12/11/2013 Stormont Today


12/11/2013

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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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme.

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Health Minister Edwin Poots defends his opposition to gay adoption and

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gay men donating blood. The natural order, whether one

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believes in God or in evolution, the natural order is for a man and a

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woman to have a child. Tributes are paid in the Assembly to

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the founding member of the SDLP, Eddie McGrady.

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His words delivered by our party leader at the weekend that ring true

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to the man he was. He said, don't mourn for me, just get out there and

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finish the job. And I'm joined by the journalist

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Gerry Millar to look over today's events.

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It was the Health Minister against the Alliance Party in question time

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today. Children's cardiac services being centralised in Dublin and

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Northern Ireland's abortion laws were on the agenda but, once again,

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Edwin Poots' opposition to gay adoption and gay men donating blood

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dominated proceedings. The Minister was asked by Trevor Lunn if he

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believes homosexuality is an illness.

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In terms of this issue, I don't think it is an illness. I do think

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that many people have various elements to their lives that when it

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comes to sexuality many people who are heterosexual would desire lots

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of other folks. Those of us who are married should not be doing that.

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People can resist urges. In terms of all of this, I would encourage

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people to take a sensible and rational view on these issues. I

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know there has been a number of challenges and the various stances I

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take but I make it very clear that Indians of blood safety, that is

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truly about safety. Whether one believes in God or evolution, the

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natural order is for a man and a woman to have a child and therefore

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that has made my view on adoption very clear and on raising children

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very clear and it should be a man and a woman that raises a child.

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People can criticise me for that and challenge me for it and say it is

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backward. The truth is that still today, in this modern era, it is

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only a man and a woman that can produce a child and therefore I

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think it is in the best order for a man and a woman to raise a child.

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Does the Minister accept that since restrictions were put in place, the

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lack of clarity on the ongoing delay of outcome but increasing stress on

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families and can he give a more concrete timescale for completion

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and does he accept that an all Ireland network of children's heart

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surgery with a print in Belfast is what is needed? I do accept that the

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delay causes further consternation to families and that is not what we

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want to have. However, I need people to be agreeable to what we in this

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house actually want and that is what we have been working on. That is a

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course of work that will have to be seen through if we are to be

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successful. I would urge people to be patient a little longer. Time is

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of the essence. Professor Wood leaves his role in December so we

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will need to have something in place before that happens and that is a

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course of work that we are continuing to in gauge upon. I would

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hope to be in a position to give this house a full update in the not

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too distant future. The law in Northern Ireland does not address

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the issue of faecal abnormality. We must fully -- free till

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abnormality. My views on the issue are well known. I am opposed to the

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liberalisation of the law but I would look at any proposals put

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forward by the Minister. As members are aware, the position on the

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termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland is provided in the body of

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criminal law. Any guidance to the document produced by my department

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can only reflect existing law, it cannot change it. The recent

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consultation has been successful in highlighting concerns health

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professionals and others have in relation to this sensitive issue. I

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have asked them to look at every possibility as ideal everyday with

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the difficulties faced by women and their families often in tragic

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circumstances. The Health Minister Edwin Poots. I'm

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joined now by the journalist Gerry Millar. Edwin Poots once again the

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centre of attention at Stormont. If I was working for a tabloid

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newspaper, I would be counting every headline Edwin Poots has put in it.

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I think it is clear that the public want ministers to keep their own

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personal moral opinions out of decision-making and I think Edwin

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Poots acknowledged that when he made a clear statement that he decided to

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put a ban on blood donors, gay blood donors, that it was done purely for

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health reasons. He has repeatedly said his beliefs do not get in the

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way of his ability to do his job and they do not unduly influence him in

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his decision-making process will stop do you think his position has

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changed? Three big issues tend to suggest there is a moral aspect to

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his decisions. The three big issues that are always going to grab the

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headlines, abortion, gay blood donors and gay adoption. I think

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they overshadow all the good work because the press will always try to

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grab those headlines. The new children's hospital is being

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shadowed -- overshadowed. Using phrases like the natural order as he

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did today and the best order is for a man and a woman to raise a child.

