05/11/2013 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up in the programme: Sinn


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


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


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


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


community. But Edwin Poots was also under


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


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


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


our communities. And to look over today's stormy


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


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


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


was under scrutiny during a statement from the Health Minister


on the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation. The Health Minister


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


abuse should be reported to the appropriate authorities immediately.


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


Deputy First Minister compromised that message by defending Gerry


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


appropriate authorities and in educating not just politicians, what


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


risks associated with child sexual exploitation?


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


expressed by the recently retired chief public prosecutor in GB who


indicated that those who failed to report child abuse should be


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


reference which says, "Make recommendations on the future


actions required to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation."


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


recommendation that as Mr Starmer suggested, failure to report child


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


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


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


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


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


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


to think that withholding information and child abuse is


something that's untested because in actual fact withholding information


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


this forward are more interested in covering up for their paedophile


protecting president than they are in serving the needs of the


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


that the minister withdraw that comment, please.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


be getting any withdrawal from me on this issue.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Later in the exchanges when he somewhat retreated into criticisms


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


generally -- Societe Generally treats people with Christian views.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


difficult about their own identity. His contribution was very powerful


as well. Do you remember an occasion where


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


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


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


think it clashes with what is happening outside Stormont where the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


controversy and continue to cause much concern and have attracted a


great deal of public concern and legitimate public interest. The


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


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


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


many different blood types. There are also many different blood


products which could cause difficulties and shortages


particularly if there was an emergency as happened from time to


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


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


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


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


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


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


this unilateral ban in Northern Ireland when we receive blood from


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


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


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


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


evidence nor reason. Right-wing religious fervour takes precedence


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


brought as a challenge which the minister quite properly and


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


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


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


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


despicable question particularly when there is people in this


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


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


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


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


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


courts for going down the route of constantly attacking it Christian


principles, Christian ethics, Christian morals, what this society


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


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


pattern, the pattern of discrimination. And discrim nattry


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


assembly. Clearly, against discrimination against one section


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


appointments are decisions for parties, but the party has a


responsibility in relation to ensuring and assuring that the


minister does not breach the Ministerial Code and does not act


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


it. We see the issue around residential care and domicillary


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


through high courts which is a waste of public funding.


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


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


covering up for your president protecting president to quote him,


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


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


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


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


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


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


ministerial and was not professional.


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


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


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


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


with information, any shred of information should bring that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


consultation that speaking to educationalists and speaking to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


personal to the pupil's family circumstances. That information


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


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


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


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


review panel was that free school meal entitlement provides an


indication of the concentration of disadvantaged pupils in a given


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


analysis shows a strong correlation between the entitlement to free


school meals and the deprivation measures. I have received no


suggestions that suggest alternative methods. After all the shouting that


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


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


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


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


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


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


Professor Kathleen Marshall to lead the Inquiry into Child Sexual


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


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


investigation into the sexual exploitation of children and young


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


confident that we will secure the involvement of the education and


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


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


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


Professor Marshal yesterday. As agreed with Professor Marshal the


committee will agree to establish arrangements af measures to tackle


child sexual exploitation. The inquiry will not focus on the


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


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


separate review being untaken. Available learning generated from


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Employment and Learning also faced questions today and he was asked


about students from Northern Ireland getting into universities in the


Republic. But first Stephen Farry spoke about the difference between


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


the topical debate around the minimum wage versus the living wage


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


Northern Ireland being aided by his department are paying the living


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


particular point today. I imagine there maybe difficulties in getting


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


be for the national minimum wage, there could be unforeseen


circumstances where we are denying opportunities for employment or


indeed, for creating opportunities for skills or apprenticeship


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


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


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


discussions he had with the admissions offices with regard to


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


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


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


those discussions. The particular difficulty that seems to exist is


that the central admissions office is rather autonomous from the Irish


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


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


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


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


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


significant appointment made. Professor Kathleen Marshall has a


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


attract political backing and one that is important to the local


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


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


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


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


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


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


the team, bye-bye.


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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