12/02/2013 Stormont Today


12/02/2013

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 and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme... In a

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special joint committee session, MLAs Appledore horsemeat

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controversy 0.2 fraudulent activity. - -- MLAs are told the horsemeat

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controversy points to fraudulent activity.

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We will hear reaction from chair of the Agriculture Committee Paul Frew.

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And the Finance Minister has a warning for those who want more

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fiscal independence. There is discussion of breaking away from

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decisions made at Westminster, but he's actually ensure we are better

:00:54.:01:04.
:01:04.:01:06.

Showing a united front in dealing with the meat crisis, Stormont's

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Health and Agriculture Committees held a joint meeting today to

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examine how horsemeat got into the food chain. Members heard from the

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days experts, including the director of the Food Standards

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Agency. Gerry McCurdy said horsemeat was not on his

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organisation's radar until late last year when authorities in the

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Republic began to test by it. when you look at the price

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associated with horse meat against beef, it does then become obvious

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that a horse going into the system, that fraudulent aspect is

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definitely present. Paul Frew chairs the Agriculture Committee

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and joins me now. Thank you for joining us. Why do you think

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horsemeat was not on the radio are off the Food Standards Agency and a

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late last year? They have said to us that their main element is food

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safety. They do not necessarily test for species of meat. I suppose,

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because we have such a traceable and good system in Northern Ireland,

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which has world-class and second to none, I suppose it was not on their

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radar. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems so blindingly

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obvious that should have been. and as far as I know, tests were

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done in the past with regards to meat exported to America. So it has

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been done to a certain degree, but this has caught everyone unawares.

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It needs to be investigated. That is why I was keen to investigate

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and interrogate the information on the investigation currently going

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on, the extent of that, who is being investigated, what is being

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tested, and what the results will be. Did you get a degree of

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reassurance today from those experts, who wear before that.

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Hearing of the committee, were getting to grips with finding out

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what was happening. -- who were before that joint hearing of the

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committee, were getting to grips with finding out what was happening.

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Everyone will have to inspect their meat which they currently have. I

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was keen to find out how that would be input into the FSA and what

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determinations will come out of this. What will we know? We need to

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know the truth, all of the truth and we need to see how we repair

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the damage. Repairing the damage is important. As far as we know, this

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is not a food scare? None the less, it is an issue of consumer

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confidence. Yes. What you say to people who have real concerns about

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buying some of the products which have clearly been affected by this

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controversy? I am keen to separate the issues. The produce farmers

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grow in their fields is traceable, from gate to plate, very good

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produce, grass-fed, fresh meat, there is nothing wrong with it. It

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is fully traceable and accountable. Separates that from imported

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processed meat. And the meat contained within convenience

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packaging. That is absolutely right to distinguish those two, but

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because you mad does not always know which of those two options he

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or she is purchasing, particularly in ready meals. It is all to do

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with Labour leader. What does it say we are eating on the label? --

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it is all to do with the label. That is why we should be reassured

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to go to bridges and ask where the meat is from. Any butcher should be

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able to tell you. That is the answer? As far as I am concerned.

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But other issues you will want more detailed answers on. You'll want to

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hear from these experts again? has to be ongoing. We need to make

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sure we know exactly what is on everybody's plate in the future. We

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cannot have another situation like this. The industry will recover and

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we will get through this all right. That is because of the traceable

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system and how good produce and our system is. But we must not go back

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to the unknown. All through, we leave it there. Thank you. -- Paul

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Frew. The Employment and Learning

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Minister outlined changes to the scheme which supports students to

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stay on at school. Stephen Farry told the Assembly that the

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Education Maintenance Allowance will be better targeted to those

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who really need it. This means that payments of �10 and �20 will be

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scrapped and instead a single payment of �30 per week will be

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paid to students from low income households.

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The EMA scheme was jointly introduced in September of 2004

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from the Department of Employment and Learning and the Department of

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Education. The main Papiss Cisse to encourage young people from lower

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income backgrounds to remain in education at school or college. EMA

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supports a key programme for Government priorities to close the

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gap in educational under- achievement in those who are least

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that most disadvantaged and improve the participation of young people

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in education. At present, it consists of weekly payments of �30,

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�20 or �10, depending on household income. And bonus payments

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totalling �300 per annum. Findings from a recent joint review of the

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highlighted the scheme was not as effectively targeted as it could be.

