05/11/2013 Stormont Today


05/11/2013

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 in the programme: Sinn

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Fein and its president come under attack once again, this time from

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the Health Minister. Clearly, the party opposite me, the party that

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brought this forward, are more interested in covering up for their

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paedophile protecting president than they are in serving the needs of the

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community. But Edwin Poots was also under

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pressure as MLAs passed a motion criticising his ban on some gay men

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giving blood. And you can dress it up and you can

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dance around it, at the end of the day this is discrimination against

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our communities. And to look over today's stormy

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session, I'm joined by the journalist Steven McCaffery.

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It was a bit like Groundhog Day in the chamber this morning. Like

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yesterday, the alleged past of the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams,

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was under scrutiny during a statement from the Health Minister

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on the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation. The Health Minister

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and indeed the Justice Minister made it clear that any form of child

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abuse should be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately.

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In that respect, how concerned is the minister that yesterday the

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Deputy First Minister compromised that message by defending Gerry

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Adams in that who clearly failed to report the abuse of his niece to the

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appropriate authorities and in educating not just politicians, what

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steps can be taken to educate the parents and the public about the

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risks associated with child sexual exploitation?

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Well, Mr Speaker, I am somewhat struck yesterday by the views

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expressed by the recently retired chief public prosecutor in GB who

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indicated that those who failed to report child abuse should be

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prosecuted for such activity if the law should allow that. I think we

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should all reflect on that and I think that it is wrong for people

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not to report child abuse. I think it is one of the most obscene things

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that anybody can do and I think those people who have failed to do

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it have to live with their conscience. I also think the PSNI

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and the Public Prosecution Service need to ensure that nobody is above

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the law otherwise the law is diminished in the eyes of the

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people. Could I ask the minister whether he thinks the term of

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reference which says, "Make recommendations on the future

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actions required to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation."

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Whether he thinks that term of reference is adequate to permit a

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recommendation that as Mr Starmer suggested, failure to report child

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sex abuse should be made a criminal offence. Is that term of reference

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adequate and if it is not, will the minister look further at that

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particular term of reference? Well, in terms of withholding information

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or wrongdoing, I believe and the member will know this because he

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practised for many years, I believe that people were prosecuted under

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that legislation so I don't accept perhaps what some in the PSNI seem

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to think that withholding information and child abuse is

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something that's untested because in actual fact withholding information

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on criminal activity has been tested and that people have been found

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guilty of doing that. So I think it is essential that the police and the

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prosecution service don't give any sucker to people who withhold

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information. The minister returned to his attack on Gerry Adams during

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his response to a Sinn Fein motion debating a ban on sexually active

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gay men donating blood. Isn't it remarkable when the public

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are talking about issues other than gay blood such as the disappeared,

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such as the court case involving the cover-up of sex abuse and involving

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the leader of the party that brought this motion forward, we are

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discussing what? An issue about MSM blood, about blood where we have

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53,000 units used per year and where we have imported 73 units over this

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past three years. Is this the big issue of today that this House

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should be talking about? I don't think so. The party that brought

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this forward are more interested in covering up for their paedophile

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protecting president than they are in serving the needs of the

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community. Mr Speaker... THE SPEAKER: Order. Order. I ask

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that the minister withdraw that comment, please.

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THE SPEAKER: Order. Order. I would remind all members and especially

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the minister to be careful of his language in the House. Certainly,

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there is a standard of debate that everybody expects in this House,

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even from ministers. I accept the ruling of the Speaker and there is a

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standard in life that people expect and when people are aware of

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paedophile activities taking a place they should report tr and the leader

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of Sinn Fein, the president was aware and he believed it and he

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didn't report it. So don't come with me seeking withdrawals, you will not

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be getting any withdrawal from me on this issue.

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A robust response to Caitriona Ruane from the Health Minister, Edwin

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Poots. The journalist, Steven McCaffery, is with me now. Two

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really big issues dominating the agenda up here today. It divided

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along dwo lines didn't it, it was Sinn Fein versus the DUP? The

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exchange that we just saw in the last clip showed that Edwin Poots

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was genuinely angry and I thought he appeared upset during part of his

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delivery on the debate around blood. Attack was the best form of defence.

