06/03/2012 Stormont Today


06/03/2012

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 it's Super Tuesday in the

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United States as Republicans choose their candidate to take on Barack

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Obama. But every tuesday is Super Tuesday on this programme - even if

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it feels like Groundhog Day in the Chamber. I think this is the third

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time we have the NEETs discussed in this chamber in a short period of

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time. We have no action plan yet. And is there a new Chuckle Brother

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here on the Hill? Someone's been tickling ribs. That concludes a

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highly entertaining question times. And with agriculture booming but

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with reform on the horizon, my guest is John Thompson of the

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Tonight, we're looking at the CAP and why perhaps it no longer fits.

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That's the Common Agricultural Policy and how efforts are being

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made to green it. It's being proposed, for example, that around

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a third of farm payments will be linked to green goals such as

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diversifying crops. A top official from the European Commission

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dealing with the issue was at Stormont today as the guest of the

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Agriculture Committee to answer questions from farmers and others.

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So, did he reassure them this wasn't just more bureacracy from

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Brussells? I'm joined by John Thompson,

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president of the Ulster Farmer's Union. Welcome to the programme.

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You attended the seminar to a yacht owned concerns. Remind us what they

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are. I think the new proposals... We are certainly worried about the

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proposals involving more bureaucracy. We are concerned about

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the whole transition period, about the green issues and about activity

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and what the definitions are. Certainly, we see these proposals

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being complicated and very difficult to understand from a

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farmer's level right up to the elders and I think we need a lot

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more clarification. Did you receive any assurances from the official?

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He's certainly given us the proposals and spelled it out why

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they hope going down the lines they are going down -- why they are

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going down the lines. From his presentation, a lot of the areas

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targeted are central Europe where there is very little biodiversity

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and hedgerows. We already meet a lot of those requirements and I

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think the commission recognises that. I think he also recognises

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that every farmer has to be seen to do something and although the Bar

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is fairly high already in Northern Ireland, he would still like to see

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them do more. What is your solution as the Ulster Farmers' Union's

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President? You are not opposing reform, you recognise their needs

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to be some measures taken. There is basically a new scheme. The old

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scheme, the single farm payment was based on historic payments of

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cattle numbers, sheep numbers. This is... Certainly, I think there is a

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big transition period. Agriculture is important to the Northern

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Ireland economy. I think people need time to move from the current

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system to the new system. We will have to leave it there. Thank you.

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Something has happened to the Regional Development Minister Danny

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Kennedy. Often his question time session is a little dry, but then

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roads don't provide many laughs. But today, the minister amused MLAs

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with his quick wit. But before the chuckles begin, let's begin our

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look at question time with justice and David Ford on the rather

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serious issue of redundancy plans for prison officers.

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Will the Minister confirm that it is lawful, ethical and desirable

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that his department in set as a condition of severance that prison

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officers will be awarded generous and schemes -- that those awarded

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generous golden handshakes will not be able to reapply for jobs? Will

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he bring further legislation to prevent this happening? I note his

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concern and indeed the concern of other members. I can simply advise

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them that the legal advice that I received was that it would have

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been discriminatory to prevent any of those leaving from applying for

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the new jobs which were advertised and closed last week. I can however

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confirm that in the face of a very significant potential recruitment

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not one of the 151 officers who will be leaving service on 31st

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March will -- were among the 5000 applicants for the near post.

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the new post. Following the departure of the director general,

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can you outline how that will affect the staff exit scheme and

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take the opportunity to explain how you intend to mitigate the loss of

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the person setting up the entire reform of our prison service?

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answer to the question of how his move to Edinburgh will affect the

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scheme is not in any way at all. He played a vital part in setting the

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foundations for the reform programme which the House will know

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follows row under the old a programme, building on the

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recommendations of the report. I simply want to pay tribute to date

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to the work that he did in establishing that the fact that he

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was serving so well that he was selected for what is effectively

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the second most senior post in prisons within the United Kingdom

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to return to the Scottish Prison Service, a service three times and

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80 -- three times bigger than ours, that should come as no surprise.

