14/01/2013 Stormont Today


14/01/2013

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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Transcript


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Welcome to the programme. Tonight: United in their condemnation of the

:00:33.:00:37.

street violence but still divided on the way for it, MLAs debate a

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flight protests. The settled status quo should not have been disturbed

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but nothing can justify the violence that has been seen on the

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streets of Northern Ireland in a recent weeks. What has transpired

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in the last couple of weeks is very clearly a challenge to these

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institutions, a challenge to these institutions are from people who do

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not have a mandate and he represent nobody but themselves. Also, could

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there be some hope for businesses who have lost thousands? There is

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scope of course within the 2009 Financial Assistance Act to devise

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some kind of hardship scheme which would assist businesses, especially

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dependent upon the night-time economy. Sharing his insights, our

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political reporter Stephen Walker. There were heated exchanges in the

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chamber as politicians debated the latest violence surrounding the

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Union flag dispute. The First Minister said those who use it as a

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weapon to not respect it. He is our duty as politicians to support the

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rule of law and the primacy of the democratic process in this part of

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United Kingdom. This last weekend has once again seen a protest turn

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to violence and disorder on our streets. The police have been

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attacked, protesters have been attacked, local communities have

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been attacked and no one winds from such conflict but the people of

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Northern Ireland as a whole are suffering. The anger over the spark

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that started the fire has long since been obscured by the outrage

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over the violence that has followed. I know that we are not agreed in

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this house on the issue of the Union flag flying at this stage. I

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hope at some stage people will be but I will say it once again, the

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decision by Belfast City Council to take down the Union flag was, in my

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view, a mistake. The timing of it aggravated a bad situation, it was

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unnecessary and wrong. The settled status quo should not have been

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disturbed. But nothing can justify the violence that has been seen on

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the streets of Northern Ireland in recent weeks. Let me ask those who

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are involved, what do they think they have achieved? Northern

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Ireland's international reputation has been damaged, potential

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investors and tourists will be deterred, our local businesses have

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been crippled at a time they needed a boost, scores of police officers

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have been injured and many of the young people involved in the

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violence will emerge from these disturbances with nothing to show

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for it. Except a criminal record. I defend, Mr Speaker, anyone's right

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to legitimate, peaceful protest but in recent weeks, far too many have

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become a mark of violence. Because of the Union flag has been damaged

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and not helped. This issue will never be sold on the streets but

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only through democratic means. You do not respect a Union flag if you

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are using it as a weapon to charge against someone. You are not

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showing respect for the Union flag if you need to wear a mask when

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carrying it. What works there last is the sight of all the political

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parties in this house standing together against those who believe

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in violence as a way forward. If we look at the events of the last

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couple of weeks, whatever the decision about Belfast City Hall, a

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decision when not a stone was thrown, not a petrol bomb was

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thrown, not a threat of intimidation was issued. But what

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has transpired in the course of the last couple of weeks is very

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clearly a challenge to these institutions, the challenge from

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people who do not have a mandate and who represent nobody but

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themselves. I do not believe for one minute that they speak for the

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vast majority of Unionists within our society. These are people who

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are associated with the British National Party attack politics,

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these are people who are clearly, to some degree, sectarian bigots

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and is also quite obvious that the Ulster Volunteer Force in East

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Belfast have played their part in the disturbances over the course of

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the last couple of weeks. violence that we have seen since

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3rd December is wrong on every level. It is wrong legally, morally,

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a strategically and tactically. Let us remind ourselves how it began.

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On the 3rd December, an unnecessary boat to lower the Union flag at

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City Hall, provoking people to take to the streets because they were

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angry at a political decision by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the

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Alliance Party. But almost immediately, those who were

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protesting through violence had turned matters on their head. My

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message to those engaged in violence is very simple - please

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stop destroying the argument you are trying to promote. A man as we

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seek on our streets serves no purpose. It can never serve a

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purpose and we could engage in this chamber about scoring points and we

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could even enter an unconscious fears of denial about how this

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crisis came about. It didn't come about on 3rd December, it was well-

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stocked beforehand. We can duck and dive about the house and whys and

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wherefores but in my opinion, Mr Speaker, the most urgent need is TD

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escalate the situation and that means protests must stop and start

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now. That is a job were the leaders of political unionism and they must

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be honest with the people out there, they must tell them that the ways

