14/03/2016 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today on the day that the Alliance leader,


David Ford, made his final appearance at the despatch box


And Welfare Reform - it hasn't gone away, you know.


So, tonight, the wide-ranging Justice Number 2 Bill


completes its passage through the House.


We have increased the maximum offences and ensure that Northern


Ireland actually has the toughest penalties for these reprehensible


crimes. MLAs finally pass the Welfare Reform


regulations agreed in It is appropriate that we go back to


an issue that has in some ways defined this mandate, the issue of


need. And joining me with his thought's


on today's developments When he got the job in 2010,


David Ford was Northern Ireland's first Justice Minister since 1972,


when Westminster took policing powers away from the old


Stormont government. Today was his last day


at the despatch box in the role. Not only did he have a final


question time to get through, he also brought the final stage


of the Justice Number 2 bill Mr Ford said the bill contains some


of the most significant reforms to the justice system,


not only during his time First and foremost, the bill creates


a radically reformed approach to the enforcement of financial penalties.


It increases options for offenders to pay their fines. As one as


providing better options for debtors who cannot pay their fine, the Bill


provides cover sanctions for wilful default is worried is clear they


will not pay. These include incidents Agassiz provision to


access a debtor 's bank account and seize vehicles. We have improved


animal welfare in this bill by including and ensuring that Northern


Ireland has actually the toughest penalties for these reprehensible


crimes of any region in the silence. But of course we should not just be


concerned about and welfare. A big reduction is enhanced by extreme


pornographic images, new arrangements of Lay visitors to all


police stations, the committee 's provisions and introduced by Mr Ross


on revenge pornography and Mr freeze amendments on tax and Ambler 's


workers. We have undertaken an impressive workload which might


criminal justice system in Northern Ireland, not least by the recent


report which concluded on the just and digital airy age which is a


series of recommendations regarding innovative approaches that could be


up. Did in Northern Ireland was about it we have made a constructive


role in the constructive could in Northern Ireland. We have come up


with a number of absolutely achievable recommendations that we


believe should be part of an export of them and the figures are doubly


pleasing that we have managed to get the level of consensus on those


areas as well. People outside the bubbly don't realise the


significance of the justice in the two Bill but it is significant and


the reason why it is significant is that if the new fines collection


system is properly and fully implemented it will mean thousands


of people will not go to prison. It will mean that space will be freed


up. It will mean that the pressure in the prison system which is


suffering from very considerable pressures, Mr Deputy Speaker, that


pressure will in fact the East. We have to find better ways of dealing


with the nonpayment of fines for cases such as TV licensing and other


incidences rather than the present option of sending people to jail and


the Coral records that ensue and also the considerable cost involved


but that will be clearly a matter for the new mandate and progress I


know has already been made per degree in respect of TV licensing.


Given the a good wishes that refer to make I'd be going somewhere I


should like to lick it clear that the Taoiseach has not nominated me,


the last off right to have a seat in the House of Lords came through the


then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in 2005 and I have not had one


since and as far as I am concerned, subject to the wishes of the good


people of South Antrim, I have every intention of going nowhere at all


but coming back year after the election.


So while David Ford is determined to return to the Assembly,


he has already announced he won't be seeking the Justice job


Unsurprisingly, following the dissident republican attack


in East Belfast earlier this month, the safety and recruitment of prison


officers featured during his final question time.


What work can be done to get recruits from areas such as North


Belfast but I represent, these people these evil people must never


be allowed to win and they cannot be seen to win. All I can be done to


attract representatives from across the community must be done by the


Northern Ireland prison service to ensure that the prison service is


indeed reflective of society. Can I thank Mr Humphrey for his


condemnation of the attack on Friday week ago. I met the prison officers


family that day. I have since had the opportunity to meet him, I am


pleased to say he's making a reasonable recovery from his


injuries but that attack must be condemned and I welcome the


condemnation which I know would come from the part of this house. One


does need to be ever in terms of how we talk about recruitment to insure


that we do not get away from the basic principle of recruitment on


merit. The key issue is to ensure that people are encouraged to apply


from every part of the community and that is what I believe has been


carried out. I shall the Minister will agree it is important that the


prison service reflects the entire community in its workforce. Can I


ask the Mr Watt percentage of Catholic and female recruits, what


the percentage is? The last figures I saw at the point in June of 2012,


80% of staff were seen as Protestant and 79% were male. There has been a


significant turnaround but I cannot give the most recent recruitments


but by March of 2016, the overall numbers who were Protestant was


simply at 78%, so still a very high proportion of all been as of


recruits has changed slightly and at that stage the numbers of males was


down to 72% from 79%, so modest progress certainly. The intakes have


been more representative but overall, given the limited and this


will have been recruited, it is not made a huge difference. The threat


to prison officers stand at severe, as it has since the point of


devolution but in my time as Minister I have attended the funeral


of David Black, a murdered prison officer, I have attended the funeral


of Roland Kirk, a murdered prison officer, as well as others who have


died in the course of duty. And to members of God as were murdered by


terrorist operating on across border bases. We should acknowledge that


there is a cigarette can problem with those of not accept this


society ruled on that we should ensure we provide support for those


who are leading the fight to ensure that we become a normal society most


bitterly those who wear prison and police uniforms.


