06/12/2016 Stormont Today


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

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There were sharp divisions, as expected, in the chamber today


as Members debated the whys and wherefores of the


And, in the final day of scheduled business before Christmas,


the House also discussed teachers' pay, food hygiene standards


Strong opinions and fierce debate as the Social Investment Fund


The Social Investment Fund is marred in controversy. The public don't


don't have trust or confidence in its operation. SIF has been doing


wonderful work out there and it's been targeted.


The Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton, gets


a jab in against one of the DUP's foremost tormenters.


I didn't see him referring to it as squander whenever he wrote to me a


few weeks ago pleading for a constituent of his to be included in


the scheme. Joining me with his thoughts


on today's developments is the News Letter's political


editor, Sam McBride. The Executive's troubled


Social Investment Fund has been making headlines for several months


now - not because of its community work, but because of the UDA leader,


Dee Stitt, who's the Chief Executive of Charter NI, which has received


almost ?2 million from the fund. Today, the Assembly rejected a call


from the Alliance Party for an independent review


of the fund during a debate Here's Stewart Dickson


outlining his concerns. The overarching question is whether


the stated objectives of the Social Investment Fund worthy as they


maybe, could be more efficientively and effectively achieved through


other ease means and whether the Social Investment Fund is a


worthwhile use of public money. It's been characterised by secrecy and


cronyism. Indeed, in at least one respect the ongoing association of


DUP representatives, including the First Minister, with a current


paramilitary has undermined the executive committee. I have been on


record time and time again recognising and acknowledging there


are good organisations with good individuals doing great work. We are


supportive of these projects. Our issue is not with them, it is with


the process. We are on record, as far as back as 2011, raising


concerns about this process and the continual failure by the First


Minister and the Deputy First Minister to address these concerns


left our members in all but one of the steering groups forced with no


option but to resign. The Social Investment Fund is marred in


controversy. The public don't have confidence or trust in its


operation. I'm rising to oppose the motion for a up in of reasons. The


first of these reasons is that, you know, unlike my colleague to the


left, I can't agree with the assumption about deep public concern


out there. I do get the opposition have a role to fulfil and they need


to raise issues to make themselves relevant and they tried tried to use


this issue to do. So I've listened to them and asked the questions,


make their points and table their debates like a a boxing trying to


land his knockout punch. I have listened to answers from ministers


who responded to this with cold, hard facts. We are not criticising


the efforts of those at local community level. Sorry, what we are


saying is that we have legitimate concerns around the control


exercised by the funding. As someone who sat on the Southern Zone. Would


the member agree that his colleague sat on that very Board, screw


niedsed everything and was very, very content with the projects that


went forward from the Southern Zone? The member has an extra minute.


Clearly the member is in winter wonderful line if she thinks that


any representative from the Ulster unionist party would do otherwise.


At community level that is what supporting communities is about. I


don't stand here to defend the Social Investment Fund I stand here


today to commend. It I hope that the Executive Office has the will


because I think SIF has been doing wonderful work there. It has been


targeted by a small number of people who have went after one individual


who made a stupid and flip pant remark which means that everybody


who has benefitted from SIF are now the targets of individuals in this


chamber who acting out of political interests, not in the public


interest in this instance. What we heard from the are are, who didn't


want to take interventions, he never addressed the key issue - why was


this scheme designed to exclude competition in respect of the lead


partners? Isn't the answer clear, because it was always intended to be


a vehicle for cronyism and it couldn't be that if you dared to


have open competition. The rancour between the parties on


this issue shows no sign of disdisappearing? No. There was a


clear opposition Executive split on this, as with many issues over the


last few months. Effectively, you could have summed up today's debate


as one half of the chamber saying what with a is the issue here. Why


are you coming to the chamber with this issue in erms it of Dee Stitt?


