16/01/2012 Stormont Today


16/01/2012

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


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. We are back for a new year and a

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new political terms with MLAs raring to go. We even saw a new

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piece of legislation on the order part -- Order Paper. We look

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backwards to the event that the enterprise minister believes could

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turn the tourist trade around. A one is in a lifetime opportunity

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for us. The story of Titanic is known worldwide and it is now time

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to place Titanic as the daughter of Belfast. And the Ministry of

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Justice. My need people say I am doing reasonable job. I would want

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to stay for personal reasons but there are fundamental issues about

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how an alliance minister would fit in. If the alliance entitlement

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that has given us is taken away. And that future of our healthcare

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system. We got the Compton report before Christmas and now MLAs got

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their say. Patricia McEwan gives us her view.

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Since before Christmas, we have had the chance to digest of the review

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into how our health service should be shaped in the future. But Russia,

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you said that some of the decisions had already been made. Yes, even

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before the review was put together. We suspect the review might be

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political cover. I still feel that way. I think the people on the

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review team were genuine and they were trying to do a very good job,

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but before they ever started they were constrained by the Budget, and

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they were constrained by decisions the minister already had taken. It

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was spelt out in the terms of reference. So it was not that open,

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transparent, let's start from a blank piece of paper tiger review

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that was needed. His there anything you do like or think that is a good

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idea. I think the problem we are facing is the changes needed to

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transform the kind of health care system we have got into one that

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centres on public health needs real investment. And that is at the core

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of any changes that need to be made. And while there was an attempt to

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make small amounts of investment coming out of that review, it is

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nowhere near what is needed. You have got to put that money in order

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to save on the big money in the future, but you also have got to

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really start to think about how decisions are taken, and it is not

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just about the Department of Health and the health service. It is about

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everybody else as well. Let us hear what the Health Minister had to

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sate in the chamber today. We have to learn to live within our

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means. We have to spend money more wisely as opposed -- as opposed to

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looking for more money constantly and then subsequently wasting it.

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As some people seem to recommend. Mark Durkin expressed his concerns,

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and I will seek to ensure that all staff are treated with respect and

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that they are made aware and a properly consulted. So there will

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be changes. Some staff will see some change, others will not. It is

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important we talked to them and work with the staff in terms of

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changes. Many will not be predicting negative changes, but

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there will be changes nonetheless. Are you reassured by what the

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minister said? It is there in meaningless. One of the things the

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review attempted to do was look at the current structures, how the

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health service is run. Those structures are bad, not fit for

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purpose. We need to take some serious decisions there. We really

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need to start bringing healthcare back to local level. We need to

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bring the management of the system back down to local level. One of

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the problems we face at the minute is it has been reorganised at such

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an impersonal and high-density type of level so that nobody is looking

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after all of those bits of the health service at local level that

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you and I see when we look for that kind of service. Would you prefer

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the model talked about in England at the end of last year that GPs

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should have more of a say? Absolutely not. One of the reasons

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we have some problems is too many GPs. They don't refer people

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probably rather than taking decisions themselves. There is a

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great deal of work to be done about that. If we go back to the kind of

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work done a long time ago on the Maurice Hayes report, for example.

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It talked about health circles. We retained trusts, and wants to

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return -- retainer Independent employers in the health service,

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you have got people looking after of the empires after -- instead of

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a co-operative type of service. We got rid of too many people. There

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is no actual manager in charge of hospitals. When those posts got rid

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of, things deteriorated. During very so us, there was no shortage

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of political activity with talks about the future of the department

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of employment and learning. The parties had until 5pm to submit

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ideas about the way forward. I caught up with the justice minister.

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We spent the afternoon in meetings with the other parties putting

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forward some of our ideas how to solve three can shoot -- three

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connected issues. These present anomaly of having to reliance

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ministers and the issue of reform in departments in total. Has there

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been clarification of where the Department of Justice would go if

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you didn't we nominate? There is a presumption it would remain as

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currently is with the minister elected by cross-community vote,

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but it doesn't say who the minister will be. You want to retain the

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justice ministry post, personally? When you believe you have been

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doing a good job, and a number of people have said to have been doing

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a reasonable job, and a number of things have come back which I

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initiated, I want to stay for personal reasons. There are

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fundamental reasons or issues how or the Alliance minister would fit.

