14/10/2013 Stormont Today


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

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Welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up tonight, the Health Minister comes


out fighting over criticism of his policy on gay men donating blood.


Similar laws apply in the USA, Canada, Germany, France, the


Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.


Loyalists considering flag protests are warned of potential consequences


by the first minister. I have heard of some proposals to hold protests.


I hope people will reflect on the damage that will cause to Northern


Ireland and traders in Belfast. An analysis of the busy day in the


chamber from Gareth. The Health Minister today told the


Assembly that if he did break the ministerial code over a ban on gay


men giving blood in Northern Ireland he did so unwittingly. Mr Poots


refused to apologise, despite the high court ruling that his position


is irrational. He insisted that his stance is based on public serve --


safety, not his personal beliefs. Unlike a lot of people who have been


commentating -- commenting, I have read the judgement. He indicated


that the rationality came from banning it in Northern Ireland but


allowing a small quantity to come in from abroad. Contrary to inaccurate


commentary, the judge did not take the view that maintaining a higher


threshold in Northern Ireland was irrational. He did, however, find


that Northern Ireland continued to import tiny quantities of blood from


Great Britain that could contain some of this blood. I am considering


the full judgement and its implications for men who have sex


with men donating blood. My priority as Health Minister is the safety of


blood, continuity in its supply and public confidence in the safety of


blood. The irrationality that the judge was talking about was the fact


that we took any blood from the UK with the possibility that it could


contain such blood. If I had actually banned blood coming in, the


judge would have found the decision irrational. The fact whether it is a


tiny or large supply of blood, the decision was found to be irrational


and in breach of your ministerial code. Will you now I regularly


joined with the rest of society in ensuring and supporting that the ban


is lifted? -- will you now join. The same legislation applies in Canada,


the USA, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden,


Finland and Denmark. The vast majority of countries... Order. Are


all of these people prejudiced or is the questions that I am prejudiced


just stupid? I did write to the minister in the Irish Republic. He


indicated that their position is the same as ours. It is their intention


to maintain that position and they are not giving consideration to


changing it. Order. In this instance, Sinn Fein are anything but


United. He has been asked to apologise to the house. Will he take


the opportunity to do so? I have dealt with a number of issues that


people have raised and a number of nonsensical issues people have


raised and the inaccuracy of information that members have been


putting out, so perhaps it is that those members to apologise to the


house. In order to address public concern that the minister may be


allowing his personal views to collide with scientific advice, will


he published the legal advice that the Attorney General gave him prior


to losing the court case? In terms of this, let's be quite frank. This


is not an issue of religion or moral views. This is an issue of public


safety. In terms of breaking the ministerial code, if I did so I did


so unwittingly. But I suspect that every other minister in this house


has unwittingly broken the code, if it is as designated in this


instance. The Health Minister Edwin Poots.


Barrett has been following the story and is with me now. -- Gareth. They


Health Minister clearly not cowed by the High Court judgement. -- the


Health Minister. Anybody who expected him to come with his head


held low will be sorely disappointed. He has sucked up a lot


of criticism and has come out fighting. He was invited several


times to apologise and he said he had nothing to apologise for and


those commentators who had read the judgement wrong should apologise. He


said the ban on gay men giving blood was lifted a couple of years ago but


Edwin Poots decided to keep it in place. The judge said that alongside


his decision Northern Ireland continues to bring in small amounts


from the UK which could contain blood of gay men and Edwin Poots


said if anything the judge had criticised him for not going far


enough. Does he accept that he broke the ministerial code? He said that


if he did so he did so unwittingly. He said, if that is the case, every


executive minister has broken the ministerial code unwittingly. One of


the other charges was that he was imposing his religious views and he


said it was not a religion issue but one of public safety and he listed a


range of countries including Canada, the US, France, the Scandinavian


countries who have a ban on gay blood. Is the judge right, is there


a power of sensual? -- censure. He kind of sidestepped the issue and


said the non-executive minister had asked for the ban to be discussed.


