10/09/2012 Stormont Today


10/09/2012

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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Hello, and welcome to the first programme in the new series of

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Stormont Today. And after the summer break it didn't take our

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MLAs long to get back to business. Recent events in north Belfast

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occupied the mind of the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell who

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accused the Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland, of

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breaching his Ministerial Pledge of Office. During recent weeks, the

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reactions of the DSD Minister to events in North Belfast have

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brought this House into serious disrepute by failing to give - the

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Minister failed to give full support to the upholding of law and

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order, and to my mind Minister Nelson McCausland has clearly

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reached article 1.4 and 1.5 of the Ministerial Pledge of Office.

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Money matters came to the fore when the former economics teacher Sammy

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Wilson used the VAT debate to serve up a financial lesson. One of the

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central precepts that you've always got to remember is cerebsu parabus

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all other things being equal, and of course, all other things don't

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stay equal because we're living and working in this economy. Sammy

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Wilson demonstrating that Latin and economics can mix. Our political

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reporter Stephen Walker is with me in the studio. There were further

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details released about the development of the Maze site and

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the people who'll be responsible for driving that process on. That's

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right. The Maze closed 12 years ago, and since then it has been a

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subject of controversy. Today we have the names of 11 people who

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have agreed to sit on this corporation. The chairman will be

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Terrance Brannigan, a well-known businessman, chairman of Glentorn

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football club and in the past he has been involved with the CBI.

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Interestingly, he's a member of the DUP. His party membership was

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raised by some Stormont sources this morning as if it was going to

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be an issue but when Martin McGuinness came out he said it

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wasn't. Like-wise, the DUP didn't object when it became clear a

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former Sinn Fein councillor, Joe O'Donnell, would be on the board.

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On the board as well is a former police Assistant Chief Constable.

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We've now got the names. Suppose this really marks another staging

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post in this entire proposal. had the SDLP leader Dr Alasdair

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McDonnell has accused Nelson McCausland of breaching the

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Ministerial Code. That's right. Obviously, recent events in North

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Belfast very much to the fore in Alasdair McDonnell's mind, and this

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relates to these events that were taking place in North Belfast

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across the summer, and he brought this issue to the floor of the

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Assembly, and this is what Alasdair McDonnell had to say. The Minister

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failed to give full support to the upholding of law and order, and to

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my mind, Minister Nelson McCausland has clearly breached Article 1.4

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and 1.5 of the Ministerial Pledge of Office. Mr Speaker, is there any

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way in which you can take some action and sort this situation out?

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I rule, Mr Speaker, I have no role in deciding whether a pledge of

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office by any particular Minister, which even includes the Ministerial

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Code of the conduct has been breached - a member will know these

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are complex issues. They are difficult issues, but certainly, as

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Speaker, I have no role whatsoever, but I'll be keen, certainly, to

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talk to the member outside the chamber on the complex issues on

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whether a Minister has broken a pledge of office or his role as a

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Minister within the executive. we know what Nelson McCausland

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makes of that accusation? Well, my understanding is that he's quite

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relaxed about all this. He contends that he did not break the

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Ministerial Code. He says he did not endorse civil disobedience. The

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DUP say their focus is not on debating, in their words, the

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minutiae of all of this, but they say their focus is on finding a

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resolution to the entire parading issue. For now, thank you very much.

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Tourism dominated enterprise questions. The Minister Arlene

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Foster being quizzed on everything from golfing visitors to

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genealogical tourists. But first the Minister was asked about access

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to high-speed broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas.

