16/04/2012 Stormont Today


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. And after a weekend of


commemorations for the victims of the Titanic disaster, the Assembly


returned after its Easter break giving MLAs a chance to pay their


tributes. But do we need yet another commemorative plaque?


small memorial, because within the hall Stormont building, we don't


have anything that commemorates the Titanic.


Yet it was the issue of more recent victims which dominated business in


the chamber. Information is the key to progress, and I want to take


this opportunity to renew the call for information in relation to


those victims whose remains have not yet been recovered.


And from the victims' organisation Wave, Sandra Peake is my guest


Assembly members are back from the Easter break and top of the agenda


today was victims. Specifically those who were disappeared during


the Troubles. There's still seven families seeking the remains of


their loved ones. And during today's debate, there was praise


for the victims group Wave. And joining me now is the


organisation's chief executive, Sandra Peake. Welcome to the


programme. Sandra, what is Wave's role in helping the disappeared?


have worked with the families of the disappeared since the 1990s,


initially in a support context. Brian McKinney's mother came to us


early on, and was very clear that she was looking for his body and


wanted to know what had happened to him. I wasn't sure how we could


help initially, but we began to work together, and through that, we


met the other families and formed a support group which was very much


about reducing isolation. Remind us again where were are with this


issue. I understand there will be developments soon. Work is imminent


and with that the commission in relation hopefully to one family


case. It is hoped that there will be further work. Our hope is that


all seven will be returned home for Christian burials with their


families. We have a very specialist commission with specialist skills


and knowledge. They have the technology and funding, but what


they need is more information. That is the thing which is most


important at present. You listened to the debate today along with some


of the families. What does it mean to them to have this debate? It was


good for them to listen. There is a sense that they have some


recognition now, and a sense that debate is important for the


families, and to know that they are recognised. How difficult was it to


get the debate? In relation to Dominic Bradley, it is because of


his work within the area and families, I suppose that we are


very keen on pushing the issue and highlighting that we have


commissioned an independent commission for the disappeared.


That is what today's debate was about. Her OK, Sandra. Let's hear


some of the debate today. And we start with Dominic Bradley, who


proposed the motion. It was people from Northern Ireland and from the


public who were responsible for the disappearances. Their other people


who have the information and can bring the suffering of the families


to the end. I want to place on record our thanks to all of those


who have come forward to date with information leading to the recovery


of remains. That is the key word - information. Information is the key


to progress. I want to take this opportunity to renew the call for


information in relation to those whose remains have not been


recovered. Now is the time for those who have said nothing or who


have not said enough to come forward and speak and give


information. As the victims commissioner in 2008, I attended a


funeral mass for a young lad who was disappeared longer than he was


alive - 21 years old when he was killed, but not buried for a


further 27 years. I will never forget the picture they used at the


Requiem Mass, the picture of a young man entering his twenties,


not the picture of a man being buried nearly 50 years after he was


born. The family had no choice, because for those 27 years, they


had no picture, because he was dead but not buried. It was a stark


visual reminder of how unnatural, inhuman and perverted it is to


disappear somebody. These bodies would disappear by being buried in


secret locations, and that is part of the trauma that the families


have endured. It is an injustice. I do repeat and re iterate... Were at


the member like to withdraw the statement that he made in January


2005 that the killing of Jean McConville was not a criminal act?


Or is it still the position of Sinn Fein that that vile murder was in


some way justified? Because it was not a criminal act, and if that is


the member's stance, then so much of what he says today has no


credibility. I think the Member for that intervention. I have to reply


in this way. I will address that issue in the context of a process


of truth recovery and a process of genuine reconciliation. That would


mean that I could expect from all sections around this room, people


to acknowledge the role of the British security services in


procuring murder and procuring collusion with the murder gangs,


and we address all of those issues... At the beginning of this


debate, are asked members to refrain and be careful of what they


said that they would not jeopardise any future proceedings. I asked the


remember -- the member to remember that. I think we do need to have a


truth recovery process in which all will come to that table. And number


of years ago, I was contacted by one of the family is that we


disappeared, the McVeigh family. -- that were disappeared. I met the


late Mrs McRae. Writer way I could see on the elderly woman's face the


trauma, the distress, the agony, and she was pleading for the return


of the body of her son before she herself would pass away.