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Later in the exchanges when he somewhat retreated into criticisms

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of the courts and of the way in which politics and modern sout

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generally -- Societe Generally treats people with Christian views.

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Did you get a sense just watching proceedings as you did today, that

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Edwin Poots was in a sense trying to direct the spotlight away from his

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particular problems? Yes, I think the party had decided they weren't

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going to vote on the issue of blood donation and they anticipated a

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fierce attack from the parties and they were very much on the defensive

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and while part of the debate centred on the science of this, when it

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drifted into matters of religion and criticism of the courts, it took the

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debate into territory that made it more difficult for the minister.

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That did seem to be the tactic, but it seemed to come off the rails

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somewhat as time went on. Sinn Fein had that opportunity for

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some revenge when the motion calling on the minister to lift his ban on

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some gay men donating blood was debated? Yes. I thought the

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contribution that struck hardest from that side of the House was John

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McAllister. When he asked people when they talk about issues of gay

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rights, this can have a negative impact on young, gay men who feel

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difficult about their own identity. His contribution was very powerful

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as well. Do you remember an occasion where

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there was as much high emotion as we saw today in the chamber? No. I

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think it is not noticeable, not in recent times except when the parties

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were debating issues around the past and the legacy of the troubles. I

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think it clashes with what is happening outside Stormont where the

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two large parties are trying, it seems, to build as positive as

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possible an atmosphere around the Haass talks. It was very pointed,

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yes. We will talk to you later. For now,

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Stephen, thank you very much. The Health Minister was quick to

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attack Gerry Adams today, but he was also on the receiving end of

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criticism himself, a motion urging Edwin Poots to lift a ban on gay men

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who have been sexually inactive for a year. A decision in the High

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Court, not only found that the minister had acted irrationally, but

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also found that he had acted without lawful authority. And was therefore

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in breach of the Ministerial Code. In respect of a sensitive and very

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highly important issue. Those actions Mr Speaker, have caused much

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controversy and continue to cause much concern and have attracted a

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great deal of public concern and legitimate public interest. The

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assembly, Mr Speaker, in my view must now hold the minister to

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account. We have to reflect the fact that Northern Ireland cannot survive

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as a standard alone unit for the provision of blood. There are so

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many different blood types. There are also many different blood

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products which could cause difficulties and shortages

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particularly if there was an emergency as happened from time to

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time when blood supplies do have to be received in Northern Ireland from

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other parts of the United Kingdom and as reflected in the court

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judgement, it has been deemed to be irrational to have different

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standards applying to this part of the United Kingdom than other parts

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of the United Kingdom. The minister's case becomes preposterous

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when we take Northern Ireland's position in the UK into account in

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this unilateral ban in Northern Ireland when we receive blood from

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the rest of GB has no rational basis and indeed, just as Tracey described

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the minister's position as irrational. The decision in the UK

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has been taken based on the best sound available scientific evidence,

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but I would contend the minister's decision has been based on neither

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evidence nor reason. Right-wing religious fervour takes precedence

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over the needs of our community and it strikes me there is a crusade

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around some of this stuff. It doesn't really matter if you are a

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straight person, how promiscuous you want to be, you can sleep with 100

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people, but it is all right if your blood, it is all right for us to

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take your blood, but if you are a gay person and you are in a loving

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relationship for 20 years with one other partner, then we don't want

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your blood. It is quite clear to me that the minister was right to

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contest this case. He didn't bring this case. Mr Agnew talks about

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wasting funds. The minister didn't bring this case. This case was

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brought as a challenge which the minister quite properly and

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defended, it would be a dereliction of his duty not to defend it and

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would be entitled to challenge it further. I was asked the question by

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a BBC journalist when I was in the department for environment, was I

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fit to be a minister and be a Christian? What a shameful

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despicable question particularly when there is people in this

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Government who have been engaged in terrorism, who have been convicted

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of terrorist activities and it is all right for them to be in

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Government, but if you embrace Christian values, you shouldn't be

