14/01/2014 Stormont Today


14/01/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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journalist Paul Gosling. The leaders of the five main parties

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

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

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

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

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

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discussions. We had a good, robust meeting. We

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parties dancing to the tune of extremists within their own

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

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influence of these people has impacted on the Haas that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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prison officers, police officers and firefighters.

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

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of the financial personnel committee, it was a very valuable

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exercise in going through the evidence on this particular group of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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essential that there is strong Trade Union representation on these new

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

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

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

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

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

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

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have stated that they have grave concerns over fairles and

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transparency due to the fact that scheme information is controlled by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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solely Trade Union representatives on pension boards. In facts to

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restrict membership of pension boards to only Trade Union

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representatives could be seen as discriminatory against the greater

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

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

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

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

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

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that there was insufficient remarks from the department and the Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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sufficient engagements. This piece of legislation rewrites a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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some. But the undeniably a time of change for

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in schemes which are fair, affordable and sustainable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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reform. What about the role of the unions in

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

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

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

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

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in particular that the members will be working longer to receive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Education now, and a struggling secondary school with low pupil

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

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

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

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proposals. The proposals put for consideration are to amalgamate two

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

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

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are significant. They reflect the need to restructure

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

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

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

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

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signs of improvement in recent years. The amalgamations proposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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of months ago highlighted modest improvement but painted a graphic

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picture of low attendance, low attainment and low aspirations.

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The school is in the right geographical location. The young

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people are there and the community like all communities need and

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

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the proposal for closure. Our recruitment process will come in

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

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standards and expectation for all of the young people.

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The education minister. Pupil numbers will remain the same at

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

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

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

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

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Dixon plan? I suspect, like other members of his

:17:31.:17:34.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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then start representing the vast majority of the people in relation

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to this matter because your voices have remained silent on the

:20:13.:20:16.

educational and poor educational outcomes afforded to the Protestant

:20:17.:20:20.

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

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

:20:25.:20:30.

unacceptable -- voices. Point of order.

:20:31.:20:36.

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

:20:37.:20:42.

instances of threat and intimidation and threat and intimidation, of

:20:43.:20:47.

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

:20:48.:20:51.

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

:20:52.:20:57.

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

:20:58.:21:01.

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

:21:02.:21:05.

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

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

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

:21:15.:21:18.

substantiated and that should be examined -- coherence.

:21:19.:21:24.

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

:21:25.:21:30.

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

:21:31.:21:32.

the centenary of Leisure minister today. 2014 marks

:21:33.:21:44.

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

:21:45.:21:51.

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

:21:52.:21:58.

support a continuation of key projections programmes and to

:21:59.:22:02.

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

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

:22:10.:22:14.

north-west, this will have responsibility for coordination

:22:15.:22:19.

oversight of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which will include

:22:20.:22:23.

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

:22:24.:22:28.

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

:22:29.:22:33.

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

:22:34.:22:39.

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

:22:40.:22:43.

Coleraine that that key word is implemented in practise, that

:22:44.:22:48.

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

:22:49.:22:52.

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

:22:53.:22:58.

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

:22:59.:23:04.

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

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

:23:10.:23:14.

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

:23:15.:23:18.

Libraries are developing a programme of exhibitions, talks and book

:23:19.:23:22.

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

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also planning to outline access to collections and an exhibition and

:23:29.:23:36.

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

:23:37.:23:39.

cooperation with the national Museum of Ireland and the Imperial War

:23:40.:23:44.

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

:23:45.:23:48.

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

:23:49.:23:50.

make a respectful events, regardless as Governments and representatives

:23:51.:24:06.

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

:24:07.:24:10.

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

:24:11.:24:13.

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

:24:14.:24:23.

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

:24:24.:24:28.

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

:24:29.:24:36.

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

:24:37.:24:40.

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

:24:41.:24:47.

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

:24:48.:24:52.

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

:24:53.:24:55.

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

:24:56.:24:58.

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

:24:59.:25:03.

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

:25:04.:25:09.

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

:25:10.:25:12.

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

:25:13.:25:17.

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

:25:18.:25:21.

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

:25:22.:25:26.

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

:25:27.:25:31.

where possible in celebrating and remembering and commemorating events

:25:32.:25:34.

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

:25:35.:25:39.

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

:25:40.:25:43.

be financing the commemoration of rebels and terrorists?

:25:44.:25:50.

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

:25:51.:25:57.

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

:25:58.:26:02.

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

:26:03.:26:10.

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

:26:11.:26:14.

will be upfront learning, Bezzer respect and

:26:15.:26:27.

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

:26:28.:26:33.

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

:26:34.:26:37.

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

:26:38.:26:42.

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

:26:43.:26:45.

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

:26:46.:26:49.

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

:26:50.:26:52.

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

:26:53.:26:56.

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

:26:57.:26:59.

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

:27:00.:27:03.

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

:27:04.:27:08.

agreement. We heard the figures about the disappointing foot fall

:27:09.:27:12.

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

:27:13.:27:16.

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

:27:17.:27:21.

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

:27:22.:27:23.

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

:27:24.:27:27.

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

:27:28.:27:32.

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

:27:33.:27:36.

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

:27:37.:27:39.

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

:27:40.:27:43.

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

:27:44.:27:46.

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

:27:47.:27:48.

not going to COMMENTATOR: Over and people from

:27:49.:27:52.

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

:27:53.:27:56.

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

:27:57.:28:00.

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

:28:01.:28:05.

Northern Ireland. We seem to be hearing competing interpretations of

:28:06.:28:08.

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

:28:09.:28:13.

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

:28:14.:28:17.

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

:28:18.:28:20.

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

:28:21.:28:23.

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

:28:24.:28:26.

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

:28:27.:28:29.

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

:28:30.:28:32.

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

:28:33.:28:36.

permanent austerity if we have a Conservative Government

:28:37.:28:47.

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

:28:48.:28:51.

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

:28:52.:28:54.

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

:28:55.:28:58.

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

:28:59.:29:01.

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

:29:02.:29:04.

difficult problem. Very interesting to hear your

:29:05.:29:07.

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

:29:08.:29:10.

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

:29:11.:29:13.

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

:29:14.:29:21.

are magical worlds, home to extraordinary

:29:22.:29:24.

little creatures. Imagine being able to experience

:29:25.:29:27.

this wonderland through their eyes. see the incredible adventures

:29:28.:29:34.

of these miniature heroes

:29:35.:29:40.

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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