13/03/2012 Stormont Today


13/03/2012

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. The Cheltenham Festival has begun with a flourish,

:00:32.:00:36.

but the race up here is struggling gain momentum. With only John

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McCallister so far confirmed in the Ulster Unionist leadership battle.

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And Basil McCrea is a non-runner. Off course though, it's been as

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usual as the Education Minister takes a pop at the grammar secter.

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Grammar's talents outstrips all over sectors. And who dares

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criticise this minister's economic strategy. If that is the member's

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definition of failure, I would have thought coming from the Ulster

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Unionist party she would have had a better definition of failure.

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First tonight, the news that Mary McArdle is stepping down as special

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advisor to the culture minister. Her appointment led to a furious

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political row when it was revealed she was involved in the IRA murder

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of Mary Travers in 1984, who was shot in the back leaving mass with

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her father the magistrate Tom Travers. With necessity is our

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political editor. This very much came out of the blue this evening,

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what more can you tell is? Certainly it was a bit of a

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surprise. This appointment of Mary McArdle caused great controversy.

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This was one of the most notorious murders of the Troubles. And also

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Mary Travers' family was so vocal that the appointment added to their

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pain, particularly her sister Ann. Tonight Ann has sent out a message

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that she thrilled with her stepping down from the post. Sinn Fein for

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their part say that this is no kind of response to the press furore

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that there was last year. Instead they say it's part of a routine

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rotation of people through posts. We think that Mary McArdle is

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working now in the political department of the party. What about

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the Ulster Unionist Party race then? Only one confirmed candidate,

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but speculation about others. I think it will hot up. John

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McCallister came out of the traps today, announcing himself as the

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Standard Bearer for the liberal progressive wing of the party. He

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said his first act as party leader would be to pull the party

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unionists out of the executive, change the equation and form the

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opposition. Basil McCrea, who is closely associated with John

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McCallister made it clear he would back the Deputy Leader rather than

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standing against him. This leaves however the potential for other

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contenders. We would expect the regional development minister Danny

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Kennedy to probably confirm his candidacy tomorrow and Mike Nesbit

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to follow suit maybe on Thursday. Thanks very much.

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Caral NiChuilin now and part of her brief includes sport a topic which

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featured at Question Time. She was asked about the decline in adult

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participation, which she acknowledged before giving good

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news. On a more positive note a report published by my department

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on the website this morning indicates that 97% of young people

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surveyed in 2010 as part a young person's behaviour and attitude

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survey said that they have participated in sport or physical

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activity in seven days prior to the survey. I thank the minister for

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her answer, but giving that bridging the gap report highlights

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that tens of thousands of people weekly cannot take part in activity

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due it a lack of facilities, what action will the minister take to

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improve this situation? Well, I think, I mean I have seen aspects

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of that report and many others. Not only was a lack of facilities

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expressed as an issue, but even access to facilities was seen as a

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problem. The economic decline was seen as a barrier for people

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involved in sport and physical activity. I know some of the local

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governments and I've been in discussion was Belfast, looking at

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outside facilities, bringing in gyms from the outside and how that

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works. And with the Department of Education and others we -- how we

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increase physical activity. That's ongoing. I hear what the member has

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to say and I share those concerns. Onto community relations an the

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minister was asked how sport can reach out across divides.

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strategy recognises that a well organised sport can make a

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significant contribution to community relations. It commits

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government to promote cohesion through sport in the context of a

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better future and contains actions to help also achieve this. These

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include actions to encourage underrepresented groups to

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participate in sport and provision of space for sport that promote

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community integration. These sports matters support the themes in the

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emerging programme for government. Sports matters also supports the

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delivery of other PFG priorities including a growing and sustainable

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economy and tackling disadvantage in priority two. Mr Deputy Speaker,

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sport as a means of improving community relation sz part of the

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wider government agenda and part of the minister's oversight of her

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department. Can I ask the minister does the naming of grounds after

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people convicted in the courts make a positive or negative contribution

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to community relations? I think the question that the member has raised

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has no bearing on the work that the department's undergone. And I

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would... And I would... Well I'm only a... We No Speak Americano

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order please. I think members -- speaker: I think members know you

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have to make remarks through the chair. There's no other way to do

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it. John O 'dowd next. People asked about possible school closures.