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of the past on these issues are not always going to be the ways of the

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future. They will not, and we will not improve the situation with a

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one-sided forum. In fact, there is always a danger that a one-sided

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approach will escalate the situation. For any leader to demand

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that the union flag must fly on their terms and their terms alone,

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that is in the past and it is certainly not a parody. Protesters

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are challenging the democratic right of politicians to make any

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dispensation one of flags that they do not approve of it. The

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protesters are denying parity of esteem. The choice of the leaders

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of political unionism and it is a choice they have to make here. Mr

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Speaker, it would greatly assist at the St 18 of the situation if they

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would make that choice now a and make it in the clearest possible

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terms. We need to recognise that the violence we saw on Saturday and

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the violence in preceding days was at the end of a line which

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stretches right back to last summer. Last summer we saw the defiance of

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the legitimate and unlawful rulings of the Parades Commission and that

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defiance had in some cases political support. In the autumn

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time we saw that continuing, we sold 40,000 dubious leaflets

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whipping up fear and tension and that was carried out by Unionist

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leaders. We have seen in recent weeks since 3rd December so-called

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peaceful protests which have been anything but peaceful and anything

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but lawful. Many of those protests have had support from Unionist

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leaders. Did they not know what happened last summer, did they not

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see Clinton Street and Donegal Street, do they not know what

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happens when you call crowds onto the streets in a society and there

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is a real fundamental question that has to be answered by those who

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engineered what is now it resulted. Can I say to those who are on the

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other side of the House have condemned what has happened over

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the last weekend, and we have condemned it quite clearly, but

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perhaps when they were engaging in activities such as voting for the

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release of the killers for the attempted killers of a DUP

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councillor in Dungannon, while they were aiming play parks after

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killer's, while they were stoking the fires by removing the Union

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flag from the City Hall, maybe what they should ask themselves - did

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they not know what the reaction was likely to be across the Community?

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I think there has been a grave responsibility on those who

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provoked this situation, that is not to say that what has happened

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is correct. It is wrong and it is wrong for a whole lot of reasons. I

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am proud of the Union flag of this country. Not as a piece of cloth,

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not because of the colours that are in it, but because of what it

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stands for. Sammy East stood up and give a great speech about the Union

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Jack flag. I am Irish and Belfast is now shared city. That means

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Irish nurse is important as well so the other side of the house needs

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to realise that all the protests were over was the compromise and

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what they are ignoring is the fact that there is discrimination

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against Irish us. Stephen Walker is here. A familiar to be it? Yes,

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when you think we ended 2012 at the Assembly talking about the Union

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flag and here we are the first day back, talking about it again. There

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were some heated exchanges at times followed by and large, it was a

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fairly well measured debate. People made their point eloquently and be

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heard a lovely -- a lot of arguments that we're used to. It

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got people - like he did when Sammy Wilson got up and then Gerry Kelly

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but the arguments were familiar but I think politicians, once they will

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dispute who started the whole protest and hide it can be sorted

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out, there is general agreement among politicians that it has to be

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a political solution to the issue. The DUP got a new member today?

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Some news today with Fred Korean he was the UUP MLA at the last

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Assembly for north Belfast, a familiar figure, he was a Belfast

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city councillor for many years, and known to the electorate and

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journalists. He said he has been disillusioned for some time it with

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the Ulster Unionist Party and today he was unveiled by the DUP, by

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Nigel Dodds and Peter Robinson and he gave some of his reasons as to

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why he is leaving the UUP and joining the DUP. I am disillusioned

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:12:23.:12:24.

with the party for a number of months. I think that will only get

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worse in the future. The Ulster Unionist party is best described as

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politically exhausted, I don't think they have any new or big

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ideas. What did the UUP say? They say they are not surprised.

