17/02/2014 Stormont Today


17/02/2014

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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme.

:00:25.:00:29.

The Education Minister comes under fire for remarks made about school

:00:30.:00:38.

funding at the weekend. Is it in your power to ask the education

:00:39.:00:42.

minister to come to this house and clarify what those changes are?

:00:43.:00:52.

The Finance Minister puts his faith in his Executive and party

:00:53.:00:53.

colleague. I will continue to support the

:00:54.:01:02.

Minister of health. And I'm joined by our Political

:01:03.:01:05.

Correspondent, Martina Purdy, who'll run her expert eye over today's

:01:06.:01:06.

proceedings. spotlight again. John O'Dowd insists

:01:07.:01:26.

he was never planning to cut any school's budget to support

:01:27.:01:28.

establishments where students are less well off. So why is the DUP

:01:29.:01:32.

chairman of the Education Committee not convinced? Our Political

:01:33.:01:34.

Correspondent, Martina Purdy, is here with more on the story.

:01:35.:01:40.

First of all, Martina, remind us of the background to this row?

:01:41.:01:47.

The schools ministers, John O'Dowd, thinks that the way the schools are

:01:48.:01:51.

funded is not fair. He wants to put more money into schools that are in

:01:52.:02:03.

disadvantaged areas. He says he wants to make sure the money goes to

:02:04.:02:07.

the most needy. It is very controversial. If you apply the

:02:08.:02:12.

formula, it could lead to quite a number of schools losing funding. A

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recent consultation found that most respondents said they were opposed

:02:24.:02:28.

to this formula being applied. The minister was on the Sunday politics

:02:29.:02:31.

show yesterday and he insisted that his intention is to help

:02:32.:02:36.

disadvantaged schools, not to cut the budget of others. You must

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trying to reassure people that cuts were never on his mind.

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Obviously the chairman of the Education Committee was watching

:02:49.:02:50.

because he was clearly exercised by that interview this morning. Yes,

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Mervyn Storey was not happy with the Minister's interview. He felt the

:03:02.:03:06.

Minister was being even a sieve and he was concerned that the minister

:03:07.:03:09.

was yet to make up his mind about how the education money would be

:03:10.:03:14.

distributed. He said he was in a position where he would confirm that

:03:15.:03:18.

no school would lose any funding as a result of the changes.

:03:19.:03:21.

However at the weekend, the education minister made reference to

:03:22.:03:28.

the fact that he was yet to make up his mind, which was also in

:03:29.:03:33.

agreement with what the education his mind, which was also in

:03:34.:03:46.

house and clarify and inform members what those changes are as they have

:03:47.:03:51.

not been copied to the education committee and are in contribution to

:03:52.:03:57.

what he has said in this house -- and are in contravention. There is a

:03:58.:04:12.

number of avenues that members can pursue ministers on if they feel

:04:13.:04:16.

strongly that they have not received a satisfactory answer.

:04:17.:04:25.

Is Mervyn Storey likely to get answers?

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We will have to see what the Minister says. The fact that there

:04:33.:04:37.

is uncertainty... Thank you.

:04:38.:04:43.

And continuing on the education theme, the UUP brought a motion

:04:44.:04:46.

promoting shared education to the floor today. However, two amendments

:04:47.:04:49.

were tabled - one from the DUP calling on the Education Minister to

:04:50.:04:52.

assist the OFMDFM develop shared campuses, and one from Sinn Fein to

:04:53.:04:56.

reflect the work already being done in shared education. Here's the

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motion's proposer, Danny Kinahan. We have all heard the quote, the

:05:00.:05:05.

hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Education

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is the key to making our society the world's success it should be. After

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the Euro protest, the ongoing division over the house proposals,

:05:19.:05:29.

-- Haase, we need to show that Northern Ireland can put in place

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and all-encompassing education framework which will help resolve

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our differences. In supporting the amendment, let me pay tribute to

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those schools. We come into this house so often and talk in general

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terms and we somehow forget that for a year after year after year, there

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are teachers, there are schools, there are governors, there are

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parents, there are organisations that work tirelessly to ensure that

:06:03.:06:07.

their school is a school where it is inclusive, it is a shared facility.

:06:08.:06:17.

