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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Hello, and welcome to Stormont Today. The clown prince of European
politics, Silvio Berlusconi, may be teetering on the brink, but it is
serious work at the Assembly as members pack the benches. And who
says politics is boring? It was a And with it throughout, the
children's Commissioner, Patricia Is the Government's delivering on
children's right? A new report by Queen's University doesn't think so.
Patricia stand up for all young people. Thank you for joining us.
Why did you commissioner's report? It was a threat from -- it was a
reflection of my first four years in the post I am in. There was a
lot of questions, people were continuously asking all of the time,
and this report tomorrow is about the evidence to support some of
those concerns. One of the big concerns I have is over the first
term of this Assembly rolling back on its commitments to children and
young people with regard to priorities and government, so we
have seen the end of the children and young people package which is
ring-fenced for children. We have seen the loss of the children and
young people's unit. Even when organisations did meet, we did not
see ministers there. And making that commitment as well.
So you have had a lot of flak. It was said that the commission had
little meaningful purpose. Is your attempt -- is this your attempts to
fight back? We are trying to look at how to do
things differently. The opportunity for this executive to actually
change the lives of children in Northern Ireland by making them a
priority in the programme of government is there. And yesterday
we had a meeting with the ministers, and while we welcome their
commitment to driving that change forward, and we want to work with
them in order for that to happen, we would like to wait and see, does
it actually happened? All we have heard before his talk, and we want
to see the walk. It gives food for thought for the
government. But also for the commission, it says how you could
do things differently. That is right. We are looking at
how we can use our powers and duties better to help and support
and influence government, and also to challenge them. We have to make
sure they challenge on children's rights.
Food and drink a feature prominently at question time today.
The justice minister at the Health Minister attempted to provide
answers to today's questions. We will hear some startling statistics
from David Ford in a few moments. But we start with health.
Can I express my concern to the Minister about the area of meals on
wheels. Particularly since we are in a time of a growing older
population, and yet all the figures indicate that those in the -- in
receipt of meals on wheels, which must be nutritionally beneficial,
that the numbers in receipt of them are actually falling. There is a
variety of variation in the take up across Northern Ireland, and the
charge. I recognise the concerns. I think
meals-on-wheels do provide an excellent service, they help ensure
that older people can stay in their own homes, and others dealing with
an issue around dementia this morning, and that was one of our
aims postop so it is something that perhaps we should take a closer
look at in regard up to how we can ensure that that service is a
sustainable model which can help us achieve our aims. And our aim is to
provide more help for elderly people in their homes, and ensure
that they have that choice of remaining in their own home for as
long as possible. I would concur with Mr Newton's
sentence on community meals, but I would like to ask the Minister if
he is aware of the whole issue of osteoporosis. One of the things
they talked about was to ensure that people as slippers to try and
prevent falls. Given the high cost of hip operations, and worryingly,
the high mortality rate for people over 75 to break their hips, is the
minister conscious of the need to invest in preventative care to try
and save people's lives? Osteoporosis is something which
people can take steps to avoid by having the right diet for a
considerable period of time, and there are a lot of foods which will
help the bones and will help them avoid osteoporosis. The in terms of
the issue of preventative care, yes, it is very important to go down
this route, that is why a real spending �70 million on the Public
Health Agency, and that is responsible for the distribution of
that money. I would encourage you to engage with them on that
particular issue, and see if we can get a better outcome than perhaps
you suggest that the moment. People living in rural areas
complain about having to get appointments at hospitals many
miles away. The minister was not impressed.
I would like to transform the system, but we are moving more away
from hospital services to the primary care. I but I to get to be.
Why we have no diagnostics carried out, a local guide mastics carried
out, and a local primary care facility, rather than having to go
to hospitals. So I think we can change the system in the longer
term. I have some concerns at the moment that this department, is
spending �80 million on transport, and it is not a Department of
Transport. I understand that some people may need mobility benefits,
but they are getting hospital as well despite having cars. -- they
are having treatment -- they are having transport to hospitals.
Justice Questions Next, and here is David Ford answering a question on
one of his questioner's favourite topics.
I didn't recognise that there are prevention up -- potential benefits
to removing cheap alcoholic drinks. Police analysis of crimes during
2010 it estimated that our goal was a factor in 44% of those arrested.
