14/10/2013 Stormont Today


14/10/2013

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

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

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

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

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Loyalists considering flag protests are warned of potential consequences

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

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

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

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chamber from Gareth. The Health Minister today told the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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that the rationality came from banning it in Northern Ireland but

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

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

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

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that Northern Ireland continued to import tiny quantities of blood from

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

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the full judgement and its implications for men who have sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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to maintain that position and they are not giving consideration to

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

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

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

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people have raised and a number of nonsensical issues people have

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raised and the inaccuracy of information that members have been

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

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

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allowing his personal views to collide with scientific advice, will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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instance. The Health Minister Edwin Poots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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his decision Northern Ireland continues to bring in small amounts

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

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

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

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

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executive minister has broken the ministerial code unwittingly. One of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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William Hayes said they had consulted their legal team and he

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

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

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department are considering the potential implications but nothing

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beyond that. The first minister has warned of

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

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Christmas. Peter Robinson told the Assembly the demonstrations of last

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

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investment conference but first was asked about the situation at

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

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

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

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

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

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that the talks process has started that the business community in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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have that impact but certainly if protests were brought into the

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

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

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Deputy first Minister and I have been involved in three investment

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conferences back in 2008 and the Washington investment conference

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kindly organised by the United States administration, then Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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opportunity to find out what projects various companies are

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

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

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Ireland as a possible place for investment and the encouraging thing

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

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the short list were indicating that Northern Ireland had leapt forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ireland is delivered by the most appropriate body, structured

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correctly, operating efficiently and fit for purpose and moving forward

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with the executive consumer and wider economic aims. The report

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

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it concludes that the political and consumer landscape has changed since

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the general consumer Council was created. We now have locally

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accountable government opposed to devolution, the existence of advice

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bodies, a utility regulator to protect consumer interests, and

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effective trading standards service and much better retail competition

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

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the existence of the consumer Council may no longer be essential

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to consumers nor be the most cost-effective mechanism for

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consumer representation. The committee provided a written

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

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the consumer Council provides an effective service and that no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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changed. There has been local government back here in Northern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Their environment minister says legal advice obtained by his

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environment on amendments to the planning Bill restricting the right

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to challenge decisions in court are not compatible with the European

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

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

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

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

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any application that does come will be fully scrutinised and rigourously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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amendments made and the consideration stage. As members will

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be aware, there were two significant amendments which introduced new

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

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designation of economically significant planning zones and limit

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

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

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

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being within the legislative competence of the assembly. The

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legal advice obtained by the previous minister from one of the

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

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

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

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

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

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full and rigorous public consultation to gauge the views of

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

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committee was not given the opportunity to scrutinise

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amendments. I find that extremely disappointing, especially as they

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

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

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them forward for discussion. Around 1000 people in Northern

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

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

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

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

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disease, is that why you raise the issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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with. Certainly in terms of awareness. You mentioned breast

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

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debate around bowel cancer will become just as important as the

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

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are startling. Screening is available for people aged between 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:24:07.:24:13.

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

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

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

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

:24:31.:24:37.

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

:24:38.:24:43.

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

:24:44.:24:48.

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

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

:24:55.:24:58.

murders and the state of security alerts.

:24:59.:25:03.

This unfortunate experience, to murders within 48 hours in Belfast

:25:04.:25:09.

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

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

:25:15.:25:17.

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

:25:18.:25:23.

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

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

:25:29.:25:32.

the body found last Wednesday afternoon. The police describe this

:25:33.:25:37.

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

:25:38.:25:43.

party wholeheartedly agree with that interpretation and definition. There

:25:44.:25:48.

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

:25:49.:25:53.

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

:25:54.:25:59.

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

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

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policing board that there is a criminality endemic in east

:26:14.:26:21.

Belfast. I come to this house today straight

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

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

:26:32.:26:39.

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

:26:40.:26:44.

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

:26:45.:26:52.

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

:26:53.:26:55.

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

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

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

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role of the jungle. These individuals have had their lives

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

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

:27:30.:27:37.

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

:27:38.:27:40.

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

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

:27:45.:27:50.

violence from whatever corner. Basil McCrea joining fellow MLAs

:27:51.:28:00.

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

:28:01.:28:06.

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

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

:28:12.:28:17.

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

:28:18.:28:21.

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

:28:22.:28:30.

Peter Robinson calling on any potential protest is to reflect on

:28:31.:28:39.

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

:28:40.:28:45.

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

:28:46.:28:49.

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

:28:50.:28:53.

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

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

:28:59.:29:04.

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

:29:05.:29:10.

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.