12/03/2012 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome. They had been compared to the


porters, leading them has been described as herding cats, but


someone will have to take up the helm at the Ulster Unionist Party.


Danny Kennedy is first out of the traps, but will anyone take on the


popular minister? Or so should night, Martin


McGuinness makes a solemn pledge to the Assembly. I would -- I have put


my life on the line for the peace process on a number of occasions


and I would do so again tomorrow. And with major benefit changes on


the way, my guess is from the Housing Rights Service. -- my guest.


Today's timetable was given over to debating the final programme for


Government. The SDLP criticised what they say is a lack of action


of social housing. Do you agree with that? Yes. I think we would


echo that concern. We would like to have seen a greater commitment in


the programme. Not only in providing more social homes but


also to introducing a package of measures which would have helped to


support homeowners who are struggling and who are faced with


repossession and also that could have helped instil confidence back


into what they consider is a fairly fragile housing market.


programme talks about 8,000 new homes over the next four years, is


that adequate? Not really. 8,000 is over four years. That puts 2000


affordable homes and 6,000 social homes. There is a model which is


used to forecast the number of homes needed and they estimate we


will need to and have 1000 social homes -- 2.5000. That would


translate into 10,000 social homes over four years. My understanding


is that the programme is committed to 6,000. There has been some


criticism recently that we do not have enough of the right sort of


forms, not enough flats or a one- bedroom properties. Do you see that


changing? Absolutely. There has been a criticism. I think that is


one of the points that people locally have tried to make to the


ministers in the UK, that we do have a different stock here of


housing. We have many more family type homes. Space has never been at


-- space has ever been at a premium here, so we have a lot of family


homes and one of the concerns we have is, when we introduced the


benefit changes, and the plan is to introduce what is referred to as


the bed and tax, people will not receive if they do not have the


family size that requires a three- bed home. They will only receive


the benefit that they require. That may not be available in Northern


Ireland. There is some work to do been trying to assess what the


impact is going to be and match the size of accommodation we have


available. As we had been earring, well-filled


reform is a major issue hanging over the heads of tens of thousands


of people. -- welfare reform. During questions today, the Social


Development Minister was asked if there is any flexibility within the


changes being introduced by London. Myself and my colleagues have


recently started to explore a range of flexibilities, of which we


believe could exist. This important work is at an early stage and we


are trying to focus on maximising all flexibilities available to help


mitigate against the negative impact of the wealth lot reform


bill. I had a constructive meeting with the Secretary of State in


which we discussed how we could work together on welfare reform,


including exploring possible areas for flexibility. I will continue to


have regular contact with not only the Secretary of State for Northern


Ireland but also department for work and pensions ministers. As


already mentioned, I will be in London tomorrow to meet Ian Duncan


Smith and David Freud. Would the Minister acknowledge that due to


the conflict that we have had over 40 years, there are a lot of people


on disability benefits, particularly those with mental


health related matters will stop there has to be a special case --


special case made. We you assure the House of that message is taken


to London? I can assure the member that point will be raised to


tomorrow. It is one we have raced on a number of occasions and it is


clear indeed that there is a difference in the profile between


benefit in Northern Ireland as opposed to Great Britain. There is


a higher level of people on that particular benefit as a result of


mental health issues than in Great Britain. That is something we need


to look that. The reasons for it are fairly... No doubt a legacy of


the Troubles. That is very much in our thinking. They are aware of


that difference as we move forward. With people on waiting lists for


social housing, the Minister revealed plans to tackle the issue


of an attack -- unoccupied house in. Empty housing is a waste of


resource and can blight communities and attract anti-social behaviour.