The Scottish government has proposed a bill that what introduce
a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Scotland. I have
listened with interest to any discussions. It is important to
note that while the introduction of a minimum price should make a
valuable contribution to reducing damage to health in individuals and
communities, the proposal on its own will not solve the problem.
Mr Deputy Speaker, that is an extraordinary revelation that the
minister has just given to us. 44% of those who are arrested, alcohol
was a factor. That is the first time that has been in the public
domain, and I thank him for it. Could he give an estimate from his
perspective as to how much alcohol abuse is costing his department? We
know that in health and social services, we believe it could be as
much as six-under million pounds or �700 million a year. What does he
think it is costing his department? In a report last year, the estimate
for the cost of alcohol-related crime to the Department of Justice,
that is to policing, to prisons and to court services, was �382 million
for the year. I am always suspicious of something which gives
quite so precisely figure, but it is clear it is tasered star sure
one. The Police Ombudsman will leave his
post and in the new year, but is there time to replace him?
I think that is simply not possible in terms of the timescale.
Especially given the likely period of notice that any individual would
require, and given the time it will take for vetting, and that will
require arrangements to continue, and clearly we need to have a new
appointment made as soon as possible.
Following on to that point, it is the case that the ombudsman were to
leave by the end of January at no replacement were to be in situ as
you suggest is likely, what would be the impact of if that were the
case? It is my understanding on the legal
advice given to the Department that it is possible for the functions to
be performed by any officer authorised by the ombudsman, and
it's such a delegation was in place when the ombudsman were to vacate
office for whatever reason, that those delegated powers would
continue to be in place. So it is continue for the office to continue
to function. -- it is possible. But there would be some issues the
ombudsman would have to take responsibility for.
There are some 19,000 people with dementia in Northern Ireland. Edwin
Poots presented his strategy for dealing with dementia issues. But
there was a familiar refrain, lack of funds.
In an ideal world, I would allocate �68 million to this. However, I am
also asking all concerned to make better use of existing resources.
There is evidence that there is room for greater efficiency. It is
simply not possible to have any money in the present budgetary
fears it - good budgetary position. I would like to take this
opportunity to thank the individuals and organisations who
contributed to the development of this document. They deserve good
credit for their efforts. It was a laugh a minute in the
Senate chamber earlier as children to con MLAs to tell jokes and funny
stories. This was part of an initiative organised by the 6-1.
The Voice Box Awards was opened to primary and post primary children
from across Northern Ireland. -- organised by the Royal College of
Speech and Language Therapists. The money stakes said, why do you
ask? The baby's sake said, because I just bid by Tung!
When the baby stakes yesterday money stake, mummy, how do I do
this? It is five multiplied by five, as the money stakes as a course we
don't know that, we are at us. What you call a wizard with a runny
nose? Harry's not a.
One morning a little boy was walking past the farmer, and he had
some money have. The lady asked him, what will he do with that? The
Farmer said, I am taking it home. The little boy said, I don't know
where you come from, but here we put the sugar and cream with our
But there was a serious point behind all the laughter. I caught
up with Alison McCullough from the Royal College of Speech Therapists
and asked her what the underlying message was. He we have been
running a year-long campaign called giving voice, and it's about
raising awareness of communication difficulties and this was the
finale to a year-long campaign. Will it make a difference when it
comes to making decisions about funding for speech therapy? I think
certainly because they see the importance of communication in at
school achievement and employment prospects later on. They can
understand much better when they see a child struggling to tell a
joke, how difficult it might be for them, and they can see the
difference for children who have no difficulty with communication, and
how they can hold an audience without difficulty whatsoever, so
hopefully they will understand speech therapy delivered up the
right time, and early intervention for children, is crucial for
children to make the most out of schooling. Have services improved?
Certainly there have been improvements in some areas.
