11/12/2012 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. A beautiful view from here on the


Hill this afternoon, but while Christmas may be firmly behind us,


the seasonal spirit of giving was still in the air.


Over �200 million was announced for new school builds.


�17 million was unwrapped for new buses and road improvements.


�10 million extra was given to health.


It wasn't all good cheer as the Agriculture Minister faced pressure


And no stranger to goings-on up here on the Hill, the political


commentator, Alex Kane, is with me in the studio.


More on financial giveaways, questions to the Agriculture


Minister, Michelle O'Neill, and the rest of the day's business in the


Chamber a little later, but let's begin tonight with the other big


debate in the corridors and cafes up here.


Sinn Fein's call for a border poll and the DUP's response to it.


The commentator Alex Kane is with me. What have you made of the DUP's


reaction today to Sinn Fein's demand? Surprised by. It when this


debate has been had before, when it was mentioned by Sinn Fein 18


months ago that they liked the idea of a border poll the DUP was


dismissive, unionism generally was very dismissive. They needed a


response to the official launch to the campaign, contingency was on


Saturday. Most people thought it would be fairly dismissive look,


it's not going to happen anyway, the conditions aren't right, there


are more important things. People were surprised when Arlene Foster


suggested they would be in favour of tsm they seem to have rowed back


slightly. She seemed to be clearer in one of the radio interviews, not


quite so equivocal later in the day, is that fair? She got caught on the


hop. She gave a gut reaction, yeah, if they want a poll bring it on. We


are ready for. It they had a chat with her in the back rooms of the


DUP afterwards and said, we don't want it at this time. I think that


is what happened. Have unionists anything to fear from a border


poll? They don't. If you look at the census and all the other


polling figures it's absolutely clear there would be a comfortable


majority for the union, from Catholics, nationalists whatever


you want to call them as well as unionists. How the unionists


reacted against a poll DUP seemingly for. It UK IP for. It


they start on day one when this debate started Euniceism is already


divided. My fears would be Euniceism would mix its message.


might be something for unionists to unite behind. Something that would


allow them to banish the flag debate which has been divisive?


one day wonder. That would have worked if Euniceism had a united


response to Sinn Fein's campaign and demand for a border poll. They


came out today with Arlene surprising the media, surprising


her own party and the rest of uniononism not where it stands.


It's a bad day for them. Do you think the average unionist voter


would relish calling Republicans bluff on the issue or would rather


their representatives up here at Stormont and Westminster were


dealing with more pressing issues like the state of the economy, and


the unresolved flags issue? there was a real opportunity for


the debate to happen, under the existing legislation it requires


the Secretary of State who dismissed it. She is not keen. Most


unionists and most nationalist woos compare the government to get on


and govern to hands on relevant necessary legislation instead of


flags debate, parades debate, we hate you more than you debates.


They want them to govern and not get bogged down on side issues.


now, thank you very much. Now, good news for some schools as


the Education Minister, John O'Dowd, approved 22 new school building


projects worth a total of �220 million.


Making the announcement in the Assembly, the Minister said


substandard accommodation has to be tackled. Last June I made it clear


the capital budget available meant we had to do more with the existing


estate. In support of this I announced the establishment of a


new schools enhancement programme which would make �4 million


available for refurbishing or sustaining schools. I will have the


first call for projects under that programme. Information on the


scheme and details on the ap pry kaition -- application process has


been issued to the relevant managing authorities and schools.


Details of the programme have been placed on the department's website.


It is anticipated that the first projects selected under the


programme will be announced before the end of the school year. After


�20 million will be made available for this programme at each of the


two financial years coming. The School Enhancement Programme will


prioritise projects aimed at facilitating amalgamations,


improving facilities and structural changes needed across the estate. I


highlighted the funds being ringfenced to tackle the backlog


across the estate, �40 million has been invested in the current


financial year. This focus on maintenance will be continued over


the coming financial year and taking with the investment in minor


works the new programme as well as the investment in new builds should


go a long way to addressing the long outstandinging accommodations


issues across the estate. In relation to work on education


campus, the department has taken recipe of the outlining business


case and is progressing with the examination of this as a priority.


