08/12/2015 Stormont Today


08/12/2015

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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Transcript


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After yesterday's high drama which saw Nigel Dodds ruling himself

:00:37.:00:39.

out of the DUP leadership, things seemed positively pedestrian today -

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though several important issues were discussed in the chamber.

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The move to cut the number of government departments ramped up a

:00:45.:00:47.

gear and the Health Minister went on the attack against people who smoke

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Reducing government departments here has been a long time coming,

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but some are sceptical of the benefits...

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Warm and meaningless phrases, but somehow the mere reduction to nine

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departments will have a transformative impact in terms of

:01:07.:01:07.

the character of government. Simon Hamilton changes tack on

:01:08.:01:09.

smoking in cars with children and My view is that anyone who smokes in

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a confined space like a car with children in that car is an idiot.

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And with me to share his thoughts on today's developments is

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Back in March the First Minister, Peter Robinson,

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formally announced the names of Stormont's nine new departments, and

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after today we're one step closer to seeing them become a reality.

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The Departments Bill, which would see the majority

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of the current twelve departments renamed or replaced before next

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year's Assembly elections, passed its second reading and was granted

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There will be hopefully financial savings but the primary rationale

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for this proposal is more efficient and effective government for the

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people of Northern Ireland. It is hoped that the reorganisation will

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bring more joined up government and synergies that can be delivered but

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the Alliance Party would go further. We would reduce the number of MLAs

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also to 90 in time for the next election and we would also like to

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see greater use of a statutory duty to cooperate on government

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departments. I figured his third to say that for some time now there has

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been some all-party support for reform in this house and within the

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structures there has been an agreement on the reduction of

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departments. We now have that proposal and as far as we are

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concerned, it is the time to get on with it and to deliver what we

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promised we would deliver. I hope that in the context of the recent

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negotiations that this will form part of evolving this place into a

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more efficient working relationship. There is some sense that somehow or

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another the reduction to nine departments is a more efficient

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working relationship. There is some sense that somehow or another the

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reduction to nine departments is up and I will give way but I will

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finish this point before I do. The nine departments will lead to more

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joined up government. The Junior Minister says it will eliminate

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unnecessary bureaucracy. And so on and so forth. Scores of war and

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meaningless phrases. Warm meaningless phrases that somehow the

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mere reduction to nine departments will have a transformative impact in

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terms of the character of government and the content of our politics.

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That is if anyone indulges that view. It is idle as it is casual and

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foolish. This is not some idea that has emerged out of the left field.

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It has been around the same blog on a few occasions. This is not an

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insignificant bill, it may be small in terms of clauses, but it is a

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bill of acute importance because it will impact on everything a person

:04:29.:04:33.

in Northern Ireland. From the day and hour we eventually reduce the

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number of departments, that is why in this debate I state that the

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Ulster Unionist Party has concerns about such an important bill being

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introduced so late in the mandate and the attempts to use Excel array

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to passage means it will not receive the attention it deserves. We are

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not arguing against the rationale of cutting the departments, our quarrel

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is not with the content of the bill, it is with the failure of the

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Executive to run the government and get this matter are agreed. As

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streamlined Department system will offer fresh opportunities for

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improving the way we do business. The future departments will have a

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clear identity which will be appreciated by citizens. The new

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slimmed down structure will enable related policies and functions to be

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put together and synergies to be achieved. It will provide a leaner

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more efficient Executive. The changes will have consequences for

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this Assembly, fewer Executive departments should simplify

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committee structures and business scheduling. Together with wider

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public sector services... Emma Pengelly - and the second stage

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of the bill passed on an oral vote. The proposals in this bill have

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been a long time coming... Yes they have been around for a

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while and I think it is fitting that Emma Pengelly articulated the

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argument for reform because it has been something that the DUP have

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been interested in. That being said, I think Alex Attwood struck

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the right though. It is one thing to say it will lead to more streamlined

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government as Emma Pengelly said, however what we know is that it is

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the nature of the relationship between the governing parties that

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will lead to the type of synergies and interconnected government, that

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remains to be seen after the next election whether he ever decides to