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There is another team available which also contains those doing

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work. It was not entirely driven by one man. I have no doubt that when

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I discuss the arrangements for a new director general, we will

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ensure that the post is filled as soon as possible to enable the

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current team to continue working. Crime and the fear of crime. What

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does the Minister seek as the best way to tackle the issues? Would the

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Minister agree that the possible closure of rural police stations

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could impact on fear of crime? think what members of this have so

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need to do is address the rail -- reality of rural crime. It is not

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dealt with by having police officers sitting behind desks. It

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is addressed by the where the chief constable has done by putting 600

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officers are out on the street in response teams and neighbourhood

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teams. That is the best way of achieving it. The sick -- decision

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as to which stations are required is a decision for the chief

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constable. Does the Minister not recognise that the present proposal

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for the wholesale closure of rural police stations is very much

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sending out the wrong message, a message of encouragement to the

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perpetrators of rural crime and a message of discouragement to their

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victims? Having officers stationed behind a desk 20 or 30 miles away

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is little comfort to those who are the subject... Could we have the

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question, please? Does he not agree that having officers stationed

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there to Mars away behind a desk is a source of great annoyance --

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stationed 20 to 30 miles away. think the greatest comfort we can

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have is what I highlighted earlier. The chief constable putting 600

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police officers out on the streets. Onto the new joker in the assembly

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pack. Danny Kennedy. Here is the first joke of the day. Can I ask

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the minister if he has any plans to review criteria for all traffic

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calming measures in built up areas? Am thinking of villages. That

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village has a severe problem... In that it has the honour to be

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represented by the minister. Rural crime again. This time, cable

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thefts. A serious issue. I can inform the House that road service

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has introduced a range of measures aimed at combating this crime.

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Among the steps taken to date, it has changed the way new street

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lighting cables are laid. That is in order to make them more

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difficult to steal. In addition, cables at certain locations have

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been marked with special smart DNA Greece that allows stolen cables to

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be identified. Road service has also investigated the possible use

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of CCTV monitoring and remote alarm systems to protect cable

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installations. However, these options have proved to be

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prohibitively expensive for widespread use. My officials will

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continue to engage with the... To prevent further cable thefts was a

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can ask the Minister to give us a geographical breakdown of these

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deaths? I think you mentioned 76. I could probably take you to 76 lamp-

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posts in Derry that have been attacked. We will not ask what a

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DNA read-out for the member... That is a joke by the way! Such

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seriousness did not last long. Order. That concludes our highly

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entertaining question time. Nearly 50,000 young people here are

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classified as NEETs - that means not in employment, education or

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training. It is not a statistic to be proud of. And MLAs are fustrated

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by the lack of progress by the minister Stephen Farry. The DUP

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today called for a working group to be set up to tackle the problem.

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is my contention that although much work has been done by various

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agencies and educational institutions, the time has come for

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a more joined-up approach to tackle the barriers that exist today for

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hour-long people -- young people contributing effectively to act --

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our economy. There have been many reports about the nature of the

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barriers our young people face when attempting to fulfil their academic

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and vocational potential. The reason for disadvantages and low

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achievement of buried ranging from poverty and deprivation to being in

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our care system and getting involved in crimes. It is therefore

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important that all agencies in an interest with addressing these

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issues are involved in creating any possible solutions. I think this is

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the third time we have the NEETs discussed in the chamber within a

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short period of time. We are not seeing any action plan coming out.

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I think the minister needs to... He may say later on that, I needed to

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discuss it with the executive first. I think the minister needs to come

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to the house and explain to us all his intentions. We have over 40,000

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young people across Northern Ireland who are not in education,

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employment or training. With the welfare reforms coming in, Mr

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Speaker, there is going to be a tsunami of further young people who

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may be caught in the culture of benefits and forced us to seek

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employment or education or training. What is to be done? What I cannot

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stand is parochialism. This emphasis on one sub-regional

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college, I cannot stand it at all. At least the Alliance Party

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amendment try to tidy up one aspect of the original motion and it made

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reference to all of the further education colleges. But still no

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reference to the Department of Education when it strikes me as

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very obvious that there is a major role for the Department of

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Education in this matter. It would appear that in the sub-group of

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ministers that the proposals envisaged to join have our eyes

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only for certain colleges. Definitely the Department of

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Education needs to be represented. While I welcome the suggestion, it

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would be premature to establish the second group dealing with an area

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that is an integral part of existing and planned future

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structures. In conclusion I have listened with interest the members'

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views on this extremely important issue. I particularly welcome the

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acknowledgement that the problems being encountered by young people

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as they make a transition from school can't be solved by one

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department alone. It is incumbent on us all, working within service

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deliverers and stakeholders, to a line of our services in the best

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way to support every young person on their journey from school or

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college into the world of work. discuss the problem, I am joined by

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Basil McRae who chairs the employment and learning committee.

