08/10/2012 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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up: Saying no to health care


reform. The Health Minister warns of dire consequences. If we do not


proceed with welfare reform we will have longer waiting lists for hip


operations and for people who require heart surgery. More money 4


struggling farmers. We hear from the Agriculture Minister. And the


First and Deputy First Ministers announced their strategy and say


they have not given up their corporation tax fight. We are still


With me today is our political correspondent Martina Purdy. The


first thing to say is that welfare reform is in fact what everyone has


been talking about here today. even Prime Minister David Cameron


this evening was warning of serious consequences if Stormont does not


pass this welfare bill. As you know, it has already passed in England


and Wales. It is the biggest shake- up in welfare for decades and it is


designed, they say, to simplify the benefit system which has become too


complex and to encourage people into work. So some of the King


changes -- key changes are six benefits will be made into one


universal credit. Another big change that the disability living


allowance will become something called Personal Independent's


parent, and instead of solve assessing, filling in a full and


getting that payment, you will have to go to an individual Assessor


every three years. And not everyone is happy about those changes.


long been controversial and Sinn Fein have been resisting them at


Executive level for some months. But eventually last month agreed


that the bill should come before Stormont, because the reality is it


would cause a crisis in the finances of Stormont and would


cause difficulties in the benefits system here. It would be really


radical if they do not match this bill. So Sinn Fein have now decided


that for the second reading tomorrow, which means a substantial


debate on the issue, they want amendments. They have tabled an


amendment and they want the bill deferred because they say it is not


tailored for Northern Ireland. When Sinn Fein signalled last week


during an Executive meeting, there is raised a press statement, they


were accused of Pontius Pilate like tactics, of washing their hands of


the responsibility of bringing it before Stormont and trying to blame


others. So we are waiting to see how the other parties respond. The


SDLP may try to have a working group set up here to understand the


impact of this legislation in Northern Ireland. Just before we


let you go, it was a busy week last week for the Ulster Unionists party.


A difficult week, with Mike Nesbitt's sacking of his Assembly


deputy, John McAllister. Have things settled down? There has been


an embarrassing row. The feeling on the ground here it is that Mike and


John have a breed -- agreed dues disagree. -- Mike and John have


agreed to disagree. They are going to work at their problems behind


closed doors, although Peter Robinson issued a speech today


which she gave at the weekend and he spends a good lot of that speech


attacking John McAllister. We will hear more from you later.


It was the turn of the Health Minister to face questions at the


dispatch box. Edwin Poots updated ministers on an incident at a care


home in Londonderry last week which led to suspension of a number of


staff. But first he was asked about primary care services. The Minister


will know that change always causes some people concerned. Could I ask


him to take the opportunity here this afternoon to assure the House


that it is not part of his vision for the health service in Northern


Ireland and any aspect of primary health care service delivery would


be delivered through any other vehicle except the National Health


Service. Of course changed has caused concern but that does not


mean you should not be reached. If the member is asking am I looking


to engage in some privatisation process of primary care, that is


not something on the agenda. We are dealing with issues in more detail


tomorrow but it's fair evident that is not part of this. Can I ask him


to give an update on how the welfare reform cuts will impact on


transforming the new care strategy. Devera interesting question to ask


because welfare reform does have an impact. Were we to do something


completely daft and cost the Assembly in Northern Ireland �220


million, that would probably cost us in this department around �100


million, so if we do not proceed with welfare reform and stay with


parity, we will have longer waiting lists for hip operations, for


people who require heart surgery, we will have people dying as a


consequence of that. My overriding priority and that of the Western


Trust is to ensure the safety and I can advise that the trust has put


in place an improvement plan to bring about the change required to


end sure that... The improvement plan will transfer the culture of


care from a racing to a social care home, more in a keeping with a


nursing home. Implementation is being ever seen by a board made up


of senior managers within the trust. The trust is reporting progress to


the Department through the Health and Social Care Board. The relation


to the process which he has put in place, I know he is aware that


staff training was a big issue. Is he satisfied that the process going


forward and staff training is adequate? It is absolutely


essential and we are doing a considerable amount of work. When


we have for Cannes people in care, the ability for individuals to take


advantage of that -- vulnerable people. The ability for individuals


to take advantage of that is increased greatly. I think that


after all the time we have had to take into consideration vulnerable


people, in terms of the care provided for them, it would be very


disappointing in 2012 that this sort of behaviour can still happen


in our facilities. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots.