We had a launch of shared campuses in January. As outlined, it is not

:06:18.:06:22.

so much government that is leading the way on this but local schools,

:06:23.:06:27.

community 's and teachers and families. They have invested a huge

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amount of work. I do not believe the UUP motion pays sufficient tribute

:06:37.:06:50.

to this. For rural schools under threat of closure, shared education

:06:51.:06:52.

offers are viable and practical alternative. Those of us who think

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the best way to bring our children to gather is to educate them

:07:01.:07:04.

together in the same school, in the same class, those of us who think

:07:05.:07:11.

that way will take little comfort from what ever decision the house

:07:12.:07:17.

comes to. If it is to be viewed as a step on the road to an integrated

:07:18.:07:27.

system, that is to be welcomed. But I realise it is not going to happen.

:07:28.:07:37.

We must have the confidence to embrace sharing across the divide.

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My role is to support them in taking the steps they need. But I won't

:07:43.:07:51.

shared education to be livered in such a way as to deliver social

:07:52.:07:54.

inclusion and equality of opportunity.

:07:55.:08:00.

Following a vote, the DUP amendment was successful and the motion was

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then passed. That old perennial issue of welfare

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reform came up during Question Time to the Finance Minister today. Simon

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Hamilton was also asked about the Health Department's budget and how

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the local construction sector is faring.

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There is no doubt our economy is showing signs of recovery. We have

:08:17.:08:18.

had some encouraging indications that we are beginning to emerge from

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the recession. The latest construction bulletin

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the recession. The latest demonstrated great versatility and

:08:27.:08:41.

resilience. A number of larger local construction firms have indicated

:08:42.:08:47.

that over 50% of their turnover comes from projects outside Northern

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Ireland. Can he outlined what government has done to assist the

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recovery of the construction sector? We are now spending the same level

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as prior to the 2007 credit crunch and downturn. It was just below

:09:07.:09:15.

40%, total investment is now 54% of total spend. That is testament to

:09:16.:09:21.

the spend we as a government are putting in. There is still

:09:22.:09:26.

significant delays and many capital projects from government hitting the

:09:27.:09:34.

ground. What can be done to improve the situation? One of the biggest

:09:35.:09:45.

capital projects was the road project, the A5, which fell foul of

:09:46.:10:00.

the courts. I think there are lessons for all of us to learn from

:10:01.:10:04.

that. One of the lessons that I hope we learn other subgroup -- that I

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hope we learn is creating a pipeline... That there are

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sufficient volume of projects that have advanced to a stage to be of

:10:26.:10:33.

that funding. What discussions have there been regarding the pressures

:10:34.:10:40.

on the health service? I have regular discussions with the health

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Minister, with colleagues from the executive. I gave ?30 million and

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was under. I am not satisfied that it was just 30 million. I think the

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pressures deserved more money. But trying to balance competing

:11:10.:11:15.

pressures, I do not recall the Minister for regional development

:11:16.:11:20.

offering additional help. We have to balance a range of additional

:11:21.:11:31.

measures. And I will continue to support the Minister for health when

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he faces the inescapable pressures that he inherited when he became

:11:41.:11:47.

health Minister. The Finance Minister, Simon

:11:48.:11:51.

Hamilton. ?26 million allocated to six

:11:52.:11:54.

projects aimed to help those most in need. It might sound like a perfect

:11:55.:11:58.

example of good government, but today the OFMDFM committee brought a

:11:59.:12:01.

motion to the Assembly calling on the six Signature Programmes to be

:12:02.:12:04.

more efficiently run. In a moment, we'll hear from the chair of that

:12:05.:12:08.

committee, Mike Nesbitt, but first of all, here's some of what was said

:12:09.:12:11.

during the debate. In its report, the committee

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recommends that OFMDFM should stick to ensure that effective and timely

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consultation is taken. In shaving discussions with regard to

:12:26.:12:30.

education, it was picked to me by all stakeholders that while the

:12:31.:12:34.

initiative would yield positive results, it would have been possible

:12:35.:12:38.

to yield even better and more lasting positive results have there

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been a different and more engaged form of pre-consultation on behalf

:12:45.:12:52.

of the devolved government. Good projects should get funding, bad

:12:53.:12:57.

projects should not get funding. When projects get funded, they

:12:58.:13:01.

should be funded on the basis of the very best of practice and processed.

:13:02.:13:07.