I have seen this all too often in my own constituency, so why am well


aware of it. In the coming weeks, I will be bringing forward and new


housing strategy which will include plans on how we will make better


use of our existing stock. We also need to see what more we can do to


make better use of empty homes in the private sector. Some time ago,


the Housing Executive undertook the Housing Executive undertook


research that estimated there could be up to 40,000 empty homes across


be up to 40,000 empty homes across Northern Ireland. The Dat


underpinning the Cessna was unreliable and despite some initial


progress to tear down the owners of empty homes, this petered out and


this -- results were disappointing. I have asked for a plan to tackle


this wider issue and New work into specific Tiler - a pilot issues is


currently underway. I see this as an important way in addressing


housing need. Martin McGuinness was up next. The Alliance Party's


member it wanted to make out -- wanted to hear what he made of the


recent report. The report highlights the stability of


political institutions and the decrease that there has been by


violence. We are heartened by this finding. We want to see this


enhanced as our community continues to move forward. We know that there


is still work to do and the publication of this pop -- of this


report underlines where there continue to the challenge is for us


as a society. We're committed to addressing these issues, regardless


of how complex and challenging they might be. The First Minister and I


remain committed to building a united and shared Society for us to


achieve this vision, we must address the division that continues


to mar many areas of our community, tackle the segregation that has


enabled our people to live often separate lives for too long, and


nurture our environment for cultural diversity is celebrated


and embraced. We believe that the finalised strategy will be an


important building block for tackling these issues and this


report will be a very valuable reference for the continued


considerations of the cross-party working group. In the report, two


of the points are linked. One is reference to the strategy for


reconciliation and a solution to dealing with the past. Given that


those two things are very key to the future, or will he agree with


me that next time he or anyone else involved in terror or violence in


the past is asked to own up to their part and that, they will


actually do that rather than pleading the 5th and then read as


he did? The Minister and mayor may not wish to answer that question.


will answer the question. It has been a policy now for the


particular member asking the question to be as negative as he


possibly can be. That is something that I have come to terms with. I


think it says more about time that is about myself. I have been very


much involved in the work of peace and reconciliation. I would like to


think that over the course of recent times I have put my life on


the line for the peace process on a number of occasions and I would do


so again tomorrow without any hesitation whatsoever. I ate well


very positively and -- I work positively and constructively with


the First Minister and many other people within society, both in the


community and business sector and also with all the churches in


ensuring that we continue to move forward. No solution has been found


by anybody, a not least the member, in terms of how we deal with the


past. Let us go back to a couple of


points the Housing Minister made. He is going to have a housing


strategy in the looking at these empty homes. That is something that


has been on the agenda for a long time but nothing has been done.


Absolutely, and something that we have been calling for is a housing


strategy for Northern Ireland to. We are delighted to hear the


Minister making that commitment. He has been talking about it for the


last few weeks and we look forward to being involved in helping to


influence the content of that strategy. Potentially, what


difference could that may? It could make a huge difference. We have off


for a while that there has not been a strategic approach to housing in


Northern Ireland. We can go all the 10 years and the different


contributions that we can make to meeting the housing need in


Northern Ireland. We need that kind of comprehensive approach to their


housing situation, where we are looking across all 10 years, the


private-sector and the rented sector. Particularly at this time


when the impact of welfare reform is pending and it is going to


impact across this. Housing is one of the areas that we believe is


going to be most significantly impacted by the implementation of


this. This will be critical to address.


Members got the chance to give their tuppence worth up on the


final version of the Executive's programme for Government earlier.


The SDLP and the TV are not impressed and at times the debate


got personal. Here is the first Minister outlining the main targets


to the House. A commitment to promote 25,000 new


jobs remains at the top of the agenda, along with commitments in a


supporting young people into employment. �300 million of


investment by business is, with at least 25% coming from small and Jim


sized enterprises. Press for the devolution of corporation tax.


Includes social clauses in all of public procurement processes for


suppliers and construction. Liquidity of small and made him --


aid liquidity of small and medium- sized enterprises. Schemes to


improve landscape in public areas and promote public sector in but --


private sector investment in towns and city. A sure planning decisions


are made within six months. -- insurer planning decisions.


Introduce an extension of the small business rate relief scheme.


