15/04/2013 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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Hello, and welcome to Stormont Today.


Coming up on the programme: More trouble at the Executive table


as the DUP and Sinn Fein clash openly. Our Political Correspondent


Martina Purdy is here with her analysis. MLAs elect a new Deputy


Speaker, the Sinn Fein veteran Mitchel McLaughlin, but not without


crossing swords. And Members agree on doing more to combat suicide


rates as one Alliance MLA recounts his own experience of losing a


loved one. My son in-law had fallen victim to this horrible thing plus.


He was a big, strong family man with everything to live for and now


our family, and the whole community, are faced with something we simply


There was plenty happening inside the chamber today and we'll be


looking at that throughout the programme. However the big


political story of the day is a developing war of words between the


two main parties in the Executive, the DUP and Sinn Fein. Our


Political Correspondent,Martina Purdy is with me.


Martina, you've been following these tensions between the two main


parties through the day, take us through what's been happening.


Sinn Fein were to and Andy Mayer at the weekend and the DUP were


keeping an eye on proceedings. Martin McGuinness questioned the


commitment of Unionists to making the executive works saying in


fighting was as destabilising as the dissident threat. Gerry Kelly


said he did not have confidence in the chief constable and there was


call for the release of Marion Price from prison. This morning the


DUP picked up the paper to find a straw poll of 50 Sinn Fein


delegates which said that violence was justified while Britain ruled


in Northern Ireland. The DUP asked about Gerry Kelly withdraw his


remarks and both -- are two men appeared at a news conference to


say Sinn Fein were carrying out mixed signals. We will hold them


accountable because that is our job and that is why we went into


government. If they are recoiling relation to their working


relationship with us. They need to wake up and smell the coffee and


start making decisions as ever frustrating the government. Deeming


the Social Welfare Reform Bill? That is not the only thing they are


messing about with. What else are they waiting about with? We will


wait and see. That was the response but what has Sinn Fein been saying?


John O'Dowd came down to speak to us and he was quite indignant that


the DUP eight -- DUP should question Sinn Fein's commitment to


police and police. He said the DUP had in some cases failed to face


down loyalist violence over flags etc and he said that Sinn Fein was


not messing around with issues and it was trying to get the right


decisions on issues like social welfare reform. He questioned the


Belfast Telegraph poll and said that was 50 delegates out of 2000


and he said the results were dubious and open to question. He


also said that Sinn Fein was not in the executive because DUP had


ordained it was allowed to be in the executive, he said it was in


there because it had been voted in by the people. And this spilled


over into today's election of a new Deputy Speaker? In order for


Mitchel McLaughlin to take that pose the had to be a cross-


community vote. The first minister said he wanted clarification or


from -- clarification from Mitchel McLaughlin that he was committed


toppled in the role of law. Thank you very much.


Well, as Martina mentioned there, the deteriorating relations between


the two main parties did indeed spill over into the election of the


deputy speaker. Despite a perhaps unexpected rival candidate for the


role, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin was elected with the


backing of the DUP, but not before the main unionist party demanded he


reassert Sinn Fein's commitment to the peace process.


Let us proceed to the election of the Deputy Speaker. Do you have any


proposals for the office of Deputy Speaker, a rise in your place?


propose Mitchel McLaughlin be elected as deputy speaker. Is there


a second? I second that. Mitchel McLoughlin, do you accept this


nomination? With some relief I do accept it! Are they are further


proposals? Could I propose the name of Basil McCrea? Do we have a


second? Thank you, Mr Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me and a


great honour to propose my friend Mitchel McLaughlin as the Deputy


Speaker. I would like to place on record our thanks to Francie Molloy


who has left this assembly for another place, for the contribution


that he made. I think the North West has a very proud record over


supporting speakers and providing speakers for this assembly, not


least your own contribution over the course of a number of years,


which has been rightly applauded by society and by everybody in this


house. Mitchel McLaughlin, I believe will continue in that vein.