The judge said he should have brought that to the Executive.


William Hayes said they had consulted their legal team and he


had no role in this. The judge said it was at -- it is a matter for the


health secretary in Westminster. He has not said anything so far. His


department are considering the potential implications but nothing


beyond that. The first minister has warned of


loyalist flag protests in Belfast city centre in the run-up to


Christmas. Peter Robinson told the Assembly the demonstrations of last


year could be repeated. He reported back on the success of last week's


investment conference but first was asked about the situation at


Twaddell Avenue. I have spoken to people in the neighbourhood and I


have no doubt that it puts additional pressure on bps and I. --


PSNI. But I urge everybody to remember that they have two uphold


the rule of the law and abide by the conditions laid down. -- two uphold.


I thank the first minister for his answer. Would he agree that given


that the talks process has started that the business community in


Belfast are concerned about more protest parades in the city and what


words of encouragement could he give to people to make sure that protests


do not end in disruption? I would sympathise particularly with the


traders in Belfast who had a very bad period around Christmas last


year. When we talk about rights, of course there are competing rights,


the rights to carry out your daily business, in businesses or


commercial activity in the centre of Belfast, and people carrying out


activities in terms of protest have to take into account the rights of


others and the wider society. I have heard of some proposals to hold


protests leading up to the Christmas period. I hope people will reflect


on the damage that would cause to traders in Belfast, potentially


leading to a loss of jobs. The protests in Twaddell Avenue will not


have that impact but certainly if protests were brought into the


centre of Belfast it has that possible outcome. Can I ask him to


give the house and update on the conference held last week? The


Deputy first Minister and I have been involved in three investment


conferences back in 2008 and the Washington investment conference


kindly organised by the United States administration, then Hillary


Clinton. We are both agreed that in terms of the contact we have had


with investors this is by far the most successful but we have had. The


response was very positive from those we spoke to, both on the


Friday evening, the Thursday evening in Hillsborough Castle, at the


dinner, and some people... I noticed the BBC talking about whining and


dining. I have to say that it is that kind of networking that really


does get you a connection with business people. It is an


opportunity to find out what projects various companies are


looking at and how we might fit into their needs and requirements. At the


dinner we spoke to a number of people who were looking at Northern


Ireland as a possible place for investment and the encouraging thing


the next day was to find that a lot of those companies who have asked on


the short list were indicating that Northern Ireland had leapt forward


to the top of the short list. Peter Robinson signing a positive note


there. Arlene Foster told the assembly that the review said the


organisation was no longer essential. In a moment we will hear


from the chairman, but here is what the Minister had to say. In October


2012, there was an independent review of the consumer Council. The


purpose of the review was to ensure that the advocacy role in Northern


Ireland is delivered by the most appropriate body, structured


correctly, operating efficiently and fit for purpose and moving forward


with the executive consumer and wider economic aims. The report


recognises that the council has been responsive and effective. However,


it concludes that the political and consumer landscape has changed since


the general consumer Council was created. We now have locally


accountable government opposed to devolution, the existence of advice


bodies, a utility regulator to protect consumer interests, and


effective trading standards service and much better retail competition


on the high street. In that context, the report concludes that


the existence of the consumer Council may no longer be essential


to consumers nor be the most cost-effective mechanism for


consumer representation. The committee provided a written


response to the review. In its response it said it was content that


the consumer Council provides an effective service and that no


concerns had been raised regarding the council 's remit and structure.