Obviously, there is a need for intensive speech therapy provision
for children in this early years, and we are struggling to make that
case. But we have pockets of very good practice, more therapists
working with practitioners, working alongside health visitors, helping
diagnose speech difficulties, which is fantastic. We have a lot of
support from health visitors doing that. But we are also facing gaps
in services, for example, people with a communication aid don't have
the access to assessment, sometimes for as long as up to 11 months, so
we struggle for people where there is a very high need it but small
demand. It is meeting those needs which is difficult. Patricia
speaking to the college earlier on. They said this was one of the
biggest issues when the children's Commission was first set up.
certainly was, back in 2005, when my predecessor was there. We have
done a second report and out of that came the task force. And the
action plan which was launched last year. It took longer than we hoped
but the important thing was, it's how we monitored that, to ensure
that those services were being delivered, and also to Look Back at
but gaps. The important thing is early intervention and prevention.
You can imagine the pride of a parent when a child says its first
word. Even for the first time as a conversation where, before, they
had no verbal skills at all. I think it's important and the
importance of that early prevention cannot be underestimated. Thank you.
On the programme yesterday we heard members debate a motion proposed by
the SDLP on the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. But members
didn't get the chance to vote on the motion until this morning.
Abide Petition of concern was presented yesterday into the motion
at on the murder of Pat Finucane. The vote could not take place until
at least one they had passed. They will be the first item of business
today. I would also like to remind members that the votes on the
motion and the amendment will be on a cross community basis. Please
read the result. 91 members voted, of which 45 voted yes, 49.5%. 36
nationalists voted, 100%. 46 Unionists voted, 0%. Nine voted yes,
100%. The motion is negative. There are some debates which have
the flavour of a broken record here at Stormont. And the introduction
of the Education Skills Authority is one of them. The body was
intended to save money by bringing five education boards together. It
was due to be up and running three years ago and has already cost
around �12 million. The Alliance Party brought today's motion
calling on the Education Minister John O'Dowd to spell out a
timetable for the eventual introduction of the new body.
We had a budget strategy at breaking point caused by massive
inefficiently. Depending how you count the numbers, at least 15
operating bodies, does anybody seriously think if they were
designing a system now to fit the needs of a population of 1.6
million, we would have it looking anything like what we have other
present time? Does anybody believe we would not benefit in terms of
cost efficiency and the educational needs of our children from the
installation of a single body. Call it whatever you like. It could work
with the best of what we have and we could discard the rest. The we
are clearly in a position in the Guards to the principle of a single
authority for Education. -- in regard to. The other issue in the
second Bill, which you want to dispense with, was the
establishment of an educational advisory forum for such with the
greatest of respect, we don't need a Civic Forum for Education. The
debates for education must be in this House, with the educational
committee and not an expensive for an outside. If I were one of the
many people who were given their education who have lived with a
shadow of uncertainty, watching morale collapse around them, and I
was plugged into the internet watching this debate today, I would
say, what's the point? Is this what we vote for? Is this what it has
come down to? It really is a shocking, shocking indictment upon
us all, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will not deal with every concern brought
forward, nor should I be expected to come as minister. I have to take
a collective review in regards to these matters and I intend to do so.
In regards to why no legislation today, why are we debating a
motion? I feel it's only right we bring forward legislation it has
the best chance of going through this chamber. We do not require
another false bill. It would be totally unfair to the staff and
senior management working in the education services to do that again.
It has been frustrating, it has been slow, but I believe we are
making progress in regards to this matter. And I am of the view we
will bring forward legislation in the near future which will satisfy
the needs of our education service, reforming education and will
deliver more services. David McMurray is with us now, the ultra
-- Ulster Unionist Party spokesman. Who was to blame for this?
system. We have been at this for six years and not reached an
agreement. Part of the problem is, the debate today is about a single
education authority. It cost �12 million and we haven't got one yet.
There isn't such a thing. It's a scandal we have spent �12 million.
