05/02/2013 Stormont Today


05/02/2013

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 on the programme: The

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Health Minister moves to reassure the public following the latest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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meat prompted an urgent oral question to Edwin Poots this

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

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

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Food Standards Agency and district councils. Investigations are under

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

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

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investigation because of possible legal proceedings. The FSA has said

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

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concerns regarding DNA horsemeat within Northern Ireland? And can

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the minister reassure the house everything has been done by his

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department to make sure the authenticity of meat products

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coming through Northern Ireland are properly certified? The FSA was

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informed that samples taken by the Republic of Ireland Department of

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

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

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

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

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

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labelling and information put forward to the public and a matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ministers here at Stormont? Reputation is everything in terms

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

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

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agriculture minister has asked the agency to enhance its inspections

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

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

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agriculture committee heard a briefing from the Department of

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Agriculture officials, interesting to hear the chairman of the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ulster Unionist representatives decided to task officials to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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a Sinn Fein representative who said they are questioning whether the

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

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

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

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

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

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social networking sites better regulated by the law. When children

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

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

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

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networking sides which has created a space for those who perpetrate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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website. If to be able to democratise communication and

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

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people irrespective of any type of restriction is indeed a very

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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in an illegal form and their members of this house where

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prosecutions have been brought because it has overstepped the line

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and it is in that respect better regulation I support because

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

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which it is used by individuals of whatever particular grievances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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taking their own lives after a sickening and horrible messages are

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

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

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

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

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

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on the work already underway at both Westminster and Stormont.

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internet and social networking is a wonderful tool and the digital

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revolution is as important as all the period of technological change

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

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

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

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

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

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issue which categorises some of these challenges into content Hahn,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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arts and leisure committee are looking at education and safe use

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

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investigation into the constituency around child protection. The

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

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sharing information and learning, but society is rapidly changing in

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

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

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

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much more accessible through tablets and smartphones and with

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

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internet, and therein lies potential dangers including

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grooming and access to an appropriate content as well as the

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

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

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

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

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making parents, teachers and careers aware of the signs and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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advocates prioritising which aspects refocus resources upon and

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suggests a curriculum is built around this with regards to online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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no position to control their children's internet access because

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

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

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

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

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

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unanimous support. Jim Gamble, the former Chief

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Cxecutive of CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection

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

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

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They know very little about the internet and social networking

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

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within their gift to support parents more effectively. I have

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

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

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schools, children themselves and parents that allows you to create

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

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

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

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protecting their children online? You give the children a homework

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

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

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privacy settings or terms or conditions on a social networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The content they create by sexting images or pornographic material

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

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

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

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empowered to work with their children. Is your message to

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

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

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

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

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

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There was discussion last night about the ramifications of the

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National Crime Agency not getting the green light to operate in

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

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

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

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to protect our children because Child Exploitation and Online

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

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the field. We supported education inititives and provided information

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to local police and local child protection teams so they could

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

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

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accessing National Crime Agency services here in Northern Ireland.

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

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of the world? Absolutely. Local accountability and local

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information delivered to local protection teams. That is how you

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

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

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

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maximise organ donation rates. During a visit to Belfast City

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

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

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That means people will automatically give their consent to

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donating their organs unless they specifically say otherwise.

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

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

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the member that the recent NHS blood and transplant activity date

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for Northern Ireland indicates that transplants for Northern Ireland

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residents have increased in recent years whilst the number of people

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

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

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

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

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

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established the Northern Ireland Committee for organ donation and

:21:18.:21:24.

transplantation which is made up of commissioners, clinicians, NHS

:21:24.:21:27.

representatives and the voluntary sector to ensure the momentum of

:21:27.:21:31.

progress in the field of organ donation is maintained and built

:21:31.:21:37.

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

:21:37.:21:40.

with the other health UK administrations in the development

:21:40.:21:46.

of a new UK organ donation and transplantation strategy designed

:21:46.:21:52.

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

:21:52.:22:00.

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

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

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

:22:09.:22:14.

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

:22:14.:22:19.

donor families and those on waiting lists and the health service

:22:19.:22:24.

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

:22:24.:22:27.

Minister, First Minister and Deputy First Minister recognised this

:22:27.:22:30.

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

:22:30.:22:35.

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

:22:35.:22:39.

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

:22:39.:22:43.

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

:22:43.:22:48.

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

:22:48.:22:54.

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

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

:22:59.:23:04.

relatives is actually one of the longest surviving donor transplants

:23:04.:23:09.

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

:23:10.:23:15.

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

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

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

:23:24.:23:30.

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

:23:30.:23:33.

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

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successful scheme given the numbers of people potential participants

:23:38.:23:44.

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

:23:44.:23:47.

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

:23:48.:23:52.

time. We have been having conversations with our Welsh

:23:52.:23:58.

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

:23:58.:24:04.

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

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

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

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opt-out scheme with a strong educational emphasis will actually

:24:20.:24:23.

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

:24:23.:24:27.

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

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

:24:30.:24:35.

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

:24:35.:24:40.

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

:24:40.:24:44.

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

:24:45.:24:48.

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

:24:48.:24:54.

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

:24:54.:24:57.

back by others. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots.

:24:57.:25:00.

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

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Speaker after he managed to get through an impressive 15 questions

:25:03.:25:05.

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

:25:05.:25:09.

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

:25:09.:25:12.

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

:25:12.:25:16.

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

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take effect. Expenditure on criminal legal aid has reduced from

:25:20.:25:27.

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

:25:27.:25:32.

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

:25:33.:25:35.

increase, contributing to the shortfall in legal aid allocation

:25:36.:25:40.

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

:25:41.:25:49.

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

:25:49.:25:54.

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

:25:54.:25:58.

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

:25:58.:26:06.

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

:26:06.:26:12.

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

:26:12.:26:16.

in strapped economic climate, and there are inevitable job losses

:26:16.:26:20.

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

:26:20.:26:26.

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

:26:26.:26:32.

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

:26:32.:26:36.

talks about substantive proposals there are a number of substantive

:26:36.:26:39.

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

:26:39.:26:43.

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

:26:43.:26:49.

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

:26:49.:26:52.

given the very significant increase under anticipated in year, I

:26:52.:26:57.

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

:26:57.:27:02.

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

:27:02.:27:06.

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

:27:06.:27:09.

made to tackle criminal legal aid have resulted in reduced

:27:09.:27:12.

expenditure. With the support of the justice committee and the

:27:12.:27:15.

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

:27:15.:27:21.

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

:27:21.:27:26.

backlog of payments to practitioners and, in consequence,

:27:26.:27:29.

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

:27:30.:27:36.

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

:27:37.:27:43.

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

:27:43.:27:48.

late payment commercial debt facilities? Are those obtainable

:27:48.:27:54.

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

:27:54.:27:58.

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

:27:58.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:08.

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

:28:08.:28:11.

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

:28:11.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:19.

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

:28:19.:28:24.

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

:28:24.:28:28.

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

:28:28.:28:32.

necessarily have any justified case for seeking additional payments.

:28:32.:28:36.

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

:28:36.:28:40.

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

:28:40.:28:41.

call at Parliament Buildings this afternoon.

:28:41.:28:45.

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

:28:45.:28:47.

stir when he arrived in the Great Hall.

:28:47.:28:50.

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

:28:50.:28:53.

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

:28:53.:29:01.

visit organised by Invest NI. Smiles all round.

:29:01.:29:03.

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

:29:03.:29:06.

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.