I'm committed to delivering on the programme for the government


flagship project as soon as prabgkabl. -- I'm announcing a


further 22 projects to be advanced in planning. This represents a


potential investment of some �220 million. These projects have been


drawn from priority Jects identified by the various managing


authorities. The process is available on my department's


website. All the projects have been considered within the context of


area planning. Work being undertaken and forming part of a


long-term provision within their Of the 22 projects I'm announcing


today, 14 are required to deal with previous or planned amalgamations


orational ications within the estate. This is consistent with the


drive towards viable and sustainable schools and the


principle of area planning. Mr Speaker, I do not believe that a


modern, forward looking society we should accept a situation where


children receive their entire primary school education in


temporary accommodation majority of which is clearly outdated. We are


not in a position to resolve all situations at this time, six profit


jects taken forward will provide permanent accommodation.


Well, John O'Dowd wasn't the only Minister opening his purse strings


today. Sammy Wilson, the Finance Minister,


had some good news of his own. Executive agreed to �10 million of


resource expenditure to the Department of Justice for the


prison officers exit scheme. This allocation will help to drive


forward ongoing Prison Service reform and members should also note


that this allocation will be more than matched by DOG -- DOJ


surrendering capital, that should help the Executive address the over


commitment in that year. �10 million also allocated to the


Department of Health and social services and public safety. This


allocation allows the department to address additional demand on


emergency departments and other acute hospital services which


result from winter and unscheduled care pressures. It provides some


additional resources for family and childcare services, general dental


services and further work on infection control in our hospitals.


I think that should be welcomed by the Assembly. The Executive agreed


to allocate �17.7 million of capital investment funding to the


department of regional development and that will allow the department


to purchase 42 new buses. I have got good news for the Green Party


who don't turn up at a total cost of �6.7 million. Furthermore, it


provides an additional �10 million towards roads structural


maintenance and �1 million for the replacement of 600 street lighting


columns. That brings expenditure to structural maintenance on this year


Earlier I caught up with Danny Kennedy to find out his reaction.


It is very good news for road that we will be getting the basses.


They will be very pleased. -- We have 130 gritters in operation.


300 staff were actively employed. Resources are given to the


maintenance programme. You did say we are ready for the winter, bring


it on. Some people are not very happy with the way the network was


acquitted. What to do have to say to them? I am aware. I was a


casualty of the road conditions. If Road agencies are working hard to


provide the grit. Up for her to disruption. -- that led. Moths due


She made the decision and she's standing by it, that's the attitude


of the Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill, as she hit back


at criticism over the decision to relocate her department's


headquarters from Belfast to Ballykelly. There is a real sense


you have moved ahead of your department and officials with them


now playing catchup. Can you explain why you took the decision


on effectively a political decision on Ballykelly before asking your


officials to write the business case? Well, I'm the Minister, it's


my job to make decisions. I think that the member will be very well


aware in the programme for government we had a commitment to


relocate our headquarters to a rural area. All parties signed up.


That was the, I suppose, starting point for me to make the decision.


Using the criteria I outlined to the member, the 23 local government


districts under the recent development strategy we used those


criteria alongside the other criteria this area came up as being


We have a programme board in place which is very competent, which is


looking at all the issues, particularly buildings which can be


save money to the public purse. Also the fact there are buildings


on the site which could potentially be used. Any that can be used, we


A direction is necessary in the case where you want to avoid delay.


When you want it reduce uncertainty. Stand standard procedure would be


to apraise all options even those which don't make the exactives


identify policy as set out in the programme in government to move to


a rural location by 2015. In the final analysis wasteful of


resources. The decision was taken on the criteria I outlined. Anyone


can explore it further. In the further objective criteria where


applied. Whether you like it or not the north-west was identified. The


top two areas identified as a result of that objective criteria


applied. As a result of that the Ballykelly site for the obvious


advantages which I outlined being an Executive-owned site was a


natural option to take. Next, at the despatch box was the


Culture Minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, who dealt with questions on sports


as diverse as boxing, tennis and even road bowls.