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Much hand-wringing, but why has it taken so long to Agate progress?

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That is where the committee are so disappointed. Not just with needs,

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but also with the skills agenda for young people. Youth unemployment

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soaring. We don't seem to be getting much progress. We've said

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repeatedly to the minister and the department that this is a matter

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that is really urgent and the need to take action. Is this the failure

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by the minister? He is ultimately responsible. Although we have

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cordial relations with him, it is simply not acceptable that we have

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almost 50,000 that we are not doing anything for. The way youth

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unemployment is going, one in five young people. It is simply

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unacceptable for us to do nothing. We need to sort something out.

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this a matter solely for Steven Farrer? We had some mention in the

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debate that other ministries should be involved, perhaps the Department

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of Education should be involved? what was interesting about the

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debate was the emphasis on F E colleges. They have a good pastoral

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care system where they check whether you have been to college

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and if not, why not. They make sure young people turn up. If it happens

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earlier, in school, the key statistics are that people drop out

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between 14 and 16. Nobody picks it up and it can go even earlier.

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People that are known to the police or people a nursery school. The

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problem with the system is we run into difficulties at every stage

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and yet nobody picks it up. Do you support the call for a Working

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Group? What we thought... The motion was a bit awkward in trying

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to put in all sorts of people. What is clear is you need a co-ordinated

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response across multiple agencies, multiple departments, and you

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probably need one department to take the lead. The Department of

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Employment and learning is about to go so what difference will that

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make? Will it end up in the Department of Enterprise or the

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Department of Education? department going has not helped. If

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the department does, the issues will still remain. Wherever they go,

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will they have the same priority? We do think these issues do need

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priority, they are probably the single most important issue the

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executive and the assembly can tackle. We are removing the one

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department looking at it. We also have welfare reform coming down the

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pipeline and we heard Pat Bradley are talking about a tsunami of

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people looking for jobs. Are we prepared for this? It is a tsunami

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and I don't think we are prepared. I don't think we are doing enough

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and in three or four years, people will look back and say why did you

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take so long? They will point the finger rightly at the executive and

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the assembly and say you did not done enough. What is the

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committee's next move? We are bringing the minister in front of

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us. We want to ask him in detail. We have already demanded his

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officials turn up, but we want to see the minister and he will get a

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fairly rough ride. Healthy eating seems to be less

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likely that more money you have. That link was a concern for the

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health minister as he reported back from a North-South meeting. He

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expressed his concerns that skills were being lost through the

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generations. One of the concerns we have associated between food and

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poverty is that many people who don't have a lot of income are

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spending it in them -- on the wrong types of food. Very often they will

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go up to the supermarkets or the pound shops and they will buy the

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wrong sorts of food. That contributes to obesity and ill

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health. We do need to encourage people to get back to basics.

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There's an awful lot of skills that have been lost in the last two to

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three generations. As a consequence of that, people don't seem to know

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how to go to the local greengrocer and buy good quality vegetables, to

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actually buy some of the cheaper cuts of meat and prepare that for a

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nutritious dinner for their family. To me, there's a course of work

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that needs to be done, training and educating young people in providing

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good quality food within their own homes. Unless we get this through

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to young people, we will be defeated because the skills are not

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being passed on within the homes any more. Therein lies the

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challenge. There's a challenge there. Back-to-basics. Is there a

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gap in the market the farmers' union should be encouraging the

:19:27.:19:31.

health minister to speak to the farming minister? I think the

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minister has a point. A lot of people have got into the habit of

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using convenience food. Sometimes that is a lot more expensive. It is

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handy. It is easy to prepare. But if they bought local produce and

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made up their meals, it would work out quite a bit cheaper, maybe 30

:19:53.:19:58.

to 40% cheaper. He has a point. sells like you might be talking

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yourself into a scheme to promote local produce. We have every right

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to remote local produce. It is excellent quality. I would

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encourage everybody to use it. Returning to the issue of the

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reform. What impact do you think those changes might have on food

:20:16.:20:18.

prices when you are encouraging farmers to think more about

:20:18.:20:26.

diversity? With our system in Northern Ireland, about a third of

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our land... Not being allowed to plough, not being allowed to seed,

:20:35.:20:45.
:20:45.:20:49.

we will lose productivity and the ability to produce. That will

:20:49.:20:52.

decrease the amount of production we can obtain. Thank you.