The other half of the chamber saying, how can this be happening in


Northern Ireland in 2016. On the issue of Dee Stitt, the opposition


were keen to focus on that issue, unsurprisingly. The Executive rarely


addressed that issue, John O'Dowd addressed it, saying he has not been


convicted. He has a past conviction, not a current conviction, for UDA


membership what do you want us to do about it? Most of the DUP


representatives steered away saying lots of these groups are doing good


work. It's accepted that they are. Some of the politician want to


characterise the controversy as a media construct. Could they have a


point? I think there are points where the media is justly criticised


for things, I think on this issue we are probably a convenient punch bag.


The BBC was particular punch bag today for Mrs Cameron, she talked


about the Noalisation. The DUP appointed the editor of the Nolan


Show. It ease convenient to deflect from the actual issue by saying the


messager is the problem. The First and Deputy Firsters ministers


announced the appointment of a six person panel as part of the Fresh


Start Agreememt to replace the old sieve Vick forum? It is. It's a


shrunken form. The Civic Forum died a lonely death a long time ago. Few


people were clamouring to get it back. It's unclear whether this


group will have any clout. The people are being paid ?300 a day for


work which is unclear. People will expect to see something significant


from them. They were appointed by the First and Deputy First


Ministers. There was no open procurement, if that is the correct


phrase, for their portions. They are appointed by the DUP and Sinn Fein.


They will not massively rock the boat in terms of a situation where


the opposition is criticising the Executive for something. They will


contribute advice to the Executive on issues where they are seeking


some sort of input from outside themselves. Interesting to see what


their remit and range of issues they want to look at would be. Do you


think it will have its discussion, deliberations will have an impact on


public discourse? It's unclear. Not clear whether they will meet in


public, private, will they publish minutes of their discussions, hold


public meetings. The press release seems to show they


will have a wide remit, right down to deciding who will chair each


meeting. That will be for them to decide. It sounds like they have


been given a pretty rough idea of what they are supposed to do. They


have been told, you can go on and get on with it. It's not entirely


clear what is expected of them or how they are expected to operate. We


will talk to you later in the programme.


Who would have thought "hot air" would turn out to be such


But as a result of mistakes in the Renewable Heat Incentive


scheme, Ministers could be handing out tens of millions of pounds


Today, the Economy Minister revealed that he's drawing up


plans which could see, in his words, "a significant


Here's Simon Hamilton responding to a question


These are serious issues which I'm very sized of the importance of and


I'm dealing with on an ongoing basy to try to find a resolution to many


of the issues that have froed from the allegations and concerns there


have been with the Renewable Heat Incentive. My department is


developing a proposal for changes to the Renewable Heat Incentive which


would lead to a significant reduction in future costs to the


Northern Ireland Executivive. It requires detail discussions include


legal advice and further engagement with the European Commission, it


received approval within the state aid regime. I will bring a proposal


to the Assembly and issue a document as early as I can early in the new


year. We are pursuing stronger enforcement of the existing


regulations through Ofgem so that abuses of the scheme are addressed


as effectively as possible and that any possible fraud cases are dealt


with rigorously. Thank you Mr Speaker. Will the investigation


initiated by the minister be able to distinguish between


maladministration and illegitimate installations. In other words,


fraud, and are the police currently investigating? Mr Speaker, as I


pointed out to the member in my answer, these are serious


allegations of fraud and abuse which were received, which have been given


the due seriousness that such allegations would require. That's


why we have carried begun, commenced carried out the investigations that


we have. I'm absolutely adamant that where there is proof and evidence.


