16/02/2016 Stormont Today


16/02/2016

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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The First and Deputy First Ministers suggest that looking at how other

:00:24.:00:28.

legislatures deal with the vexed issue of Members' expenses might be

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useful for the Assembly as it grapples with its latest

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And MLAs back the latest move in the process to reduce

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their number by 18 in five years' time.

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The First Minister makes her views on the expenses saga clear.

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There's a lot of confusion out there as to what has actually happened in

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relation to this whole regime, and I think it is important we give

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clarity to the people that elect us, and there is openness and

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transparency. It's a numbers game as the reduction

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in MLAs moves one step closer. As the previous debates in this bill

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have focused mainly on the question of an earlier date for it to come

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into effect than 2021, we think is unlikely that any member would want

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a situation where it was actually deferred to 2026.

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And with me to look at today's business is the commentator

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Stormont should look to Westminster as an example of how

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That was the view expressed by the First Minister today

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as she gave her reaction to the ongoing saga

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And the Deputy First Minster said he's always open to listening

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to advice from other places on such matters.

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The Speaker has called a meeting of the Assembly Commission tomorrow

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Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness spoke to reporters this afternoon

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I think we have always said that there is a need to be as open and

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transparent as we possibly can be, and indeed, when this came up the

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last time, we had suggested that we should perhaps move to the type of

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model that runs at Westminster, and of course, our Westminster

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colleagues are happy to operate under that model, we are very happy

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to operate under similar models here, but at that time, we did not

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receive support in relation to that suggestion, and perhaps the other

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parties might like to look at that suggestion again now.

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You think it is necessary to have some sort of review of what has gone

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on to restore some of the credibility and reputation of

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Stormont? I think it is important that we take

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away from individual members the ability to do what has been

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suggested has been done, because it is to protect them as much as to

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protect the integrity of the institutions, because there is a lot

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of confusion out there as to what has actually happened in relation to

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this whole regime, and I think it is important that we give clarity to

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the people that elect us, and there is an openness and transparency, so

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we look forward to hearing what the commission has to say in relation to

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all of these issues in the coming days.

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Is its early model as far as you're concerned?

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We do believe that is the best way forward, and IPSA styled model.

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Maybe a little bureaucratic, but the most important thing is to be as

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open and transparent as we possibly can.

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How damaging has this row being over the last couple of days?

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Well, of course, it has gathered momentum over the past days. I think

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there is a necessity now to review what has occurred and move forward

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from there, because I think we need to protect the individual members as

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well as of course, the integrity of the Assembly.

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If there is a question mark over any aspect of expenditure, that needs to

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be resolved. But I reiterate, we have had a very

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strong statement from the Assembly commission, which is made up of all

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the political parties. Not all of them are friends of Sinn Fein. They

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have absolutely accepted that the expenses incurred by Sinn Fein MLA

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's over what was a 10-year period was proper expenditure. I don't

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think there is anybody in this place that believes there is anything

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secretive about how people claim they're properly incurred expenses.

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So I do think that what we need to see is the outworking of this one

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case that was identified this morning on the radio of a person who

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challenge that. There may be one or two others who have challenged it.

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I'm not aware of that. So I am as optimistic as a Woody Austin hear

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what that involves. And if the independent parliamentary

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and the 30 Westminster does make suggestions for changes to the

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regime here, do you think those should be taken up?

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I think we're always open to listening advice and the example

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from other places. I don't think there is any difficulty about that

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at all, and I'm sure there is not one MLA in the place he would object

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to having a fresh look at how we can remove from the public mind, any

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suggestion whatsoever that people appear after the ring their own

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nests. That clearly is not happening.

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The Westminster expenses regulator has weighed in to the debate

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It's all getting more murky?

