15/01/2013 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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fairly limited. Hello, and welcome to Stormont Today. A new day on the


hill, but the same issue dominating proceedings. The political


divisions highlighted by the recent flag protests and accompanying


violence. The Union flag is the flag of this country, and it's


everybody's flag. Mr Nesbitt said, and I quote, the Union flag is


everyone's flag in this region. That's not true. Also, why did the


Health Minister feel the need for a political lesson? This House will


make the laws, and courts will interpret those laws, not the other


way around. And a political correspondent from


the detail - Stephen Walker gives us his take on the day's events.


Even before business began a point of order was a taste of the


fractious atmosphere to come. He wanted the Speaker to look at


comments Alex Massky had made about the ongoing trouble in east Belfast.


Advise this House what action can be taken against a member who


breachs the code of conduct, in particular reference to the


personal conduct of members who have a duty to uphold the law and


to act on all occasions in accord Wednesday the public trust placed


in them. Furthermore, in respect of promoting good relations where


members will act in way that is conducive to promoting good


relations and promoting a culture of respect for the law, in specific,


reference to the member for south Belfast, Mr Massky who on Sunday


said that the Short Strand residents were behaving with


impeccable pave your despite evidence of them wearing Balaklavas,


wielding bats, throwing bricks at protesters. Furthermore, last night


on various media outlets saying his response to the violence visited on


members of the Short Strand would be to meet it with violence.


Clearly, in those circumstances what action can be taken to a


member who has flouted the code of conduct for members? First of all,


members will know I do give members some latitude on points of order,


but secondly, this is not a point of order. Thirdly, this is not an


issue for the Speaker, but certainly I would direct the member


to the Provisions Committee or to the clerks here within the


Parliament buildings but it's not a matter for the Speaker and not a


point of order. Is it an order for the member


across the floor to misquote another member in this House


whatever happened inside the House and as you pointed out yourself, Mr


Speaker, it didn't deal with this House and the member has been


misquoted. THE SPEAKER: Order. I want to say


to the whole House, order. Order. Let us all be careful -- in


whatever contribution we make in this House. Let us all be careful.


Let us not make a bad situation worse outside this chamber. Let


always be careful, and we all have a responsibility as political


parties in this House to behave in a appropriate manner. Order. Let us


all move on. Alex Maskey got his opportunity to respond to that


point of order during the subsequent debate AUUP motion on


inclusivety called on the Assembly to reconfirm its commitment to


peace and democracy and for all parties to respect the spirit of


the Good Friday Agreement. I was shocked to watch the discussion on


the late news last night to hear Alex Maskey state if he lived in


the Short Strand he would be out throwing stones at the street


protests. I condemn the violence visited upon the residents...


THE SPEAKER: Order. A point of order, Mr Maskey. Order! I welcome


your ruling earlier on at the beginning of this session, and I


listened to Mr Nesbitt start off his comments about today is not


about what happened yesterday or last week, but about what we do


from here on in, but I would actually strongly advise Mr Nesbitt


not to misquote me in this chamber today. There is a transcript -


there is a full transcript - there is a transcript available, as Mr


Nesbitt as a former journalist will know. He should not misquote me in


this chamber today. THE SPEAKER: Order. Order! The


member has it on the record. Order. Order. Mr Nesbitt, order.


Speaker, thank you. I am confident that I reflect the spirit of the


words I heard last night on UTV's late-night news. Mr Speaker, my


party calls for a return to the spirit of the Belfast Agreement. I


acknowledge the DUP having an amendment down to that part of the


motion. We're not down the ditch over that as long as we get this


opportunity to explain exactly what we mean by the spirit of the agreat.


There was another area where the Belfast Agreement was an


unqualified success, and that is in regard to the constitutional


question which was settled in 1998 and endorsed by a referendum.


Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and that means the Union flag is


the flag of this country, and it's everybody's flag. I want to come to


a conclusion, Mr Speaker, to the issue that I have heard various


Nationalists and republicans allude to. They have complained this is a


one-sided forum. Unionists talking to themselves won't solve the


problem. Mr Speaker, in some respects I agree with that. It


won't solve the problem. The involvement and the capacity for


both the SDLP and Sinn Fein to involve themselves in the outcome


of the Unionist forum is essential. If there's disadvantage in the


Unionist community, and there is, we want to hear what you're going


to do about it, about the disadvantage - the sectarianism,


the one-sided inquiry process, the diminishing of Britishness at the


expense of the promotion of Irishness - we want to hear your


proposals about that. Yes, we do. What I see in terms of the flags


protest is a continuation of the denial that's represented by


bringing forward this amendment because the amendment on its own,


if it had not removed the reference to the Good Friday Agreement, was


perfectly acceptable. Asking me to repudiate that agreement is not on.


It is a denial of the progress that we've made on the basis not just


for the progress that has been made since the Good Friday Agreement,


but the value that was added in the negotiations in terms of


Halisborough and St Andrews. ways of the past cannot be the way


of the future, yet what we're hearing from the leader of the DUP


is that violence is a result of the Alliance Party, changing what he


called the "established status quo in the City Hall". How has all this


violence been brought about just by one action? Then on the other hand,


we're told the next day a whole plethora of things is what it's


about. There is no mention in any of that about the 40,000 scurrilous


leaflets that were circulated in east Belfast intended to bring


about the sort of violence that we have. I and my party will not


support the amendment from the DUP which is wholly unnecessary and a


concerning attempt to dilute the motion and remove a reference to


the Belfast agreement. Indeed, it's deeply concerning that Mike Nesbitt,


the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, does not see that as a


concern as a key signatory to that agreement. They're entitled to be


republicans and Nationalists, so they'll put forward a particular


agenda. We have the alliance who claim themselves to be a non-


sectarian party, and let me deal with that in a moment or two.


