16/10/2012 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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Coming up, and unacceptable management culture stretching back


warden a decade. The Health Minister response to damning


reports into the fire service. should be looking at what


disciplinary steps might be taken to stop what sparked this reaction


from the culture secretary? I am incensed at his remark and I want


that for the record. I will be joined by the Ulster been its


The minister responsible for public safety it than puts has published


Northern Ireland Fire and rescue Service following allegations by a


whistle blows off abroad, on a prude bonuses and feel you to deal


with staff grievances. He said he believes disciplinary proceedings


should fall off. There are a have been many instances where the


management and governance of the Fire and rescue Service has been


cordoned the question. The media scout stories about whistle-blowing


and members of the public have tabled questions on a wide range of


concerns. The number of reviews and investigations have had to be


carried out into the affairs and running of the Fire and rescue


Service. We are concerned with whistle-blowing. The first report


concerns allegations of irregularities with members of the


staff. The report substantiates allegations made was that of the


initial issues. It's a big the icy wastes witnesses in the way that


whistleblowers have been treated. The report recommends the Fire and


rescue service reviews its procedures for investigations of


any kind on harassment, disciplinary or other procedures.


It is disappointing that such issues have had to come to light


through whistle-blowing rather than being picked up through proper


controls and go on its arrangements. Witnesses identified, but at the


same time I want to defend the right of staff to the whistle blows,


but to encourage it were there are genuine concerns, and people should


not feel they cannot deal with the manager in the Banque -- normal


weight. The second whistle blown report relates to allegations of


conflict of interest. These relate to the reconciliation of the


service stores and to perform a store manager and one his own


company selling professional protection equipment. The internal


audit investigation found their were witnesses in managing conflict


of interest and has made three recommendations and start again


these recommendations must be implemented. There was a review of


a firefighter recruitment exercise last year and a number of concerns


were waste, some by members of this House who noted from the report


that proper and appropriate governance should be adopted for


the trip -- recruitment campaign. I have deep concerns that this


process was introduced later and without the endorsement of the Fire


and rescue Service Board which the report acknowledged should park


been part of the governance arrangements appear outset. One of


the issues raised was that the process was biased towards


relatives of senior managers within the service. Based on the review of


the document available, no direct evidence of nepotism could be found,


but there was evidence of clear separation of personal interests


from decision making. Can I ask what changes the Department has


made to its arrangements since the issue has come to light? Does the


Minister believe that department had too much of a hands-off


approach in scrutinising the fire service? To department has been


closely Lord in supervision of the fire service for some time no at


that has led to significant changes. The separation of the role of chief


fire officer from the accounting officer, chief Executive aspect of


that goal, it's something that we would say it's temporary, but none


the less necessary, so that we can bring a new broom in to its over


lot of the issues which were called to will, within the poorer service.


He's a fundamental weaknesses in any organisation. Be the basic


management procedures that should be in a voluntary group, never mind


an ordination this size, so, has any disciplinary action been taken


against any of the senior management team for this atrocious


management they had looked over? That is recommended under the Pope


to look at discipline and I can hear what the member says, and


perhaps it does reflect on this issue that, too often, people are


moved sideways, and discipline does not take place. There is also a


recommendation that we should be looking at the human resources side


of up to see what disciplinary steps might be taken. The average


Language Act has not gone away, and Jim Allister took the opportunity


to challenge Karen McKinnon over funding for Sandy Row boxing club.


How can volunteers in Sandy Row boxing club get assistance as long


as the minister insists they will not be funded unless they re


affiliate with the group that has discriminated against them? Worst


of all, the member is wrong in what he says. Sandy Row has not been


refused any funding and secondly, for the record, I asked to meet


Sandy Row, and that was refused. I went to San be able boxing club on


the basis of receiving allegations within the department, again, it


was refused. Sandy Row boxing club refused to meet board -- sport and


I. I ask them again to meet about the alleged allegations and again


it was reduced. I then went and met and spoke with security


representatives in the area to see what they do to Dr Sandy Row boxing


club about the situation and they were told where to go. They went to


Stormont Road Boxing reception with other boxers and again that was


refused. For an event around the Olympics and Paralympics, again,


they refused, so what I would like the member to do and I am offering


a member this because he seems to be making an issue of this on


behalf or Sandy Row, why don't you will tell a meeting with myself and


my officials to work through these allegations around sectarianism,


which no one in this house will add a tolerate or support, and, if the


member is serious about getting to the bottom of this issue, he will


take that invitation series there. Can I ask the Minister to confirm


that and the like of evidence reported in Hansard that the new


Irish language strategy can be delivered literate legislation,


that the proposed Irish Language Act has now been abandoned?