The report is clear in stating that the programmes may not be the answer

:13:08.:13:12.

to all the problems but a collection of cross

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to all the problems but a collection are indicative of this approach. The

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to all the problems but a collection society problems. We welcome the

:13:24.:13:26.

committee's engagement with the key stakeholders and have read with

:13:27.:13:30.

interest the report itself and the recommendations coming from the

:13:31.:13:33.

event which was held last November. The executive is fully committed to

:13:34.:13:41.

delivering social change framework which represents a new level of

:13:42.:13:44.

joined up working right across government to achieve real and

:13:45.:13:50.

long-lasting social benefits for those in our society who need it

:13:51.:13:53.

most. The Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell,

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and that motion was passed. Joining me now is the chairman of the OFMDFM

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Committee, Mike Nesbitt. Your report is pretty damning. It talks about a

:14:05.:14:09.

lack of consultation, a lack of long-term working, a need for joined

:14:10.:14:13.

up planning. How far short of the bar does it fall? It depends what

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measure you are looking at but in terms of consultation, what was

:14:20.:14:22.

clear to me in the stakeholder event that we ran, I was chairing the

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meeting and making the point that while this will work, it is not

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going to be a waste of money, there will be positive outcomes, but they

:14:35.:14:37.

could have been much more positive outcomes if OFMDFM had consulted in

:14:38.:14:44.

advance. But that is not to say that the principle is not right. Any

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government in the world tends to operate vertically. You say

:14:51.:14:53.

education is a matter for the education department but we know it

:14:54.:14:57.

is not. For a child to do well, it is not just need a good school, they

:14:58.:15:03.

need a good house, good transport. It is about turning from the

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vertical into horizontal cross cutting exercise. The signature

:15:09.:15:13.

projects are all led by OFMDFM but they involve no fewer than five

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other government departments who lead on these specific programmes

:15:18.:15:21.

and the challenges, how do you scrutinise that? Is part of the

:15:22.:15:26.

problem that nobody takes overall responsibility?

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problem that nobody takes overall where it is incumbent is on the

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committee, that is what frustrates me in the chamber, you will ask a

:15:44.:15:46.

question of a minister who will say, that is not enter me. I don't think

:15:47.:15:52.

that is good enough. If we are genuinely committed to this

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horizontal crosscutting work, ministers are going to have to take

:15:56.:15:59.

on responsibility. I am not saying we take on the minutiae of

:16:00.:16:03.

everything that is going on in every department, but just saying it is

:16:04.:16:06.

nothing to do with me is not good enough. We need to look at things in

:16:07.:16:13.

a more holistic way. We need to agree the programme for government

:16:14.:16:16.

before we divide in the ministries. Then you have a clear commitment

:16:17.:16:21.

before you say, I am only concerned about the Minister for regional

:16:22.:16:23.

development or roads or health already dictation. How do you fix

:16:24.:16:31.

it? We have got this system, this artificial forced coalition, and

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ministers can always point to someone else. Never mind what we

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might do in future, what do we do now? I think we continue to support

:16:39.:16:43.

initiatives like delivering social change. Scrutinise, which is not to

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say we are going to criticise, you can scrutinise and praise,

:16:53.:16:55.

scrutinise and recommend improvements, and scrutinise and say

:16:56.:17:00.

this is just wrong. We will see whether anyone takes that on board.

:17:01.:17:07.

Thank you very much. Has the Agriculture Minister failed

:17:08.:17:10.

the farming community? That was the question posed by one DUP MLA during

:17:11.:17:13.

a debate criticising the department for failing to effectively notify

:17:14.:17:16.

more than a thousand farmers that their single farm payments could be

:17:17.:17:18.

delayed. It should quicken up the process for

:17:19.:17:23.

inspections, it should mean that more farm businesses will be paid

:17:24.:17:28.

their single farm payment is quicker so, in a general sense, remote

:17:29.:17:34.

sensing is a good thing. The issue here is that it seems to be that the

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Department of agriculture and rural development was not fit for purpose

:17:40.:17:47.

in order to advance remote inspection, remote sensing

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inspections, to the level of inspection, remote sensing

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farm payment is, some ranging in the thousands, the tens of thousands. It

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makes no sense to focus on speedy payment if it is to be followed by

:18:09.:18:13.

penalties from Europe. Farmers have at their game in how claims are

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submitted through to when they are paid out and we have seen steady

:18:20.:18:22.

improvements over these past two years. We have heard the number. One

:18:23.:18:27.

thousand one hundred and thirty nine. Stakeholders will trot that

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statistic out. Those are one thousand one hundred and thirty nine

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farmers. I have heard it referred to tonight as one thousand one hundred

:18:43.:18:47.

and thirty nine businesses. It is not. It is families who are sitting

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at this moment in time with major cash flow problems. In twenty

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twelve, my department used remote-sensing technology for the

