10/12/2013 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. Welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up: MLAs go on the attack


over the lack of a Sexual Orientation Strategy. . I find the


DUP's attitude in this particular position to be Seine phobic,


homophobic and claustrophobic. The Road Racing Bill passes its final


stage. On this occasion I am very happy to be a member of this


Assembly because we've done something positive, constructive. We


operated the committee system in the way it should be. I am joined by


Gerry Millar to look at the final sitting of the Assembly before


Christmas. Yet again the Assembly was divided


on an issue involving the gay community. The office of the First


and Deputy First Ministers was accused of dragging its heels on


producing a Sexual Orientation Strategy. Some MLAs singled out the


Dup. It is about the absence of


discrimination. About ensuring people are treated the same


regardless of difference. From home phobic bullying in schools to tragic


incidents of hate crime and suicide, far too many lesbian, gay, bisexual


and transgender people are subjected to discrimination because of their


sexual orientation or gender identity. This is as outdated as it


is wrong. Junior minister Newton in 2010 suggested to the House that a


strategy was imminent. Then on 18th June last, his successor made clear


it was an intention to publish a revised Sexual Orientation Strategy


by the end of last year. There seems to be a commitment to test opinion


on issues about the right to live a free life, free of intimidation and


fear. I do not believe, given the section 75 of the Northern Ireland


Act that we need to test those opinions. Let's get on and support


the strategy. No-one is above the law. To that end, there is in the


document a commitment to publishing a Sexual Orientation Strategy aimed


at ensuring that people of the community are not subjected to such


crimes. This House should be acquainted with the stage we're at


in this process. I would refer everyone back to a question answered


by Jonathan Bale in Question Time on the 13th October this year. I quote


- a consultation document that will inform public consultation on the


strategy is under consideration in the department. That strategy will


be published once the consultation process has been completed. I


noticed that Miss Lo asked the question - is it two parties not


agreeing. I think it is. It is obviously Sinn Fein stand on issues


of equality. It needs to be pointed out that it could ring hollow to


some that it is being brought forward by the Alliance Party.


Some have failed to show up to vote. However, Sinn Fein has been highly


supportive of the community. It is obvious where the blockage is on


this issue. This is about delivering for those people in our society who


have been left behind, because far too often this House tells them they


are not a full member of our community, that they don't have a


right to play their full part in our society. It is about time that we


started sending them a different message. I find the DUP's attitude


in this particular position to be Seine phobic, homophobic and claws


-- zenophobic, homophobic and claustrophobic.


I want you to rule on that, Deputy Speaker or the speaker to rule on


it. It is out of order, in my book. I have never been home phobic to


anyone. The member has his remarks on the record. Can I remind members


that members are allowed to be critical. I just do not get it. Why?


One particular section of the community, somehow is to be elevated


to this special status - this privileged position, where they are


to be given for themselves some specific strategy that doesn't apply


to anyone else. That is inequality. It is worth noting since devolution


in 2007, not a single penny has come from them to support groups working


with LGBT community and trying to help them to exercise their rights


and to fight and to tackle discrimination. Not a single penny.


I think that is an indictment of this Assembly and of OMFD. The


motion was carried by 48-30. I am joined nour by the journalist --


joined now by the journalist Gerry Millar. It seems the DUP,


apparently, out of step with the other parties? The public are losing


confidence. So much log jam. Mike Nesbitt pointed out one of the


issues, one of the subjects held in the log jam is a way to solve the


log-jam. It has gone on too long. As we know, some of the things


mentioned today, the problems people are suffering, problems of hok


phobic bullying or hate -- homophobic bullying or hate crimes.


It may have taken place thousands of miles away, but the celebration of


the life of Nelson Mandela today caused a bit of division in the


House. Personally, I am surprised that maybe the First Minister or


maybe a senior unionist is not going to the funeral. We know that peace


talks were hosted in 1997. He was central to the peace process here.


It is like an early Christmas present to Sinn Fein that they will


take all the press attention with Martin McGuinness going.


Let's hear from a member of the executive who was asked a question.