English-language ACPO has not been abandoned by myself -- Irish


Language Act. I will repeat that Bono -- or the benefit of members


with in this chamber. And look forward to the support of members


in doing so also the strategies under the programme for government


will need a legislative approach but we will not want to that


consultation finishes and that it would like to see, at this stage


that the consultations on both are still open and I eat what encourage


you remember to use their influence to encourage people to feed into


those consultations. Sami Khiyami, constituency in Olly money has one


is it will title championship in weightlifting. You recently that a


50-but the pipe age bracket category competition, whatever all


that means! But it means he was very successful. And will the


Minister insure competitors from all on Ireland engaged in


weightlifting and other sports will be financially assisted in


participation through Sports Northern Ireland in the 2014


Commonwealth Games in Glasgow? thanked the Member for his question.


I, too, do not know what that means but I know enough to know that I am


impressed and Sammy is from your ease the juicy, and from Ballymoney,


and congratulations to him because anybody competing at this level, it


is no mean feat, and I would write to -- like to congratulate David


McCallum, recent winner of the strongest man in Ulster. What is


important is that sport Northern Ireland in conjunction with the


weightlifting Association do what it were they to do to pass on


recognition and that poor people like Sammy, and others, who want to


compete Anne the 2014, and will teams, weightlifting has become


increasingly popular, and it deserves support, but the member


will it be that we have to meet the criteria as a governing body to


ensure that support for a long-term future. Education minister John


O'Dowd attended the standards of GCSEs this afternoon puts up he was


asked how he will insure students from Northern Ireland are not


disadvantaged when the exam is abolished in England. He was asked


about funding for children with special educational needs. I have


concern about the number of children who are not getting


assessed. Is he going to put extra resources to route to the library


bowled so that we allow more children to be assessed, with


special needs -- the Library Board. Instead, the member has decided to


speak about everything other than provision of education and


educational needs of young people, of the most socially deprived areas,


and got into a speech about his due of my party which has nothing to do


with it. But I can assure the Member that I will ensure that


resources are targeted at children with special needs. I have as part


of my delivery plan protected special needs from any other


savings and cuts. I will endeavour to direct more finances towards


that as well. One of the driving forces behind this idea was to


ensure that the quality of delivery of service, across the North,


rather than what we have which is a major difference between what


services are the seed, from one ball to another. -- are received. I


can assure you that standards will be maintained and learners will not


be disadvantaged with any changes. I will work with counterparts


elsewhere in the UK to ensure that $:/STARTFEED. Thank you for your


answer. Cot Minister give me his assessment of the current system in


Northern Ireland, using GCSE as opposed to the proposed


baccalaureate in mainland UK It's difficult to assess our current


GCSE's against the proposed changes because the full details have not


been published of them. I can give him an assessment. I believe our


system to be robust. I believe it to be a fair challenge of the


individual learners' abilities and their skill sets. However, the


changes that have been made in England present us with an


opportunity to review. That I have set up a review and I await the


outcome of the report coming back to me before proposing any changes,


if any, to our current examination system. I am satisfied that we have


a robust examination system in our possession. I have said publicly


before that comments elsewhere may have damaged the brand, I certainly


don't want any of our young people leaving education or going tonne to


further education believing that the examination they have is not up


to standard. Anybody who has currently or is sitting GCSE's


should be proud of their achievements. He is having a review,


but can he tell us what discussions he had with Michael Gove and


whether he learnt lessons from that? Have you not heard, Michael


Gove doesn't want to talk to me. I have learnt the lesson that,


despite repeated questions to Mr Gove for a meeting, I will always


get a refusal. However, I have agreed with a meeting to one of his


junior ministers responsible for examinations. We are waiting for a


date. I had hoped to do a joint meeting with my Welsh counter nart


regards that. That may not prove possible. We hope to do that.


However, I will continue to have correspondence with Michael Gove. I


will meet with his officials, despite the fact that I believe it


should be a face-to-face meeting with him. I think the outcome is


more important. The Education Minister, John O'Dowd.