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how would history mind the Executive down to eight posts?

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how are you? We should try to expedite it. It would have to be a

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significant reform, which might take a considerable period of

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discussion internally and externally, so it is not something

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happening in the next few months, but it is an issue which we need to

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address, to streamline the Executive. Would you prefer it to

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see the status quo maintained? you accept it is going to be split

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up? If we were moving speedily, it should remain for the medium term.

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It should not continue into the indefinite future. We are certain

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we need a solid department for the economy which would combine two

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departments at the present time. There are aspects which -- of other

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departments which would come into this as well. It is a step in the

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right direction, but it could be a backward step if greater reforms

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were needed down the line. Is that likely to happen considering what

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has been said so far? They did listen, and they were taking some

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letters of what we were saying, but it will be up to them to consider

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their responses from the other parties, and see what further

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proposals they are make. I hope you are all fans of Titanic, the ship.

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If not, you might find the next few months tedious. The centenary of

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the disaster is the jewel in the crown of this year's programme of

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tourist attractions. Here are highlights of today's question-time

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starting with the enterprising minister. As 20 12th marks the

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centenary of the Titanic's maiden voyage and sinking, it provides a

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once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. It is known worldwide and it is

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time to plays Belfast as the home of Titanic. A two-week festival

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will mark the opening of Titanic Belfast on 31st March and this is

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an amazing opportunity for all of us across Northern Ireland and I

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trust we will grasp it. I would like to thank the Minister for our

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answer. Is she focusing too much attention and resources on to this

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project? Will she be spreading those across? I don't accept that a

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battle because Titanic is a worldwide brand. It is not just

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going to help Belfast, it is going to halt the entirety of Northern

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Ireland tourist trade. I want to say to the member it is wrong to

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say we are just focusing on Titanic although I will readily say it is a

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key -- Key Plan in what we are doing in 2012. There were seven

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international events we were planning for this year, which is

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now up to eight with the arrival of the Irish Open golf at the end of

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July, or end of June. As well as Titanic Belfast, we have the one-

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day concert in Londonderry, the land of giants in Belfast, the

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Clipper Maritime homecoming Festival, the peace camp, the flags

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at the Giants Causeway, and we have the 50th Belfast Festival, all

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international events, bringing people into not just East Belfast

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but to the whole of Northern Ireland, and that is key to all of

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this. Will the Minister reassure the house, and there has been

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public ventilation of this, that there has been an application for

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European funding. And will she reassure the House that if that

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funding is not forthcoming, it will not in any way impede the

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development of this wonderful building and asset for the tourist

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industry in Northern Ireland? content to confirm that is the case.

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If the EU does not accept this grant application in respect of

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Titanic, and we have no reason that they will not, but given the advice

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we have been given by our own legal advisers, then other projects can

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be put forward. The Titanic signature project is not at risk.

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The financing of it is not at risk. I really do get frustrated when I

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listen to some commentators that would try to play this up, instead

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of playing up the importance of this to our tourism industry. I

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have to say that the negativity surrounding the Audit Office report,

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which, if you look at the detail in the Audit Office report, is talking

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about visitors coming to the Titanic signature project, which is

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of the same level as those visiting Belfast Zoo. If we cannot maintain

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that, we shouldn't be doing the Titanic signature project, because

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we must raise our game, have some confidence in ourselves and sell

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Belfast across the world as a place for visitors to come to and have a

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tremendous experience. Environment, and the thorny issue of double-

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jobbing. Alex Attwood is determined That is why the consultation that a

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shortly to conclude, indeed, did conclude an 16th December, in

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respect to my proposal to reduce the allowances for MLAs to remain

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as councillors, I intend to bring forward in the near future and as