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Over 60% of students receiving it indicated they would have remained

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in education even if they had not received it. On the other hand, the

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review identified two cases where EMA made a real difference in terms

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of pretension. I think it is important to say that, from the

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outset, we were committed to the retention of this EMA and were

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determined that young people from lower income families would

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continue to be assisted to stay in education and training.

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Nevertheless, good governance meant that we had to address the issue

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concerning how effectively the current scheme was targeted. A

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number of key findings emerged from the review and consultation. The

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majority of respondents wanted EMA retained in some form and were in

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favour off of a single tape -- of a single payment of �30 per week.

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They should be better targeted to more effectively support families

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most in need. To that end, it has determined that the �20.10 pounds

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bands should be withdrawn and be replaced by a single band of �30. -

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:07:51.:07:58.

- that the �10, �20 bands should be I am disappointed to receive the

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statement in this manner. There is no record that the committee can

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find that we have received a summary of the consultations that

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were provided back to the committee, as is normal practice. I am quite

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sure the committee would have wanted to talk about this matter in

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some detail. It is certainly a matter of public interest and I am

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frankly shocked that it should be brought to this Assembly as

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accomplished. This is not the appropriate way to go about making

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major changes of financial implications for the people of

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Northern Ireland. The committee should have been properly consulted,

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would have consulted properly, would have engaged, and I suspect

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members your present would be disappointed in the way this has

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been handled. This is a decision by the Executive. The decision was

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taken last week at the Executive, which we are reporting to the House

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today. As such, this is the first opportunity we have had to report

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one of the decisions that have been taken in terms of an executive

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decision. It is appropriate that it come to the Assembly to make that

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announcement. We are happy to be here and to answer questions on the

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particular issue. There was a public consultation on this issue

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during the course of 2012, which ran for 14 weeks. At no stage did

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the committee express any view on that consultation or seek to give

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any views to the committee. The chair of the committee, I suppose,

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is probably the least person in this chamber who would wish to take

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direction from anybody, least alone those in his own party. This is

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good news for students and young people in Northern Ireland. We

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should not forget that. Employment and Learning Minister

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Stephen Farry. More than 200 road signs were vandalised here in the

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last year, the Regional Development Minister told the chamber during

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question time this afternoon. Danny Kennedy said the money spent

:10:05.:10:08.

repairing signs could be used for improving road safety. First, he

:10:08.:10:13.

took a question on future responsibility for parking. Are you

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still keen to see off street parking devolved to local councils?

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You made reference to something I am not keen to see happen. Are you

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keen to see off street parking devolved to local councils? I thank

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you for your supplementary question and confirm I am indeed keen to see

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off street parking. I think local Government and councils, in

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whatever shape, could perform a very useful duty and service on

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behalf of local ratepayers to manage it. And it would give their

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councils the authority to decide on thorny issues like charging and

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rates of charge and penalty Charge Notices. I am very interested in

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that. And I will continue to have discussions, not only with the

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Minister for Environment, but also local councils. I can confirm that

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have been 244 reports of road signs being defaced within the last 12

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months. Sufficient evidence available, where that is available,

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we shall seek prosecution. I am also sure that the member showers

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frustration that my department has to devote valuable resources in

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terms of expenditure and staff time to deal with this issue, when that

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could be used profitably in other activities. Many of which are

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safety related and would provide great benefit to the people of

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Northern Ireland. Can you undertake to the House that, where there have

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been repeated instances of vandalism, whatever type,

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particularly on main routes where tourists of others who are not used

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to the travel journey, that the possibility of replacing them with

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higher located signage, to make it more difficult for the offence to

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be repeated, would that be considered? We look on an ongoing

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basis I best, not only to protect existing signs, but to ensure that

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they become less easy to attack. The situation is that there are

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some people out there who make determined efforts to vandalise

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signs. I know it is an issue of concern to many members.

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Londonderry signage seems to be a particular target. I was advised

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that 34 incidents of road sign defacement over the past 12 months

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in that particular area. And whilst we do not keep details and records

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of how sounds are defaced, but we estimate that that vandalism or

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cars approximately four to six times per year. They are serial

:13:05.:13:15.
:13:15.:13:20.

offenders out there. I do wish they How many flags have been reported,

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and what action is being taken? don't have the specific detail

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available at this point. I am happy to respond to her. The member will

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recognise, as with the issue of road signs and the defacing of road

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signs, it is a delicate and sometimes difficult matter to

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police. Would the Minister accept that there is a perception out

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there among the small business community and small contractors

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that in fact, there is a sort of cartel operating around public

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procurement costs, and it is counter-productive to growing a

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small business, particularly in the construction sector? That is his

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perception. I hope it is not the reality. I am keen to hear first

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hand at examples that he may have. If he has such examples, we will

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investigate them can satisfy ourselves that it is not the case

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that we are in any way discriminating against small

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business. The Regional Development Minister.

