05/02/2013 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 on the programme: The


Health Minister moves to reassure the public following the latest


horse meat controversy. Those who work there have no safety concerns


at the moment, this is more a matter of labelling and information


being put forward to the public. MLAs pledge to do more to tackle


those using social networks to spread hatred. I have been told to


go home on Twitter when I was actually sitting at home. I have


been told I have a foreign accent when I am in Ireland. And a man


who's dealt with issues of internet safety and exploitation - Jim


Gamble - joins me in the studio. The latest controversy over horse


meat prompted an urgent oral question to Edwin Poots this


afternoon. Speaking in his role as Public Safety Minister, Mr Poots


stressed there is no risk to human health. This is a matter for the


Food Standards Agency and district councils. Investigations are under


way in regard to product stored which tested positive for horse DNA.


I am not in a position to provide further details in relation to this


investigation because of possible legal proceedings. The FSA has said


this is not a food safety issue. When will the FSA alert him to the


concerns regarding DNA horsemeat within Northern Ireland? And can


the minister reassure the house everything has been done by his


department to make sure the authenticity of meat products


coming through Northern Ireland are properly certified? The FSA was


informed that samples taken by the Republic of Ireland Department of


Agriculture showed levels of equine DNA up to 75%. On fourth February,


the FSA received samples. Of 12 samples taken, two tested positive


for equine DNA. What is absolutely clear here and what must be made


clear to the public that the standards who work in the FSA have


no food safety concerns that this point. It is more a matter of


labelling and information put forward to the public and a matter


of consumer confidence, but this is not a food safety issue. While it


might not be an issue for food safety, is there any implications


for public health? Can I appeal to the minister and to the relevant


authorities to try to get as much information out as quickly as


possible so we can alleviate people's fears? For at this minute


there are no issues of concern for public health. Horsemeat is


commonly used in other parts of Europe, however if people buy a


beefburger they expect a beefburger. If it contains horsemeat and it


says so, people can make their choices. The Public Safety Minister,


Edwin Poots. I'm joined now by our Political Correspondent, Martina


Purdy. First of all, how seriously is this issue being taken by


Ministers here at Stormont? Reputation is everything in terms


of the food industry and it is being taken very seriously. The


First Minister today said he wanted the police to investigate. The


agriculture minister has asked the agency to enhance its inspections


and has moved to reassure everyone that home-grown food in Northern


Ireland, local beef is very safe to eat, and there is traceability. The


agriculture committee heard a briefing from the Department of


Agriculture officials, interesting to hear the chairman of the


committee saying he sees this as a legacy of supermarkets driving down


food prices and that debate main run and run. There have also been


developments this evening on the flags issue at Stormont. What can


you tell us about that? There will be a review of the flying of the


Union flag and the number of days it flies. It flies on designated


days, around 15, but the issue erupted over the decision to


curtail the number of days to fly the flag. The Assembly commission


this evening, nationalists did not attend, but the alliance, DUP and


Ulster Unionist representatives decided to task officials to


consult about options for flying the Union flag. They will report


back in three months, not just about options for how many days the


flag should be flown. Also how the public consultation might be


handled. So what is the nationalist view of this? They are boycotting


that body and today Sinn Fein asked for a motion to be tabled with a


view to setting up an ad hoc committee to deal with flags,


emblems and language. There was knocked back and tonight I spoke to


a Sinn Fein representative who said they are questioning whether the


decision is valid. We will have to wait and see how this turns out but


the DUP say there is progress being made and they are looking forward


to the report. Thank you. The dark side of the


internet was one of the themes of the day here on the hill. There


were two motions on the topic, the first expressing a desire to see


social networking sites better regulated by the law. When children


go out of their house, the parents want to know where they are going,


who will be with them, and who they are meeting. We need to view the


internet in much the same way. Hate crime is another aspect of social


networking sides which has created a space for those who perpetrate


hatred and violence attacks feeling they can do so with impunity.