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go into the next Executive can form a harmonious relationship that takes

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it forward. Not all departments are affected

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by the bill, though... A number have not been. Those that

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have, the new economy department which will bring together the

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employment and learning, it will be interesting to see to the DUP once

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again take finance first in which case Sinn Fein have the choice of

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opting for the economy department and finally take a department with

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money or do they go for education. In the time ahead, that will be

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interesting to see do we have new faces in terms of the parties in the

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new departments. They are disappearing, but a

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minister is going to be taking responsibility for those areas. The

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point can be made in other jurisdictions, they can cope quite

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handily with the smaller number of departments, greater

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responsibilities, this is a very small region. There have been

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shake-ups in Westminster without any great discussion.

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Some concerns were put forward there about such a significant piece

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of legislation being rushed through accelerated passage?

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I do not share those concerns. We have had these discussions for years

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and we are at the point that this needs to get pushed through. It

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needs to be in place a head of the next elections.

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Arguments also for reducing the number of MLAs.

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I cannot see it happening until those five years have passed. The

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reason we had 108 MLAs was so that all the minority parties would be

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represented. We are now a long way into this new year and I think the

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parties are comfortable about moving from six seat constituencies down to

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five. Interesting what will happen after that, the number of

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Westminster seats if that was to reduce further, we would move from

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90 two 80. The Health Minister today revealed

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to MLAs that he hopes to see smoking in cars carrying children

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made illegal in Northern Ireland. In fact,

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Simon Hamilton went as far as to He confirmed

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the new law could be part of another larger health bill making

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its way through the Assembly... Before I move on to part two I want

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to address an issue that is not in the bill but many believe should be.

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Many people were concerned about the omission of a clause banning smoking

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in cars with children. I have listened carefully to the arguments

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made by many that Northern Ireland should follow the example in other

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parts of the UK and I can confirm to the House that it is my intention to

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bring forward an amendment to ban smoking in cars with children. I

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would like to indicate my intention to bring forward an amendment on a

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sugar tax levy insuring that the Department will consult on a levy on

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sugar sweetened drinks. This is a major source of our ill health,

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particularly among our younger children and young people.

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Conditions such as obesity, type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease and

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tooth decay, so consumption of sugary drinks is higher among young

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people and those on low incomes. Scotland and Wales and the Republic

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are legislating while England has introduced a ban. There is a great

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risk and it is welcome what the minister is doing but there is a

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great risk that children here will be left behind to suffer a great

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risk that children here will be left behind to suffer detrimental effects

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for the introduction of the ban. Some parents smoke in cars under the

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well intended assumption that winding down the window will let the

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smoke out. In reality, that only pushes it back into the back of the

:11:01.:11:04.

car. In these types of conditions, it has been proven that smoke can

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reach up to ten times the recognised unhealthy level and often lingers

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for hours. I believe there is a sound medical reason to introduce

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this ban. Unlike adults, children do not really have any choice regarding

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whether they are in an enclosed place or not with someone who is

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smoking. We have already banned smoking in enclosed public places

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and workplaces and that is very welcome. Smoking has also been

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prohibited in vehicles if they are work-related. This extension to the

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law to protect our young people would seem logical and consistent

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with what we have done before. I am delighted to see that the Minister

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is intending to bring an amendment which will make it an offence to

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smoke in cars carrying children. The adverse effects of passive smoking

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have been well documented for years and its effect on children are even

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greater. Children cannot make their own decisions in respect of passive

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smoking in a car so by introducing this ban, we will protect children

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from these effects. Also the associated health problems. The

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arguments to why we should do this are well rehearsed. The health

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implications for children, the lack of choice for them, the fact that

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their immune systems and their bodies are not fully developed, the

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harm is exponentially worse on a young child than for example one of

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us sitting in a car. My view is that anyone who smokes in a confined

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space like a car with children in that car is an idiot. Given the

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multiplicity of evidence that there is about the damage that smoking

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does to individuals themselves, the well-established knowledge and

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information that second-hand smoke can do damage and particularly be

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impact that it can have on young children.

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And the second stage of that bill was passed.

