13/05/2013 Stormont Today


A 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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in the next half hour: Shared future but no shared decision making.


Reaction to the first and deputy First Minister's statements last


week continued. Is there nothing more you can do to stem the contempt


contemptible so-what attitude to this House? With welfare cuts, the


Assembly debated child poverty. On this too consensus remained elusive.


That study also said clearly, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we face a sharp


increase in child poverty in Northern Ireland, a sharp increase.


The evidence shows that relative child poverty is falling in Northern


Ireland. And here to give his thoughts on that and much more is


the details -- The Detail Steven McCaffery.


First tonight, we learned over the weekend that President Obama will


stop off in Belfast en route to the G8. He tweeted today about how much


he's looking forward to his visit. What will he make of our leaders


when he gets here? One man who isn't too impressed with him is Jim


Allister. I appreciate that this is a matter over which, at best, you


probably have influence rather than control, but last week, again, we


had a classic illustration of the executive ministers, this time the


First Minister and the deputy First Minister, choosing to make a


statement on a criticalically, what they called a critical issue, not to


this House, but to the public media. Indeed no sign of any intent to come


to this House at all today about that matter. Is there nothing more


you can do to stem the contemptible so-what attitude to this House?


THE SPEAKER: Let me say to the member, I have some sympathy for the


point of order that the member has raised. I know the member has an


urgent question to the business at the moment which I haven't taken a


decision on. My clear understanding is that the first and deputy First


Minister is coming to the House tomorrow to make a statement. So


this is why I haven't made my decision on the question that you


have raised. If that is not the case, I certainly will be taking the


members question and it is an issue. I continually encourage ministers to


come to the House here and I think on urgent business and important


business they should be coming to this House. I have some sympathy


with the member. I'm joined by Steven McCaffery from


Dietrich-Smith. We heard -- The Detail. We heard the speak


sympathising that the ministers might come to the House with a


statement on that. Ittuals quite a tough line. It was more than a


passing remark. He spoke at length about how he seems concerned about


the issue. As Jim Allister said it seemed to reach back to the friction


we saw on the View where John O'Dowd got into trouble for the so-what


comment. I think the difficulty for the larger parties is that after the


announcement that they made around a shared future, they now have to set


about trying to ensure all the parties play ball with their plan


for a working party to consider the toughest issues- the flags, parades


and other issues such as dealing with the past. I think while they're


perhaps used to this tension, the larger parties might wouldn't to


invest some time in trying to calm the situation down. Maybe that's


part of what tomorrow's appearance is about. It's interesting that the


other main parties aren't happy then, obviously, others, some of the


smaller parties, Jim Allister was the one making the point there, are


also not happy. I think part of the reason why we didn't see any of


these measures announced earlier over the last year is because there


was a fear that if there were holes in the package it would be pick add


part and quite angrily by parties outside the DUP and Sinn Fein. It's


hard to resist the impression that now the G8 is on its way we have to


fill that void in some shape or form and the larger parties have had to


say look, we have to push ahead. What about the G8? President Obama


we now know coming to Belfast on this visit. He's not been here


before. We don't know precisely when or where. Yeah, as I say, there's


some reference to the fact that his arrival perhaps has some influence


over the talks between the larger parties at Stormont. Setting that


aside, it will be interesting to see him at a public level in terms of


interaction with the public. We have had great scenes in the past with


the Clintons. It will be nice to find out a bit more about that and I


wonder will we get a chance to have the big picture interface with the


public. We had these figures today suggesting the benefit to the


Northern Ireland economy of the G8 could be in and around the figure of


�40 million. Does that stack up for you? Some of the figures were based


on actual facts such as hotel rooms taking up. You tend to come at these


things with scepticism. What will be key will be how the summer goes


there after G8 in terms of what benefit in tourism we can reap from


it. We'll talk to you later in the programme. For now, thank you very


much. Plans for an investment conference in the wake of the G8


summit are already under way. It will be the second such conference


here. The first was in 2008. How successful was that event? Trevor


Lunn wanted to know when he addressed the Enterprise Minister


Arlene Foster during Question Time. The most notable achievement in


terms of investment arising from the 2008 conference was at nounsment by


NYSE October 2009 promoting an additional 325 jobs in addition to


securing first-time advise tights Northern Ireland, the USNI


conference provided the opportunity to advance or accelerate a number of


projects already in the pipeline prior to the event, for example


projects involving Bombardier, Bae aerospace. The sales team continued


to develop key accounts as a result of the May 2008 and October 2010


conferences. I thank the minister for her answers so far. Could I ask


the minister how the outcomes compare perhaps with the expectation


