14/01/2014 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 Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme. Party leaders meet


to discuss the proposals. Martin McGuinness says the party needs to


show more leadership. I've watched over the last 18


months, Unionist Parties dancing to the tune of extremists within their


own communities. That has to end. MLAs debate the public pension pot


and its far-reaching implications. 216,000 employees in the Public


Services. That represents over 30% of the total workforce across the


north. And to help get to the bottom of it, I'm joined by financial


journalist Paul Gosling. The leaders of the five main parties


came together this afternoon to discuss the Haas proposals on flags,


parades and the past. The meeting came a day after the assembly


rejected a Sinn Fein motion calling for the implementation of the plan.


Amendments by the UUP, the DUP and Alliance were voted down. Some of


the leaders spoke to the media in the Great Hall after today's


discussions. We had a good, robust meeting. We


have discussed the thing. It's my view that we have had enough process


and that the issues are now over to the five party leaders to basically


sort out. I'm keen to get some sort of an implement aches process on


those things that we agree on to get legislation on those things that ewe


can push forward and to get. Resolution on the issues that are


still to be resolved. I welcome the fact the party lead verse had a


meeting and that we'll be meeting again next week. What is absolutely


clear is that we need real action to deal with outstanding issue, not the


illusion of activity. Is this deal looking at activity or not? Next


week will tell. But the elephant in the room here is


very clear for I think everybody to But the elephant in the room here is


see. I have watched over the course of the last 18 months to Unionist


Parties dancing to the tune of extremists within their own


communities. That has to end. I say that because I believe that the


influence of these people has impacted on the Haas that


negotiations and negotiations in the Haas outcome. This is a time for


leadership. I've stood against full square the activities of so-called


Republican dissidents. My house has been attacked, my wife has been


abused in the streets, slogans have been written around my house, I have


been criticised right, left and centre, but give no quarter to


anybody who believes in violence or the threat of violence represents a


way forward. I expect the same sort of leadership from everybody else in


this Assembly. This has to be a very determined attempt by political


leaders to deliver sooner rather than later. I do not envisage this


process going anywhere close to the elections of this year. This is a


are test. The test is now. The test isn't going to come after the


election or after the next election or after the Assembly elections in


2016. The test of leadership is coming now and it's coming in the


coming days and weeks. The unionist leaders didn't appear


before the cameras after the meeting, but a DUP source said the


parties have to achieve a deal among themselves and it isn't enough for


just the Nationalists to agree with Dr Haas. The parties agree to meet


next week. So to the debate that dominated proceedings in the


Assembly today. The public service Pensions Bill is huge body of work


and it directly affects almost a third of people working in Northern


Ireland. Civil servants, teachers, nurses, police officers and


firefighters will all see the terms of their pensions Hagued -- changed.


Here is a taste of the marathon debate. -perve I have no doubt that


all members will be keenly aware of their decisions today and at


indeed the Bill will impact upwards indeed the Bill will impact upwards


of 260,000 employees in the Public indeed the Bill will impact upwards


30% of the total workforce across the north. Those affected are civil


servants, local government officers, teachers, Health Service workers,


prison officers, police officers and firefighters.


There is a very important piece of legislation and I think, as a member


of the financial personnel committee, it was a very valuable


exercise in going through the evidence on this particular group of


amendments. I think on that we got submissions both from a wide range


of witnesses and also I think we'd very good interaction with the


Department of Officials. Unless you have a degree of expertise in


pensions, a lot of terminology at times can be a little confusing.