He made it clear, he wanted answers to key questions about who was


representing the executive and Northern Ireland in South Africa


this week. Let's hear what he had to say. Many people, I think, across


Northern Ireland will understandably feel it is not appropriate for the


Deputy First Minister to attend alone, pro-purporting to represent


-- purporting to represent Northern Ireland. I find myself sympathetic


to that position, given we learn that Gerry Adams will attend, does


not improve that situation. I am not aware whether the First Minister


declined an invitation and whether he agreed to the Deputy First


Minister representing or the people of Northern Ireland. Danny Kennedy,


not a bit happy with how things worked out as far as the


arrangements are concerned. What is your best guess as to how that


situation came about? E-Prince Charles will be there. -- Prince


Charles will be there. Sinn Fein officials will be there. I


think it is a sort of event, if you can call it an' vent, a sad event,


that your political leaders should be there. I am surprised. On the


other hand, there is an argument you do the Pope and I do the Queen. They


do divide certain duties among themselves, to whatever fits best.


Interesting to see if we do get any more information about what exactly,


how it worked out, the way it did. One last issue on the road racing


bill, which we will see more about in just a moment. Showing MLAs can


get things done when they put their minds to it. 24 days - an accelerate


accelerated Bill, if you excuse the pun. The other thing I am amazed


probably so few people sit and watch a real debate, but when you do, how


pleasant, effective and how respectful everybody is.


Particularly with members of the opposing political parties. It was


very effective and how we want to see our politicians work. Thank you


very much. The Assembly often comes in for criticism for the pace it


works at. Today, our MLAs proved they can really get motoring when


they want to. Just three weeks after it was introduced, the Road Racing


Bill was passed. It will become law in March, in time for next year's


Northwest 200. After an accelerated passage through the House. That yuz


not to say there was -- that is not to say there was not some


disagreement along the way. It has been integral to bring the bill to


this stage. The key facet with us to bring it through the accelerated


passage process in order that it would progress through the Assembly


and receive Royal Assent before 31st March, 2014. This could not have


happened without the support of the committee, who the minister must


seek approval of, understanding order 42 and the support of this


House when the motion on accelerated passage is debated. Consequence of


approving the motion was that the committee stage was removed from the


legislative process. This is, as I have said, integral to the passing


of this Bill because it saved a significant time period. Meryvn


White and his 800 colleagues who work on this deserved the outcome


that they have got and most certainly if the process had been


derailed, then they would not have deserved that. I am very, very


happy. On this occasion, I am very happy to be a member of this


Assembly because we've done something, absolutely positive,


constructive. We operate the committee system and the way it


should be. We've got the support of the minister who exercised extreme


wisdom and how he handled it. I am very happy, Mr Speaker. The


regional development committee not xablly known as the most overworked


committee in the build building did drop the ball on this piece of


legislation and it is quite obvious that it dropped the ball the very


fact that the only real scrutiny this that Bill came under ended up


come from these benches and especially from Mr McAllister. That


was the only scrutiny that came. This Bill, Mr Speaker, would have


gone through this House unamended. This Bill, in its final form, is not


all I would have wished it to be. I would have wished its pro-decktion


of -- protection of Sunday to be stronger. Undoubtedly it emerges


through the processes of this House as a better Bill than what it


entered as, by virtue of amendments made. And I am grateful to have had


the opportunity to make some contribution to that and equally


grateful that, for the evolution of support, which eventually made some


of those changes possible. I welcome the fact and have no issue with the


fact that the amendments that have been incorporated now into this bill


I think will give comfort, particularly to both the member


members of congregations and churches who exist on the course of


the north-west 200 and indeed churchgoers in that general area.


The Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy, welcoming the new


road ras racing legislation. Ulster Bank has asked for a postponement to


appear before computer problems. There was a briefing requested for


tomorrow. The committee member Daithi McKay joins me now. Just to


recap, that was another embarrassing episode for the Ulster Bank last


week. It was. It has damaged their reputation once again. It is not


something they want to see in the committee, not something the public


want to see. The idea of inviting the bank to the committee was so the


bank had an opportunity to provide some assurances to customers and to


give us a rough idea of where they are going in terms of their IT


system. There has been some indication that they are going to


decouple some of the IT system from RBS. I believe that's the way to go


and something that wants to be looked. Do you accept that when


executives do appear in the New Year they will be better placed to answer


some of the questions than they would have been if they appeared at


such short notice? When it comes to that coming before committees this


kind of excuse comes up again and again, when the Ulster Bank or any


other witness is under pressure sometimes it is better to play it


safe in terms of trying to postpone for a few weeks. I am disappointed


they are not coming before the committee tomorrow. There is a


history of some avoiding coming before committees. The Ulster Bank


will have an opportunity to come before the committee to answer


questions in relation to that. We also have time to prepare some other


questions and to some very concerned in there and there is the Ulster


Bank, the GRG, controversy that emerged a couple of weeks ago as


well. Theish shoo u was debated in the -- the issue was debated last


week. It was suggested the Ulster Bank could be separated from RBS. Is


that something that should be looked at? Is that something your committee


has a view on? Well, the committee would not have a view on that as


yet. It is something we are concerned about and there is a


variety of views with regards to the banks. I met with some business


representatives today. They believe that banks, access to finance are


some of the biggest issues facing the local economy here at the


moment. It is in everyone's interest the Ulster Bank should get back to


where it should be. Ultimately that is what we all want to see in the


months and years ahead. Can I ask you about one final issue. You


tabled a debate on the state of Ballymena bus and train station. Are


facilities really that bad that they need to be discussed on the floor of


the Assembly? Ballymena is the station that translink forgot. I use


it on regular occasions. It has not been updated -- upgraded since 1981.


Ballymena passengers there are entitled to a good service. First


class, 21st century service. Ballymena, unfortunately has been


left behind. It is up to the RD menster and translink to answer the


question as to why it is the question. If it did not get a


satisfactory answer from the minister there today. It is


somethingly be pursuing in the near future. Daithi McKay, thank you. It


has been a long time coming, but the Social Development Minster told the


Assembly he hopes to bring the welfare Welform Reform Bill forward


in the New Year. Before he discussed welfare reform,


he faced a tough time over the Housing Executive. Mr Speaker, I


acknowledge the minister's answer. It was a question about whether he


had apologised or planned to apologise to the four contractors


who he said had overcharged by an estimated ?18 million.


If the minister is not going to apologise, could he give us an


assessment of the damage both in finances and reputational to those


four companies from quoting a figure, on 10th June, which he


realises was wrong? I am not sure whether the member was


actually listening to what I said. It may be necessary to repeat for


his information the fact that the figure quoted initially was provided


by the chair of the housing executive. The second figure was the


figure quoted and produced in the report by Campbell Tacal. There is a


piece of work still on going, whereby the contractors and the


Housing Executive together need to come to a final figure as to the


level of repayments that will be required. The question was and


again, I find this difficult to deal with because the members don't seem


to listen. There was nothing to apologise for and therefore there


would not be an apology. We know from the report that it came with a


very severe caveat because that report confirms that it was given as


a broad-brush estimate in need of refinement as more evidence is


generated. Why did the minister give no mention


to that in his rush in this House to headline the ?18 million figure? I


made it clear at the time this was p only an estimate. The fact is, and I


have said this already this afternoon - it doesn't matter


whether it is ?5 ?10 - when there are millions overpaid by the Housing


Executive to housing contractors, any responsible person will firstly


recognise it is a serious issue and any sensible person will recognise


the minister in the relevant department has a responsibility to


make it known to members of this aaccept be. There would have been


cries from all quarters if there had not been a report like this T I did


the right thing to make --. Like this. I did the right thing to make


the information available. Does the minister believe the Welform Reform


Bill would have made any progress before the end of the year?


Considering the deadline of the New Year, when they said that the


devolved situation here will have to face bills of ?5 million per month?


At the last meeting of the xufive, oh -- executive, a meeting has been


scheduled for 16th December. It really is a one-item agenda. I don't


know what else there'll be on the agenda other than one item. That is,


how do we move this forward. I hope we can make progress after that


meeting next Monday. Given the Christmas recess, the earliest any


Bill can be brought back to the executive for decision would be 16th


January. If we meet that deadline, then I could expect the Bill to


receive Royal Assent by March/early April.


The Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy, was also on his feet


today - bus passes for pensioners, rural transport and European money


were on his agenda. Despite an extension being granted to do so


presents the executive with a stark reality. That is simply, use it or


lose it. The latter option must nt be allowed to happen -- must not be


allowed to happen. That n that respect, my department


has a proven track record in drawing down and spending out European


funds. My department has recently been approach approached - they are


trying to put it to in projects. The work of the enterprise would be, I


suppose, the most significant, project that is potentially


available to us. I am, however, aware of others and I believe there


is a scheme being brought forward by the sthorts in the republic --


authority in the Republic of Ireland.


