10/12/2012 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. There were strong words of


condemnation from all sides for the week of violence that followed


Belfast City Council's decision to fly the union flag on designated


days. The violence we have seen has been


orchestrated. This raises questions about the future intentions of


those who once professed to support the peace process.


The First Minister, Peter Robinson, recognised that people have the


right to peaceful protest, but not the right to violence.


Let's be clear - there's no right to attack police of council staff.


There's no right to threaten or intimidate. There's no right to be


in danger, harm or kill. There's no right to kill representatives


because you don't agree with their views.


And joining me with her analysis is our political correspondent,


Martina Purdy. So, MLAs have unanimously backed a


motion condemning last week's violence and intimidation over


Belfast City Council's decision on flying the union flag. There have


been protests across Northern Ireland against the decision. An


Alliance Party office was destroyed in Carrickfergus, the homes of


several councillors were attacked, and the party's deputy leader,


Naomi Long, received a death threat on Friday morning. The Deputy First


Minister said the recent violence was orchestrated, and added that


political parties must play a central part in healing divisions,


not raising tensions. We have a responsibility tab clear


in our message of condemnation of the recent lawlessness and violence


on the streets. Attacks on cows will start and police officers, too.


This is to be condemned in the strongest terms. I am, however,


optimistic that our message today in condemning the violence for --


and supporting those who have been intimidated will be heard loud and


clear. We must remain resolute and clear. We must remain resolute and


clear. We must remain resolute and not allow the recent events to


undermine the agreements we have made over the past number of years.


We have a responsibility took -- to give leadership, especially at


times like this. The violence and intimidation is unacceptable. We


must all stand behind that message. The intimidation and threats


The intimidation and threats against an MP, councillors and


others are the work of those who refuse to accept democracy. Those


elements that have issued the flats -- threats should lift them. The


violence we have seen has been orchestrated. This raises many


serious questions about the future intention of those who once


professed to support the peace process.


We condemn utterly what happened last week. That is the easy part.


The challenge, and it is a challenge for every party in this


house, is out to acknowledge what, last week, was all about. There was


a vote to stop flying the flag except on a few days of the year.


And yes, it was a democratic vote, and we accept that. But on another


level, it has been received as part of a process described by some as a


party political victory, which, of course, so Jess winners and losers.


-- suggests. I think that some of those who took to the streets saw


themselves as the uses and not -- as losers, and not for the first


time. We must do more than just condemn.


We must tell the truth, however difficult that might be. The


founding document of this Assembly describes respect as the basis of


relationships within Northern Ireland. The fact is that the


campaign of intimidation started before the violence erupted. That


campaign must be condemned. Mutual respect requires there should be no


campaigns to coerce or erode any body's feelings of Britishness or


Irish nurse. -- Irish heritage. Everybody should be accepted as


Irish or British or both. There is no flag accepted as such by all our


people. We are signed up to an agreement which states that we


cannot force any section of our people to accept a flag of our


choice. That is the basis, and the only basis, on which we can sort


this problem out. There can be no cherry-picking. We can't pick the


bit of the Good Friday Agreement saying that Northern Ireland is


part of the UK and overlook the bit reflecting respect over Britishness


There has been contrast between those who claim to protect the


Union flag and democracy. A contrast between the cowardice of


people covering their faces with masks, and the dignity of their


elected representatives under attack. Contrast between the


response when the same decision was taken by other Unionist councils at


other times, and the effect that whooping up tensions had on this


occasion. There are two issues that our community has to face up to.


Where do we stand on democracy? What are we going to Dubai to


accommodate different allegiances into a shared future? It is


striking that the motion we tabled last Thursday differs from today's


in the respect that... It is beyond me why all parties to not sign up


to those words. Any decision taken by a democratically elected body is


democratic. Any democratic decision is, as a result, legitimate. That


is the essence of democracy. If we refuse to accept that, why bother


with democracy? How do we tell the people who rioted that they were


wrong to do so? How do we tell dissident republicans that


democracy is the only route to the future? The principle of consent...


If you want Northern Ireland's present and future to be ruled by


democracy, you have to accept every democratic decision, even those


that you perceive to affect your sense of identity.