:20:52.:20:55.

Many schools are now under stress according to the Department of

:20:55.:20:57.

Education. Figures released today show 8.4% of secondary schools are

:20:57.:20:59.

experiencing difficulties with either the quality of their

:20:59.:21:01.

education, budgets or enrolments.35% of grammar schools

:21:01.:21:09.

and half of primary schools are suffering the same fate. Stephen

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Walker asked the Education Minster what action he was going to take.

:21:17.:21:21.

My job is to put in place a plan to ensure we have a sustainable

:21:21.:21:25.

schools system where parents can be confident their children are being

:21:25.:21:29.

taught in schools to a very, very high level. When it comes to

:21:29.:21:33.

educational criteria, there is a huge gulf between the controlled

:21:33.:21:37.

sector and the maintained sector. Presumably you find that worrying?

:21:37.:21:41.

It is. But there's good and bad in each sector and sometimes these

:21:41.:21:46.

figures hide the good and bad. In the controlled sector, there's been

:21:46.:21:51.

an ongoing debate about educational under-achievement, particularly in

:21:51.:21:55.

working-class communities. The report highlighted that. I would

:21:55.:22:00.

like to see the debate continuing, I want to hear the voices of the

:22:00.:22:04.

community from all sectors coming forward and the debate around

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education. In many ways, there is working-class communities that have

:22:09.:22:13.

been left behind in this debate. You haven't ruled up school

:22:13.:22:18.

closures. Does this report reinforced this view? This isn't

:22:18.:22:22.

about school closures, it is about ensuring young people receive

:22:22.:22:25.

greater education. If I have to make a decision around the future

:22:25.:22:29.

of a school based on the needs of young people, I will close that

:22:29.:22:33.

school. You have said you want swift action, but when will we

:22:33.:22:39.

start to see action? You've seen the results of the audit. I will be

:22:39.:22:43.

writing to the managing authorities of a number of schools, asking them

:22:43.:22:46.

what immediate action they are taking to protect the education of

:22:46.:22:50.

young people. We currently have a plan which will see a sustainable

:22:50.:22:54.

schools estate going into the future with high quality education

:22:54.:22:59.

at the centre of that. You talk about hastening it. I know you say

:22:59.:23:03.

it is not primarily about closures, but is it likely that in the next

:23:03.:23:08.

two to three years we will see schools merging, closing? Yes. That

:23:09.:23:11.

is the way forward in terms of the direction this report is pointing a

:23:11.:23:17.

sin. It's an action which the modern curriculum is pointing a sin.

:23:17.:23:22.

Let's ensure we do that. Schools have history, there's an emotional

:23:22.:23:25.

connection with schools and those things go with it. But the school

:23:25.:23:29.

is a building and it is to provide education to young people. If that

:23:29.:23:32.

building is no longer fit for purpose in terms of size or if it

:23:32.:23:36.

is not attractive -- attracting enough pupils to make it

:23:36.:23:40.

educationally viable, let's move on. Let's ensure we have an education

:23:40.:23:45.

system which is fit for purpose going into the 21st century. That

:23:45.:23:49.

will mean amalgamations in some instances, and also closures.

:23:49.:23:52.

The Chair of the Education Committee said the findings of the

:23:52.:23:55.

report are worrying. Mervyn Storey said more needs to be done to

:23:55.:24:02.

address educational decline. What it does is it gives us a picture of

:24:02.:24:07.

the crisis there is a cross our schools. Both primarily in

:24:07.:24:12.

educational terms, because while it is very easy to look at the numbers

:24:12.:24:16.

and whether schools measure up to the intake and all of that, the key

:24:16.:24:20.

issue for educationalists surely has to be the quality of education

:24:20.:24:24.

to children are getting. Clearly this report is saying there are

:24:24.:24:30.

major problems in the educational outcomes in some schools. That is

:24:30.:24:34.

very worrying and the question is, what is being done to address that

:24:34.:24:41.

educational decline? What I would encourage parents not to do is go

:24:41.:24:45.

through this audit and look for their school and come to the wrong

:24:45.:24:50.

conclusion solely on the basis of the figures as they are presented.

:24:50.:24:54.