Eliminate our passenger duty on direct long-haul flights. We have


gone further. The final programme for Government includes enhanced


commitments on the economy, including commitments to achieve a


�375 million injection through foreign direct investment, and


increased from 300 million in the draft programme as part of a �1


It was disappointing To hear the Minister at suggest that another


look might be taken at senior citizens and the card allowing free


travel being possibly taken away from them, which would be to the


detriment of the senior citizens. don't want to be negative all the


time so we welcome the initiative. We should be welcoming it. Yes, a


great deal of it seems to be mother great deal of it seems to be mother


hard and apple pie, but there is much to praise. I am very pleased


to see job targets in it, an extra spend on health and many, many


other matters. But it is in many cases to vague with too few targets


and too few turn lines. This document is a glossy, a nicely


produced, it looks very well. If you flick through it, you would say,


it looks good. But content is utterly vague and vacuous. I want


to put on my record but I am surprised and disappointed that the


SDLP minister could not find it within himself to attend last


Thursday's crucial executive meeting which unanimously supported


the programme for government. It also it saddens me to say that I


find it equally surprising that the leader of the SDLP, Orston


Macdonald... Order. Mr Speaker, it is disingenuous of the deputy first


minister to criticise the Minister because he was in Brussels on


official business. I thought that he said he was at a funeral, but he


is in Brussels and now! Or! Allow the deputy first minister to


continue. I reiterate the point, I also find it equally surprising


that the leader of the SDLP, Alastair Macdonald, could not find


the time it to come into this assembly today and contribute to


our discussions on an issue his party say they feel very strongly


about. I note the Ulster Unionists are about to decide he will be


there next leader, but I think the SDLP are suffering from a


leadership deficit. The SDLP Deputy Leader joins us for


now. Clear that up for us, where was your leader today? He was here


this morning meeting the group. He then rushed off to Westminster to


take part in the delegation which is welcoming the Group Two Marks


and Patrick's Day. Is the SDLP at in the cold now? It was a shin pain


Das Sinn Fein and the DUP having a go today. We are used to them at


taking turns to denigrate the SDLP, but the SDLP are standing in


relation to the people. We have people coming into our offices who


are very concerned about their job losses, the impact it has had on


their ability to pay their mortgage and their rent, and indeed the very


many young people who now have to leave in order to search of work.


We are taking a stand to say that this programme does not measure up.


They have looked at 400 public concentrations of people saying


what things they want to see changed. Youth unemployment is one


of the areas they will look at again. I welcome back, but we are


10 months into this term. The programme for government normally


comes before the Budget. There are now one in five of our young people


unemployed. It is far too little. It is arguably too late or there


are some action is better than none. Let's look at the consultation


responses. It was less than three weeks when the closure... They had


turn this around, published three new programme for government inside


the three-week period and one has to ask what consideration did they


give to those consultations bearing in mind that it has taken over a


year to respond to the consultation? What would you have


done differently? What would you have included in the programme?


SDLP made a number of proposals and one of the things we believe is a


much more determined action in response to the economic downturn


and the welfare of of Tory cuts and reform. We need safety nets for


people who are going into mortgage arrears, increase in the housing


stock, but we have no definition yet but what an affordable home


will be. The number of people on the UN and -- housing list is over


10,000. The construction industry needs a boost and this would invest


Thank you for joining us. An event to mark European day for


victims of terrorism to place today in the Senate chamber. Three


victims of the Troubles told them living stories at the event which


was organised by Jim Allister. This year I was happy to host an


event where we could hear the very moving accounts of instant victims


of terrorism and reflect on how horrendous, unjustified glorified


terrorism is. It takes says aquatic and a deprived mind to commit these


acts. -- a psychotic. I'm one of many hundreds of problems -- people


suffering from these problems. I want to see justice and the mother


-- the murderer of my father It is part and parcel of trying to


deliver a message that as we age, and me it's become greater. -- Alan


needs. It is about being ensure that our needs will be met. This is


the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen Poppy Day bomb. A


report is out soon, but whether it will disclose any answers for the


family 25 years down the line, we will see.


