16/02/2016 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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The First and Deputy First Ministers suggest that looking at how other


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


useful for the Assembly as it grapples with its latest


And MLAs back the latest move in the process to reduce


their number by 18 in five years' time.


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


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


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


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


transparency. It's a numbers game as the reduction


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


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


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


a situation where it was actually deferred to 2026.


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


Stormont should look to Westminster as an example of how


That was the view expressed by the First Minister today


as she gave her reaction to the ongoing saga


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


to advice from other places on such matters.


The Speaker has called a meeting of the Assembly Commission tomorrow


Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness spoke to reporters this afternoon


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


parties might like to look at that suggestion again now.


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


on to restore some of the credibility and reputation of


Stormont? I think it is important that we take


away from individual members the ability to do what has been


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


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


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


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


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


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


all of these issues in the coming days.


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


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


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


open and transparent as we possibly can.


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


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


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


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


well as of course, the integrity of the Assembly.


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


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


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


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


have absolutely accepted that the expenses incurred by Sinn Fein MLA


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


what that involves. And if the independent parliamentary


and the 30 Westminster does make suggestions for changes to the


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


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


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


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


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


suggestion whatsoever that people appear after the ring their own


nests. That clearly is not happening.


The Westminster expenses regulator has weighed in to the debate


It's all getting more murky?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


panel has been calling for. And now the Speaker


has called a meeting Will that shed any


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


and ultimately their own political credibility with the general public.


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


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


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


know there have been times when politicians have had financial


irregularities alleged, and politicians get very nervous around


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


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


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


will move in that direction very quickly.


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


Since Christmas, reform of the Assembly has dominated


proceedings in the chamber and another element


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


It was the further consideration stage of the bill responsible


for reducing the number of MLAs in the Assembly,


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


These amendments will guarantee that should Royal assent for this bill


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


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


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


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


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


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


therefore ask members to support these amendments which support the


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


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


2018 parliamentary boundary review, the committee would be legislatively


mandated to review the number of members return three constituency.


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


of its review before December the 1st, 2018.


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


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


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


outlined by the junior minister in order to create certainty in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


that end, we will be supporting the reduction.


The Ulster Unionist Party's Andy Allen.


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


the Assembly, and today the Mental Capacity Bill moved


on to its next stage after considering a total


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


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


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


a person makes when they have capacity to refuse a specific


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


statutory recommendation to advance decisions that does not include


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


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


of flexibility. Common law can continue to evolve past the


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


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


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


maintained that fusing mental health and mental capacity legislation will


create a radically different legal framework to those in which the


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


anywhere else yet. So simply following the English approach is


not the answer here in our circumstances. The more prudent


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


to bed in before deciding what the rules around advanced decisions


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


executive framework to reform the existing mental health legislation


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


Mental health law is broadly concerned with the reduction of the


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


whilst mental capacity law is designed to empower people to make


decisions for themselves and possibly to protect people who lack


capacity. They keep their busy developing a single legislative


framework to cover both mental health and mental capacity is to


attempt to reduce the stigma and the inequalities which can sometimes


flow from having specific mental health legislation. However, the


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


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


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


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


principles of this bill will transform mental health legislation


and the passage was hugely benefit those within society who lacked


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


illness and their families. This bill has been described as


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


hopefully improve the lot of people who have suffered from mental


illness, mental health and learning disabilities has always been


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


talking up what he sees Funding for the A5 road project


and a difference in rates amounts for non-domestic properties


were addressed during questions But first, Mervyn Storey,


was asked about a review of the financial process here,


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


the Finance Committee The report of the review of


financial processes has not been discussed by the executive. Without


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


of the proposals in the paper related to the departmental


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


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


report was forwarded to the executive for action. By any


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


cumbersome system, which does not provide proper accountability. We


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


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


what is a process which is transparent, gives us that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


consultation on the new draft. Budgetary orders and the


environmental statement for the A5 Western transport corridor jewel


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


the statutory procedures, construction work starts next year


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


addressed. As if the marathon Mental Capacity


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


Simon Hamilton also He was asked how seriously


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


he told MLAs that the number of people on waiting


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


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


appointment. These figures are totally unacceptable. It is


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


longer due to the financial constraints that led to the decision


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


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


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


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


thousands of assessments and procedures. I welcome the allocation


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


lists and is expected to benefit many thousands of patients who


otherwise would have been waiting. Significant efforts have been made


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


appropriate arrangements with independent sector organisations.


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


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


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


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


considered the imposition of referral to treatment targets that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


certainly have a conversation and consider other targets other


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


women must receive appropriate advice and need to beware of


symptoms and the actions to be taken for travellers.


Simon Hamilton on the threat posed by Zika virus.


The Assembly passed legislation today designed to help the police


and other agencies better tackle organised crime.


The Justice Minister explained that the police will now be able


to seize cash from alleged criminals and freeze other assets


as their investigations are underway.


The Proceeds of Crime Act is designed to provide law enforcement


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


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


empowers law enforcement officers to seize cash and ensure its forfeiture


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


disrupt and deterred criminality. This will bring three distinct codes


of practice into operation. The codes of practice will provide


necessary guidance constables and officers with responsibility in this


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


significant cooperation between the various agencies involved, including


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


is coordinated as far as possible. And Chris Donnelly has


joined me for a final word. The Mental Capacity Bill


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


before the Assembly. 489 amendments and considerable


time spent on voting - and again it raises the issue


of electronic voting. Yes. The mental capacity Bill


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


there would not be as many jobs available.


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


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


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


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


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


The Sport Relief season continues with


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.