14/02/2012 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Welcome to a love struck Stormont today where it is all hearts and


flowers. If you are sitting up to watch this, maybe you need a little


bit of romance in your life. On the programme tonight, the Road to Love


never run smooth. A �600 million investment in roads and hospitals.


There is something missing. We need to get a hold of the public inquiry


and why the d'Or de Minister would not Minister would not release this,


only he knows. How well people with disabilities be hit by the reforms,


S --? At this stage, it is not accurately assess the impact of the


wide range of proposals on people with disabilities.


With more answers, my guest is disability rights campaigner Monica


Wilson. Big changes are on the way to the


benefits system and no matter how fraught the progress of the welfare


reform bill at Westminster, the government says it is determined it


will become law. How will people with disabilities who receive


benefits be affected? Monica Wilson is from Disability Action. Do you


know? We know a little bit. We know there are thousands of disabled


people in Northern Ireland and families with children with


disabilities that are concerned and worried and the sooner we get the


clarity, the better. We know some things that indicate for us this


might be just about saving money. The discussion around 20% savings


on the disability living allowance doesn't take into account the fact


that in Northern Ireland 21% of people of adults with -- 21% of


adults are living with disabilities. It is different to central London


or England or whatever, and when we get to do our the Reform Bill, we


need to be taking heed of what is happening in Northern Ireland.


finance minister said on another programme there will not be a


reduction in the amount of money being spent on benefits. He was


talking about the whole pool of money. It is a mixed message.


not sure, not that I would dispute the figures yet until I get more


information, but we don't think that sounds like what is going to


happen. We are talking about �4.4 billion that carers save the


economy by unpaid care and many of them will live around poverty


levels when the change comes in. That is one person in five,


unemployed but wanting to work, compared to one person in 15 that


are non-disabled. It is good to see some welfare reform. But what we


want to know is what the impact will be. And how we can mitigate


that. We will come back to that later.


The impact on disabled people on benefit reforms dominated questions


to the Social Development Minister today. We will hear that in a


moment but let's start with regional development and the


upgrade of the rail link to the North West has been playing on many


MLAs minds, especially with those - - especially those with connections


to the area. Given the North West is central to


tourism during upcoming events over the next couple of years, does the


Minister anticipate an increase in passenger numbers and perhaps


additions or amendments to the existing timetable? I thank the


member for a supplementary. I always find those people are the


most difficult to persuade. Translink are planning a new


timetable which will be implemented when new trains are in servers. And,


obviously, this timetable has to be agreed with the Department in


advance, so there will be a period of consultation. Obviously, as part


of that new timetable, Translink will endeavour to deploy new trains,


taking account of the increased numbers. And certainly we would


hope to carry that fall would. minister will be aware that is a


view amongst some people in the North West that the railway line is


up for closure. In order to nail that campaign, bad paranoia that


sometimes exists, will the Minister commit to the long-term, not just


development, but expansion of the line to an early service in the


longer term? I am grateful to the member and, indeed, former Minister


for Regional Development for the East -- for the supplementary


question. I have a strong commitment to the railway system


and I do believe that rail provides an opportunity for moving the


travelling public. Therefore, as minister, I am very supportive. As


an indication of the decision I have taken and the efforts I have


made to ensure that we do not actually close this line and we


continue to improve it, and with that will come the expectation of


greater use, and that will further consolidate the position of rail in


the North West and also in other places in Northern Ireland.


Welfare reform is a major concern for many people, including those


with disabilities, so the social development minister should have


some answers as to the impact it will have, shouldn't he?


