16:14.:16:18.

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

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

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

:16:25.:16:29.

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

:16:29.:16:32.

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

:16:32.:16:38.

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

:16:38.:16:41.

applied for this discerning approach when it comes to keeping

:16:41.:16:46.

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

:16:46.:16:49.

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

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

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

:16:59.:17:04.

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

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

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for this disease in Northern Ireland are the only sources?

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

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

:17:23.:17:27.

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

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

:17:30.:17:35.

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

:17:35.:17:38.

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

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

:17:42.:17:45.

currently working through that process at the minute. We have

:17:45.:17:51.

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

:17:51.:17:53.

the inspections and getting as much information as possible.

:17:53.:17:55.

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

:17:55.:17:58.

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

:17:58.:18:01.

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

:18:01.:18:04.

today when members had an opportunity to ask questions about

:18:04.:18:09.

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

:18:09.:18:12.

for the flying of the Union flag from Government buildings in

:18:12.:18:18.

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

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

:18:23.:18:28.

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

:18:28.:18:32.

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

:18:32.:18:37.

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

:18:37.:18:42.

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

:18:42.:18:52.
:18:52.:18:52.

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

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the member has raised will be considered at the next Assembly

:18:56.:19:01.

Commission meeting next week. Alastair for supplementary. Could I

:19:01.:19:05.

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

:19:05.:19:11.

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

:19:11.:19:16.

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

:19:16.:19:20.

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

:19:20.:19:24.

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

:19:24.:19:29.

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

:19:29.:19:34.

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

:19:34.:19:40.

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

:19:40.:19:50.
:19:50.:19:57.

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

:19:57.:20:00.

The onset of devolved governments in Northern Ireland has decided to

:20:00.:20:05.

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

:20:05.:20:08.

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

:20:08.:20:12.

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

:20:12.:20:22.
:20:22.:20:24.

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

:20:24.:20:29.

Ramsey - given the disgraceful scenes outside City Hall yesterday

:20:29.:20:32.

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

:20:32.:20:37.

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

:20:37.:20:41.

Commission has considered establishing either a subcommittee

:20:41.:20:46.

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

:20:46.:20:51.

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

:20:51.:20:54.

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

:20:54.:20:58.

sensitive one and is one the Assembly Commission going forward

:20:58.:21:01.

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

:21:02.:21:08.

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

:21:08.:21:14.

achieve the most consensus on any issue irrespective of how important

:21:14.:21:18.

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

:21:18.:21:21.

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

:21:21.:21:24.

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

:21:24.:21:28.

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

:21:28.:21:33.

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

:21:33.:21:37.

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

:21:37.:21:41.

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

:21:41.:21:45.

Assembly Commission by having a designated 15 days, which is

:21:45.:21:48.

consistent with other policies in other public buildings across

:21:48.:21:50.

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

:21:51.:21:53.

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

:21:53.:21:55.

Regional Development Committee, and it wants the Minister, Danny

:21:56.:21:58.

Kennedy, to urgently address the current backlog of unadopted roads

:21:58.:22:01.

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

:22:01.:22:09.

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

:22:10.:22:17.

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

:22:17.:22:23.

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

:22:23.:22:26.

unable to quantify the precise numbers, something which the

:22:26.:22:29.

committee believes to be a significant weakness in itself.

:22:29.:22:33.

Recommendations to negate this weakness have been made. It was

:22:33.:22:38.

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

:22:38.:22:41.

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

:22:42.:22:49.

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

:22:49.:22:53.

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

:22:53.:22:57.

climate, it is extremely unlikely that these levels of inquestment

:22:57.:23:00.

can be required from central Government. However, the committee

:23:00.:23:06.

is not suggesting that actions cannot be taken to rectify this

:23:06.:23:10.

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

:23:10.:23:14.

involved in the process could see major improvements in the most

:23:14.:23:20.

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

:23:20.:23:23.

the construction industry. It has received sufficient evidence to

:23:23.:23:28.

indicate that the level of bond coverage is currently insufficient

:23:28.:23:32.

to cover remedial walks. That may be required to bring

:23:32.:23:36.

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

:23:36.:23:40.

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

:23:40.:23:45.

bonds are based on the financial risk that the financial institution

:23:45.:23:50.

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

:23:50.:23:54.

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

:23:54.:23:58.

frustrating when attempting to push for a resolution the road service

:23:58.:24:02.

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

:24:02.:24:10.

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

:24:10.:24:15.

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

:24:15.:24:18.

given in relation to a prioritisation audit within each

:24:18.:24:21.

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

:24:21.:24:26.

must also see the basis of priority based on intervention implemented

:24:26.:24:30.

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

:24:30.:24:34.

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

:24:34.:24:38.

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

:24:38.:24:44.

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

:24:44.:24:49.

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

:24:49.:24:53.

coordinates and prioritises an audit to allow for the possibility

:24:53.:24:56.

that unadopted roads and infrastructures causing risk to

:24:56.:25:00.

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

:25:00.:25:04.

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

:25:04.:25:08.

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

:25:08.:25:13.

private street sites determined for adoption go through without the

:25:13.:25:16.

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

:25:16.:25:22.

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

:25:22.:25:27.

new roads and housing developments, and Northern Ireland Water has

:25:27.:25:31.

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

:25:31.:25:38.

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

:25:38.:25:41.

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

:25:41.:25:47.

as a result of developers washing their hands of their

:25:47.:25:51.

responsibilities, and I'm absolutely determined to tackle the

:25:51.:25:57.

- these developers and that legacy. The primary responsibility for

:25:57.:26:04.

providing new roads and sewers in housing developments lies with the

:26:04.:26:08.

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

:26:08.:26:12.

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

:26:12.:26:17.

out changes in the future to broaden the legislation. Developers

:26:17.:26:21.

must have that clear warning in mind when meeting their obligations

:26:21.:26:28.

under existing legislation. Roads Minister Danny Kennedy. And

:26:28.:26:31.

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

:26:31.:26:33.

sits on the Regional Development Committee. Your committee clearly

:26:33.:26:37.

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

:26:37.:26:42.

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

:26:42.:26:47.

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

:26:48.:26:51.

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

:26:51.:26:58.

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

:26:58.:27:02.

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

:27:02.:27:07.

actually survey in the 26 councils across Northern Ireland to actually

:27:07.:27:10.

get an accurate assessment of the number of properties affected.

:27:10.:27:13.

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

:27:13.:27:17.

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

:27:17.:27:19.

tougher legislation to actually sort the problem out, because the

:27:19.:27:24.

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

:27:24.:27:28.

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

:27:28.:27:30.

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

:27:30.:27:34.

there are things which the Minister can actually do with existing

:27:34.:27:37.

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

:27:37.:27:40.

taken the opportunity with the current water bill to include

:27:40.:27:43.

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

:27:43.:27:46.

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

:27:46.:27:52.

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

:27:52.:27:55.

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

:27:55.:27:59.

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

:27:59.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:07.

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

:28:07.:28:11.

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

:28:11.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:19.

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

:28:19.:28:22.

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

:28:22.:28:26.

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

:28:26.:28:29.

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

:28:29.:28:36.

very disappointing. It's particularly disappointing that

:28:36.:28:40.

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

:28:40.:28:44.

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

:28:45.:28:49.

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

:28:49.:28:53.

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

:28:53.:28:55.

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.