07/05/2013 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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on the programme: Last week he wasn't happy with how the health


trust's handled the issue of closing care homes. Today the Health


Minister disagreed with recommendations for the future of


child heart services. Don't want to go down the road recommended by the


board. I want to go down the road that I've outlined to you today. I


need the cooperation of colleagues and Republic of Ireland to do that.


As clear as mud, if the politicians don't understand it, what hope have


we? I'm sure like many here I'm now completely confused on the heads of


agreement. Your state of confusion never ceases to amaze me. I don't


think you're as confused as you led on to be confused. The political


commentator and columnist Alex Kane gives us his thoughts on the day's


proceedings. Just a week into May and it's been a


tough month so far for the Health Minister, Edwin Poots. Today in the


Assembly he was questioned on care home closures and the proposal to


move child heart surgery to Dublin. First up for the minister, after


apologising to elderly people for the upset last week, he updated the


Assembly on the issue of care home consultations. I met with senior


members of the trust and HSC board on Friday May 3. I said it was


unacceptable that any older person or their families should be left


upset by the process of consultation of closure of residential homes. I


indicated to the HSE that the policy has not and will not change. I now


want to state clearly to the Assmebly Members that I am fully in


support of transforming your care approach regarding the care of older


people. That is promoting independence, social inclusion, and


support in the community as long as is possible. The process of


engagement with older people, their families annal the public has got to


change. The pace of change needs to be planned in a coordinated way


across all of the trusts that. Was not clear. There foreon Friday, I


called a halt to individual trusts consulting on proposed closures


within the area. We will now make a fresh start. Consultation on change


will still be necessary, but the pace of change will be clearly


defined and is likely to be over a longer period of time. The statement


is very useful, but the reality is there's still a lot of confusion out


there among families but indeed among those who are currently in


residential homes. If you had indicated that you weren't informed


about this until I think you said last Wednesday, was there any senior


officials informed about this either within the HSC board or within your


department? The current process has been halted, end of. I believe that


the current process got out of kilter with transforming your care


and as a consequence of that, I made the decision that the process needed


to be halted. So, these facilities are under proposals for closure at


this time, but as we look to the future some of these facilities will


have considerably less numbers in them in due course. The consequence


of that will be that there will be a discussion with the remaining


residents in those circumstances to provide the best possible care for


them as individuals. In terms of the management of this, I think that we


will have to take a closer role in terms of how it is dealt with.


Account minister advise us why were they not treated with sensitivity


and dignity and who is accountable for that? Well, I see that the silly


remark almost implying that I personally caused the distress in


these homes. Let me make it clear that I got a e-mail on Wednesday


informing us of the Nolan Trust's intention on Thursday. It was a


heads up. Let me further explain, because I think the Ulster Unionist


Party have suffered from a little amnesia, the current policy in


relation to Trusts, the establishment of the existing Trusts


and the authority of the existing Trusts were established by none


other than the minister before me of the Ulster Unionist Party. The steps


I took on Friday, Mr Speaker, were unprecedented. Because it was the


responsibility of the Trust to do what they were doing. I stepped in


and used ministerial authority to stop it, but it was very clearly the


responsibility of the Trusts and they were at liberty to do what they


were doing as a result of the way that they were established by their


own minister. Given his commitment to the document, account minister


therefore confirm that it is still his intention to close 50% of


residential care homes? I don't want any member of my family in a


residential care facility in a cramped room, sharing toilets and


bathrooms with quite a number of other elderly people. I want them to


be in the best possible facilities. That's what I want to provide.


That's what transforming care is about. It will inevitably lead to a


reduction in those kinds of facilities. We need to do it without


causing the distress that was caused to elderly people last week. Is it


not clear from his statement today that ultimately he wants to maximise


the closure of care homes through Stealth, Stealth of stopping new


admissions and stealth of continuing not to invest in these homes. Where


does the buck stop in the Health Service? Well, not for the first


time the member gets it wrong, sometimes I think he knows when he's


getting it wrong but does it nonetheless to score a political


point. Political point scoring was one thing the minister said was off


the agenda when it came to a debate on child heart services. Emotion


calling for services to be retained in Belfast was put forward by the


Ulster Unionists. It is with regret that I have to move this motion.


It's regrettable that the recommendation to remove paediatric


cardiac surgery has even been considered never mind recommended. I


do hope the minister makes it down before I finish. As previously in


this House I will declare an interest in the subject. As the


father of a three-month-old son currently awaiting cardiac surgery.