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Obviously they're disappointed. When you have spent 30 years with a

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party, Fred is leaving behind many good friends and people say they

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are very disappointed that he is going. It is well understood that

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he has been talking to the DUP for some time. For the leader, it is a

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difficult day because it means his departure is the latest in a long

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line of people who have left. There was the rout with Lord McGuinness a

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drum glass, a row about David McNarry so this is the third high-

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profile member of the Ulster Unionist Party to depart so it is

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bad news for them. The First Minister was back at the

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dispatch box later in the afternoon, this time question-time. Peter

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Robinson was asked how the Social Investment Fund could be used to

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target our educational under- achievement among Protestant

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working-class boys. He said no single department should take

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ownership of the issue. There is a specific issue of under achievement

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in a Protestant working-class boys and we want action to improve

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outcomes. We expect steering groups to target interventions were

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evidence shows there is a need to address this issue. Groups are

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working on the plans and they are due to be with the Department by

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the end of the month. In addition, we have identified educational

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under-achievement as a priority issue to be addressed by our new

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cross-departmental delivering social change agenda. It negatively

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impact across a wide range of social policies. We are determined

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to make improvements and the signature programme for numeracy

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and literacy, the recently announced a framework and it

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signals hour commitment to this issue. Plans are at an advanced

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stage and the Department of Education will meet shortly to

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begin the recruitment of teachers for the scheme. I think the First

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Minister for his answer, he will be aware that at the first public

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meeting of the Unionist forum on Friday, this issue of education

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under-achievement by Protestant working-class boys was one of the

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key issues. I wonder if he would agree with that committee that this

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is one of the definitions of a failure of Sinn Fein's Kenya as

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minister for education over the last 10 years? I think the issue of

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educational under attainment in working-class Protestant

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communities has probably got a lead in a period much beyond the life of

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the Assembly itself. It does need to be tackled, should be tackled

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and the first point of tackling it is that part of education and I am

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sure the Education Minister will want to tell the Assembly of the

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various steps taken within his department to tackle that issue.

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The Deputy First Minister and either of the view when we were

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looking at our agenda of delivering social change that we should never

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contribution because I don't think any one department needs to take on

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a ship on its own on this issue. We made a contribution by bringing

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forward proposals which looked at employing another 230 teachers for

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one-to-one tutoring of children who are falling behind. We also put

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funding in because if there is at joined-up approach required, we

:15:56.:16:01.

also put funding in to improving parenting which is an important

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aspect and I do know from my own contacts within the Social

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Investment Fund steering group for East Belfast that it is one of the

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issues that the steering group is taking seriously. You will see some

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Will the Minister also acknowledge that educational under-achievement

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is not located in only one section of the community? Does he recognise

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the best way of the dressing under- achievement is true mixed-ability

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learning and will he signed up to a posing segregating children at 11

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years old? I am keen to end segregation of education. I wonder

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if the member joining us... Not just from 11 but at every level! I

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acknowledge that statistically it is clear that there is a greater

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prevalence of education under- achievement in Protestant, working-

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class boys. It is not exclusively an issue for Protestant working-

:17:04.:17:09.

class people. The Social Investment Fund steering groups are able to

:17:09.:17:17.

target it wherever it exists. So, yes. It must be a cause for concern

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for any of us in the House that there are significant numbers of

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people, after many years of education, who come through the

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education system and at the end of it still do not have the numeracy

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and literacy skills necessary to get decent jobs in Northern Ireland.

:17:35.:17:39.

That is a concern across the Community. Possible executive

:17:39.:17:41.

intervention to help businesses affected by the recent flag

:17:41.:17:44.

protests was the focus of questions to the finance minister. Sammy

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Wilson said he and the enterprise minister Arlene Foster would meet

:17:47.:17:49.

with representatives of the hospitality industry to discuss

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possible options. We have got to look at what is

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possible off. It is a matter for the executive to consider what help,

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if any, can be given to those who have been impacted by some of the

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protests. They is go within the 2009 Financial Assistance Act to

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develop a scheme that that would assist businesses dependent on a

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night-time economy and the hospitality trade, who have perhaps

:18:29.:18:34.

been most badly affected in some areas, although it has to be

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thought through. The Assembly cannot simply afford to use public

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expenditure to provide blanket financial support to the business

:18:42.:18:48.

sector, nor would it be appropriate to do so. The hardship rate release

:18:48.:18:51.

scheme is in existence but everything requires firm evidence

:18:51.:18:56.

of consequential trading loss over a sustained period before we can

:18:56.:19:01.

lend help to those in financial distress and in the past it has

:19:01.:19:07.

been used for example in foot-and- mouth disease and volcanic ash and

:19:07.:19:14.

other periods of a long term, sporadic civil unrest. Again, this

:19:14.:19:18.

requires an appeal and it will not bring immediate respite to the

:19:18.:19:26.

business is. Can I ask him, will he do this with a real sense of

:19:26.:19:28.