It's been the subject of much debate and today the Finance


Minister, Sammy Wilson, introduced a fast-track motion calling for the


elimination of Air Passenger Duty on direct long-haul flights


departing from airports in Northern Ireland. Having an effective date


of 1st January 2013 is our aim. This is clearly challenging, but I


believe it's possible. Having the proinvestigation vision effective


from January 2013 can no longer be achieved by normal passage of the


Bill. To my mind, it would be wholly unacceptable if the key


measures in the Bill were not operational until a much later date


which would be the case if we pursued the normal Bill process in


the Assembly. I'm conscious that accelerated passage should not be


used lightly or unnecessarily. This is not an attempt to try to shield


the Bill from the proper scrutiny it should be undertaken. As Members


will be recall, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, we were


faced with significant concerns on the viability of the direct link


between Belfast International and inch ewark. This was a direct


result of the rate of air passenger duty here and in the Republic of


Ireland. It was very clear that without urgent action this route


would have been lost to Northern Ireland. It was a the Chancellor


himself who eventually took the decision to firstly reduce our


long-haul APD to the short haul rate and to begin the process of


devoluming the necessary powers to us. I would like to again put on


record my thanks to him for that -- dedevolume vinge. This left a rate


of duty that was significantly higher than the rate in the


Republic of Ireland. A commitment was given in the programme for


government that the Executive would act quickly to reduce the duty on


these flights to zero. Some in this House, Mr Deputy Speaker, would


like to devolve all fiscal powers to Northern Ireland. Or? The SDLP's


case set up another quaun go to consider the issue, this is not the


view of my party. They must consider any proposal of changes to


fiscal atomy on a case by case basis and any support offered by


the Ulster unionist party is qualified and not to be taken as an


opening of the floodgates for the devolution the fiscal powers.


devolution of ref new-raising power to a region inevitably brings with


it a cost, in this case, as mentioned earlier on, the cost is


estimated to be around �5 million. That's against an estimated benefit


to the region of �100 million in the space of seven years. With


further potential from other routes in the future. What monitoring will


there be to make sure that it is indeed the consumer, not the


airline companies which derive all the benefit from this?


The TUV MLA, Jim Allister. This afternoon, Members debated a


DUP motion on the fate of the so- called Disappeared.


The motion highlighted the plight of the seven families whose


relatives' remains still have not been located and called on anyone


with information to co-operate fully with the authorities. We hear


much talk of moving on, but how account families of the disappeared


move on? If we to move forward in Northern Ireland, it's crucial that


everyone, I mean everyone, is honest and open about the past. Mr


Speaker, I don't believe we need a truth commission. I believe we


simply need people to tell the truth. Sadly, it seems to me, that


the Members opposite are only interested in hiding the per --


highlighted the perceived crimes of our national government. They are


not keen to have the spotlight shown on their past or that of


their friends. It is time for open, honest and forthright confessions


from some key people. Justice demands it, common decency demands


it, grieving families demand it and the blood of the 19 murdered people


known as the Disappeared demands it. My party has made concrete and


specific proposals in terms 7 of an international and independent truth


recovery commission. I think that other parties should think that


they have better ideas should at least attempt to bring them forward


for consideration. For it is part the IRA apologised for the grief it


caused. It acknowledged its intention in working closely with


the special forensic investigating team has been to rectify this


injustice. It has accepted full responsibility for it is actions. I


know that that will not cut much ice on the benches opposite, but I


lsz know that despite the fact it will not be any great consolation


to the families of those involved, but it does address their very,


very sincere desire to arrange a Christian burial for their love


ones. I say this was sanctions by the IRA Armyy council there is no


way that the IRA would have acted without the authority of their army


council. The fact it went on for so long is also an indication it had


the approval of the army council. The fact that the IRA had human


remains from families over the period indicates this was part of


the policy of the IRA. Why was tht policy of the IRA? What was to be


gained with the retention of human remains? Clearly, for families


there was always the hope that their loved one would come home,


many mothers and fathers went to their graves waiting for their son


to return home and I'm sure the families held a hope in hair their


hearts that their mother would come home, even though they knew that


Daewoo never come. When I think of the 16 Disappeared and the denial


of their families' right to a Christian burial, I always think of


a quote, "The foolings, the fools, whilst Ireland holds these graves"


this is one of the fathers of the Irish - of Irish repub Blanc


cannism significantifying the importance of the place of rest


within Irish culture and within Irish republicanism. It's a


demonstration of how much comtempt the Provisional IRA demonstrated


towards the Irish people that they strayed from the basic dignity of a


grave. It's very difficult to comprehend the scale of the


heartbreak and the trauma that the families of the "disappeared "have


been forced to endure, over for what has been a lifetime. I can pay


tribute, as the motion does, to the couragious perseverence of the


victims' families to locating the remains of their loved ones. We


fully support their campaign. This is a very, very personal issue for


the families of the "disappeared" it is part of a wider issue of how


we deal with the legacy of our past in Northern Ireland. The approach


to date has been regrettably and painfully piecemeal. The Alliance


Party has consistently held that the legacy of our recent past is


too important and affects too many people to be dealt with in this way.


