13/02/2012 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 to Stormont Today. Meryl Streep wins a BAFTA for


playing a politician. Makes you wonder who might portray some of


our MLAs on the big screen. On the bill tonight - Dominic


Bradley battles mutiny on the Finance Committee. You are not


doing it on our behalf. I am acting on behalf of the committee.


Sammy Wilson is the invisible man. We cannot continue. I do not know


whether Minister is, but I am confident he will return.


And it's the lobsters from outer space as Patsy McGlone confuses his


crustaceans. The lobsters would control the Starship, starfish?! Is


that right? The Junior Minister Jonathan Bell


told members last week that the issue of gay marriage was not under


consideration. The issue was raised during a question session on the


sexual orientation strategy which is due to be published soon. John


O'Doherty is from the Rainbow Project. What was the reaction of


people from you quit when they heard that? We were very


disappointment with the comments made in the chamber last week. It


is a ridiculous situation where in Northern Ireland no consideration


is being given to the issue of gay marriage when we have had a


commitment from the Prime Minister that he will look at this in 2012,


2013. It is a ridiculous situation. It is time our Assembly became


proactive in the serious issues. were the first region of the UK to


have civil partnership. At Scylla lead. It is one of the most


ridiculous parts of it. It is about time the Northern Irish Assembly


started to lead on these issues. -- absolutely. What do you put it down


to? It is difficult to understand. We expect leadership from our


politicians. If they say we are opposed to this and it is something


we will not look at for whatever the reason, we could understand


that. But to be so belligerent, to not even want to discuss it or


investigate the impact it will have on all Ireland -- on Northern


Ireland, it's not good enough. about the issues for not just gay


couples, but anyone who is not married? It is ridiculous that only


married couples can adopt. We are being refused outright because our


politicians cannot agree on a structure of adoption. Marriage is


on the decrease and the number of eligible couples that are able to


adopt are decreasing. We need to make sure that assessments are made


on it will basis and not just marriage. Thank you.


The Justice Minister revealed today that he has written to the


Department of Culture at Westminster asking that TV licence


evasion be treated as a civil rather than a criminal matter. His


comment came during Question Time this afternoon. We will hear that


shortly, but we start with questions to the Health Minister on


problems with alcohol. The minister will be aware that


last week the minister for social development was moving towards


banning drinks promotion, which are targeted at young people. Will the


Minister work and continue to work with the Minister for Social


Development to apply at a minimum cost to a unit of alcohol so as to


discourage under-age drinking? working closely with the minister


of social development on this issue. We have had conversations with the


Minister of Justice and other ministers because the issue of


alcohol misuse is so prevalent in our was society and crosses so many


boundaries. The answer about working with the Minister for


Social Development - clearly we are working closely together. We are


taking forward the cause of work on research leading on that, with the


support of other agencies. It will be of interest to the House that I


have engage closely as well with Mr Reilly in the Irish government.


They are keen to introduce a minimum pricing for alcohol and


they are keen that they do it at a similar time to us here in Northern


Ireland. That is completely rational to ensure we do not have a


situation where alcohol is cheaper on one side of the border than the


other. So we are all working closely together on this issue


because we cannot afford to be spending �250 million on the health


service, or �900 million annually on the abuse of alcohol. Thank you,


Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for what he has outlined.


His the aware of any research that will link substance abuse,


including alcohol and drugs, or with that of suicide?


considerable amount of work has been done by various organisations


and in terms of the link with suicide, substance abuse is thought


to be a major factor in youth suicide and research from America


has shown us that one in three young people were intoxicated at


the time of the suicide attempt. When the Justice Minister got to


his feet, he was asked about TV licence evasion and had some


interesting statistics. In its 2009, 4006 TV licence evasion cases were


tried at court. In 2010, there were over 5,000 prosecutions with over


300 prosecutions. On average, around 150 people a year end up in


prison following non-payment of a fine for television licence evasion.


