07/02/2012 Stormont Today


07/02/2012

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. 200 years ago, one of English

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literature's greatest authors was born. Happy birthday Charles

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Dickens. With Great Expectations, let's see what's in the programme

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tonight. The old curiosity shop will see its rates cut as a new

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Bill speeds through the House. passage of this Bill through the

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Assembly will lead to a timely implementation of the measures on

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the 1st April 2012 and will go some way to reducing the disz

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proportionate rating burden on small businesses. And, what has

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been tickling the chamber's Artful Dodger. It's spreading around the

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benches. The next we will have the member for North Antrim speaking

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Irish. My guest tonight is Ian Coulter of the CBI. You'll probable

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remember the Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, caused some

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controversy when he suggested that big business should pay higher

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rates to help smaller firms. That Bill passed its final staged in the

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Assembly today. Ian Coulter, you represent firms of all sizes. You

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weren't in favour of this legislation? That's correct. We

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went on record early on that we were against this measure. We

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believe, the CBI believes, it's imperative you get the balance

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between big and small business correct. We didn't think this was

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the way to go about it. Given the big profits of Tesco, IKEA, some of

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the stores mentioned, surely it is a fairer way to try to help some of

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the smaller firms. We saw figures today that 1,000 shops, small shops,

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have closed in Northern Ireland in the last year? Absolutely. Those

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small retailers need help. The issue is how to do that? We've,

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after having a number of discussions with different

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retailers, all sizes and shapes, we are convinced putting a... At the

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end of the day, a relatively small amount of money onto these large

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retailers sends the wrong message to business. What would be your

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solution then? I believe that the best way to do that would be to

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look at planning. Understand and agree with the different retailers

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around all of the different cities, what do we want in our townships

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and city centres? Then plan it accordingly. Slapping tariffs on to

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the larger businesss is not the way to do. It it sends the wrong

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message. Many people would see the larger businesses as the reason if

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they are out of town stores some of the town centre shops have closed

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down? That is where the planning needs to come into place. If there

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was dialogue with a lot of these retailers and space in the city

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centres you could say, we want to fill this space shall how can we do

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that? If we looked at the larger retailers we could say, there may

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be certain goods you can't sell from these large out of town stores.

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There are different ways of doing it. Going back to GB, to lot of

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these boards and sending out the message we will charge larger

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businesses. Not just retailers, large businesses generally, we will

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charge extra amounts is a dangerous message at this moment in time to

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send out. You don't think it will really put people off investing

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here? I wouldn't underestimate it. When you take it in conjunction

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with issues that large employers have at the moment with employment

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legislation, procurement and planning processes, it's another

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layer of difficulty and the message that those business cos say, is

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Northern Ireland really open for business? Is it business-friendly.

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At the minute that is very dangerous to do. You might think a

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Finance Minister would want to get his hand on more tax raising powers,

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but not our Finance Minister, as we'll find out shortly. We start

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our look at ministerial questions with the issue of illegal waste

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dumping. Alex Attwood, who reveals a little more than he was supposed

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to. The Minister is aware of a disgraceful case of dumping in the

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Downpatrick area which led to a prosecution just before Christmas

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were those responsible were find �121,500. He could send out a clear

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message to those involved to demand that those who did that, take every

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brick, every stone, every piece of concrete, every oil barrel out of

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that ground and process it through a licenced waste disposal site.

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That would send a clear message out to the community that we will no

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longer tolerate this irresponsible activity. Thank you. I'm aware of

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that case as members will be. It is a very serious offence. 9,000

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tonnes of illegal waste. Some of which came from the demolition of

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Down Hospital. There was a very substantial fine. The member is

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quite right, that is only part of the picture. It's half of the

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equation. There is now the responsibility in (inaudible) to

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clean up the wrong and crime committed in that regard. There are

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discussions between the local council and the NIEA in respect of

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how that situation is going to be rectified. And, when those

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conversations are concluded, then I will advise the members of what the

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outcome of those conclusions are. It is a difficult matter because

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the irresponsible and criminal behaviour of an individual, of

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dumping that waste, we have to remember that the haulier was also

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convicted in court, the irresponsible and reckless

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behaviour in dumping that waste was dumped near a water course, near a

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loch. Therefore, given what might be in the ground. Given there might

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be oil contamination a precautionary approach has to be

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deployed in order to ensure that waste is disposed of appropriately.