or the targets set in 2008? And how the lessons learned over those five


years might inform the next USNI conference? Of course, when we had


our first conference that was in May 2008 and then the global, worldwide


recession kicked in around October, November 2008. I think the fact that


we made the progress that we did make was very substantial and


indeed, something that we should be proud of. Little did we know at that


time that was going to be the case. We have progressed as I have


indicated a number of projects that were in the pipeline, that may have


taken longer. It's always difficult to assess those things, how much


longer would they have taken had we not have had the USNI investment


conference. I think we can safely say it had a major impact on


bringing attention to Northern Ireland at that particular time and


indeed providing us with a platform to talk about all of the things that


we do intend to talk about when the G8 comes to here in June of this


year. That is the fact that it's a good place to do business. Ties good


place to work and it's a good place to visit. We hope that we get those


messages across. Would the minister care to expand, she touched upon it


herself, the G8 visit. There has been some rumours that the executive


will try to show case the north and try to use that to piggy back for


further economic investment here. Cot minister advise as to what


organisation has been put in place to facilitate that, please? I can


confirm to the chair that it's more than a rumour. It's absolutely fact


that we're going to use the G8 summit to give us a platform because


there will be global attention on our little part of the world between


the 17th and 18th and indeed before that, because of course a lot of the


journalists and tell gagss will have arrived before that and indeed,


we've had many delegations from the countries involved to send sending


out their ambassadors to see what's it all about in Northern Ireland and


indeed in county Fermanagh. My own department, the executive


information service, the Tourist Board, the Northern Ireland office,


Number Ten and other partners including Fermanagh District Council


have been developing proposals to Max miles the opportunity looking at


short-term and indeed longer-term benefits and in particular, to raise


the profile of Northern Ireland to encourage investment and to build


trade links, to create awareness, to change perceptions, to drive visitor


numbers and to stimulate that all important measure of sifb pride. If


I can say to the chair of my committee, it is all about


partnership and working together to make the most out of this huge


event. We've seen the way in which we work together over a short period


of time in the run up to the Irish Open last year. The announcement was


made in January, the avent happened in June. Through partnership working


we made the most out of it. I hope that's what happens in Fermanagh in


June this year Touchlite Arlene Foster. There are many issues


that we know divide the Assembly. Child poverty is one you might


expect to unite everybody. Not so. Today an SDLP motion called for


child poverty legislation specific to Northern Ireland was defeated.


The very sad fact is that we have failed to address the issues of


child poverty and the recent figures do differ and I do accept that. The


recent figures coming from ute Institute of Fiscal Studies say that


there's 26%, 26. 3% of children in Northern Ireland living in relative


poverty. That's compared to 20. 5% in the UK. Children living in


absolute poverty is 28. 5% compared with 23. 1% in the UK. That study


also said clearly Mr Deputy Speaker, that we face a sharp increase in


child poverty in Northern Ireland, a sharp increase. I think that's


something that we need to be very, very concerned about. I rise on


behalf of our party not to support the motion. We are not convinced


that the bringing forward another Child Poverty Act will make a


difference. I have to say I'm somewhat disappointment that the


proposers of the motion have not included recognition of the many


excellent initiatives led by the first and deputy First Ministers to


tackle child poverty. I thank the member for giving way. A number of


contributors have made mention of the initiatives, perhaps he's


intending to illustrate some of those? If not, perhaps he will.


indeed because I know the Opposition from your side of the House will not


do that. So, I have to say that there have already been a number of


programmes which have benefitted disadvantaged families. For example,


the freezing of water rates, free prescriptions, warm home scheme, the


free school meals scheme, the department for social development


has also invested heavily in neighbourhood renewal areas. Deical


continues to invest in sports facilities, all of which helps to


tackle the systemic issues which lead to child poverty. The The tenor


of the debate has been very positive with the acceptance of one attempt


to score political points. We're still listening to cackling from the


side here. I would say that all the parties, I believe, are committed to


eradicating child poverty. We're not trying to moat a target. The target


is total eradication. I note in your contribution he didn't attempt to


address my question in what has OFM/DFM done? Is that cackling I


hear, Mr Deputy Speaker? Or just CAC? The current delay by the social


development minister in bringing the bill for consideration stage, as


well as the inability so far to in any way alter the bill to be


Northern Ireland specific does not fill me with confidence that the


needs of children in poverty are adequately being taken into account.


I think the question to ask is are the measures we take effective? Mr


Sprat is reasonable to outline the things that the executive is doing


and has been done. A number of the things he outlined he outlined what


are and have been independently judged to be regressive measures.