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there was the substance of the question and there is a continual

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battering of Christian principles and I would have to say shame on the

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courts for going down the route of constantly attacking it Christian

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principles, Christian ethics, Christian morals, what this society

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was based on and give us a good foundation. This isn't just about a

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ban on blood donations from gay men. What this this is about, the

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pattern, the pattern of discrimination. And discrim nattry

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actions and you can dress it up and you can dance around it at the end

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of the day, this is discrimination against our LGB and T communities

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and that's what it is. Whether we are talking about equal marriage,

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whether we are talking about the ban on blood donations, or whether we

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are talking about adoption. Caitriona Ruane. I'm joined now by

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the chair of the Health Committee, Maeve McLaughlin. Are you demanding

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the resignation of the Health Minister, Edwin Poots? It has been a

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good day in terms of the unification of a number of parties across the

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assembly. Clearly, against discrimination against one section

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of our community namely the gay community. So in that sense I think

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it has been a powerful statement. What the motion called for was

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clearly the minister to call for the ban to be lifted and if he can't do

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so then he should step aside. Well, he clearly isn't going to

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change his policy on this and it doesn't sound like he is going to

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step aside which is why I'm asking you, are you calling for him to go?

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Is this just a meaningless motion debated today? No, it is not

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meaningless at all. I think that what we found over the last numb of

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months -- number of months has been a process and pattern whereby the

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minister ended up through processes like this, which resulted in legal

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action which in this case he has been deemed to be both irrational

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and in breach of his Ministerial Code. So obviously this was not a

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waste of time. It was not ill thought out. It was an important

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motion and in my view clearly, the minister has a piece of work to do

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in relation to this issue and it is about installing public confidence

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around particularly that section of our community. Clearly, it is

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obvious for everybody to see that Edwin Poots believes he was neither

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irrational nor in breach of the Ministerial Code. You may like him

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to go, that maybe the substance of the motion passed today in the

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chamber. There is not much you can do about it, is there? I am aware

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and wouldn't be naive to say that decisions around ministerial

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appointments are decisions for parties, but the party has a

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responsibility in relation to ensuring and assuring that the

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minister does not breach the Ministerial Code and does not act

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irrationally and does not, I suppose, discriminate or bring his

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own personal prejudice which is an opinion and wide opinion that is out

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there into play. We had plenty of sound and fury, but no substantive

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debate about this significant and emotive issue, do you accept that? I

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think there was a lot of debate, Mark, around this issue. There was a

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lot of science brought to the debate today, but this is an issue about

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equality and this is an issue also about, I suppose, the use of public

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funding. Increasingly, we see this issue of, you know, we see the

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Health Service for example in turmoil in a lot of sectors within

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it. We see the issue around residential care and domicillary

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care waiting lists and we have a pattern where issues are taken

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through high courts which is a waste of public funding.

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In the meantime after all that, the Health Minister was critical of our

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party leader. He talked about Sinn Fein also more interested in

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covering up for your president protecting president to quote him,

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rather than serving the needs of the community. Did he have a point?

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Well, I think anybody looking at that with a reasonable head on their

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shoulders wouldn't have been surprised at the just as Tracey. I

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think what he has to do and I suppose on our behalf certainly Sinn

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Fein will be looking very closely at the ut transcript in relation to

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coming to a decision around the next steps. His behaviour today was not

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ministerial and was not professional.

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Briefly, Mr Adams continues to feel the heat as well after last night's

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programme in which it was alleged that he ordered the diace perns of

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Jean -- disappearance of Jean McConville. Well, our party made

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this clear and clearly, have made a very vocal public call that anybody

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with information, any shred of information should bring that

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forward to the relevant authorities. Maeve McLaughlin, thank you.