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That debate was in the Assembly either side of lunch

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but there was no rest for the Health Minister as sandwiched in

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And given his recent announcement it came as little surprise that the

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scrapping of the Health and Social Care Board was the hot topic...

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On the 4th of November I outlined radical plans for transforming our

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health and social care system, the proposed changes seek to reduce

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pre-Chrissy as well as the department taking firmer strategic

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control of our health and social care system. I want trust to be

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responsible for the planning of care in their areas and to give them

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independence to deliver it. I propose that we close down the

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Health and Social Care Board. Departmental officials are currently

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drafting a document that seeks views on the changes and I aim to bring

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forward that consultation as soon as I can to gather views. I have been

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encouraged by the positive response to my proposals from other

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politicians and from members of the public.

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The ministers of the potential for change before the Admiral Sir George

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Zambellas -- legislation has been put in place? The panel will look at

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the best confederation of our services. -- configuration. It will

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probably take 18 months to do that. That is a reflection of what I

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believed to be the realistic timetable to get the legislation in

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place. Bearing in mind there is an election coming up. Officials have

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been working assiduously on producing a consultation document

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and I hope to be in a position to prove that shortly and launch it

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soon after to start this process of consultation which will provide the

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format for the drafting of legislation. Can the Minister assure

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the house there will be no redundancies? I do not envisage any

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compulsory redundancies but that is not to see there will not be the

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need to get rid of some posts. I do not see a compulsory redundancy

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process. It is worth emphasising that this is about getting a system

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which is appropriate in place for our staff so weak and get the best

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from them. I do not believe the system currently in place is getting

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the best out of our staff, talents are not being optimised. There are

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too many layers. Has the Minister not got a target in terms of savings

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which will come out of it as well as other organisational advantages? Are

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there are too many people, it has grown too large over the years? I

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accept the point he makes about the size of it growing. It has increased

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since its inception in 2010 by 160 members of staff. And interview to

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the Belfast Telegraph said that he wanted the organisation to be a

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leading organisation and there should be a maximum of 250 staff but

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after a lot of crying that they could not do it with that number, I

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allowed it to go to 350. In fact it started off at 436 members of staff

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during his tenure. A lot higher than the 250 we envisaged. I presume he

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was talking about crying and civil servants who he told me could not

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run our health service at the committee but it was clear they

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could get him to do whatever they wanted.

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Simon Hamilton, unable to resist having a pop

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Dealing with the past - it was the one issue that

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politicians failed to agree on in the recent Fresh Start deal.

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But while the talks didn't bring about a resolution on that matter,

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the Justice Minister announced today that he's agreed to recruit

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investigative support for the Coroners' Service

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The failure of the latest political agreement to come to an agreement on

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legacy matters makes progress on legacy matters more difficult. I

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appreciate the disappointment this will cost effectiveness. I want to

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deliver as much as I can for families so I have agreed to the

:18:04.:18:07.

Tribunal service launching a recruitment scheme with a view to

:18:08.:18:11.

providing support for the Coroners' Service. The scheme is launched

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yesterday and I would expect appointments by next spring. The

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cost of such appointments will result in further pressure on my

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department. Does he agree the current process does not provide

:18:27.:18:32.

access to investigations with unacceptable timeline? He makes a

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point which has a number of different factors. There are

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problems around resource in for the Coroners' Service. There are also

:18:44.:18:50.

issues regarding legacy issues were matters have been engaged which need

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clarification from the police or Ministry of Defence, especially

:18:55.:18:58.

where a national security issues are engaged. I am determined to put the

:18:59.:19:04.

maximum resources into the Coroners' Service. Good work has been done to

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strengthen the complement of coroners by assigning judges to deal

:19:09.:19:16.

with coroners cases. Until we resolve the fundamental issue of

:19:17.:19:20.

resourcing, it will not be done as fast as we would wish. I am away in

:19:21.:19:27.

the case of the Kingsmills inquest, a preliminary hearing has been held

:19:28.:19:31.

and a further is due to be held before Christmas. The intention is

:19:32.:19:36.

to proceed if matters can be strengthened at the preliminary

:19:37.:19:44.

hearing, we will proceed to a full hearing in early 2016. This hearing

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is being looked after by one of the High Court judges who has been moved

:19:51.:19:55.

across to assess the Coroners' Service. This should help produce

:19:56.:20:05.

results for the families concerned. Could the minister inform the house

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if there's 56 outstanding legacy requests will be completed within a

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reasonable period of time or will be completed at all? At the moment, the

:20:16.:20:23.