David Ford, and Chris Donnelly is with me now.


Members are dealing with important legislation right up to the wire


Yes, and we saw today. David Ford getting the second Justice Bill


through. It is a wide-ranging bill. Increasing sanctions as well is


making a specific offence attacking Ambler 's work in the line of duty.


I think there is another area in terms of trying to reduce pressures


on police and prison services in terms of nonpayment of fines and


that is now being transferred to civilian agency and there is an egg


and of reading flexible at year-round arranging repayments of


the less people got on the custodial route, sentencing, so I think you


should see that they have responded to pressures that exist within the


system and we will seal that Arafat does prove to be effective. Some


people are very supportive of our progressive approach to the justice


system but there are the people who regard that frankly as going soft on


cruel justice. Yes, that certainly does exist out there but


unfortunately when the pressures do come to bear on both the police and


prison services and we know that both have been in the public eye


over issues in the last period of time and therefore I think that


there are does seem to be a consensus both within the Justice


committee and to the Department of the executive that this is a way to


go at the moment. It was David Ford 's last day as a minister in the


chamber. How do you think he has a mini job over the last five, nearly


six years? The report made reference to he's the first Justice Minister


for quite a period of time. I think history is gone to record that he


stepped up to the plate at the time. It was not the first time that David


Ford 's leadership made an intervention that kept the wheels in


motion. We know that from 2001 money executive could have collapsed, he


led the party in a number of figures to give it another year and at that


time, I do think it is more unlikely the David Ford is going to take the


role May but it will more be another alliance member. I think history


will record that he did do a confident job. It is interesting


that you think that alliance will take the role. The party has been


quite cagey about that so far. I was asking my only long bedevilled the


leader about it on Sunday politics last week. She was not prepared to


be drawn. I think the party, no one is good show their hand at this time


but I think the have benefited in the last 15 years from being seen to


play a certain role that has allowed the institutions to stay alive, I


think in our electoral sense, no more than Naomi Long, herself,


staying playing a constructive role. Alliance will more likely least


ever. If not, Naomi Long crabs Stephen Ferry, someone also has been


tried and tested as a minister in a has mended. Arguably much.


Thanks, Chris - we'll hear more from you later in the programme.


The Enterprise Minister also faced question time today and,


in what's become something of a trend of late, he was asked


for his views on June's EU referendum.