If it isn't broke, why fix it? With me now is the chairman of the


consumer Council. You nodded in agreement then. So you will be


lobbying for it to remain as is? I will be lobbying to make sure that


the consumers infrastructure is protected as we go forward. That is


the critical thing. We have a report that has been presented to the


public and it seems to start to the question, what are we going to do


with the consumer Council? There is a report to the Scottish government


that seems to start with the question, what is the best consumer


protection we can have? I would like us to look at that question. In the


meantime, business as usual. We will make sure consumers are protected


across a range of markets. The minister was making the point that a


lot has changed since the last review took place. The landscape is


not the same as it was, so consumers can be and are protected in


different ways. That is true, a lot has changed. If you look at the


council, you see how we have changed and adapted. We have a transport as


part of what we are doing and next year, the UK government is


transferring postal services to us as well. We are an organisation that


has been adaptable and open to change and we still are. I would not


want it to look like we are resisting change. We want to make


sure that in a changing world where consumers don't live in silos that


we are not put into one. Since your last review, competition has


changed. There has been local government back here in Northern


Ireland and we have local and regional advice bodies on a much


better footing then we had back in 1999. If the consumer was to be


served best by getting rid of the consumer Council, would you accept


that? If the consumer is to be served best is the question we


should ask and it is the question the Scottish government are asking.


They want to create a body based on the consumer Council in Northern


Ireland. Last year, ?300,000 was returned to the pockets of


consumers. Last week a family lobbying and airline came to us and


we got them back ?3200. County Fermanagh, ten years they had low


water pressure. They came to us and we got it sorted. Those needs have


not gone away and need to be met. We are currently doing it. If it isn't


broke, don't fix it, I think that is right.


It'll be interesting to see what happens. Thank you for joining us.


Their environment minister says legal advice obtained by his


environment on amendments to the planning Bill restricting the right


to challenge decisions in court are not compatible with the European


Convention on human rights. The question was being answered on the


progress of the bill, but first it was question of fracking.


There is already huge opposition to fracking in the North. Despite the


fact that there is currently no application. I can assure you that


any application that does come will be fully scrutinised and rigourously


upheld against planning policy and will have to satisfy me or whoever


is the environment Minister. It'll have to be 100% safe to people.


When the minister took up his post, he was on record saying that


fracking would not happen on his watch. Given that some of these


applications, is he saying he has already made his mind up? Or might


some of these happen on his watch causing his green friends to see red


at the promise he has broken? Thank you, Mr Wilson. I think it


would not happen on my watch easily. Any application or any decision will


require full, scientific evidence. In my opinion, that scientific


evidence is not there now. I can't see it being there in the


foreseeable future and therefore, I cannot see fracking happening on my


watch. I am currently taking stock of the planning Bill and the


amendments made and the consideration stage. As members will


be aware, there were two significant amendments which introduced new


clauses four and 15 to the planning Bill. These clauses would allow


designation of economically significant planning zones and limit


the right to take a judicial review against the planning permission.


These amendments were the subject of concern of many members when we


debated them. Like my predecessor, I am concerned with the amendments


being within the legislative competence of the assembly. The


legal advice obtained by the previous minister from one of the


top QCs in the UK who specialises in environmental and public law states


that the amendment is not compatible with Article six of the European


convention on human rights. Your predecessor said that there had been


no consultation whatsoever. Can the bill go forward on that basis?


I believe that both amendments are significant and should be subject to


full and rigorous public consultation to gauge the views of


the public and stakeholders. I am also concerned that the environment


committee was not given the opportunity to scrutinise


amendments. I find that extremely disappointing, especially as they


were not drafted overnight and the members who bought them forward at


the last minute sit on the committee and had ample opportunity to bring


them forward for discussion. Around 1000 people in Northern


Ireland are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year. 400 of them die


as a result. Today the assembly backed a motion calling for


increased screening to help fight the disease. Good evening. Thank you


for joining us. You know what it is like to personally suffer from this


disease, is that why you raise the issue?