:18:59.:19:05.

first time. In twenty thirteen, as we recognise the benefits of this

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approach, we significantly increase the number of benefits managed in

:19:09.:19:17.

this way. This meant that we ended up checks using control with

:19:18.:19:25.

remote-sensing techniques. Remote-sensing is a tried and tested

:19:26.:19:30.

methodology in the member states and I think members have picked up on

:19:31.:19:40.

that. It involves careful examination of a satellite image or

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photography. Members can't have it both ways. On one hand you are

:19:47.:19:50.

asking for things to be speeded up and get payments out and on the

:19:51.:19:53.

other house you are quick to come to the chamber and criticise. I

:19:54.:19:58.

absolutely accept and I have always said is that if you are in that

:19:59.:20:01.

small percentage of people waiting to have that claim, I understand the

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stress that has. I am doing everything I can and I have a proven

:20:06.:20:10.

track record that we have improved things year-on-year and will

:20:11.:20:12.

continue to do things in the future. Michelle O'Neill, and that

:20:13.:20:24.

continue to do things in the future. of other options, but some MLAs

:20:25.:20:26.

seemed keen to stick with more traditional fossil fuels. First,

:20:27.:20:29.

though, the Minister faced a question concerning her own

:20:30.:20:33.

constituency. In terms of rebalancing the economy,

:20:34.:20:36.

will be Minister accept that this term, and she explained how she's

:20:37.:20:47.

going to rectify that situation? Obviously, we are dealing with that

:20:48.:20:53.

issue. In particular the way the band had to do with area of islands

:20:54.:20:58.

in the past and the fact that a lot of our infrastructure was damaged in

:20:59.:21:03.

that particular way. I am delighted that the licence competition for gas

:21:04.:21:08.

to the West has been announced. We look forward to natural gas being

:21:09.:21:17.

available to the citizens and the businesses in the west of the

:21:18.:21:22.

problems for the very first time. Does the Minister agree that in

:21:23.:21:25.

order to bring down prices we need to increase our investment in wind

:21:26.:21:30.

and reduce our overall reliance on expensive fossil fuel such as gas? I

:21:31.:21:35.

have always said to the member it is not just about wind energy, it is

:21:36.:21:41.

about renewable energy from all different types of technologies and

:21:42.:21:46.

at present, we are probably overreliant on wind in terms of our

:21:47.:21:50.

renewable energy source. I do hope that other sources of renewable

:21:51.:21:54.

energy will come forward in the future, whether that is tidal, or

:21:55.:22:01.

indeed Marine. Would the Minister agree with me that if we follow the

:22:02.:22:05.

policy of the Green Party, we would be back to the dark ages,

:22:06.:22:09.

blackouts, no competitive agency and increased fuel poverty and really we

:22:10.:22:13.

should be going for greater adversity from fossil fuels which

:22:14.:22:19.

must let -- much less expensive? I do agree with the member that we

:22:20.:22:22.

need to be very much aware of our security of supply issue and as

:22:23.:22:27.

members of this house will know, in twenty sixteen, there will only be,

:22:28.:22:33.

I think it is two hundred megawatts above the balance and therefore we

:22:34.:22:37.

should be concerned about that. We will be taking action in relation to

:22:38.:22:39.

that issue over the coming will be taking action in relation to

:22:40.:22:54.

but particularly for industry. How could we possibly say to people that

:22:55.:22:57.

they should come and invest in Northern Ireland if we did not have

:22:58.:23:04.

a secure energy platform? Does the Minister still believe that the

:23:05.:23:08.

forty % target for renewable energy is still realistic and achievable? I

:23:09.:23:14.

think the biggest challenge for us in terms of renewable energy is in

:23:15.:23:18.

terms of the grid and we have had a stronger uptake in terms of small

:23:19.:23:24.

renewable projects and that has therefore put a strain on the grid.

:23:25.:23:31.

More so than the larger energy renewable projects. We do have a

:23:32.:23:35.

challenge in terms of our grid, we are looking at that proactively at

:23:36.:23:41.

present, the regulator has allowed invest in the grid but we are also

:23:42.:23:49.

looking at some European funding which would need to be match fund by

:23:50.:23:53.

the industry yet to see if that is available to us as well,

:23:54.:23:57.

particularly in the west of the province. Was the Minister surprised

:23:58.:24:04.

when the former Minister for the environment and the former finance

:24:05.:24:08.

minister called the seemed impossible and economic the

:24:09.:24:12.

destructive? I was not surprised that all!