Jonathan Bell was asked if his party's position in favour


of a Brexit runs contrary to the views of many figures


Can the Minister provide an update on what discussions he has held with


local stakeholders such as the CBI, FSB and manufacturing and I saw that


as economy Minister he remains able to represent the views of local


business leaders? I have met on a number of occasions with the


Federation of small business, I have met Mr Gover than of the CBI and


most recently I was in Bushmills with the chamber of, as and Anne


McGregor and interesting about particular function, and McGregor


said in her conversations with members most members, the majority


of members, were full vote leave. How many potential investors have


actually said to you Minister that they would like to see Northern


Ireland outside of the European Union? This question was asked


actually of our law just single investor in Northern Ireland and the


United States consulate in Belfast and they asked Andrew O'Brien the


question and he answered it very clearly that he had nobody saying,


no knowledge that people from the United States would stop investing


in Northern Ireland Bewley on the basis of the situation within the


European Union. I think in all of my trips that we have done, the three


things that have come across very clearly is that Northern Ireland is


one of the best talent pools in the world, that the costs of doing


business in Northern Ireland is our somewhat 84% of doing business in


the rest of the UK and the fact that from the 1st of April 2018, we will


have a corporation tax rate of 12.5%, the most competitive rate of


corporation tax in Western Europe. Those are the three factors that


seem to be taken hold of from Asia to America right throughout the


Middle East and it is on that basis that I think Northern Ireland will


continue to grow its economy. It would in fact be liberating for our


trade and for enterprise to be free of the shackles of the European


Union. Instantly we would be liberated from EU regulation which


even the commission has admonished cost 4% of GDP and of course we


would be freed to form our own trade deals with the growth parts of the


world rather than tied to the declining EU. With the Minister


agree go to mark people know my own parties could position but I think


that mole and put more into is not standard to scrutiny. If Wittig


regional funds, out of which we get dedicated peace money at known as


cat, we are still operating at a loss. Open Europe is estimating that


for this pot that we get ?1 back for every pounds 58 we put in. And for


2016, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates a net UK


contribution of nine and a half billion pounds overall it's


forecasting an increase of 3.1% billion pounds in total


contributions in the next five years. I imagine hard-working


families will not be any better off financially than they were before


the reform process started. Jonathan Bell making the case


for the UK leaving the EU. David Ford may have been dealing


with business in the House for the final time today,


but he certainly wasn't slacking as he presented a report on children


in the justice system The outgoing Justice Minister wants


the treatment of children to be less Lee Probert a proposal put forward


under this echoes the calls for the committee on the rates of the child


and the youth Justice review. It is to raise the minimum age of criminal


responsibility. I am fully aware not all parties yet agree with the need


to do this but we should not ignore the fact that this change is


strongly advocated unsupported by experts in the youth justice across


Northern Ireland, these islands and internationally. It would take


vulnerable young children entirely out of the game out of criminal


Justice and offending behaviour would be addressed in a different


way, as in most countries in Europe. I am very proud of the strides


forward made in youth justice primarily as part of the youth


Justice reviewed. However, it is clear there is more to do and


fundamental questions remain about how we react to the worst behaved


and most troubled children that caused the greatest harm within


communities and whether the punitive approach we have traditionally taken


as the best way to encourage them to change their behaviour. While


supporting the general thrust of what the Minister has said


particularly the problems, can I seek an assurance that we are


principally talking about young people accused of non-violent,


low-level offending, and if that young person poses a threat to the


community they will be detained in the traditional way. The intention


of having two separate custodial orders as to ensure we can deal with


more difficult and even violent offences and a different way, and


that clearly will have an effect on the issue of Beale, but the no


reasonable prospect test is a key issue as to how we address this, and


if there are concerns about violence, that will not be the same


case as many of the issues which currently result in young people


going into custody. The Minister will be well aware of the Green


party support for an increase in the minimum age of criminal


responsibility. Can he outlined far as the harm that is being done to


both the children themselves and the wider society by those who resist a


change in what is one of the lower stages of criminal responsibility in


Europe? There a danger that the small numbers of young people,


particularly with the couple of years above the minimum age, who


come into contact with the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland,


and we're talking about something like 20-30 young people in any year,


who are in real danger because of the way we currently operate, of


getting swept into a circumstance that leads them to further difficult


offending behaviour, and by raising the minimum age and ensuring we


moved to an appropriate care method which deals with what is almost


certainly in the case of ten and 11-year-olds, an underlying family


problem, we are much more likely to address it than by treating children


who have been left in some sort of state of dysfunctional family or


difficult relationships, or mental health problems. They are much more


danger than if we treat them with purely criminal sanctions.


David Ford, making his final Ministerial appearance in the House.


It's very possibly been the issue that's defined this mandate -


the reform of the welfare system in Northern Ireland.


Today, the Social Development Minister brought the draft welfare


regulations to the floor of the Assembly.


Lord Morrow explained how the changes to the system agreed


in the Fresh Start Agreement will be implemented.


These regulations will enable the Department to instigate payments are


affected by the benefit gap and employment and support allowance,


the benefit cap will restrict the total amount of benefits paid to a


household to 26,000, and the cap will be applied through a claimant's


housing benefit. Out of work and child related benefits will be


included when calculating. Except we have the support component has been


awarded. A household is exempt from the benefit cap if they are entitled


to working tax credits or a range of disability benefits. The people


involved in the fresh start agreement have deliver the package


which I believe is quite clearly second to none. I think that is


important to state. We would have loved to have been able to do more


but I have heard a lot of other commentary and empty rhetoric makes


for a empty purses and this puts money in the peoples pockets and I


am pleased we can stand over that today. Some have been receiving very


large amounts of benefits and the information given to the committee


shows that some have been earning over ?47,000 per year to a


household, and this legislation will give that a degree of protection but


what everyone needs to recognise going forward is that there are no


certainties. In one way, Mr Speaker, it is appropriate that at the very


last hours of this mandate, that we go back to an issue that has in some


ways define this mandate. The issue of meat, of welfare of dogma. --


need. The authority of this assembly in those matters, and the outcomes


we have now reached. It is one of the most obnoxious proposals that


there should be special points Kevin to perpetrators of terrorism, to V


makers, who in order to protect the benefits, they should be gifted an


extra four points when they are transferring across to PIP, to make


sure they do not suffer. And obnoxious proposals. These measures


are unique to Northern Ireland and demonstrate our dedication to


protecting the most vulnerable in our society putting is ahead of the


rest of the UK and efforts to do so. For the measures to mitigate will


form are being prepared and will be presented to the executive following


the election because there is no time to do it before and I have


already outlined why that is the case, and I would take this


opportunity despite members for their interest in the regulations


and I hope they would support them to a low mitigation payments to be


made to those affected by the benefit cap and unemployment and


support allowance measures. I commend the motion to the house.