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members will be aware, the Executive, whilst they didn't

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Executive, whilst they didn't Executive, whilst they didn't

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endorse my best advice about a number of matters, they did endorse

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my recommendation in November that in the forthcoming local government

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legislation, there should be a ban on double jobbing when it comes to

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on double jobbing when it comes to MLAs and councillors. Good a remind

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people that in this House, there are 33 members who are still

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members of the council? -- could I remind people. Could a press you

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further to be more precise about the timing of the cutting off of

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the funding stream? Undoubtedly, that is the action which will deal

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with this issue because there are many members of the House who are

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drawn down the extra 10,000 as a councillor. It does not end there,

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they draw down money as a chairman or as members of outside bodies and

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many of them inflates their family -- their salary to way beyond 50%

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of their already generous salary. Perhaps those who were intervening

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on those who are -- have most to account for. Allow the member to

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continue. Can we expect that tap to be turned on -- turned off to bring

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an end to this matter? There is an end to this matter? There is

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sympathy and a lack of sympathy to sympathy and a lack of sympathy to

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the remarks. Local representatives, it is a long time before you choose

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to join our ranks, and serve the to join our ranks, and serve the

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people of the North of Ireland with people of the North of Ireland with

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very limited income, at some risk, and very often with a degree of

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hostility across constituencies in the north. I value the service of

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local councillors, going back over the last 20 or 30 or 40 years. That

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is why this chamber was right to put into law and opportunities for

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councillors to get severance. Social Development Minister has

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been telling the Assembly that he is trying to recoup some �700,000

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from the biggest social housing organisation here. It follows a

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report released today that shows the company breached guidelines and

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did not stick to its own procedures. Nelson McCausland went on to detail

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a list of failures by the former management team. The report

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highlights a number of significant failures of control and breaches of

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compliance across all business areas. Those are the areas subject

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to inspection. Indicating significant and substantial

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failings by senior management within the association. Also, a

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failure by the boards to affect an adequate challenge function to the

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decision-making process within the association. This statement is

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qualified by an inspection team's awareness that on occasions the

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board had either not been fully briefed by the senior management

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team or had been misinformed by them. Some of the main issues

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identified were procurement procedures are not being followed,

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breaches of statutory approvals, incorrect use of consultants, and

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correct procedures for procurement of land, non-compliance with

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housing association guides and that the use of middlemen or site

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finders. Because of the nature of finders. Because of the nature of

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finders. Because of the nature of the issues especially within

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property development, and that accounts for the provision of new

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housing stock, the inspection team carried out a detailed examination

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of a significant number of development schemes to determine if

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the housing association grant had been improperly claimed. The

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outcome of this work confirmed the extent of the non-compliance.

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However, it also established that with the exception of four schemes,

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the grant was used for the purpose for which it was intended, namely

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to provide social housing with the Northern Ireland. The amount of

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grant which falls to be recovered his �669,000, of which �142,000 has

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already been recouped and discussions are ongoing about the

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recovery of the balance. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge

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the response of the housing association to these findings. The

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board has acted with openness and integrity throughout the inspection

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and subsequent discussions and has demonstrated a keenness to address

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all the issues raised. Gerry Kelly joins us now. The current

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management said today that procedures are in place and this

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procedures are in place and this could never happen again. Are you

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satisfied? Never say never. The difficulty is that this was

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substantial. To put this in context, this is �9.7 million, bought and

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sold in the one-day at a profit of �3 million and the middlemen were

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involved and developers and site managers were involved. The

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Minister described it as significant, a significant failure.

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In procurement and other aspects. I'm glad the investigation has

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taken place and I listened to members of the committee, including

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the chair. There are still questions to be answered and I

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asked the Minister about the middle man and what sort of regulation

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there was involved. He said that that has been looked at. I suppose

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we come out of this saying that we do not want it to happen again.

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they have put enough measures in place, as the Assembly but robust

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measures in place to make sure that they are more closely monitors?

