06/12/2011 Stormont Today


06/12/2011

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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Welcome to the programme. One Downing Street denies lobbyists

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have influence government policy, could anyone here be pulling the

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strings of the MLAs? On the programme, the environment

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dominates the day but his son and deep capitalist the event that

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brings proceedings to a standstill. - back-row it is an anti-capitalist

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:00:58.:01:03.

movement. Order! Order! And when business got going, more tackling.

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There is no licence for fracking in Northern Ireland. No licence has

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been issued, no licence has been issued and I do not know how many

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more ways I can say this. Fracking is safe as long as nothing goes

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wrong. Well, America shows things can go wrong. My guest is

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:01:34.:01:34.

environmental lawyer, Andrew Lyon. We used to parties dividing along

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Orange and green lines but it was a green issue of a different picture

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that raised temperatures in the chamber today. Andrew Ryan is a

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partner with solicitors and specialises in environmental law.

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What sort of cases to you cover? do a broad range of work, from

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defending environmental Prosecutions, advising clients in

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terms of compliance with the lock, across to looking at environmental

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implications of planning. It is a broad area. What is the most common

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case you deal with? In terms of enforcement work, it is to deal

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with waste, and things like that. Fracking was not just a talking

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point inside the chamber. Dozens of protesters opposed to the process

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travelled to Stormont to hand in a petition of more than 2000

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signatures to MLAs. They claim it is dangerous and do not want the

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process carried out here. The Alliance and Green parties want

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more research into the impact of fracking and they tabled a motion

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calling on the economy Minister to withdraw the licences for fracking.

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I am bemused by the motion before us. It has been proposed by those

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to remind us of the need to identify and it lies alternative

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sources of energy. Yet there seemed to be paranoid about any effort

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made to find solutions to the energy needs. That is a load of

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:03:15.:03:23.

BEEP! Order! Order! BEEP! Order! Suspend the sitting... This is

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suspended. The public are entitled to hear the debate. Any more

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interventions and I will ask the public gallery to be cleared. If

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you want to participate, listen and ask members. Do not refer to the

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public gallery and the gallery should not intervene. The US is

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where technology for the mining of fossil fuels is very strong. If

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those debts are urging the cautionary note, we should also

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pursue this. We are largely in favour of the motion, but we do

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recognise that the motion is very prescriptive at the last third,

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were it talks about emphasising only the energy sources, renewable

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sources. We must exploit the potential of shale gas. I notice

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that talk about how shale gas is going to encourage cheaper energy.

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I have not heard any guarantee about that. In the meantime, it

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could destroy what we have, it could destroy the agricultural

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industry and the tourism industry, it could destroy the water quality

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that be enjoyed and there are too many things that we know could go

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and no guarantees on cheap energy. Let me say, the premise of this

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motion is fundamentally flawed. There is no licence for fracking in

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Northern Ireland. No licence has been issued, a no hydraulic

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fracking licence has been issued and I don't know how many more ways

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I can say that. I have listened to members, all of them asking me and

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the motion asks me to withdraw the licences for hydraulic fracking.

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There are no licences. Indeed, nobody in Northern Ireland has a

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licence to extract oil or gas by any method currently. The Minister

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said it does not permit for any drilling and colleagues refer to

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this as a desktop exercise. Is there not even within this,

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permission for exploratory drilling? I have a licence which

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was granted. It's available on the internet. Anybody can check this.

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It does allow it for some drilling. To suggest drilling as desktop

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research is misleading. In year four and five, it allows for

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secondary exploration wells. member is wrong in addition to that.

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They have to apply to the Department for the licence for

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fracking and they also have to apply for planning application and

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for the environmental impact assessment. It is outlined in the

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licences. There might be further permission is necessary but it is

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within their licence. This is a licence which includes fracking,

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multiple horizontal laying and processed on a train. People can

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check this. There was confusion about whether the exploratory work

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the Enterprise Minister referred to would involve any fracking. She

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told me it would not. You have the borehole, I came to boring a hole

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for water, which farmers will be familiar with. They take samples of

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rock. No fracturing can take place. Until planning application has been

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met. He does seem unclear whether they do have to come back to you

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and ask for further information. Every licensee under stands they

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cannot do any invasive drilling without an application. To

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ourselves, the Department of Environment and the environmental

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impact assessment. It is very clear that anybody who does undertake

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this, and these are reputable companies, they know they have to

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apply for that. The Assembly has spoken, what difference will that

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make? We listen to the Assembly and what it has to say but if I was to