would he care to comment on the fact that Sinn Fein website there


is now appeared deep excerpt "Boycott's all orange owned


businesses". Does she take the view that is an attempt to direct people


to discriminate in their business practices, and then its own way a


propagation of hatred? A as far as I am aware, that is not a Sinn Fein


website. If to be able to democratise communication and


remove barriers for free speech, to allow people to interact with other


people irrespective of any type of restriction is indeed a very


beautiful Thing, but with that right comes a responsibility to do


so in a respectful way and in a manner which is consistent with the


values and standards of modern society. I have been told to go


home on Twitter when I was actually sitting at home. I have been told I


have a foreign accent when I am in Ireland. One well known commentator


who rides for a well-known newspaper said on his Facebook page


that my whole party were a bunch of... The word can't be repeated in


this house. Is that for me? Acceptable? Is it smart? Mr


Humphrey seems to think so. You do think so? That is sad. Everyone in


this house, Facebook and Twitter has been used to describe us in


derogatory terms and I support people's right to be able to


express themselves. I do not support for social media to be used


in an illegal form and their members of this house where


prosecutions have been brought because it has overstepped the line


and it is in that respect better regulation I support because


undoubtedly Facebook is slow in my review to respond to the way in


which it is used by individuals of whatever particular grievances.


There have been slow to respond and there forums have been used to


Inside violence. I have come under serious abuse on the social


networking field, and somewhat from other MLAs in this chamber. I know


we are in the cut and thrust of politics, but it is not always the


most appropriate talk. The platform has been created on which abusive,


threatening the use can be easily voiced to individuals and groups.


Recently we have seen a mixture of what can be described as legal and


illegal activities in social media in Northern Ireland, whipping up a


frenzy of hatred and mistrust. We have heard stories about people


taking their own lives after a sickening and horrible messages are


left on their social media pages. The Alliance Party's Stewart


Dickson. Now staying on a similar theme, the First and Deputy First


Ministers have agreed to take the lead on a strategy to help children


enjoy the internet safely. A cross- party motion asked the Assembly to


recognise the dangers the internet can pose to children and to build


on the work already underway at both Westminster and Stormont.


internet and social networking is a wonderful tool and the digital


revolution is as important as all the period of technological change


in our history. We can't imagine life without Facebook, Twitter, e-


mail, the internet and the way it enriches lives and are so much part


of day-to-day life, but the internet and social media has a


more sinister side and there are risks to young people in the online


world. I am indebted to the NSPCC for the briefing paper on this


issue which categorises some of these challenges into content Hahn,


things Basie, conduct issues - of the way they behave, and contact


harm - people they may meet. I am one of those mothers who refuses to


allow her children to have a Facebook profile, yet 88% of people


use Facebook just five to minimum age of 18. It is often the case


that young people know more about how to work online than parents do,


yet parents need to be responsible and find out more about how to


protect young people and provide help and guidance. The culture,


arts and leisure committee are looking at education and safe use


of the internet for young people and parents. That is part of our


investigation into the constituency around child protection. The


internet is an amazing tool for everyone and it is really for


sharing information and learning, but society is rapidly changing in


terms of how many people socialise and many in this chamber used


Facebook and Twitter, but there are also other social platforms such as


Google Plus, YouTube, and many others. The internet is becoming


much more accessible through tablets and smartphones and with


the introduction of 3G. This is for the benefit of a faster and broader


internet, and therein lies potential dangers including


grooming and access to an appropriate content as well as the


risks of self generation of images. This can have a devastating effect


on a child in his or her development. The common message I


hear on this issue is that we need to be talking to children with a


very clear message on internet safety and we need to have been


making parents, teachers and careers aware of the signs and


symptoms of cyber bullying. For the many children who benefit from


internet use, there are those who are subjected to horrific examples


of cyber bullying and exploitation. The approach should be one which


empowers parents and carers to be able to engage with confidence with


the new medium. Taking schools as an example, there is a general


consensus from those I have spoken to that we need to be providing


more education on the responsible use of the technology. Jim Gamble


advocates prioritising which aspects refocus resources upon and


suggests a curriculum is built around this with regards to online


conduct, content and contact. Does a child, parent and Karen know the


answers to questions such as how to block online, have to support a


friend, have to report to were responsible adult, how to report to


He is spaeging to the prism of someone who is younger than most


parents. As a parent myself when this issue first arose that the


vast majority of over 50 this is a complete nightmare. Parents are in


no position to control their children's internet access because


they don't have the scientific or knowledge to do so. Therefore, it's


uncouple bent upon society to place restrictions at a general level so


parents aren't being forced into this situation where they have to


take on something they haven't a clue to do anything with.


The DUP's Jim Wells. The motion was passed with


unanimous support. Jim Gamble, the former Chief


Cxecutive of CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection


Centre, is with me now. Time and again today MLAs made the point


that parents need to be stpobl for their children's online activities.


