05/11/2012 Stormont Today


05/11/2012

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. United in their condemnation, MLAs

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speak out following last week's murder of prison officer David

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Black. Every sane person in the land believes that those who

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carried out the killing are hate- filled deviants who should be

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locked up for life. The SDLP and Sinn Fein face

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criticism for their treatment of a DUP councillor in Dungannon.

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agree Mr Brush is a hero but he is also a victim.

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And our Political Correspondent, Gareth Gordon, joins me with his

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analysis of those stories and more. As an expression of support for the

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murdered prison officer, David Black, Assembly Members observed a

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minute's silence in the Chamber. The 52-year-old was shot dead on

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the M1 motorway in County Armagh on Thursday as he drove to work at

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Maghaberry Prison. Mr Black was the first prison officer to be murdered

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in Northern Ireland in almost 20 years.

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The First Minister, Peter Robinson, who led tributes in the Assembly,

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described the death as a "cowardly murder of a brave public servant".

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I visited Mrs Black and her family at their home in Cookstown and I

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have to say that as I held her in my arms, listening to her sobbing,

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I couldn't help but sense the utter futility of that assassination.

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Here was a family completely devastated, a family that would

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never be the same again, a family that will feel the pain and loss

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for the rest of their lives. What had been gained? This Assembly and

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the Executive will not fall or collapse, far from it. We are

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united in condemnation and reinforced in our determination to

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create a stable and peaceful society. The murder won't bring any

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changes to the prison regime at Maghaberry and every sane person in

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the land believes that those who carried out the killing are odious,

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hate-filled deviants and psychopaths who should be locked up

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for life. Most of all, let us send to the family our prayers and our

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love, our expression of resolve that those who murdered David will

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never win and we will give complete support in hunting down and

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convicting those who are responsible. I believe this was an

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utterly pointless death of David Black. It will resolve nothing

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either within the prisons or in wider society. It is not part of

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any strategy or campaign. All that has happened is that a family have

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been plunged into grief, the people responsible are those who act as

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their political spokespersons need to explain themselves to our

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communities. Time and again when these factions carry out violent

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acts we get complete silence. From those who at other times are only

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too willing to come on to the airwaves and attack the political

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process. It is patently obvious that the peace process will not be

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derailed by killings like this. It hasn't in the past and it won't in

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the future. I was very conscious last Thursday morning as I stood

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and named David to the media that it was just a few minutes after his

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own children had been told that their father had been murdered and

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their lives had been turned upside- down. Let us remember today the

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David's wife, son, daughter, parents and sister. They are in the

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prayers of this entire community. I hope they will take comfort from

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that knowledge and from the utter revulsion which David's murder has

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been greeted universally. 14 years our arms have been open offering an

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inclusive process for all. Why was David Black denied the chance to go

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to work? On whose authority? Not mine. Not the people of Northern

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Ireland. Not the people of the Republic of Ireland. It is chilling

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to the blood to try to understand the mentality of those who sat down

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and planned and then executed this murder. And like members of this

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House, I too have listened to people speculate on the sort of

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person who carried it out. We can have that debate all day long and

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get nowhere. Are they psychopaths, but let us not allow this murder

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was the result of someone or some people with some form of mental

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illness, they chose to do what they did. In doing this, they also chose

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to reject the offer of inclusion that has been theirs for 14 years.

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In foul murder achieved nothing, those who perpetrated the murder

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and those who planned it have by their own hand in many ways

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excluded themselves from any role in our future. Any role in the

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political processes and the political progress. They stand

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condemned by all, all within Northern Ireland, all across the

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island of Ireland, they stand condemned today and every day.

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say this murder was futile. But we also have to face the fact that

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this dastardly murder was following in a well-set tempit that you

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create discord and difficulty and protest inside the prison and then

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you begin to murder outside the prison the Prison Officers. Where

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did we see that before? Many, many times, indeed 29 previous Prison

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Officers butchered. Look at those who perpetrated previous Prison

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Officer and police murders and they conclude, sadly correctly, that it

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worked for them and the structures of this House are testimony to that

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sad, hideous reality that these structures are built upon the

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reward of terrorism, the buy-off of terrorism.