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I think it is, and remember, in 2009, the issue of expenses erupted

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at Westminster, and ultimately, that, native in the establishment of

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IPSA, and now we see in Stormont, the issue of expenses coming into

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the public domain. It is something politicians have a right to feel

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very nervous about. We saw the First Minister Arlene Foster twice in that

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report referred to the need for openness and transparency to be the

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buzzword to the public to have integrity in the situation. And

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Martin McGuinness was coming from the same angle. So I very much seen

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out, with IPSA intervening, there will be pressure going to move away

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from the system we have at the moment, which kind of split the

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power between the panel, and we know to members of that panel. Three of

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them have come out within the past 48 hours, very critical of the

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Assembly commission. So I think there will now be pressure to move

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towards what pertains at Westminster, the IPSA body, which in

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a sense will move, for the politicians, that will create a

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buffer for them which will, in a sense, have a breathing space from,

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so they won't face such criticism in the future.

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And ironically, that is what Pat McCartan who chairs that independent

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panel has been calling for. And now the Speaker

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has called a meeting Will that shed any

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further light on things? I think what we saw from the Speaker

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calling this meeting tomorrow of the Assembly commission, he is also

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making the point in that statement today, kind of disputing what had

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come out in the media today about a secret appeals process, and there

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seems to be a little bit of a dispute around how much that is the

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case. But very much, I think that both the Speaker and the political

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leaders at Stormont will want to move towards IPSA, or a Style model,

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because they realise there is the potential to damage the situation,

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and ultimately their own political credibility with the general public.

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We often say in circumstances like this that perception is all.

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It is very important when we talk about an issue, there was a BBC

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programme critical of Sinn Fein a few years ago in this regard, we

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know there have been times when politicians have had financial

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irregularities alleged, and politicians get very nervous around

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that. That is something that can eat at the credibility of political

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institutions, and therefore, I think there is an easy way to resolve

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this, by moving towards the IPSA model. I think the political class

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will move in that direction very quickly.

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We will talk to you again later. Thank you very much.

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Since Christmas, reform of the Assembly has dominated

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proceedings in the chamber and another element

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of the "new" Stormont moved a little closer today.

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It was the further consideration stage of the bill responsible

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for reducing the number of MLAs in the Assembly,

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and everyone was in agreement that there will be 18 fewer of them

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These amendments will guarantee that should Royal assent for this bill

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not be obtained before the election and May the 5th, the reduction in

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the number of MLAs will still apply to the next election held after the

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forthcoming elections in May. As the previous debates on this bill have

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focused mainly on the question of an earlier date for it to come into

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effect than 2021, we think it unlikely that any member would want

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the situation where it was actually deferred to 2026. So I would

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therefore ask members to support these amendments which support the

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objective of the bill. We know there are provisions contained in them

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number three, that should there be a change to the as a result of the

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2018 parliamentary boundary review, the committee would be legislatively

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mandated to review the number of members return three constituency.

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We further note that the amendment also calls to report on the findings

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of its review before December the 1st, 2018.

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There is it a temptation to oppose the technical amendments are the

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reduction to reduce MLAs is pushed 2026, but on this occasion, I resist

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that sensation. I have decided we are content to support the amendment

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outlined by the junior minister in order to create certainty in

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relation to that matter. It was forged out of agreement. I am

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glad that that agreement has come about. It is an objective of my

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party to adjust the number of Assembly members. We have not got

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everything we won, but we are making progress. That must be welcomed.

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We are certainly going in the right direction. The options of this party

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have been clear on this. We support the reduction in numbers with the

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current timeline. We doesn't want it earlier. Because we feel we can't

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rush these decisions. We need to make sure the Assembly is inclusive,

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diverse, and providing the proper government for our people, so to

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that end, we will be supporting the reduction.

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The Ulster Unionist Party's Andy Allen.

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It's one of the largest pieces of legislation to come before

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the Assembly, and today the Mental Capacity Bill moved

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on to its next stage after considering a total

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The bill aims to create a legal framework for the treatment or care

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of those judged to lack the capacity to make a decision for themselves.