They know very little about the internet and social networking


sites. What is the answer to that conundrum? The Assembly has it


within their gift to support parents more effectively. I have


been talking to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister


about this issue. I believe it's the partnership between education,


schools, children themselves and parents that allows you to create


this cycle where homeworks over a period of time children and parents


learn together. You need to educate children about internet safety much


you also need to Keat parents about what to look out for in terms of


protecting their children online? You give the children a homework


that they are to deliver with their parent to explain something about


social media. To get feed back from the parent so that they understand


privacy settings or terms or conditions on a social networking


site. As you build the parental competence in this area, and that


moves on, you change the emphasis towards the parent sharing safety


information with the child. Jim We wills made the point that for


parents of a certain age this is a bit of a nightmare. It's a big


hurdle for lots of people to overcome? It is. Today is Safer


Internet Day we have to applaud the Assembly for taking time out to


give this the attention it deserves. On Safer Internet Day you hear


white noise and sometimes it turns into a photo opportunity. People


will hear about the risks. What is it that parents need to concentrate


on? Bullying. Bullying undermines the quality of life for children.


Children in this country and across the bored ver actually been bullied


to death -- boarder have actually been bullied to death. That is


everybody's business. You talk about the three Cs, conduct,


content and contact? Absolutely. How they treat other people online.


The content they create by sexting images or pornographic material


which is ill advised to do. Contact, people they will meet or go offline


to meet. Schools are ahead of the game. They focus on the three Cs we


have to put the detail into the hands of parents so they are


empowered to work with their children. Is your message to


parents is that they don't have a choice. They have to take it


seriously whether they want to or not? They can be a good parent or a


bad parent. To be a good parent you need to do what our parents did


many years ago, sitting down and talking with your child. Learning


the things that will have an impact on how safely they live their lives.


There was discussion last night about the ramifications of the


National Crime Agency not getting the green light to operate in


Northern Ireland. What are the implications as far as child abuse


online is concerned if that green light doesn't happen? I heard the


debate. I heard it stated if it doesn't happen we will not be able


to protect our children because Child Exploitation and Online


Protection Centre won't operate here. We never deployed officers in


the field. We supported education inititives and provided information


to local police and local child protection teams so they could


deliver local support and protection for kids. That hasn't


changed as far as I'm aware. They need political reconciliation about


accessing National Crime Agency services here in Northern Ireland.


Local is the key to understanding the protection we need in this part


of the world? Absolutely. Local accountability and local


information delivered to local protection teams. That is how you


do it best. That is what CEOP has always done well. Thank you very


much for joining us tonight. Earlier today, the Health Minister


announced he's bringing forward a public consultation on how best to


maximise organ donation rates. During a visit to Belfast City


Hospital with the First and Deputy First Ministers, Edwin Poots said


he wants to gauge opinion on moving to an opt-out scheme.


That means people will automatically give their consent to


donating their organs unless they specifically say otherwise.