Lord Chief Justice having assumed the presidency of the coroners

:20:24.:20:27.

courts in line with an Assembly decision, has instructed one of the

:20:28.:20:35.

senior judges to review all of those outstanding 56 cases. That will lead

:20:36.:20:40.

to a healing by Lord Justice we're in each of them in the month of

:20:41.:20:45.

January. That will establish the position for all of those cases and

:20:46.:20:50.

which will move forward speedily and which will take longer or creative

:20:51.:20:56.

goodies. There are difficulties and disclosure matters which are causing

:20:57.:21:02.

delay in a number of them. I am determined that we will put the

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resources in, if they can be made available. Members will recall there

:21:08.:21:10.

was a promise from the Prime Minister when you Google for funding

:21:11.:21:15.

to deal with legacy matters but we have not seen the additional funding

:21:16.:21:24.

so far. I am determined to see blue will make progress within the system

:21:25.:21:30.

and funding will be put from the limited budget into dealing with the

:21:31.:21:31.

past. There was plenty of legislation

:21:32.:21:35.

today for Members to get their teeth into and it was onto the last course

:21:36.:21:38.

for the Food Hygiene Rating Bill as it now moves to Royal Assent

:21:39.:21:42.

after passing its final stage. The bill aims to make it mandatory

:21:43.:21:44.

for food businesses to display a food hygiene rating sticker

:21:45.:21:47.

on their premises. Not only will the bill Ann Maguire

:21:48.:21:54.

consumers to make an informed choice regarding where they choose to eat

:21:55.:21:59.

or shop for food but it will provide an impetus for businesses to

:22:00.:22:10.

maintain food hygiene. It will drive standards for individual businesses.

:22:11.:22:15.

There are 40 cases of foodborne illnesses every year which result in

:22:16.:22:20.

hospitalisation and resulted in 24 deaths. This costs ?83 million to

:22:21.:22:29.

the economy. The intention was that businesses would only be required to

:22:30.:22:35.

display as sticker made of plastic at a physical location on their

:22:36.:22:40.

premises. The committee was concerned that the Food Standards

:22:41.:22:45.

Agency did not intend this should be displayed on websites. We will of

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the view that given that customers place orders for food on websites,

:22:53.:22:58.

those websites should display this. The previous scheme was voluntarily

:22:59.:23:04.

and played a valuable role in establishing overall authority. It

:23:05.:23:12.

has been very successful. It operates on that completely

:23:13.:23:16.

voluntary basis. When the committee found only 56% of establishments

:23:17.:23:21.

where I'd healing to it, it underscored the need for action.

:23:22.:23:31.

Where I'd healing to it. Many people were not aware of these stickers

:23:32.:23:36.

were mandatory so this bill has addressed what some would consider

:23:37.:23:42.

an omission of existing policy. Overall, the voluntary scheme has

:23:43.:23:46.

worked well but inevitably people who had something to hide were least

:23:47.:23:51.

likely to get involved. The numbers proved that.

:23:52.:23:52.

Bullying - either online or in the playground.

:23:53.:23:55.

It's something the Education Minister is very keen to

:23:56.:23:57.

And today John O'Dowd's bill addressing the issue reached

:23:58.:24:00.

The Minister began by outlining the bill's goals...

:24:01.:24:06.

