17/01/2012 Stormont Today


17/01/2012

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


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. The post Christmas credit card

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bills may be on the way - but up here it seems Government

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departments have been underspending rather than overspending. The

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Finance Minister was flashing the cash and he had this warning for

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any prophets of doom. The trade unions who seem to think that if

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you get any good news you have to smack it on their head immediately.

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And forget the argy bargy - love was in air in the Chamber. I could

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almost Qasim overdid who was the Minister? Find out

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later in the programme. And keeping me company tonight the

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chief executive of our Further Education Colleges, Gerry Campbell.

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Further Education has found itself in the spotlight recently - and is

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at the centre of the reshuffle going on at the executive table.

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Gerry Campbell, does it make a difference which department you end

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up in? I think it does. It is important to realise that colleges

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have a central role to play in the economy of Northern Ireland. The

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economy has been identified as the number one priority for the country.

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The colleges have a role in restoring it individuals and

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helping young people get the skills employers need and linking them

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that not only with schools, but also with players in industry and

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being at the centre of the economy. There is an argument for bringing

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in the Department of Education. From the college perspective what

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is important is what is best for the economy and what is best for

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Northern Ireland. I would put forward that we link in with other

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government department as well in terms of social inclusion, dealing

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with young people who have an employment and education. We need

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to be at the centre of what the Executive is tackling in trying to

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get the right level of skills and get the right levels of business

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and get the economy back up and running again.

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You mention skills. Do we have the right level of skills to move

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forward? We have done a lot of work in the

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redeveloping the curriculum. We would have links with small

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employers, medium employers. We would try to build up business with

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other countries. We lengthen and listen to what employers as saying.

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It is about creating new technologies and working with

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creative industries. We do listen to what employers are saying and

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try to work that back into the curriculum we have.

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We will come to that again that later in the programme.

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Question Time almost didn't get started today as the Speaker will

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explain - but when it did it was the Finance Minister who was first

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up. But as we will be hearing from him later in the programme, we'll

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concentrate on questions to the Health Minister instead - including

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questions on trade unions, breast feeding and immigration law. But

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first here's the Speaker. I am told that the alarm bell is

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I am told that the alarm bell is not working at the present time. We

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not working at the present time. We are trying to fix their alarm

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system. An attempt was made to make the chamber look respectable.

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topic was trade union activity financed by the health service.

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Resulting from the involvement of health and social care activities.

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Would the Minister agree that the Would the Minister agree that the

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trade unions are an important part in the future of the health service.

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I would ask him to take this opportunity to reassure a house

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that he is committed to the principles of social partnership

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and to the fact that the trade unions will be central to those

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reforms? I am totally committed to social partnership. That is

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demonstrated by the Department facilitating trade union members. I

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wish but that would be reciprocated and stop suddenly I felt that it

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was not when the first strike was called. We did not have clear

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reasons set out for that strike in the first instance. There was are

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low vote from the membership for that strike and that was

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demonstrated on the day of the strike went limited numbers of

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people came out. Trade unions should be seeking to negotiate.

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That is what we are pushing for her. I trust that the member would join

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me in condemning strikes switchback unnecessary. I am grateful for the

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reply. Does the Minister agree that 1.6 million is a significant amount

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of money? Is it really a court activity of the Department of

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Health to fund trade union activity? The year that I gave was

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2010, 2011. Obviously his party must have thought it was an at

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acceptable activity. On to health promotion but one MLA had this to

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say. I thank the Minister for his commitment to increasing health

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promotion but does he except that we are behind other regions of the

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UK as well as the Republic and even further behind Scandinavian

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countries? That would be fairly obvious otherwise we would not be

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spending more on public health. Thank you for the answer. I want to

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ask does he believe that given the health benefits not just in terms

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of children's immune systems but in terms of obesity, does the Minister

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a belief that enough is being spent on breast feeding? We have the

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public health agency. There are huge benefits that come about as a

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result of children being breast-fed. It is something we want to

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encourage. Even if young mothers for a short period of time do that

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it can have benefits. We will be doing more work on that particular

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era Andrew would encourage such a public health agencies to continue

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that work. What action has the Minister taken to encourage more

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doctors to come into their health service. Particularly in relation

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to working in the emergency departments? Emergency medicine is

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a speciality in which we have difficulty recruiting junior

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doctors. The biggest contributory factor is changes to immigration

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rules that were introduced in 2008. Despite a recruitment exercise to

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India, we find this situation. We got a response in December last

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year from a minister saying that the rules will not be changed. His

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view was that we should be no separate list for Northern Ireland.