The safety of children and adults in Northern Ireland relies on continued


congenital heart surgery at the royal Victoria Hospital. I place --


I hope to ensure that this World Service will continue. I will vote


against any move to remove this surgery from Belfast. These aren't


just my words. These are the words of the children's heart beat trust


pledge, which has been signed by 87 MLAs including ministers to date.


This pledge is entwined and is sub-Stantive to the motion before us


today. It's not up to me to remind other MLAs of their own conscience


or individual pledges when they speak and vote on this motion.


you outline to us where the thinking of the hate minister in -- Health


Minister is around this? It seems a reasonable solution. As I say,


vulnerable voices were heard last week. You've listened to them.


You've took it on the chin. You've had a bloody nose all week. Let's


ensure that the vulnerable voices of our future, of the next generation,


that they're heard and their parents are heard. It's very unpleasant


situation, we simply do not have enough procedures in Northern


Ireland to warrant the continuation of the service we have had for so


long. In Ireland as a whole, there's just about enough specialist


procedures to warrant the provision of that service. The committee has


looked at this issue and no later than last Wednesday and we all


wanted to have some hope that there was a way of retaining the present


service, but I have to say, under quite stiff questioning from all


members of the committee, many of whom had a huge degree of sympathy


for the parents groups who are concerned about this, I have to say,


in my own mind, that really, we have a terribly difficult position we're


in. The opportunity for us is crystal clear. It is to develop


Belfast, to continue to develop Belfast as a training centre. To


retain Belfast as a surgical centre for children from Northern Ireland


and most likely from the border counties of the Republic of Ireland.


It is to integrate our clinical teams so as others have suggested


clinicians move, not children. service was sustainable in Belfast,


I would need to have more procedures. If I am to have more


procedures, in true north/south cooperation, will the south give us


procedures? For example, children in the border counties, if we provide


an enhanced cardiology service with facilities avail available in the


south-west, I don't want to go down the route that is recommended by the


board. I want to go down the route that I have outlined to you today.


But I need the cooperation of colleagues in the Republic of


Ireland to do that. So there is a range of options for parents, but


the one option that many parents want to see is an option of surgical


care being provided in Belfast. I -- surgical care being provided in


Belfast. I can't stand here and say that I can deliver that, but I will


honestly stand before the House and say I will give it my best shot.


joined now bit political commentator Alex Kane. Let's talk about Edwin


Poots' performance today. Two big issues- care homes and paediatric


heart surgery. Did he help his cause today do you think? He's had a tough


week? I think he's had an enormously tough week. He's been saying that


none of this amounts to a U-turn, but the number of times he's had to


say this is not a U-turn I've been misunderstood or other people have


gone behind his back and done something without his permission,


it's a moment when a minister fears most that everything conspires to go


against him. I think he's in a sense lost control of his own agenda.


gives the impression of sometimes not knowing what was coming next.


Get a sense that what's we've seen in the past 48, 72 hours are two


U-turns on two separate health issues in that time? I think they


are. Whatever he is saying now, the fact this he has to say it's not a


U-turn, which suggests it is. Unless I got him completely wrong my


understanding was, particularly on the cardiac thing, yes, it's going


to be transferred to Dublin. Seemed to suggest he was relaxed with that


all Ireland dimension and today it seems he's anything but. He's


determined to retain some kind of surgery, paediatric heart surgery in


Belfast. That was clear. It's like he's been forced into. It this was a


man who twice under pressure on two cases, this isn't small stuff, it's


huge, emotional stuff. He comes under pressure, he buckled. Call it


a U-turn, the minister on both occasions clearly buckled and


yielded. He didn't make any economic defence or moral defence. Simply


said, no, I wasn't planning that. The interesting thing is that the


leader of the Ulster Unionists broke cover and demanded that Poots should


go. That can have the opposite effect sometimes in politics. What


happens is the party circles the wagons. Yes but not only that, the


DUP have turned their fire on Danny Kennedy over the A 5 thing. When you


don't have an opposition no-one can formally put down a motion of no


confidence. In the DUP were in the opposition the leader of that party


asking for someone to resign makes more sense than being in the


executive and saying, oh, well you should be out of it. It doesn't make


any sense. OK. For now, Alex, thank you very much. The deputy First


Minister was fielding questions this afternoon. Martin McGuinness stood


aside for his junior colleague when the issue of equal pay was raised.


In 1997 for example average weekly earnings for women were 74% of the


corresponding figure for men. By 2012 the female average had


increased to 90% of the male average. While this is now,


obviously not good enough. We remain committed to eliminating the gender


pay gap. This is a key action area for gender equality strategy. The


equality commission's revised code of practice on equal pay will be


published shortly, having been approved bit First Minister and


deputy First Minister and led in the Assembly. This will provide updated


practical guidance to employers and employees on how to facilitate


gender equality on pay structures. It will also bring equal treatment.