The Social Development Minister, Lord Morrow, who also delivered


the stark message to the House that ?6.5 billion is needed to bring


Housing Executive homes up to an acceptable standard


He told his fellow MLAs that if the Assembly fails to meet


the challenge, future Ministers could very well oversee


the deterioration of the Housing Executive's stock


and the long-term decline of the organisation itself.


Over the next 30 years the Housing executive should invest 6.7 billion


to bring all its forms up to an acceptable standard than keep them


in that condition. Because a backlog of maintenance work has been built


up, 1.5 billion should be spent in the five years from 2015-16. This


backlog has grown because we should be spending what is available rather


than what is needed. These are huge sums of money, only part of this can


be covered from the rental income collected by the Housing executive.


It will also need a massive injection of extra capital,


somewhere between 470 and ?700 million, to address the backlog. The


Housing challenge in the next mandate will be finding and agreeing


a way of giving the Housing executive the ability to borrow for


the future of the Housing executive as a major social landlord for the


sustainable long-term future of the 88,000 homes that it provides. This


is the Minister will be away and all, we're in the next week or so


that there has been a clear focus on the need for the provision of social


housing throughout the course of this entire mandate just passed. It


has also included in our legacy report a call to the incoming


Department of the communities to address this matter as a matter of


urgency and speaking on behalf of my own party, I think it is important


to recognise that the essence of this statement is the recognition of


the need to reclaim the Housing executive as a provider for social


housing and I very much welcome that in the statement, although I do want


to see the situation moving forward from hope to intent. Borrowing has


to be paid for and the Northern Ireland executive has already


borrowed considerably more per head of population than other regions and


my question to the Minister is, how is the borrowing to be paid for?


There has to be what I would call some blue sky thinking in relation


to how housing is done in future and how it is financed. I am sure the


member is well aware that in fact what has gone before, while it did


do its job up to a point, it will not do it in the future. The depth


of the problem is quite staggering and that we are told that the Next


Generation, ?6.7 billion requires to be spent on housing executive


properties. It prompts the question, who has been in charge for the last


five years that we have got to this point? I don't think it has been


neglect on the part of the ministers of the past but rather it has maybe


been something to do with the lack of funding which is not going to get


any better than the days ahead. Lord Morrow on the harsh realities


of his departmental budget, and Chris Donnelly joins


me for a final word. I know you're watching proceedings


with interest. How do you think you dead in his capacity as leader for


the first time? It was a good decision to have the confidence. I


could see him trying to define the party around himself at the moment


with a couple of key phrases he is building the party around and we


have had the progressive nationalism which fell a little better than the


positioning of fatal abnormality and he seems to be outmanoeuvred by some


of the more traditional elements, but he is making Northern Ireland


work and I think he has found that, trying to suggest that Sinn Fein and


a bit light on policy and the SDLP might want to come in with the


number of strategic positions and they might seek to expose Sinn Fein


on them. As we seek to move towards the election the intriguing thing to


look out for is the battle with them nationalism for seats. Can you


really put a blade of grass between Sinn Fein and the SDLP only a lot of


key policy areas? The two parties, since Sinn Fein move towards a more


constitutional position, they are close together, and Sinn Fein will


play they are an all Ireland party, and the problem here is finding as


he needs to find a space to define the SDLP. One of the interesting


things he said was that if he didn't get what he wanted out of the


programme for government he might lead the party in opposition. That


would then start to define where they stood. And it is going to be


intriguing and a number of key constituencies that battle, not


least, in his home city of Derry, because Martin McGuinness is trying


to move back the from mid-Ulster. The main thing he needs is some kind


of victory, and trying to make the next battle ground for this


election, they have offered an opportunity to get a win, and that


is why I thought it was quite strange when Sinn Fein decided to


move Martin McGuinness. It is a win- lose if Martin McGuinness doesn't


secure the site feet, seat, and that would be a tremendous statement to


launch on, the counter narrative. The point is somebody else could


lose the seat? Martin McGuinness is winning, it is whether Sinn Fein


return three. If they went three, that would condemn eastward to the


fate of former SDLP leaders. That is it for tonight but join me tomorrow


for the final show of this run, goodbye.


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.