THE SPEAKER: Order. But in terms of all of this, whenever we have


particular agendas being met and fulfilled, that can cause real


damage to a community. For example, when it comes to historic inquiries,


for example, when it comes to public inquiries - there seems to


be entirely a focus - what is aimed against the loyalist community and


people who have engaged in loyalist terrorism... I think it's important


we recognise the Good Friday Agreement was not about endorsing


someone's aspirations. I, let me repeat this, am not remotely


interested in whether anybodying a there's I am entitled to or have


aspirations. I have no aspirations. I have political objections and


rights. What I am fearful about is if I was a listener to this debate


outside of this House today by the end of this debate I would have to


work out as a member of the public out there, have I anymore


confidence at the end of this debate about what's going to happen


on our streets in the days, weeks and months ahead, or am I going to


be less confident by what I hear in this chamber? I am disappointed the


member that's just spoken didn't actually deal with the furore going


on around his comment, Mr Speaker, when the motion is explicit around


condemning acts of violence, pace and all of that. Given what he said


in respect of if he was living in the Short Strand - he can correct


this quote if I am wrong - I'll certainly give way to him. He said


given what was happening there, if he lived there and his property was


being attacked, he would be out throwing stones as well. I'll give


way to the member. I am very happy to clarify that because I want to


make it clear, as I said to Mr Nesbitt early on people student be


misquoting anybody. Unless people stand up and say what the problem


actually is and identify the problem, then you will not deal


with it. And I made it very clear - I will actually defer to another


member because members of his party - colleagues sitting beside him


commended him last year for shooting at people who he said were


attacking his home. He has made an assertion about something he knows


nothing about, and his assertion is wholly and completely wrong. He's


made it on radio as well, and he should be very careful about what


he's actually stating. Mr Speaker, we can't support the final sentence


around the Belfast Agreement because that agreement, indeed - or


some of the reasons why people are so aggravated and annoyed and out


on the streets, so that is why we couldn't support that. I note Mr


Nesbitt has clarified what he meant of that in terms of the spirit of


the Belfast Agreement. I accept on that context what he's said, but


the letter of the Belfast Agreement which the members opposite have


said that we should be accepting we're wholly opposed to. Others who


have created the tensions that exist, include the Prime Minister


David Cameron, apologising for what happened around Pat Finuken. What I


hear is an apologist for how the security forces defended our


country, and they exploit a particular narrative that


republicans want to portray that they were the heroes, the security


forces were the bad guys, and the Prime Minister is pandering, and I


note Raymond McCartney nods his head in agreement - no surprise,


and the Prime Minister then panders to that particular narrative, and


that's wrong, and that's why people are out there agitated. The flag is


flown on designated days here in Stormont, but the Unionist Parties


forgot to tell their protesters that they forgot to explain that in


agreements that are reached, you have to reach compromises, and what


they have been doing is pretending that things are the same as they


were before. Things are not the same, and it's better for everyone


that they aren't. Mr Nesbitt said, and I quote, the


Union flag is everyone's flag in this region. That's not true.


Consenting, as we do as Nationalists, to this region


remaining part of the United Kingdom as long as its people wish


it to, is not becoming British. I'm joined now by Stephen Walker,


political correspondent with the website The Detail. A bad-tempered


debate today. It doesn't augur well for a solution on the streets if


they can't agree on the hill. agree. It was a fractious debate,


the second they have had in 48 hours. Yesterday wasn't ill-


tempered, but showed the capacity to go in that direction, but today


we have seen a lot of argument. I think that's reflective of the fact


that despite us being seven weeks into this crisis, we still have no


united political response. All the parties condemn the violence, but


as we saw from today, thereafter they then divert off into different


arguments, counter one another on why the crisis happened, where it


might go, how it could be dealt with. As I say, I think that's


reflective of the fact we don't yet have a united front from Stormont


in the face of what we're seeing on the streets, and of course, it


doesn't augur well for the wider picture and doesn't augur well for


the visit of the two governments, which is due for Thursday. What


when it comes down to it, then, there was a lot of discussion about


Alex Maskey today, but he did end up having a surprising ally. Again,


a lot of the heated elements of the debate focused on the comments that


were thrown back at him today. He defended his remarks and said he


had condemned vile eands was referring to attacks on


individuals' homes. That obviously didn't satisfy the DUP, but there


was some surprise to see he got if not backing, then certainly some


understanding from Unionists. That was Mr Copeland from the Ulster


Unionist party. Mr Copeland obviously represents the east


Belfast constituency and is familiar with what's going on there,


and he said having seen homes of his constituents being attacked, he


understood where he was coming from. That was a surprising twist in the


debate. When it comes to the motion, then, and the DUP amendment, how do


you see that playing out next week? Well, on the one hand, it's a


largely procedural issue. There was a request that the vote be held


today. That wasn't possible. It has been kicked into the session due to


take place Monday, but I think what's more of interest about it is


that the - it all centres on a request on the part of the DUP to


have a reference to the Belfast Agreement, the Good Friday


Agreement, removed from the motion. That then led to an argument in a


sense about the significance of the agreement, so we're about to mark


its 15th anniversary, and here we are still at Stormont still having


arguments around that peace deal. Thank you very much.


Staying on the theme of the ongoing civil arrest, the Justice Minister


was asked this afternoon whether the PSNI's current resources are


sufficient to deal with it. He said they had been up until now, but if


the trouble continues, the police budget could face pressures this


It's an operational matter for the Chief Constable. I have been in


frequent contact with the Chief Constable over the past weeks,


including yesterday, and have received his assurance that he, at


present, has adequate resources to deal with the situation. I can also


inform the House, that the Chief Constable has commissioned an


internal assessment of PSNI resilience to meet the demands of


the coming years. 2013 will be a challenging year for the PSNI, with


the G8, World Police and Fire Games and the City of Culture. These


events take place during the parading situation and it Mr Will


place pressure on the police in terms of financial resources.