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I think there were mistakes and he is almost trapped by the opposition

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and I think he full story. When questions are asked, he probably

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can't help himself. He seems to get himself into the headlines. For me

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it is probably not for the right reasons. It is an enormous

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portfolio, a huge responsibility, and it is difficult to stay on top

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of all the nuances of that. They are very difficult, they are very

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delicate and the public is split on them so they are very difficult

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things to handle. The DUP had indicated that Edwin Poots would

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more likely than not be rotated out of the ministry at this stage so

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people are surprised that has not happened. Do you think you will be

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there much longer? It is going to happen sooner or later.

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Gerry Millar, thank you. A bit of housekeeping earlier today

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saw the rules around Topical Questions change. From next week

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they'll be asked after the submitted questions. However, today, they

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remained top of the Question Time agenda with the SDLP's Alban

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Maginness concerned about the future of one of our banks.

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Last week the RBS announced a review into the Ulster bank and separations

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in Northern Ireland. The RBS being the parent bank and being state

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owned. Has the Minister any concerns in relation to that and has he

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sought a meeting with RBS to discuss the review? I have concerns. There

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are areas in the report that do cause concern. The second review

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into establishing long-term and sustainable footing is called for

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further restructuring of that bank. It is inevitable that there will be

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further job losses. As indeed there probably will be across other banks

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before they get to a position where they are probably -- properly

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functioning. The valuation process is entirely evidence -based and

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naturally that evidence reflects the relative advantages and

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disadvantages of particular trading locations. At the end of the day, it

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is the open market that establishes current levels. This alone will

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determine who pays more and who pays less following reevaluation but I

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think we would be in a far worse position if it had not been for

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something like small business rate relief scheme which has given ?1.5

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million in relief to properties. This department has also frozen the

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nondomestic regional rate for the eighth year and we have introduced

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empty properties relief to tackle vacancies which are dotted across

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towns and city centres across Northern Ireland. The Minister may

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be aware of the news today that the town of Ballymena, according to a

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survey, is now in the unenviable position of having the highest

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proportion of empty shops right across Northern Ireland at a

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staggering 27% of all shops being empty. What can the Minister do to

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address that? I appreciate he can't rig the rating system but he can do

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more, surely, if the present concessions are not arresting the

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decline. Is his mind open to doing more in terms of relief for town

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centre shops so that we can arrest this situation in a prosperous town?

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In terms of what persistence and what support we can give to

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Ballymena, it is not just Ballymena it is right across Northern Ireland,

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but in terms of small business rate relief scheme, 1183 properties have

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got ?1.7 million of relief on their bills. In terms of empty properties

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and trying to address some of those vacancies, Ballymena is still to

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start. I think that is very uncharacteristic of the Ballymena

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area. I don't think, I accept there are probably other things we can do

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but I operate within a very defined spending envelope and no matter how

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many things I can do, even if I eliminated the Ritz -- rates for

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some businesses, it is no substitute for having sufficient turnover. If

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you do not have enough turnover to keep you above water, there is

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nothing I or anyone can do to keep you above water.

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Straight-talking from the Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton. Northern

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Ireland's politicians have failed the victims of the Troubles over the

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last 15 years. That was the message from Deputy First Minister, speaking

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in the Assembly today. Martin McGuinness admitted mistakes have

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been made, but he said he hopes the current talks chaired by the

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American diplomat, Richard Haass, could come up with a way of dealing

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with the past. Mr McGuinness was reporting back to the Assembly from

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the latest meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council.