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Half an hour, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was at the front steps of the

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Assembly where we were launching a Crimestoppers initiative in order

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to encourage those who are aware of illegal dumping, be it fuel

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laundering or otherwise, to report that to Crimestoppers. Because, I

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welcome this, this is evidence beginning to emerge, Mr Deputy

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Speaker, that people who are aware of ill legality are beginning, on a

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confidential basis, to make that known to the appropriate

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authorities including my environmental crime unit. The

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purpose of that initiative is to encourage people to provide the

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information to allow the government, DoE and the police to bear down on

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those involved involved in crime. What does the Minister talk about

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when he gets together with treasury colleagues in London, football,

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music? No, it it seems not. I have raised a number of important

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economic and financial issues with the Chancellor and treasury

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ministers over the last six months. The issues raised have been wide-

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ranging. They include corporation tax, air passenger duty, levy

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credit scheme, bank lending, enterprise zones, the budget

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exchange scheme and the Olympics. As a result of the engagement on

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those issues, we have -- now have got the ability to carry money over

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from one year to the next. �60 million to deal with pressures next

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year. Something we didn't have this time available to us this time last

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year. The Olympics funding issue has been resolved. We got money

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from, that as did Wales and Scotland. The government is working

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on the devolution of air passenger duty for direct haul flights from

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Northern Ireland, which, of course, will have considerable bearing on

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our ability to attract inward investment. I was wondering if the

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Minister had further discussions with regard additional fiscal

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powers coming to the Assembly bar the ones he outlined with regard to

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corporation tax. It would be beneficial if we had a response of

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any conversation? First of all, I think the range of taxation that

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we've discussed is quite wide- ranging. Personally, I do not want

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to see the devolution of a huge amount of taxation to Northern

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Ireland. Two reasons, first of all because we are a unionist, I don't

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want to see Northern Ireland separate from the rest of the

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United Kingdom. Scottish nationalists Irish National lists

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might want that. As a democratic unionist I don't want. It secondly,

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there are good economic reasons for not seeking that kind of devolution.

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Don't forget, the devolution of tax and tax raising powers to Northern

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Ireland, then lumbers Northern Ireland with all of the uncertainty

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in that tax revenue if things go well we benefit from the increased

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tax revenues. If things go badly, we suffer from the reduction in tax

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revenues. To try and plan any kind of public spending programme, with

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that kind of uncertainty built in, would make life very, very

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difficult and that's one of the reasons why it is important, I

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believe, not to have that uncertainty built in through the

:10:08.:10:18.
:10:18.:10:19.

massive devolution of a whole range of taxes to Northern Ireland.

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:10:29.:10:30.

Thank you, very much, Mr Speaker, Deputy Speaker. Question Number 6

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to the Minister? I see it's wearing off on the member... It's spreading

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around the benches. The next we will have the member from North

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Antrim speaking Irish if we are not very careful. The rates bill went

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through today using what is known as accelerated passage. That means

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it doesn't go to the committee stage. Here's the thoughts of the

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Finance Committee's Deputy Chair, Dominic Bradley. Mr Speaker, on

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behalf of the finance and personnel committee, I welcome the final

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stage of the rates admendment bill, recognising that the passage of

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this bill through the Assembly will lead to a timely implementation of

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the measures on the 1st April 2012. It will go some way to reducing the

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disportion nait rating burden on small businesses during this is

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difficult economic climate. The department of finance and personnel

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originally briefed the committee on the consultation proposals on the

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large retail levy on the 8th June 2011, advising that it intended to

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seek accelerated passage for the rates admendment bill. In

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supporting the implementation of this bill, the committee continues

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to be mindful of the recommendations it made regarding

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the ongoing work to be taken forward by the department. The

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department is to carry out an evaluation of the existing small

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business rates relief scheme and will make any necessary changes to

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the scheme in time for rates bills in 2012/13. In relation to the

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ministerial amendments it will be important there is an evaluation of

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the effectiveness of the measures, in relation to empty property

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relief. An assessment also of uptake, the extent of any

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displacement and whether it is proving to be effective, in terms

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of getting empty shops back into business again. Looking back there

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at what Sammy Wilson said about not wanting extra tax raising powers.

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What do you think business people I think it is important to

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distinguish be debate about corporation tax around that debate.