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As members may be aware, and advanced decision is a decision that

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a person makes when they have capacity to refuse a specific

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treatment in the future, should they lose capacity. Clause 11 gives

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statutory recommendation to advance decisions that does not include

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provisions around how they should be made or operated. That will continue

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to be governed by common law. The main reason for adopting this is one

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of flexibility. Common law can continue to evolve past the

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provisions or not -- are not set in stone. This is an different approach

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the English act of 2005, which codified the common law rules, the

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Scotland did not go down this road. My department has consistently

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maintained that fusing mental health and mental capacity legislation will

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create a radically different legal framework to those in which the

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common law rules were developed, and which has not been attempted

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anywhere else yet. So simply following the English approach is

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not the answer here in our circumstances. The more prudent

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course, which I'm convinced is the right one, is to give this bill time

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to bed in before deciding what the rules around advanced decisions

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should be. As far as I can see, there just is not the consensus or

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certainty needed to be able to legislate for it now. We as an

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Assembly are better taking the time to get it right, and the bill as

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drafted allows us to do that. This is the first ad hoc joint

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committee, of course, that has been established by the committee, and is

:12:11.:12:14.

membership was drawn from both the health and justice committees. We

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began our work in May 2015, with the task of looking at the committee

:12:20.:12:22.

stage of the mental capacity Bill, which as the Minister has

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acknowledged, was one of the largest bill that has ever come in front of

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the Assembly. Members will be aware that the background to the bill was

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the Bamford review, which in 2007, concluded there should be a single

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executive framework to reform the existing mental health legislation

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and Judy 's capacity legislation to Northern Ireland for the first time.

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Mental health law is broadly concerned with the reduction of the

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risks flowing from a mental disorder to the patient and other people,

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whilst mental capacity law is designed to empower people to make

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decisions for themselves and possibly to protect people who lack

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capacity. They keep their busy developing a single legislative

:12:58.:13:00.

framework to cover both mental health and mental capacity is to

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attempt to reduce the stigma and the inequalities which can sometimes

:13:05.:13:07.

flow from having specific mental health legislation. However, the

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production of such a piece of legislation is in no way a

:13:11.:13:14.

straightforward task, and Northern Ireland is the only place in the

:13:15.:13:15.

world to attempt such an approach. Mental capacity issues can affect

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anybody. It is important we have robust legislation. I believe the

:13:27.:13:32.

principles of this bill will transform mental health legislation

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and the passage was hugely benefit those within society who lacked

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capacity or may lack capacity in the future. We have almost 20,000 people

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living in Northern Ireland with dementia, a number which is likely

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to rise. 1% of the population suffers from schizophrenia. 13%

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suffers from depression. 214,000 carers here for people who may lack

:13:57.:14:04.

capacity. All these people and many others may need important decisions

:14:05.:14:07.

to be made on their behalf or they may need to make decisions for other

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people. We can see how important the bill would be for those with mental

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illness and their families. This bill has been described as

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representing a paradigms shift. No longer will they be treated, or

:14:23.:14:27.

seen, as a separate class. Capacity will no longer be defined

:14:28.:14:32.

differently among people, which has to be recognised as being positive.

:14:33.:14:36.

I am glad the bill has reached this stage. There was concern whether it

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would be caught up with the dissolution of the assembly. I will

:14:41.:14:44.

express my disappointment as to how long it took for the bill to come to

:14:45.:14:47.

the floor, especially considering it on the wider, single, legislative

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framework which was proposed as far back as 2009 with the Bamford

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Review. It was a very important bill. All members on the committee

:15:04.:15:08.

showed a willingness for it to reach this stage. The bill before us will

:15:09.:15:13.

hopefully improve the lot of people who have suffered from mental

:15:14.:15:19.

illness, mental health and learning disabilities has always been

:15:20.:15:23.

regarded as the Cinderella of the health services. Hopefully this work

:15:24.:15:26.

will bring it to a level playing field. That is what we are all

:15:27.:15:31.

striving to attain. All of this work comes on the foundation of the

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sterling work of the Bamford working group on mental health and learning

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disability. This bill, in terms of offering a single, integrated mental

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capacity act, is ground-breaking and world beating in terms of best

:15:49.:15:51.

practice by international standards. The Alliance Party's Kieran McCarthy

:15:52.:15:54.

talking up what he sees Funding for the A5 road project

:15:55.:15:56.

and a difference in rates amounts for non-domestic properties

:15:57.:16:00.

were addressed during questions But first, Mervyn Storey,

:16:01.:16:02.