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The consultation may be over, but it hasn't gone away, you know. The

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Common Funding Formula, that is, and it was firmly on the agenda during

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today's questions to the Education Minister. The fact that -- th

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require more resources to tackle the challenges. I have been accused by

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some of taking a money off schools to give to other schools. However,

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no schools annual budget is confirmed and until it is done so by

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my department and therefore, the moneys I plan to use are not from

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any particular school's. I have found that throughout this

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consultation that speaking to educationalists and speaking to

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pupils, speaking to principals and speaking to parents, speaking to

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people interested in social justice that they approach me in a rational

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manner and they put across their point of view in a rational

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considered manner. Some agree with my proposals, some do not. On behalf

:19:32.:19:38.

of the SDLP, they are going to challenge. Social deprivation is the

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biggest indicator of a child's out John Majors. A school with high

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levels needs more funding. It needs to relate to information that is

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personal to the pupil's family circumstances. That information

:20:07.:20:09.

needs to be capable of independent validation. It needs to be

:20:10.:20:14.

up-to-date. It needs to be capable of being updated on an annual basis

:20:15.:20:18.

and needs to be easily gathered at school level. Free school meal

:20:19.:20:24.

entitlement is the only reliable method. The view of the independent

:20:25.:20:29.

review panel was that free school meal entitlement provides an

:20:30.:20:32.

indication of the concentration of disadvantaged pupils in a given

:20:33.:20:36.

school in a way that no other indicator does. Additionally,

:20:37.:20:42.

analysis shows a strong correlation between the entitlement to free

:20:43.:20:51.

school meals and the deprivation measures. I have received no

:20:52.:21:00.

suggestions that suggest alternative methods. After all the shouting that

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takes place, can the minister confirm if any other political party

:21:04.:21:06.

in this House have presented him with any other option other than

:21:07.:21:26.

free school meals? None have yet presented me with an option in

:21:27.:21:33.

relation to this. THE SPEAKER: Order, pleads. None of

:21:34.:21:38.

political parties presented me with an alternative to free school meals.

:21:39.:22:01.

The Education Minister, John O'Dowd. The Health Minister has appointed

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Professor Kathleen Marshall to lead the Inquiry into Child Sexual

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Exploitation. Edwin Poots revealed his decision to hold an inquiry in

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September following the arrests of more than 30 people in a major

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investigation into the sexual exploitation of children and young

:22:15.:22:17.

people. The professor has a long distinguished career as a practising

:22:18.:22:20.

and academic lawyer, she is a former commissioner for children and young

:22:21.:22:25.

people in Scotland. She is part of a team which undertook the youth

:22:26.:22:29.

justice review in Northern Ireland. She chaired a statutory inquiry into

:22:30.:22:34.

child abuse into children's homes in Edinburgh which resulted in a

:22:35.:22:39.

published report. The professor will lead an inquiry board which will

:22:40.:22:47.

include the chief executives and the criminal justice inspectorate. I am

:22:48.:22:52.

confident that we will secure the involvement of the education and

:22:53.:22:55.

training inspectorate with the a Igreement of -- agreement of the

:22:56.:22:58.

minister. I have emphasised the need to ensure the views of children and

:22:59.:23:03.

young people are considered and given due weight. I met with

:23:04.:23:12.

Professor Marshal yesterday. As agreed with Professor Marshal the

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committee will agree to establish arrangements af measures to tackle

:23:29.:23:34.

child sexual exploitation. The inquiry will not focus on the

:23:35.:23:39.

responses to the 22 children who are part of the ongoing police

:23:40.:23:42.

investigation known as Operation Owl. This will be the focus of a

:23:43.:23:51.

separate review being untaken. Available learning generated from

:23:52.:23:55.

this review will be taken into account by the inquiry. The temples

:23:56.:24:01.

of reference reflected this is a wider issue affecting children in a

:24:02.:24:05.

variety of circumstances. Not just those in the care system and I

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expect the inquiry to conclude before the end of 2014. Where

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learning is identified, it is essential it is shared and acted

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upon quickly. I want to ensure we prevent further sexual exploitation

:24:21.:24:23.

of children and young people in Northern Ireland. The Minister for

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Employment and Learning also faced questions today and he was asked

:24:29.:24:31.

about students from Northern Ireland getting into universities in the

:24:32.:24:36.