It was a seminal moment when the Union Flag was torn down from the


civic building in our capital city. That was not an isolated assault on


our Britishness. It was a new high point in insult and Republican


action in an orchestrated process. It began in the Belfast Agreement.


It has touched a nerve of many people frustrated by a treadmill of


concessions. Just as intended by the Belfast Agreement, it, of


course, was and is designed to trundle ass out of the UK, to ease


us and infuse us into end -- and All Ireland, and at every step


requires dilution of our Britishness. Torture is Sinn Fein's


new theatre of war. -- culture. We must be mindful of the language


we use in political debate. However, on Wednesday evening, when I got


the word that the homes of councillors were attacked, I became


acutely aware of the vulnerability of my own family. For the first


time in my political career, I felt that I had to watch what I say for


fear that my family could face a similar attack.


To those who turned their process into violence, let me say


categorically that you are wrong. Despite your best efforts, the


moral high ground remains with those of participating in lawful,


peaceful protests. Scenes of uncontrollable anger brought


disgrace and turned legitimate revulsion into unacceptable


violence, doing no service whatsoever to the British culture


under pressure. People are entitled to make their


views known. Doing so is an integral part of the democratic


process. Democracy has not conducted in secret. People are


entitled to have opinions and they are entitled to express them. I


will defend their right to influence decisions and the right


to peaceful protest if they don't agree with the decisions. The right


to protest is as fundamental to the democratic process as the right to


vote. But let's declare - but there is no right to attack police


officers or council staff. There's no right to destroy property.


There's no right to threaten or intimidate. There's no right to


endanger life, Hamm, inter-war kill. There's no right to attack elected


representatives. I know what it is like to get a knock on the door and


be told by the police that somebody is trying to kill me. I received


that visit many times. Many people in this house will have received


the same kind of visitor. I have to say that having received that kind


of visit, I know perhaps more than many the impact that it has on a


family and personal life. Those of us who have been through it, more


than any, know what it is like. We stand side-by-side with those who


are under threat today. The First Minister ending today's


debate. But it's not over yet, and while there's been more unrest this


evening, tomorrow the flags issue is up for more discussion here at


Stormont. The DUP is asking the Assembly Commission to review the


flags policy here with a view to increasing the number of days the


Union flag flies. With me now is our political correspondent,


Martina Purdy. What is likely to happen with this


DUP motion? It is too early to say. It is a


fluid situation. The DUP's representative on the Commission


filed a motion asking for the Assembly commission, which is


responsible for the building, to review its flags policy with a view


to increasing the number of flag days we have here. As numbers stand,


the Assembly commission is not like the Assembly chamber, where


nationalists and Unionists can be to each other. It is basically one


MLA, one fruit. If it came to a straight vote, they could push it


through. This evening, Peter Robinson met with Mike Nesbitt, the


Ulster Unionist leader. They discussed the issue for around an


hour, and they said they would bring forward to and proposals.


Are the Unionists are united on this?


The tactics and strategy are still being worked out. The DUP would


need the Unionists to support them. Can Mike Nesbitt count on all his


MLAs not to rebel? That is a question for us. Mike Nesbitt, I


spoke to him at the weekend and he said he supports a notion of more


flag days. He pointed out that they started having 17 designated days,


but with the death of Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother,


there's now 15. He wants things to come down. Also, he would not


specify how many days he think the flag should fly. Most people


Sinn Fein haven't come back with a definitive statement on their


position. The SDLP have met this evening and they issued a statement


saying they are not happy at the pre-emptive way the DUP has dealt


with this. They feel they would not be able to support the motion to


review flags, they would argue that an assessment is required. The


Alliance Party has similar concerns. They could be a procedural issue to


delay this. If the SDLP and Sinn Fein refused to turn up to the


Assembly commission, there would not be a qualm. That is something


that is being looked at. Also whispers that the SDLP may have


written to the First Minister protesting. It is possible that in


the medium term we may see more designated days? The Unionists may


have a reasonable case in terms of increasing the number a flag days


given that they have shrunk in the past decade and nationalists have


said they can see there could be more flag days. A small number of


days, nothing like 365. And would Unionists ask for sitting days?