was asked about a review of the financial process here,

:16:03.:16:06.

and why it hasn't been acted upon, despite being approved by both

:16:07.:16:09.

the Finance Committee The report of the review of

:16:10.:16:19.

financial processes has not been discussed by the executive. Without

:16:20.:16:25.

agreement, the proposal that it contains cannot be implemented. One

:16:26.:16:30.

of the proposals in the paper related to the departmental

:16:31.:16:34.

structures and with the move to the nine new department structure this

:16:35.:16:39.

will have to then be revisited. It is now over six years since the

:16:40.:16:43.

report was forwarded to the executive for action. By any

:16:44.:16:47.

standards, action should now have been taken to improve a very

:16:48.:16:54.

cumbersome system, which does not provide proper accountability. We

:16:55.:16:58.

need to look again at it to see how it can be refined and see how we can

:16:59.:17:04.

give the assurance, or at least the commitment, that we are creating

:17:05.:17:10.

what is a process which is transparent, gives us that

:17:11.:17:14.

accountability, and delivers for us in the way that we have intended. He

:17:15.:17:22.

talks about transparency. I do not see that much transparency. I see a

:17:23.:17:29.

lot of the Paik nurse. Having been here for 18 years, I would like to

:17:30.:17:34.

see an improvement. -- opaqueness. Can the minister guarantee that?

:17:35.:17:41.

Some may say that the member should go to spec Savers and he might be

:17:42.:17:45.

able to have more transparency. Maybe our budget to processes a bit

:17:46.:17:51.

like the advert when the person who is responsible for clipping the she

:17:52.:17:57.

ends up clipping the dogs as opposed to the sheep. -- the sheep. The

:17:58.:18:04.

consultation on the new draft. Budgetary orders and the

:18:05.:18:07.

environmental statement for the A5 Western transport corridor jewel

:18:08.:18:13.

carriageways deem a few days ago, subject to successful completion of

:18:14.:18:17.

the statutory procedures, construction work starts next year

:18:18.:18:29.

on the ?150 -- ?150 million new buildings. That is a clear

:18:30.:18:34.

indication. This executive and this assembly has been criticised in the

:18:35.:18:39.

past about not making decisions. We are criticised when we make

:18:40.:18:43.

decisions. He was a clear example of a considerable degree of investment

:18:44.:18:49.

that is being made. Charity shops play a very important role in our

:18:50.:18:55.

country. However, many will argue that they dominate our high streets

:18:56.:19:01.

and Main Street across Northern Ireland. What steps, if any, can be

:19:02.:19:07.

taken to ensure this imbalance is addressed? I thank the member for

:19:08.:19:12.

his question. I would not say it relates -- I would say in relation

:19:13.:19:15.

to this issue, we have to deal with the issue in a sensitive way. I am

:19:16.:19:21.

well aware of correspondence that I have had. I am well aware of

:19:22.:19:26.

lobbying there has been. When you come to this issue, when you begin

:19:27.:19:32.

to change the rules that govern particularly the issue of rating,

:19:33.:19:38.

there is always a tendency to, in some way, go after one particular

:19:39.:19:43.

element that seems to be the easiest. However, my approach to

:19:44.:19:47.

this would be cautious. It will be fair. It would be equitable. I think

:19:48.:19:53.

I have listened to the concerns of other retailers who have undoubtedly

:19:54.:19:58.

said there are disparities, there are differences which need to be

:19:59.:20:01.

addressed. As if the marathon Mental Capacity

:20:02.:20:03.

Bill didn't make enough work for the Health Minister today,

:20:04.:20:07.

Simon Hamilton also He was asked how seriously

:20:08.:20:09.

Northern Ireland is taking the Zika virus and, first of all,

:20:10.:20:13.

he told MLAs that the number of people on waiting

:20:14.:20:15.

lists is "unacceptable". Provisionally at the end of December

:20:16.:20:27.

