10/12/2013 Stormont Today


10/12/2013

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

:00:26.:00:33.

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

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

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homophobic and claustrophobic. The Road Racing Bill passes its final

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

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

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

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

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Christmas. Yet again the Assembly was divided

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

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and Deputy First Ministers was accused of dragging its heels on

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producing a Sexual Orientation Strategy. Some MLAs singled out the

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Dup. It is about the absence of

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discrimination. About ensuring people are treated the same

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

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

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and transgender people are subjected to discrimination because of their

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 This is as outdated as it

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

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

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it was an intention to publish a revised Sexual Orientation Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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document a commitment to publishing a Sexual Orientation Strategy aimed

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

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

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

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

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- a consultation document that will inform public consultation on the

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strategy is under consideration in the department. That strategy will

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be published once the consultation process has been completed. I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-- zenophobic, homophobic and claustrophobic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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take all the press attention with Martin McGuinness going.

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

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

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representing the executive and Northern Ireland in South Africa

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

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Northern Ireland will understandably feel it is not appropriate for the

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

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

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

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

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declined an invitation and whether he agreed to the Deputy First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pleasant, effective and how respectful everybody is.

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Particularly with members of the opposing political parties. It was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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passage process in order that it would progress through the Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assembly because we've done something, absolutely positive,

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constructive. We operate the committee system and the way it

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

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

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regional development committee not xablly known as the most overworked

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

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

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

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come from these benches and especially from Mr McAllister. That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the opportunity to make some contribution to that and equally

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

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

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

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I think will give comfort, particularly to both the member

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members of congregations and churches who exist on the course of

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

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The Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy, welcoming the new

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

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appear before computer problems. There was a briefing requested for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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history of some avoiding coming before committees. The Ulster Bank

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will have an opportunity to come before the committee to answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ballymena passengers there are entitled to a good service. First

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

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

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

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satisfactory answer from the minister there today. It is

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

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

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Assembly he hopes to bring the welfare Welform Reform Bill forward

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in the New Year. Before he discussed welfare reform,

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

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

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had apologised or planned to apologise to the four contractors

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

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

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assessment of the damage both in finances and reputational to those

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

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

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

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his information the fact that the figure quoted initially was provided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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generated. Why did the minister give no mention

:18:30.:18:37.

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

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

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

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

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Executive to housing contractors, any responsible person will firstly

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

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the minister in the relevant department has a responsibility to

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

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

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

:19:19.:19:23.

the information available. Does the minister believe the Welform Reform

:19:24.:19:27.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:20:12.:20:15.

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

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

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receive Royal Assent by March/early April.

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

:20:30.:20:36.

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

:20:37.:20:43.

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

:20:44.:20:50.

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

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

:20:55.:20:59.

allowed to happen. That n that respect, my department

:21:00.:21:04.

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

:21:05.:21:08.

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

:21:09.:21:17.

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

:21:18.:21:22.

suppose, the most significant, project that is potentially

:21:23.:21:27.

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

:21:28.:21:34.

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

:21:35.:21:40.

authority in the Republic of Ireland.

:21:41.:21:43.

They will always have special significance to us here. Late

:21:44.:21:49.

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

:21:50.:21:53.

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

:21:54.:22:00.

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

:22:01.:22:07.

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

:22:08.:22:12.

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

:22:13.:22:17.

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

:22:18.:22:23.

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

:22:24.:22:28.

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

:22:29.:22:36.

public transport systems are not just urban-based or particular

:22:37.:22:41.

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

:22:42.:22:45.

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

:22:46.:22:51.

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

:22:52.:22:54.

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

:22:55.:23:00.

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

:23:01.:23:06.

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

:23:07.:23:13.

don't intend to fundamentally overhaul the concessionary scheme

:23:14.:23:17.

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

:23:18.:23:22.

The Education Minister said both he and the Health Minister recognise

:23:23.:23:27.

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

:23:28.:23:31.

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

:23:32.:23:38.

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

:23:39.:23:42.

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

:23:43.:23:49.

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

:23:50.:23:53.

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

:23:54.:24:01.

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

:24:02.:24:08.

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

:24:09.:24:15.

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

:24:16.:24:20.

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

:24:21.:24:24.

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

:24:25.:24:30.

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

:24:31.:24:34.

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

:24:35.:24:42.

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

:24:43.:24:50.

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

:24:51.:24:55.

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

:24:56.:25:00.

was the special needs teacher allowed to teach the main capable

:25:01.:25:06.

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

:25:07.:25:11.

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

:25:12.:25:19.

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

:25:20.:25:22.

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

:25:23.:25:28.

asked the question, what collaboration has been there been

:25:29.:25:33.

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

:25:34.:25:39.

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

:25:40.:25:45.

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

:25:46.:25:50.

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

:25:51.:25:56.

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

:25:57.:26:02.

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

:26:03.:26:07.

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

:26:08.:26:11.

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

:26:12.:26:16.

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

:26:17.:26:24.

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

:26:25.:26:30.

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

:26:31.:26:38.

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

:26:39.:26:42.

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

:26:43.:26:45.

Health and the Department of Education are working very well

:26:46.:26:49.

together in relation to supporting our young people with special

:26:50.:26:53.

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

:26:54.:26:57.

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

:26:58.:27:02.

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

:27:03.:27:05.

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

:27:06.:27:10.

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

:27:11.:27:15.

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

:27:16.:27:19.

of the Assembly today before the Christmas break. Some interesting

:27:20.:27:24.

performances? I think more than interesting performances. Very valid

:27:25.:27:28.

issues. Their were discussing how best to identify children with

:27:29.:27:32.

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

:27:33.:27:39.

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

:27:40.:27:43.

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

:27:44.:27:47.

unclear whether it can be resolved by legislation or through better

:27:48.:27:51.

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

:27:52.:27:56.

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

:27:57.:28:01.

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

:28:02.:28:06.

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

:28:07.:28:13.

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

:28:14.:28:18.

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

:28:19.:28:21.

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

:28:22.:28:25.

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

:28:26.:28:31.

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

:28:32.:28:35.

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

:28:36.:28:42.

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

:28:43.:28:47.

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

:28:48.:28:56.

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

:28:57.:29:00.

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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