Some of the Ellesse says -- MLAs, while they would be opened this


case, they are upset at the way it has been handled and they don't


want to respond in the immediate climate because they don't want to


respond to what they say are bully- boy tactics. When tempers cool in


the new year, progress could be made, but I don't think it will be


done overnight. Thank you. Father two many MLAs instalment?


The committee tasked with considering reform has tentatively


backed the creation of a new Department for the economy. There


are also suggestions for agriculture to take on the


environment and a new department for Oban and social development.


This is the chair of the Assembly. Although the committee did not


reach consensus on how many departments there should be, the


report outlines five areas where the committee agreed there was some


commonality. With regard to how departments could be restructured.


As indicated in Assembly research papers, the task of reorganising


government departments is typically regarded as an Executive function.


Fair for the committee regarded its role as advisory in this respect


rather than prescriptive. The report clearly states that the five


areas of commonality do not represent an exhaustive list of


broad reorganisations and can't therefore be taken as a set of


recommendations. However, as with the objectives and to inform any


future reorganisation, the committee considers that the areas


of commonality said Hutton Report can be used to directly inform any


future reorganisation of Northern Ireland. -- one minute they want to


be in opposition and the other they don't. They want to stay in the


Executive. It is time for them to declare their hand. The same with


the SDLP. Their decision will impact on any final Configuration.


Order. I will repeat that because the member for the SDLP was


laughing so loudly. It was the most frustrating report to be party to


preparation of, largely because there was very little willingness


on behalf of the significant party in the house to engage in any


serious way in any aspect of debate around this. I thank the man before


giving way. I would encourage him, maybe he was going to be very


precise rather than say a very major party. Could he be as precise


-- could he be precise? I will leave Mr Campbell to his own


precision. Sinn Fein were the party who failed to make a substantial


and response to the consultation process that kicks off each one of


these periods of internal debate. People were asked to put forward


their proposals. Time after time after time after time after endless


time, we put forward our proposals. I think pointing the finger across


the chamber is very unparliamentary. I think all members do realise that


this subject has been raised before and it is not acceptable to point


fingers. I would ask the member to continue with his speech. One party


didn't, Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein didn't. The DUP's Gregory Campbell.


Now, are human rights in Northern Ireland being sufficiently


protected? Or are issues like welfare reform, violence and


intimidation affecting people's lives? With me is Professor Michael


O'Flaherty from the Human Rights Commission. Good evening. The


commission published its first annual human rights statement today.


Is that a time for optimism or pessimism? It is a very important


day for us. We launched the annual statement in the presence at


Stormont of the representatives of the five main parties and in the


statement we gave a health check of the situation a few rights in


Northern Ireland. There are problems. We know what is happening


on the streets tonight. We know about the dreadful state of the


economy, the knock-on impact for people. What is less well-known are


the achievement. We want to draw attention to the way in which the


Executive is standing up for human rights. The way in which her left


end VFM has dealt with historic child abuse. The work of the


minister for justice within prisons. Also to try to have less women


locked up for petty crime. The Health Minister, with new


regulations to deal with the nursing home sector, triggered by a


report of ours. These are achievements. The Assembly's work


on human rights trafficking is best practice internationally, as is the


establishment of an at hoc committee for that will for reform


bill. That is novel and important. It will make a difference in the


long run. It is good that there are positive things to note and


celebrate, but it is also important to look at what can be improved in


the months and years ahead. Clearly a lot of people will be thinking of


the murder of the prison officer David black last month and we've


seen considerable dissident republican activity in love the


last month of up strong echoes of the past for a lot of people in


Northern Ireland who lived through the worst of the Troubles.


Absolutely and the Commission have been forthright in saying that.