2015, patients were waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient

:20:28.:20:32.

appointment. These figures are totally unacceptable. It is

:20:33.:20:35.

regrettable that more people are waiting to be seen and are waiting

:20:36.:20:39.

longer due to the financial constraints that led to the decision

:20:40.:20:44.

to suspend the independent sector in-house activity last year. It was

:20:45.:20:48.

frustrating that ?9.5 million was being lost every month from the

:20:49.:20:53.

Northern Ireland public finances each and every month as a result of

:20:54.:20:57.

welfare reform being blocked. Such a fund could have funded many

:20:58.:21:01.

thousands of assessments and procedures. I welcome the allocation

:21:02.:21:06.

of an additional ?40 million which will go towards tackling waiting

:21:07.:21:09.

lists and is expected to benefit many thousands of patients who

:21:10.:21:13.

otherwise would have been waiting. Significant efforts have been made

:21:14.:21:17.

across the health and social care system. It will also put into place

:21:18.:21:25.

appropriate arrangements with independent sector organisations.

:21:26.:21:32.

This is just the start and much more additional funding will be needed to

:21:33.:21:37.

get us back to where we were. We are moving in the right direction. I

:21:38.:21:41.

hope patients will see the benefit of this as soon as possible. What I

:21:42.:21:47.

am asking specifically, in relation to waiting times, will the minister

:21:48.:21:52.

considered the imposition of referral to treatment targets that

:21:53.:21:59.

have been put place -- into place in other countries internationally? I

:22:00.:22:03.

take exception about what she has said about the approach of the DUP

:22:04.:22:08.

and any other party, seeking to move forward with welfare legislation. We

:22:09.:22:12.

were not happy with either. I've fought the fight at Westminster, was

:22:13.:22:16.

against it when others were absent. I sought to deliver the best

:22:17.:22:20.

possible deal for Northern Ireland. I do not want to get into some sort

:22:21.:22:25.

of argument with the member opposite about the fact they have signed up

:22:26.:22:29.

to that welfare reform legislation. We have at least now moved forward

:22:30.:22:34.

and beyond that, hopefully. That has freed up a very welcome injection of

:22:35.:22:38.

40 with him pounds into waiting lists in Northern Ireland which will

:22:39.:22:43.

make sure that some have already got their treatment and some will get

:22:44.:22:49.

their treatment. -- ?40 million. Patients across a range of

:22:50.:22:53.

specialisms will get the help and care they need. I am content to look

:22:54.:23:00.

at the ways in which we can look at targets. Sometimes they are

:23:01.:23:03.

important and sometimes we focus on them too much. I am content to

:23:04.:23:11.

certainly have a conversation and consider other targets other

:23:12.:23:15.

jurisdictions have had and see what impact they have had and whether

:23:16.:23:19.

they are more accurate measure of the situation. The Public health

:23:20.:23:24.

agency is leading the response to the Zika virus and has issued advice

:23:25.:23:30.

to help professionals. The pHA also issued a press release for pregnant

:23:31.:23:39.

women. It is important to note that Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes

:23:40.:23:44.

not native to Northern Ireland and the public health risk in this

:23:45.:23:47.

country is extremely low and no greater than risks posed by other

:23:48.:23:53.

mosque Ito borne infections like malaria. Almost all cases of the

:23:54.:24:02.

virus are caused by mosquito bites although a few cases have been

:24:03.:24:08.

caused by sexual transmission. -- mosquito borne infections. Pregnant

:24:09.:24:13.

women must receive appropriate advice and need to beware of

:24:14.:24:17.

symptoms and the actions to be taken for travellers.

:24:18.:24:20.

Simon Hamilton on the threat posed by Zika virus.

:24:21.:24:22.

The Assembly passed legislation today designed to help the police

:24:23.:24:24.

and other agencies better tackle organised crime.

:24:25.:24:26.

The Justice Minister explained that the police will now be able

:24:27.:24:29.

to seize cash from alleged criminals and freeze other assets

:24:30.:24:31.

as their investigations are underway.

:24:32.:24:37.