On the issue of imprisonment for TV licence evasion, it is a reserved


matter. I had written to beat DCMS to explore the potential of civil


action rather than criminal action being imposed. I thank the Minister


for his response and appreciate that TV Licensing is a reserved


matter, but he has indicated he has been in correspondence with the


minister responsible. Can he ensured that the concerns people


have in Northern Ireland that some areas are being unfairly targeted,


unduly targeted at the exclusion or deference of other areas that are


not been targeted for TV Licensing evasion. That that communication


and that information will go back to TV Licensing to make sure there


is an even spread across and Northern Ireland so that everyone


who avoids buying the licence is treated equally. I am not sure I


can answer the question as to exactly what areas are targeted on


not targeted. I can only say that at that number of prosecutions, it


appears there is significant action been taken by the TV licensing


authorities. Where they operate is their decision and not mine.


than the Minister for his answer. It is staggering that some 30 % of


all were sections into our prisons in 2009, 2010, were for fine


default. Meaning that 30 % of reception into prisons was for a


few days. What proactive steps are being taken to reduce the number of


these default and reduce the impact of fine defaulters? The fact we are


talking about 30 % and close on 10 % of those up what non-payment of


TV licence default fines, we have to be careful to say that people go


to prison or for not paying the fine and not just the licence.


high percentage of those numbers are women. A lot of them have young


children. It is it -- is it not time that that process actually


stopped and that women who have children and it is a first offence


are not sent to prison for non- payment of a TV licence fine?


appreciate the question. My understanding is that of those 150


defaulters who end up in prison, 50 every year are women, which is a


significant proportion. I need to be careful as to suggesting I


should second-guess the decision of judges. We are seen to look at


decriminalising the issue and having it dealt with by civil means.


Once upon a time, they did seem to be the Cinderellas of Stormont, but


now committees are getting all dressed up and heading to the ball


as their profiles get higher and higher. And members are getting


into their stride as they take on civil servants and ministers. We


start our weekly look at the committees with public accounts,


which scrutinises departmental Anything I have heard so far this


afternoon tells me that Price Waterhouse Cooper, you're just a


passenger on that. I would not accept that. You're not accountable


to the public. He did not have to be elected. We do. Anybody


listening, I am looking for some explanation that is plausible about


a �900,000 contract, had that becomes 9.6 million? Hadaway sell


that to the public? You have not sold back to meet. The original


contract was for 972 plus possible extensions. At each stage, there


were further extensions. Those were done on the basis of advice from


procurement professionals and legal advisers and they went to the


political system at an official and ministerial level. Would it be


right today to do that? Have caused. That makes a nonsense of the


procurement exercise. It tomorrow shows all of the message is going


out from ministers in this assembly, the small and medium-sized business


has a future in tendering for work with this assembly, based on what


you have told me. I don't think so. This document that appeared Dunure


website in the last few days sets out basically, if you like, but


tests for a good procurement. -- the tests. It looks at the range of


options. Was that done beforehand? Yes. And you did not know that the


tender would run to �9.6 million. These were reported which produced


options for the way forward. The decision was made in 2001. It was


made to go with a particular option which led to the letting of this


consultancy contract and the wider contract, so there was appraisal of


options. You're giving me a history lesson which is not helping us to


understand. You asked if the options were praised. They were.


One of the criticisms of the Finance Minister was that he would


not revise the Budget. At the did is a prudent step to take and it is


a responsibility. -- I think it is a prudent step. Am not criticising


a minister. I am asking on behalf of the committee, how the proper


scrutiny measures would be implemented? You're not doing it on


our behalf. I am acting on behalf of the committee, not my party. I


want to make that clear. You need to be clear you're not doing it on


our behalf. That is a serious allegation that I am acting in a


party political role. By acts on behalf of the committee and on


behalf of Committee solely. -- I act on behalf of the committee.


