15/10/2013 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 in the next 30 minutes, the National


Crime Agency may not have been introduced in Northern Ireland, but


today it got the backing of the Assembly.


These are problems that are not unique to Northern Ireland.


Indeed, they are international issues that demand an international


response. The NCA offers that response.


The Environment Minister said there'll be no fracking on his


watch, but the Enterprise Minister has a different take. This is, and I


recognise it as such, a novel and controversial issue and therefore,


this matter will be taken to the executive and this will be a matter


for the executive as a whole. I'm joined by the Irish News


journalist Allison Morris, in the studio.


The National Crime Agency was launched a week ago, dubbed the


British FBI, it will takele organised and economic crime, border


policing, child protection and cyber crime. Here, it's only got limited


powers. Sinn Fein and the SDLP blocked moves to give it powers to


recruit agents and carry out operations.


There were call today for the NCA to be moved to Northern Ireland as


quickly as possible. Time has moved on, as has the ability to criminals


to at times seemingly be one step ahead of the law. It's of paramount


importance therefore that every possible resource that the PSNI can


have at that disposal to be one step ahead of the criminals that are


involved in this type of activity. Every one of our chemical weapons


that rerepresent, Mr Speaker, has the right to expect their


representatives to support the work of an agency that's committed to


bringing to justice the evil criminals. The minister will know we


are working with his department and are meeting with the Home Secretary


in relation to our concerns. The concerns are many. It's not just


around some of the broader criminal justice families, such as the CAJ,


who've said, the proposals of the National Crime Agency in effect


insert another Police Service into Northern Ireland, accountable to the


Home Secretary and largely outside of the reach of the local


accountability structures committed to the following - the pat tonner,


in particular the Policing Board. We have a bottom line on this, Mr


Speaker, and the bottom line is, the NCA must be accountable to the


Policing Board. Nothing less will allay the concerns


of the SDLP. I think the whole area's been a test of the devolution


of policing and justice. That test has failed thus far.


We are currently in a situation where the UK agency dealing with the


most serious criminals in not in operation here. A body to set up the


exploitation of child, an agency which will robustly pursue the most


serious criminals, an organisation with links internationally, this is


something I'm proud of. People trafficked into Northern Ireland


from across the globe for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude,


extortion, money lending, robbery, contraband, burglary and


paramilitaries and nearly 4,500 drugs seizures. These are problems


that are not unique to Northern Ireland. Indeed, they are internap


issues that demand an international response.


The NCA offers that response. Working as the Home Office says to


can Equitable the efforts -- sect the efforts of local policing and


neighbourhood policing to action agencies and action overseas to


coordinate the fight against some of the UK's most harmful criminals.


Both parties are hampering back to the old RUC. We know what that


lesson was, the accountability of it. We know what it meant and in a


way they've pointed out what is at the base of this discussion today


that on accountability has been saying the experience in the Spas


that it will lead to corruption. But they did in the end set up the Good


Friday Agreement to St Andrews and indeed to Hillsborough and to the


devolution of policing and justice. It's not surprise to me that those


who're cronies of Slab Murphy naturally take a stance to disrupt


and thwart the NACs. It's a disappointment to me that those on


the national side of the community who've stood on the side of law and


order do make a choice, that it's more important to dance on the Head


of That pin than it is to fight organised crime.


I welcome the fact we have had this debate. I work welcome the fact


there's been finger pointing across the chime before. There is a lot of


agreement about ensuring we have the best possible methods of fighting


crime with fullest possible accountability to recognise our


specific architecture around policing matters here and that is a


significant step forward for what might otherwise have been a very


devisive debate. The Justice Minister speaking about


the NCA. The motion recognising the concerns of the Chief Constable was


passed in the Assembly. With me in the studio is Allison Morris from


the Irish News. Welcome to the programme. Thank you very much for


joining us. The issues being dealt with by the NCA involve, as we know,


international crime, which doesn't respect country's borders. The fear


on the part of unionists is that we are going to be left vulnerable if


it doesn't operate here. Might they have a point? The kind of crime the


NCA was put in place to tackle doesn't respect borders. We have


cyber crime also which wouldn't have been an issue ten years ago. There


is an international response needed to those types of crimes such as


drug trafficking which we know involves lots of cross border crime


from different countries and the PSNI wouldn't be in a position to


deal with that solely on their own. They have a point in a way. I don't


think the parties are arguing there is a need for an international


police intervention to help bolster up the PSNI. What they are in


arguments over is how that police force wilbe monitored when it's


working within Northern Ireland. So it's a question of accountability?