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The meat controversy we discussed earlier is not at the only issue on

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the agenda for the agriculture minister. During Question Time,

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Michelle O'Neill also had to deal with missing fields and job

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creation at her planned department headquarters. But first, the issue

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of confidence in farming. Go there is a lack of confidence within the

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agriculture industry, certainly with the horsemeat issue at the

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minute. Will the Minister accept that within that confidence is the

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confidence of young people to go into farming, which has been a

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family heritage it, and what will the Minister do to encourage it? We

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do need to instil confidence and we need support in place to attract

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young people to either stay into farming -- stay in farming all come

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in to farming. There are targeted streams of the common agriculture

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policy which we can use to attract young farmers. There are avenues

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that allow us to support young people. But if we are to have

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sustainable farming, we need to continue to get young people

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involved in the industry. I will continue to work with the young

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farmers' organisation. A combination of those efforts will

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attract young people into the industry. Can the minister outlined

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if there is any possibility of an expansion of research and

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development at the proposed new headquarters at Ballykelly, given

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the prospects for employment in the catchment areas there in Coleraine

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and Londonderry? Go I can assure the number that the headquarters

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relocation project is on target. I recognise the benefits there are in

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terms of employment, the construction industry and the

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building in the area. In terms of research and development, it is not

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being considered at this stage. But it is a great side which other

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departments may look to in the future. He is there any other help

:16:39.:16:49.
:16:49.:16:54.

out there to help farmers with their 2013 claims? As I explained

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earlier, all our officers will be open during the single application

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form period to provide support to farmers making their application.

:17:05.:17:10.

Members raised concerns about delays about making the

:17:10.:17:14.

appointments, and I am happy to explore that. But in general,

:17:14.:17:23.

farmers can go in and ask inquiries in relation to their applications.

:17:23.:17:28.

Amendments will also be accepted during that period. So whilst

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farmers will once again be able to apply online, this year an

:17:34.:17:37.

additional new feature means that not only can they viewed these maps,

:17:37.:17:42.

but they also been able to measure eligible features which will help

:17:42.:17:47.

them fill out their application form. But this is a two-way process.

:17:47.:17:50.

Farmers must get in touch with the department so that we can get these

:17:50.:18:00.
:18:00.:18:01.

right. Given that farmers are soon to receive their 2013 forms,

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farmers are concerned about the level of inaccuracies contained in

:18:04.:18:09.

their new maps. Yesterday, one farmer contacted me with 30 fields

:18:09.:18:15.

missing from his map. Another had a 35 fields missing. In light of the

:18:15.:18:20.

unacceptable level of inaccuracies, does the Minister agree that the

:18:20.:18:23.

delivery of the maps has been diabolical, and will she update of

:18:23.:18:30.

the House on how such errors have arisen? I don't agree with the

:18:30.:18:35.

diabolical statement, but I care should remember that the first two

:18:35.:18:40.

patches were received positively by farmers. Now that we have had the

:18:40.:18:43.

final batch of maps going out, we have had a positive feedback, but

:18:43.:18:47.

farmers have also contacted me in terms of concerns around missing

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fields. That is something that is under investigation. It looks like

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it is not a result of incorrect mapping, but more resistance issue.

:18:58.:19:02.

So hopefully it can be resolved. I do not agree with it being

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diabolical, but I do agree that it is a two-way process. I take my

:19:06.:19:11.

role seriously in terms of of what we produce, and the farmers must

:19:11.:19:15.

take it seriously in terms of getting it right.

:19:15.:19:18.

Today's second reading of the Budget Bill heard interventions on

:19:18.:19:21.

many aspects of government spending over several hours. But at the

:19:21.:19:24.

heart of the debate was a difference of opinion over whether

:19:24.:19:32.

Stormont should have more physical powers. We expect the public sector

:19:32.:19:36.

economy to lead to a general economic recovery, we will be

:19:36.:19:40.

waiting a long time. In dealing with those issues within the

:19:40.:19:45.

private sector, many of those are beyond the reach of this assembly.

:19:45.:19:50.

Even in terms of the role of banks and supporting local enterprise, we

:19:50.:19:54.

have to live with the reality that the accountability mechanism does

:19:54.:20:03.

not reside here. Representatives of the major banks are acutely aware

:20:03.:20:07.

that they are not accountable to this assembly. It can be

:20:07.:20:11.

frustrating to get the outcomes that give hope to our existing

:20:11.:20:15.

business. The economy in this part of Ireland is in a free for.