welfare reform bill is progressing through Westminster and at this


stage it is not possible to accurately assess the impact of the


wide range of proposals on people with disabilities. My priority is


to insure the needs of the most vulnerable people in society are


protected. And that the reform proposals take into account the


specific circumstances of Northern Ireland. An executive sub-committee


has been set up to consider all of these proposals had to have


developed an executive response to mitigate against any negative


aspects and achieve long-term benefits for the people of Northern


Ireland. In terms of DLA, I remain conscious that we have higher


proportion of our population in receipt of the LA. Under a


different profile particularly in mental health. The assessment


criteria reflects people with disabilities, and those groups that


represent them, and we are consulting on the descriptors and


entitlement thresholds. There is a need for others to be careful that


figures they are quoting in relation to the number of people


that made their is a reduction in benefits are informed and do not


cause undue stress to the honourable people. There is a


danger of being alarmist. Both might officials and I are in


regular and ongoing communication with the Department for Work and


Pensions. The degree around thick pasty for flexibilities within the


proposals to reflect the particular needs and circumstances of the


people of Northern Ireland. In order to assess the impact across


the 75 groupings, my department has deployed a response to the


consultation. I will include another report for that. Tax


credits. My officials are currently working on detailed analysis to


come from the financial impacts for customers and robust information


will be available in the late spring or to the Dunne late summer.


-- or early summer. I thank the Minister for his very informed


answer. Or would it be possible, in the light of the various research


that he is doing and information such as it is to hand to send up


some sort of a contingency plan so that we can limit any negative


impact of the reform and people with distinct needs, particularly


those with learning disabilities? If you are going to have a


contingency plan to deal with contingencies, you need to know


what they are. That is why we are undertaking work to see what the


impact is going to be. The focus up until now has been very much a trip


on engagement with Westminster. But directly with ministers, D W P, but


David frying and Maria Miller. We have been engaged with the


Secretary of State and our officials are in contact with


officials from Westminster. Now the legislation is virtually through


Westminster, and we know where they stand, we can focus on working out,


now we know the product, we will be able to know better what the impact


is going to be, and then we can start to do the work. There are


always the issues authority to keep in mind and financial parity has


therefore limitations on what can be done but operation me what we


can do to make a different is open to us. And we will do everything we


can in that regard for. Are you reassured by the Minister


of's comments? Not really. I would say that Maria


Miller, the Minister for Disabled People has said there is no


unemployment, there is no problem for disabled people seeking jobs.


As I said, we have great unemployment levels with people


with disabilities. The Employment Commission is talking about work


placements and many disabled people find work through work placements.


I think that looking at the benefits given to people that it


under the work and support test, that is very different. For example,


severe disablement premium, given to people who obviously have a need


for that, will not be available for those in the workgroup, but will be


available for those in the support group. The overview of this is that


people are worried. They have said to the department and to the Social


Care Agency they need to make communication plans and if they


don't know what the impact is going to be, that makes me even more


worried. Is there a danger that groups like yourselves are being


alarmist? I don't think so. If you look at the calls we get from


disabled people that are terrified about what is happening, I think


time being realistic. If I knew what the impact was, I would be


better able to respond to it, but nobody knows. That is my worry.


The finance minister has revealed where he is planning to spend


almost �600 million of his Budget with most of the money going on


roads. The controversial a fight upgrade will go ahead but has been


scaled back while the aid to Carrickfergus to Belfast road will


also get improvements, as will the eight eights. In terms of the


construction industry itself, this will create 2,500 jobs, but that is


not the end of the matter. Of course, there is a multiplier


effect so for this. It is reckoned that the �500 million we will be


spending will, in turn, generate additional spending, which, because


of the multiplier effect, will be 2.8 times. That will generate


expenditure of nearly �1.6 billion in the economy over the period.


he and the exec -- are they still committed to the other sections in


the long-term, given that there are problems around funding?