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Building on its previous investments, my department is

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currently scoping two projects aimed at further enhancing the

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region's telecommunications capabilities by ensuring access to

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broadband services of at least two megabits per second to all premises

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and ill proving access to 3G mobile services. Under the proposed 3G

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mobile project my department aims to reduce the premises in Northern

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Ireland with no conch from any operator from the current 11 of

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11.7% to at least the UK average of .9%. Could I thank the Minister for

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Her answer, and I'm well aware there has been a lot of money

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invested in broadband, but Minister, could I ask if you intend to carry

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out an assessment on those firms that have received money to provide

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broadband in rural Ireland? Because clearly, it's not happening, and

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know some of the firms I have dealt with - and I would like an

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assessment of that also, could you indicate how much more money is

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there available to be allocated to address this in rural broadband?

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Any company that receives Government money are always

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assessed after the end of the contract to see if they have

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delivered in respect of the targets that were set in the terms of

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reference, and that's exactly what will happen if the member is

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referring to the sixth call in - for on-wave as has happened with

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all the other companies as well. We will continue to fill that gap. The

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member knows that we have been working very hard in respect of

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this. In its latest Ofcom research, it estimates that 94% of households

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could access a super-fast broadband service of 30 megabit per second or

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better, and I think it's important that we benchmark that against

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what's happening in the Republic of Ireland, where DCNR and Dublin

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estimate just over 20% of households currently have access of

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a service of 10 megabits, so things are a lot better in Northern

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Ireland in respect of broadband access that doesn't take away from

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the fact that there's more that we can and will be doing in the future.

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I am quite happy to say to the member that we are accessing money

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from the UK in respect of broadband, but unfortunately because we were

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so far ahead of other parts of the UK, we're now being penalised in

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that respect of that, and we're not getting as much money as I believe

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we should we should be getting to follow up with these projects.

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However, we'll still keep fighting that battle. There has been a lot

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achieved today in respect of broadband, but there's still more

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to do. There is potential to develop geneological tourism

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through the promotion of Ulster Scots particularly in the United

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States, where we have targeted this specific segment through tourism

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Ireland's extensive marketing programme. I also recently launched

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a free app that'll help Northern Ireland harness the tourism

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potential of the 30 million people worldwide who have Ulster Scots

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roots. Our tourism bodies continue to engage with the Ulster

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Historical Foundation, the Ulster Agency, the Orange Order and other

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bodies in Northern Ireland with a view to ensuring all aspects of

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their culture and heritage are reflecting. Bearing in mind an

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unemployment rate of around 66,000 people out of work, does the

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Minister believe there are other measures she can take currently in

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respect of any anticipation of a reduction in corporation tax which

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is looking very slow, when she thinks she can put other measures

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in place, and how much of a reduction does she anticipate

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seeing in that 66,000 unemployed? Well, if I knew how much of a

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reduction was happening to the unemployment register, I would have

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a crystal ball in front of me, Mr Deputy Speaker. We all want to see

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the reduction of unemployment. This House are all united in relation to

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that and can I say to the member, Invest Northern Ireland have

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informed me this week of a comprehensive plan they have to

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work with a lot of our indigenous companies, and right across the UK,

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in particular, we have seen a flattening out, indeed, a

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depression - and going back into recession over this past number of

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months, and there is a great need to work with our local firms to try

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to give them the capacity to employ more people, and I am pleased to

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say that we have seen that right across Northern Ireland with small

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companies who are increasing their employment, and I'm very pleased to

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say that we're being able to support them. Can I ask her that in

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the context of promoting jobs and golf tourism in Northern Ireland to

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take account of the views of a number of traders who had expressed

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concern that the spectators when they arrive and go into the

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tournament unfortunately were unable to avail of many of the

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sights and shops of Portrush until the tournament closed to take

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account of that when negotiating and dealing with incoming tour

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operators to promote all of Northern Ireland and its tourist

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infrastructure when events like that are on. I thank the member for

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his supplemental question. Of course, that issue has been raised

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with me before by him and indeed by others. I think the key to all of

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this was that the Irish Open was a phenomenal success. I recognise for

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some of the traders during the actual tournament they didn't get

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what the retail experience that they thought they were going to

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have. But I do have to say to the member that since then Portrush has

