05/12/2011 Stormont Today


05/12/2011

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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. And there may be a Christmas tree

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in the Great Hall, snow at Parliament buildings and mince pies

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in the canteen, but the season of goodwill is still on the back

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burner. A suspect a lot has been about Grandstanding rather than

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what we can genuinely do about the pension problem. And flying through

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question time like a one horse open sleigh, Danny Kennedy's no nonsense

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style. No. I can advise the member that we're doing that. Strict

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answer to the question. No. take a look at this: it's the Great

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Hall as you've never seen it before, but just what was going on here on

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Saturday night? We'll reveal all. And are Belfast traders facing a

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difficult season, I'm joined by Joe Jordan from the chamber of commerce.

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19 shopping days until Christmas, but what sort of festive season

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will it be for our shops? Joe Jordan can give us a picture of how

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things are going so far in Belfast. The car parks seemed full, the

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traffic particularly last week. It doesn't feel as if it is a bad

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season. Not so far. Early indications are that foot fall is

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on the increase. We have had reports that the numbers are up. We

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don't know if the spend is up or not. But things are look

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encouraging. How difficult a year has it been for traders in best

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fast? It has been a very difficult year, it is the fourth year of the

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recession and people are spending less on gifts and leisure

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activities. Are you noticing any difference, you represent hotels

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and pubs and clubs, are people not going out as much and spending

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money in the shops? It is a general down turn for all. It is not that

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one is doing better. But it is difficult times for everyone.

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there anything the MLAs can do? fantastic news from Danny Kennedy

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that he was introducing free car parking after half four is a big

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plus and will encourage people into the city. Thank you. More later. If

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brevity is the soul of wit, then Danny Kennedy must be by far the

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wittiest of MLAs. Watch him dispense with awkward questions as

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if he were swatting flies. That in a minute, but first here's the

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Employment and Learning Minister who's creating jobs and trying to

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improve ties with the EU. There is going to be four staff in addition

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to what is out there. And I will cover the different departments. If

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you go through each of the 12, all have different aspect of their

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interaction with Brussels. If we end up with all 12 departments

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sending out their own representative, I would imagine

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that would be an area where there could be accusations 06

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overstaffing. So it is important we try to pool resources and I am keen

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to make sure the voice of my department are best represented.

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But I think the current and the new proposed arrangements should be

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more than adequate. If not, we will keep them under review. Once

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again... We have a member who has continued to look at the chair.

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Members might need some training around rising in their place. Mr

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Newton. Thank you I too was on the trip to Brussels. On resench and

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development. And recognised -- research. That Mr McKray is a man h

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is far sighted and able to look to the future on these areas of

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skilled -- skill development. Could I ask the minister ref reps was

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made to the work that is done by the University of Ulster and

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Queen's University. But surely as in other countries there are

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examples that should be encouraged where those colleges who are

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further education colleges and who are edge gauged -- engaged in

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research and development work, some to a high standard. Come to a

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question. We should colleges in Northern Ireland to be involved in

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R & D. Thank you. It is a pity the chair does not have opportunity to

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respond to leading comments that were made. I do take on board the

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point he makes about FE colleges. There is an innovation fund that my

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department has which we are examining which aims to support the

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colleges in term of how they engage with the business community and in

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term of developing new products and services and new ideas. That is

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something that is doing well and we have a number of good success

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stories. On to regional development and the beleaguered A5. Can the

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minister confirm if the capital funding for the project is ear

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marked funding and could he say if all the necessary prep toir work

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has been carried out by the road service project team?

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announcement by the Irish Government has meant that it is

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necessary to have a discussion on funding issues. And of course, the

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member will be aware that at the recent north/South ministerial

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council, it was agreed officials from my department and the

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Department of Transport in the Irish republic would have

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discussions in reling to the FI. I expect those discussions to take

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place in January. -- in relation to. I would say it is important that I

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await the findings of the inspector's report, in case there

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areish tkwhrues have to be incorporated -- issues that have to

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be incorps praited. Since the public inquiry that was carried out

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on the A5 was based on the presumption that the republic

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Government would be supplying �400 million and since we know that is

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not going to be the case, why is the minister waiting for the

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outcome of this public inquiry, when he knows that it will not go

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on in its present form? I am grateful for the question. I would

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be grateful if he would indicate his preference as to the route of

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the A5. We have never had that, the benefit of that guidance. Now brace

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yourself for a quick fire round. Well by Stormont standards.

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mentioned a meeting in January 2012 between your officials and theirer

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parts in Dublin. Could you outline the term of reference for that

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meeting? No. Given the death blow to the scheme given by the republic,

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would the minister agree it would be more relevant now to be going

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through the necessary processes and preparations so that other projects,

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which are viable and which can be made reddied swiftly would be ready

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to go I can advice the member that -- advise the member that we're

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doing that. Will he bring up improvements to road at the next

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meeting? Mr Speaker in strict answer to the ge question, no.