:24:13.:24:18.

Short and to the point. The response from the Enterprise Minister, Arlene

:24:19.:24:21.

Foster, to that question from Robin Swann. Now, it feels like it's all

:24:22.:24:26.

we've been talking about for weeks - the situation in our Accident and

:24:27.:24:28.

Emergency departments. Last week, the Health Committee heard from the

:24:29.:24:31.

Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency about how those

:24:32.:24:34.

departments are staffed and just how much of the workload falls to junior

:24:35.:24:40.

doctors. I put the consultant in that amber

:24:41.:24:44.

colour so they are mainly around during the day. And then you get

:24:45.:24:48.

senior and junior trainees in the blue and green. A game, because of

:24:49.:24:54.

the dependence of the health service on junior doctors and trainees to

:24:55.:24:58.

provide out of hours cover, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week,

:24:59.:25:05.

the trainees disproportionately do more work out of

:25:06.:25:19.

the trainees disproportionately do undergone, they have and -- --

:25:20.:25:21.

attractive to recruit so it would be an advantage to an anaesthetist to

:25:22.:25:25.

have them coming or general care or general medicine or general

:25:26.:25:29.

practice. Even though they have gone through and emergency medicine

:25:30.:25:32.

training Corps programme, they will go off in another of directions,

:25:33.:25:36.

they will not stay in emergency medicine, and it is their choice to

:25:37.:25:41.

do so. Some will go overseas. We lose quite a few every year to go to

:25:42.:25:46.

Australia. That can be very attractive for the Australian

:25:47.:25:48.

government to have them come and work in Australia. If you look at

:25:49.:25:53.

emergency medicine staffing in Northern Ireland, I would put the

:25:54.:25:55.

staffing of all the training grades on this and you see that the

:25:56.:25:59.

greatest number of trainees actually working in emergency medicine come

:26:00.:26:07.

from the most junior group, the F2 groups. They are only going to be a

:26:08.:26:10.

full two months in emergency medicine. They are coming in raw out

:26:11.:26:15.

of foundation year one, they don't have any experience, they need to be

:26:16.:26:19.

very heavily supervised. They are not the type of people you want

:26:20.:26:21.

looking after you during the middle of the night as a sole

:26:22.:26:25.

practitioner. They are junior, they need to be supervised. You also have

:26:26.:26:31.

GB trainees will be working there. They need this experience to help

:26:32.:26:36.

them become general practitioners but again, whenever they are

:26:37.:26:39.

starting, they have never done emergency medicine before and they

:26:40.:26:43.

need to be supervised. The crisis in emergency medicine staffing is a

:26:44.:26:49.

problem across the UK, it is not unique to Northern Ireland. As a

:26:50.:26:52.

result, there has been an emergency medicine task force set up

:26:53.:26:58.

nationally within England, led by health education England, working

:26:59.:27:01.

with the College of emergency medicine and the Department of

:27:02.:27:05.

Health in England. They have looked at this to see how they can improve

:27:06.:27:09.

the recruitment and retention within emergency medicine, so that is

:27:10.:27:12.

partly about promoting emergency medicine as a career, trying to make

:27:13.:27:19.

it more attractive and trying to reduce any barriers or blockages

:27:20.:27:21.

that would prevent people from either entering or from staying in

:27:22.:27:25.

this specialty. Dr Keith Gardiner appearing before

:27:26.:27:28.

the Health Committee last week. And Martina Purdy is with me again.

:27:29.:27:31.

Health matters there Martina, and for

:27:32.:27:44.

Health matters there Martina, and week. Is he lying low? I think now

:27:45.:27:47.

he is enjoying the calm after the storm. His party seems to be fairly

:27:48.:27:52.

relaxed about his performance. He was giving interviews last Thursday

:27:53.:27:57.

and basically, the party is saying he has taken difficult decisions,

:27:58.:28:00.

some of these things are beyond his control, and when they hear the

:28:01.:28:05.

Unionist leader call for his resignation, they are accusing them

:28:06.:28:10.

of taking cheap political shots. The Health Minister will be appearing in

:28:11.:28:13.

the chamber tomorrow. The assembly is debating the final changes of the

:28:14.:28:19.

tobacco retailers built. That legislation is aimed at cracking

:28:20.:28:23.

down on retailers who still sell cigarettes to children under the age

:28:24.:28:27.

of eighteen and this continues to be a problem. More than two thousand

:28:28.:28:31.

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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