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experienced a renewal - a revival, if you like, and a lot of people

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have said to me as they have gone to Portrush over the summer that

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they really think that the place has been transformed, and a lot of

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work went into the area before the Irish Open, and I think the legacy

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will be people visiting Portrush now and, rightly so, Mr Deputy

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Speaker, I did spend some of my summer holiday in Portrush on the

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north coast, and it was a very, very enjoyable experience, but the

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important thing is, the fact that we were able to bring record crowds

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into Northern Ireland for the Irish Open - and in fact, it was double

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the attendance of the Scottish Open. I think that puts it into context.

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The Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster, flying the flag for

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Portrush. Now, talking about tourism, should Northern Ireland

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get a reduced rate of VAT to help some sectors of the industry here?

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DUP members are calling for the Executive to press the Treasury to

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do just that. Here's one of the idea's proposers, the DUP's Simon

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Hamilton. There is a demand to look at things

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that can be done to assist the sector. One suggested solution is

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to reduce the rate of VAT for the sector and some tourism-related

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services. This is an issue that's been pushed by the likes of the

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pubs of Ulster, by the hotel sector and indeed by others, and I have

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been encouraged by the contacts I have had over the last number of

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days from people from the restaurant sector, from pubs and

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from hotels. The context of this is there was a unanimous decision

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taken by all 27 EU Finance Ministers who used - were just for

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VAT in restaurants and catering. Hotels have been able to reduce

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their VAT - our Government have been able to reduce VAT since 1975.

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Those who would say that our Government at Westminster aren't

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interested in this subject - our Government at Westminster

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representatives in the EU voted for this. If they think it's good for

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the whole of the EU, then you would think they might be interested in

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it for the UK itself. 21 states have lower VAT for hotels, and some

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13 have availed of this ability to reduce for the hospitality sector

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and have a lower VAT for food. The simple question is, why would so

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many EU member states pursue a policy of lower VAT for hospitality

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and tourism-related services if indeed it didn't work and have a

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positive impact on their economy? You look at Germany - they have 7%

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for food and hotels. French have 5.5% for restaurants and hotels.

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They have seen an increased number of apprenticeship, in the number of

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jobs. They have seen wages go up as well and staff turnover go down,

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but we don't have to go do France, Germany or any of the mainland

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European countries to see the benefit of a reduced benefit of a

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reduced VAT to the hospitality sector, we just need to look south

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of the border to see the experience they have had. It has been

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estimated a 5.5% decrease in VAT could increase jobs in the

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hospitality sector. I note caution. In taking this forward, the

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Assembly and Executive must think carefully which direction the

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policy should be developed. We shouldn't be seeking a race to the

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bottom against the Government in Dublin. We should instead be

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seeking further and deeper cooperation on this and other

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tourism-related matters with the Government in the rest of the

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island. I believe while this is very welcome. It's very topical and

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has a lot of support from the hospitality industry, it does lack

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ambition and demonstrate lax of confidence among the proposers. It

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lacks ambition in it merely seeks to lobby the British Treasury to

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act on behalf of our businesses and tourism sector. I can only guess

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this is due to the lack of our proposalers to make decisions. What

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we should be doing is being more ambitious. We need to clearly set

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forward the argument to transfer relevant fiscal powers so this

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:14:41.:14:41.

chamber could make decision and not What is the impact of this? Many

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people have asked this. Do we know it would have a positive a impact?

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I suppose with all of these things, when the you change and economic

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variable, whether it is a tax rate or spending or whatever, and there

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are a lot of other things happening in the economy, it is not always

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possible to identify the cause and effect for the size of the effect.