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Yesterday's snow coincided with a question on road gritting that

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required a more lengthy answer. Over the weekend we have seen the

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advent of wintry conditions. I very much hope that everyone will be

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able to travel safely at this period. Could I say that road

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surface officials have been working very hard to provide gritting on

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the road network. And I know that is appreciated by members of house

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and public representatives. Some over 300 staff on a nightly basis

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will be helping to create safer conditions across the road network.

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Members will know that it is not possible, nor economically sensible

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to promise to grit every single road and every path way. And that

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is why both the salt bins and the grit pile ps play an important role.

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I would want to encourage people to help their neighbours and provide

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self help in areas and to avail of the facilities of salt bins and the

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grit piles as much as they possibly can. We all know the TUV leader Jim

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Allister asks plenty of questions about the running of the Assembly

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and Executive, but does he get any answers? Apparently not and he's

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not happy. I have 40 written questions which have passed the ten

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day requirement for answer. Six of them were questions tabled before

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the summer recess. 12 of them tabled in September. Nine of them

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tabled in October. And really if a member is to do the work that

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they're sent here to do, the standing order requirement of

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ministers attending to answers within the ten days needs to be

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adhered to. 20 of those 40 questions relate to office of MM,

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DFM and those two departments seem to be particularly remiss in living

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within the guidelines and they're more than guidelines, they're

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requirements of the standing order. I would ask for your guidance and

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assistance. Basil McRae is with us now. Is he right? There is a

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problem with the way we deal with questions. But there is the

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recognition that you take a loot of time and effort to produce answers.

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And if all 108MLAs are asking as many request questions a Jim, you

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would need an army of people to give the answers. We need to find a

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better way of doing it. It is frustrating for members, but there

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is some mitigating circumstances. So should the number of questions

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that MLAs are allowed to ask, be restricted. What is the point in

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saying it will be back in ten days if there is no chance. Well it was

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raised in the last Assembly. Some people think the number of

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questions that you ask and I'm not saying Jim is in the category, the

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more you ask the cleverer you're being. If you want a real answer,

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write to the minister explaining your requirement and it come wack

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through -- back through a different channel. But that is circumventing

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the procedures. Well it is a mimic of what happens in Westminster and

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they don't suit the way that we do business here. But people are

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reluctant to give them up, because there is always some information

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that comes out and you do get the opportunity from time to time to

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talk on television and it highlights a particular issue. The

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Assembly does have to preview its processes. It is not working well.

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The information is not getting out and we're not reassuring the people

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that we're doing the job they expect us to do. It is not for the

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want of trying. But the process are not right. He issued confuegz,

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saying your don to -- confusing statement, saying your going to San

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Diego. What is going on? surprised you hit the is confusing.

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It couldn't be more clear. For the absence of doubt is that I'm on a

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boston college scholarship, which is taking me to Boston and then to

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San Diego. This is nothing to do with the committee. It was a

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personal thing I applied for. But it does deal with the real problems

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that Northern Ireland is facing. That is how we create employment

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for young people, how we create business leaders and it is, I think

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I'm only politician on the grouping. With the controversy it did have

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people scratching their heads. So is there still an attempt by you to

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get some committee members to go to San Diego at another date? To be

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clear there is no amendment by -- attempt by me to do anything. I

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chair the committee. I don't tell it what to do. But what is

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important all that MLAs should be au fait with what is happening. We

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have a responsibility for employment and learning. There is

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some difficult news coming down to Northern Ireland. It is frightening.

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And people will ask us what are you going to do? So the committee will

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look at a number of places where there is evidence of good practice

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and evaluate whether there are lesson to be learned and whether

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there are costs involved and the committee will take a decision if

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anybody goes anywhere. Hopefully you can shed light on the mischi --

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mystery pictures of disco in the Great Hall. We had this is the

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fourth year, the pride of Northern Ireland, which is a celebration of

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all of the good things that young people do. And in particular we

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have a lot of carers, a lot of people that have had difficulties

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in their lives. And it is an opportunity for them to tell the

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good story about what they do and we let them have what I would call

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a disco, but I gather now is a rave! We do these things and they

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get some food and some prizes and get to dress up. It is a fantastic

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experience. Wonderful stories and wonderful people. They did

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themselves proud. Thank you. The work of some committees was

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disrupted by last week's public sector strikes. Some were

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rescheduled to accommodate members who were unhappy at the thought of

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crossing pickets lines - while others carried on regardless. So in

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our weekly look at the work of the committees, we start with last

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Wednesday and the OFMDFM committee. There is a letter regarding strike

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:16:03.:16:03.

