10/12/2012 Stormont Today


10/12/2012

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 Stormont Today. There were strong words of

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condemnation from all sides for the week of violence that followed

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

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days. The violence we have seen has been

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orchestrated. This raises questions about the future intentions of

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those who once professed to support the peace process.

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

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

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

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

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

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because you don't agree with their views.

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And joining me with her analysis is our political correspondent,

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Martina Purdy. So, MLAs have unanimously backed a

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motion condemning last week's violence and intimidation over

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

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been protests across Northern Ireland against the decision. An

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Alliance Party office was destroyed in Carrickfergus, the homes of

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

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

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Minister said the recent violence was orchestrated, and added that

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political parties must play a central part in healing divisions,

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not raising tensions. We have a responsibility tab clear

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in our message of condemnation of the recent lawlessness and violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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must all stand behind that message. The intimidation and threats

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The intimidation and threats against an MP, councillors and

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

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

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violence we have seen has been orchestrated. This raises many

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serious questions about the future intention of those who once

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professed to support the peace process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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time. We must do more than just condemn.

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

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founding document of this Assembly describes respect as the basis of

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relationships within Northern Ireland. The fact is that the

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campaign of intimidation started before the violence erupted. That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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bit of the Good Friday Agreement saying that Northern Ireland is

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

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There has been contrast between those who claim to protect the

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Union flag and democracy. A contrast between the cowardice of

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

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elected representatives under attack. Contrast between the

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

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

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

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

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accommodate different allegiances into a shared future? It is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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that you perceive to affect your sense of identity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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fear that my family could face a similar attack.

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

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

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moral high ground remains with those of participating in lawful,

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peaceful protests. Scenes of uncontrollable anger brought

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disgrace and turned legitimate revulsion into unacceptable

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violence, doing no service whatsoever to the British culture

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under pressure. People are entitled to make their

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

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process. Democracy has not conducted in secret. People are

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

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will defend their right to influence decisions and the right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Martina Purdy. What is likely to happen with this

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

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fluid situation. The DUP's representative on the Commission

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filed a motion asking for the Assembly commission, which is

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

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

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the Assembly commission is not like the Assembly chamber, where

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

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

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

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Ulster Unionist leader. They discussed the issue for around an

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

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Are the Unionists are united on this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The committee tasked with considering reform has tentatively

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

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are also suggestions for agriculture to take on the

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environment and a new department for Oban and social development.

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

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reach consensus on how many departments there should be, the

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report outlines five areas where the committee agreed there was some

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commonality. With regard to how departments could be restructured.

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As indicated in Assembly research papers, the task of reorganising

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government departments is typically regarded as an Executive function.

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

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rather than prescriptive. The report clearly states that the five

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areas of commonality do not represent an exhaustive list of

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

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

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future reorganisation, the committee considers that the areas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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preparation of, largely because there was very little willingness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:18:49.:18:51.

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

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

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

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

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

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Now, are human rights in Northern Ireland being sufficiently

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protected? Or are issues like welfare reform, violence and

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

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

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commission published its first annual human rights statement today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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establishment of an at hoc committee for that will for reform

:20:45.:20:49.

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

:20:49.:20:54.

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

:20:54.:20:58.

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

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

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

:21:07.:21:11.

seen considerable dissident republican activity in love the

:21:11.:21:15.

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

:21:15.:21:18.

Northern Ireland who lived through the worst of the Troubles.

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Absolutely and the Commission have been forthright in saying that.

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When dissidents or when private agents perform unacceptable acts of

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

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

:21:36.:21:40.

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

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rights work on the international standards that the UK has committed

:21:44.:21:48.

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

:21:48.:21:52.

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

:21:52.:21:57.

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

:21:57.:22:00.

suspended animation by the failure of politicians to fully deal with

:22:00.:22:05.

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

:22:05.:22:10.

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

:22:10.:22:14.

traumatised, who feel largely neglected despite all have the

:22:14.:22:17.

resources poured into that sector. There are other former combatants

:22:17.:22:22.

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

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

:22:25.:22:28.

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

:22:28.:22:33.

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

:22:33.:22:38.

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

:22:38.:22:42.

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

:22:42.:22:46.

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

:22:46.:22:51.

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

:22:51.:22:54.

reforms, they are respectful of human rights, including through

:22:54.:22:59.

doing proper impact assessment on the basis of human rights for

:22:59.:23:01.

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

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

:23:08.:23:12.

always that notion of competing rights and responsibilities, when

:23:12.:23:18.

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

:23:18.:23:20.

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

:23:20.:23:24.

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

:23:24.:23:29.

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

:23:29.:23:34.

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

:23:34.:23:38.

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

:23:38.:23:42.

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

:23:42.:23:52.
:23:52.:23:52.

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

:23:52.:23:55.

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

:23:55.:23:57.

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

:23:57.:24:00.

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

:24:00.:24:03.

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

:24:03.:24:05.

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

:24:05.:24:10.

education questions. The Department of Finance and Personnel is

:24:10.:24:12.

responsible for the flow of departmental information from

:24:12.:24:17.

government departments to the Treasury. My department does not

:24:17.:24:20.

provide information directly to the Treasury. My department provides

:24:20.:24:26.

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

:24:26.:24:34.

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

:24:34.:24:39.

department provides Her Majesty's Treasury with significant data

:24:40.:24:43.

through the public expenditure statistical analysis. Does it not

:24:43.:24:53.
:24:53.:24:53.

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

:24:53.:24:57.

prepared to assessed DFB in that record in providing the Treasury

:24:57.:25:00.

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

:25:00.:25:06.

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

:25:06.:25:11.

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

:25:11.:25:15.

detailed response to the Treasury. There is no difficulty in

:25:15.:25:19.

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

:25:19.:25:26.

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

:25:26.:25:28.

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

:25:28.:25:34.

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

:25:34.:25:41.

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

:25:41.:25:44.

governed by the relevant legislation as ministers, we are

:25:44.:25:49.

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

:25:49.:25:55.

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

:25:55.:26:01.

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

:26:01.:26:05.

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

:26:05.:26:10.

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

:26:10.:26:15.

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

:26:16.:26:20.

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

:26:21.:26:28.

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

:26:28.:26:33.

benefits of this process to education in itself? That is

:26:33.:26:39.

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

:26:39.:26:43.

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

:26:43.:26:46.

delivering services to schools, boards and communities rather than

:26:46.:26:53.

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

:26:53.:26:57.

to education for further paperwork to be pushed back and forward

:26:57.:27:02.

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

:27:02.:27:07.

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

:27:07.:27:10.

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

:27:10.:27:13.

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

:27:13.:27:16.

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

:27:16.:27:23.

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

:27:23.:27:26.

tomorrow it will be announced that Northern Ireland pupils are going

:27:26.:27:31.

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

:27:31.:27:35.

following a report from the International Association for the

:27:35.:27:38.

evaluation of educational achievement at Boston College. They

:27:38.:27:48.
:27:48.:27:49.

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

:27:49.:27:52.

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

:27:52.:27:56.

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

:27:56.:28:02.

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

:28:02.:28:07.

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

:28:07.:28:11.

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

:28:11.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:20.

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

:28:20.:28:26.

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

:28:26.:28:30.

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

:28:30.:28:35.

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

:28:35.:28:39.

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

:28:39.:28:47.

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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