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The TUV's Jim Allister. Well, following the murder of David

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Black, the issue of security for prison officers was discussed by

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Assembly Members in the form of an urgent oral question by the DUP's

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Paul Givan. Here's the Justice Minister, David Ford. The safety

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and personal security of prison staff is a high priority and is of

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course kept under constant review. Following the murder of Prison

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Officer David Black last week, the Prison Service management responded

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immediately to remind staff of the need for vigilance and re-issued

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guidance on personal security. Prison Service triggered an urgent

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review of security and the Director-General has issued further

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advice to staff on the assessed threat level and reminding staff of

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the range of personal security measures which are available to

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them. The Minister will know that this is a very serious matter, a

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matter of concern that has been raised before the tragic murder of

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David Black that officers felt their security concerns were not

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being treated seriously. Can the Minister assure me that in

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discussions that he will have with the Northern Ireland Office that

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the home protection scheme that they provide will be provided to

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those officers that need it and when ever installed, that they will

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be maintained because officers have informed me that they are not

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maintained and they are told it is their own responsibility to

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maintain those schemes. Does the Minister not agree that is a

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completely deplorable position to be in, something that needs to be

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reviewed and people take the lead on assuring that Prison Officers'

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security concerns will be addressed and protection provided to them?

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The issue of the home protection scheme is one which is managed by

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the Northern Ireland Office. I was certainly concerned to hear reports

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that Prison Officers had been told equipment was not maintained. As

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long as people remain within the Ambit of the scheme, the Northern

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Ireland Office maintains the equipment which has been provided

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by the NIO. I have already have a meeting agreed with the Minister of

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State responsible and I will be putting in the strongest possible

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terms my belief that there needs to be a proper assessment of the needs

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of Prison Officers and that where equipment is supplied, it must be

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maintained as long as the individuals remain within the terms

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of the scheme. I trust that will be responded to positively when I meet

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the Minister. Will the Minister give an update of the current

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threat assessment? I suspect members would not wish me to give

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the full detail, but I have had a number of discussions with the

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Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable since Thursday morning. I

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am expecting to meeting the Chief Constable tomorrow and I will

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ensure that anything which is required by the police service in

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terms of the work they have to carry out, which can be supplied by

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the Department, will be responded to positively. I have also had

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discussions with the Justice Minister in Dublin who has assured

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me the necessary support will also be provided and there will be other

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meetings with the Minister of State in the NIO so the matter is being

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treated extremely seriously. The Justice Minister, David Ford.

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Joining me now is our Political Correspondent, Gareth Gordon. We

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saw the assembly speak as one on the murder of David Black? That is

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not a surprise. We saw the First and Deputy First Minister standing

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side by side outside Stormont castle. They couldn't have

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condemned the murder in more stronger terms and today the first

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chance the Assembly has had to discuss David Black's murder since

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it happened. The only jarring note was one from Jim Allister who tried

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to link it with the Republican murders of the past. He said they

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were following a template laid down by the Provisional IRA. He doesn't

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believe the DUP should be in Government with people he regards

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as unrepentant terrorists. We saw massive cracks opening up this

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afternoon as members continued to debate the murder of a part-time

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UDR man in 1981? Yes, that was a man called Sammy Brush. In 2007, a

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man call Gerry McGeough, he was arrested coming out of a count

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centre in Omagh. Sammy Brush was inside the centre at the time as

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well, working with the DUP/DB colleagues. In 2011, Gerry McGeough

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was sentenced to 20 years in prisonment for attempting to murder

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Mr Brush. He's only served two years. To bring it to the present

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day, in Dungannon District Council, Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors

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backed a motion calling for Gerry McGeough's immediate release. That

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was in front of Mr Brush. Today, the DUP brought a motion before the

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Assembly calling for the support without qualification for Mr Brush

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and expressing revulsion at those who it said sided with would-be

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murderers and Mr Brush was in the gallery to watch the debate and the

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tone could hard I will have been different from the earlier remarks

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about David Black. Thanks for now, Gareth.