urgency and tried to lift the burden of some of these hard-

:19:28.:19:34.

pressed retailers, restaurateurs, and bar owners? If this thing goes

:19:34.:19:38.

on any longer, a lot of them will go out of business. Of course we

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will look with all of the constraints I have given him the

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answer to date, we will look, and I intend to meet some people from the

:19:48.:19:52.

hospitality industry, along with Arlene Foster, and I will be

:19:52.:19:56.

spelling out what options might be available but also the difficulties

:19:57.:20:02.

with all of those options. They definitely was an impact on the

:20:02.:20:06.

traders but it might be possible to identify how we can practically

:20:06.:20:10.

help if we also a factor in the pressure that was coming from the

:20:10.:20:17.

general economic downturn and the increase in online trading.

:20:17.:20:21.

member made an important point. This is the problem with any relief

:20:21.:20:26.

scheme. We have got to distinguish, what other factors which are a side

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from the public disorder, might have created the problem? The

:20:31.:20:36.

effect has been patchy of course and even Belfast city centre, I

:20:36.:20:41.

notice from some of their reports, some traders actually said it was a

:20:41.:20:44.

better Christmas than they had before but the one thing we can't

:20:44.:20:49.

do is throw blanket loans of public money at a problem which, for some

:20:49.:20:54.

traders might not have existed at all, and secondly, give an unfair

:20:54.:20:57.

advantage for some who may fall within the scope of the scheme

:20:57.:21:02.

while others who were equally badly hit, but because of a badly

:21:02.:21:05.

designed scheme, don't fall within the scheme.

:21:05.:21:08.

Last week's announcement of the abolition of the Housing Executive

:21:08.:21:11.

was criticised by unions who fear that it will mean job losses. Today,

:21:11.:21:14.

the minister responsible, Nelson McCausland, faced scrutiny over the

:21:14.:21:16.

proposal and questions over why such an important decision was not

:21:16.:21:24.

announced in the Assembly chamber. It has always been my intention to

:21:24.:21:28.

come to the chamber to give statements once the process as

:21:28.:21:32.

advanced and there is something more substantial steps to discuss.

:21:32.:21:35.

Because of the nature of the initial statement, I dreamed that

:21:35.:21:42.

the written statement was the most appropriate. We in the SDP are not

:21:43.:21:46.

the only party to have expressed concern of the manner in which the

:21:46.:21:55.

original statement was made. A matter of such public importance as

:21:55.:21:59.

the Housing Executive, for this and all statement may have been more

:21:59.:22:06.

appropriate. I welcome the motion to present to the SDP committee but

:22:06.:22:11.

an absence of the minister having taken questions to date, and

:22:11.:22:15.

speculation has been rife among tenants and tax payers and not

:22:15.:22:23.

least among staff about what these proposals will mean for them. What

:22:23.:22:26.

assurances and comfort can the Minister give to Housing

:22:26.:22:31.

Executive's staff that are concerned about their future?

:22:31.:22:37.

is not about cutting jobs. This is not about saving money. It is about

:22:37.:22:41.

getting the right structure for social housing in Northern Ireland

:22:41.:22:47.

as we move forward. The functions that are currently carried out by

:22:47.:22:51.

the Housing Executive of functions that will still have to be carried

:22:51.:22:55.

out. Grants will still have to be ordered. Properties will still have

:22:55.:23:00.

to be managed. All of those different functions will still take

:23:00.:23:05.

place and it will require staff to do so. I would ask the Minister to

:23:05.:23:08.

accept it would have been better to come here firstly to make such an

:23:08.:23:13.

important announcement to the House as opposed to leaving it to

:23:13.:23:19.

speculation. I will simply say that I found even asked Det issuing the

:23:19.:23:22.

writ and statement that when I was interviewed about it, time and

:23:22.:23:27.

again, all I could sit back to the questions were, those are things

:23:27.:23:31.

that are still to be discussed. There has to be a lot of

:23:31.:23:37.

consideration, appraisals, Business cases, all sorts of things. Two

:23:37.:23:42.

years of work ahead of us. However I do welcome the fact that the

:23:42.:23:45.

member acknowledges that this is a good opportunity for us to improve

:23:45.:23:51.

the quality of much of our social housing and also to increase the

:23:51.:23:54.

quantity. How do you feel about paying 5

:23:54.:23:58.

pence for a plastic bag? Well the new levy was approved by the

:23:58.:24:01.