Can the junior minister outline what initiatives are planned to introduce


or to introduce to plan to be introduced to eradicate this impact?


Well, I think again, you know when we look at the strategy we look on


it as in the round. Obviously part of that, while the child will be


child centred and it's the child's development we'll be looking at, we


will lock at how to encourage particularly women back into


training or into the workforce. A key area there is to make that child


care affordable. As OFMDDFM tasked with equality issues, does the


junior minister agree that welfare reform will have a disproportionate


impact on women and what measures are they considering to alleviate


this threat? I would agree with the member that it will have an adverse


impact, more serious impact on women and as a result of having that


impact, it will have an impact on children as well, because it will


impact the family. I think one of the issues that will have


particularly adverse impact is around the split payments. And we


would be advocating that the payment would go to the person who would


have the general care careers role in the family. I think that the


child care, going back to it again, you know, again that's why we need


this strategy in place. That's going to have an impact on women who will


have to look for work. They're going to need that affordable, accessible


and flexible child care in order to do that. The DUP never misses an


opportunity to have a go at the Education Minister over academic


selection. Something that unites the House is the issue of educational


under achievement. Today John O'Dowd announced an investment to help


improve standards. I have earmarked two million to be spent in each of


the next two years on a community education issue to address the high


levels of under achievement in working class communities. The


programme will join up community based and school activity in a


coherent way, promote partnership between community organisations for


schools with particularly concentrations of educational


disadvantage. The projects delivered will include high quality education


after school programmes, parent programmes, GCSE Easter schools and


summer schools to support the transition of pupils from primary to


post primary school. We want an effective evidence based


intervention that breaks the cycle of deprivation on educational under


achievement in some communities. four of my children came from a


working-class home in a terraced house and went to a grammar school.


Account minister ensure that the two million that he's alluded to each


year will widen, narrow the gap, and widen the availability of grammar


school places so that other working class children can get access to


grammar school schools? Well, I learned a long time ago that hatred


is a wasted energy. That might be something the member might want to


contemplate as well. It crepts your mind. I'd suggest that the member


goes away and looks up what is happening in education now. This


talk about grammar schools and non-grammar schools, actually the


lines are becoming so blurred now that it is almost unrecognisable.


Academic selection is the wrong way forward. Because it benefitted your


children, I'm glad it did, it is not benefitting all children. That's the


problem. I'm now completely confused on the heads of agreements. Does the


minister feel that the heads of agreement are workable or are they


being rewritten or have they been rewritten? Your state of confusion


never ceases to amaze me. I don't think there's you're as confused as


you lead on to be confused. As a political manoeuvre your party has


decided they will oppose EASA. They believe it as a battering ram


against the DUP. Your decision is political. The education arguments


I'm putting forward aren't going to make sense because I'm not answering


your question. The Education Minister John O'Dowd. Staying with


education the minister has said he wants to see action over the


construction of a new primary school in south Belfast. With me now the


south Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt of the DUP. This is a plan to build a


new school on the City Hospital site in place of three existing schools.


Just talk us through how the plan would work. In terms of the three


existing schools, both of these schools are under review for amall


gu Maciol. Since 2008, the Belfast City Hospital site is the preferable


site for a new, sustainable school in the area, which would be


sustainable in terms of the major regeneration, the more than �100


million regeneration that's going into the village area at present,


which will bring in hopefully more children. So some of the schools now


are run down. All three are reasonably old buildings. Really


they aren't fit for modern day education. The sticking point is


that the City Hospital and the Department of Health haven't


actually said at this point that the site is available. Now where do we


go, you raise today under private members business. The Education


Minister is supportive. Does the Health Minister have to give the


green light? The Health Minister indeed has not ruled out the site as


a possibility for the school. That's a matter for the Trust. What has


happened at present is the Belfast education and library board have


plan planning application for that site. That would be a matter then


for the Department of Education and DFP in terms of economic appraisal


if planning permission is given for the site. Then a decision has to be


made. Hopeful that it is achievable? I think we achieved quite a bit


today. O'Dowd indicated that he was going off to talk to Edwin Poots in


terms of that particular site. I think we made progress today. I hope


that progress continues. We'll see. No doubt you'll keep us abreast of


developments. Thank you very much. Glentoran's weekend win was a


talking point for questions to the culture minister. First questions to


the agriculture minister. Michelle O'Neill is responding to a question


about rural Broadband services. pleased to announce to the House


today that the �5 million that I'm committing to Broadband delivery


project will be used exclusively to target rural areas of high


deprivation that have no fixed wire infrastructure to access Broadband.