Indeed it's important that we are able to, as a committee, plough our


way through the potential mine field that is there. We do believe it's


essential that there is strong Trade Union representation on these new


boards. I think the minister accused me of being in cahoots with the


Trade Unions and he is, I don't know if that ease the actual term to use,


but - "worse than that" right, I can tell the minister, I make no apology


for that. We have consulted wide widely among a range of stakeholders


including the Trade Unions and we have taken cogny Sans of their views


quite rightly so in my view. Cognisance. The public service group


have stated that they have grave concerns over fairles and


transparency due to the fact that scheme information is controlled by


the department and ultimately by the Treasury -- fairness. It's not


perhaps a piece of legislation that we'd enact if it was entirely up to


us. But they share parity with Westminster again and it raises its


head. My colleague voted against the changes at Westminster but the


decisions we face today now are very much focussed en the direct


financial impact that we'll face if we fail to implement the reforms. If


the intention of Mr Bradley and his colleagues is to in fact be


the intention of Mr Bradley and his of people within our public sector


are not members of Trade Unions, then it's not representative to have


solely Trade Union representatives on pension boards. In facts to


restrict membership of pension boards to only Trade Union


representatives could be seen as discriminatory against the greater


volume of people who are affected by all the Sarahious schemes who're not


members of Trade Unions. I'm sure the member wouldn't want to in any


way be seen to be discriminatory against one section of workers over


another. I think also, there was comments about the perception of


some unions, and that's why some of these comments have come forward,


that there was insufficient remarks from the department and the Trade


Unions. I can assure them and the House that there's been beyond


sufficient consult aation. I'm sure some of my officials will be


staggered by the idea that they have not engaged in this. There have been


umpteen engagements. Just because the Trade Unions haven't got the


outcome that they might want, doesn't mean there hasn't been


sufficient engagements. This piece of legislation rewrites a


fundamental way the law on pensions -- in a fundam way. When there are


members of pension schemes in this part of the world and in Britain who


have grave suspicions about what might next come in terms of pensions


legislation, then it's entirely appropriate, Mr Deputy Speaker, that


when it comes to the powers of administration in relation to future


council provisions, that they come to this House by way of a resolution


in terms of what they are proposing. The problem for me with this Bill is


it's an accountant's Bill. The numbers may work, but the real


question is that potential Liege 68, will the people be able to work? Of


course the numbers have to add up. That's a major component of the Bill


and of course, we cannot ignore that, but equally, we have to ensure


it makes sense in reality. It's undeniably a time of change for


some. But the undeniably a time of change for


in schemes which are fair, affordable and sustainable.


The Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton. With me is the financial


journalist Paul Gosling. Thanks for joining us, welcome to the


programme. This is far-reaching legislation, potentially, which


would affect a huge proportion of the population of Northern Ireland,


of course? It will. As far as the executive is concerned, this


legislation has to go through because if it doesn't, it loses a


quarter of a billion a year, as a block grant from Westminster so. As


far as the ministers are concerned, it has to go through. But you are


absolutely right. It affects 30% of the workforce of Northern Ireland


and that's because we have so many, such a high proportion of our who,


in the public sector. It's a high significant piece oaf legislation


for Northern Ireland than it was nor Great Britain where similar measures


have been adapted already. Is it overly simplistic to say this is


about saving money for the Government, so it must mean people


in receipt of the pensions will be worse off in future? Broadly that is


correct. It means people will be working longer. That's the first


thing. It means people will be taking retirement from public sector


jobs alet the same time that they are taking their state retirement in


the future. The second thing is, it's moving from what's called final


salary on to average pay so that will marginally reduce the amount of


money that people get. I mean, there are other elements as well which is


that traditionally, public sector workers have been on what's called


defining benefits, meaning that they know how much they are going to get.


In future, there is going to be a cap on the amount of money that the


Government or the public sector bodies put in, so that will also


reduce the amount and it means there can't be an absolute guarantee on


what people will get. Does it upset the apple cart between the balance


of people working for the public or private sector. The big attraction


for working in the public sector up to now has always been the very


attractive pension? Yes. This is what's upset the private sector.


During the recession, private sector pay's fallen. There is a position in


Northern Ireland where public sector pay is 20% higher an average than


private sector. The arguments in favour of having a better pension in


the public sector no longer apply. The private sector is very unhappy


about the situation that they have had to make job losses, they have


been cutting pay and people working there are not on very good pensions,


pensions within the private sector, but there's been no comparable


reform. What about the role of the unions in


all of this? They are not happy and feel members are losing out. How


critical is their voice in this debate and what kind of impact do


you think it can have? Well, the unions have been very unhappy about


it. I'm surprised they have not been heard more vocally. They are unhappy


in particular that the members will be working longer to receive


pensions, and longer than expected. That is the key thing. But broadly,


they also feel they have not been consulted sufficiently and we hear


Simon Hamilton, the Finance Minister, reject that argument, but


that is their view. Very briefly, while the Bill applies across all


the public service, there are areas which are unique to certain jobs.


Firefighters, for example, are a special case? And police as well.


Because they cannot be expected to work as long because their jobs are


more physically demanding, so yes, they will be affected but not quite


in the same way as the rest of the public sector. Thank you very much.


After five hours of debate, that Bill passed its consideration stage.


Education now, and a struggling secondary school with low pupil


numbers was given another chance by the sedgecation minister today in. A


shake-up of schools in East Belfast, Dunndonald High will stay open and


get help. As minister, I have the responsibility of scrutinising


proposals. The proposals put for consideration are to amalgamate two


high schools, to close other schools and increase the size of the girls


and boys' high schools. The scale and impact of these proposed changes


are significant. They reflect the need to restructure


the area. Firstly, the amalgamation of the two high schools - inrollment


has declined from 574 in 20107-08 to 385 in 2012-12.


has declined from 574 in 20107-08 to performance of both schools at GCSE


level has been significantly below average. However, there have been


signs of improvement in recent years. The amalgamations proposed


will result in a School of Around 1,000 pew pills. I have decided to


approve this. It will provide -- pupils. It will address the issues


faced by both schools in the past. With only 92 pupils remaining in


Orangefield, the declined to such an extent that is no longer feasible to


approve its closure. It's too late to turn the situation


around. The only reasonable option available to me regarding the future


of Orangefield is to approve its closure from 31st August, 2014.