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Our meeting was a very positive and good meeting and provided a valuable

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opportunity to focus on some of the key challenges we face. Last week

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came in a few short weeks after the successful investment conference in

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Belfast and the global economic Forum. The council recognise the

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value of of events and I have no doubt they will provide an important

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platform to provide economic growth and prosperity. Can I ask him if he

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and the first Minister took the opportunity to discuss how the

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Northern Ireland executive and the Irish government can work together

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to deliver a comprehensive victim centre process in dealing with the

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past? If so, what ideas were considered? As the member has heard

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me and other say over the course of the last 15 years, one of the

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greatest flaws in the peace process has been the approach to the past,

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of which there are many narratives. There is a huge responsibility on

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all of us to deal with that. That is why we agreed and I am pleased the

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member's party was part of the agreement to house -- to ask the

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diplomat from the United States, Richard Hass, too chaired the

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multiparty talks. He has been involved in the engagement, and of

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course he has been talking, not just to the parties but to the Irish

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government, the British government and we are aware the United States

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government through the vice president, who lie and the first

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Minister spoke to in the aftermath of the appointment of Richard Hass.

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We hope within the process we will see a resolution to the issue of

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flags and the issue of parades and find a way forward on the issue of

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how we support victims. Yes, I think absolutely all of us need to hold

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our hands up, and this is a signal failure. But I hope it is a failure

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that can be corrected. We have had in the course of the last number of

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days, further positive reports from those who have been analysing the

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situation, that there is an upturn in fortunes. Always very and to talk

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about green shoots, people have done that before and done it to their

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cost. But there is some sense things are beginning to go on the up. We

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expressed our concerns that the National dairy Council campaign is

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an abuse of country origin labelling. The deputy minister has

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raised this issue with the authority and the Irish government

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counterparts. She has brought the campaign to the attention of the

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European commission. We are concerned it contravenes the

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principles of the single market, discriminates against consumers. The

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news recently about a new barrier going up in east Belfast, wasn't

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good news, particularly in the context of wanting to ring down the

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walls in Belfast over the course of the next ten years. -- bring. Last

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night we brought you the news of the passing of Eddie McGrady, and today

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MLAs from across the chamber paid tribute to the former MP, who was a

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founding member of the SDLP. I came to know Eddie McGrady very well. We

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served on the first policing board and he was a true gentleman.

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Certainly, politics in Northern Ireland will be much sadder with the

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loss of Eddie McGrady. Words delivered by Alistair Macdonald at

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the weekend ring true to the man he was. He said, " don't mourn for me,

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just get out there and finish the job". My thoughts and prayers are

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with his children. As well as the wider family circle. His sister, his

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brother and of course his deep friend and political colleague,

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Margaret Ritchie. When I spoke to Eddie last Wednesday night, I just

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said a prayer with him because I knew it would not be long. He will

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be deeply missed as a close friend and colleague. He has left a lot for

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Margaret, Karen and myself to do to try and fill his shoes in Southdown.

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May he rest in peace. Everyone had the highest respect for Eddie

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McGrady. I happened to be chairing a meeting in down hospital in what

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happened to be his last day of the member of Parliament the Southdown.

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I saw him and I realised Parliament would be closed in a few hours time.

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I called him up to say if you last words and there was hardly a dry eye

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in the house. I always found him a courteous and fair colleague and

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enjoyed working with him. I met him recently at the opening of a school

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and we had a bit of banter together. I know he will be missed by his

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colleagues in the STL P. He will be missed and other colleagues by all

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of us here in this house. I want to pay tribute to the service he

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provided to the people of Southdown over the last two and a half

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decades. As a journalist I always enjoyed interviewing Eddie McGrady.

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I will not give too much away, but there was a time around the

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negotiations of the Belfast Good Friday agreement when Ulster

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television ran a sweepstake on when an announcement was going to come.