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But what we do know is that a number of governments across Europe

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have changed the rate of Zainab on tourist product. -- of VAT. And

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there has been a change. Let me give you an example. In France, the

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rate was changed in July 2009 to 5.5% and the economic statistics

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indicate that as a result, probably about 15,000 bankruptcy is were

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avoided, 30,000 job losses were avoided, 35,000 apprenticeships

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were created, and 25,000 jobs were created in 2010. You could argue

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there were other factors which influenced those. But the change in

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the tax rate was bound to have contributed to those particular

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statistics. And we could go on and give examples in Germany, the Irish

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Republic, etc. It is not an exact science as -- and as I ate used to

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teach economics, one of the central precepts is all other things being

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equal and of course all other things do not state the court. We

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are living and working in a dynamic economy. -- things do not state be

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cold. But evidence shows there is a positive effect. Can you measure

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it? Probably not. The calls in this Assembly adding to the debate going

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on within the Coalition government and outside, this call today is it

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worth while call. It adds to the debate.

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The Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson. Well, one of the proposers of the

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VAT motion is the DUP's David McIveen, and he joins me now.

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Interesting idea, but not likely to cut much ice with Treasury

:17:07.:17:15.

officials, surely? I think this is going to be a

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process. If Northern Ireland can take the lead on this issue, I am

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very confident that other devolved assemblies or take a similar

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opinion and a united approach will put pressure which on the Treasury.

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You think this will be a change for everybody across the UK, not just

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Northern Ireland? Correct, because they Iraq European rules in place

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when it comes to deviation of VAT rates, so this would be UK wide.

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could cost as many in Northern Ireland, couldn't it? We have -- we

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have to look at the bigger picture, 3,300 jobs could be created at a

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Conservative estimate. A new job creation does not come from nowhere.

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Initiatives are going on with the First Minister and the Finance

:18:05.:18:09.

Minister and Enterprise Minister. But financial stimulus is an

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effective way of creating jobs. Bocchino how painful the process

:18:13.:18:19.

has been surrounding the efforts to change the rate of corporation tax

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-- but you know. That has been an agonising debate for many years. So

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if this happens, it is going to be in the next Parliament. In it will

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take time, we accept that. But we accept corporation tax was an issue

:18:36.:18:40.

around the land border and this is also around the land border, but

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remember this initiative will be a nationwide initiative and we are

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very confident we can take this message to the Treasury. And will

:18:50.:18:55.

that be support for this in Wales, England and Scotland? If they can

:18:55.:19:03.

see the benefits, that is important. We will see!

:19:03.:19:06.

Well, the summer has come and gone, but not the debate over National

:19:06.:19:09.

Parks! The question of creating National Parks here for the first

:19:09.:19:12.

time is still very much alive, and only last week, public meetings

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once again demonstrated the strong feelings generated by the issue.

:19:15.:19:17.

Today, it was raised in the Assembly, with the Environment

:19:17.:19:22.

Minister being asked if he is now changing his mind.

:19:22.:19:27.

Listen to the Minister replied to the original question, and having a

:19:27.:19:32.

listening to him having a reply to the supplementary, do I take it you

:19:32.:19:36.

are telling of this Assembly today you are not proceeding with a

:19:36.:19:41.

national park? What I said and I repeated as that I am taking stock.

:19:42.:19:48.

That is not saying I am not take -- I am not proceeding. It is my

:19:48.:19:52.

obligation to hear all the voices when it comes to the issue of

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National Parks, and there are many and different frissons. In one part,

:19:57.:20:01.

it is clear or legitimate concerns have been raised by the farming

:20:01.:20:06.

community. In the same part of that area, a legitimate support for the

:20:06.:20:09.

principle of National Parks has been coming forward from the

:20:09.:20:13.

commercial community. So there are many voices when it comes to

:20:13.:20:18.

National Parks. But I would be reckless as if I did not listen and

:20:18.:20:23.