I did not make reference to your party on what I said and you can


check with Hansard. Your colleague did. I refute these allegations and


I will move on. Staying with committees briefly and there were


some fishy going-ons at the environment committee on Thursday


when the SDLP's Patsy McGlone got his crustaceans mixed up with. Well,


have a listen. When they closed that area, the lobsters came back


and were big enough to eat the sea urchins. You have to be a right


size to crack them open. That means that the calcium go back which


meant that you had more lobsters. There were still sea urchins around,


I do not say to wipe out starfish, that would be bad. Now trying to


get this situation right. You're saying there is a layer on the sea


floor her and you have starfish and USA in the nature of things would


be that the lobsters would control the Starship. starfish! Is that


right? X back more serious issues and we heard from the Health


Minister. He was trying to decide if gay people could donate blood in


Northern Ireland and now this strange situation where they cannot


donate blood but begin import blood supplies from England, Scotland and


Wales. Another ridiculous situation where we have the minister as


saying that he has not made a decision after he says that he has


made a decision that he is looking for further evidence. The reality


is, gay, bisexual and men that have sex with men can donate blood in


the United Kingdom and that can be sent to Northern Ireland to be used.


It is a ridiculous situation and the minister needs to no one is


immediately. We expect openness, transparency from our political


leaders and the minister has shown none of this with this issue.


about a lobbying, how to convince ministers on this case? We met with


the health committee and gave evidence in relation to this banner


and why we feel a 12 month deferral period would be more appropriate.


The minister agreed to meet with us and we had met with a minister and


he applied to he wanted to meet with and what would he needs to do


before his decision. All of this work has been done and the evidence


has been gathered and there is no reason why he cannot make a


decision at this time. Interesting to see what happens. Thank you.


The very technically titled Spring Supplementary Estimates kept MLAs


on their toes in the Chamber for most of the day. A means of


approving the draw down of funds. The Finance Minister had to listen


as members got the chance to voice their concerns about all things


financial. And he had to remind members on more than one occasion


about the purpose of the motion. We are not talking about tax-


raising powers, we are not talking about traditional levers, we're


talking about the money being allocated to the year 2011, 2012


and simply, the debate in this assembly today is to authorise the


additional money that went into the department will budgets as a result


of monitoring pounds, at department consequential loss and we are


discussing this money and not the devolution of corporation tax or


any other taxes. We have gone through three Monetary hands during


this year. The house was never asked to approve them. It was never


asked to vote on them. But now, today, at the end of the financial


year, retrospectively, we get that opportunity. This is because the


process is de facto concluded. With four and a half hours set


aside for that debate. It's not surprising the finance Minister was


a little late returning to the chamber after a break for question


time. It really does seem perverse that the more successful they lead


the heirs, a change in behaviour Bolivian come will be. -- the more


successfully they behave, a change in the behave there that will come


to be. Perhaps eschew deputy Speaker could advise us why the


minister is not present, and when he will be? Yes, I had notice, the


minister has knottier! Shall we wait for the minister to a bride of.


I do not know whether Minister his, but I am confident that he will


return to his place. Now in case you're still not


exactly sure about Spring supplementary estimates, be patient


you will be. And so with an explanation and some thoughts on


how other governing bodies deal with the issue, here's Mark


Devenport. It is one of those things we hear


every year which is a big financial set piece that never means very


much. We have a spring Supplementary estimates, One Day


where we have the Assembly giving the Department the authority to


spend the money they have spent in the financial year. You would think


they have this authority anyway. Then there is the budget Bill which


gives them permission to spend in next three months of the next


financial year. We are told this is how Parliament does things, but I


am sceptical, because what happens is, it never changes are anything,


it is not like the big budget in the autumn were you see if the


parties will support it or not. It goes in at one end and comes out at


the other unchanged. Mark, you have done some investigation into this.


I wanted to see how Westminster deals with this and they have an


appropriation were estimates build known as the money belt and that


goes through the House of Commons and that House of Lords and they do


not have a big long debate about it. They do that because it is a bit of


a foregone conclusion. The reason we have these debates is because


there is an overhang from direct rule when the UK budget went


through an Northern Ireland MP and it was drowned out by counterparts.


Director will ministers gave the local MPs the chance to discuss and


debate the local estimates as a form of accountability. -- a direct


role ministers. That was kept on as transparency when we got to


devolution. It is all very generalised and it is not much of


an exercise in scrutiny. Is there a feeling we should scrap it and do


it like Westminster does it? raised this with financial


officials debate and they are looking at how it can be simplified.