The figures have to be presented in some context around the school. I

:24:54.:24:58.

would encourage parents to support their local school, to ensure their

:24:58.:25:03.

school get all the support it can. In some places, and I'm well aware

:25:03.:25:08.

my own constituency of particular problems and particular issues, we

:25:08.:25:12.

have to find a different solution. That solution is not simply just

:25:12.:25:16.

about rubbing this call-out and starting over again. We have

:25:16.:25:19.

recently produced figures that clearly indicates there is minimal

:25:19.:25:24.

savings to be had if you just close schools. Let's concentrate on

:25:24.:25:29.

educational outcomes and let's put the resources up. This is a time

:25:29.:25:32.

for more teachers. Now to Cafe Recess, where Stephen

:25:32.:25:35.

Walker, who usually hangs out with our MPs on the terraces at

:25:35.:25:37.

Westminister, has been filling me in on the latest talks on

:25:37.:25:41.

corporation tax. I asked him if we can expect anything dramatic when

:25:41.:25:48.

they get round the table at the Treasury tomorrow. This is a

:25:48.:25:58.
:25:58.:25:58.

routine meeting, a meeting between Stormont ministers. Basically it is

:25:58.:26:02.

an opportunity to get down and talk about the nuts and bolts of

:26:02.:26:06.

devolving corporation tax, the timescale and exactly how much it

:26:06.:26:11.

would cost. One DUP source has told me this is routine, they are not

:26:11.:26:14.

expecting anything dramatic. Another DUP source there's an

:26:14.:26:19.

element of frustration creeping in because we've been talking about

:26:19.:26:23.

devolving corporation tax for some time now and there is a feeling

:26:23.:26:26.

from the DUP quarters and perhaps from the Sinn Fein quarters that

:26:26.:26:29.

people want to see a bit of action now. How significant is Scotland in

:26:29.:26:34.

this? People in the Treasury are looking over their shoulder at

:26:34.:26:37.

Scotland and wondering if Northern Ireland gets these tax-raising

:26:37.:26:42.

powers and the ability to vary the rate of corporation tax, clearly

:26:42.:26:46.

Scotland will want to. People from Scotland are looking to Northern

:26:46.:26:50.

Ireland. It has muddy the waters. It will be a busy day in London

:26:50.:26:54.

because the DUP have secured a debate dealing with the issue of

:26:54.:26:58.

promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. The DUP get an

:26:58.:27:02.

opportunity to hold debates. They can choose debates on any topic. On

:27:02.:27:06.

this occasion they have chosen the topic of Northern Ireland and they

:27:06.:27:12.

are using the strap line, our time, our place, 2012. They want to

:27:12.:27:14.

showcase Northern Ireland during this debate and tried to encourage

:27:14.:27:17.

people to come to Northern Ireland and use Northern Ireland as a

:27:17.:27:22.

tourist destination. You'll see reference to centenaries and the

:27:22.:27:27.

Titanic, the Ulster Covenant. From the DUP point of view, it is an

:27:27.:27:33.

opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland and they see it as a debate.

:27:33.:27:36.

You have news of the special visitors to storm of later this

:27:36.:27:41.

week. Stormont get a lot of visitors and very often in Stormont,

:27:41.:27:45.

politicians like to regard themselves as being the people that

:27:45.:27:48.

get all the attention. On Thursday there is going to be a lot of

:27:48.:27:53.

attention here. Terry George, the Oscar winner and his daughter, are

:27:53.:27:57.

coming to us Stormont. There will be a lot of attention on them. And

:27:57.:28:02.

a little golden statuette. And like many American visitors to

:28:02.:28:05.

these shores, Oscar has Irish roots - his designer Cedric Gibbons was

:28:05.:28:12.

born in Dublin. So there you go. John, Stephen was talking about

:28:12.:28:15.

tomorrow's meeting on corporation tax in London. That is something

:28:16.:28:18.

the farmers union has been encouraging, but it doesn't sound

:28:18.:28:28.
:28:28.:28:28.

like Scotland is making things even more complicated. With us having a

:28:28.:28:32.

land border with another member state with a different rate of

:28:32.:28:36.

corporation tax, we feel it is a disadvantage and veena -- in these

:28:36.:28:41.

times we think we are competing in a lot of the same markets. If we

:28:42.:28:47.

had lower tax, nearer the level they have, it would be to our

:28:47.:28:52.

advantage. We're disappointed it is not moving quicker. Be seen as

:28:52.:28:58.

Scotland is a fly in the ointment. Yes. Alex Salmond has pushed for an

:28:58.:29:04.

independence vote and that is one of the issues. Thank you.

:29:04.:29:08.

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.