I do think that hopefully we are close to it. The minister came as
close to saying what a minister would say in terms of timing in the
near future. The motion that was before the House today, it cannot
be done within the term of this Assembly. I think that's where we
are. I still think we are a couple of years away from it. If I may say,
now that we are in a sense, close to this, we're actually doing
things back to front. There is so much now which needs to be done in
education. In terms of how you would cut up and fit a new
educational structure through reforms to watch E S A might
deliver. Is one single board the answer because legislation is not
required for that, to change the five boards into one? No, I don't
think that's the answer. In principle, all the parties agreed
to an education authority. There is a couple of things which need to be
slotted in. There needs to be seen what's going to happen to be the
influence that the transfers from the Protestant churches have, who
have a historic link to education, and also why would the Catholic
side of the work to be kept outside? I think most people want
to see them brought together into a slimline outfit, so we can work
together and put it all together for that if we are talking about
deficiencies, that's an efficient way to go. It's been difficult, not
only for teachers, who see cuts coming, but all the people who work
for the current board. They are wondering what's going to happen
next, when the redundancies will be offered, and if they will still
have a job? Do that's the hard thing. This has taken place way
before we were coming into the financial restraints we have, so
many is not to blame for this. What is to blame, is basically, a
political agreement, and we have divided upon that, and I think we
are coming together. I do also want to say, we almost putting the cart
before the horse now. In terms of what is happening in education, in
light of what the First Minister said recently about indication --
education. I am a fairly convinced of a tremendous change. I haven't
said that before to any way -- anyone, a change with a Catholic
church. It could be attracted to integrated education in the state
system, and that would be the best thing to happen for the children in
Northern Ireland and their future education. The thank you. Stay with
We're still waiting for a programme for government. The Review of
public administration remains in storage. There are years of cuts
still to come down the line. And good to see the packed benches. Or
maybe not in this wider shot taken this afternoon at 3:10pm, as the
environment minister Alex Attwood responded to a planning motion.
What do you think the public think when they see the empty benches?
Not a lot, but let's try to explain it. This was coming to the end of a
debate. We are going to get our act together on legislation. Members
are doing other things and basically, the whips are not
organising the parties. Those are damp squib that debates, nothing
been generated whatsoever. The public had every right to be quite
cross about it. We have heard so much of the past couple of weeks
about the fact we have been back six months, no legislation.
not? I have a reputation for being a bit of a scrapper in the debates.
It's no fun for anybody. You have to go in there and behave yourself
like good children and there's no For the members are going in there
to sit like dummies on the benches, to satisfy a your critical remarks
about us. We have got other things to do. You go in there to talk. You
go in there to make your case and present your case. You don't go in
there to look good and for the cameras to watch you. We will all
go in there when there is a vote, as you probably saw earlier on in
the day. The place was packed. We are in the building and working.
We're not going to go in there on a damp squib issues, particularly
when there is no legislation. With legislation, that place will be
packed, because that is what our job is. We have to leave it there
but thank you for joining us tonight. The clock is ticking on
the justice department thanks to the Sunset Clause agreed at
Hillsborough. There needs to be agreement on how to proceed by May.
Our political correspondent Martina Purdy explained how there were some
developments on this today. There's only six months to go before
Cinderella's minister David Ford of the Justice Department could lose
his post because of the sunset clause. If the parties agree the.
But of the justice minister should revert to the other formula, he
will go, and his party has made a submission to Stormont committee
working on this issue, and he has said that he would like the current
arrangements to remain, he is appointed by the two main parties,
but if anybody think he's acting out of self-interest, he's willing
to resign if the parties don't like that issue. Martin McGuinness his
presidential campaign as taking his tell? Yes, he was supposed to
address a Sinn Fein dinner on December 3rd, but any men have gone
around in Canada saying do to his work moments -- and e-mail us, and
in Canada same Martin McGuinness will not address that dinner and
now Gerry Kelly is heading for Toronto. There was a meeting at
Stormont today that showed we are very much part of the global
village. We just down the hall in the Long Gallery, an event was held
looking at global issues and how people at Stormont might not think
it's important to worry about the fact that there is poverty or
environmental issues and forests being eroded in Uganda, but if they
don't deal with issues like that, it will have an impact because we
are living in a global village, so if forests are disappearing in
Uganda, it could contribute to environmental issues, so the
chairman is making those points. He's talking about the work
reassembly is doing in Uganda. The the project under way, study going
on, so clearly we don't always live in a Stormont bubble. A British a,
a final thought from you. In terms of your office, do you think you
have enough power to make a difference to children's lives --
Patricia? Yes, I think we do. We're looking at how we can use them
better to help government make children a priority in this up and
coming programme for government, but also to challenge them when
they are not delivering on children's rights in Northern
Ireland, so we can make children's lives much better. Patricia, thank
you very much indeed for being our guest of this evening.
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.