This is a short bill with just three objectives, to provide an inclusive

:24:07.:24:16.

definition of bullying, introduced a duty for schools to keep a record of

:24:17.:24:20.

bullying and to introduce a duty for the Board of Governors to play a

:24:21.:24:25.

more direct role in how bullying is dealt with in their school. These

:24:26.:24:32.

will help establish a framework of good practice which schools can

:24:33.:24:38.

adapt to their individual needs. I think the committee hopes the

:24:39.:24:42.

department will use the information from the database along with pupil

:24:43.:24:46.

absence data to develop useful pupil guidance which will start getting

:24:47.:24:53.

rid of bullying from our schools. That is a general welcome from the

:24:54.:24:58.

education committee for the spell. Sometimes teachers are afraid to

:24:59.:25:02.

deal with issues arising from bullying. This is not helping

:25:03.:25:10.

pupils. This notion of banter, just traditional banter. I see this as a

:25:11.:25:17.

member of a football club and someone who has coached young

:25:18.:25:23.

people. The use of language, some people describe it as banter. I

:25:24.:25:28.

strongly support the principle behind the clause but I have

:25:29.:25:32.

concerns. I believe the language should be stronger and be specific

:25:33.:25:38.

to place a duty on the school to actively review its policies on a

:25:39.:25:42.

yearly basis. Schools review their policy and practice as part of their

:25:43.:25:46.

annual review of their development plan so I think this should be

:25:47.:25:54.

incorporated in this. We also need to see the supporting guidance to

:25:55.:25:58.

the bill. What formal brigade against take? Who will rate it and

:25:59.:26:03.

window be finalised? Will it be before the end of March 2016 when

:26:04.:26:10.

this Assembly will be dissolved? -- who will write it. Sectarianism is

:26:11.:26:18.

not specifically mentioned, political opinion is and religion or

:26:19.:26:26.

belief. But we have a particular problem year at around sectarianism

:26:27.:26:30.

so perhaps it needs to be in there. The danger of not tackling wider

:26:31.:26:35.

issues as we risk losing another three up to five years. The Lord

:26:36.:26:43.

Chief Justice said keeping MPs with legislation is often a slow response

:26:44.:26:46.

in keeping up with these issues. NI21's Basil McCrea - and Chris

:26:47.:26:50.

Donnelly is here for a final word... Let's stay with the topic of

:26:51.:26:53.

bullying - you're a vice principal, do you feel this is an issue that

:26:54.:26:56.

needs to be on the statute books? Very much so. I welcome it. Schools

:26:57.:27:08.

will be keen to share the definition with children and parents. The bill

:27:09.:27:15.

is also giving clarity to schools to see when they are obliged to

:27:16.:27:19.

intervene. Not just about bullying inside the school. There is a

:27:20.:27:25.

responsibility to children outside school grounds. It is important that

:27:26.:27:31.

schools have the authority to take action as necessary. Let us talk

:27:32.:27:35.

about musical chairs. And we could be about to see

:27:36.:27:36.

the return of a former Minister. It seems Michelle Gildernew is

:27:37.:27:43.

in the hunt for a seat in Yes, Pat Ramsey was a very popular

:27:44.:27:55.

MLA and he has also had his house attacked over a period of years by

:27:56.:28:02.

dissidents. No one will graduate in his retirement. Sinn Fein are

:28:03.:28:05.

looking stunned by the loss of Michelle Gildernew's seat and they

:28:06.:28:12.

want her back in the Assembly. I think they want her back in the

:28:13.:28:15.

Assembly because she is one of their stronger candidates. Thank you very

:28:16.:28:18.

much, as ever. That's it from the Stormont

:28:19.:28:21.

team until the New Year. Do join me for The View, though,

:28:22.:28:24.

on Thursday at 10.35 on BBC1. We'll leave you with this Christmas

:28:25.:28:27.

send off from across the chamber. From everyone in the team -

:28:28.:28:30.

bye bye and Happy Christmas. I thank the member for his question

:28:31.:28:40.

and his Christmas cheer. We think there are some people in this house

:28:41.:28:44.

who need a hug but I am not up for that. I would not even ask an elf to

:28:45.:28:52.

hug you Gregory, let's be frank. Sometimes, all that's needed

:28:53.:28:55.

is a helping hand. Recognising someone's value,

:28:56.:28:59.

and seeing when they need help. A few minutes out of our lives

:29:00.:29:05.

to show that we care. We're all doing something to

:29:06.:29:09.

support older people this Christmas.

:29:10.:29:18.

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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