13/03/2012 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome. The Cheltenham Festival has begun with a flourish,


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


McCallister so far confirmed in the Ulster Unionist leadership battle.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


her father the magistrate Tom Travers. With necessity is our


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


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


surprise. This appointment of Mary McArdle caused great controversy.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


opposition. Basil McCrea, who is closely associated with John


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


standing against him. This leaves however the potential for other


contenders. We would expect the regional development minister Danny


Kennedy to probably confirm his candidacy tomorrow and Mike Nesbit


to follow suit maybe on Thursday. Thanks very much.


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


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


participation, which she acknowledged before giving good


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


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


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


survey said that they have participated in sport or physical


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


her answer, but giving that bridging the gap report highlights


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


minister was asked how sport can reach out across divides.


strategy recognises that a well organised sport can make a


significant contribution to community relations. It commits


government to promote cohesion through sport in the context of a


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


include actions to encourage underrepresented groups to


participate in sport and provision of space for sport that promote


community integration. These sports matters support the themes in the


emerging programme for government. Sports matters also supports the


delivery of other PFG priorities including a growing and sustainable


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


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


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


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


people convicted in the courts make a positive or negative contribution


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


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


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


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


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


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


Could the minister clarify that given the viability aud its were


conducted against the sustainable schools try tiara, many would see


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


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


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


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


used in regards three of sustainable schools criteria. No


action will be taken against any schools based on those criteria


alone. After closer examination, under the sustainable schools


policy which has six criteria, which the school is measured


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


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


are evidencing underattainment levels, which everyone should be


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


the full process has been went through, including the development


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


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


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


carried out. I thank the minister for his


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


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


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


causing unnecessary stress to communities, to school staff and to


parents as pupils themselves? significant amount of the


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


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


suggesting that the general public are of such a nervous disposition


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


he has created a difficult situation given the fact that he


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


secondary schools? They tell us their academic ability outstrips


all other sectors. Now 2012 is proving to be the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


be an varietying times fro vied inspiration for local athletes into


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


tough task in these tough times. The minister responsible brought


her economic strategy to the chamber earlier and with such an


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


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


We're committed to increase manufacturing exports. We have


introduced a new and stretching target to increase the value of


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


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


deliver 6,000 work experience and training opportunities for young


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


our targets to increase visitor numbers by 4.2 million and 676


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


businesses throughout Northern Ireland and having a local banking


sctor that meets the needs of consumers and businesses and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


unionist Party will take a pragmatic approach and support and


scrutinyise to ensure delivery. is lacking in proposals for all


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


example which should not present a political difficulty for anyone in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ireland secured almost �2.6 billion in investment commitment, promoted


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


development that the culture minister has writ on the


organisations, inclooding yours, asking them to contacts you when


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


minister respects our independence and we have kept our own counsel


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


The health minister's attempts to make peace with community


pharmacists have been rebuffed. Today Edwin Poots announced a


financial package of �8 million which would have reimbursed them


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


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


the renumeration of pharmacists, its has been necessary to move


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


points, some 8.5 million has been provided through the arrangements


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


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


new services, improve premise and support staffing. Particularly in


depriefrd areas. This represents a substantial package for businesses


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


total to be provided to contractors for renumeration and aspect of


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


million provided to date. The investment includes an additional


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


vulnerability of pharmacies located in rural and socially deprived


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


He does have a point, that community pharmacist should be


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


advisor, Mary McArdsle and the announcement she will move to


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


decision and they have made the decision originally and now changed


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


answers were tkprifrpbt what Peter gave. Asked should grammar school


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


concise and quite accurate. they answer your questions?


they did. There were a few circumstances where other people


asked questions, or other reporters asked questions and they circled


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


difference. The Scottish Parliament is staggeringly lrm challenging


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the structure. But it is unthinkable in the sparplts that


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


Scottish Parliament that somebody could dispute the budgets. But the


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


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


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


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


The people of Scotland will determine whether they wish to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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