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Eddie came out to the interview point and I cast him if he would

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like to join the sweepstake, and he did. And he warned. Either he had

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inside knowledge, or he had some influence over what was going on in

:19:56.:20:01.

those talks. I will remember him both in terms of the negotiations

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which led up to the Good Friday agreement and in the happy days of

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the assembly when things were not quite as smooth running as they are

:20:09.:20:13.

now. The deals that were done in the corridor behind the speaker's chair

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generally involving Jim Wilson, Eddie and sometimes I got in if

:20:20.:20:23.

votes were needed, is a tribute to a man you knew it was a gentleman. If

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a deal was reached you knew it would be stuck to and he was a man who

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stuck to his word. Warm tributes from across the

:20:35.:20:37.

political spectrum for the late Eddie McGrady. One in 85 men is

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diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in Northern Ireland. Earlier, a

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motion was brought to the floor calling on the Health Minister to

:20:45.:20:47.

introduce a screening programme for the disease. It was tabled by Sinn

:20:48.:20:50.

Fein's Oliver McMullan who joins me now. Thanks for joining us.

:20:51.:20:54.

You had a very personal reason for bringing this motion. I was

:20:55.:21:00.

diagnosed earlier in the year with prostate cancer, so I brought the

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motion today. I have asked the Minister to do a screening programme

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for those people, those men who have been diagnosed with the cancer.

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There is little uptake after they come out of the programme. The

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anxiety, mental issues and I believe there needs to be a programme put in

:21:23.:21:26.

place to look at this. You think that is more important than the

:21:27.:21:30.

screening programme? At this present time, the medics are not getting a

:21:31.:21:36.

handle on the whole disease. But there is nothing there when the men

:21:37.:21:40.

come out of the programme and go home. This is part of the programme

:21:41.:21:46.

and this is recognised by the medical profession and within the

:21:47.:21:52.

research team in Queens University. Is that what you found difficult and

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received your initial treatment, that was fine but it was after that

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you struggled? After you come home, there is pressure on your family as

:22:06.:22:10.

well. When your surgeon tells you you have been diagnosed with cancer,

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it is a new world. A lot of people cannot handle that when you go home.

:22:17.:22:22.

It does affect your home life, because there is nothing fair and

:22:23.:22:26.

there is a big void. This is what we want to try and fill and that is why

:22:27.:22:30.

I was asking the Minister to do something about that. What feedback

:22:31.:22:35.

did you get from the Minister, how hopeful are you things will change?

:22:36.:22:40.

He did talk about it and he said he would look on it. I want to see him

:22:41.:22:47.

put it into operation. The longer we hold this off, because prostrate

:22:48.:22:52.

cancer is fast becoming the top cancer among men. The area I

:22:53.:22:57.

representing East Antrim, it is one of the highest areas for prostrate

:22:58.:23:03.

cancer. So there has to be a problem. There is these hotspots and

:23:04.:23:11.

the research unit now has a postcode list of all the hotspots of cancer.

:23:12.:23:18.

Two men watching this who think they have a problem but are nervous about

:23:19.:23:22.

going to their GP, what would you say to them? Don't be nervous, go

:23:23.:23:25.

and speak to your GP and get something done. Men are very slow at

:23:26.:23:32.

coming forward for medical help. I appeal to them to come forward or

:23:33.:23:35.

talk to someone who has been through the treatment and give them some

:23:36.:23:38.

reassurance. Oliver McMullan, thank you.

:23:39.:23:41.

The House got to hear about a raft of Public Account Committee reports

:23:42.:23:45.

today as MLAs gave their verdict on the work of the committee which

:23:46.:23:48.

pores over the account books. The PAC chair said the committee is

:23:49.:23:51.

working hard to ensure public money is properly spent. When I read of

:23:52.:24:00.

lofty projections and unrealistic business cases of reform projects

:24:01.:24:04.

and overreliance on consultants of public bodies, whose culture is

:24:05.:24:09.

transparency and good governance, I wish for some learning to take place

:24:10.:24:15.

and I cannot help thinking of the benefit my constituents could have

:24:16.:24:18.

further public money. One example of this was the account consultancy

:24:19.:24:28.

project. This was an initiative devised to introduce centralised

:24:29.:24:32.

accounts. The original contract value for this was 970,000. The

:24:33.:24:40.

final total was 9.6 million and further it was delivered four years

:24:41.:24:46.

later. Lack of transparency raises its ugly head in several of the

:24:47.:24:50.

