10/02/2016 Stormont Today


10/02/2016

Stormont Today returns for a special sitting as MLAs debate the Justice Bill.


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Hello and welcome to this extra edition of Stormont Today,

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where MLAs have spent the day debating a range of amendments

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The complex and controversial issue of abortion

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in cases of fatal foetal abnormality

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was always likely to dominate proceedings -

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but there was another story that got people talking in the corridors

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here - the fallout from the DUP MLA Jim Wells'

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whispered comments about women

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at the beginning of a recent Public Accounts Committee meeting.

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An Alliance MLA behind one of this evening's

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amendments regrets what he sees as the restrictions

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placed on some of his fellow Members.

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Sadly there are those who will make their decisions today due to the

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influence of party whips, rather than through free expression of

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their conscience. But MLAs do vote to help the law try

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and keep up with modern technology. At the time the legislation was

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drafted, nobody envisaged the type of world we would be living in

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today, where we all have smartphones capable of taking photographs,

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videos and they are capable of being shared online instantly.

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And I'm joined by Professor Rick Wilford

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for his take on another busy day inside - and outside -

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It was over eight hours into today's added sitting before Members

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got to the main event - the final set of amendments to be

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including those dealing with abortion.

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And the sitting ran late into the evening.

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The contentious proposal was to allow abortion in situations

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of fatal foetal abnormality and the arguments on both sides

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have been well rehearsed both inside and outside the chamber.

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some of the parties made their positions clear.

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If there is another place to do legislation apart from Stormont, I

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would like to hear or it is in Northern Ireland. I think the

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objective for the DUP's working group is to get us down until after

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the election. They have set a deadline of six months. Currently

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the looking not in our but the Ulster Unionist Party also, they

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have a free vote. Another one that has come across two hours this

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morning. We will see where we are in a few hours. Our MLAs will both of

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their individual conferences dictate and I do not know how that is

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because I do not think it would be appropriate as leader to ask them

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and give the belt I was trying to influence them, because I think they

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know from my public statements that I would support a change in the law.

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I am uncomfortable as a man telling a woman what to do with the body.

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The SDLP will be voting against each of those amendments. We are a

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pro-life party. These amendments have been stuck on to adjust

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something which never was to deal with such an emotive and

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controversial issue as abortion. We believe that women should have the

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option to decide if they choose to go ahead with the pregnancy in

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relation to fatal foetal abnormality. This is about women

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making the decision and we believe that they should have the option to

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terminate or they have been victims of sexual crime where a woman's life

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was in danger. -- or where a woman's life.

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And Professor Rick Wilford is with me now.

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Rick, it's a subject that's been discussed many times in the past.

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And it continues to divide opinion in the chamber.

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It is, not only with between the parties but within some of. If you

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were going to tally up which we devote me go, I certainly think that

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the evidence and foreword by Alliance will be defeated. There

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should be at least low 40s in favour of the amendment in relation to

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sexual crime and foetal foetal abnormality. There are two things

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worth observing, the DUP chose not to voice concern on this occasion,

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maybe because they felt they had the numbers on the side of the argument

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anyway, namely the proposal to establish this panel, which will

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take six months to come up with what the party hopes will be an agreed

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position in relation to fatal foetal abnormality. That pitted comfortable

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beyond the Assembly election in May. I do not think there is necessarily

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going to prevent the issue being erased during the course of the

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campaign itself. -- being raised. I wonder whether there might be one or

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two chinks, if you like. It seems to be united front in the part of the

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DUP imposing these amendments and maybe one or two who are a bit

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morbid bowl on the issue... I think it is an issue that is worth

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pressing MLAs on and I certainly think the Ulster Unionist Party is

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on the right thing in allowing members to vote according to their

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own consciences because this is ultimately a key personal matter. It

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is permanently a matter for women. And there is something, I think,

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better in the modes of some when you see a chamber dominated by men as it

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were determining and governing what might happen on the citizens of

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front. What do you make of the issue being dealt with in this manner, as

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a series of amendments to a much broader justice bill? It is not

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unusual. Quite often you get bills which are pejoratively described as

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blunderbuss pieces of legislation, in the sense that they have lots of

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clothes off and amendments and all the rest. I do not think it is an

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attempt to, if you like, bury the issue. One could not because it is

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so controversial. But it is a means of trying to, as it were, pushed

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through a set of changes in one market until the that it says the

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abortion amendments are included within it, I think, is not an

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appropriate. Thank you very much indeed.