Meantime, the issue of organ donation was also a hot topic


during this afternoon's health questions. I'm pleased to inform


the member that the recent NHS blood and transplant activity date


for Northern Ireland indicates that transplants for Northern Ireland


residents have increased in recent years whilst the number of people


on the active transplant waiting list is falling. It is note worthy


that 30% of the Northern Ireland population have now added their


name to the organ donor register. This is a huge achievement, I


recognise that more needs to be done as there are still around 200


people actively waiting for an organ transplant. In June 2012 I


established the Northern Ireland Committee for organ donation and


transplantation which is made up of commissioners, clinicians, NHS


representatives and the voluntary sector to ensure the momentum of


progress in the field of organ donation is maintained and built


upon. My department has also been working with NHS BT in conjunction


with the other health UK administrations in the development


of a new UK organ donation and transplantation strategy designed


to build upon the momentum of the original organ donor task force. I


suspect to have a draft within the next few weeks. As there is a


strange -- as there is sustained interest in the introduction of an


opt-out system I'm proposing a public survey oned a tuets towards


an opt-out system and the views of the transplant-related charities,


donor families and those on waiting lists and the health service


community will be sought. Can I welcome the fact that the Health


Minister, First Minister and Deputy First Minister recognised this


morning, conveniently enough, the need for change. As the Minister


will be aware I'm bringing a private members bill to this House


and today is a very personal day for me as its the fouth anniversary


of my son's transplant. Does the Minister support the broad policy


intent of my Bill and that a soft opt-out system is the best solution


to help save lives here in Northern Ireland? Willing, this isn't


something that my interest has been aroused in recently. One of my


relatives is actually one of the longest surviving donor transplants


in Northern Ireland. Last year, my best man's sister was buried


because she didn't get a liver transplant early enough. And, these


are all things that we have grave concerns about. That is why


whenever David Cameron came to visit here, the only time he came


to visit here, that I raised the UK of the -- interest of the UK


introducing a scheme right across the UK. That would be the most


successful scheme given the numbers of people potential participants


across the UK. I further raised it with the Health Minister in England


and he indicated that they weren't prepared to move forward at that


time. We have been having conversations with our Welsh


counterparts on how to move this forward. Indeed, we have been


pursuing the issue in recent days. In all of that, I believe that we


can continue to drive organ donation upwards. I do believe that


an opt-out scheme can help to maximise that. I believe that an


opt-out scheme with a strong educational emphasis will actually


fully maximise the number of organ donation that is we will actually


have in Northern Ireland. Maybe the minister could tell us what


developments he had with the rest of Britain and also with Dublin in


terms if there is some way in which we can create greater efficiencies


in matching donors? In terms of deseized donors we are at 30%,


higher than any other part of the UK. We are not satisfied with being


the best in the UK. We want to be Bert and continue to drive this up.


We will work closely with others. We won't allow ourselves to be held


back by others. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots.


The Justice Minister, David Ford, got a pat on the back from the


Speaker after he managed to get through an impressive 15 questions


in his session today. Among the issues raised, a funding


shortfall in the civil legal aid budget. Deputy Speaker the main


course of the legal aid funding pressure relates to civil legal aid


as the changes I have made to criminal legal aid are beginning to


take effect. Expenditure on criminal legal aid has reduced from


�60 million in 2009/10 and is further forecast to reduce to �35


million by 2014/15. Civil legal aid expenditure has continued to


increase, contributing to the shortfall in legal aid allocation


for this year. Prior to devolution net expenditure on civil legal aid


increased from �11.4 million in 199/2000 to �36 million and has


continued to rise to �53.3 million in 2012. This underlines the


importance of the civil legal aid reforms I'm bringing forward. With


regard to the 2012/13 pressure a budget cover has been provided to


cover the shortfall. We are working to identify further funding. We are


in strapped economic climate, and there are inevitable job losses


likely in relation to, I wanted to ask the minister when does he hope


that he will be able to bring forward proposals in order to


alleviate future problems? Well, I appreciate the point. When she


talks about substantive proposals there are a number of substantive


proposals underway at the moment to deal with the issue of civil legal


aid expenditure. As far as this year is concerned, we, at this


point, have effectively ensured 94% of the anticipated costs which


given the very significant increase under anticipated in year, I


believe shows good work being done by my officials. There is more work


to be done. The substantive issue is to tackle the cost of civil


legal aid. We have shown over the last two years that the efforts


made to tackle criminal legal aid have resulted in reduced


expenditure. With the support of the justice committee and the


Assembly I believe we will be able to ensure we also tackle the civil


side. Could I ask the minister, there has been a substantial


backlog of payments to practitioners and, in consequence,


the legal services commission have advised that some of that will not


be cleared up until the new financial year on check runs which


begin then. Can I ask the minister, will legal aid then be subject to


late payment commercial debt facilities? Are those obtainable


from the legal aid services in respect of late payments? Will that


add to the cost? He declares a former interest which shows she


better informed on the mechanics on receiving legal aid than I am. The


reality is that I have highlighted having on taind �16 million against


an unforeseen pressure of �22 million, there will be a very small


sum of money not paid. I'm also well aware of the fact that in many


cases lawyers do not submit their bills for legal aid for some months


and some occasions some years after the event. I'm not sure if lawyers


have their parents delayed by a matter of a week or two they would


necessarily have any justified case for seeking additional payments.


The Justice Minister, David Ford. Now, just before we go, we thought


we'd let you know about a visitor who dropped in to pay a courtesy


call at Parliament Buildings this afternoon.


The President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq caused a bit of a


stir when he arrived in the Great Hall.


His Excellency Masoud Barzani was met by the Speaker, Willie Hay, and


the Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster, as part of a two-day


visit organised by Invest NI. Smiles all round.


Well, that's all the excitement for this evening.


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.