First though, she was asked if progress is being made towards


solving the accommodation difficulties faced ahead of the


upcoming World Police and Fire Games. Accommodation has and


remains a key area of work for 2013 where police and fire games limited


and in recognition of this the company has developed an


accommodation strategy based on analysis of the acam --


accommodation required for athletes This is a big opportunity for local


businesses and local people generally. Is there any specific


advice that the minister would give to those who wish to provide


additional accommodation to both visitors and athletes? I think the


member is right, it's a brilliant opportunity. It's a once-in-a-


lifetime opportunity where we will have Games of this size in Belfast.


As many as people as possible who feel they can offer something


towards the Games in towards of accommodation, we want to hear from


you. Every opportunity should be made available to them to make that


process as easy as possible.. Games anticipate 23,000 visitors.


Account Minister provide some details of how the plans that she


has in place or is putting in place, how that accommodation is going to


be met? If all 25 visitors come to Belfast this August, there is an


estimate shortfall of between 5,000-70,000. That is where the


idea of campus hotels, campus and student accommodation come. In the


assurance given is that the accommodation must be of a certain


standard. That is why the work is starting now with the tourism board,


with the Belfast Visitors and Convention Borough so all the


requirements are in place as soon as possible. Bowls is important in


my constituency. Would the Minister join me with me in supporting the


association in seeking recognition from Sport NI. I am very aware of


road bowls. I met someone from Cork. It's Cork and Armagh are the two


main counties that are prominent. Other sports who hadn't received


recognition have came to the department and we have made


arrangements with Sport NI getting recognition, as a member for North


Antrim will know will weightlifters, is a long process. We have to make


sure there is transparency is all on board. I' happy to support it.


I'm hoping that other counties take up road bowling. It's one of those


sports that is very much linked to a loft our cultural and heritage.


Could the minister explain how the funding package for boxing can go


forward fairly at this time given the Assembly's commitment to


equality and fair treatment being in -- bearing in mind the abuse of


Sandy Row Amateur Boxing Club? Would she agree that the governing


body needs to look at it is own systems and get it is house


urgently in order? I don't agree that the Irish Amateur Boxing


Association urgently needs to get its house in order. I don't agree


with. That I don't agree of the accusation that the member has made


in terms of well documented systematic abuse. Despite my offers


to meet this member and indeed other members in relation to this


club, neither of which, for some reason, haven't accepted that offer.


I'm assuming you are afraid to step into the ring! Can the Minister


inform the House as she had any discussions with the Education


Minister in respect of trying to introduce tennis in schools or


reintroduce it, I know it used to be when I was at school there were


tennis clubs and a lot of issues around tennis. Has she had


discussions and if not, will she to encourage people to get back to


playing tennis? I haven't had any discussions with the minister of


education about tennis. I am I would ignore your colleague abouts


their jibe abouts how long ago was it you were playing tennis? I have


spoke to the Department of Education and the Minister for


Education around making sure we do what we can to open up sports


facilities and and grounds during school and after school hours. The


Department of Education are involved in the sports monitoring


and implementation group we are looking at sports provision in


school that the whole community can benefit from. No particular


discussion on tennis. The Environment Minister, Alex


Attwood, spent a considerable amount of time on his feet this


afternoon extolling the virtues of his new Planning Bill.


He told the House that a trip to Belfast City centre last weekend


had reminded him why economic benefit should be a factor in


planning policy. It does not say, as PPS24 suggests, that economic


consideration should be given. That is not the intention of the Bill.


What the Bill will do is recognise, I think it is appropriate to


recognise, that the planning system, not least in these difficult times,


I spent two hours on Saturday afternoon, Mr Speaker, in this


Belfast City Centre, I hadn't spent that length of time in Belfast City


centre... Sorry. Protest? I was doing what a lot of other people


did over Friday, Saturday and Sunday and reclaiming the streets


for true purpose in terms of the city centre, to shop, drink, have a


coffee to eat and to do some business. And there were many other


people who did so. I was struck, I have to say, when you walk the


streets of Belfast down town and spend a couple of hours walking the


streets in lawful activity about the scale of vacancies. It's only


when you spend time on the streets that you see the scale of the issue.