It is, yes. Does the critical position in all of this really rest


with the Home Secretary in London, Theresa May? Does she hold the key,


do you think? She could in that she could I suppose in some way change


the legislation in that it could be accountable in some way that it


would fall under the Chief Constable's power, therefore it


would be accountable to the police board. It operates in England and


Wales fine without intervention from say the Welsh Assembly. There will


be no accountability there, but the problem is, Northern Ireland is in a


unique position. It comes to policing, there'll be agents in the


north and in the past, the legacy of what's happened when we've had MI5


and Special Branch, that still stings, especially in the


nationalist community, where you are seeing a divide, a nationalist


divide on the NCA. We saw the Justice Minister and the Home


Secretary called upon to introduce aMEPPedments to make the NCA


accountable to the police board here. Is that a softening do you


think to their position? They are aware they are going to have to be


accountable at some time. They are conscious they'll have to be


agreeable. The NCA has said they'd meet with the Policing Board


regularly. That doesn't mean he has to do anything or has to abide by


the conditions they place on him. He still does have the party operating


as a sole organisation, assisting the PSNI who obviously, we have seen


journalists when we called in mutual assistance officers, they don't have


the facilities to deal with the global crimes so they need the


backup. Unionists have accused nationalists of rhetoric. Is it more


complicated th that? Enit comes to Sinn Fein, yes. When they signed up


to policing, it was sold to the nationalist can commune who remember


the RUC and the problems that went with that. They sold them on that


point that it would always be accountable, that there would be an


ombudsman and Policing Board and that the two bodies would be held to


account and Sinn Fein would be there on the board holding them to


account. Now we have a second police force in the NCA who're going to


come in and operate here. What they haven't said is that they are saying


drugs, people trafficking, that may involve terrorist activity which,


also as we know with regards to drugs and guns, would also involve


the NCA and they haven't said what role they are going to have on that.


Interesting to hear your thoughts. Talk to you later in the programme.


Thank you very much. The First Minister said today


there's no question of him taking any sanction against Edwin Putts


after a judge ruled the minister broke the ministerial code. Peter


Robinson was speaking at the lunch of an exhibition of photographs


about human trafficking and started by telling Mark Devonport why the


Bill making its way through the Assembly in his view is so


important. It's very important and we can give a lead, not just in


terms of the UK but more widely than that, that this would be a Bill that


I think takes a lead in terms of its provisions, first of all in terms of


dealing with traffickers, secondly in relation to the victims and


thirdly in trying to diminish the demapped. That's what a lot of the


issues are about, showing that human exploitation goes to the vanity and


fashion that some people have, young people being exploited within the


trade. Also, the sexual exploitation of people and the images are


striking and I think it raises the profile of the issue at a time where


we are looking for the maximum level of support in the Assembly for the


Bill. Let's move to other topics. Is it fair to say, taking your answers


in Question Time yesterday into account, that you have full


confidence in Edwin Putts despite the recent court judgment? There is


no question of that at all. It's not a question of the judgment. The


judgment, if it was to be carried into our normal practices in


Northern Ireland, would have seen every minister at the executive


table having been in breach of the ministerial code. It's a very wide


interpretation of the ministerial code, one I think the executive is


going to have to look at. Edwin Putts is not the First Minister to


be brought before the courts. I didn't hear when Margaret Ritchie


was before the courts having defy matters. I didn't hear you or


anybody else saying she should be dismissed or punished. This is an


issue where there are arguments around it. I suspect it may well go


to appeal, even appeal because the GB department might find that some


of the ruling has serious implications for devolution itself.


You don't see any reason to take any sanction? I dismiss the issues.


People will try to bring issues of that kind to the fore. This is not


an issue I would take into account in terms of whether the minister


should in any way be sanctioned. It's clear the minister acted in


good faith. The ruling is such that it indicates that the minister, if


he had stopped and banned blood from MSN coming into Northern Ireland


from outside, he would not have had the same kind of ruling. The key


issue in all of this is the ministerial code of that, it's


critical from our point of view, we believe that any major decision, any


controversial decision should be brought to the executive. If every


decision which is cross cutting, which is virtually any spending


decision at all, has to be brought to the executive, and when any


minister falls foul. This doesn't change anything either


way? Those are issues I'll look at at the end of the year but it has no


bearing. Are you concerned about the legal advice that says the clauses,


which were part of your economic pact with David Cameron, might fall


foul of the European convention on human rights, clauses on the


planning bill? The one thing we know is that when you get into the legal


system, you will get any number of views that you want on the issues.


Ultimately the courts will decide if somebody takes that step and brings


it into the courts. The Enterprise Minister was on her


feet at Question Time today, as with the Environment Minister yesterday.


She was asked about the issue of hydraulic fracturing, fracking to


you and me, along with 2 benefits of our booming TV and film industry.