I want to turn to the future of Dundonald High. I have considered


very carefully the proposal of the schools and can see many reasons why


this would be, as in the case of --ingfield be an appropriate course


of action -- Orangefield. . Dundonald is a large urban area with


a large population of school age children. There is no other


inclusive post-primary school close by. From engagement with local


representatives, it's clear that this is a community whose people


need and should rightly expect to be able to access good quality


secondary education. It's clear this is not happening. The provision in


Dundonald's simply not been good enough. The last inspection a couple


of months ago highlighted modest improvement but painted a graphic


picture of low attendance, low attainment and low aspirations.


The school is in the right geographical location. The young


people are there and the community like all communities need and


deserve a good school. So on this occasion, I decided not to accept


the proposal for closure. Our recruitment process will come in


shortly to recruit a principle pal. demonstrating letters and sets high


standards and expectation for all of the young people.


The education minister. Pupil numbers will remain the same at


Ashfield Girls and Boys school. Priory college in Hollywood has been


given the go-ahead to improve slightly. This time the focus on


Question Time was on the approach to the Dixon plan. What What possible


confidence can be had given the way he's behaved in the treatment of the


Dixon plan? I suspect, like other members of his


party, he's not interested in the Dixon plan, he's interested in two


schools, name namely the colleges, because the local represents are


represents representatives are not interested. Let's be honest, your


concern is the needs of two schools in the Craigavon area that serve a


selection of the Protestant commune in that area. The -- Protestant


community in that area. The less well off are voiceless in this


debate. No-one from the DUP will speak up for them. No-one from the


Ulster Unionist Party will speak up for them, all concentrated on the


needs of do schools who have a close relationship with a good friend of


the DUP. Now, that's another matter that deserves exploration. You say


that it's clear from the minutes of the SELB Board Meeting, that they


acted under duress. Do you want to clarify what that was in the


minutes? Your party colleagues are no doubt aware that there's been


acts of intimidation, harassment, threats, made against people who've


stood up and said, we don't agree with the DUP's vision on this, we


don't agree with the vision on this, we believe there is another way of


doing this. They have been subject to threats, intimidation against


them. The DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party have remained silent


on that matter. So if you want to look for duress, if you want to look


for intimidation, you're looking look for duress, if you want to look


interest is the education of all the young people in the sector. He keeps


making remarks about the DUP and the Ulster Unionist. They represent the


vast majority of those people who attend the schools. I can also throw


back in his face the view that they are Protestant schools. Any child is


entitled to attend Lurgan. There is no discrimination. What confidence


with k the people have in him, particularly representing the area,


when he's trying to railroad this through against the witches of the


vast majority of parents? The member states that he and his party


represent the vast majority of the community is absolutely right - well


then start representing the vast majority of the people in relation


to this matter because your voices have remained silent on the


educational and poor educational outcomes afforded to the Protestant


working class in that community. You need to stand up, you need to make


your vices heard and say the current status quo is completely and totally


unacceptable -- voices. Point of order.


During his answer to Mr Wells, Mr O'Dowd claimed knowledge of


instances of threat and intimidation and threat and intimidation, of


course, involves criminality. Would it be in order to ask if, with that


knowledge, the minister has reported such matters to the PSNI as must be


expected from his public role and his obligation to uphold the rule of


law and not to withhold information? The member has stayed well off the


point and I do not accept that as a valid point of order. However, I


will refer this to the speak's office because there was an


allegation made of co herrings from this side of the House which wasn't


substantiated and that should be examined -- coherence.


Plans on how to commemorate the past and celebrate the future were


tackled by the Culture, Arts and Leisure minister today. 2014 marks


the centenary of Leisure minister today. 2014 marks


benefits from its time as having the first City of Culture.