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of the key issues -- one of the key issues is the oversight by the

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Department of Social Development. That is the question which the

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Minister has to look at. But we should not be in this position

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again and there was something like �600,000 which has to be returned

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to the Executive. The proof is in the pudding. We know what the

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problem is now. It has been identified by all accounts, from

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the committee. It was a fairly thorough investigation. The

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challenge to the Minister is what will sorted out? Are you reassured

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that there was nothing fraudulent and the company manager today said

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that people got carried away in the boom and the people who made the

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mistakes are no longer there. are huge mistakes and I think

:20:17.:20:23.

people had to move out of their jobs because of that. To put this

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in the context of North Belfast, we have a waiting list of some 2000

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people. People are being denied housing because of the mistakes

:20:30.:20:36.

here. People run hostels, who should not be in hostels. There is

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overcrowding and there is a waiting list which could have been averted.

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There is another issue, lasting for a considerable period of time, or

:20:45.:20:49.

Nelson Street, across from the site. We have been fighting to try and

:20:49.:20:54.

get these things sorted out. In fairness to the Minister, he said

:20:54.:21:00.

that the report is happening now, but we look at that again and we

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will look forward to asking him further questions. That it is out

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in the open, public and accountable, that is important. We need to make

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sure the accountability measures stay so that we cannot have a

:21:12.:21:18.

disaster like this again. Thank you very much. Yesterday, saw the

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launch of a new programme, Sunday politics, on BBC One each week.

:21:22.:21:32.
:21:32.:21:40.

Starting at noon. The local show Although it is new, it has already

:21:40.:21:44.

got us noticed. One MLA 1/4 the report on bureaucracy in the

:21:44.:21:53.

building industry. -- quoted our report. Ministers have noted the

:21:54.:21:57.

questionnaire on the BBC yesterday. What is he doing to survive the

:21:57.:22:02.

process? I did not listen to the whole of the programme, just a

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snippet of it. That was enough of. As far as the criticisms made

:22:09.:22:14.

yesterday, I have seen reports of them, and I think that some of them

:22:14.:22:23.

were ill-founded. I see Mr Michael Owen is in his place, and for a

:22:23.:22:27.

member of this Assembly who fully understands the way financial

:22:27.:22:34.

arrangements work, to suggest that the Executive is withholding

:22:34.:22:37.

contracts until the final year of this Assembly so that it looks like

:22:37.:22:43.

we're spending more in the final here in the run-up to an election,

:22:43.:22:47.

shut -- that shows a rank misunderstanding of public finance.

:22:47.:22:52.

He knows full well that we cannot carry over huge amounts of capital

:22:52.:22:57.

from one year to the next. In fact, we are only allowed to carry over

:22:57.:23:00.

�50 million worth of capital from one year to the next so we could

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not have possibly done what has been suggested. Some of the

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criticisms are unwarranted and, really, anybody who makes them

:23:07.:23:11.

should hang their heads in shame at the lack of understanding of how

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this place works. One of the other point made was about qualification,

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and how difficult it was, and the amount of work that was involved.

:23:21.:23:29.

We have been working with the construction industry to simplify

:23:29.:23:32.

the pre- qualification requirements and the documentation, and they

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think that many of these suggestions, indeed, all of the

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suggestions brought to us by the industry have been implemented by

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the department. I recognise that we want to reduce the amount of

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bureaucracy. Good to see we're helping the debate. Going back to

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the housing issue, you also announced it -- organise the staff

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to work across a housing associations. Is there a feeling of

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sadness among some of your members that something so horrendous has

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gone wrong? Undoubtedly. Our experience has been since the

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establishment of the housing association, so there have been a

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host of problems. Most of them are related to how they are run, and

:24:14.:24:21.

how they managed. It is an area, when you are engaged in this kind

:24:21.:24:25.

of micro commissioning, and transferring public functions into

:24:25.:24:29.

a sector like that, you really have a big obligation as government to

:24:29.:24:34.

make sure that the real systems are in place, for the Protection of

:24:34.:24:38.

everybody, not least public money. And clearly, they were not.