She answered a question about the competitive cycling races coming to


Northern Ireland first. I make no secret of the fact that I hope the


Tour de France does come to Northern Ireland in the near future when they


see how well we are able to host it. As the member will know, and I've


answered his previous topical question in relation to the area I


love and know very well. I have no input into the choice of route. I


think that's something that some people got a little excited about,


but they shouldn't have, because the route was picked by the


professionals, by the people who're planning the route. They had very


stringent reasons for why they picked different routes,


particularly in relation to time trials and what have you, and


therefore we had no impact at all in relation to where the route should


go. I wanted to put that on the record to you today because


otherwise it would have been coming to county Fermanagh, lets's be


honest. Would the minister give us a brief outline of the process


required to a granted licence for hydraulic fracturing, or the process


just outlined. If the landowners' consent is required for the use of


the land... In Northern Ireland, holders of petroleum licences need


to obtain the permission of the landowners beneath whose land they


wish to drill. The landowners permission is asked for. If it's


granted, then that can take place. At present, as I understand it, from


the company in counter Fermanagh, they expect to apply to drill a deep


borehole to retrieve rock core for analysis. They haven't applied to


the department to drill for that hole as yet. What they want to do is


take out some of the shale to have a look at it. As yet, that


application's not taken place. The US is managed to bring down the


price of energy in a dramatic way because of shale gas.


They are able now to bring manufacturing back from China and


other places across the world. I think we need to take note of that.


There's no doubt about it. I listened to the Environment Minister


during his Question Time saying that the application wouldn't happen on


his watch. I think that was his phrase that he used. I think he


needs to reflect on the fact that this is, and I recognise it as such,


a novel and controversial issue. Therefore, this matter will be taken


to the executive and this will be a matter for the executive sad a whole


to decide on, not just from my part, but from his part and every other


minister in the Northern Ireland Executive will have to take this mat


tore the executive for a decision. That's something that I've known for


some considerable time. But it's something that's been really


underlined for me by the judgment last Friday of Mr Justice Tracey


when he said the issues need to be taken to the executive. Therefore,


the decision in relation to hydraulic fracturing, no matter what


each individual minister may think about it, the decision needs to be


taken by the Northern Ireland Executive. The game of thrones has


brought a lot of fume to Northern Ireland. Are there any tourist


opportunities that have come from the decision of game of thrones to


shoot here? Absolutely. I hadn't realised how


internationally thought of the Game of Thrones was, nil was in Brazil


talking about tourism opportunities, then I mentioned the fact that in


June, the Tourist Board, along with Northern Ireland screen were


bringing the Game of Thrones to Belfast, all of a sudden everybody


lit up because they were very much aware of the Game of Thrones on HBO.


That exhibition took place in June and we are also now developing a


tourism trail for the Game of Thrones, so people can see where


they are all filmed. As well ass Game of Thrones, there are many


other sets across Northern Ireland which can benefit from tourism


visits as well, I'm thinking particularly, as you would expect me


to, of Blandings, filmed in counter Fermanagh. Already, it's been


referred to as Northern Ireland's high Claire which of course is the


set of Downton. So we are very pleased there are all of these


tourism opportunities, as well as the business opportunities from the


creative industries. Arlene Foster.


The Finance Minister also faced questions. It was serious stuff as


he was asked about the future of the Ulster Bank, whether the help to buy


a mortgage scheme would be extended to Northern Ireland and how big an


influence the banks is having north of the border...


?3.5 billion. They have been, as the member will be aware, selling assets


off as they become viable to sell them off. One thing they stressed to


me, and we were all concerned about NAMA - we wanted to ensure that the


fears we had, there could NAMA - we wanted to ensure that the


point out that not only has there been a fire sale, but in order to


lend people money, not only have we put ?140,000 into the economy, which


has gone forward, we have some significant commercial property in


the centre of Belfast as well. The future of Ulster is something we are


closely monitoring, not least because of its significant size in


Northern Ireland. It is our biggest lending bank in Northern Ireland,


despite its problems and the issues it currently has and is still


dealing with. It has a 30% plus share of the market in Northern


Ireland because it's the only bank that we have that is national Lil


owned at UK level. It's frequently the only one that reveals various


lending national Nish 'tils. Ulster Bank for all the difficulties it


faces and continues to face, it's obviously something we are concerned


about, its future. We want to see it operating in Northern Ireland as a


property functioning bank. It's incredibly critical to our economy


that the bank does function properly and is able to get loans out to


businesses so they can start to grow and employ people in Northern


Ireland. The help to buy mortgage guarantee


scheme is now rolled out in the UK and has been taken up by a few of


the big high street banks. The likes of RBS, although not the Ulster


Barnett, though I understand they are considering it - - Ulster Bank.