It is a personal issue given that I have suffered and have been


suffering with the disease. So I chose to make my problems public and


then to assist bowel Cancer UK and the other agencies and particular


surgeons who are keen to get the screening and testing back to 50


years of age. You want to extend the screening. Breast cancer screening


has been successful, you would like to see bowel cancer on a level


platform? Absolutely. I think there is a lot of work to be done around


bowel cancer. And bowel problems. Particularly males are unsure about


going to their doctor, but it is only another area for GPs to deal


with. Certainly in terms of awareness. You mentioned breast


cancer, the debate around that has been very good and we are hoping the


debate around bowel cancer will become just as important as the


other cancer diseases because lives will and can be saved. The figures


are startling. Screening is available for people aged between 60


and 70, you would like to stretch that at both ends? Yes. The Minister


made it clear that up to 74, once that is sorted out, and it is a very


good screening programme, he indicated today that we were six S4


and he will consider bringing the screening age back to 50 and that is


what health professionals want. That is what organisations such as bowel


Cancer UK is working full time with the coordinator, they all want that


to happen. If I can help to progress that I will do that. Do you think


it'll make a tangible difference? I think it will make an immense


difference. Massive savings for the health service. You mentioned that


you think men are reluctant to go to the GP to discuss issues like this.


People are clear what the symptoms are. I don't think too many people


would find it difficult to think about what the symptoms might be and


yet, even if they suffer from those symptoms, they do not go to their GP


or advice. Why do you think? In some cases the symptoms are not all that


clear. On some occasions there can be no symptoms. But in many cases


they can be obvious. Indeed and one should go if they have any items


discussed in the debate today. There is also a job for GPs to encourage


people to go along to them and to also do the test when they come out.


Interesting to see what happens. Thank you for joining us.


MLAs have condemned the murders of Kevin Kearney in Belfast. The Ulster


Unionist, Tom Elliott, bought the assembly matter on the day on the


murders and the state of security alerts.


This unfortunate experience, to murders within 48 hours in Belfast


and Londonderry over recent days. The murder of Barry McGrory on


Thursday will have come as a huge setback to the city of Londonderry,


which on the whole has enjoyed a positive year. Not least in the


important role of hosting the United Kingdom city of culture. We also


heard the news of the killing of Kevin Kearney in north Belfast with


the body found last Wednesday afternoon. The police describe this


as a callous and cold-blooded murder. I and the Ulster Unionist


party wholeheartedly agree with that interpretation and definition. There


are pseudo- republican groups using a veneer of whatever it is to hide


the fact that they themselves are involved in drug dealing, extortion


and taking money from drug dealers and then deciding that they should


kill others who they accuse of the same thing. They said to the


policing board that there is a criminality endemic in east


Belfast. I come to this house today straight


from the funeral of Kevin Kearney. I was in this house last night and I


witnessed it first hand, the destructive impact of violence on a


family. Caring family apart. We have seen the attempted murder attack in


Londonderry, we have seen a variety of attacks with devices of various


sorts that cause disruption. One of them was targeted at my colleagues


in ill dash-macro east Belfast Alliance offices. All of those are


attacks on this society as a whole. The latter is an attack on the


democratic process. It is the rule of law that we stand for, not the


role of the jungle. These individuals have had their lives


taken by those who are carrying out vigilante justice. We have to take


on paramilitaries from all sections, including the UVF and East Belfast.


There is no place for this type of organisation or activity because it


will take Northern Ireland to a place it does not want to go and I


join with other members in saying we must unite against the threat of


violence from whatever corner. Basil McCrea joining fellow MLAs


members in condemning the violence. Gareth has rejoined me. Peter


Robinson was flagging up protests in the run-up to Christmas. In the


first anniversary of the decision to fly the union flag on designated


days is on the 3rd of December. Heat a Robinson said he heard some people


might be planning protest, no surprise, but it will be of concern.


Peter Robinson calling on any potential protest is to reflect on


the damage they could cause. Very quickly, there was an alliance


response. The party 's leader said that while she welcomes comments,


they were hypocritical given what his party was doing in the run-up to


the vote last year. That is a reference to those 40,000 leaflets


circulated to households by the two main Unionist parties. Thank you


very much. I am back at the same time tomorrow night. 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.