That is the important bit of this. There has to be proof and evidence


of abuse of the scheme, that appropriate action, all appropriate


angsts including if required criminal proceedings should be taken


for defrauding the It might cost scheme. Him his job, would the


minister agree that at least one of his redcressors, particularly Mrs


Foster, was asleep at the wheel in terms of failing to exercise


ministerial supervision and ensuring that there was adequate cost


controls in place. Can he give us an update on how much this squander


made in Stormont is going to cost us into the future? The minister, the


member, describes it as "squander" I didn't see him referring to it as


squander when he wrote to me a few weeks ago pleading for a constituent


of his to be included in the scheme. LAUGHTER. It seems... It seems it's


squander when it suits the member. Well, Jim Allister wasn't


going to let that go unchallenged and he raised a point of order


at the end of question time. In September and in October of this


year I wrote on behalf of two separate constituents who had


applied to the scheme back in February and had heard nothing. I


did what any other constituent member would have done. I wrote and


asked - why have these people not heard about their applications. You


placed your concern on-the-record. No doubt that the minister will be


aware of your concerns, Mr Allister. Meanwhile, Simon Hamilton's DUP


colleague, Peter Weir, was also on his feet


at the despatch box today. The Education Minister fielded


questions yet again about industrial action being taken by some teaching


unions over pay. Mr Weir was also asked what steps


were being taken in schools to highlight the risks


of social media. In 2015 the executive commissioned


the developmentment of a new safety strategy an action plan for Northern


Ireland. This was a recognition of the rising concern of parents,


carers, professionals and broader society for the safety of children


and young people when using the internet and encouraging with social


media. There are aims within the strategy which are applicable to


schools, which include developing a consistent approach to E safety in


schools through technical provision. Education of our young people and


children and those who work with them. Developing a consistent


approach to E safety messages for children, young people, parents,


embedding a culture of E safety within schools, colleges, youth


services and organisations and practicer ins who work with young


children and families. Would he ensure such a strategy is live.


Technology changes consistently and be sure the strategy keeps up to


day? An implementation plan is critical. We have something which is


live and has a level of flexibility within it that can ensure that


whatever changes there are in technology or changes in terms of a


cultural change. Sometimes it's less direct technology the way it essay


dapted and use. We can have the flexibility so things can respond


fairly quickly. Did I ask the Minister to provide an


update on the teacher's dispute? There has been a call that has gone


out to try to sit down and see if we can provide a long-term solution for


this. The reality is that within the 20000 and 16-20,017 -- 2016-2017


budget, there have been some issues raised in relation to this in terms


of parity but an offer has been made which was greater than parity and


they said no to it. There is a situation in which within the


current constraints, what was put in place for the next year was


ultimately within the current constraints a fair offer in that


regard. The Minister won't be aware of the recent strike and he has


taken a rather obdurate mission in relation to it. Given that and given


the fact that the other three teacher's unions are presently


balloting for strike action, would he agree with me that the best


veggie teachers might adopt in order to shift the Minister from his


present obstinate position would be for them to strike together? No. I


suspect he has not changed his position in the last half-century in


regards to being obdurate. To be fair, whatever other criticism I


would make... A bit like Castro, you have been consistent in your


position for the last half-century. But I think my main concern is the


children. And think it is highly responsible of the member to


centrally encourage people to go out on strike, particularly in


circumstances where there is not additional money that is there. It


is not a question of obduracy. It is a question of there is not money


within the budget to be able to provide for this.


Peter Weir, refusing to give any ground


Food hygiene stickers on display in cafes and restaurants have become


Today the Health Minister outlined the fines for non-display -


and how much it will cost for businesses to get re-rated.