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Could the minister clarify that given the viability aud its were

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conducted against the sustainable schools try tiara, many would see

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them as a thinly veiled threat to our schools. Would the minister

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accept that in fact he is effectively put a closure sign on

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many schools, particularly those inural areas? The threat in this

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debate is not to schools but to education. I viability has been

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used in regards three of sustainable schools criteria. No

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action will be taken against any schools based on those criteria

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alone. After closer examination, under the sustainable schools

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policy which has six criteria, which the school is measured

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against. However no-one in this House should choose to ignore the

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findings of the viability audit. It is clear that a number of schools

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are evidencing underattainment levels, which everyone should be

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concerned about. Action needs to be taken in those schools. If after

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the full process has been went through, including the development

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proposal, which includes a two- month consultation process, if the

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right thing to do is close the school, to protect the educational

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attainment of young people, then that's the action that will be

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carried out. I thank the minister for his

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response. Would he acknowledge that there's little new material that's

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come out of the viability audit and it continues to list a high number

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of schools, 84% of post primary schools and as stressed and this is

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causing unnecessary stress to communities, to school staff and to

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parents as pupils themselves? significant amount of the

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information before us has been collated in a central point now.

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It's now open to public examination. And is the member seriously

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suggesting that the general public are of such a nervous disposition

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they can't handle this information? Surely would the minister not agree

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he has created a difficult situation given the fact that he

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didn't, nor his department use criteria that was comparable, ie,

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in terms of non-selective schools he used a bench mark of 25%, which

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was lower than the Northern Ireland average, based on five GCSEs, A

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star to C. He used a bench mark for grammar schools of 85%, which was

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above the Northern Ireland average, based on seven GCSEs and the data

:09:36.:09:46.
:09:46.:09:49.

for educational attainment was 8, 9, 9, 10, so it's out of date.

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data for 10/11 has not been verified yet. If I used this

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information I would be accused of using data that was not verified.

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In regards to how the figures were gathered, this was an agreement

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with the board of CCMS. And why is grammars on a higher level than

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secondary schools? They tell us their academic ability outstrips

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all other sectors. Now 2012 is proving to be the

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biggest year ever for sport in the UK generally and in Northern

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Ireland in particular. With the Olympics and Paralympics in London,

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bringing a number of teams here for pre-Games training, the Irish Open

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coming to Portrush and our golfers leading the world, sport has been

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dominating the front pages for all the best reasons. With me now is

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chair of sport NI, Dominic Walsh. It's great to say positive things.

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The spinnoff for the economy is potentially fantastic. It's a

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really exciting year, the Olympics, Paralympics. We have had a number

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of ef vents and confirmation that pre-Games training camps. This will

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be an varietying times fro vied inspiration for local athletes into

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the future. Whu mention golf, how wonderful to see Rory McIlroy

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leading the world. Brilliant time for Northern Ireland. There is an

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announcement tomorrow for more good news. What can you tell us? There

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will be an announcement tomorrow, more good news leading no the pre-

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Games training camps. We have the Chinese gymnasts confirmed. Olympic

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Gold Medal is coming. The Australian boxers are going to be

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sparring and helping local boxers as they get ready to compete. We

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have the Paralympics Ireland here and more to come. We've had events

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already hosted here, where we've had qualifying events for badminton.

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We've had the world championships, table tennis, where we've had Spain,

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Team GB and Northern Ireland, a big boost for the competitors, to get

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ready for competing and trying to qualify for the Olympics. It's

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exciting time. It is a turn around though. We had a lot of negativity

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at the time not least from your organisation about the lack of

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teams that were going to come here and the disaster that has been the

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swimming pool in Bangor. It hasn't lived up to all the expectations

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that we had hoped for when it was announced. Looking back at, that

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timing was everything on that. At the time we were negotiating with

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countries we would have loved to have said, yes we have the

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Australian boxing team. We knew that we were 99% of that, but we

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couldn't announce until we had the ink on the paper. It was

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frustrating as the chair of sport Northern Ireland to say nothing.

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But a lot of hard work had been done. A lot of investment and time

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and effort from the local volunteers in sport, whether it be

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boxing, athletics, the Paralympics, disability sport Northern Ireland,

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a lot of hard work was done. It was a wee bit unfair at the time. We

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would have loved to have said. But we couldn't because the negotiation

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waser in a delicate position. will come back to that later.