I hope this will stimulate companies supplying Broadband to get it into


rural areas and to use the infrastructure to provide access to


rural dwellers and businesses to use Broadband. I want the investment to


stimulate rural businesses and give rural dwellers wider access to


services. There are 4,000 premises listed in Fermanagh as being rural.


While initially areas of high deprivation will be funded as a


priority, funding will be rolled out across as many spots as possible.


will thank the minister for her answer and the announce demand this


is going to be finally investmented. I thought the minister was going to


say it was exclusively for Fer man ya. Can the minister provide an


update as to when the initiative will begin and when we can expect to


see an improvement on the ground? thank the member for his question.


I'm sure he's glad to hear this is a project that's going to benefit all


the rural dwellers of the north and not just those in Fermanagh.


questions for culture arts and leisure. I wonder has the minister


any plans to invite Glentoran football club up to the Assembly for


a reception and honour them in their great achievement? I thank the


member for his question, indeed an invitation has been issued this


morning to Glentoran. I'd like to put on the record congratulates --


Greeks -- congratulations. I'm sure the member will perhaps, you know,


accept an invitation to receive Cliftonville football club tonight


in Parliament buildings, as ever other member is open to. I think


particularly the achievements in soccer of recent times is a good


reflection on the level of sport. Now how are women progressing in the


judiciary here? In the upper echelons not great. It's an issue on


which the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan briefed the Justice


Committee last week. First up, members of the education committee


were given feedback on a consultation on the future of


A-levels here. First, very little support to moving to linear


assessment at the end of two-year course. Some school Prince pals were


in favour of maintaining exams being taken at the end of each year. There


was some support for retention over January assessment, mainly from the


non-selective sector and FE sector. Secondly in relation to AS level


courses, high level support for maining the status quo where the AS


can be taken as part of a full A-level course or a stand-alone


Cornwallification. Thirdly -- serve a number of purposes and not


just for Russell group University. We do not want our system to end up


becoming the Ulster Bank five pound note. You go into a shop and in the


United Kingdom and somebody says, that's not legal tender, even though


it's stamped that it is the case. We don't want that situation. We want


to maintain the high quality and outcome that I think our A-level


results and benefits for our pupils has had. We certainly don't want to


be in a position of blindly following changes being made


elsewhere. If those changes actually don't have a solid rational that we


would recognise as use villi. last time I was here I reflected on


the steps I would take to encourage women to apply for Judicial Office.


The president of the law society, with my support, has had a very


successful conference on women in the law. The liaison group between


the legal profession and judicial appointments commission is well


established. It's at the High Court level where there's a very clear


problem. There is no female judges in the High Court at all. That


symbolically is something that needs to be addressed. I have made, I


think, a very determined attempt to change the culture and the views


about whether the back corridor is welcoming of women. The fact that I


made the position of women within the law as the centrepiece really of


my speech at the start of the year was highly unusual. Nobody has done


that before. At the end of the day, you'll have to judge me on whether


or not we manage to achieve that. The Lord Chief Justice. Just time


for a final work from my guest Alex Kane. We heard today about the


Finance Minister's plans to fly the Union flag on designated days from


buildings controlled by his department. That has met an


avalanche of criticism from certain quarters. Were you surprised at the


decision to go down this route? No, I wasn't. It's one of those moments


in Northern Ireland politics just when you think it can't become more


bizarre, it exceeds all expectations. It's point scoring.


It's trying to appeal to a section of the DUP which is very


disappointing with Peter Robinson's approach to loyalism and


working-class unionism. It's a matter of Sammy trying to say look,


I can do this, so I'm going to do it. I think it's unhelpful. There is


an interesting cost point here. We gather it's five buildings, up to


�2,000 per flag to erect the flag pole and so forth, depending on


what's necessary. There's a potential cost of �10,000 here,


which is quite a lot of money in these lean times. I'm shocked that


it costs �2,000 for a pole. Particularly at a time when they're


saying they can't afford, I mean �10,000 in the great scheme of


things in politics doesn't sound a huge amount, but it could have been


used for something more useful. Again people will say what's the


point of the flag and spending money on the flag. Some of the politicians


pointed out today that there was a suggestion there should be a review


of public pension provision, public sector pensions, the department said


no because it would cost �10,000 to do that. The budget is controlled


bit Finance Minister so it comes full circle. The flag will fly on


one building controlled by the department of finance, but onning


piled by the SDLP environment minister. I'm sure again he will see


that as a bit of point scoring for no good reason zpl. We will hear


more about it in the days to come. That's all for tonight. We're back


at the usual time next Monday night. Make a point of joining me for the


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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