They will always have special significance to us here. Late


lamented comedian James Young said, we won the battle, but they got the


river. At least they are looking after us. Would the minister agree


that in many rural areas a translink bus is as usual as an ice train if


it is not linked with community transport. Is he satisfied with the


level of co-operation to make the integration more complete? Better


collaboration. Better integration of services because, you know, the


rural community can, in many ways, be isolated. It is important that we


make strenuous efforts to improve that and to en ensure that our


public transport systems are not just urban-based or particular


particularly Belfast-based. If the minister was listening to Radio


Ulster this morning, he would have heard of the sincere worries from


senior citizens to the threat of their senior smartcard. Will the


minister support the hands-off campaign? Will he give a cat gor


ribbing guarantee that the smartcard will remain, come high or hell


water? Let me say, under my watch, let me be clear - under my watch - I


don't intend to fundamentally overhaul the concessionary scheme


that we have. Danny Kennedy lending his support to current arrangements.


The Education Minister said both he and the Health Minister recognise


the need for co-copration around special education. He was --


co-operation around special education. The motion was tabled by


the DUP. To tackle underachievement the earlier you tackle it in a


child's development, the better it was for the child in the long-term.


And the thing that really was very startling was you almost need to


tackle it at birth. We know that a child from a socially disadvantaged


background is more likely likely to not achieve. When I started in the


committee, almost the first matter that I remember being discussed. Was


early years. And that is now 20 months ago and we are still nowhere.


We need the joined-up solution. We need a lead department. We need it


for those with special education needs. I have a list of ten


questions that were submitted to me by a parent. If I can raise a few of


them. The parent that asked, why was my request for extra help on


assessment denied for five years? Why was my child subjected to years


of bullying, being called "stupid" and "thick" and other little girlsle


would not let her -- girls would not let her join in with the play? Why


was the special needs teacher allowed to teach the main capable


children and hand my daughter paper and crayons and told her to sit


quietly at the back of the classroom and colour in? In 2010, as a


researcher for the MLA I Saturday in a party for children and young


people and was presented with the strategy by an official. When I


asked the question, what collaboration has been there been


with the Department of Health? I was told this is a Department of


Education strategy. Now, this was an early years strategy - 0-6. It meant


it started at age three. It was a strategy that was going to miss out


three years of the development of our children's lives. The questions


posed by Mr Newton on behalf of a current - I can not validate the


authenticity of the questions. You don't need to change the legislation


to protect that child's rights T school in question is failing that


child. Under skurnlt legislation. Snoo if he comes to speak to me


privately and identifies the school to me, which he claims as allowing


the child to be bullied in the playground and a teacher feels it is


appropriate to exclude that child at seven, I can assure the member I


will deal with that personally. That is unacceptable. That legislation


has to be implemented on the ground. I believe that the Department of


Health and the Department of Education are working very well


together in relation to supporting our young people with special


educational needs. Of course we can improve the services on the ground.


When there are failings they need to be corrected. If it is the will of


the House, as we are processing the same legislation to place a


co-operation clause in the legislation and it is there for the


benefits of young people, then I can assure they will not face any


resistance from myself. Gerry Millar is with me once again. The last day


of the Assembly today before the Christmas break. Some interesting


performances? I think more than interesting performances. Very valid


issues. Their were discussing how best to identify children with


problems between the ages of 0-6. It is what we want a politician to do,


to perfect legislation or solve it actually internally. One issue about


that is it is unclear, I think the minister pointed it out, it is


unclear whether it can be resolved by legislation or through better


practise, or making better practise into common practise, which is what


someone suggested today. It is great to see politicians spending hours


debating these issues. Dr Haass is back in Belfast. He started to talk


to the parties again. Do you expect he'll reach a resolution before the


Christmas break? He discusses the most contention one and he seems to


be making progress on it. We suspect our politicians will have to work


over Christmas, which nobody is complaining about. I think a few


journalists may have to as well. I think everyone needs a break.


Deadlines here - nobody can stick to deadlines. I would not be surprised


if Dr Haass were to stay over Christmas. Our politicians will take


advantage of that. Thank you. That's it for tonight. We will be back for


the first day of the new term on 13th January. Make a point for


joining me for the View. Enjoy the of Christmas break. Goodbye.


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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