Pensioner poverty is a big concerns of the Public Accounts Committee


has been looking at attempts to encourage pensioners to take up


their full benefit entitlement. As we take our weekly look at the


worker committees here, we find the PAC chair has a very pertinent


question. If everyone took up the pension


poverty, what that eradicate the problem? No. Is that a wider it --


it is the white bishop of getting We have to get the wider issue of


people investing. Many pensioners can receive the full entitlement,


but they can still be in poverty. Poverty define 65 % of that level.


The other key issue is the fuel poverty issue and the fact that we


have here, and we know many pensioners are paying considerable


amounts. We need to get the pensions into the right housing


stock. I think we have done a good job in broad levels pushing up


housing in some areas and we are very committed to doing up further,


but the point is that unless we are getting better fixes so that a


single pensioners are in better accommodation, unless we achieve


that, we will not tackle anything. This issue requires more


contributions from employers and people's own investments and


pensions. It requires us to get the acts together as I have described


here. It is a really big challenge. It is such a core issue. It is a


growing population, 300,000, but the next 30 years it will be up on


that. It is a big group far as. is rather unusual, but not unheard


off. Although this is my first appearance of the justice can misty,


The formal separation of our respective constitutional roles


means that such roles -- appearances will be infrequent. But


I have a particular interest in the There are areas where I can


assisting your deliberations, but you will understand and welcome the


fact that I have a firm policy of not straying into areas which are


the responsibility of ministers of the assembly and unsure that


committee members likewise would not wish to stray into areas which


are the proper responsibility of the judiciary of legal knowledge


through to diversity, the ability to manage situations, understand


people who were in a highly emotionally charged situations,


community, right material that people could actually understand,


because a judgement is there for the benefit of the parties, the


public, the press, as well as fork commentators. My understanding of


the professions is that they are supportive of that approach and I


think that it has benefited in ensuring that there is greater


transparency. There is a much better opportunity for those no


wish to take these posts up. The Ulster Unionist Party met


tonight to discuss the leadership race. Candidates have until Friday


to join their hats in the ring. -- throw their hats.


We are aware that they are pressing ahead. This is as far as we are


aware. The elections are going on at the end of the month. The big


news today was that Danny Kennedy, the regional development minister,


seemed to indicate that he will be standing. Apparently he took


standings of the course of the weekend and felt he had the backing


of the much charity of the party, also its apart from the party's


peers and the MEP Jim Nicholson. He did not front up in front of the


cameras to actually launched his campaign. But he would seem, at


this stage, to be the front runner, although the current incumbent, Tom


Elliott, is still there. Before heading to do but -- a Dublin for


an engagement, he was asked whether Mr Kennedy would be the most


credible candidate, something he did not want to give a view on.


would be totally unfair as outgoing leader to recommend anyone. I just


In a statement from the culture minister. This has been an ongoing


saga to do with Alex Salmond -- salmon. Atlantic salmon is an


Atlantic species in Northern Ireland and the culture minister is


responsible for handing out licences. She was due to make a


statement some time ago which she pulled because there were ongoing


negotiations. Late this evening, she made a statement in which she


said that she was going to issue licences to six commercial


operators who catch salmon using nets here, but only on the


condition that they had given a promise that they are not going to


fish for the salmon during 2012 to try to conserve the species. She is


also asking anglers to release any salmon a cat and to fly fish and


use single barbless hooks up to catch the salmon in order not to


damage the species. She sees this as a first step on the way to


conserve the -- concerning an iconic species.


A final thought, we have talked about different issues around


housing, but we have not tackled the issue of homelessness and the


figure of 10,000 is mentioned, but how many people do not have


somewhere to live? That seems to be smaller in this part of the UK than


elsewhere. I don't know whether that is true. In Northern Ireland


our levels of homelessness are increasing. Last year there were


over 21,000 households are presented as homeless. Just over


10,000 of those were excepted -- accepted as the legal definition of


homelessness. You are right to say that the number of people we have


sleeping rough here is perhaps the most physical form of homelessness


is smaller, but generally we have a fairly significant problem with


homelessness and that is something which the Housing Executive are


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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