The Proceeds of Crime Act is designed to provide law enforcement

:24:38.:24:46.

agencies with tools to cover the proceeds of crime and deny criminals

:24:47.:24:49.

the possibility to cumin a asset secured by illegal means. The act

:24:50.:24:55.

empowers law enforcement officers to seize cash and ensure its forfeiture

:24:56.:25:05.

court proceedings. In the UK, between 2010 and 2014, criminal

:25:06.:25:09.

assets worth more than ?746 million were seized across all methods of

:25:10.:25:18.

recovery and assets were frozen. In Northern Ireland in 2014/ ?2 million

:25:19.:25:22.

was recovered through confiscation orders. There are still more to do

:25:23.:25:28.

to retain the proceeds of crime. The changes being addressed here today

:25:29.:25:34.

are a step in that direction. In conclusion, it removes criminal

:25:35.:25:40.

assets that could be used to support more common activity. It sends a

:25:41.:25:44.

message that crime does not paid. Used to maximum effect, it will

:25:45.:25:51.

disrupt and deterred criminality. This will bring three distinct codes

:25:52.:25:56.

of practice into operation. The codes of practice will provide

:25:57.:26:00.

necessary guidance constables and officers with responsibility in this

:26:01.:26:05.

area, specifically in relation to cash searches and the seizure and

:26:06.:26:10.

detention of property. Could I ask him to reflect on what memoranda of

:26:11.:26:17.

understanding, or issues we have with the Republic of Ireland, given

:26:18.:26:25.

the high propensity of criminality, cross-border criminality? Given the

:26:26.:26:34.

Proceeds of Crime Act is a UK legislation, there are implications

:26:35.:26:37.

with regard to cross-border relationships. The cross-border task

:26:38.:26:43.

force will be a key way of ensuring that cross-border criminality is

:26:44.:26:46.

addressed. I hope in the near future we will be launching the revision of

:26:47.:26:53.

the cross-border policing arrangements and, certainly, I think

:26:54.:26:57.

it will show that good work can continue across-the-board and when

:26:58.:27:00.

assets are being seized, which is a key part of this, there is

:27:01.:27:04.

significant cooperation between the various agencies involved, including

:27:05.:27:09.

the two police agencies and the National crime agency to ensure work

:27:10.:27:10.

is coordinated as far as possible. And Chris Donnelly has

:27:11.:27:14.

joined me for a final word. The Mental Capacity Bill

:27:15.:27:17.

was described as one of the largest pieces of legislation to come

:27:18.:27:20.

before the Assembly. 489 amendments and considerable

:27:21.:27:22.

time spent on voting - and again it raises the issue

:27:23.:27:24.

of electronic voting. Yes. The mental capacity Bill

:27:25.:27:34.

stretches back to the Bamford review. Almost 500 amendments today.

:27:35.:27:44.

We looked to Scotland where they do have a electronic voting. It helps

:27:45.:27:48.

to expedite through business quickly in the party should be looking at

:27:49.:27:54.

this in terms of the future. There were some unhappy teachers speaking

:27:55.:27:57.

to members of the education committee today. That issue is close

:27:58.:28:05.

to your heart. Some teachers met with members of the education

:28:06.:28:09.

committee. When initially announced it was popular, the idea that 500

:28:10.:28:14.

teachers over 55 could retire early and make way for 500 younger

:28:15.:28:19.

teachers. But it only applies to a certain number of teachers who have

:28:20.:28:24.

qualified in the last two years. So, those teachers who are up to ten

:28:25.:28:29.

years after being qualified to teach and have not got permanent jobs

:28:30.:28:34.

cannot apply. They are complaining, justifiably so, from their

:28:35.:28:40.

perspective. From the minister 's perspective, the younger teachers

:28:41.:28:43.

are the ones who cost the lease and if it is open more broadly, probably

:28:44.:28:48.

there would not be as many jobs available.

:28:49.:28:51.

I'll be back with The View on Thursday night, so do join me

:28:52.:28:56.

Until then, from everyone in the team, bye-bye.

:28:57.:29:02.

I'm raising my game and I WILL come out on top.

:29:03.:29:12.

Bring it on. Bring it on. Bring it on.

:29:13.:29:19.

This time, we're aiming higher than ever before.

:29:20.:29:23.

The Sport Relief season continues with

:29:24.:29:26.

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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