There is a letter regarding strike action today. For members to note.

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Equality Commission for annual report. In relation to the letter

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about the industrial action today, I want to go on record for some of

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the issues that the committees are dealing with today. This morning we

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were looking at a -- agreeing budgets for work experience for

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unemployed 16 to 24-year-old and we are discussing child care and an

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investment fund for tackling dereliction, unemployment and

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deprivation in key areas. So it is possible to respect someone's right

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to be involved in this action today, but given that we are elected by

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people from across the community, with varying views and needs, the

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reason I'm involved in this work today is because we're trying to

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come up with budgets and programmes to tackle some of the issues that

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people have decided to make issue with. I want, I know there seems to

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be an interest in the work of the committees today and I want to put

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on record some of the issues that we're trying to progress and we

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will hopefully go to helping some of the issues that people are

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raising in public. Also there was pickets around the entrances to the

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buildings I had at least two calls today in relation to people feeling

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intim date, with people who were standing across the road stopping

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vehicles. That is not complying with the legislation in terms of

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pickets outside any public building. Or any place where the public have

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access to. And I think it just doesn't help the cause. Everyone

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has the right to be on strike today. But equally, everyone has the right

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to... Come to work and to come to their place of work without being

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harassed or stopped, or in any way intimidated by anybody. I see the

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difficulty, with people coming to the office saying, I have to take

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this job. Although they're being told, believing that they can lose

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benefit if they don't do it. And then they are sent to a meaningless

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job to maybe fill a shell of in a supermarket. And when we are told

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that people should be trained up to meet any new high paid jobs.

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think there is always advantage in getting somebody into a work place.

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I appreciate your point about some job that perhaps they don't feel

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has any particular relevant -- relevance to what they want to do.

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But even getting young people into the work place, getting used to

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routine of work and the discipline of work is a stepping stone. No one

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is saying it is the answer to all known ills. But it is a start and

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getting them used to the work environment and that kind of thing.

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Basil MacRae talked of hard times and people in the south have had

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more difficult type, what has been the level of cross border shopping

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this season? The level is down slightly. But there is evidence

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that there are still people coming from the south to avail of cheaper

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prices. We don't want to get rich on the back of other people's

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misfortune, but the announcement that their VAT rate is going to go

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up to 23%, will that bring more people across the border? I think

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you're right. In a perverse way that is good for us. What about the

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voices around the city centre, people get the sense that there are

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not as many people coming up this year, but are traders saying that

:20:12.:20:22.
:20:22.:20:23.

isn't the case? I had a chat with a man who introduced hi �4.50 all day

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mark charge. He saw people coming from the south, because they had

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certainty of how much it would cost to park in Belfast and they were

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factoring that into their shopping. Thank you. It may have been last

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week's strike, but the issue of public sector pensions was up for

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discussion in the chamber today. Speaking ahead of the debate,

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finance minister Sammy Wilson warned that members and ministers

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must share the pain and revealed that an Independent Review Panel

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will soon be examining members' pensions. The motion, originally

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proposed by the SDLP, called on the executive to reverse an increase in

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pension contributions. But when it came to the vote, an Ulster

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Unionist amendment which called for more negotiations between

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government and the unions, won out. Their message was loud and clear -

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this notice about self pressration, it is about fairness and justice.

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Why should working people be penalised for actions of bankers?

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Public servants are being unfairly targeted in a bid to sofl a

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financial crisis that was not of their making. -- solve. Not only is

:21:35.:21:40.

this an attack on their pockets resulting in on average �63 less in

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take home pay, but it is an attack on their morale. I was in west

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Belfast around the picket lines, speaking to the people who thought

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it in their need to take action to put a halt to this. And I think

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instead of some of us walking through the line, some stood and

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engaged with people. And talked to them about the issues. And I have

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to say many o' of the people I was talking to were very low paid

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workers. Many are under the �32,000 level and which our amendment has

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put forward to protect people under �32,000 or less. I would say to the

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SDLP if they read our motion again, in a even Euan way, is that we're

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calling on all ministers to explore this. Will the minister. Mr Wilson.

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Can I thank the members who have taken part in this debate, although

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I suspect given how little has been said about pensions and how many

:22:53.:22:57.

members have waved the flag and told us how much they supported the

:22:57.:23:02.

strikers, didn't go through the picket lines, refused to break the

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strike, I suspect a lot of this has been about Grandstanding rather

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than what we can do about the pension problem that we have here

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in Northern Ireland. People have accused, because we have had an

:23:19.:23:22.

arrange Westminster the Conservative Party, because we're

:23:22.:23:27.

we're cheer leading for them. You would think to hear some members of

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Sinn Fein that the financial crisis that has affected the United

:23:32.:23:36.