-- if I did not listen to what people were saying. So far from

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abandoning the proposal, I want to have a conversation with all those

:20:28.:20:32.

for and against over the next few weeks, John Donne that I will make

:20:32.:20:37.

a judgment on what my best advice is to the Executive and to this

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House. But given the scale of what our people are facing, do we not

:20:41.:20:45.

have an obligation to forensically interrogate any and all opportunity

:20:45.:20:52.

to grow drops in this part of the world? I give it a scale -- given

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the scale of worklessness that faces this part of the world, do we

:20:56.:21:00.

not have an obligation to recognise that given the scale and beauty of

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our natural environment, there are opportunities for heritage led

:21:05.:21:09.

development that we need to take over the next five or 10 years, on

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whatever the court or expression that has, perhaps that is the

:21:12.:21:18.

challenge for me as a minister and 2 us. I hope whatever way we do it,

:21:18.:21:21.

we measure up to that task. The Environment Minister on the

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continuing debate over the rights and wrongs of National Parks. The

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traumatic subject of suicide was very much on the agenda at Stormont

:21:29.:21:31.

today. Families and community groups spent most of the day here,

:21:31.:21:34.

lobbying MLAs and raising awareness through workshops and entertainment,

:21:34.:21:37.

inside and outside the building. To mark World Suicide Prevention Day

:21:37.:21:44.

MLAs also discussed the issue in the Chamber.

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I was speaking sum up -- to someone yesterday and were shocked to see

:21:51.:21:56.

we saw a rate of more than four suicides per day in 2012. Those

:21:56.:22:02.

that take their lives suffer from up a wider problems, financial

:22:02.:22:06.

difficulties, broken relationships or loneliness and isolation is. But

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what remains is a shattered family. In my own constituency, at present

:22:12.:22:18.

this motion and I want to pay tribute to the excellent services

:22:18.:22:23.

in my constituency to help those in despair or contemplating suicide.

:22:23.:22:29.

In particular, what we deem to be our 4th emergency service, search

:22:29.:22:38.

and rescue. Over 600 people took their remind us in 2010 and 2011. -

:22:38.:22:43.

- their own lives. That is 600 families who have lost a loved one,

:22:43.:22:47.

communities that have lost talent and potential and part of their

:22:47.:22:51.

legacy. We in this House must stand with those communities and a flat

:22:51.:22:58.

as much support and preventative services, one life is too many.

:22:58.:23:02.

we must also bear in mind that the specific circumstances of every

:23:02.:23:07.

person who becomes suicidal are unique. Front-line preventive

:23:07.:23:11.

treatment to care for people in emotional despair will and must

:23:11.:23:15.

remain essential. Voluntary and community groups have a vital role

:23:15.:23:20.

in delivering this from my support. They are often the port -- the

:23:20.:23:24.

first port of call for individuals and these families facing these

:23:24.:23:30.

daunting circumstances. This was published in evidence last year

:23:30.:23:35.

showing 70% of people who died from suicide in the previous decade in

:23:35.:23:38.

Northern Ireland had not been in touch with mental health services.

:23:38.:23:44.

So clearly a lot of people in serious emotional crisis are not

:23:44.:23:47.

accessing statutory mental health services, and this is something

:23:47.:23:53.

that needs to be looked at. It is also a reason it is vital for at

:23:53.:23:58.

the statutory and community sector to work together to provide suicide

:23:58.:24:02.

prevention suicide services that reach out to all those at risk.

:24:02.:24:05.

The vexed issue of suicide, prompting a great deal of agreement

:24:05.:24:08.

among MLAs this afternoon. Well, today may have been the first

:24:09.:24:11.

sitting in the Chamber for MLAs since their summer break, but

:24:11.:24:13.

committee meetings restarted last week.

:24:13.:24:15.