I think he is someone with vast experience of the workings of this


house and he will make his own unique contribution towards


supporting the work of the chair. think everyone knows that it is


essential for the working operation of the institutions that there is


appropriate cross-community balance in positions like this. This


position was held by a Sinn Fein member and therefore I think it


would be assumed that automatically there would be a Sinn Fein member


to replace them. However, I think it would be irresponsible of us if


we were not to provide the likely candidate the opportunity to


indicate his position on some key issues. It would not have been a


matter that I would have raised had it not been for certain responses


to a Belfast Telegraph poll to the activists, the members who were


present at the Sinn Fein conference because that puts some doubt for a


large section of the Sinn Fein membership as to where they stood


on the role of dissidents and their activity, on its support for the


police. I know from having been a finance minister when a major


McLaughlan was the chairman of the committee what I believe his


responses would be to these matters but I think it is important that he


shows that he is in support of the position that the Deputy First


Minister has taken on those issues which is contrary to some of the


positions that have been adopted by the active membership of his party.


This house likes to publicly portray itself as a beacon of


inclusive at it. Some of us, of course, have come to experience


that this inclusiveness is only for those who were are inside the


executive tent and therefore, this position of Deputy Speaker and the


filling of it is an opportunity for this House to disprove that


perception and to prove, in fact, that it does genuinely believe in


it inclusiveness by appointing a Deputy Speaker from outside the


party's that are represented in the executive and daring, of course,


lies the nomination of Mr Basil McCrea. I am disappointed that the


First Minister has taken the opportunity to respond to a rather


dubious poll. The most important poll that was taken over the


weekend, and there were 206 polls taken over the weekend, was on


party membership that were going into the voting hall and voting for


the leadership of marked him a Canice -- Martin McGuinness and


Gerry Adams. That leadership has been very clear whether his party


stands in relation to the use of violence. Basil McCrea has amply


shown that during his time in this assembly that he will represent


everyone in this assembly as Deputy Speaker without fear of a favour.