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Growing the economy is the executive's number one priority. A

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tough task in these tough times. The minister responsible brought

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her economic strategy to the chamber earlier and with such an

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uncertain outlook, the few MLAs who dared criticise her plans were put

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in their place. We start as Arlene Foster outlines plans to generate

:13:20.:13:29.
:13:30.:13:29.

We're committed to increase manufacturing exports. We have

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introduced a new and stretching target to increase the value of

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manufacturing exports to the emerging economies by 60% by 2014.

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We have a new commitment around youth unemployment, which aims to

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deliver 6,000 work experience and training opportunities for young

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people by 2015. And given the tourism potential, we have upped

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our targets to increase visitor numbers by 4.2 million and 676

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million. On finance, I accept this remains a key challenge for many

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businesses throughout Northern Ireland and having a local banking

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sctor that meets the needs of consumers and businesses and

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provides lending on a competitive basis is vital to economic recovery.

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There are two ways to approach the figures. Given there are around

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61,500 people claiming unemployment benefit, we're saying you have less

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than one in two chance of getting a job and I feel this is not good

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enough. Secondly, given the failure of Invest NI and handing back �39

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million, Haswell as the failure of jobs fund, changes must occur if

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we're to meet the targets and I understand the Federation of Small

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Businesses considers this target to be an aspirational one. The Ulster

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unionist Party will take a pragmatic approach and support and

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scrutinyise to ensure delivery. is lacking in proposals for all

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Ireland co-operation. I don't make that as a political point. One

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example which should not present a political difficulty for anyone in

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this house, is that right around the globe there is huge duplication

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and competition between invest and NIDA in term of where they locate

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offices. With greater integration, huge sums could be saved. Despite

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our criticisms, we see this as a good attempt at an economic

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strategy. This is probably because those who knew something about the

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economy were given their head and the document was protected for more

:15:53.:16:00.

cynical influences at the centre. If we give OFDFSs first draft of

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the CSI one out of ten and the programme for Government three out

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of ten, the strategies is a got six out of ten. Inners NI was said to

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be a failure. -- invest. Despite the fact that Invest Northern

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Ireland secured almost �2.6 billion in investment commitment, promoted

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15,565 new jobs. Safeguard 5,329 existing job, supported 8,267 new

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local business start between 2007 and 2009. They hit every single one

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of their targets. Now, if that is the member's definition of failure,

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I would have thought coming from the Ulster Unionist Party she would

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have had a better definition of failure. But I see that as the

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definition of success. You were saying, Dominic about not being

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able to say all you know on occasions. We have had this

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development that the culture minister has writ on the

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organisations, inclooding yours, asking them to contacts you when

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media organisation contact you, so there are no surprises. How do you

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feel about that? Well I have been away on business for two days. And

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I came back and got a chance to touch on that on the road from the

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airport. We are an arm's length body and we have a level of

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independence, but we work with the department and the minister and by

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working with them, that for sport is thousand team is most effective

:17:53.:17:58.

-- how the team is most effective. Does it surprise you, some people

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have said it amounts to the thought police? I wouldn't quite say that.

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Working with the minister is fine. But we are independent and the

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minister respects our independence and we have kept our own counsel

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and said what needs to be said from time to time. As you would know.

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The health minister's attempts to make peace with community

:18:20.:18:24.

pharmacists have been rebuffed. Today Edwin Poots announced a

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financial package of �8 million which would have reimbursed them

:18:30.:18:36.

for some money deconducted last year. Although part of rise is

:18:36.:18:39.

about how much has been detubgtd. Here is what the minister said.

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the renumeration of pharmacists, its has been necessary to move

:18:43.:18:48.

quickly, as only a few weeks remain in this financial year. Up to this

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points, some 8.5 million has been provided through the arrangements

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that were put in place. I'm announcing that the release to

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community pharmacies 06 a further �8 million. This fund will support

:19:07.:19:13.

new services, improve premise and support staffing. Particularly in

:19:13.:19:18.

depriefrd areas. This represents a substantial package for businesses

:19:18.:19:27.

in Northern Ireland. This �8 million investment will bring the

:19:27.:19:34.

total to be provided to contractors for renumeration and aspect of

:19:34.:19:40.

reimbursements to �91.5 million A further 10% more than the 83

:19:40.:19:44.

million provided to date. The investment includes an additional

:19:44.:19:49.