:20:15.:20:20.

Private enterprise is melting away and jobs are being lost at a

:20:20.:20:25.

phenomenal rate. It is clear that this executive is doing its best to

:20:25.:20:28.

grow the private sector and rebalance our economy, given the

:20:28.:20:32.

fiscal limitations facing it. Since this assemblage was established,

:20:32.:20:35.

the primary objective has been to grow the private sector and

:20:35.:20:38.

rebalance the economy. But this target has not yet have been

:20:38.:20:42.

achieved. It is my view that the debate around the future of fiscal

:20:42.:20:47.

levers we have needs to happen. Any attempts to start the debate have

:20:47.:20:50.

been countered with a reference to an over estimated deficit between

:20:50.:20:55.

what we conjugate in taxes and what we receive to run administration

:20:55.:20:59.

had. This price tag is always prone out, and the case for greater

:20:59.:21:02.

fiscal powers dismissed. But little or no assessment has been made of

:21:02.:21:07.

the potential benefits. To have a rational debate on such a matter

:21:07.:21:13.

costs nothing. We are prepared to engage in that debate. We are not

:21:13.:21:16.

in a position economically where any of us should be giving

:21:16.:21:20.

ourselves a pat on the back, but we have to accept, with the benefits

:21:20.:21:24.

that devolution has brought, there are regularly trade missions going

:21:24.:21:31.

out on behalf of the minister for enterprise, trade and investment,

:21:31.:21:35.

first and Deputy First Minister, who are going out there and

:21:35.:21:40.

encouraging businesses to invest in Northern Ireland. Have your UK-

:21:40.:21:43.

based in Northern Ireland. We can't ignore the fact that Belfast and

:21:44.:21:49.

Northern Ireland are considered for the second favourable location for

:21:50.:21:54.

foreign direct investment only to the City of London. That is an

:21:54.:22:00.

incredible achievement. My do McLoughlin raised the issue -- Mr

:22:00.:22:04.

McLoughlin raised the issue today and yesterday. I know they will

:22:04.:22:08.

keep coming back to the issue of additional fiscal powers and the

:22:08.:22:15.

way in which that could help for future budgetary times. On both

:22:15.:22:20.

sides, there is a political motive. Of course Sinn Fein want greater

:22:20.:22:24.

independence from the rest of the UK, even ignoring the economic

:22:24.:22:28.

impact that would have. As a Unionist, I do not want to see that

:22:29.:22:32.

economic independence. There are occasions when it is the cry of

:22:32.:22:39.

thing to do. But this "let's break free of the fiscal restraints

:22:39.:22:43.

because of ideological reasons", I think is not a desirable way

:22:44.:22:50.

forward. Mr Flanagan has a political point to make. It is an

:22:50.:22:54.

inconvenient truth that we are dependent upon the rest of the UK.

:22:55.:23:00.

He says we have to break away from these decisions that are made at

:23:00.:23:05.

Westminster. Well, these decisions made in Westminster ensure that we

:23:05.:23:10.

are �10.5 billion better off than we would be if decisions were not

:23:10.:23:17.

made in Westminster. Listening to that is the economist

:23:18.:23:22.

John Simpson. Quite a significant part of that debate was around

:23:22.:23:27.

whether Northern Ireland needs more fiscal powers. How big an issue is

:23:27.:23:33.

that for the executive, or should it be? For the executive as a whole,

:23:33.:23:37.

it is not a major issue. There is an issue of not paying any extra

:23:37.:23:41.

taxes. We are always try to minimise what we paid the Treasury

:23:42.:23:48.

in air passenger duty and a carbon tax. In the queue, we have to cope

:23:48.:23:51.

with the corporation tax change. If we get the corporation tax

:23:52.:23:56.

concession, the Treasury will not give it as a gift. We will have to

:23:56.:24:01.

make up the money some other way. As Sammy Wilson was putting it,

:24:01.:24:05.

this is not an easy begin to get a better answer for Northern Ireland.

:24:06.:24:10.