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I think it is absolutely critical that we stay on message and on

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focus in the debate about corporation tax and do not stray

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off course and talk about other powers. I do believe the

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corporation tax debate is the single most important issue facing

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Northern Ireland and the economy today. What about Scottish

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independence and then moved to a referendum? Do you think it will

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put on a longer finger? I hope not. Every single Scottish business

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organisation has come out against Scottish corporation tax being

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devolved and reduced. I do not personally think -- I think

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personally the Scottish economy is not the same as ours. I think ours

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is a special case. Our negotiations should move forward and get a

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decision this summer. His Sammy Wilson write about not having

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further powers, that it would lead to too much uncertainty, that we

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are better sticking with the big cheques we get an divvying bat out

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as best we can? I suspect what he is doing is diffusing the argument

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at this stage and doing what we should all be doing and focusing on

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corporation tax. To be frank, the CBI is so focused on the

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corporation tax issue, we are not looking at other issues.

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A MLAs have called for a more joined-up approach to ensure that

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roads and sewage systems are completed in new housing

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developments. There are around 3,000 roads here which have not

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been completed for the correct standard for the Roads Service to

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take up ownership of them. Confidence in the system needs to

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be re-established and residents who are at present suffering from a

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flawed system need protection. As more problems are exposed, a do-

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nothing approach is not appropriate. The whole system does not have to

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be dismantled, but changes are needed to be made to make it fitter

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for progress -- fitter for purpose. I think there is a lack of joined-

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up legislation. The Roads Service have to wait a considerable time.

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There seems to be this disconnect between the role of the local

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authorities, the role of the Roads Service, the role of the water

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service and this is causing massive frustration for the residents. As

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other speakers have said, many residents are living on the States

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for 10 or 20 years, the roads have still not been adopted and the Suez

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have not been adopted. There is also a cross-departmental issue

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because we have various departments. The roads system may be responsible

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for the roads and so it but then you have the Department of

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Environment and local government to enforce the rules and make sure the

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different actions are taken so they can get the development correct for

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the start of the development. aware that the committee for

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regional development has established an inquiry into an

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adopted roads and that the inquiry will include a review of the bond

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system and how it works. I welcome, Mr Speaker, members who raised the

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example of how the process works in the Republic of Ireland and other

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jurisdictions and I agree that and suggest that this should be

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included in the committee's inquiry. I also recognise the role of others

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in any such investigation, such as the Department of Environment and

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justice, local councils and the representative bodies. In

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conclusion, I would not intend to carry out a separate review of

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bonds before the committee inquiry has been completed, but as the

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Minister for roads and water policy, I will ensure that my officials are

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available to the committee in the process of this inquiry. I can

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assure members that Roads Service and Northern Ireland Water will

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continue to enforce legislation to offer as much certainty as possible

:17:09.:17:13.

to new home owners who find themselves in this situation.

:17:13.:17:20.

With me now is the DUP Jim Wells. After the debate today, do you feel

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reassured that there will be some movement? I thought the Minister's

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response was quite low-key but I think he is waiting until the

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committee reports on this issue. We know there are thousands of people

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in Northern Ireland marooned in the States tonight and some do not have

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adopted roads or sewage systems. That is intolerable. We need to

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spend some money to get the state up to standard. Would you like to

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see a complete overhaul of the bond system? Something has to be done

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because some of these have been outstanding for 20 years. In 1982,

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the bond was taken out a one case, and it has not been used and that

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is unacceptable. I hope the committee will recommend strong

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changes in the legislation to stop this nonsense which has been going

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on for far too long. How do get developers to bring the roads up to

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the correct standards if they have run out of money? That is the

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problem because a lot of developers have gone into liquidation because

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of the credit crunch. You cannot redeem the bond if the work is

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ongoing. There are estate in Downpatrick where there are three

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occupied houses and 20 empty and and still that development is

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completed, you catch justified as releasing the bond -- Until that

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development is completed. The bond is kept in an independent source.

:18:43.:18:49.

If the developer has gone out of business, the money is available

:18:49.:18:54.

but that is a problem. People in all constituencies and All Party

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seemed to have examples of this? Every part of Northern Ireland has

:18:58.:19:06.

this problem. Tickly areas which have had a boom time in development.

:19:06.:19:10.