notice the PSNI say they have adequate resources at present,


could he tell us what contingency is in place with regard to


resources and assessment of the impact of current policing demands


on the PSNI budget? Well, I'm advised by the Chief Constable that,


if the current situation on the streets persists, alongside the


issues which have to be faced in terms of a severe threat from


terrorism, there may well be pressures on the police budget


within this current financial year. That is currently being worked on


by the police and I have no doubt the department officials will have


to play a part. It may well be there will be a role relating to


the department of finance and personnel. Wider issues, in terms


of the non-financial resources, are an issue for the Chief Constable to


address. Clearly, there are issues like mutual aid from other police


services in connection with events like the G8. Minister, we have


learnt to date that it has cost �7 million for the ongoing street


protests and I listen with interest with the member who asked the


question there. He is one of the people who initially encouraged


people on to the streets. Does the minister agree with me that this


cost will have a negative impact on policing resources? Well, I can


certainly agree with Mr Linch there are costs being incurred by the


police at the moment. �7 million which appeared in the media was an


extrapolition from the figures published the, the detailed figures,


which police had costs for a fortnight in December. Those costs


were something in the region of �3.8 million. Clearly, some people


have worked on from that. I understand we will not see the full


detailed figures for another two three days for the cost into


January. One of the costs which is unnecessary on policing, if we


could resolve matters further in this place, is the cost of policing


our divided community. There is a responsibility on members in this


House to do all they can in the actions they take to assist in


providing a community that is less divided and, therefore, reduce the


cost to policing? Well, Deputy Speaker, it is certainly the case


there are very significant costs for the Police Service because we


are a divided society, as I've just said, I believe there are


significant obligations on each of us to do what we can to avoid that


and reduce tensions. It is difficult to estimate what those


costs are. There is no doubt, by comparison with what would be the


case for a similar police service in any part of Great Britain, or


indeed areas that the gardai, with a similar population, the costs of


policing in Northern Ireland are significantly higher. That is a


cost which falls to us at the expense of other public services.


Back in October, a High Court judge ruled that a ban on gay and


unmarried couples adopting children was ill Lille. Today, Edwin Poots


confirmed that he has lodged a notice of appeal against the


decision. The issue was raised by the Green Party leader, Steven


Agnew during question Time. A child growing up in a loving family home,


with a gay parents, would somehow be worse off considering especially


as gay individuals can adopt? of course we are always looking for


the best interests of the children. That is why we want to bring new


adoption legislation to the Assembly. That's a course of work


we are currently engaged in. That is with the office of First and


Deputy First Minister at this moment in time of I hope it will be


brought before the Executive quite soon. In all of those things we are


wanting to move things forward. In the course that piece of work, a


public consultation was had. That public consultation elicited the


views of just short of 1050 people and organisations, of that, over


1,000 of those persons and organisations were opposed to


changing the law away from the existing stance. The member shakes


his head. He may want to listen to the views of 3% or 4% of the


community and ignore the views of 95% or 96% of the community. He


would do well to pay attention to what the community is saying?


Account minister outline if he believes or if if he had legal


advice or indication that the current legal process, whether he


is going to appeal or not appeal, could or would hold up current


timetable of the adoption bill? Well, I don't think it should. We


can proceed with the adoption bill. Afterall, we need to be very clear


about this. When it comes to these issues, this House will make the


laws. Courts will interpret the laws, not the other way round. It's


for this House to make the decisions. We are the elected body


of the people who make laws and we should not give up that position of


making the laws. That is something that has been given to us by the


people, not to other organisations, we should make the law, and the


courts should interpret the laws. Would the minister agree with me


that there are so many children still waiting to be adopted that it


is a good idea to widen the pool to have more people to be able to


adopt children? No, I wouldn't agree with her at all. We already


have a wide pool and the numbers of children that are waiting to be


adopted, in Northern Ireland, are not considerable compared to other


areas. We always have to act, first and foremost, in the best interests


of the child. I will always act in the interests of the child because


it is not a human right to adopt people need to get that very clear.


We must always ensure that the human rights of the child are


ensured. We will look at all of the issues relating to foster care,


relating to care in homes and all of these things, we need to reform


the system, we need to move the system forward. We need to advance


the system. People can get up on particular hobby horses, but they


don't provide solutions. I'm looking for solutions. How will the


new legislative proposals tackle delays? Currently, our adoptive


process is a Low slower adoptive are cress as is the case in England.