Sir it is a high risk strategy? is a high risk, because the more

:24:10.:24:14.

concessions you get, the more likely you are to be paying and not

:24:14.:24:21.

getting any benefits. San Wilson said -- Sammy Wilson said he had no

:24:21.:24:25.

idea -- no problem with the idea of examining policies. Some parts of

:24:25.:24:29.

the economy are struggling. How much of an examination needs to be

:24:29.:24:33.

taken about where we are getting it right and where we need to do

:24:33.:24:38.

better? That was the failure of the type of debate we have today. It

:24:38.:24:42.

was a debate in which 20 or 25 members or said something different

:24:42.:24:45.

that they would like about government spending. And Sammy

:24:45.:24:49.

forcefully said, not many of you talked about how he would raise the

:24:49.:24:54.

money to do it. But ultimately, we do need a debate about where we are

:24:54.:24:57.

going with government spending in the next couple of years. We are

:24:57.:25:01.

halfway through a four Year period. We have a budget approved for next

:25:01.:25:07.

year, and we are going to go very much good as it is now. I wonder if

:25:07.:25:12.

that needs to be looked at again. And finally, the hoary old chestnut

:25:12.:25:19.

of water charges? That was brought up and it is an example of whether

:25:19.:25:24.

we should be looking at what we are doing and the consequences. Sammy

:25:24.:25:27.

Wilson, in his reply, congratulated Stewart Dickson in raising this

:25:27.:25:31.

issue and gave what I thought was a hint that this is an issue we will

:25:31.:25:35.

now have to think about. We are spending a couple of hundred

:25:35.:25:38.

million pounds a year or water investment. If this were in England,

:25:38.:25:42.

that would come from private sources. Because of how we arranged

:25:42.:25:46.

here, it comes out of money that should go on something else. It is

:25:46.:25:53.

expensive. Last week's Enterprise Committee

:25:53.:25:56.

heard warm words for the investment pledge to promote Belfast following

:25:56.:26:00.

the recent flap protests. Joan Dalton from the Chamber of Trade

:26:00.:26:04.

said the impetus provided by the money now needs to be built on, as

:26:04.:26:07.

we can now here in our weekly look at committee business.

:26:07.:26:14.

It kicked off on 3rd December. lot of members rely on December

:26:14.:26:17.

being the harvest month. That is the month that encourage them for

:26:17.:26:22.

the other 11 months of the deer. For a debate to happen in a council

:26:22.:26:25.

and the resulting civil unrest that happened and the downturn in

:26:25.:26:29.

economic trade that happened was very difficult. We applaud the

:26:29.:26:36.

Council for stepping up and giving us money to put into the campaign.

:26:36.:26:43.

The breakdown was significant. We got 600,000 from the Assembly and

:26:43.:26:48.

400,000 from the council and 500,000 from the private sector.

:26:48.:26:54.

That is 1.5 million to promote the city. And it has worked well. But

:26:54.:27:01.

we can't rest on our laurels. have been worst days, and we have

:27:01.:27:06.

survived. Belfast has moved forward. There has been huge investment,

:27:06.:27:14.

much to the detriment of cases like Bangor and so on. A lot of people

:27:14.:27:20.

work and shop in the Belfast area. Belfast has had it good for a long

:27:20.:27:24.

time. The images of Northern Ireland in the last two months have

:27:24.:27:30.

been very negative. The media have certainly exploited it. They have

:27:30.:27:36.

used it and abused it. It is important to remain positive.

:27:36.:27:44.

we say to the committee is not what we portray in the media. Is it not

:27:44.:27:54.

the case that you have to park your car or get a bus, and there is

:27:54.:27:59.

quite a distance. The success of Victoria Square is at the detriment

:27:59.:28:07.

of other places. If you move on and go to John Lewis, there will be

:28:07.:28:15.

further displacement. Victoria Square has given food for, it has

:28:15.:28:20.

not displaced it. It has skewed where the shopping centre of

:28:20.:28:27.

Belfast is. There is some merit in that analysis in that you get

:28:27.:28:31.

people shifting from one retail destination to another. That is why

:28:31.:28:36.

the chamber's view is more holistic. We have to get all of Belfast city

:28:36.:28:41.

centre regenerated. And regeneration is often retail lead,

:28:41.:28:45.

because the that allows things to stack up from a financial point of

:28:45.:28:49.

view. But we need to get people living back in the city centre. We

:28:49.:28:54.

have to get entertainment on a broader perspective than just bars

:28:54.:28:58.

in the city centre. It has to appeal to lots of different

:28:58.:29:03.

elements to make the city attractive. We would hold the view

:29:03.:29:08.

that Victoria Square is a positive asset, because of it is housing

:29:08.:29:12.

retailers that don't exist anywhere else, and it helps form a unique

:29:12.:29:15.

shopping destination for. Last week's Enterprise Committee

:29:15.:29:20.

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.