Unfortunately, Mrs McRae has passed away, and she was never to realise


that longing in ha-ha at to be reunited with the body of her son


so that she could give him a burial, a Christian burial. Sandra, a very


poignant story there, but she is not the only one who has passed


away without seeing any progress. That is right. For those mothers of


the disappeared, it is a very difficult and poignant journey.


Kevin McKee's mother - he is still missing - she died before Christmas.


Many of them mothers have put their sons names on headstones as a way


to try to end Sjoerd -- ensure that they will have a place of rest.


heard during the debate that there was progress possibly imminent or


some development imminent. Is there anywhere and -- anything else you


can share with us? Hopefully work will take place in the near future,


and I think that that will come into the public domain. The hope of


all families when they see work commence is that they will be next.


Our need is to keep continuing to work on the issue to make sure that


there is further progress. And sometimes when you least expect it,


when a search has taken some time and families are beginning to think


that they are not there, remains have been found. Thank you, Sandra.


The reform of welfare and coping with its fallout is a major


challenge facing the Assembly, as we've documented on this programme.


We'll hear the the social development minister answering


questions on that shortly, but first, did you know this island


could be self-sufficient in electricity and could even become


an exporter of power to other areas?


Listen now to the environment minister.


The answer is that in the 2010/2011 year, there were 639 planning


applications for wind turbines, 620 for a single wind and 19


applications for wind farms. In the period from April to December of


the last business year, and figures for the last one had yet to be


fully updated, during that nine- month period, there were 500


applications for single wind farm turbines, 29 applications for wind


farms. Those figures do not take into account other renewable


applications for anaerobic do jesters and other renewable


opportunities. But the scale of the opportunities both in the preceding


year and in the the period up to September last year, it confirms to


me that renewables remains of this island's and the north of this


island's single biggest opportunity. Could the minister at this point in


time give us a figure as regards to how many of these multiple


applications are within this boundary? I certainly will be able


to break it down, but not right at this moment. I will come back to


the member in that regard. Behind the question, there is this. That


we have been the test-bed for renewable wind applications in


Northern Ireland. If you look at the map in respect of wind farm and


wind turbine applications, you will perceive that it is in this Berens


where the single greatest concentration of applications and


approvals are demonstrated. And in that regard, we need to learn from


that experience, to ensure that every opportunity as the


opportunities for wind farms spread to the east, and as opportunities


begin to develop for offshore at the end of this colour the year, we


need to learn from that experience in order to ensure that everybody -


- every reasonable opportunity is grasped in a way that local


communities can with live with that doesn't come at a price of natural


beauty, and yet seizes this opportunity for the people of the


North. It is the case that when it comes to wind, wave and tide, and


in the future, thermal as well, the opportunities for this island over


the next 10 or 20 years are to become self-sufficient in terms of


electricity and indeed become a net exporter of electricity. It is


something that our governments are beginning to grasp and need to more


On to social development and the reform of housing benefit which


will see people under 35 per one living alone are having their


benefit reduced. The precise effect of welfare reform on tenants more


widely is not known. My department is taking steps to identify what


services and support need to be put in place to assist those who are


impacted by the changes. This will include assessing the adequacy of


shared and smaller homes and the house and strategy will address


this question further. SPEAKS GAELIC thank you, Mr Speaker and


the Minister for his answer. What exactly will his department did to


prevent increased homelessness? have given in the initial answer


the figures for the number of properties that there are already


