14/02/2012 Stormont Today


14/02/2012

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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Transcript


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:01:05.:01:08.

wide range of proposals on people with disabilities.

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With more answers, my guest is disability rights campaigner Monica

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Wilson. Big changes are on the way to the

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

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

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will become law. How will people with disabilities who receive

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

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

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people in Northern Ireland and families with children with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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finance minister said on another programme there will not be a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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that. We will come back to that later.

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The impact on disabled people on benefit reforms dominated questions

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

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moment but let's start with regional development and the

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

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

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to the area. Given the North West is central to

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

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Minister anticipate an increase in passenger numbers and perhaps

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additions or amendments to the existing timetable? I thank the

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

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most difficult to persuade. Translink are planning a new

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

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

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

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

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taking account of the increased numbers. And certainly we would

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

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

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

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

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

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

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for Regional Development for the East -- for the supplementary

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question. I have a strong commitment to the railway system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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with disabilities, so the social development minister should have

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

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welfare reform bill is progressing through Westminster and at this

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

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

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

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protected. And that the reform proposals take into account the

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specific circumstances of Northern Ireland. An executive sub-committee

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

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developed an executive response to mitigate against any negative

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

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

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

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different profile particularly in mental health. The assessment

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criteria reflects people with disabilities, and those groups that

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represent them, and we are consulting on the descriptors and

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

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figures they are quoting in relation to the number of people

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

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cause undue stress to the honourable people. There is a

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

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regular and ongoing communication with the Department for Work and

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Pensions. The degree around thick pasty for flexibilities within the

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proposals to reflect the particular needs and circumstances of the

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

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:08:07.:08:08.

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

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consultation. I will include another report for that. Tax

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credits. My officials are currently working on detailed analysis to

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come from the financial impacts for customers and robust information

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

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

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

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

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

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impact of the reform and people with distinct needs, particularly

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

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contingency plan to deal with contingencies, you need to know

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

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

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

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

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Secretary of State and our officials are in contact with

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officials from Westminster. Now the legislation is virtually through

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As I said, we have great unemployment levels with people

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with disabilities. The Employment Commission is talking about work

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placements and many disabled people find work through work placements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Care Agency they need to make communication plans and if they

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The finance minister has revealed where he is planning to spend

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

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

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scaled back while the aid to Carrickfergus to Belfast road will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the government and how does this scheme fit into the priorities

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which departments have set for themselves? There must be objective

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

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commitment today which takes the pressure of the Irish government to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:14:41.:14:51.
:14:51.:14:54.

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

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

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to remove the plight from the section from Ballygawley until

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

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

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

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

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independent process and the inspector is due to report and he

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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is why we brought forward this balanced series of announcements

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

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

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

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

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

:16:47.:16:55.

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

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reigniting the construction industry, giving hope to young

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

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particularly the construction industry. Those are very positive

:17:10.:17:16.

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

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

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

:17:28.:17:32.

jobs and developing opportunities all over Northern Ireland.

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

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

:17:41.:17:47.

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

:17:47.:17:52.

completed upon receipt of the inspectors' report and that will

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

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

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

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

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

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

:18:21.:18:26.

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

:18:26.:18:30.

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

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

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

:18:38.:18:45.

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

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heated exchanges, Alasdair McDonnell again said, we are minded

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

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finance spokesperson said they were ready to be more generous and

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

:19:12.:19:18.

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

:19:18.:19:23.

from inside the finance department and the First and Deputy First

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

:19:30.:19:35.

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

:19:35.:19:40.

the executive goals under the old Programme for Government had been

:19:40.:19:45.

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

:19:45.:19:51.

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

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

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

:20:03.:20:07.

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

:20:07.:20:11.

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

:20:11.:20:15.

could have used this as an opportunity to bash the Ulster

:20:15.:20:19.

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

:20:19.:20:25.

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

:20:25.:20:30.

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

:20:30.:20:35.

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

:20:35.:20:40.

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

:20:40.:20:44.

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

:20:44.:20:48.

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

:20:48.:20:52.

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

:20:52.:20:57.

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

:20:57.:21:00.

they announced lots of money for road improvement and hospital

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

:21:07.:21:10.

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

:21:10.:21:17.

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

:21:17.:21:20.

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

:21:20.:21:23.

even prepared to come to the chamber and answer questions on

:21:23.:21:28.

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

:21:28.:21:32.

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

:21:32.:21:37.

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

:21:37.:21:45.

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

:21:45.:21:49.

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

:21:49.:21:57.

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

:21:57.:22:00.

suicide, one of the most important issues that challenges our

:22:00.:22:08.

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

:22:08.:22:14.

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

:22:14.:22:18.

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

:22:18.:22:23.

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

:22:23.:22:29.

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

:22:29.:22:33.

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

:22:33.:22:39.

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

:22:39.:22:44.

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

:22:44.:22:46.

possible and they might be challenging and sometimes ministers

:22:46.:22:52.

tell us that targets are stretching targets. Eradicating child poverty

:22:52.:23:01.

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

:23:01.:23:06.

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

:23:06.:23:12.

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

:23:12.:23:16.

There are difficult issues for people with disabilities, one of

:23:16.:23:21.

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

:23:21.:23:24.

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

:23:24.:23:33.

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

:23:33.:23:37.

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

:23:37.:23:40.

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

:23:40.:23:47.

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

:23:47.:23:51.

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

:23:51.:23:54.

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

:23:54.:24:00.

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

:24:00.:24:03.

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

:24:03.:24:08.

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

:24:08.:24:14.

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

:24:14.:24:19.

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

:24:19.:24:24.

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

:24:24.:24:34.
:24:34.:24:34.

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

:24:34.:24:38.

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

:24:38.:24:43.

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

:24:43.:24:49.

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

:24:49.:24:51.

shutting us from the rooftops? These targets have not been

:24:51.:24:55.

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

:24:55.:25:00.

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

:25:00.:25:06.

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

:25:06.:25:11.

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

:25:11.:25:15.

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

:25:15.:25:21.

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

:25:21.:25:24.

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

:25:24.:25:29.

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

:25:29.:25:33.

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

:25:33.:25:39.

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

:25:39.:25:42.

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

:25:42.:25:49.

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

:25:49.:25:51.

last night noticed MLAs using technological devices during

:25:51.:25:56.

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

:25:57.:26:03.

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

:26:03.:26:08.

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

:26:08.:26:11.

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

:26:12.:26:15.

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

:26:16.:26:20.

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

:26:20.:26:26.

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

:26:26.:26:30.

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

:26:30.:26:34.

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

:26:34.:26:39.

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

:26:39.:26:43.

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

:26:43.:26:46.

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

:26:46.:26:52.

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

:26:52.:26:57.

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

:26:57.:27:02.

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

:27:02.:27:07.

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

:27:07.:27:12.

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

:27:12.:27:16.

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

:27:16.:27:22.

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

:27:23.:27:27.

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

:27:27.:27:35.

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

:27:35.:27:41.

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

:27:41.:27:49.

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

:27:49.:27:51.

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

:27:51.:27:55.

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

:27:55.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:07.

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

:28:07.:28:12.

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

:28:12.:28:17.

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

:28:17.:28:25.

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

:28:25.:28:29.

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

:28:29.:28:35.

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

:28:35.:28:40.

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

:28:40.:28:45.

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

:28:45.:28:49.

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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