Michelle O'Neill said the aim is to help consumers


make an informed choice about where to eat and, ultimately,


In summary, the key provisions of the act require all food businesses


to display a valid food hygiene rating sticker. Relevant employees


within a food business must on request in farmed the person making


the request of the food hygiene rating. It requires all online


businesses selling food to display a rating on their platform and


introduces offences in relation to non-display of valid rating


information. And allow for a fixed penalty notices to be applied for


not showing their rating. Allow the charging of a fee in relation to


conducting a request for a re-rating visit. Specifies time schools in


which it must be completed by. The order specifies the amount of the


fixed penalty and the fee in relation to conducting a requested


rating visit. The advantages of introducing the rating penalty


notices are twofold. They provide officers with an additional


enforcement tool and they reduce the burden on the North of Ireland Court


service by reducing the number of prosecutions taken. It therefore


follows that the amount of the expelled the notice applied must be


at a sufficient level to deter people from committing the offence,


but not so they would encourage offenders to aim for a better


outcome from a court hearing. Our officers to that a strong penalty is


more suitable. They were still retain the opportunity of


prosecuting the offender. Considering the food hygiene rating


Bill, the previous health committee supported the overarching aim of the


bill to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness through the


introduction of the mandatory food hygiene rating scheme. It was


accepted that this would not only help businesses to achieve and


maintain compliance with food hygiene law. It would also allow


consumers to make informed choices about where they wished to eat or


shop for food. When considering the statutory role before the Assembly


today, the committee noted the importance if guards for businesses


within the act to allow businesses to request a rating of their


premises again and accepted that the fee of ?150 setup in these reflected


the cost that would be incurred by district councils. In conducting


this inspection. The committee also noted and had no objection to the


fixed penalty amount of ?200, which would be payable by businesses were


a fixed penalty notice was served. The committee further noted that the


examiner of statutory rules confirmed in the report issues on


the 21st of October 2016 that she has no issues to raise with regard


to the technical aspect. A recent survey demonstrated how 90% of


consumers look at the meeting of the premise compared to the 22% who look


online. I also welcome the fact that this will allow for an authorised


officer of the distant Council to issue a fixed penalty notice for


offences related to non-display of valid food hygiene rating. As this


will undoubtedly succeed in reducing the number of offences having to be


dealt with through the courts. I also want to note the largely


positive consultation responses. With regards to the fee, I will


leave the positives for it with the opportunity for an upgraded rating


will encourage -- encourage businesses to make the necessary


improvements. I encourage the public to make the most of the new


measures. Sound advice from the Minister


if you're planning to head The Ulster Unionists have called


on the Executive to nominate a Northern Ireland representative


to the UK-wide Armed Forces Covenant reference group -


the covenant states that veterans "should face no disadvantage


compared to other citizens in Opening the debate, Doug Beattie


said he recognised that reaching agreement across the chamber


may be difficult. I fully understand that you feel


that those who you represent and many of the communities that you


represent had been brutalised by the British military, certainly in the


70s and in the early 80s. I can fully understand that. The covenant


fund is ?10 million per year that we are able to bid for. We do get our


fair share and in the last 12 months, we have had ?450,000 that


has gone to combat stress and we have had ?600,000 which is gone to


nursing homes and mental health. There is a defence community mental


health facility which is underused. It has had four people go to it


because nobody knows about it. I visit my constituents in prison. I


visit them in hospital, where they have attempted suicide. I go with


them to reviews with a try to keep hold of the children and I attend


police stations with them when they have issues with domestic violence


through issues of PTSD. I do not question the fact that more needs to


be done in Northern Ireland to make veterans await the services,


charities and apartment that they can access. Even whilst I would


dispute what political and military leadership do, there are many people


in the British Army who fought in good faith and in sincere belief.


Wherever they went around the world over the years, I do not dispute the


contribution of individual members of the Army for the is as they


believe in. And I say that because I have said it before because my great


uncle I am named after lies in an unmarked grave on the Belgian coast


at a place called Newport, having been killed in July 1917 in the


First World War, and I have visited and visited with pride the memorial.