The evidence shows that relative child poverty is falling in Northern


Ireland. However, we understand very much understand how difficult it can


be for those who are living in poverty. I can assure the House that


the targets contained within the Child Poverty Act are very


challenging, with the aim of achieving the elimination of child


poverty. What we now have deputy Speaker is a clear strategy endorsed


by all executive ministers, we have clear arrangements in place to


develop measures of departmental impact and we are delivering


specific programmes which will make a meaningful difference, both to the


immediate and to the longer term needs of the children and young


people. It is about improving their lives not changing statistics. It's


what we are focussed on. I therefore urge members on all sides of the


House to oppose the motion. With me now is one of the proposers


of that motion, Delores Kelly. Thank you for joining us. Were you


surprised there was so much division in the House on this today? Yes, we


didn't anticipate a division vote. We both Sinn Fein and the DUP would


have no objection to set tarring totes eradicate child poverty that


were Northern Ireland specific. fact it was two to one against your


motion. 56 members voted against. Mostly Sinn Fein and the DUP and 28


in favour. We hoping to hold the executive to account in eradication


of child poverty. It looks as though, yet again, Sinn Fein and the


DUP don't wish to be held to account by this Assembly nor by any other


organisation. Need to bring the motion forward? I suppose that's


maybe part of the what the issue is today. There are targets, Jonathan


Bell said relative child poverty in Northern Ireland is falling. Prance


the view from the other side of the House is that today's discussion


wasn't necessary. I would dispute that. I mean, the welfare reform


agenda is only getting under way. There's some 600 million to be taken


out annually out of the Northern Ireland disposable income avail --


availability to families. The Scottish Assembly has introduced a


family fund which we would argue that the minister should look at in


relation to the social protection fund. The other issue is that, we


saw from some of the pictures in the previous report, there weren't many


people in the chamber for much of the discussion. Were you surprised


at that? Yes, though I do know some members said they were watching the


debate from their offices. There seems to be a general malaise around


the place where some members no longer think it worth their while to


come into the chamber. At the end of the day, it seems as if Assmebly


Members' views don't count. I was making the point during the debate


that it's the function of the Assembly to hold the executive to


account. Some members don't get that. We have a malaise amongst


MLAs. It appears to be the case.The Institute for Fiscal Studies says


benefit reforms will have a disproportionate effect here.


There's an argument which Margaret Richie had made in the past in


relation to welfare reform. The conflict is a huge contributor to


the deprivation in many of the areas that continue to suffer


post-conflict. You have to say if MLAs can't get together and agree on


an issue like child poverty and what to do about, it you wouldn't hold


out much hope for agreement on too much else. Well it hasn't been very


good, we're into the third year of this term and Peter Robinson said to


be judged on delivery in this term. It hasn't been optimistic thus far.


One of the things that they have failed to agree on but which would


be a key contributor to tackling child poverty would be a child care


strategy. Yet there's no date for a publication of such a strategy.


Where does this leave us on the wider issue after agreement between


the parties on the way forward? We had this pretty testy discussion


towards the end of the week about a shared future, driven by the two


main parties, much toot nouns of the three other main parties. Were you


surprised by that? Were you surprised by Jonathan Bell and John


O'Dowd on Thursday night an the attitude they adopted? There's a


level of arrogance between the two parties which is breath taking. I


suppose we shouldn't be too surprised whenever you said it in


the context wherever the Justice Minister was appointed and that was


denied it a Nationalist. At that time it was the then junior minister


replied to one of my colleagues" Get used to it." I think the so-what


comment is a further extension of that. Neither Sinn Fein or the DUP


seem to be living up to the aspirations and intention of the


Good Friday agreement which was around inclusive government. Thank


you very much for joining us on the programme tonight.


Now it's that time of year, exam time, and as many A-level students


prepare for the big tests, today the Minister for Employment and Learning


was quizzed on higher education from university places to funding and a


suggested chill factor for Protestants at some campuses here.


would stress eligibility for European Union tuition fee status at


Scottish universities is for the higher education in Scotland. The


Scottish Government has determined it is the responsibility of each


Scottish university to make a decision on a student's eligibility


for the European Union rate of tuition fees by applying residency


guidelines produced by the Scottish Government. Prior to this


presentation of an Irish passport was sufficient for Northern Ireland


domiciled student to be eligible for European Union fee status in


Scotland. From the academic year 2013/14 the Scottish universities


will independently seek to establish whether an applicant has exercised a


right of residence elsewhere in the European Economic Area. Can I ask


what impact the decision to freeze tuition fees in Northern Ireland has


had on university applications? have seen that our decision in


Northern Ireland to freeze tuition fees for our local students has had


a beneficial impact. The number of applications to local universities


has been more or less maintained while applications elsewhere, within


these islands, have seemed to drop off. But by some extent now, those


are the initial figures and in the medium term we may see a


stabilisation in terms of application figures, but the


evidence to date would suggest that our decision locally has certainly


made a major impact in terms of people's decision to go on to higher


education. There are genuine concerns amongst the Unionist


students about equality of opportunity. One example being the


display of Irish language signage within the Coleraine University


students union. Account minister outline his views on this and what


actions he would take to address the issue? Can I first of all say that I


am opposed to any actions in any of our colleges or universities that


would create a chill factor. That said, you do not automatically jump


to the conclusion that the erection of an Irish language sign in a


students union would lead to that conclusion being reached. Those


matters are of course for the universities an the students union


to address themselves, but I do want to stress the point. There is no


hard, solid evidence of a chill factor within our universities.