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So let's get a flavour of the debate in the chamber.

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Today, Mr Speaker, I am asking members of this Assembly to take a

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decision based on this debate on how all the circumstances in history

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preceding it have influenced their conscience. Sadly, there are those

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who will make their decision due to the influence of party whips rather

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than through free expression of their conscience. This issue

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requires, demands, careful consideration from the medical

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professionals, from practitioners, from families, from Essex and legal

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experts, to ensure sufficient and proper clarity and guidance are the

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hallmarks of the way forward. George Horner has stated that as it stands,

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the law is not compatible with human rights. We, as legislators, should

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first and foremost about legislation that is human rights compliant. This

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series of amendments are proposing a major change to the law. Changing

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the law in this area, if it is to be done, needs to proceed with great

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care and widespread engagement with relevant stakeholders. On this

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occasion, this simply has not happened. The background is the

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Minister held a public on the station particularly around the

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issue of foetal foetal abnormality there is considerable public

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support. Foetal abnormality. My understanding, and the minister can

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directly because I do not speak for him, is that whilst he would have

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liked to have brought the FFA issue forward in this building could not

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get through, which is why we are here now. Under this is not limited

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to any conditions. -- under this amendment, fatal foetal abnormality

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is not limited to any conditions. Could it be used to abort foetuses

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with down syndrome or spina bifida? It has been made absolutely clear

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and everything that has been said in terms of the department

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consultation, in terms of the week this amendment is written, that we

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are talking about a fatal abnormality. Let us not add further,

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to oppose women suffering with such an issue, or indeed, to those who

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have children who suffer from down syndrome or some other limiting

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issue, which is not fatal. Making that comparison, you are straying

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into extraordinarily dangerous territory. Justice Warner had this

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to say, doctors know when a foetus has a fatal foetal abnormality. This

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is primarily a medical diagnosis, not a legal judgment. Will we not

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trust doctors to diagnose a fatal foetal abnormality?

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shows no sign of finding common ground,

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there was one part of the Justice Bill

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the offence of posting revealing videos or pictures online

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The DUP's Alastair Ross tabled the amendment

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to make the act a criminal offence in Northern Ireland

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and he found support from across the chamber.

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I want to the committee does not propose amendments to create a new

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offence of disclosing private sector photographs and films with the

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intent to cause distress, generally known as revenge pornography. We are

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looking at the creation of an offence similar to that created in

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England and Wales by the criminal Justice and Courts act earlier this

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year. Last year, sorry. Such behaviour is already totally

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unacceptable and it should be recognised that there are a number

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of existing laws in Northern Ireland to prosecute offenders, such as the

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offence of harassment, improper use of a communications network, even

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blackmail. The other point is the usual period on summary conviction

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would be improvement for a term not unseating six months, a fine or

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both. It is an issue of foetal which is what we have further

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consideration stage four. I am happy to except the will of the committee

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that we should proceed to make this amendment today. Bear I am sure

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members are aware of the stress, devastating and humiliation caused

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to victims when intimate films of autographs at the Usher with an

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individual, often had a trusted in possibly, I'd insured worldly. --

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widely. Most of -- then who they have trusted implicitly, as sharers

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widely on the Internet. Prosecutions could potentially be brought forward

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with current legislation but at the time it was drafted, nobody

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envisaged the day before we would be living in today, where we love

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smartphones capable taking photographs or videos, capable of

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being shared online almost instantly. Therefore, I think the

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law needs to keep the pace with some of the technological changes and

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recognise the world live in today. Perhaps there are pieces of it you

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were off, that it showed us that there were gaps in legislation with

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the Internet and particularly around a particular issue which people now

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call revenge porn. I in the chair is correct when he says, I know the

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Minister himself is accepting these amendments and I accept in how we

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deal with other aspects of this as we go forward. Because I think it is

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important and it is important for this reason, there are many people

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who are being subjected to this and they feel vulnerable and isolated.