Assembly today and will come into effect in April. The Environment

:24:01.:24:07.

Minister, Alex Attwood, joins me. Is there an inconsistency around

:24:07.:24:12.

this policy that some will be included and some won't? No. The

:24:12.:24:18.

vast majority of bags will be captured on to this levied because

:24:18.:24:22.

we want to do what has happened in the Republic of Ireland. What has

:24:22.:24:30.

happened in Wales. Reduce the use of plastic bags and other low-cost

:24:30.:24:35.

bags by 80% in order to improve the environment and as a consequence,

:24:35.:24:39.

direct some further money into environmental schemes. That is a

:24:39.:24:44.

good policy. Jim Allister raised concerns today. He said the Revenue

:24:44.:24:49.

would be �2.5 million raised but he wants to know how much it would

:24:49.:24:54.

cost to set up a unit in Londonderry to administer it?

:24:54.:24:58.

pleased there will be 10 new jobs in Derry as a consequence of this

:24:58.:25:04.

scheme. It will cost �650,000 a year. When it is fully operational,

:25:04.:25:09.

an income of over 4 million. That means extra money to environmental

:25:09.:25:15.

schemes. But the primary purpose of the policy is to reduce the use of

:25:15.:25:22.

plastic bags especially, that as we know are not biodegradable and end

:25:22.:25:27.

up in a hedgerow. That sends out a negative message about Northern

:25:27.:25:32.

Ireland at a time when we need to send out a positive message, that

:25:32.:25:35.

we are green and clean, and that is a part of our lives and where

:25:35.:25:42.

visitor has come here. We did go up to 10 pence and then include

:25:42.:25:46.

biodegradable bags? It will be five pence in the first year, 10 pence

:25:46.:25:51.

in the second year, and we hope the law will be amended in the second

:25:51.:25:55.

year not just to include a single use carrier bags, that his paper

:25:55.:26:05.
:26:05.:26:07.

and plastic bags, but also include lower-priced reusable bags, like

:26:07.:26:14.

bag macro for life in various shops. -- like a bag it for life. That way

:26:14.:26:19.

we will keep reviewing whether a levy should be charged on

:26:19.:26:28.

biodegradable bags. He would charge for paperbacks? Absolutely. There

:26:28.:26:32.

is big environmental impact for paperbacks as well. They carry

:26:32.:26:37.

threat and wrist to the environment, sometimes as much as a plastic bags.

:26:37.:26:43.

Used to be social development minister. Does the Housing

:26:43.:26:49.

Executive need to be thrown out? It needed a fundamental review in

:26:49.:26:53.

order to protect its enormous achievements over the last 40 years

:26:53.:26:57.

but also to deal with the self evident issues about its

:26:58.:27:01.

performance and conduct in recent years. The current Social

:27:01.:27:05.

Development Minister got way ahead of himself and has been

:27:05.:27:08.

backtracking ever since. We are looking forward to having an

:27:08.:27:12.

executive and the future that continues the great work of the

:27:12.:27:16.

house an executive of the past and drives forward reform in order to

:27:16.:27:19.

make housing better, standards better and have more new houses

:27:19.:27:24.

built, given the waiting lists that we have at the moment. A Alex

:27:24.:27:28.

Attwood, thank you. Well, Stephen, it's been a busy

:27:28.:27:31.

first day in the Assembly and it's a busy week for the Secretary of

:27:31.:27:37.

State as well. Yes. She met representatives from the licensed

:27:37.:27:41.

trade today, people who run pubs and restaurants that have been

:27:41.:27:46.

complaining that trade has been badly hit. One publican suggested

:27:46.:27:51.

that their trade has been down �60,000. They were meeting the

:27:51.:27:55.

Secretary of State in the hope they could be some kind of compensation.

:27:56.:28:00.

Theresa Villiers will go to London tonight and will be in the Cabinet

:28:00.:28:03.

tomorrow and will brief her fellow ministers. On Thursday, the focus

:28:03.:28:10.

will be North-South, with Eamon Gilmore coming up to Belfast to

:28:10.:28:14.

have a series of political meetings, not just with Theresa Villiers but

:28:14.:28:18.

also with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. These

:28:18.:28:23.

meetings have been in the diary for a while but the issue of the flak

:28:23.:28:27.

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.


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