�4 million, in recognition of concerns raised in respect of

:19:49.:19:53.

vulnerability of pharmacies located in rural and socially deprived

:19:54.:20:03.

areas. I have been mindful of the committee and MLAs' concerns about

:20:03.:20:09.

helping depriefrd communities. guest has shob a should be an --

:20:09.:20:14.

has shown an interest in this. Many people were not pleased with the

:20:14.:20:19.

minister. He is trying. They have been through two judicial reknews

:20:19.:20:24.

and he has offered �8 million and I think that is taking something from

:20:24.:20:29.

him to do that. I think by the fact now, I don't think he realises

:20:29.:20:34.

himself that it was enough and that is maybe illustrated by the fact he

:20:34.:20:40.

now wants a survey to take place and nor negotiations to go on. The

:20:40.:20:46.

pharmacists can go into the negotiations with �le - �8 million

:20:46.:20:50.

in their pocket. But I think they will be looking for more. The whole

:20:50.:20:56.

issue is a massive issue. This is not just about the boots, the big

:20:56.:21:02.

pharmacies, but about my own village pharmacy and others, and

:21:02.:21:07.

they have been, they have had too much taken from them. And these,

:21:07.:21:11.

we're talking about the pharmacy side, not just the perfumes and

:21:11.:21:14.

other things they would sell in their shops. And I think what you

:21:14.:21:18.

have got to put that together is that now we can see that there are

:21:18.:21:22.

going to be new reforms, new changes into the health service,

:21:22.:21:27.

whereby you know patients of all kinds, most of it is going to have

:21:27.:21:32.

to be done in a communities. The hospitals will be made smaller and

:21:32.:21:37.

are attracted to certain degrees of patient care. These can be woven

:21:37.:21:40.

together. The pharmacys are in a strong position and there is a

:21:40.:21:44.

sense of where the minister is on this and I wouldn't want to be

:21:44.:21:47.

criticising him too harshly until we see the end of the negotiations.

:21:47.:21:51.

He does have a point, that community pharmacist should be

:21:52.:21:57.

doing more than just dispensing drugs? Well, I mean that is what he

:21:57.:22:04.

is taking away from them. The fact is that do do a lots more. What

:22:04.:22:08.

concerns me about the survey is it will look into their profits. I

:22:08.:22:14.

think business people, no matter who they are, pharmacists do a good

:22:14.:22:18.

community business, they will look at this and sai, hang on, who do

:22:18.:22:25.

you think you looking into our profits. It is almost implicit that

:22:25.:22:28.

somehow, maybe they're cheating here or not earning, not declaring

:22:28.:22:33.

the profits they're earning, I have talked to many pharmacists and they

:22:33.:22:38.

like many retailers, like many in business, are having difficulties.

:22:38.:22:43.

If they were making these profits, they would declare them. More on

:22:43.:22:47.

that I'm sure. While you're here, people will know what has happened

:22:48.:22:53.

with you with the Ulster unionist Party, there is a leadership race

:22:53.:22:56.

ffplts Tom el yachts had not disciplined you in the way he did,

:22:56.:23:02.

do you think he would still be leader? -- Thame Elliott. More than

:23:02.:23:08.

likely. I was a strong support of Tom's and who is to say what would

:23:08.:23:13.

have happened? One doesn't know. I would haven't let any party leader

:23:14.:23:18.

get into the trouble he a allowed himself to get in and to take the

:23:18.:23:24.

bad advice he was taking. What about the Sinn Fein specialist

:23:24.:23:28.

advisor, Mary McArdsle and the announcement she will move to

:23:28.:23:33.

another post in Sinn Fein? That is Sinn Fein's business. They made the

:23:33.:23:37.

decision and they have made the decision originally and now changed

:23:37.:23:43.

it. That is their business. I have enough to be worrying about within

:23:43.:23:49.

the Ulster union I remember. Could I say if I may, I heard Dominic

:23:49.:23:53.

talking about the special year of the Olympics, for unionism it is a

:23:53.:23:58.

special year. This is a hundred years since the signing of the

:23:58.:24:02.

covenant and it will be a massive year for union I remember as parts

:24:02.:24:08.

of those sell Gration braigss. There is a chance -- of these

:24:08.:24:11.

celebrations. There is a chance to look at how we went wrong and where

:24:11.:24:16.

we can put it right. Can you see yourself going back into the

:24:16.:24:20.