From hate crime to body scanners, just some of the areas discussed


during Justice Questions, but first Mr David Ford began by asking a


question of when the new Police Ombudsman will start to look again


at historical cases. It has made the issue of lifting the suspension


of investigation into historic cases a priority. There's a lot of


work going on in the ombudsman's offers at the moment and the


expectation is the criminal justice inspection will do the Independent


allegation which spot of restoring confidence during December. We hope


the work would be able to proceed from January onwards. Would he


agree that we have to take steps, that one of the things that let you


lack of public confidence in the past was external interference,


which we must be free of in future? I appreciate his point about the


allegations of interference which went on previously, including the


findings of the Tony McCluskie report of inappropriate behaviour


as suggested between an official of the Northern Ireland Office as then


was. But the suggestions that there was interference historically have


not been suggested in terms of current operation. I am determined


to see that the good work being done by my department in terms of


sponsoring the Ombudsman office will continue. Given the increasing


sectarian hate crime, will the Minister strengthened the court's


capacity to increase sentences to highlight the odious nature of


these crimes? It can be very difficult to obtain a conviction to


include the hate element of a hate crime, even though it may be


relevant league -- a relatively easy to get a conviction for the


offence at such. I have asked for people to look at this and it


changes are needed I will consider them. In many cases we should


recognise that we should recognise that even though a case is not


prosecuted with the addition of hate crime, cases are successfully


prosecuted for the basic underlying offence and that does not mean that


people are getting off, but there's obviously work to be done. Can he


give us an indication that there is a prison in Magilligan in the


future and that it will remain where it is and not be moved to the


proposed location? Given that there is an ongoing consultation, I


cannot give this assurance. I can give an assurance that contrary to


what -- what may be the perception, it is because the consultations are


genuine and seeking people's opinions. I am determined to see we


have a prisoners' state which is fit for purpose in the future and


not dealing with the situation of 30 or 40 years ago. If people can


suggest appropriate ways to using the -- of using the Magilligan of


site rather than another site, then I looked forward to seeing bring --


hearing from them. The Justice Minister, David Ford.


The Agriculture Minister has announced new methods to help solve


what farmers today describe as a crisis. Supermarkets were in the


firing line, with claims that farmers are often paid less for


their food than it costs to produce. At the very foundation of potential


economic growth is farming and the industry is under severe strain.


The heart of this matter is that many of our local farmers who are


being paid less for their products than they cost to produce. This is


putting them under severe financial pressure. More must be done to help


our farmers receive a fair price for their produce, but there was


one of the most important industries in Northern Ireland


could collapse. The IFE chain is controlled by major retailers. --


the food chain. They are controlling the farm gate price. It


is a vicious circle that goes round and round. The one person that is


suffering all the time is of the farmer. The Ulster Farmers' Union


are absolutely right to stand up for the clear and Present danger


which exists and indeed threatens the long-term future of this


industry. Would she agree that because there is such an imbalance,


as many of us would describe it, at the amount of profit coming back


from the retailers to the farmers, that one way of actually resolving


that might be at the planning service could actually but criteria


into planning that those major retail stores could not give -- get


planning permission without giving back a reasonable profit? I welcome


With shorter days and the less likelihood of good drying, some


feel so will never be done. Potato prices are better but will not


compensate. The Agriculture Minister is with me


now. Thank you for joining us. How serious are the challengers for


farmers? It has been a difficult farmers? It has been a difficult


farmers? It has been a difficult year. Factors have impacted upon


the farmers like the weather, they have used up their winter feed.


Also there are falling farm gate prices. And we have the rise in


input costs. It has been a difficult year. I welcome the fact


that we had the debate. I was able to announce that I will be able to


put additional money into farmers' pockets. This has been widely


welcomed by the industry. Will this extra money which is being paid


through Single Farm Payments make a difference? It is �50 million, will


it make a tangible difference? you ask people individually, they


would say no. It is alongside a range of other programs and schemes


that we have. We are providing practical advice and information


and working closely with them to help them in terms of how they do


things, can be streamlined things, but is it enough money? It is


progress. Can I be clear, Minister, is it new money? Is is an


additional �50 million or you robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is


new money. It is an addition. ask you about a you moving at the


Department of Agriculture and Rural Development headquarters to


Ballyclare Kelly -- Ballykelly. You think it will be more efficient,


are the buildings that are there, a former MoD buildings, are they fit


to be told furred to the use as your new headquarters. When you


look at some of them, they are for sale on Ferris website, they look


pretty ropey! Some buildings are less than 20 years old. We may need


to have new buildings alongside. I have been in some of them and in my


opinion they are fit for purpose and can be transformed into


practical office accommodation. The wider point is that we are looking


at decentralising and bringing public sector jobs to be more


widely spread. I would like to see other departments following suit.


You should not always be able -- have to travel into the Belfast


area to get a job. So we are spreading jobs and giving


opportunities to other areas.. will see what happens, and when it


happens. The Investment Strategy for the next nine years was


announced by the First and Deputy First Ministers. Martin McGuinness


told Assembly Members that the strategy will tackle years of under


investment. The new strategy for 2011-2012 will add a 5 billion in


the first four years and a total of �13.3 billion over its lifetime.