When dissidents or when private agents perform unacceptable acts of


this nature, it is important that our commissioned stands up and says


that. As well as holding the state to account for its own


responsibilities and duties. What is crucial is to base our human


rights work on the international standards that the UK has committed


itself to. If we say -- stay strongly locked within law we will


see progress. You also say that there's a challenge, an outstanding


challenge of dealing with the past. Are we being held in a state of


suspended animation by the failure of politicians to fully deal with


that? That is fair. We have a lot to do in terms of engaging with the


story of the Troubles, the victims, including the many wounded or


traumatised, who feel largely neglected despite all have the


resources poured into that sector. There are other former combatants


who largely feel excluded. You can draw a link between the feelings of


former combatants and what we are seeing on the streets today. All of


these things are connected and we need a root-and-branch


disengagement. You talk about the economy being a big challenge. The


challenges posed -- posed by a child poverty, fuel poverty,


welfare reform and homelessness. are not saying you can't reform


welfare. We are not saying there's an infinity of capacity of


resources. We're just asking that where there are cutbacks and


reforms, they are respectful of human rights, including through


doing proper impact assessment on the basis of human rights for


welfare reform. Something we have not seen until now and which


hopefully the new committee will do something to redress. There's


always that notion of competing rights and responsibilities, when


we think about the area of human rights. Do you think we are more


understanding of the complexity of an issue like this than we were in


the past or will that always be a challenge? It will always be a


challenge. But the statement will help to redress that. This idea


that there's any rights and the responsibilities, that is nonsense.


Of key -- of course people have responsibilities to match the


rights and it is our job to remind people of that. The system is quite


this -- sophisticated, it works. Thing gee. -- A thank you.


The Education Minister appears to be off the Finance Minister's


Christmas card list. There's a growing rift between the two


departments. Sammy Wilson says he's not getting enough information


about John O'Dowd's spending. But Mr O'Dowd has in return accused Mr


Wilson of interfering. The issue was raised by Simon Hamilton during


education questions. The Department of Finance and Personnel is


responsible for the flow of departmental information from


government departments to the Treasury. My department does not


provide information directly to the Treasury. My department provides


the necessary information to the Giff p To allow them to respond to


Treasury requests. Thank you. The minister will be aware that his


department provides Her Majesty's Treasury with significant data


through the public expenditure statistical analysis. Does it not


strike the minister as odd that given there's a Red Cross... He is


prepared to assessed DFB in that record in providing the Treasury


with more detailed information than he is prepared to agree to this


house? I provide the same amount of details to the Treasury through DF


p as all other Executive departments. It is a very, very


detailed response to the Treasury. There is no difficulty in


transparency in finance. I have no difficulty in greater finances in


the Assembly. But I do have a difficulty with the Department of


Finance and Personnel having the ability to tell me as Minister how


and when and where I should spend finances. That is not transparency,


that is not transparency, that is interference. We are all clearly


governed by the relevant legislation as ministers, we are


clearly governed by the code of conduct around ministers. I'm not


aware of being in breach of any legislation, I'm not aware of being


in breach of any code of conduct. I am living up to my responsibilities


around this. If the information is flowing to the Treasury, if the


Treasury comes back and says we're going to tell you had to spend your


money, I would say you are not getting any more information. There


is a need... The Treasury get their money from taxpayers. The Treasury


doesn't grow the money on trees. Could the minister outlined the


benefits of this process to education in itself? That is


exactly the point. My officials could spend a lot of time shifting


paper from one desk to another, but they want to be involved in


delivering services to schools, boards and communities rather than


being paper shuffle as. It is beyond me as to what benefit it is


to education for further paperwork to be pushed back and forward


around financial issues. But if there is a need for further


financial transparency, I will support it, but I'm not going to us


support any were Najet which interferes with my role as minister.


The Education Minister, John O'Dowd. Martina Purdy is with me again. So


Martina, staying with education, you've heard a whisper that we may


be in for some positive headlines very soon. Yes. I understand


tomorrow it will be announced that Northern Ireland pupils are going


to score in the top 10 in terms of maths and reading and that is


following a report from the International Association for the


evaluation of educational achievement at Boston College. They


will also indicate that we have above average science skills. These


reports are based on several thousand students. It is quite a


big deal if that is the case. I understand the reports are out


around 9am tomorrow. Something to cheer about tomorrow. Another issue


that came up today at Stormont was the will for -- Welfare Reform


Group. A problem with the quality. That was born out of controversy


about what to do about welfare reform. Some concerns that there


should be a look at equality and human rights. The group was set up,


they were looking for the equality unit to give some evidence and they


asked the unit come along. The unit did not confirm their attendants,


but they were told today that the unit would not be coming along and


the deputy chair is concerned this could lead to costly delays. If we


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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