reports. There are serious questions to be answered in relation to

:24:51.:24:54.

housing maintenance contracts and hopefully be upcoming enquiry by the

:24:55.:24:58.

committee will shed some light on what has been going on. But there

:24:59.:25:04.

are also issues elsewhere. The report into the safety of services

:25:05.:25:09.

provided by health and social care says there is a lack of evidence to

:25:10.:25:13.

show safety has improved in the last decade. Ten years! And there is an

:25:14.:25:20.

absence of robust measures of level and client patient harm which makes

:25:21.:25:25.

it difficult for the department to demonstrate improvement. First of

:25:26.:25:31.

all, let's remind ourselves what we are debating today. These are the

:25:32.:25:37.

reports that we are discussing. I am holding in my hands, ?1 million

:25:38.:25:44.

worth of work by the Public Accounts Committee. Because that is the

:25:45.:25:50.

average, an average of ?100,000 per report, ten reports, ?1 million. Let

:25:51.:25:58.

me make something clear, I think there is a role for an effective

:25:59.:26:03.

Public Accounts Committee, scrutinising expenditure across

:26:04.:26:07.

government departments. But when I look at these reports, I want to

:26:08.:26:10.

refer to some of the points members have already made. I ask myself, are

:26:11.:26:16.

we improving governments, or are we making government more difficult in

:26:17.:26:24.

Northern Ireland? The truth in some respects is, the average person is

:26:25.:26:29.

pursued until the ends of the earth for 100, 200 or ?300 of an effect

:26:30.:26:35.

that might have been falsely claimed or incorrect -- incorrectly claimed.

:26:36.:26:43.

But because of the nature of the people involved in this, enormous

:26:44.:26:48.

amounts of money went up in smoke. We recognise we need to find new

:26:49.:26:53.

ways to deliver public services. We have to do things differently and we

:26:54.:26:58.

can no longer do what we have always done because that is what has always

:26:59.:27:04.

been the way. The status quo will no longer suffice. The landscape of

:27:05.:27:10.

public services delivery is changing. To enable us to deliver

:27:11.:27:14.

world-class public services we have to be leaner, more productive and

:27:15.:27:16.

more efficient. The Finance Minister, Simon

:27:17.:27:19.

Hamilton. And Gerry Millar has joined me again.

:27:20.:27:22.

Getting back to Question Time, what's your take on Topical

:27:23.:27:25.

Questions been, they're being moved, but do you think they've been a

:27:26.:27:28.

useful tool in challenging ministers on their briefs? They are trying to

:27:29.:27:35.

make them more important and more controversial so they will be more

:27:36.:27:39.

newsworthy. It was a topical question that got the health

:27:40.:27:43.

Minister to save the controversial health statement would be big news

:27:44.:27:47.

today. If they are pushed to the end of questions, there is more chance

:27:48.:27:50.

people will be able to respond to answers already given. But it does

:27:51.:27:54.

not give ministers a chance to prepare. If you don't prepare, you

:27:55.:28:00.

are being asked questions on the hoof and it is then you prove you

:28:01.:28:05.

know your portfolio. It'll be interesting to see how that changes

:28:06.:28:09.

the quality of the debate. One other issue before we go. There were very

:28:10.:28:13.

warm tributes paid to Eddie McGrady in the chamber today. It will be a

:28:14.:28:18.

great comfort to his family that right across the political spectrum,

:28:19.:28:24.

the tributes were fantastic. A direct political opponent being so

:28:25.:28:30.

warm. He was a very kind and personable person and he transcended

:28:31.:28:37.

party politics, which is a huge tribute you can be involved in party

:28:38.:28:42.

politics and the tributes were moving and kind-hearted. Also on

:28:43.:28:48.

social media yesterday. Lots of people from right across the

:28:49.:28:52.

spectrum making the effort to go on the record? He was the ultimate

:28:53.:28:59.

constituency politician and he loved Southdown. People felt

:29:00.:29:01.

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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