I want to assure the members that I did as Doug Beattie asked and I


listened to to the contributions and I want to assure everybody that my


opposition to this motion isn't based on my own very negative


experiences of the British Army. Nor is it based on my antipathy to the


actions of engaged in by the British army across the globe in recent


years. My opposition is political, though. It is very political. It is


political in a sense that my opposition to supporting this is


based on the protection of rights and entitlements, fair access to


servers for every citizen who lives here in Northern Ireland. Due to do


nations being scarce, they have been forced into a decision to withdraw


their welfare support for the front line and I think it has been


revealed that nearly 3000 individuals who rely upon that


service will be impacted. And these are issues that can be raised within


the common reference group. In terms of the issue of equality and equal


treatment, let's be clear. They are not the same thing. If we want a


more equal society then treating everybody the same way will not get


us there. Because those with an advantaged will continue to be


advantaged and those with a disadvantage will continue to be


disadvantaged. The only way we can bring about a more equal society is


a special consideration, targeting objective need, not just assessing


it but targeting it. What I am arguing for is that the same


treatment is given to other people and in particular those who have


gone through similar experiences. I understand absolutely that people


have suffered. What I am arguing is that it can't be specific... It can


be giving the British Armed Forces and advantage above others. That is


the argued. -- and timid. -- argument. I would have to say that


it doesn't say that. It actually says that the disadvantage that


people have suffered is to be addressed, not that they are


advantaged. Special consideration is not advantage. It is to consider the


special conditions in which they have lived.


Naomi Long - and that motion was carried by 58 votes to 20.


It's one of the most contentious issues for our MLAs,


and attempts to change the law surrounding abortion in cases


of fatal foetal abnormality failed in the last mandate.


We're currently waiting for the Health Minister to bring


forward proposals resulting from a working group set up


to look into the issue, but today the former


Justice Minister, David Ford, brought forward


I begged to introduce the abortion fatal little abnormality built. I


would ask the clerk to please read the long title. A Bill to make


provision to decriminalise medical termination of a pregnancy in those


circumstances where the foetus is diagnosed with fatal abnormality.


That constitutes the first stage of the bill and it churn out be


printed. And obviously that bill will be


debated during its second And that is likely to


be a lively debate - because opinion is deeply divided


on this issue amongst the parties. Yes, and I think this will be one of


the defining issues of this mandate in terms of the Assembly, that there


is of course as you mentioned the option of this coming from the


executive, of them winning forward a bill based on their working group. I


think that is probably unlikely in the sense that the DUP have seemed


pretty and reluctant to move on that issue. This is going to get a lot of


scrutiny. I think there was a letter that came out today from the medics


raising the question of whether the term fatal fatal abnormality which


is in the long title of the bill is even the right term to use here. And


these can be very difficult issues to go through to decide what exactly


are the conditions which are covered by this. At what point after birth


when somebody is believed by doctors to not have a chance of life should


they be allowed to have an abortion. That is going to be very difficult.


And I think central to this will be the DUP. Other parties will also


have a lot of debate about this. Just a quick word about the debate


on the military covenant. It divided the chamber along well-established


lines. Yes, and that is not a surprise. It was a measured debate


both from Doug Beattie and from Sinn Fein. It basically comes down to


where one possible definition of equality is different from others.


Sinn Fein said it would be in equitable to give preferential


treatment for the point of view of the military. This is about soldiers


who will be leaving the military and there has to be consideration taken


of his circumstances, but there was a scathing review from Lord Ashcroft


and the DUP is under a bit of pressure. Today was meant to be the


last sitting before Christmas. There are strong rumours we could be back


for the first budget on the 19th of December. That seems very likely. It


seems to be that it will be a one-year budget in terms of the


current resource account. We will also be looking to see whether there


are any hints about corporation tax, whether that will definitely be cut


from next's budget. That's it for tonight


and perhaps for 2016, depending on whether or not that


budget happens on Monday week - In the meantime, do join me


for The View on Thursday night, Until then, from everyone


in the team, bye-bye. 'Sometimes all that's needed


is a helping hand...' It wouldn't be Christmas


without her. Ah. '..recognising someone's value


and seeing when they need help. 'A few minutes of our time


or one small gesture 'may be all that it takes -


playing our part.' We're doing something to support


older people this Christmas.


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people - from decision makers to opinion formers - to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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