17/02/2014 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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme.


The Education Minister comes under fire for remarks made about school


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


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


The Finance Minister puts his faith in his Executive and party


colleague. I will continue to support the


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


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


proceedings. spotlight again. John O'Dowd insists


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


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


chairman of the Education Committee not convinced? Our Political


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


recent consultation found that most respondents said they were opposed


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


show yesterday and he insisted that his intention is to help


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


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


Obviously the chairman of the Education Committee was watching


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


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


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


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


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


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


However at the weekend, the education minister made reference to


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


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


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


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


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


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


strongly that they have not received a satisfactory answer.


Is Mervyn Storey likely to get answers?


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


is uncertainty... Thank you.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


and all-encompassing education framework which will help resolve


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


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


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


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


parents, there are organisations that work tirelessly to ensure that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


inclusion and equality of opportunity.


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


then passed. That old perennial issue of welfare


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


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


the local construction sector is faring.


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


had some encouraging indications that we are beginning to emerge from


the recession. The latest construction bulletin


the recession. The latest demonstrated great versatility and


resilience. A number of larger local construction firms have indicated


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


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


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


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


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


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


significant delays and many capital projects from government hitting the


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


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


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


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


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


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


that funding. What discussions have there been regarding the pressures


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


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


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


pressures deserved more money. But trying to balance competing


pressures, I do not recall the Minister for regional development


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


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


he faces the inescapable pressures that he inherited when he became


health Minister. The Finance Minister, Simon


Hamilton. ?26 million allocated to six


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


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


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


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


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


during the debate. In its report, the committee


recommends that OFMDFM should stick to ensure that effective and timely


consultation is taken. In shaving discussions with regard to


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


initiative would yield positive results, it would have been possible


to yield even better and more lasting positive results have there


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


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


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


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


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


to all the problems but a collection of cross


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


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


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


interest the report itself and the recommendations coming from the


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


delivering social change framework which represents a new level of


joined up working right across government to achieve real and


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


most. The Junior Minister, Jonathan Bell,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


government in the world tends to operate vertically. You say


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


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


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


vertical into horizontal cross cutting exercise. The signature


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


other government departments who lead on these specific programmes


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


problem that nobody takes overall responsibility?


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


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


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


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


horizontal crosscutting work, ministers are going to have to take


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


scrutinise and recommend improvements, and scrutinise and say


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


Thank you very much. Has the Agriculture Minister failed


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


a debate criticising the department for failing to effectively notify


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


delayed. It should quicken up the process for


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


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


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


Department of agriculture and rural development was not fit for purpose


in order to advance remote inspection, remote sensing


inspections, to the level of inspection, remote sensing


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


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


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


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


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


thousand one hundred and thirty nine. Stakeholders will trot that


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


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


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


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


twelve, my department used remote-sensing technology for the


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


approach, we significantly increase the number of benefits managed in


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


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


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


that. It involves careful examination of a satellite image or


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


though, the Minister faced a question concerning her own


constituency. In terms of rebalancing the economy,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


about renewable energy from all different types of technologies and


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


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


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


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


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


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


should be going for greater adversity from fossil fuels which


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


when the former Minister for the environment and the former finance


minister called the seemed impossible and economic the


destructive? I was not surprised that all!


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


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


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


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


Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency about how those


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


doctors. I put the consultant in that amber


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


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


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


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


the trainees disproportionately do more work out of


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


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


have them coming or general care or general medicine or general


practice. Even though they have gone through and emergency medicine


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


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


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


Australia. That can be very attractive for the Australian


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


emergency medicine staffing in Northern Ireland, I would put the


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


greatest number of trainees actually working in emergency medicine come


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


them become general practitioners but again, whenever they are


starting, they have never done emergency medicine before and they


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


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


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


nationally within England, led by health education England, working


with the College of emergency medicine and the Department of


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


the recruitment and retention within emergency medicine, so that is


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


it more attractive and trying to reduce any barriers or blockages


that would prevent people from either entering or from staying in


this specialty. Dr Keith Gardiner appearing before


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


Health matters there Martina, and for


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


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


relaxed about his performance. He was giving interviews last Thursday


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


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


Unionist leader call for his resignation, they are accusing them


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


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


tobacco retailers built. That legislation is aimed at cracking


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


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


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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