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seems to be the outcome. I would hope that there would be a hard

:24:45.:24:49.

look at how this is being handled, because there has not even been

:24:49.:24:52.

consistency approaching the associations themselves, and how

:24:53.:24:59.

they are established. The Secretary of State, or Owen Paterson, played

:24:59.:25:05.

host to that Taoiseach today. Together with the Secretary of

:25:05.:25:09.

State, he was at Stormont Castle today. They were not keen to answer

:25:10.:25:13.

any questions about the just as business that you have been hearing

:25:13.:25:18.

about. They say that is a devolved matter. -- justice business. They

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did say that they had agreed, together with the First and Deputy

:25:22.:25:26.

First Minister, to make a bid for another tranche of European peace

:25:26.:25:29.

money. Mr Gilmore explained that could be quite significant,

:25:29.:25:39.
:25:39.:25:39.

something like �200 million worth, if they were to get that from the

:25:39.:25:44.

system. In relation to the size of this money, it is in the order of

:25:44.:25:51.

200 and -- �330 million over a number of years. We would like to

:25:51.:25:57.

see something of the same size being continued. Obviously, we have

:25:57.:26:01.

to first of all have an assessment of the third piece, and the

:26:01.:26:07.

projects that were undertaken under it, and see what proposals can be

:26:07.:26:13.

brought forward for the next stage. That work is being undertaken to

:26:13.:26:19.

progress that. We await the outcome. You were there for all the action

:26:19.:26:23.

on Friday at the British Irish summit. What did you take away from

:26:23.:26:27.

it? Fascinating to be at a summit where there is a bone of contention

:26:27.:26:32.

about the state of the UK but it is not anything to do with Irish

:26:32.:26:35.

republicans. Martin McGuinness had a walk-on part although he made the

:26:35.:26:41.

best joke with the business of peace talks being undertaken at

:26:41.:26:48.

Stormont Castle. Instead, all the conversation was based on Scotland,

:26:48.:26:51.

and Nick Clegg. We could talk about a hypothetical, what could happen

:26:51.:26:55.

if the independence referendum works out. But at the weekend, it

:26:55.:26:59.

was interesting that Peter Johnson, chatting to me, said that he was

:26:59.:27:05.

concerned that the pursuit that stuck -- that Stormont has for some

:27:05.:27:08.

time of extra towers -- extra powers of corporation tax, that

:27:08.:27:14.

that could get mixed up with the top of extra taxation powers, the

:27:14.:27:18.

school autonomy or keep maximum devolution. That is a concern that

:27:18.:27:23.

many politicians have here, that it might delay things. And another

:27:23.:27:27.

issue today, fast food outlets near schools. Yes, interestingly the

:27:27.:27:30.

talks on justice which took place at Stormont Castle were fuelled on

:27:31.:27:36.

the basis of 26 fish suppers sent out during the talks, but if you're

:27:36.:27:39.

a fast food retail outlet, you might want to get your planning

:27:39.:27:43.

application in quickly because we noticed a question from the Green

:27:43.:27:48.

Party's MLA, Stephen Agnew, about whether the Health Minister would

:27:48.:27:51.

support any change in the law if a fast food outlet was going to be

:27:51.:27:55.

located next to a school. Broadly speaking, Edwin Poots said that he

:27:55.:27:59.

would be in favour, potentially, of changes in the legislation, and

:27:59.:28:05.

that is part of the healthy policy towards school children.

:28:05.:28:10.

One final word from you, obviously, all over the Christmas period it

:28:10.:28:15.

has been well publicised, the difficulty at some of hour accident

:28:15.:28:19.

and emergency departments. Is it a season -- seasonal blip or is it a

:28:19.:28:24.

sign of things to come? It is a dose of honesty that we need. We

:28:24.:28:30.

probably sound like we around the same mantra all the time, -- We are

:28:30.:28:34.

all on the same mantra all the time, but we represent the people in

:28:34.:28:36.

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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