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Let's stay with that debate which saw the SDLP and Sinn Fein the

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target of significant unionist anger. The fact that Gerry

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McGeough's victim, Sammy Brush, was at that council meeting in his role

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as a DUP representative was highlighted today by his party

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leader, Peter Robinson. The Sinn Fein leader of Dungannon Council

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claimed that Gerry McGeough was being detained due to his political

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beliefs. Seemingly ignorant of the fact that he is being detained

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because he was convicted of the attempted murder of Sammy Brush. I

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was disappointed by the comments of the leader of the SDLP who said

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Gerry McGeough has been victimised by the system, there is a degree of

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victimisation of prisoners and we don't like it. So it is Gerry

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McGeough who because he has been detained for two Christmases that

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is being victimised and not Sammy Brush who, if Gerry McGeough had

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got his way would have missed the last 30 Christmases. Today we have

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heard as well of a protest in Belfast organised by Sinn Fein to

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have the release of Mr Pardraic Wilson. When are these people going

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to accept the rule of law? Mr Brush is a hero, but he is also a victim.

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And his family are victims. And don't for anybody please try to

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tell me that Jerry ma gaffe -- Gerry McGeough is a victim because

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:15:04.:15:05.

to me he is not. I would ask members where is the evidence of an

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unbiased application of the rule of law? Where are the cases involving

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members of the British Army who were involved in murder as we saw

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on Bloody Sunday? Where is the evidence of those and the RUC or in

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the UDR who colluded with Unionist death squads? The SDLP has never

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sided with would-be murderers or with murderers. The SDLP has always

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taken the position that we will apply the principles of justice to

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any case and in the case of Gerry McGeough, we believe that there are

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complex legal issues that should be addressed. Now, I notice Mr Elliot

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is no longer here. He spoke about the rule of law. He challenged Sinn

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Fein about standing up today and saying in our opinion he should be

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released from prison. This sort of idea, this sort of concept that the

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rule of law can't be challenged, that is wrong. The rule of law can

:16:14.:16:24.
:16:24.:16:24.

be abused and we have seen it being abused. It is not a complex issue,

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Mr Speaker. This is the most straightforward case I think that I

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have ever seen. It is whether you stand - I will give way.

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certainly is complex. And both at first instance and in the Court of

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Appeal it took several days to thrash out these issues. For the

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member to say that this is an ongoing matter, and we feel the

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SDLP must stand at the side of justice. Give some leadership to

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your community. Give some leadership and tell them where you

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stand today in relation to Councillor Sammy Brush as opposed

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to standing with those who perpetrate murder and attempted

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murder. The DUP's Arlene Foster. And when

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it came to the vote the SDLP actually voted in favour of both

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the DUP motion and a UUP amendment reflecting support to ALL elected

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representatives who were targeted during the Troubles.

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Now, what have a former jail and a distillery got in common? Just one

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topic discussed during questions to the Deputy First Minister. But

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first here's Martin McGuinness answering a question on the

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forthcoming Irish Presidency of the EU. The First Minister and I have

:17:35.:17:38.

had useful discussions with the Irish government on the Irish

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presidency of the EU. The most recent being during our Plenary

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meeting in Armagh last Friday. We recognise that Ireland hosting the

:17:48.:17:53.

EU Presidency provides us with a unique opportunity to access

:17:53.:18:00.

policymakers and to ensure our views are heard. The Deputy First

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Minister has gone down paths in recent years that he probably

:18:02.:18:07.

thought he wouldn't go down some 30 or 40 years ago. Can he go down

:18:07.:18:11.

another path today and indicate that the next time he is talking to

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the Taoiseach he will indicate to him that the predecessor Taoiseach

:18:19.:18:23.

took the Republic down a path that we have no intention of going down

:18:23.:18:28.

in this country? I'm not sure if that is a question. The Minister

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can respond. I will treat it as a question. I think more than a

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Deputy First Minister has gone down paths that they thought they would

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never go down. It is not our job to admonish any previous

:18:46.:18:50.

administration in the South, or to take the present Taoiseach to task.

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Our job is to have a good positive working relationship. During the

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course of the meetings, we have developed a positive working

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relationship and we want to ensure that we continue to do that. I

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think a lot of lessons have to be learnt from the mistakes of the

:19:08.:19:13.

past, in many different ways. Quite clearly, the economic difficulties

:19:13.:19:20.

that afflict the South are very clear examples of how we need to

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ensure those mistakes are not repeated. We have got our own set

:19:26.:19:31.

of challenges and difficulties to face here. I think the Executive is

:19:31.:19:36.

facing into those difficulties in a way that ensures we can as quickly

:19:36.:19:41.

as possible move out of what is a very damaging double-dip recession.