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revoke the licence that currently exists and that isn't what the

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motion calls on me to do, it calls are made to revoke licences which

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allowed fracturing and there are none. The motion was flawed. That

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is what I tried to explain today. Unfortunately, some members were

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not listening and there are no licences so it is difficult to

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revoke licences that matter not there. Or was today's debate a

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waste of time? It gives us a chance to listen to members' concerns, the

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concerns they have picked up from across the world, a lot of people

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don't live in Northern Ireland, they were coming across to express

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concerns as to what happened in their jurisdiction. In Northern

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Ireland it's a different situation, we have all the protections in

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place and I would not have it any other way. This is where I live. I

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want to ensure we do this in a responsible way and that we look at

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alternative energy sources. It would be wrong not to it but we

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only do so when it is environmentally safe. And a low

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table today's motion and she is with us. Was it flawed? -- Anna Lo.

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Flawed in what way? She said there are no licences for fracking so the

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wording of the motion was wrong? is important that we look at this

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process fairly carefully. The Minister has issued licences for

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exploratory work to investigate and explore the potential for fracking

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in Northern Ireland, and it has been banned in the USA and France

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and in Germany. And now it is happening in Northern Ireland.

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There is a potential in Northern Ireland. And we really have not

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looked at the seriously and it is a process that can have and has been

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shown to have health issues, to have environmental damaging issues.

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And we cannot let this go simply by saying, we will let them look at it.

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Without a full impact assessment. Were you satisfied with Arlene

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Foster's explanation? We are not. She says the planning service will

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have a look at this and will carry it out with the environmental

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impact assessment. In Northern Ireland, I do not know about within

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the environmental planning framework, if we have the

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Competency to look at this and have a rigorous, full and comprehensive

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:10:32.:10:33.

assessment on this. Within the EU directives, the amount of gas being

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extracted would be below the threshold for the full impact

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assessment to be carried out. What we are asking is for an independent,

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rigorous environmental impact assessment. Carried out not by the

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deal a but relayed by a university or someone with the expertise to

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carry this out. So that we are satisfied that it isn't going to

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cause long-term consequences for Northern Ireland. Andrew, this is

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your area of expertise. Do you think we need an independent body

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to look at this order are the procedures robust enough? In terms

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of the legal framework it by be robust. In so far as the framework

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is there in terms of the potential impact but whether it is a lack of

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knowledge is with the technical expertise in what that impact might

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be. And that is possibly were there could be a problem in the future

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because the expertise locally and nationally might not be there to

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understand what is still an emerging and fairly novel process.

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Even the word fracking has come into Our Language very quickly over

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the last couple of weeks. It is that something you are looking up

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now? Cases in America? It is any days and a lot of concern seems to

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be in America about the environmental issues that have been

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raised. You have to contrast the American system with the UK and the

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ear, were there are more rigorous controls on environmental processes

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but what it comes down to is having the knowledge and expertise to

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apply that regulatory framework to what is going on and that is where

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problems could arise. What happens next? Effectively, nothing can

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happen as a result of today's motion? We need to continue to

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raise the concerns of the public, particularly in Fermanagh. I want

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to follow what on Andrew's point. Northern Ireland, the Environment

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Agency is a very small branch within the DoE. It has been known

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to have a lack of resources and I have a lot of respect for these

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people doing their best within these constraints and to be able to

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regulate the processes once it has been installed, but they don't have

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the resources to do that. They don't have the technical know-how.

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How do we know the process is being regulated? At the moment there are

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thousands of cases of water pollution, R Care Quality

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Commission, they have not brought many cases out for prosecution

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because simply there is a lack of resources within the department.

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Thank you very much. You will have to leave it there. The Deputy First

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Minister was taking questions today but if you were expecting to hear

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something on the Maze development which had been promised, it was to

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be a disappointing session. Also up was a Social Development Minister,

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who concentrated on Warm Homes. First, a question on the recent

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controversy surrounding Belfast's lord mayor. What impact does a

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First Minister believe it will have on equality issues given the recent

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decision by the Belfast Lord Mayor not to present at Duke of Edinburgh

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:14:28.:14:30.

award to a local young female Obviously this has been a sizable

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story in the media. It has generated a lot of heat. I welcome

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very much the fact that the Mail has apologised for what was

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undoubtedly a mistake. There is a clear commitment that that would

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not be repeated. -- the Mayer. People should resist the temptation

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to inflame the situation any more than it has been. The important

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thing to do is whenever someone makes a mistake is to put your hand

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up and apologise. As far as I am concerned, he was big enough in the

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first instance to attend the Duke of Edinburgh award presentations,

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and in the second instance, he put his hands up and made it clear that

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he should apologise and he did apologise. The apology was fulsome.