There are some houses with no sewage system at all. The bond

:19:10.:19:15.

system could not sort that out. I feel for people because their

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houses are unsaleable. That is bad enough but they have also had the

:19:18.:19:22.

dramatic drop in value anyhow. If you are going to deliver for people,

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you have to do something about this issue. What about the speed of it

:19:27.:19:32.

because if you go out now, as Danny Kennedy said, and have this inquiry,

:19:32.:19:37.

it is putting it all a bit further on down the line? It is but the

:19:37.:19:41.

inquiry will be quite quick in its reporting. The problem is, we have

:19:41.:19:46.

to get it right because there are difficult technical issues to be

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dealt with. I would like to think this time next year, we would have

:19:48.:19:54.

had a resolution to this which would provide some relief to hard-

:19:54.:19:58.

pressed families living in difficult circumstances. Should the

:19:58.:20:00.

Executive Stepping and give some money to these developments,

:20:00.:20:04.

particularly the ones you have mentioned which have been going on

:20:04.:20:11.

for ten years? No, because of the Executive did this it would send an

:20:11.:20:14.

at messaged irresponsible developers who would think the

:20:14.:20:18.

state would step in and rescue the system. People who built these

:20:19.:20:24.

estates, ultimately, the bond they have secured should be used to fund

:20:24.:20:28.

the work. The state should not pick up the tab. While you're here, I

:20:28.:20:35.

want to ask you about your former party minister, Ian Paisley. The

:20:35.:20:37.

first and Deputy First Minister have issued a statement calling on

:20:37.:20:42.

people to pray for Dr Paisley. would concur with that. The whole

:20:43.:20:46.

country is concerned about his health. He has been a great leader.

:20:46.:20:51.

We all hope and pray he will be back to health and strength. I

:20:51.:20:54.

would concur entirely with what Peter Robinson said.

:20:54.:21:01.

Thank you. Courts here recently secured the first conviction for

:21:01.:21:06.

human trafficking. There are plans for wider powers to be introduced

:21:06.:21:10.

by the Department of Justice to meet Annie Sempill director. Today,

:21:10.:21:18.

MLAs got a chance to voice their feelings on the issue -- to meet

:21:18.:21:28.
:21:28.:21:31.

and the EU direct To. A recent estimate that there 88

:21:31.:21:35.

brothels in estimation -- in operation across the North. The

:21:35.:21:39.

trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation does exist in

:21:39.:21:44.

our communities. It exists in our cities, towns and villages. It may

:21:44.:21:49.

be concentrated in cities but let us be under no illusion, it happens

:21:49.:21:55.

right across our rural and urban communities. Human trafficking is

:21:55.:22:00.

the third most profitable illegal organised trade in the World Today.

:22:00.:22:04.

It is a modern-day slavery which generate profits from human

:22:04.:22:08.

suffering and represents a vulgar abuse of the fundamental human

:22:08.:22:14.

right of freedom. Mr Speaker, I welcome the recent news of the

:22:14.:22:18.

first conviction for human trafficking in Northern Ireland and

:22:18.:22:22.

commend all those involved in the process which brought about this

:22:22.:22:29.

conviction. I hope this serves as warning to all those currently

:22:30.:22:32.

involved or facilitating human trafficking that they will be

:22:32.:22:37.

pursued by the full rigour of the law and our society will not

:22:37.:22:42.

tolerate such horrors. Human trafficking represents one of the

:22:42.:22:48.

greatest evils our society faces. Five years ago, this issue was not

:22:48.:22:54.

on the radar. Sadly, today, it is becoming more and more prevalent.

:22:54.:22:58.

There needs to be a piece of work done to truly identify how serious

:22:58.:23:04.

a problem this is. Last year, there were 23 victims rescued who had

:23:04.:23:09.

been involved in human trafficking. Five of these had been involved in

:23:09.:23:14.

forced labour and 18 of them had been used for sexual exploitation.

:23:14.:23:20.

The majority of those who were arrested were from the Chinese

:23:20.:23:24.

community and it demonstrates that the organised gangs that are

:23:24.:23:30.

involved in this, some on local to Northern Ireland, but this is again

:23:30.:23:33.

an organised crime gang on a global scale.

:23:33.:23:38.

That motion was passed. Could the north coast and the Glens of Antrim

:23:38.:23:42.

become a national park? Up until now, all the talk has been about

:23:42.:23:47.

the words getting -- the Mournes getting the status. But the Glens

:23:47.:23:52.