:19:41.:19:44.

Our relationship with Europe is going to be very important. Our

:19:44.:19:46.

relationship with the Irish government is going to be very

:19:47.:19:50.

important and it is obvious from my initial answer that the Irish

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government are very well-disposed towards ensuring that we have more

:19:56.:20:03.

than a foothold in the dialogue and discussions that will ensue in due

:20:03.:20:07.

course. The regeneration of the jail is at a pivotal stage. The

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restoration of the jail has added to the regeneration proten shall of

:20:12.:20:16.

the site itself. This has been evidence through the commercial

:20:16.:20:23.

leasing of A-Wing to Belfast Distillery which is intended to be

:20:23.:20:33.
:20:33.:20:35.

a visitor centre, tasting room, restaurant and shop. We have also

:20:35.:20:41.

appointed Belfast Tourism Limited as the operator to run the visitor

:20:41.:20:45.

attraction and Conference Centre which will create up to 40 jobs and

:20:45.:20:55.
:20:55.:21:00.

attract an estimated 90,000 visitors per year. The development

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aim will be to maximise the economic, historic and

:21:04.:21:07.

reconciliation potential of the site. This is already under way

:21:07.:21:12.

through the confirmed relocation of the Royal Ulster Agricultural

:21:12.:21:19.

Society to the site in time for the 2013 agricultural show. There are

:21:19.:21:23.

great opportunities here for job s but we need to make sure that

:21:23.:21:28.

programmes are put in place, that those disadvantaged groups benefit

:21:28.:21:32.

from this and I am talking about long-term unemployed people and

:21:32.:21:38.

young people from disadvantaged areas. I absolutely agree 100% with

:21:38.:21:43.

the member. We are all very conscious, particularly in the

:21:43.:21:48.

context of what I think are very exciting developments around the

:21:48.:21:53.

Crumlin Road jail that those people who are going to take up residence

:21:53.:21:58.

there in terms of forming new businesses fully understand the

:21:58.:22:01.

importance of social clauses and fully understand they are working

:22:01.:22:07.

in an area of disadvantage. I think that affects the entire community

:22:07.:22:12.

in North Belfast. So, yes, the answer is that we are very focused

:22:12.:22:17.

on a need to ensure that when ever the job applications are made, that

:22:17.:22:22.

there is a focus on ensuring that people in the local community from

:22:22.:22:25.

disadvantaged backgrounds can gain employment there and as you can see

:22:25.:22:30.

from my answer, the potential at the site is tremendous. Initially,

:22:30.:22:34.

100 jobs, but that could rise to over 200 jobs over the course of

:22:34.:22:39.

the next number of years, so that's something that I think people in

:22:39.:22:42.

North Belfast will find very encouraging.

:22:42.:22:44.

The Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

:22:44.:22:46.

The difficulties faced by people with coeliac disease was discussed

:22:46.:22:49.

at Health Questions this afternoon, with the Minister, Edwin Poots,

:22:49.:22:51.

asked about the quantity of gluten- free food available on prescription.

:22:51.:22:54.

First, though, the recent controversy over the Fire Service

:22:54.:22:58.

was on the agenda again. The Minister was asked if action will

:22:58.:23:05.

be taken against those who received unauthorised bonuses. In terms of

:23:05.:23:12.

the individuals involved, I would clarify at the outset that no

:23:12.:23:18.

individuals awarded themselves pay rises, or indeed bonuses. That was

:23:18.:23:22.

done by others other than the individuals who were beneficiaries.

:23:22.:23:26.

The advice I have received up to this point is that no, you can't go

:23:26.:23:29.

after that because it becomes contract after a certain period.

:23:29.:23:34.

However, I am receiving conflicting advice and therefore taking further

:23:34.:23:41.

advice on this issue. There is a lot of concern around recent media

:23:41.:23:44.

stories around the Fire and Rescue Service and specifically around the

:23:44.:23:49.

bonuses. If we can highlight what role if any his department and at

:23:49.:23:52.

what level of officials were involved with the Fire Service

:23:52.:23:58.

during the time the bonuses were put? In terms of the bonuses, there

:23:58.:24:02.

was job evaluations that took place in August 2008 and the Fire and

:24:02.:24:06.