As I said in an answer to an earlier question, the decision on


any road scheme, as far as I am concerned as finance minister, must


be based on, first of all, what are the priorities in the programme for


the government and how does this scheme fit into the priorities


which departments have set for themselves? There must be objective


criteria on which these investments are made. I do not want to give any


commitment today which takes the pressure of the Irish government to


make a contribution. I think he would recognise it would be foolish


to do that. We have got �50 million commitment from them. I think if I


were to signify that we were quite happy to continue with the rest of


the roads, no further money would be forthcoming. It is my job to


maximise the amount of money so that we can maximise them. Can the


Minister confirm the two sections he announced on the road will start


this ought and? Could he give confirmation for the start of the


work on the other road? First of all, the spend on the two


roads will start this year. As far as the hospital is concerned, what


the proposal will do, it will enable them to be because the time


between the enabling works being carried out, which I understand are


being done, and then the hospital been built, because that was going


to be a gap. Again, there will be substantial spend of nearly �10


We need to get hold of the public inquiry into the A five and why the


Minister will not release this, only he knows. And the further need


to remove the plight from the section from Ballygawley until


Aughnacloy because there is a lot of land and farmers and that land


could continue to be blighted if a clear statement of intent isn't


made soon. Let's talk to one of the winners, Danny Kennedy. Going on


that point, what about this public inquiry? The inquiry is an


independent process and the inspector is due to report and he


will report in his own time with his detailed submission. It would


not be proper for me to put pressure on him so we will wait for


the report and when it becomes available we will study it as


quickly as possible and see what the implications are, in respect of


the A5 road and the A eight. this decision taken out of your


hands? I am the Minister for the roads and, therefore, I have


identified priority is in terms and the strategic road network and that


is why we brought forward this balanced series of announcements


today. Long-sought after roads, much campaigned for. And two


sections of the A five. I have announced today almost half a


billion in terms have spent, which is spectacular. Although the A5


road has been scaled back, the local Tories have been critical,


they say that to challenge so much money being spent. Is your party


going back on the manifesto promise? What we're doing is


reigniting the construction industry, giving hope to young


people and creating real benefit in terms of the local economy and


particularly the construction industry. Those are very positive


things and it has been warmly welcomed by the industry and by


road users themselves and I am interested to hear the comments of


others but they are not really at the game when it comes to creating


jobs and developing opportunities all over Northern Ireland.