There's something -- they're something we should be proud of in


that in this still divided society our universities and colleges offer


a genuine, integrated form of education. We should celebrate that


rather than trying to undermine it by whipping up tensions in the


system wherever they don't actually exist. Can I ask the minister what


steps is he now going to take to stop these rumours that are doing a


disservice to those people from the Protestant community who may be put


off bit rumours constantly peddled by members opposite? I think it's


really incumbent on all of us, I include myself in that, to talk up


the, how our universities are genuine, shared and integrated


facilities and to encourage people from all backgrounds that they can


attend such institutions without any fear for their safety or indeed, for


their identity being disrespected. It is important that in saying that


That we recognise that there is an issue of under representation of


young Protestant males from areas of deprivation. That under


representation is not based around any perseived chill factor in the


institutions. That is a feature of lack of attainment and aspiration.


That's something that the widening access strategy is seeking to


address. Today's sitting had to be extended


into the early evening after business ran more than an hour late.


The final motion up for discussion concerned energy costs. It was


proposed by the DUP and praised two of the party's ministers, Arlene


Foster and Sammy Wilson. Here's the proposer.


The first line of this motion recognises that energy costs are of


concern to business and consumers and that certainly is the drive


behind this motion here before us today in this House. First of all,


can I commend the minister and of course her colleague the minister


for finance and personnel for delivering on a result on the carbon


price floor. It will have not been lost to this House that both these


ministers indeed the ministers, but I think credit should be given where


credit is due. Up to 42% of households are in fuel poverty. And


particularly as we witness the weather conditions as they are at


the moment, that is creating more and more difficulties, not just for


people who are on income-based benefits. This is an important


point. But many people who are on lower income and are working,


they're the ones having to make the choices between heating and eating.


Very difficult situation we're in at the moment Touchlite that end, it is


welcome that this derregation from the carbon tax floor price has been


long it coming. While today's motion is somewhat sycophantic in its


praise for ministers, the SDLP will support it. Paul in his moving in a


motion is probably successful in moving up the ranks of the DUP by


now. Maybe you're in line for a ministerial position. I'm hoping


that this doesn't mean that the minister will be moving on any time


soon. I think it is important and all joking aside, I think it is


important where credit is due. A lot of the time in this chamber we are


quick to criticise and rightly so. But we're not very quick to give


credit when it's due as well. We should recognise that. Of course


it's right to acknowledge and to commend the dear gags -- deregation


where it's beneficial. This superficial and largely


self-congratulatory motion tells only a small part of the energy


story in Northern Ireland. And the truth is which this motion does not


address, is that the corner stone of the minister's policy, namely the


single electricity market, is failing. North/south interconnector


and the connection between Wales and the Republic of Ireland because


we're moving in the direction of a market not just on this island, but


on the two islands. Of course that's good news because that's going to


bring more people into the market. Of course I'm talking about the


interconnector. There's point -- there's little point of having it


between Northern Ireland and the republic if we can't share it with


the rest of the United Kingdom. Despite the concept of Jim Allister


the motion was voted through. Steven McCaffery is with me again. Let's go


back to the comments from Delores Kelly of the SDLP a few moments ago.


Malaise among MLAs, it's an interesting point she makes.


Obviously the point has been made for a while that the, the chamber is


dominated by motions, a bit divorced by the feelings on the street. For


that reason, I think the malaise has deepened. Now as we build towards G8


and the announcements from the First Minister and deputy First Minister,


that's a chance to change the mood. But we're back into the summer and


we have to hope that events on the streets during the marching season


don't work against the expectation that there will be a greater degree


of hope zpl. It's depressing when you hear that MLAs are sitting in


their offices watching rather than... I know they have other work


to dirks but rather than taking part in the cut and thrust. When you


consider that on top of the strategy on child poverty, strategies on


racial issues and the gay community, there's a long list that people


aren't coming to the chamber to talk about. Let's talk about shared


future. We discuss today already on the programme. We know there's a


ministerial statement from OFM DMF tomorrow morning on this subject.


What are you expecting? I wonder will it be about formally asking the


parties because they are to be written to To send forward members


to take part in the all-party group. It may be the beginning to involve


the Assembly to chip away at the negativity. I suppose we'll find out


in due course. We'll know this time tomorrow night. Thank you very much.


A 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.