Despite a previous investment package to adjust the deficit, the


amount received through the block grant will fall by 20 % up to 2014-


15. Because of the financial constraints, it is essential that


we make every pound spent matter to get best value. The strategy


focuses on investment on the right infrastructure in the right place


using the most effective method. This means that we programme our


capital expenditure so that whatever the budget it is being


fully used to improve the lives of everyone. Will want to address the


needs of the economy. Ultimately, the economy will recover and it is


important that when we get to that point, that the economy is growing,


that we have retained the skills and the abilities of those


currently in employment and we will be able to benefit from that


recovery and drive on Northern Ireland's economy. There are too


many of our young people who are having to leave these shores to


gain employment and whatever the Executive can do to retain them in


all the island, it should be welcomed. The rises in unemployment


have been higher here than in England, Scotland, All Wales. So in


that -- that in itself can hardly be viewed as a success. We want to


see an Investment Strategy to deliver jobs in all areas of.


welcome today's debate but I welcome its true value, given that


it is month after the publication of the report. You would have


thought that the 2011-2012/you would have wanted to enter in


tandem with those. But it is welcome. We get attacked for


pushing things through the Assembly and not allowing sufficient


consultation time. This time, I said to be first -- deputy first Mr


-- this is our attempt to encourage debate. We have been able to


include �1 billion of alternative finance. A number of other members


have raised the issue of corporation tax and I would like to


point that that the ministerial working group will meet on 18th


October. We are still promoting Plan A.


The First Minister, Peter Robinson, extolling the virtues of working in


harmony with the Deputy First Minister.


Next to the claim by the DUP that more and more people here are


relying on charity to feed their families. The party is keen that


the Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland, should support


and promote the work of foodbanks. We know that jobs are being lost,


that in comes are going down and people claiming benefits. Some


people claiming them for the first time in their lives. People are


getting increasingly indebted. They have unexpected bills and they have


unexpected -- a hard impact. We see right across Northern Ireland a


growth in food banks. I think this is in some ways an unfortunate


development. It should not be that they have to exist but at least it


is a positive response by that sector to one ongoing problem. They


have seen it in the community they are living in. It is remarkable


what these people are doing. It is often done on a voluntary basis. We


are seeing big numbers in terms of the food donated and it is done on


a denominational basis -- non- denominational basis. No one would


suggest that food banks are the cure to all ills of in society but


they are making a vital contribution. My Department is


responsible for volunteering and we have published novel island's


volunteering strategy for the first time ever. I am continuously


astounded -- Northern Ireland's voluntary strategy. I'm continually


astounded by the voluntary and that takes place. Millions of pounds are


donated annually to support volunteering across the province. I


recognise those who give of their time and expertise to support


people., Nelson McCausland.


The Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, took the opportunity last week to


update the Finance Committee on the situation surrounding the tax on


flights out of Northern Ireland, as we can hear now in our weekly look


at committee business. This arose because of the very real


danger that we were going to lose the Director haul flight to Newark


if we did not get to the issue of passenger duty dealt with. It was


made quite clear that because of the difference in the rate at -- of


flight from Dublin -- because of the writ, flights from Dublin would


be more competitive than flights from Belfast. We took the view we


could not afford to lose that. The recommendations in your report,


first of what you are concerned generally, so a mine. So are the


finance ministers of both regions. It probably affects us more than


anywhere else because at least in Scotland and Wales are, there are


direct road links. Most of our links with the rest of the United


Kingdom have to be done through flight. We were referring to the


importance of connectivity through the economy and especially tourism


industry. Have you any indications what this measure will open up? In


terms of of collectivity in the future? As I said earlier, both


departments are looking at what other companies may well be


preferred as a result of having a zero rate in Northern Ireland to


take flights directly from Northern Ireland to the rest of the world.


Identical I'm breaking confidences but we are speaking to a Canadian


airline. The target of the programme is to grow exports from


Northern Ireland Fortran at -- 20 %. To do that, you are looking beyond


Europe. To places where this will is economic growth. Some of those


countries are are ready. The we will be trying to get links to the


Far East, to South America, to the Middle East. Can you elaborate on


of thinking that money might be so better spent elsewhere? There will


be far greater merit than having it -- in having better links within


Northern Ireland, that might be shown by a cost benefit analysis.


It might help businesses more. Or perhaps better rail links!


The Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, contemplating the benefits of an


improved rail link with "down there"!


Our political correspondent, Martina Purdy, is still with me.


This evening, This evening, MLAs have been


discussing austerity measures - who's been talking about that?


Sinn Fein led the debate and they are talking about the austerity


measures coming from London and Dublin and asking the government


how they're going to see the economy through this? The DUP


thought they had a better way of doing this. They tabled an


amendment focused on what London could do, focused on VAT reduction.


The SDLP wanted a Scottish * Commission to see how devolved


powers might help us to help ourselves. Both amendments fell as


to the original Sinn Fein motion. It was defeated 46 votes to 43. So


back to the drawing board. Lord Carson's statue has been


getting people talking. But it isn't going anywhere? No, although


I notice the scaffolding last Friday and it was covered in wood


and metal. So I asked about it, perhaps a national symbol was going


to go on the plinth? I was assured that Lord Carson would be remaining


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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