Heritage Trust came to showcase what it has to offer. There are

:23:52.:23:56.

currently three areas of outstanding natural beauty or ANOBs

:23:56.:24:01.

within its boundaries. The acting chief executive believes the

:24:01.:24:04.

spectacular landscape along the north and east coast would make it

:24:04.:24:08.

an excellent candidate. I think local authorities are behind the

:24:08.:24:14.

concept of a national park but again, if there is no support, we

:24:14.:24:24.
:24:24.:24:27.

do not have to go for that. Of course, a national park would bring

:24:27.:24:36.

a better foothold than a ANOB. The local people and think do see the

:24:36.:24:41.

benefits in the concept of a national park. Farmers have to be

:24:41.:24:44.

including the process in projects because they are the ones who look

:24:44.:24:49.

after the landscape. The beauty of the landscape in Northern Ireland,

:24:49.:24:55.

is, thanks to the people who work the land, is a living landscape so

:24:55.:25:00.

they need to be part of the concept, they need to be reassured that some

:25:00.:25:05.

of the issues they have will not affect them.

:25:05.:25:12.

What else has been going up here? I caught up with Martina who said we

:25:12.:25:17.

are a step closer to knowing what will happen to members' pay. There

:25:17.:25:22.

is a three-person panel of experts looking at the issue. I'm told the

:25:22.:25:27.

report is in the final stages. It will not be published until March.

:25:27.:25:31.

Some of the proposals include bringing members' paid possibly

:25:31.:25:36.

into line with regional assemblies. There are concerns looking at

:25:36.:25:40.

issues of mileage. What about the Assembly Commission are for

:25:40.:25:44.

Standards? When will we see that post filled? It looks like there

:25:44.:25:49.

will be a delay in that. That post is there. Be new commissioner is

:25:49.:25:53.

supposed to ensure that MLAs uphold the highest standard of integrity

:25:54.:25:58.

in public life. There was an advertisement for the job and I am

:25:58.:26:01.

told a dozen people applied and there was a short list of a few

:26:01.:26:06.

names but they did not find anyone suitable so they will the advertise

:26:06.:26:13.

it. And apparently they are upset with the media, what have we done?

:26:13.:26:17.

Apparently it is not the coverage of the map marry a fair, it is the

:26:17.:26:22.

fact that the media did not cover 21 gun salute at Hillsborough

:26:22.:26:26.

Castle yesterday in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It is not

:26:26.:26:31.

our fault because the media were not told about this so they had no

:26:31.:26:34.

opportunity to cover it so it is a case of please don't shoot the

:26:34.:26:41.

messenger. Let's go back at the issue of areas

:26:41.:26:43.

of outstanding natural beauty and tourism. It is a big issue this

:26:43.:26:50.

year? At the CBI annual dinner we are building the whole night around

:26:50.:26:54.

the next 12 months and how businesses, when they are dealing

:26:54.:26:57.

with their customers and suppliers, make them aware and give them a new

:26:57.:27:01.

message to send out. Is that something we need to address? It

:27:01.:27:05.

has not been talked about that match but customer-service. If you

:27:05.:27:09.

want people to come, you want them to have a warm welcome but also

:27:09.:27:17.

given a service that they deserve? Certainly, those in the hospitality

:27:17.:27:20.

service would say customer-service skills have not been designated as

:27:20.:27:25.

a priority service and a priority skill. If we are going to go after

:27:26.:27:30.

tourism, customer-service is key. And opening hours, there has been

:27:30.:27:36.

some criticism on a Sunday or the bank holidays, a lot of the shops

:27:36.:27:40.

and other interesting places for people to visit are closed? I think

:27:40.:27:44.

it is improving but I think if we are going to compete on a European

:27:44.:27:49.

scale and European stage, we have to be consistent. Customers will

:27:49.:27:54.

have an expectation and they will want to have that expectation met.

:27:54.:27:59.

Are these long-term jobs? Yes, I think they are. The Irish model

:27:59.:28:03.

have done well with tourism. I think there is great potential. We

:28:03.:28:09.

are moving ahead and have done great things. The MTV awards were

:28:09.:28:13.

first class. The events which have been planned for the next 12 months

:28:13.:28:17.

of first class. Business has to get behind it. Thank you for being our

:28:17.:28:20.

guest. That is it from Stormont tonight.

:28:20.:28:24.

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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