Does Northern Ireland need an Armed Forces Advocate. The Ulster


unionist party thinks so. Mike Nesbitt is with me now. Thank you


for joining us. What would an Armed Forces Advocate do, precisely?


would advocate on behalf of serving and former members of the military.


It goes back, Mark, to the armed forces covenant which came out of


Westminster. This is, basically, an acknowledgment that, as a nation,


we have a moral obligation to our armed forces, nothing to the do


with the Troubles, not Northern Ireland-specific. Not about the


conflict here. A recognition that our young people serve in Iraq,


Afghanistan, and they put themselves in harms way. Some get


injured. I wouldn't be the only MLA who has helped them. I have gone to


people who have lost their limbs putting themselves in harm's way.


It's a question of making sure there is somebody who has an eye on


their needs. Scotland has an Armed Forces Advocate. It's actually the


Chief Executive of the NHS in Scotland. Wales has an Armed Forces


Advocate. That is the Chief Executive of their Community and


Local Government Organisations. We don't have one here. That is an


equality issue. Are you suggesting that an individual be appointed to


hold this post or that somebody with an existing post take on this


additional responsibility? That can be argued either way. There are two


people currently have posts in Scotland and Wales who have picked


up this responsibility. You could have a commissioner. Northern


Ireland we have a commissioner for victims and survivors. A


commissioner for older people, younger people. We have a


commissioner for equality and for human rights. A council for ethnic


minorities. This is a glaring miss that we are not looking after our


armed forces and veterans. You can understand, given what you have


said, people in Northern Ireland saying enough commissioner, we


don't need another commissioner and all the cost that is would bring


with it? You could do it by saying to somebody with the necessary


skills, expertise and experience, would you take that under your


wing? It's a question of looking at how policy on education, on housing


on health affects people. I mean, as far as I understand it, if you


come back, having served in the armed forces in England, you have


been living on an army base, you don't have a home much you go to


the housing executive. You get no more points you would do if you


were coming out of jail. That is not right. You know that this would


be controversial given the political landscape in Northern


Ireland. You are trying to bring this in by the back door. You are


looking for legislation in Westminster rather than here in


Stormont? I'm trying to make it happen. I'm recognising the


political realities. There is an opportunity - The political reality


being it wouldn't happen if it was down to the Assembly? I don't think


you would get cross community support for this within the


Assembly. I think that's wrong. Contingency's a shame. It's not


about the Troubles. It's about people who serve in our armed


forces. In the way that people serve in the armed forces in the


Republic of Ireland, in the United States of America. Any country in


the world. Making sure they are not disadvantaged. Now, there is a


possibility, to get this through Westminster I have been in touch


with the Secretary of State's for Northern Ireland, Scotland and


Wales and also with the shadow secretaries I met them at the


Labour Party Conference. Some of these people were expressing


surprise we don't have an Armed Forces Advocate here. And surprised


it's deemed to be controversial. Mrs Villiers going to try to get


through Westminster? She hasn't declared her hand. I have declared


my hand. I think this is the way to do. It I don't think there would be


anybody voting on this Bill who exercises their vote who would not


support the idea of the advocate. Where would the money come from to


pay for it? It wouldn't be free, there would be cost implications?


It wouldn't necessarily have to be expensive. It's a person to keep an


eye on policy and to advise people like the 108MLAs of the


implications. Section 75, which gives rights, in terms of


protecting minorities and their equality issues, actually mitigates


against members of the armed forces and veterans. What about the local


parties here? I don't know if you have spoken to them in great detail.


I imagine the DUP would think it's a good idea, I would imagine Sinn


Fein would think it's a bad bad idea. What about the other parties?


The DUP I would hope would support it. The Alliance I would hope they


would support it. Have you discussed it with any of them?


haven't. We had a meeting with 18- 20 groups who have something to do


with armed forces, Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion. There


are so many organisations all doing great work in their own right, but


not necessarily well co-ordinated. That is a role the Commissioner


could take on. I can't let you escape without asking you if things


have settled in the Ulster unionist party after the high drama of two


years ago when you sacked your deputy? Took a lot of criticism for


it, it has to be said? Some people gave me criticism. A lot of people


came in in support. I have stood down the position. It doesn't


actually have any great value. stood down the position but sacked


the individual? You can't leave the person in post if the post doesn't


exist. Yeah. I have been in post for six months. The media say I


face crisis after crisis much I don't feel I have faced a crisis.


We are in transition. We are doing it well before we go into an


election. I think it's the right thing to do. There is pain involved


in this. We are getting to where we want to be. Have you kissed and


made up? John and I had a great meeting this morning on another


issue. It's all behind snu As far as I'm concerned. John has given


every indication we are moving forward postively. Thank you very


much. That's it from Stormont Today for


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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