That is the calibre of individual we want to be electing to this


office. The concerns that the First Minister and the minister for


enterprise, trading and investment raised, the concerns about the Sinn


Fein conference at the weekend, they have no such concern with


Basil McCrea. Will they support a candidate who will stand up for the


independence of this chamber against the executive? I do think


that this house should recognise that there are people who are not


part of the executive, that the one to make a contribution, that will


attempt to chair the debates as others have done, in a fair and


impartial way. Those of you that have sat with me on committees and


there have been many, from all different parties, will accept that


I am fair and impartial in the way that I chair such debates. I put


this question directly to members opposite, you have concerns and you


have the opportunity to vote for somebody other than the candidate


you have concerns about. We will watch and we will listen to what


you have to say but the decision is yours. I am honoured to be


nominated for this position today. I am somewhat disappointed that the


First Minister took the particular line that he did because I have


been a member of this desert -- assembly from when it was


established. I was part of the negotiation and brought it about


and also brought about the new beginning and the establishment of


a new justice system. In all of that, I see it as part of my


personal legacy and a stand 100% beside it and it is one of the


proudest experiences of my life and I have demonstrated to any fair-


minded person that I can discharge -- discharge my duties and do it


fearlessly. The experience of standing up to dissidents, standing


on to those who challenge the rule of law has been at my home has been


petrol-bombed and attacked with in the last fought back. That doesn't


determine. Every, that the Deputy First Minister has made, from the


earliest days of this peace process right through to this weekend,


where he addressed our party committee consent. I offer the


member my congratulations and look forward to working with them in the


future. Martina Purdy is still with me. Shortly after he was elected,


Mitchell McLauchlan was then elected principal Deputy Speaker. The best


explain that. -- you best. There's not much a distension other than


that it is a fancy title. Adding it as a matter of seniority. -- I think


it is. The speaker would look at that person has number two. That is


why the SDLP and the Unionists were sniffy. Suppose the big thing is


that he would succeed as speaker. Is that the plan? If a deal was done --


a deal was done some years ago. He would be next in line. Why do think


Sinn Fein selected Mitchel McLaughlin? He has been around a


long time. He has done his time in terms of the party. He helped


negotiate the Good Friday agreement. He helped bring about the new


policing standards. He is a safe pair of hands and experienced. He


has been loyal to the party that he has shown through his various briefs


that he is capable of handling conflict issues. He knows how the


system works and you seem to be fair-minded. He is well thought of


across the assembly. He is reaching the end of his political career at


67 and this is a nice way to enter it. Just briefly, John McAllister,


trying to get his friend and ally elected, what should we make of


that? There is no such thing as bad publicity. The independence do not


get an opportunity to become much. It is a way of saying that they are


still here. -- independent is. It is a way of telling the other parties


that they are inclusive, but the independence do not get a share of


the spoils. We heard some of the unionist questioning, whether the


DUP were that concerned about whether Mitchel McLaughlin was


committed to nonviolence. If you were so concerned, they could have


put Basil McCrea in the post. It was a bit of fun, really. Now, thank


you. Around 300 people in here in Northern Ireland take their own


lives. The figure has doubled in the last 30 years. The rise in the


suicide rate has prompted MLAs to discuss the topic many times.


Today, emotion called upon the executive to our ties suicide


prevention. It was a rational story which had a major impact on the


chamber. -- personal story. I have prepared my contribution to this


debate. I'm prepared my contribution some time ago but things changed


dramatically last Tuesday. Last Tuesday morning, I was in this


chamber taking part in the business of the day when I was asked to take


a phone call from home. A hysterical voice at the other end of the phone


told me to come home immediately. My 39-year-old son in law had been


found dead in our garage. I've raced home, to my daughter's home, to be


confronted with ambulance, police and other personnel, and my


distraught daughter and family members, to be told of the


circumstances of the tragedy. My son-in-law had fallen victim to this


horrible illness. He was a big, strong family man. He had everything


to live for. He had a good home and a wonderful, hard-working wife, and


a fantastic daughter, a good job. He was the principal of the local


Primary School. And now our families and the whole community are faced


with something that we cannot understand. The question is, why?


Why, why? It has been asked in Northern Ireland 300 times. We're


not the first family to ensure this shocking experience. 300 people in


Northern Ireland have lost their lives in such unexplained


circumstances. This is through 300 and beings, all good people, far too


many, and we must continue to strive for answers. -- this is 300 human


beings. I welcome the Minister's commitment and his department 's


fight against suicide. Much work continues to protect this strategy


and the continued effort of the public health agency, particularly


the recent TV advertisement -- TV at on looking after your mental health.


But unfortunately, we continue to lose people to this illness. In


conclusion, I refer to my own experience last week. I'm make an


appeal to John Dowd, the Minister of education. And indeed to other


departments. My son-in-law was a teacher, and so was my daughter.


They do sterling work, and just maybe they are being asked to


overstretch themselves. Anyone in this chamber that has family members


who are teachers will know what I speaking about. They do not finish


at 3pm. They come home with cases and work all hours of the night.


Officials much -- officials must look for signs of targets, results,


inspections and so one, as King too much. There is a fine line between


success and disaster. -- asking too much. We all want to see success,


but at what price? We need to look after all our providers and prevent


people from going over the edge. There is so much more to be said on


the issue, and I thank the members that have so many -- that have


already spoken. Cross agency work and fulfilment of the comfort


report, economic factors... Until we get on top of this issue, we will


have more sadness and grief, more tears. We need action now. Thank you


very much. Kieren McCarthy with his very personal experience of losing


his son-in-law to suicide last week. The culture minister revealed today


that she has commissioned new research into sectarianism in local


football. She said she had taken extra steps after becoming concerned


about the ongoing presence of sectarianism around the local game.