Rescue Service awarded its three non-uniform directors increases in

:24:07.:24:11.

their pay scales which was backdated to April 2007. That was

:24:11.:24:16.

done without referral to the Fire Service and rescue board. So when

:24:16.:24:21.

this was discovered the pay rises were stopped and internal audit

:24:21.:24:26.

investigation was carried out. The department does spend more time now

:24:26.:24:35.

with the NFIRS in terms of monitoring these issues. Will he

:24:35.:24:41.

take account of the small number of individuals who have a particularly

:24:41.:24:46.

high depen den seven on gluten-free products and they find that their

:24:46.:24:50.

requirement is in excess of the units that are stipulated and if

:24:50.:24:54.

the Minister could undertake to examine the very small number of

:24:54.:24:59.

people affected by that condition and review the number required?

:24:59.:25:06.

Well, certainly the numbers are small and in terms of the food that

:25:06.:25:10.

is offered, the gluten-free diet, we do provide people with support,

:25:10.:25:15.

particularly with the staple foods. Once it moves beyond staple food,

:25:15.:25:20.

it becomes a matter for the prescriber. We are very happy to

:25:20.:25:25.

look at these things. What research has been done through the

:25:25.:25:33.

department into the prescription issues? The prescriptions

:25:33.:25:37.

themselves, especially for the essentials, aren't adequate for the

:25:37.:25:42.

people, the amount of loaves given by prescription, and then people

:25:42.:25:49.

have to resort to actual buying of loaves. These loaves are �3 each

:25:49.:25:54.

for a small amount. What research or outreach has been done by his

:25:54.:25:59.

department to look into these matters? Subject to Executive

:25:59.:26:07.

approval, I would intend to issue a consultation on the potential of

:26:07.:26:12.

prescription charges. And in doing that, I would like to take account

:26:12.:26:20.

of people with this disease and look at the gluten-free situation

:26:20.:26:25.

that exists there. I should say that everybody has to buy food. So

:26:25.:26:33.

we will never account for 100% of the cost of food of people who have

:26:33.:26:36.

required gluten-free foods. There is an acknowledgement that people

:26:36.:26:43.

who require these foods are having to pay considerably more than those

:26:43.:26:50.

who are eating food containing gluten and therefore it is

:26:50.:27:00.
:27:00.:27:00.

incumbent upon us to lessen that as Farr as possible. -- as far as

:27:00.:27:02.

possible. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots.

:27:02.:27:12.
:27:12.:27:12.

Gareth Gordon is with me again. The same thing has happened over the

:27:12.:27:17.

decision to charge a senior Republican in relation to the

:27:17.:27:23.

murder of Robert McCartney in 2005? Yes, he was once an IRA leader

:27:23.:27:26.

inside the Maze Prison. He is regarded as having played a key

:27:26.:27:29.

role in the peace process. Last week, he appeared in court charged

:27:29.:27:34.

with three counts in relation to the notorious murder of Robert

:27:34.:27:38.

McCartney in 2005. Those charges include IRA membership and

:27:38.:27:45.

addressing an IRA meeting. Sinn Fein are now overstating it, they

:27:45.:27:49.

are incandescent with rage. They held a protest outside PSNI

:27:49.:27:53.

headquarters. They held a news conference at Stormont this morning

:27:53.:27:58.

as well. They say that the charges are politically-motivated and they

:27:58.:28:02.

demand Mr Wilson's immediate release. Unionists take a very

:28:02.:28:08.

opposite view. They have condemned Sinn Fein's stance. Even the SDLP

:28:08.:28:11.

say Sinn Fein are trying to influence the justice system. This

:28:11.:28:15.

one has a long way to run and I think it has the potential to cause

:28:15.:28:23.

a lot of trouble here. Tomorrow, it will be dominated by the funeral of

:28:23.:28:27.

David Black. The Deputy First Minister is not going to be there?

:28:27.:28:31.

Martin McGuinness has condemned the murder of Mr Black in the most

:28:31.:28:35.

forthright terms. But we learned this afternoon that he's not in

:28:35.:28:39.

fact welcome at the funeral in Cookstown tomorrow afternoon. A

:28:39.:28:45.

Sinn Fein source said he had been very willing to go to the family

:28:45.:28:50.

home and to the funeral service, but the Black family the not want

:28:50.: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.


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