We believe we can shave eight months off the adoptive process if


we carry out the legislative process we are looking at. There is


work to be done. The process needs to be adopted, amended and changed.


That is the course of work we are looking at. We will not be


distracted by other issues in moving this forward in the best


interests of the children. You might remember the controversy when


Marie Stopes, the first private clinic to offer abortions in


Northern Ireland, opened in October. Well, representatives of Marie


Stopes were put under the spotlight by the justice committee on


Thursday. As we can hear now, in our weekly look at Committee


Business: Marie Stopes is providing services within the framework which


was found to be lawful and in line with NHS provision and medical term


nition of pregnancy. It has been, it always has been, without


question, our goal to work with ) inaudible) to be regular lailted by


that body to ensure that politicians and that the public can


have confidence that our centre and services provide the highest


quality and standards of care within the law as it currently


exists. How many clients have you dealt with in terms of providing


termination? What we need to be very clear about, the services we


provide in Northern Ireland, we provide them because men and women


come to us they absolutely trust us and we are a trusted provider. We


will not be releasing any figures or any numbers around the number of


men and women that we've seen within our clinic. How would


releasing the figures reveal the confidentiality of anyone? Well,


within, again, we want to make sure that Northern Ireland is a small


place. There is only our one Kleinic werk want to maintain the


confidentiality and of the men and women of the clients we see. In


England we release figures on a national basis. If the law changed


within Northern Ireland and we were asked to do that we would


absolutely fully co-operate. are saying that you are doing the


requirement that you have to do, but there are other circumstances,


the Chair referred to this, where openness could be required. You are


dealing with elected members for whom this is a very important issue,


I presume that I'm going to receive that openness. Does the


organisation make a decision that the medical, clinical assessment


that is have been taken comply with the law? Is that their position to


assess every individual assess thament is made and decide that


this clinic is complying with the law They are a regulator who have


delegated authority from the Department of Health to make sure


that healthcare providers operate within the legal framework and


within the law. They come in and they inspect to make sure that that


is happening. We welcome them coming to our centre as many times


as they wish to a I assure themselves and other wrest


complying with the law. I repeat again. They do that in respect of


the environment, record-keeping, employment and arrangements for


staff, procurement, storage and dispensing of medication. I ask the


specific question, do they have a role in making an assessment that


the clinic, clinical assessments made to justify a termination of a


pregnancy being carried out is within the law. Is that their job


to say the doctor got it right? points. One is that clearly they


don't make the regulations. There are other bodies that do. What they


will be able to do. We really welcome that, as you described,


they will be able to make sure that the doctors and healthcare


professionals are suitibly qualified. They make sure we have


the proper governance arrangements in place. We have auditing in place.


That we employ... That we have... That we meet the law, in terms of


administer ing drugs, which is specific to here today, around


medical termination of pregnancy under nine weeks. I'm satisfied by


opening our doors to them they will make an assessment of the service


that we are providing working within the current law and


regulations and framework that currently exist. Are you sure that


you are covered to carry out your services within the law? Absolutely


and categorically, yes. The speaker we heard earlier on made his


feelings clear about politicians showing leadership, do you think


they are listening? We didn't see in the clip the initial comments


made in measured tones. He spoke about his right as a Republican


under the Good Friday Agreement to lobby for constitutional change. He


said to the unionist representatives that he recognised


the status quo in Northern Ireland's current position under


the terms of the agreement. He seemed to be trying to stress his


point in references to those members in particular. It was so


pointed we wondered was it almost a dress rehearsal for the politician


who seems placed to become the next speaker and then he was indicating


his ability to understand his own benches as well as those opposite.


It has been interesting well, just briefly, on the fact that people


are living on the peace lines we heard a lot of discussion about


that. That seems to have been lost in the Assembly chamber? There were


very interesting comments made this morning in particular, as you say,


as the debates unfolded today, it probably got lost. We had comments


from community workers representing Protestant families and a


representative for Catholic families. They clearly said they


wanted tensions removed from their doorsteps and stressing they want


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.

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