Allister later this afternoon was not very happy with this proposal,


and said, where is the business case? Has it been sent to the


Department of Finance? The fact is, the business case was only


completed upon receipt of the inspectors' report and that will


detail any necessary changes and they will be costed and then the


business case will be finalised to the satisfaction of everyone. That


is the nature of the contracts we have entered into. Thank you for


joining us tonight. It may seem like a dim and distant memory, but


when the budget was agreed in March last year, the SDLP voted against


it. But as Mark Devenport told me earlier, that view may be softening,


thanks to today's spending announcement. It would appear that


the SDLP reacted to the good news for Labour around Stormont by


trying not to be painted into the corner of being nay-sayers and they


always quoted against the budget in the past, even ministers have voted


against it, they continue to do so, like in June. Yesterday, during


heated exchanges, Alasdair McDonnell again said, we are minded


to oppose this, but in the light of this capital spending, the SDLP


finance spokesperson said they were ready to be more generous and


signalled a shift. Good news on that front but some bearing bad


news today? This is about the release in written form of report


from inside the finance department and the First and Deputy First


Minister's offers by units within those offices. It was not


particularly wonderful in the sense that this report found that 67% up


the executive goals under the old Programme for Government had been


met but there has giving things to say about health. It found that


less than one-third of the previous goals had been met. Some people say,


this maybe should have been spelt out on the chamber floor and maybe


this is bearing bad news. Since it appears to be bad news mainly about


health and of course help was run by the Ulster Unionists, would the


DUP and Sinn Fein really have thought about burying this? They


could have used this as an opportunity to bash the Ulster


Unionist Party? They spent a long time and the last administration


having a go at Michael McGimpsey. The kind of goals that were not met


were about ending the rise in obesity, reducing the suicide rate


by 15%. They said some strong targets for themselves. They did


not manage to achieve these. The question is, get targets that you


can meet! Then you welcome up trumps when people look at it


afterwards and say, did you achieve those goals? The Alliance Party


thinks it is a case of burying bad news and Stewart Dickson joins me


now. You think that this unlikely put this out on the same day that


they announced lots of money for road improvement and hospital


improvement? I am convinced. It was a good news story in terms of my


constituency in East Antrim and in relation to the roads and hospitals


but sitting on a table outside was a written statement from OFM-DFM


telling us basically had they failed to meet their targets. Not


even prepared to come to the chamber and answer questions on


this or make any oral statement. I think that has shovelling bad news


out when most of the media has been covering the good news about the


investment. They did reach 67%? That includes green and amber


warning lights so even that is over a bit. Realistically, we are


looking at nearly 50% of key targets must and many of those are


very important, hospital waiting times, in relation to the rate of


suicide, one of the most important issues that challenges our


community. Important indicators. This is a period of 2008 - 11 but


much of the failures have been since 2010. So might argue that it


was a targets that were unrealistic. To reduce suicide by 15%, given the


upward trend over the past years, was pretty unrealistic in the first


place? You need to set challenging targets, no matter what. I do


appreciate this is a very sensitive area but it does in investment and


perhaps more time. But OFM-DFM paid for a great deal of professional


and buys in setting as targets. They are set as realistically as


possible and they might be challenging and sometimes ministers


tell us that targets are stretching targets. Eradicating child poverty


by 2020? Why set that as a target. There have been good things, things


have been achieved. They are unrealistic, like that., but also


failures in there. Trolley wait times. That simply as a failure.


There are difficult issues for people with disabilities, one of


the targets they did not breach was at 13 week waiting list for people


waiting for new wheelchairs. They did not meet that. What is the


waiting time? It can be as long as 26 weeks. It depends on the type of


wheelchair and the complexity of the individual need but if you do


need something that enable you to move outside your room or your


house and you had to wait 13 weeks, would you not be feeling that you


are not part of society? And not being given the respect and dignity


that you deserve? That was on target that was not realistic


enough? I absolutely, there are as a general acceptance that you wait


for equipment. I do not think you should wait unless it is a very


complex issue. When you need something that is either brought in


or something that has to be purpose-built. But the railway


targets, respite care packages, the number of packages did not meet


targets. That is vitally important for people, for families who need


respite. It is only a couple of weeks and people need that. If


they're under the pressure of depression or under pressure as


families. And too much is expected of people in care and not enough


divot -- dignity is given to disabled people. Should we not be


shutting us from the rooftops? These targets have not been


reached? We are and my colleague raised this as a point of order


with the Speaker today. He is a vice-chair of the OFM-DFM committee


and he will raise those issues and they do expect Peter Robinson to


come to the chamber and explained to the members why are these


targets were set out why many of them simply have failed us. It


isn't just important health issues, there are a range of targets and we


simply have not planting of trees, for example. That was not


unrealistic. There are things that I accept that the economy has


overtaken in relation to tourism. But all these things need to be met


and we need to have a collective -- explanations given to us. Can MLAs


multitask? Should they be working on tablet devices and phones in the


chamber? An eagle-eyed Sinn Fein MLA and viewer of this programme


last night noticed MLAs using technological devices during


proceedings. I asked him if he was for or against it. I observed a


number of MLAs using their iPhone and computers in the chamber. That


isn't officially allowed but it does indicate that members want to


use these devices in the chamber and want to get on with working in


the chamber and as a modern assembly we need to allow that and


we need to facilitate that. Are you aware of the rules and regulations


in other places? Westminster and the Dail, for instance? In Wales,


that is a very good example. Laptops and computers are used


within the chamber and actually, it does increase the number of elected


members to stay in the chamber. What you find is that members have


an increasing workload which is electronic, through e-mail, and the


need to be able to deal with that rather than leaving the chamber I'm


going to other officers to do this work. If we can work in the chamber,


we can also listen to debates and multi- task and all the rest of


that. In a modern assembly, people expect us to do work and that work


should be facilitated. She people not listen to other members? You


talk about multi-tasking but if you're concentrating on e-mails or


looking at other business, is at the time and place to be doing


that? Should you not engage in the debates? You can tipple. Computers


can actually help with the betting because if you listen and here and


relevant point, you can research that. Using your computer. It will


inform members and will prove to be a oven assistance rather than


hundreds. When you go to this bigger or the Commission? I have


raced this on a number of occasions with the Assembly commission and


they informed me that this will be raised on 27th February at a


meeting. A number of members want to facilitate this request and on


television, you can see members of every party already doing this, so


there is no reason why it could not be part of the mainstream.


final thought? What happens with the Welfare Reform Bill? Do you sit


on the sidelines? We are actively lobbying at ministerial level but


we need to lobby to make sure that this bill for Northern Ireland does


not go through in an accelerated passage way. We need to look at the


various clauses and the regulations, because often it is the practice


that is important. The key very much for being with us tonight. --


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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