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The economic news may still be pretty bleak with the high street

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taking repeated hits - but Stormont's finances may not be in

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as bad a shape as was previously thought. The Minister Sammy Wilson

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likes to boast about running a tight financial ship so is he

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starting to get results? When the 2011 budget was set there was an

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expectation that it would be a tight settlement with little

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expectation of McTigue delete reduced requirements during the

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course of the year. However while this may reflect a robust action

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taken by departments, it also raises the possibility that their

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original budget allocations to some departments at either reflected an

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orderly pessimistic if you, or her under estimated the capacity within

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departments to pursue and deliver savings. There is evidence that

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suggests efficiencies are being driven out. �10 million was

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allocated for the Department of regional development. This will

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allow further maintenance and repair of our major and minor roads

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as well as new buses to run on those roads. This is good news for

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the construction industry. This will mean that road maintenance

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this year will be �111 million. That is the highest ever recorded.

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It does illustrate the executives commitment to dealing with some of

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the issues which the construction industry have brought to us in

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terms of jobs. I was and this morning to the trade unions who

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seem to think that if you get any good news on Northern Ireland you

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have got to smack it on the head immediately to make sure it does

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not gather any kind of momentum and introduce more gloom and doom and

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despair with Matt predictions, and the our predictions, about the

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losses of jobs in the public sector. The best thing that those people

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who are involved in all areas of the economy in Northern Ireland can

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do, and also in the media, is to maybe try and encourage some

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confidence in the economy rather than always knocking everything

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that happens and indeed trying to compete with each other as to who

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can make the future looked blackest. Those kinds of things would help

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the pursuit of creating jobs and encouraging firms to invest.

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Education was also a big winner. Sammy Wilson confirmed an extra

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�120 million over the next three years - although only next year's

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�30million is guaranteed. Despite the good news, David McNarry

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couldn't resist having a go at his old sparring partner. The zest for

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consuming money never ceases to amaze me. On their education

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package let us be fair. This is good news. Very good news. It

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should be welcomed by take all. Would the Minister tell us what was

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the nature of the compelling arguments which convinced him to

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release this money? I am glad to see that the member has moved away

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from me being the creative of black holes. He asks what compelling

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arguments are being made in relation to schools? First of all

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all members in this Assembly when they were faced with the five %

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reduction followed by one % reduction and the dire consequences

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that was going to have, many of them were saying we will not have

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the teaching complement required, that was one of the things. There

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was the pressure through public representatives. What about the

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pressure on further education colleges? Ho will they be able to

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cope with unexpected increase in demands. There will be an increase

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in demand wanting to potentially study. You might also find that

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there is not enough supply to meet the demand and there is more

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interest in it their courses ended the F T sector. Many people have

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come through the colleges and got good qualifications and went on

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into employment. I would stress the banter between skills

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There are going to be wide-ranging changes to the rules on pre-school

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education. The education minister John O'Dowd wants to broaden the

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numbers who get priority - and end preference to children born earlier

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in the school year, as he explained to our education correspondent

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It has been recommended in the past that this is removed. There are

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Baunton thing is that we provide pre-school education. -- the

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important thing is. Every child whose parents want it will receive

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pre-school education in the year before they attend primary school.

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Does that mean that those with July and August birthdays will not get a

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place? It will not. This is to benefit those who fall outside of

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those states. You are going to look again at social deprivation.

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Parents working and earning a low wage are concerned about this.

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Because of the criteria that has been set previously, low income

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parents for our -- fall outside the category of. Were hoping to change

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this. We want to bring low income parents into the system. Could you

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also be giving other advantages to other children, such as travelling

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children? In this current criteria, my focus is on a family's on lower

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-- is on families who are on low incomess. Back to the chamber,

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where things got romantic. I could kiss him, but I don't think that

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would be appropriate. I hope we can work together to ensure there are

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places immediately available. back to the future of the

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employment and learning department. Joining the is Basel. The party

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leaders had further talks today. -- We have been talking about how the

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car up is going to happen. How do you feel about it because it means

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a loss of part of your job? Everyone that is involved in any

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committee, you get quite attached to it and certainly everyone in my

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committee was committed to the work that we do. There is a sense of

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sadness that the work you have started, you might not be able to