Up for discussion at the OFMDFM Committee was the planned inquiry

:24:16.:24:18.

into institutional abuse, and some groups are unhappy, saying the

:24:18.:24:21.

inquiry doesn't go far enough, as we'll hear now in our weekly look

:24:21.:24:31.
:24:31.:24:31.

at committee business. The commission is at a loss to

:24:31.:24:34.

understand why it with regard to any living victim there is a need

:24:34.:24:43.

to fix instalment. We recognise with regard to dead victims, and

:24:43.:24:48.

you have to draw a line. F but where a victim is living, it is the

:24:48.:24:51.

commission's view that victim's case should be embraced up by the

:24:51.:24:56.

mandate of the inquiry, so we would be of the opinion that with regard

:24:56.:25:00.

to living victims, a date should not be said, but simply an

:25:00.:25:04.

acknowledgement that if the victim is still alive, regardless of that

:25:04.:25:09.

be before or after 1945, baby given their full right of audience to the

:25:09.:25:16.

inquiry -- the baby given. To the wider issues of sexual abuse

:25:16.:25:20.

outside the constitutional context, we share the view that this is an

:25:20.:25:25.

issue that needs to be taken account of. Sexual abuse of

:25:25.:25:28.

children did not just happen in institutional care settings, it

:25:28.:25:34.

also occurred in many other social contexts that have to be taken

:25:34.:25:38.

account of as a matter of international human rights law.

:25:38.:25:42.

Facts nevertheless we consider it is difficult to take account of

:25:42.:25:45.

those who mentioned sexual abuse in the current legislative project and

:25:45.:25:49.

we do not think it would be wise or prudent to withdraw the bill to

:25:49.:25:53.

widen the bill. But rather, we consider that a separate piece of

:25:53.:25:57.

legislation would be required to deal with those elements of sexual

:25:57.:26:02.

abuse there are not currently covered, elements that would

:26:02.:26:06.

embrace any other forms of sexual Fabrice -- abuse that take place

:26:06.:26:14.

outside the home. The to terms of human rights abuses, which we

:26:14.:26:21.

consider these two have been, are high -- do have a right to

:26:21.:26:30.

restitution, at rehabilitation, etc. -- victims of human rights abuses.

:26:30.:26:34.

I cannot sit at this committee, I have never come into this building

:26:34.:26:38.

without mentioning, what can we do for the people who have not made it

:26:38.:26:44.

this far? The people for whom already this has been too much and

:26:44.:26:51.

they have taken their own lives. Is there something, is their

:26:51.:26:58.

consideration for their relatives? For their children. And I think...

:26:58.:27:05.

And they are talking about opening this out like a parachute. We give

:27:05.:27:08.

consideration to the people in work in institutions and we give as much

:27:08.:27:16.

consideration to them and their families and their surviving

:27:16.:27:22.

relatives. In the same way that we would get it. And again, I would be

:27:22.:27:28.

clear about the fact that it would not be at Asda and -- that it would

:27:28.:27:33.

not be an extra, it would be the right. Not just a consideration.

:27:33.:27:38.

if we are going to acknowledge that we understand down generations,

:27:38.:27:42.

then of course we would have to. The Ulster Unionist leader Mike

:27:42.:27:44.

Nesbitt. Stephen Walker is with me for a

:27:44.:27:48.

final word. Stephen, a busy day here today and a busy few days

:27:48.:27:55.

ahead. It has been very busy today and it will be a very busy

:27:55.:28:00.

political agenda over the next few days. Tomorrow, there will be a

:28:00.:28:05.

protest at Stormont involving trade unions over the issue of welfare

:28:05.:28:10.

reform. That has been very controversial. On Wednesday, aware

:28:10.:28:16.

air connections will come under the spotlight at Westminster when

:28:16.:28:18.

members of the Northern Ireland affairs committee look at the issue

:28:18.:28:24.

of air links from Northern Ireland to other parts of the UK. Evidence

:28:24.:28:29.

will be given as part of an investigation into airline strategy.

:28:29.:28:33.

And as we move towards the dark autumn night, a reminder of the

:28:33.:28:36.

great sporting summer we have had because on Thursday night, there

:28:36.:28:40.

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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