Kingdom started 18 months ago. You wouldn't think to hear them that

:23:36.:23:40.

actually the entire debate about pension reform and I think has Lord

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Hutton said, we should have been doing this years ago. You represent

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Belfast traders, but where do you get your customers from and are you

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in competition with the other towns around Northern Ireland? I think

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there is competition between towns and cities in Northern Ireland. We

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would very much see it as an open market policy. In that, everyone's

:24:05.:24:12.

free to travel where they want to. So we can encourage them to come to

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Belfast. Do you feel that in some way the parking freeze and charges

:24:16.:24:20.

is a bit of a pay back for the towns that don't, that didn't get

:24:20.:24:23.

the park charges that there was some talk about airlier in the

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year? I think in fair tonnes the minister, it was Belfast Lisbon and

:24:29.:24:33.

Newry that got the suspended charges. So he has done it across

:24:33.:24:38.

the board. It is a whole other debate of did Belfast compensate

:24:38.:24:44.

the 30 towns that didn't get the charges. I don't think that was

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fair. But we are where we are. Thank you. Three weeks ago the

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First Minister told members that he would know by the end of November

:24:51.:24:54.

about EU funding for a peace and reconciliation centre at the Maze -

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a key part of the planned development there. Here's what he

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said. The one that we are certain that we want to move forward with

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is the proposition that there should be a piece and -- peace and

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reconciliation centre and we have applied for funding from the

:25:13.:25:17.

European community and we should know the outcome of that hopefully

:25:17.:25:26.

before the end of month. And we're keen that the agricultural show

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would move from Belfast to the more agricultural setting of the Lagan

:25:35.:25:39.

valley and that would be a very strong anchor to the site should

:25:39.:25:45.

they choose and should we be able to an agreement there. With no

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official announcement I asked her political editor what his source

:25:48.:25:53.

were telling him. Well I think they have missed that target date. There

:25:53.:25:59.

is talk about it happening in December. Maybe we will hear news

:25:59.:26:04.

about Maze centre before Christmas. Tinge European side of it seems to

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be hopeful. Any senior European officials who have been here have

:26:09.:26:12.

been supportive. It must be considered by a steering committee

:26:12.:26:17.

of the European special programmes body. So far as the executive's

:26:17.:26:21.

concerned there might be a bit of if you like choreography to go

:26:22.:26:26.

through. They would want this announce tpltd which will be

:26:26.:26:31.

considered as being good news for nationalist and Republicans, being

:26:31.:26:36.

timed at the same time as an announcements about the royal

:26:36.:26:39.

Ulster agricultural society going to site which may be considered

:26:39.:26:44.

more good news in terms of unionist community. I suspect they want

:26:44.:26:49.

everything together. But we haven't got a date yet. So the SDLP

:26:49.:26:57.

unveiled some fresh faces today. But there was a familiar name?

:26:57.:27:04.

Alister Macdonald wants to inject fresh blood and has the idea of

:27:04.:27:08.

shadowing councillors, in areas where they are weak and he hopes to

:27:08.:27:14.

build from the grass roots. But there was one familiar name, Peter

:27:14.:27:21.

Devlin is a son of Paddy Devlin and Paddy Devlin split from the party.

:27:21.:27:28.

I asked his son why that happened. Going back to the 70s, my father

:27:28.:27:33.

left, it was over decisions that he thoughts were right at the time.

:27:33.:27:38.

Which have now come full circle. My father backed the police then when

:27:38.:27:44.

other nationalists didn't. As I said, times have changed. We have

:27:44.:27:49.

moved on and I want to be part of whole system now. I'm daunted

:27:49.:27:54.

talking to you, when your dad was in the old Stormont he had a

:27:54.:27:58.

reputation for settling political arguments by resorting to his fists.

:27:58.:28:04.

You not planning to do that? I hope not. I'm not a fighting! So no. I

:28:04.:28:10.

won't be doing that. And thankfully things are more genteel here.

:28:10.:28:18.

we miss the old day of brawling in the hall. It I quiet now. Now Joe,

:28:18.:28:23.

the whole face of retail has changed during the recession and we

:28:24.:28:28.

have a sale each week, it is worth waiting to Boxing Day for a bargain

:28:28.:28:33.

or get out now? I think Belfast has not looked so good for over 40

:28:33.:28:37.

years. We have had a lot of Government departments pulling

:28:37.:28:45.

together to make tilt spectacle -- it the spectacle it is now.

:28:45.:28:49.

Retailers had to think of how to bring people in. Should they come

:28:49.:28:54.

after Boxing Day, yes I think they will get even better bargains.

:28:54.:28:58.

Thank you. That's it from Stormont for now. Join me tomorrow at the

:28:58.:29:01.

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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