I have secured over ?2 million for the January to March period 2014 to


support a continuation of key projections programmes and to


prevent the loss of key benefits and partnerships. Therefore, I came to


ensure that the office that will be set up for the enhanced focus in the


north-west, this will have responsibility for coordination


oversight of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which will include


Coleraine and other areas. Overlooked the fact that it was a UK


City of Culture, but she will be aware that inclusivity was the key


word throughout the UK safe culture year. What steps is she going to


take to ensure that it spreads out from Londonderry, stra ban and


Coleraine that that key word is implemented in practise, that


communities see it as a system and a set of programmes that tech take


part in and there doesn't have to be arguments, fights and disputes in


order to get there -- Strabane? I thank the Minister for His question


to. Be fair, the members I know are not arguing and fighting about this


whole thing. I'm sure he will support Derry's bid for Irish City


of Culture in 2016 and I look forward to his support in that.


Libraries are developing a programme of exhibitions, talks and book


launches to commemorate the start of the First World War. Museums are


also planning to outline access to collections and an exhibition and


programming at the Ulster museum and Transport Museum. It will involve


cooperation with the national Museum of Ireland and the Imperial War


Museum and National Portrait Gallery in London. I think that certainly


the more collaborative approaches that we have to make sure that we


make a respectful events, regardless as Governments and representatives


of many people across this island and indeed other Irelands, we try to


work collectively. I want to assure the member, I will talk to anyone,


regardless of who they are, about learning lessons from the past. I'm


happy to talk to anyone. Speaking as someone whose graez great


grandfather died at the Battle only the Somme, it's important we


recognise the communities. Would you downme in commending the minister in


his good work in recognising the contribution. Of course the history


books will show that many people joined. Have you any plans to meet


or have you met with to coordinate with an all-Ireland response,


particularly around the 4th August, the date of entry to the war? I


thank the member for her question and it will come as no surprise I


have met with him and plan to have further meetings on this. I'm


certainly looking at, like for example, Public Records Offices of


both are looking at ways in which we can use archives in order to add to


centenaries or even learning and education. We are also looking at


libraries. We have had conferences on this and we have had discussions


and will continue to do so around how we celebrate and work together


where possible in celebrating and remembering and commemorating events


that were significant throughout the course of the decade of centenaries.


Is it possible that I would be correct in surmising that we could


be financing the commemoration of rebels and terrorists?


Well, given the context of the question so far that have been based


within the First World War, I think it's a bit churlish of the member to


start - I mean you are the only person today who's been affronted -


that's just a give given. But in the spirit of the members's question, I


will be upfront learning, Bezzer respect and


certainly more inclusivity and use the centenaries in order to do that,


I will. A forthright minister responding there. Paul Gosling is


still with me for a few final thoughts. We have been talking about


the Haas proposals. If they were agreed in the future, could we


expect some sort of economic bounce? No. I don't think there will be


anything like the Good Friday Agreement effect. I think you look


at the other side of the coin. If it's not agreed, then we are going


to have more parading problems, more problems with flag protests and it


will put off investment and also people shopping in the city centre


in Belfast in particular. So it will damage the economy if we did not get


agreement. We heard the figures about the disappointing foot fall


for the Christmas period, down 9% on the same period last year. Is that a


big concern? Did you hear that with your head in your hands this


morning? No, because I wasn't surprised. We have to accept that


the retail sector in Northern Ireland is too big for the amount of


demand and spending and we are going to see a continued contraction. We


will see more vacancies and, I'm afraid, the retail sector is not


going to be the place it was in 2008 or whatever. Do you think that's


compounded, that basic fact is compounded by people's uncertainty


about whether there might be trouble in Belfast on a certain Saturday


afternoon? That's clear that people from the republic for example are


not going to COMMENTATOR: Over and people from


Great Britain are going to come over for fewer trips. We have the trends


with more people shopping online and we probably have too many shops in


Northern Ireland and actually, it's going to be a declining sector for


Northern Ireland. We seem to be hearing competing interpretations of


the economic climate. We hear people saying on the one hand green shoots,


house prices are stabilising, maybe on the upturn, the construction


sector seems to be more positive than before, it wasn't the worst


Christmas on the high street. Then we hear George Osborne, the


Chancellor saying, after the next election, there'll be further huge


cuts in public spending. Where do you think we are at the moment? As


far as Britain is concerned, we are seeing that there are more private


sector jobs created and public sector jobs lost. We have almost


permanent austerity if we have a Conservative Government


permanent austerity if we have a dependent on Great Britain more than


the Irish Republic. We haven't got sufficient manufacturing here to


generate the economy, so we are fundamentally weak and I don't see


that we are going to have any sort of recovery here which is equivalent


to that in Britain. The property sector remains basically a really


difficult problem. Very interesting to hear your


thoughts. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. That's it for


tonight. Don't forget to join me on Thursday night for The View. Until


then, from all of us, bye. Hidden beneath your feet


are magical worlds, home to extraordinary


little creatures. Imagine being able to experience


this wonderland through their eyes. see the incredible adventures


of these miniature heroes


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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