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Another people who are using it for control and coercion and then either

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very, very clear signal that will not be tolerated. In terms of the

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amendment tabled by the Chair of the Justice committee in relation to

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what is described as revenge ash macro revenge porn. I think we have

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all been horrified to hear of the bad experiences that people... Some

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young, and some of the have had in relation to this and it seems to be

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a modern-day evil. So I think I very much welcome the fact that we are at

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least drinking the insulation in line with England and Wales. --

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bringing legislation in line. And that section of the Justice Bill

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was passed on an oral vote. Another part of the bill concerns

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the Prison Ombudsman. The bill would place the office

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on a statutory footing and allow the Ombudsman to launch

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an investigation at his While most of the seventeen

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amendments in this section were uncontentious, a Sinn Fein

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proposal which would compel people to assist in Ombudsman's

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investigations proved less so. In relation to the power to compel

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witness amendments 47 and 48 which Mr McConnell has tabled provide a

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power to enable the ombudsman to compel a person to assist in any

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investigation is it an offence and liable to a fine of exceeding level

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three if that is refused. This issue was raised with the committee by the

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Human Rights Commission who consider the effectiveness of the numbers

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and's investigations will be augmented by calling witnesses

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interview. When we discussed the interview with the current

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ombudsman, he believed it will be a cosmetic change and affect very few

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deaths in custody or complaints investigated. This is the

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opportunity to give the ombudsman capability and power to carry out

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investigations to deal with compliments and to provide the

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service of ensuring there is current accountability mechanisms in and

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around our presence. -- our prisons. The idea of compelling someone to

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give evidence and I certainly heard of this evidence given and he said

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there were no issues and that is good and fine. I wouldn't question

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it in anyway and that is a good state of affairs that the local

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operating with all investigations, but as the powers perhaps widen and

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parts we have seen under the minister's terms the powers of

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investigation will widen. None of us can predict the future that is why

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it is best that we give provision for the ombudsman if he sees fit or

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if she sees fit in the future to have that power. Public person to

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assist in any investigation under this, where not absolutely convinced

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-- we not absolutely convinced it is a right and proper amendment in

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relation to these matters. It's very difficult to conceive of a situation

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where you could actually compound a person to assist. You might be able

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to compel others and to attend somewhere or to arrive at some

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office or whatever, but you can not control that person to assist. It is

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almost the same as the fundamental concept of a criminal investigation

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and the right to silence. To suggest that in this context you can compel

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somebody, when in another context you clearly cannot comment you can

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certainly make some but the attendant, but what point? In this

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issue has arisen in other regards as well. It has a Briton in the past in

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regards to the role of the police ombudsman, it arises in terms of

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criminal investigations by the police every day. So I think we

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would need to be very sure would how one would do that as well as there

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was justification for doing it had at the moment, I do not see

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anything, certainly the measure which already exists in the Bill

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about penalties for those who would seek to obstruct the investigation

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are absolutely right. That is a very different issue from pretending

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somehow that you can actually compel somebody to give useful information

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if they are unwilling to do so. Sinn Fein is to lodge a complaint

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against the DUP MLA Jim Wells following an incident

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in the Assembly yesterday. It's alleged he confronted

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Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon Another complaint has already been

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lodged against Mr Wells for alleged sexist comments he made

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during a Public Accounts Committee Mr Wells says his remarks

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have been misunderstood. Here's the official Assembly

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footage of both incidents. And Rick has joined me

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again for a final word. Not for the first time,

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Jim Wells finds himself in a corner. I think in all recall the hot water

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he got into during the general election campaign last year and now

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here is at the centre of another political storm. Another storm of

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controversy. As it was politicians worth their salt will recognise that

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perception means an enormous amount in politics. And the fact is that

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people perceive as remarks as being an instance of casual everyday

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sexism. I'm not alleging that is what he intended, but that is the

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way in which some people will have perceived it and I suspect it is not

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going to do his prospects are getting a nomination for the DUP and

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its constituency very much good. It's going to be, as it were, again,

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at the centre of another row. This time of the alleged sexism. Brick,

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thank you very much indeed. That is it for tonight. Do join me for the

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The View Would. Thank you for watching.

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