in multiple occupation which has 398. In terms of other things that


can be done, we have certainly spoken very clearly to Housing


Executive and the housing associations in regard to the type


of accommodation that they include in their social housing development


plan so that in bringing a forward they take account of welfare reform,


rather than simply bringing forward a plan based on the situation as it


was before and I am awaiting the final outcome of that plan in the


very near future. In terms of also helping people in the interim


period, there are a number of measures that can be undertaken and


the discretionary fund is one of those. We are working in that


regard. There is already some level of provision. But I have 10th so


size -- I have to emphasise that detailed provision is not available


and secondly, the exact implications of welfare reform on


housing, when we re over in London recently talking with Department


for Work and Pensions, that was one area where there was the highest


level of uncertainty. And why are so many homes lying empty when


people are queuing up for somewhere to live? And impatient Mike Nesbitt


wanted to know. The indeed, if the member looks down the list of


questions today, he will see there are questions specifically on the


issue of empty homes and we are operating two pilot schemes to see


what is the best way in the Northern Ireland context of


addressing the issue of empty homes. There are a number of issues where


there are -- areas where there are a concentration of empty homes. We


need to address that. What other reasons why they are lying vacant


and what can be done to get them back into use as quickly as


possible? Once we have complete the -- completed the pilot scheme, or


we will be in a position to go on to the next stage.


There were two new boys starting at Stormont Today. Retired school


principal and retired principal Sean Rogers replaced Margaret


Ritchie and Chris has it, a PhD student takes over from Willie


Clarke, who stepped down in favour of his council work -- Chris hazard.


I caught up with them. delighted in be here in the


Assembly. I know have a hard act to follow but I'm looking forward to


the challenge and I am delighted and feel honoured to represent the


people of South Down. As a young person I am hoping to get more


young people involved. There is this idea that young people do not


see this as somewhere they can come to, and get involved in politics.


I'm hoping I can help lead that. Economy is at the forefront of all


of our minds. What you have to offer? I think I bring my


experience as a parent, as an educationalist but most importantly


as a community worker in my parish and my football club. These are


challenging times, particularly on this day when we are at --


remembering the Titanic in the chamber, there are two aspects that


I want to bring to your attention in terms of Southdown. It is


fantastic to bring tourists into Northern Ireland and let Titanic be


a springboard to bring tourists to all the parts of the area from


Downpatrick down to Newry. Love aspect as well is on that Titanic


disaster across the Atlantic, there were 120 people in third class from


Ireland who were going to find a better life in America. History is


repeating itself. Four out of my family work outside this country.


26 members of my football club are now in Australia because there is


no work in this country. I want to get jobs on the agenda. Whether


that is tourism, aggro Foods, the opportunities are there in


sustainable energy to bring jobs to South Down. Sinn Fein are making


much of that Chris as a young person, the SDLP are missing a


trick because there was a young person he wanted the job, Colin


McGrath? Yes, I was selected by the party which ran on at about but I


bring my experience to this job. seemed a bit anxious to get up here,


there was speculation that you were unhappy that Margaret Ritchie was


taking her time to step aside? Don't believe everything you


reading the papers. I am happy to work closely with Margaret and


Karen, the three SDLP representatives in South Down.


Chris, some people said you were tipped to take on Margaret Ritchie?


I don't know about that. I have a big job on my hands here getting


settled into the Assembly. Westminster is a while away now.


The tide is starting to turn in South Down. Sinn Fein has been


making massive progress. There are big prospects in the future for


Sinn Fein, right across the island but in areas like Southdown we are


starting to grow. We are waiting for them, we are happier.