Republic. But first Stephen Farry spoke about the difference between

:24:37.:24:39.

the mimimum wage and the working wage. The minister will be aware of

:24:40.:24:43.

the topical debate around the minimum wage versus the living wage

:24:44.:24:47.

as is today. Could the minister confirm how many companies in

:24:48.:24:53.

Northern Ireland being aided by his department are paying the living

:24:54.:25:00.

wage? Well, I can't give him a comprehensive answer on that

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particular point today. I imagine there maybe difficulties in getting

:25:05.:25:10.

that information. We do pay the minimum wage in relation to

:25:11.:25:15.

apprenticeships support and that's a reflection of the situation that

:25:16.:25:20.

pertains in the wider market. Overall, I think it is important

:25:21.:25:24.

that we are realistic around all of this. The minimum wage is set at a

:25:25.:25:30.

UK wide level. It has been increased. There is a case for

:25:31.:25:34.

making further adjustments upwards in terms of the minimum wage. In

:25:35.:25:40.

terms of the living wage, if we were to come in and to argue for art fish

:25:41.:25:46.

ally setting a wage level in excess of where the appropriate level would

:25:47.:25:51.

be for the national minimum wage, there could be unforeseen

:25:52.:25:54.

circumstances where we are denying opportunities for employment or

:25:55.:26:01.

indeed, for creating opportunities for skills or apprenticeship

:26:02.:26:04.

opportunities. It is something we need to take a balanced approach to.

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But it is not something that's a matter for this assembly, it is a

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matter to be addressed at a UK level too. Can the minister update us with

:26:14.:26:18.

discussions he had with the admissions offices with regard to

:26:19.:26:23.

the portability of A-levels for entry into courses at southern

:26:24.:26:27.

universities? I am very much aware of those particular issues, but the

:26:28.:26:32.

member's colleague, the Minister for Education is leading in terms of

:26:33.:26:37.

those discussions. The particular difficulty that seems to exist is

:26:38.:26:42.

that the central admissions office is rather autonomous from the Irish

:26:43.:26:47.

Government. The arguments have been won in terms of Rory Quinn and his

:26:48.:26:54.

colleagues, but it is getting the system to be more responsive, but

:26:55.:27:01.

the representations continue from John O'Dowd and I am more than happy

:27:02.:27:07.

to support him in that regard. Steven McCaffery joins me again. A

:27:08.:27:15.

busy and bad tempered day at Stormont, but as we saw, there was a

:27:16.:27:20.

significant appointment made. Professor Kathleen Marshall has a

:27:21.:27:24.

lot in her in tray? It is a huge issue and a major announcement by

:27:25.:27:28.

Edwin Poots on what was a busy day for him. I thought one unfortunate

:27:29.:27:32.

fly in the ointment was that the Education Minister as we saw when he

:27:33.:27:38.

took questions today, he was unaware of the announcement and said he

:27:39.:27:43.

learnt of it in the media. It is a pity there wasn't that element of

:27:44.:27:47.

joined up Government. It is a major issue and there will be a lot of

:27:48.:27:50.

support for her and her work, but she faces a huge task.

:27:51.:27:53.

It will be interesting to see how that unfolds in the weeks a months

:27:54.:27:57.

ahead and it will be interesting to hear from her when she speaks about

:27:58.:28:01.

that appointment for the first time. One other issue today, we can't not

:28:02.:28:05.

mention this evening, we had a motion passed calling for the

:28:06.:28:17.

assembly to fund the rescue of the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry. Is

:28:18.:28:22.

that realistic? It seems an innocuous issue. One that might

:28:23.:28:26.

attract political backing and one that is important to the local

:28:27.:28:30.

economy there, but you know, it just seems that people are scared off by

:28:31.:28:34.

the financial impact of keeping the project on. I visited it. I brought

:28:35.:28:39.

my four-year-old daughter and she enjoyed it, but it sounds like

:28:40.:28:44.

others might not get that chance. Thank you very much indeed.

:28:45.:28:48.

That's it for tonight. Do make a point of joining me for The View on

:28:49.:28:52.

Thursday night at 10.35pm on BBC One. Until then, from everyone in

:28:53.:28:54.

the team, bye-bye.

:28:55.:28:59.

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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