14/01/2013 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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Welcome to the programme. Tonight: United in their condemnation of the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


scope of course within the 2009 Financial Assistance Act to devise


some kind of hardship scheme which would assist businesses, especially


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


political reporter Stephen Walker. There were heated exchanges in the


chamber as politicians debated the latest violence surrounding the


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


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


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


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


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


attacked, protesters have been attacked, local communities have


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ireland's international reputation has been damaged, potential


investors and tourists will be deterred, our local businesses have


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


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


violence will emerge from these disturbances with nothing to show


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


parties in this house standing together against those who believe


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


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


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


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


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


clearly a challenge to these institutions, the challenge from


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


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


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


are associated with the British National Party attack politics,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Alliance Party. But almost immediately, those who were


protesting through violence had turned matters on their head. My


message to those engaged in violence is very simple - please


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


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


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


could even enter an unconscious fears of denial about how this


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


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


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


escalate the situation and that means protests must stop and start


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


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


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


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


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


approach will escalate the situation. For any leader to demand


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


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


are challenging the democratic right of politicians to make any


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the legitimate and unlawful rulings of the Parades Commission and that


defiance had in some cases political support. In the autumn


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


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


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


peaceful protests which have been anything but peaceful and anything


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


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


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


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


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


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


other side of the House have condemned what has happened over


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


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


release of the killers for the attempted killers of a DUP


councillor in Dungannon, while they were aiming play parks after


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


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


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


I think there has been a grave responsibility on those who


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


what they are ignoring is the fact that there is discrimination


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


target our educational under- achievement among Protestant


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


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


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


outcomes. We expect steering groups to target interventions were


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


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


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


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


cross-departmental delivering social change agenda. It negatively


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


to make improvements and the signature programme for numeracy


and literacy, the recently announced a framework and it


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


stage and the Department of Education will meet shortly to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


educational under attainment in working-class Protestant


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


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


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


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


various steps taken within his department to tackle that issue.


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


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


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


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


forward proposals which looked at employing another 230 teachers for


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


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


also put funding in to improving parenting which is an important


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


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


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


Will the Minister also acknowledge that educational under-achievement


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


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


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


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


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


acknowledge that statistically it is clear that there is a greater


prevalence of education under- achievement in Protestant, working-


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


That is a concern across the Community. Possible executive


intervention to help businesses affected by the recent flag


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


Wilson said he and the enterprise minister Arlene Foster would meet


with representatives of the hospitality industry to discuss


possible options. We have got to look at what is


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


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


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


develop a scheme that that would assist businesses dependent on a


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


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


thought through. The Assembly cannot simply afford to use public


expenditure to provide blanket financial support to the business


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


scheme is in existence but everything requires firm evidence


of consequential trading loss over a sustained period before we can


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


spelling out what options might be available but also the difficulties


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


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


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


general economic downturn and the increase in online trading.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


designed scheme, don't fall within the scheme.


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


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


the minister responsible, Nelson McCausland, faced scrutiny over the


proposal and questions over why such an important decision was not


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


come to the chamber to give statements once the process as


advanced and there is something more substantial steps to discuss.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


speculation has been rife among tenants and tax payers and not


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


assurances and comfort can the Minister give to Housing


Executive's staff that are concerned about their future?


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


getting the right structure for social housing in Northern Ireland


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


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


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


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


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


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


important announcement to the House as opposed to leaving it to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


quantity. How do you feel about paying 5


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


direct some further money into environmental schemes. That is a


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


we will keep reviewing whether a levy should be charged on


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


is big environmental impact for paperbacks as well. They carry


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


Used to be social development minister. Does the Housing


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


order to protect its enormous achievements over the last 40 years


but also to deal with the self evident issues about its


performance and conduct in recent years. The current Social


Development Minister got way ahead of himself and has been


backtracking ever since. We are looking forward to having an


executive and the future that continues the great work of the


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


make housing better, standards better and have more new houses


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


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


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


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


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


complaining that trade has been badly hit. One publican suggested


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.