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I think it is important not to make a meal out of it but to move on, to

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understand that certain circumstances will be a challenge

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for all of us. What we all have to do is continue to stretch out the

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hand of friendship to each other. We should not make life difficult

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for each other, as I am afraid in this circumstance we saw that

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happen. The junior minister was on her feet to answer the next

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question on the planned enquiry into historical institutional abuse.

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The minister will be aware of the reports produced by the Roman

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Catholic Church this week. The ones relevant to Northern Ireland, will

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they be included in this enquiry, and when we look at the needs of

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the victims and survivors, can that Minister assure us they will be

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given the most important privilege preference in all this, and not the

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needs of the legal profession? was one of the arrears when we were

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talking to the victims they had asked us to ensure this enquiry has

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not overlook them. We are aware of the reports, it relates to the

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north here. The reports did not deal with abuse, but rather look at

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how the Church have already dealt with allegations of abuse. The

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general theme we have seen from the reports has been that the church

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was more concerned with protecting the image than protecting the

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children and who were being abused. This is totally unacceptable, and

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those within the Church hierarchy will need to examine their

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consciences this -- their conscience with regard to this. The

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way in which they obsessively conceal the abuse, the reports

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indicated procedures are now in place to ensure it allegations of

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abuse are reported to the proper authorities, and we will be

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:17:46.:17:47.

properly monitoring it. We met with a member of the safeguarding board,

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and we intend to keep in touch with him. We will establish and ensure

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that the chair of the enquiry will be able to make recommendations to

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us if they feel there are other steps and issues that they could

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take account of. This week's falling temperatures has made fuel

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poverty even more topical, although it is rarely far from bit agenda.

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The minister got annoyed by this in due full -- got annoyed by this

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issue. The minister has highlighted the nature of the problem, when

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will he take effective action to deal with those who are in serious

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difficulty? I do not know where the member has been for the last mile,

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because there has been many announcements about this. -- the

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last month. It is not a case of talking about it, but doing things.

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We have in place a scheme for Warm Homes, while a replacement, ongoing

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improvements, the member can shake his head as much as he once, but

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the fact is, when people are doing something and delivering, he should

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at least acknowledge that it is happening. Not in your head in the

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corner of the room will not do much to address fuel poverty, but the

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actions been taken by his department are delivering. --

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shaking your head. Will the Minister ensure that a housing a

:19:31.:19:38.

polity spends all it can on double glazing? -- that those in authority.

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Double-glazing is a matter of public interest. It is important

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too tense and important to the construction industry. It is

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important we put down the message clearly. -- important to homeowners.

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I do not anticipate and I will not accept any failure in this regard.

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It is imperative that a housing executive makes sure at the �2

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million already allocated has been spent and therefore we are able to

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come back for the second amount of �2 million to make up the total of

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�4 million. This was agreed with the finance minister. If there are

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issues here that need to be addressed very quickly, the message

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will be going clearly and I am due to meet the housing executive on

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Thursday. At the top of that agenda will be ensuring that all �4

:20:36.:20:42.

million is able to be used, and that it is all spent. Companies Act

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they are looking for work in the construction industry and

:20:45.:20:50.

homeowners are looking for double glazing. -- companies are looking

:20:50.:20:59.

for work. Staying with our environmental theme, and a new

:20:59.:21:04.

strategy has been revealed aimed at tackling environmental and heritage

:21:04.:21:14.
:21:14.:21:14.

crime. They will launch a crackdown on waste, wildlife and historic

:21:14.:21:21.

buildings. The minister also revealed he is considering

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strengthening the law on metal theft. We need to ensure those who

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break the law will be robustly dealt with. That is what we are

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doing today. We will at departments working together to ensure

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criminals are prosecuted more vigorously. There is responsibility

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on the judges and courts to impose more severe penalties on those

:21:46.:21:53.

gangs responsible for at the most damage. The theft of metal is

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becoming an increasing problem, that is recognised in London, where

:21:59.:22:03.

they are bringing forth new legislation. I have instructed my

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own officials to school boat whether we need new legislation. --

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to look at whether. We will demonstrate that whatever the

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history, we will pursue and prosecute individual criminals and

:22:20.:22:29.

criminal gangs for damaging the environment. That is the measure of

:22:29.:22:32.

what the Government should be doing in the future going forward. With

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their putting words in the mouth of the minister, he seemed to be

:22:36.:22:41.

saying Bilal was robust but the courts are not been robust enough.