Assembly group under a new leader? I still have the disciplinary

:24:20.:24:24.

matter, until that is resolved, I'm not going anywhere. But I do want

:24:24.:24:28.

it resolved. Thank you. The First Minister and deputy First Minister

:24:28.:24:32.

had to answer tough questions today and for a change it wasn't in the

:24:32.:24:36.

chamber. Pupils from two schools were taking part in the BBC's

:24:36.:24:39.

school report project, where young people get the chance to try their

:24:39.:24:45.

hand at reporting. They told me what they had learned. It was lard

:24:45.:24:49.

to get the questions out of politician and they're good at

:24:49.:24:56.

skipping out of points. -- hard to get. What were the interviews like?

:24:56.:25:01.

Well the interview with Martin that we had first, a lot, he didn't know

:25:01.:25:08.

the questions. We got interesting answers from him. We found the

:25:08.:25:14.

answers were tkprifrpbt what Peter gave. Asked should grammar school

:25:14.:25:18.

become comprehensive and what are you doing to prevent bullying. They

:25:18.:25:24.

were both similar answers. And they both said that bullying is an issue

:25:24.:25:29.

that should, the school should address and not tolerate. Were you

:25:30.:25:35.

nervous? Very nervous. Did they put you at your ease? Or were you there

:25:35.:25:39.

to ask tough questions. In there to ask tough questions, but they did

:25:39.:25:43.

put me at my ease. I thought they were nice people and took our

:25:43.:25:49.

questions very well. I thought that their response was clear and

:25:49.:25:53.

concise and quite accurate. they answer your questions?

:25:53.:25:58.

they did. There were a few circumstances where other people

:25:58.:26:02.

asked questions, or other reporters asked questions and they circled

:26:02.:26:07.

their way around it and didn't answer it that well. But I think

:26:07.:26:13.

they answered my questions, yes. There was interviews will be on air

:26:13.:26:21.

and online on Thursday and you can get more on the web-site. Well

:26:21.:26:26.

normally now we hear from one of our political correspondents. But

:26:26.:26:29.

their Scottish counter part was in town and I caught up with him to

:26:29.:26:33.

ask him what he makes of store months compared to the Scottish

:26:33.:26:38.

Parliament. The first thing that strikes you is the architects churl

:26:38.:26:43.

difference. The Scottish Parliament is staggeringly lrm challenging

:26:43.:26:47.

modern. Here you have a statement of a different kind. Reflecting a

:26:47.:26:52.

different era and the politics of time when it was built. And then

:26:52.:26:58.

what strikes me is perhaps the balance between media and members,

:26:58.:27:06.

we have braps a bit more latitude in the Scottish Parliament to

:27:06.:27:11.

wander around and engage with members. The third one is the

:27:11.:27:16.

completely different nature of the politics here. I found an economic

:27:16.:27:22.

debates going on, where members of the governing kogs coalition are

:27:22.:27:26.

dissenting from that 5 yet remain member of Government. That is the

:27:26.:27:29.

core nature of Northern Ireland politics. That it is betore stay

:27:29.:27:34.

together and keep the disputes -- better to stay together and keep

:27:34.:27:39.

the structure. But it is unthinkable in the sparplts that

:27:39.:27:43.

somebody could disputes' sporplt that somebody could disputes the --

:27:43.:27:48.

Scottish Parliament that somebody could dispute the budgets. But the

:27:48.:27:54.

politic os of devolution are very different. And change as well now

:27:54.:27:59.

you have a busy few years coming up with the debate over independence.

:27:59.:28:05.

The issue of rofr dumb is -- of a referendum is arising. We're

:28:05.:28:12.

debating the nature of the question, the date and a choice there will be.

:28:12.:28:15.

The people of Scotland will determine whether they wish to

:28:15.:28:18.

remain within the union as they have done for more than 3 hundred

:28:18.:28:27.

47 years -- 300 years or go down the road for independence. The

:28:27.:28:32.

debate will sutsle as to the nature of the question. The word agree, is

:28:32.:28:37.

it loaded. Or should we say welcome or for or against. The words will

:28:37.:28:42.

be pourdz over. But behinds it is a core choice for the people, whether

:28:42.:28:47.

they choose the union or independence. It is in the hands of

:28:47.:28:51.

the people, the politicians can cajole and seek to persuade, but

:28:51.:28:57.

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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