Halifax as well who lend in Northern Ireland, and recently Barclays have


joined the scheme. Nationwide are the only big mortgage


lender not now part of the help to buy mortgage guarantee scheme.


It is an attractive scheme in that the Government will guarantee up to


15% of a property, meaning that only 5% of a mortgage deposit is required


from those who might want to get on to the property ladder. I think this


scheme, on top of the highly successive and well-funded


co-attorneyship scheme, does have potential that a system of recovery


of the housing market. If there is a scheme which has the potential to


help, people get on to the housing market, it would be a shame if that


scheme, which is operating, functioning already, in mainland


Great Britain, is not operating in Northern Ireland because local banks


aren't joining it. Can I ask the minister what will he do to prevent


further interventions and major capital protests to create jobs in


our local economy? There was a major party political


intervention in the form of the members colleague, the member for


Belfast, Mr Kelly, which did more damage to the peace centre in that


project going forward than anything else nub else did. Before the member


wishes to criticise others, perhaps he should look at the actions of


some of his open colleagues in that respect.


Earlier this month, the performance of two of Northern Ireland's prisons


with was called into question. A criminal justice inspection made a


report of 150 recommendations for improvements at the women's prison


and young offenders centre in Belfast. There were criticisms of


the approach to tackling drugs and the excess of strip searching of


women prisoners. The findings were brought before the chamber today in


a Sinn Fein motion calling on the Justice Minister to ensure the


prison reform programme moves forward. The 2010 review of the


Prison Service made reference to the fact that women and young adults are


poorly served by the prison system which has created primarily to serve


the needs of adult men. This particular prison is a poor prison


for women. Women prisoners form a small proportion of prisoners. Many


have mental health problems. Many have dependent children and are


often the sole careers and many problems emanate as a result of that


for the children and for the women. Women are much less likely to


reoffend when compared with men, only 20% are re-convicted.


There are a number of things that have been happening which cause me


concern and my party. That is the breakdown in the relaitionzship


between the management and the staff associations the minister refers to


as being important at taking forward a changed programme. I spoke with


the chairman of the Prison Officers' Association this morning. I'll not


repeat some of the rang wadge, by need toless, it was evident to me


that that relationship between the staff associations and the prison


management is non-existent -- language.


There was a feeling by some of the staff that they are getting the


wrong end of the stick in this and they are getting a lot of the


criticism that's unjustified to them. The Chief Inspector in his


report used this paragraph; "overall, this is a disappointing


inspection, in particular because women continue to be held in a


predominantly male prison which was having a significant and intractable


impact upon outcomes and experience. Women were reasonably well cared for


but they were inevitably marginalise and restricted in access to


facilities and service. There was also evidence of intimidation from


male prisoners from time to time. " Only, and I emphasise this point,


only the long promise closure and replacement of the prison would


resolve the problems we see. We mustn't forget this is a reform


agenda put in place by the minister that has delivered sentence plans


for all offenders. Now the plans are in place for everyone, it's quite


right that we look at the further improvements that can be made. What


we mustn't lose sight of is the fact that we have come from a situation


where there were no plans for offenders at all. Mr Speaker, it's


clear that we also need to continue to develop unknow straitive


approaches to deal with women prisoners whose needs are very


different from their male counterparts. Those involved in the


delivery of activities were frustrated at the lack of resources


and activities in the youth offenders centre. There was no


planned approach for activities. Everything was dis-I didn't


isjointed which resulted in young people's disinterest in taking up


activities. This has been confirmed in the report.


in thereport. report.


S problem is the cancellation of things at the last minute. The


Government told us themselves that if the prison is down five or six


staff, the prison has problems. That will be a major impact on the


educational activities. The overall rating of Ash House was heavily


influenced by the YOC. The physical conditions were good


and clean. I certainly agree and have done for


a long time, that the co-lowcation of female offenders is far from the


ideal -- colocation. Many people inside and outside Government are


working to make changes realities. I'm greatly encouraged by the work


being done to reform our prisons. As with any major reform programme, the


challenge is to see the work through to April 2015 and to ensure the


progress that's being made to date continues.


The Justice Minister who had a busy day today. Allison Morris is with me


again. We saw the First Minister in the programme earlier continuing to


support the Health Minister, Edwin Putts. We shouldn't be surprised at


that? No, he obviously still has the support of his leader. He was


advised by his own advisers on the situation of giving blood in the


High Court. Peter Robinson has said that. We have a minister totally


unaccountable to someone. Decisions that are going against public


opinion and equality practices and regardless of that, he seems to be


able to get away with it. Thank you very much.


That is it from all of us. Join me for The View on Thursday night.


Thanks for watching. Bye.


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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