In my view, it is timely and it's appropriate and it is reasonable


and it is legal to send a message without compromising the wider


purposes and principles of the planning system. It's entirely


appropriatable, necessary and timely to spend -- send a message


through this Assembly, through the Planning Bill that a material


consideration, when it comes to a planning application, our planning


policy is economic considerations. After 40 years in existence, the


Housing Executive was given its notice by the Social Development


Minister last week. Nelson McCausland said the move is


part of a restructuring move by his department.


He was asked though if the changes would result in a reduction in


staff, as we can hear now in our weekly look at committee business.


Change is about to have an effect, but the reassurance I'm giving, I


will give it to the trade unions directly, autumn the function that


is are now happening will still have to happen, it will require the


same amount of time for somebody to do a function probably in the


future as it does now. It will require ruffle the same number of


people, but it would be premature at this point to speculate exactly.


This is not about cutting jobs. I want to emphasise that as much as


possible and will do that to the unions. Core function also have to


be done and it will require ruffle the same number of people. Are you


able at this early stage again to indicate you, you know, say in the


two or three year period post the shake down, is it likely that there


will be rental freezes or just in line with inflation? People are


looking for reassurance there won't be inflation-busting rental


increases post the change? Well, as the member will be aware, annual


rent increases have been a feature of social housing over many years


and that needs to happen to maintain standards. I think in


future - future rent levels will need to be better aligned to


provide funding requirements. I consider should - we need to have


some convergence over a period of time, this is over a period of time.


It's not suddenly. The housing executive have spent a lifetime


building up a connection with people that they rent houses to.


Housing Associations are estranged from most of their clients. Unless


we get this right, we have the task now of setting housing on a


platform for the next 40 years. If we get it wrong, we have done a bad


job. I think if we remove the community cohesion that exists and


social housing, then we have lost a lot? Yeah. There is an opportunity


here to get this right for a long period of time. Yes. There are


things, people have identified them here, that are not as it should be


with the presence system. Problems that arise otherwise I wouldn't


have people coming to my door raising problems and issues. There


are things that need to be worked on. There is a huge opportunity,


with a huge responsibility. Alex Kane is with me. We talked quite a


bit on prot gram last night about Basil McCrea's position in the


Ulster union party. He is facing a disciplinary hearing on Friday. How


do you read what is going on there? I think Basil is clear he is on


solid ground. He thinks he has not been in breach of party policy. He


would accept he should have contacted the press office before


going on Nolan or any other programme, he is fighting it on the


basis he was defending party policy. That the three councillors involved


didn't discuss anything with the leadership. They are not being


disciplined. There may be a surprise there. What are the


options open to the party in terms of sanctions? Does it come down to


whether the party allows him to stay or kicks him out? Is it as


simple as that? It will be that simple. Other thing is, because


Mike Nesbitt has withdrawn the whip already, anything that stops short


of expulsion will look like a kick in the teeth to Mike Nesbitt.


People will say, you withdrew the whip and your own discipline


committee say that is is too much. If he decides to leave, other also


follow across the party officers in constituency and members. It's a


win, win for Basil and a lose, lose for Mike. It's not good for him


personally. The party won't make to Kay Kay a martyr on Friday,


presumably? They will choose not to be. Basil is prepared to be a


martyr. The difference between Basil McCrea and Dave individual


McNarry and Ken McGuinness, if he is thrown out he will demand why he


has been thrown out much he wants the party and media to understand.


In that understanding I think he hopes martyrdom lies. He is saying


to people, if this party is no longer a comfortable place for


people like me, it's no longer a comfortable place for people like


you. Is it a unionist realignment here? We are witnessing the very


beginning of the final end of the Ulster unionist party. Realignment


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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