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carry forward. Having said that, there is some benefits - but

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It is obviously tied in to what is happening with the Department of

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Justice, but would it have been better to wait to reduce the number

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of departments ought up once or rather than doing it in this

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fashion? If it is right to do it for one, it is right to do it for

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money. Part of the problem we have instalment is we take for ever to

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make a decision and then implement it quickly, usually wrongly. I do

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sense that there will be an acceleration of the realignment of

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all the other departments. It could happen in a year. Is there some

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merit in changing the committee structure for the new departments

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because the role of the committee is to be a watchdog and to

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scrutinise and now if the department is bigger, is there some

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merit in increasing the size of the committee, or having some extra

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level of scrutiny? You could conceivably have to committees

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looking at one Ministry. The committee's -- the committees do

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not need to be aligned the individual departments. I do think

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there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of changes have to be

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implemented. Gerry Campbell, it is difficult in terms of youth

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unemployment. How do you argue for the resources to upscale as any

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young people as possible to make their chances better of getting a

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job? I heard an alarming statistic today. Youth unemployment has

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doubled in the past few years and one in five young people in

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Northern Ireland are unemployed. It is frightening. The younger they

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are unemployed, it is harder to get them into work. -- the longer. It

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is also costing more in benefits and people are not contributing in

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an employment situation. Government needs to look at things from a

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strategic perspective. All departments need to work together

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to eliminate this. We will leave it there for now. Yesterday saw the

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first sitting of the four Assembly since the Christmas holidays, but

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to be fair to MLAs, committees were meeting last week and the week

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before. We stuck out were weekly round-up -- we start our weekly

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round-up of committee business. Maya understanding in terms of the

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current situation is that there is support among staff for a merger.

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Are you disputing that the formal response of union members was

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against the merger? Are you disputing that? Those were the

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recommendations. I use it just didn't they have retracted or

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changed those? They may be. If you want to invite the unions along.

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I am inviting you to justify what you said to the House.

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information I heard was that there was sufficient support. We are not

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talking about that. We are talking about you unequivocally telling the

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House... I stand by what I said. must be your understanding that

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these documents were withdrawn. at all. These documents are in a

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position of a merger. You come to the House and say that the

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documents show that the merger is favoured. You misled the House.

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That is a strong statement that you are making. That is what you did.

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The term misleading in terms of protocol is on parliamentary. --

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unparliamentary. The committee buy- up serve on helps to contribute to

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the local economy. If online gambling is a growing threat to

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your Business in any case, and it is apparat the best of the UK where

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there are loan restrictions, is it not likely to continue to be a

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problem? The effect of the matter is we are still an industry in

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Northern Ireland and we are suffering like everybody else. We

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:25:08.:25:10.

need help and one of the simple things would be a Sunday opening.

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People are betting on Sundays illegally. They would not have gone

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online at the been able to offer the service. -- had we've been able

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It was not all doom on gloom -- and gloom. Department hand back every

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quarter the money they do not spend. We are coming towards the end of

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:26:06.:26:07.

the financial year and there was more money to hand out. The

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Department of Culture had asked for �2 million. They were hoping to get

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that from the sale of the public office building, but the sale fell

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through and it is back on the market. They needed �2 million to

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plug their accounts. There was more talk on the shake-up of the

:26:28.:26:38.

ministerial department. Yes. It was proposed that the Justice

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:26:48.:26:49.

Department stayed. But because they have to ministers, it was thought

:26:49.:26:57.

that the Department for Employment and learning should merge. The

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party leaders met today to discuss the papers, but it was a waste of

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time. Andy prominent victims campaigner was here. What was that

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:27:23.:27:28.

about? He was here because it is alleged that victims of Unionist

:27:28.:27:38.
:27:38.:27:38.

crimes are being ignored. He has spoken to Sinn Fein and his meeting

:27:38.:27:43.

Peter Robinson tomorrow. He said he was glad that the First Minister

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wanted to meet him, but he was not impressed by some of the other

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politicians. Gerry Campbell, in terms of staff across your further

:27:57.:28:00.

education colleges, are based got enough to teach the new courses

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needed? Yes. Our lecturers can spend quality time in industry and

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business to make sure their skills and knowledge are at the cutting

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edge. So you are confident that we will have exactly the right sort of

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people for the right sort of jobs in the future? Yes. Everybody needs

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to work together to deal with these issues, whether it be proved

:28:27.:28:33.

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.


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