:22:41.:22:49.

-- the law was robust. Is that the case? Generally, yes. In terms of

:22:49.:22:53.

the law itself, there are different environmental crimes and the

:22:53.:23:00.

different penalties can be quite stringent. There can be large fines

:23:00.:23:07.

and imprisonment, but those are not vigorously enforced by the courts.

:23:07.:23:11.

Quite significant environmental offences have ended up with fairly

:23:11.:23:15.

low penalties. That is changing over time, but there is a sense

:23:15.:23:18.

that certain types of crimes are not recognised for the serious

:23:19.:23:24.

nature of them. It also reflects on the enforcement procedures of the

:23:24.:23:29.

Environment Agency. There has been a perception in the past the that

:23:29.:23:33.

the Environment Agency is not going after particularly serious

:23:33.:23:38.

criminals. That is things like waste disposal operations, and

:23:38.:23:45.

there is a perception that within the legitimate waste at business,

:23:45.:23:55.
:23:55.:24:00.

they are being over-regulated. Interesting points. Two MLAs are

:24:00.:24:06.

back in the chamber looking more clean-shaven. They grew moustache

:24:06.:24:10.

is aware awareness -- to raise awareness of cancers affecting men.

:24:10.:24:17.

I caught up with them and ask them why they got involved.

:24:17.:24:22.

colleagues were involved last year, obviously the females could not

:24:22.:24:26.

take part, but she inspired the male colleagues to get involved.

:24:26.:24:30.

There is a need to raise discussion and debate around men's health

:24:30.:24:36.

issues. We were very grateful to be involved in raising awareness and

:24:36.:24:44.

funds. How much did you raise? raise around �800. Hopefully we

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will get a few more work involved next year. Years was quite over the

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top, did it take a lot of work? -- your moustache. It just grew itself

:24:55.:25:03.

unfortunately. I did not do too much pruning. You had a few

:25:03.:25:10.

comparisons. I had a few. I was compared to a character from a

:25:10.:25:20.
:25:20.:25:20.

sitcom. I was also compared to Charles Bronson. The convict, not

:25:20.:25:27.

the actor. What about the women in your life, what did they think of

:25:27.:25:37.
:25:37.:25:40.

it? My girlfriend was pleased I took it off. Recent events at

:25:40.:25:44.

Belfast City Hall reached the chamber today as we heard earlier,

:25:44.:25:48.

with the exchange between Tom Elliott and Martin McGuinness. Our

:25:48.:25:54.

political editor had more detail. It has been a big controversy but

:25:54.:26:03.

it reached Stormont with Martin McGuinness making it clear that the

:26:03.:26:08.

big mistake had been made. At the same time, Sinn Fein is looking for

:26:08.:26:16.

Unionists to draw a line on this. What is this we're hearing about

:26:16.:26:20.

two of our committees heading south? They time that wrong if they

:26:20.:26:23.

want any bargains, because the Irish budget will make everything a

:26:23.:26:30.

bit more of -- a bit more expensive. The Regional Development Agency are

:26:30.:26:35.

having a meeting on the enterprise trained on the way down. They are

:26:35.:26:43.

getting a briefing about the development of rail services. They

:26:43.:26:51.

hope to end the meeting before their journey has finished. The

:26:51.:26:55.

environment committee are also going down. They will have a joint

:26:55.:27:00.

meeting with counterparts, and they will consider a different mode of

:27:00.:27:07.

transport, they are getting a briefing from Tyre Manufacturers'

:27:07.:27:14.

about environmentally friendly tyres. They will be burning rubber

:27:14.:27:23.

metaphorically. Some interesting issues raised tonight about

:27:23.:27:27.

fracking and environmental crime. Why do you think there has been

:27:27.:27:35.

less of a punishment handed out by some of the courts? I think it is

:27:35.:27:38.

because certain environmental crimes are seen as a victimless

:27:38.:27:42.

crime. It is difficult to put a price on the cost of the impact on

:27:42.:27:49.

the environment in the short term. What needs to be done? Do we need

:27:49.:27:52.

an independent environmental protection agency? To a certain

:27:52.:27:58.

extent, that would assist in so far as it is separate from any

:27:58.:28:02.

influence from government. In terms of enforcement it is not that

:28:02.:28:07.

important. What is more important is educating the courts and

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magistrates as to the seriousness of these crimes. Educating the

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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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