Later, the minister condemned those who carried a mock coffin of


Margaret Thatcher outside Cliftonville's around head of the


title clinching victory over Linfield on Saturday. First of all,


I would like to congratulate Cliftonville the book club on


winning the Irish league. Our commiserations to Linfield. The


Irish Football Association sees local -- oversees local soccer and


is in charge of dealing with sectarianism where it arises. The


company -- the organisation already runs a successful campaign seeking


to promote an inclusive culture throughout the game and challenge


prejudice, and sectarianism within the sport. I'd endorse this


campaign, which is consistent with the ends of my department and my


strategy for sport, seeking to promote good relations and


integration between communities. I'm concerned that despite the good work


of the Irish were Bob Association, the remain in the concerns that


sectarianism remains to be a problem in soccer. As a member for North


Belfast, can I congratulate Cliftonville on winning the Irish


league? It is a pity about the result. Will the Minister join with


me in condemning those Cliftonville supporters who carried a Coffin


draped in a black flag with a witches hat on it up the


Cliftonville Road, singing offensive songs about Baroness Thatcher, using


gratuitous language and mocking her passing before the game? Such


behaviour is unacceptable. It should not be tolerated. Will the Minister


join me in condemning it. Does she agree that Cliftonville is the


bookclub should distance themselves from such behaviour? -- Cliftonville


football club. I condemn any sectarian incident but I have not


seen the footage that my colleague refers to. I asked people who were


there and they said it was not Cliftonville fans who were involved


in that activity. I do not think, at that activity occurred in the


ground, that we would be having a different conversation. Cliftonville


the bookclub need to be given the flight ability to make remarks about


this. In terms of people celebrating Margaret Thatcher's passing,


regardless of how they feel about that, and have my own feelings, and


regardless of her legacy in this island, which was not good, and the


fact that she was a divisive character in our own country, do not


think it is befitting that someone who brought nothing but misery, the


milli Asian and degradation to this country should behave in a way that


is undignified. This should not follow in her footsteps. I would


encourage no want to be involved in that activity. The culture minister.


Horse meat was back on the menu at Stormont Today with the Agriculture


Minister taking ten -- taking questions on the latest


investigations into collision is. There been no solutions as yet but


are there any extra controls? remains the response ability of the


businesses and the processors, catering suppliers and retailers to


insure the food they sell is what it says on the label. The DNA testing


has extended. Never states to notice you -- notify the EU rapid alert


system if they discover more than 1% in their products. Numbers are being


asked to take one sample per 50 tons of force meat for testing with the


minimum of 5000. Each DNA test will cost up to 400 euros. A programme of


preparation establishments have confessed -- have begun. All cold


storage, meat processing plants and cutting plants have now been


visited. Can the Minister detail whether she believes that the


current regulations are in place with regard to the regulation and


are as strong as they need to be to allow authorities to bring every


single person or party involved in the scandal before the courts?


is an issue with confidence in the food chain. As I have said


consistently throughout this crisis, our local industry maintains a high


reputation and is not involved in this incident. We're talking about


processed food and there is an initiative to be resolved there. --


and issue to be resolved. By the end of the year, we expect more


discussions and regulations on the country of origin labelling. The


Minister indicated that up until this crisis -- this crisis, the


practice in recent years was that at most two inspections took place. But


there was never any taking or testing of actual product. How far


does the Minister accent that that contributed to the ability to cause


force meat to appear? I think the issue is very clear. It is either an


issue of gross negligence or criminality. No matter what checks


and balances you have in place, if there is a criminal element


involved, they will try to find a way to put forward the actions that


they have been involved in. The Agriculture Minister. MLAs have


agreed to a shakeup of Assembly Question Time, in order, they say,


to make it more relevant to the public. For the first time,


ministers will take a topical questions on which they have not


been briefed. He is the chair of the procedures committee on why the


change has been introduced. It may be a short report, but I believe the


implementation of the Redmond Asians has the potential to transform


question Time. Most importantly, to increase engagement. The review has


concluded that while there are already a number of absences for


screw -- opportunities for scrutinising ministers, these are


largely scripted and the timing for tabling requests can result in a


loss of topicality. Questions for oral answer are separate. They are


taken several working days before they are due to be taken so newly


emerging issues that arise between the submission of questions and then


being asked in the chamber cannot be covered. Urgent oral questions


prevent some opportunity for more current questioning, these are


limited to single tablets. -- single topics. The committee has considered


the potential benefits of introducing this system. These are


outlined in the report. Topical questions would present an


additional opportunity for ministers to be held to account on more


immediate issues, while the topic is still current. As a committee, we


approached the question of topical questions with an open mind. I'd


think anybody had a closed mind English and to this mission. We felt


that there was something lacking in question Time. We felt too many


questions were scripted, and too many cancers were scripted as well.


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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