MLAs and Assembly staff held a special prayer of remembrance for


the victims of the Titanic. And in the debating chamber, members


called for any further marking of the anniversary to be a dignified


tribute to those who have lost their lives. I have already


mentioned the financial support that the Assembly has given to


Titanic Belfast and I think we should look at the Assembly


Commission may be to investigate the potential of some sort of


memorial, a small memorial. Within the whole Stormont building we do


not have anything that marks the Titanic and I think that is very


sad. But I think it is fitting that we have the opportunity to speak


about the Titanic in the Northern Ireland Assembly today, nearly to


the day that she was lost and to celebrate the launch as well, to


remember those lives. The ceremony earlier today, and can I thank the


Speaker and his office for organising such a solemn and moving


cross-party event, it was definitely a tribute to this House


about how we can come together and celebrate joint events. This is a


tragedy for which really nobody was to blame, except in nature, it


marks the beginning though for all of us of a decade of what may well


be much more contentious commemoration. And what we might


take from the Titanic story is the simple fact of the level of the


individual and family, all lost as equally tragic. We need to show the


same respect for all of those who lost lives in the ensuing years


after 1912 and for all the families who suffered loss, just the same as


today, we are thinking of and commemorating those people who


found a cold grave, those 1570 souls who found a cold grave in the


Atlantic. I do believe I am the only person here who worked in a


shipyard and that may surprise a lot of people. Can I just say that


the Titanic itself was launched on 31st May 1911. It lost -- it sank


with the loss of 1517 people. Little did the world know that one


of the biggest events in the Millennium had occurred.


We heard therefore I call for a Titanic memorial here at Stormont.


What do you think about that? suppose the commemoration events


over the last few days have been important and when you think we are


marking 100 years. It is interesting because it in the


context of education, children are learning about the Titanic in


schools so I suppose it has a symbolic gesture not only for those


who are older but those who are younger. Regarding a commemoration


here, I suppose that would be entirely appropriate. The list of


names has appeared at City Hall. you think we will get a point where


we have all the victims of the Troubles on one memorial? I would


hope at some stage there would be something that people would view as


a fitting form of acknowledgement for those who died. We must also


remember those who were injured. The scale of injured his height but


often we concentrate on those who have died but there are those who


live with deeply embedded wounds and it is important to remove -- to


remember them. Thank you. A new leader and a new


broom - Mike Nesbitt has been making some changes in the Ulster


Unionist Party. Earlier, Gareth gave me the latest update.


Sir Reg Empey, as you and I know him, he is not coming back as party


leader, he is coming back as Party Chairman. That is quite an own this


task. The party confirmed his appointment this morning. What they


did not tell us was that he was not the first choice. That was the


former Party Chairman James Cooper. I interviewed the party leader this


morning. He stopped short of confirming that. I certainly had a


conversation with James Cooper and many conversations with different


people. It is a bit of a jigsaw when you have four picks only. I


could have used six or seven. Usain you did not offer the job of


chairman to James Cooper? I am saying any discussions I had were


private and confidential. I only have four picks. I had six or seven


people I would love to have had on the team. I'm delighted Lord Empey


has agreed to be Party Chairman. James Cooper has confirmed he was


offered the job. I called James Cooper this afternoon and he said


he had been offered it but he was too busy to take up the appointment.


He said it was an important and challenging post and required, if


not a permanent presence in Belfast, more of a presence than he could


give it. He is a solicitor based in Enniskillen. Easts -- there was


another possibility? Environment Minister is discussing


ways of curbing illegal drinking and Joanne Dobson is concerned that


Maisie affect newlyweds who have a drink in a private vehicle on their


way to the reception -- that may affect. And case anyone worried


that Joanne Dobson is asking about this on her own behalf, I can


confirm she got married many years ago.


We were talking about the importance of information and


helping families of the disappeared get peace, what can you offer


families who might have some information? There is a process in


place which protects individuals. It can only be used to protect


people who are missing. It is important for anyone to cast their


mind back. Something could seem very insignificant but would be


important for the Commission. It is important we get information


through the channels which are available. There is a number which


people can phone confidentially and assist us with the process. There


are some developments in the next year because there is a book coming


out on the disappeared. We are conscious that the families have


been keen to show a -- share their story. A number of families have


been recording their stories in a book. That is about the human


Saidabad to be missing were in their families, in terms of being


brothers, sisters, daughters, sons. -- that is that the human side.


Some of them were only 16 up? of them had learning difficulties


and other issues. That is a very startling thing. Some of these


folks have been missing longer than they were alive. For the families,


they are very much bare and the families want to bring them home


and it is right and fitting that they did. I'm sure we will hear


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.