At the moment, if there are four lots of estimates and they think


they can bring this down to one. They are considering they should go


for that system of moving things through on the nod, as it were.


They will require fresh legislation to get it through. It cannot happen


until two years' time. The challenge is, how do you have real


scrutiny because nobody is arguing that it shouldn't be looked at at


all. It is an important matter, but it should happen in awake that


affects what will happen. We heard from a former committee clerk who


believes that the committee can play about a role in scrutinising


the departments making financial decisions, rather than after the


event and saying oh, woe is me if it does not go to plan.


Deputy chair of the Finance Committee Dominic Bradley is here.


To we need to simplify this with better scrutiny? We probably do. He


will be aware that there was a motion after the debate on the


spring Supplementary estimates. They voted on account and there was


a debate initiated by the Finance Committee on the streamlining of


the budgetary process. I think when that review has finished, we will


get a more streamlined process which well maybe they eliminate


more of the anomalies in the system at the moment. There was a lot of


to-ing and fro-ing between yourself and other ministers? Yes, the


debate on the spring Supplementary estimates gives members the chance


to question a minister on the various movements of money, the


surrenders of money and the bids and so on that have taken place in


or what is known as monitoring grounds. As one member pointed out


in this Clipper earlier, the Assembly does not have the


opportunity to vote on Monetary hands, but it has the opportunity


to vote on the result of those, and that is what happened here today.


That is part of the problem, some of the money has already spent, so


if people do not agree, there is not a lot they can do. A Yes, but


they can interrogate the minister and the SDLP did that today. But he


did bring up a lot of other issues that were relevant to the debates


like welfare reform and the extension of fiscal powers.


ministers colleague began the debate and I think the Speaker had


intervened four times to keep him on course, so the SDLP were not the


only ones that have veered off course. There is an opportunity, of


course, strictly speaking, members should idea to the motion, but


people fear of it and take an opportunity to make a point, and


some colleagues to put those opportunities today. Two UN Maj Gen


it is hard to pre-empt the outcome of the report? -- do you imagine.


Maybe next year we will not have these days would seem like the Ray


Stubbs time. -- a waste of time. will take more than a year,


probably several years. It is a process that is pretty complicated.


It will take some time to unravel it and to reconstitute it in a more


streamlined fashion. Some of the other issues we have spoken about


here, and it is part to be a problem as you have put it tonight,


that is the perception perhaps of the Assembly that it is not very


welcoming to be both from your community. Absolutely. We have seen


no moves by the Assembly to address issues experienced by our community


across Northern Ireland. The big opportunity is the sexual


orientation strategy and we have high expectations and to make the


Assembly members aware that they can expect the same response that


they cost from the community to the CSI documents to the sexual


orientation strategy if it does not meet with the needs of our


community. A wider we appear to be a step behind the rest of the UK


and the Republic in issues regarding gay people? There is


probably our reticence on behalf of some issues to deal with the issues


that need to be dealt with. That is not the case from the point of view


with the SDLP, but I think it is the case from the point of view of


some other party is. And think as John has said, the community has


been waiting long enough to see their rights recognised. And


enshrined in legislation. I think it is time that this has happened.


Many of our MLAs have hidden talents, and some of them keep well


hidden. Hot weather, one MLA has been showing us his boxing skills.


Earlier, he explained how he prepared for the fight. I had a


cold for a few weeks and wasn't able to train as much as I wanted


to. However, I have done as much as I could. Running, watching the Dr


Hockey films with my son and that is about it. And you were not first


out, were you? I wasn't. There were 12 fights will together. De it make


it worse watching everybody else? The first fight was a bit rougher


than I expected. Then it got more civilised. I pipping, what have I


let myself in for? Tell me about your opponent. He is roughly the


same age as me. I would have worked with him in the past. He is a nice


enough bloke. But not any more? don't think he's a nice looking


bloke, but he is a nice bloke. He is a good sport. Have many bounced


did it take for you to beat him? Each fight was only three rounds


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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