17/10/2011 Stormont Today


17/10/2011

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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Transcript


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Hello. Welcome to Stormont Today. Well lady gatpwa may be coming to

:00:31.:00:37.

Belfast for the MT -- Lady GaGa may be coming to Belfast for the MTV

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awards. Given there is a forecast of severe

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winter to come this winter. I say that almost everywhere I go now I

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am met with dark predictions of weather conditions. The members

:00:53.:00:58.

would have money to burn to keep them warm. In the best and worst of

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times, the numeration for politicians will always be

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controversial. It is simple to understand why. With me throughout

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the programme is Fiona McCausland, from the Anti-Poverty Network.

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Heating or eating - that's a choice we hear many people are making.

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When Edwina Currie cast doubt on it at the weekend she caused uproar.

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What levels of poverty do we experience here in Northern

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Ireland? Is the former Tory MP out of step?

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Fiona McCausland from, the Anti- Poverty Network can give us her

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views. Is she out of step? Is she wrong? Well the people we talk to

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and the people who are experiencing poverty at the sharp end, they are

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making the choices between eating a hot meal or putting an extra bar on

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the fire. It is a reality for many people. It is not a cliche. It is a

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living reality. That reality will hit more and more people. People

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who were not in poverty last year or in poverty this year. Those

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numbers will grow next year. Last year, nearly 700 older people died

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because of lack of heating. That figure is expected to double this

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year. Yet, our Government has cut the Winter Fuel Payments that could

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help make the difference between life and death. Is there a lack of

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appreciation and lack of compassion among some people? Edwina Currie,

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presumably isn't alone in her views? There's a very powerful

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voice come from some of the press in London, putting blame on people

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who are most vulnerable such as migrant workers, lone parents, even

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older people. That tactic must stop because people will die and we have

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to become a more compassionate society. We have to become a more

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equal society. Do we have greater poverty in Northern Ireland

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compared to the rest of the UK or compared to the republic? Yes, we

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do. We are a community emerge from conflict. Conflict is fuelled by

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poverty, where there's a grievance, where there is an identity or an

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issue around borders. It's proven that poverty does cause conflict,

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not just on its own, but with those other factors interfacing.

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Following the conflict it is typical that persistent child

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poverty, that is children living in poverty for a long period of time,

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that is more common and that is an example of what happens in post

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conflict societies throughout the world. And Northern Ireland does

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experience that level of persistent child poverty. Fiona, stay with us.

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Plenty more to talk about later. With reports of snow in some parts

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today, it was good timing that the issue of treating roads and

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footpaths should come up in questions to the Regional

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Development Minister. Question Time was dominated by weather issues as

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the Social Development Minister was quizzed on warm homes. We start

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with regional development and good news for pedestrians. As the

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members are aware, there's no legal responsibility for either councils

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or road service to treat footpaths with salt or grit during adverse

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weather. However, my department's road service has held a series of

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meeting with representatives and the society of local authority

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chief executives throughout the months. I personally attended the

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first of these meet after which the executive continues the

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negotiations on my behalf. It was to establish a consensus on a

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number of points of principal which could be used as a basis for

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negotiations between road service and councils, relating to the

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removal of snow and ice from busy town centre footwells during

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prolonged periods of wintry weather. And pleased that agreement has been

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reached, providing a willingness to provide a service to local rate

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payers. Road service has incorporated these points into a

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draft amendment, which can be used to take account of preferences.

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They are going to all councils to have this in place for this coming

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winter season. It should be stressed that under these efforts

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the focus will be on the busiest footwears as it would not be

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possible to treat them on a wide- spread basis. In addition to the

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2012 budget, to deal with the anticipated server weather, it does

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earmark funds to provide a salting service with the aim of helping

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main road traffic to move freely in winter conditions. Could the

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minister tell us if the executive has any discussions with him

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regarding additional budget? If there was additional money

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available, whether this would allow salt to be provided to council and

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to provide to council staff to do the work? A member for his

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supplementary. Can I say that almost everywhere I go now I am met

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with dark predictions of weather conditions, which are likely this

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coming winter. Whether or not that's from the almanac or made up

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to make me feel uncomfortable or not, I don't know. I know the

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member would not be in that category any way. I am not a

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prophet or a son of a prophet, nor do I read the almanac. Back in 2002,

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there was a discussion around a service, annual service fee to

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participating councils. No mention of that in the points of principal.

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Can the minister assure us that we are going to have a working

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relationship between DRD and local councils, for who ever is

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responsible to deal with the problem? And not do, as the member

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there was suggesting, pass the buck to the executive? I am grateful to

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the member. I'm reminded that when one talks about principals of what

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Marks said these are my principals and if you don't like them I have

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some more. Nonetheless there are important principals agreed which

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are being reflected between section engineers and local councils. Under

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the agreed principals, road service will made salt available for

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councils free of charge. Road Service will provide man power to

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councils where resources permit and pass on the legal indem knitty to

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my department to councils and groups working on their behalf such

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as chambers of commercial or -- chambers of commerce.

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These members wanted to know about lagged pipes. A considerable amount

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of work has been undertaken to ensure that housing executive staff

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and their contractors will be in a position to respond effectively and

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speedily if there are severe weather conditions. Engineers are

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checking that all water pipes are properly insulated when they visit

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properties to carry out planned servicing to the systems. Any

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missing or damaged insulation will be replaced at that time. This will

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see improves to 3,800 properties. The housing executives magazine for

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tenants views will be issued until the end of this month and will

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include a full page of guidance on avoiding burst pipes, dealing

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frozen pipes, with those that burst, finding the cock stop in the

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property and what to do if you have no water. A further leaflet will be

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included with the magazine. I have held a meeting the housing

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executive to review preparations and response plans. Can I ask the

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minister, telephone communications was an area the housing minister

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has done. Has anything been done to improve this? A number of actions

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have been taken to improve this. Including the staff willing to

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respond to an emergency across the province has been enhanced A review

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has been undertaken of the triggers which provide a warning of a

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potential emergency, such as the volume of calls come into their

:09:34.:09:38.

their customer service unit and the number of calls not being answered

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to. Facilitate use by emergency services, public representatives

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and community representatives, a priority call handling system of

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silver numbers is now in place. When will the insulation be

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upgraded to modern day standards? The member will be aware of recent

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comments that I made in relation to the installation of double glazing

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in all housing executive properties. And the current situation is that

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60% of housing executive properties do not have double glazing only 40%

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do. In some constituencies, including my own the figure is at

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70%, in some areas it is lower. As part of the programme which will be

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rolled out in relation to double glazing, associated with that will

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be an improvement to the enhancement of the level of

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insulation. You need to do the two together. The fact is that under

:10:36.:10:40.

the current proposals by the executive it would be another

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decade before that was fully completed. That's because, over

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quite a number of years, the issue of double glazing and maintenance

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and insulation on existing problems was de-prioritised. We are re-

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prioritising that. I'm looking to work with the housing executive at

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the moment and speaking to those who have their hands on the purse

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strings to see what we can do. See what we can do to make sure

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additional money is made available to have that programme completed in

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a shorter period of time. One in five young people is unemployed and

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getting them back into work is one of the Government's priorities.

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Some 16-19 year olds came to Stormont Today to complain that

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their training project has had its funding cut. Here's the project

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leader. We're here because we want them to recognise what we're doing.

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We have a programme which is a year old. We're not here talking about

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this, we are talking and a model that is working. We're here to ask

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them to recognise and identify what we're doing and identify us for

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what we're doing. It's important. The kids are unique, they are

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different. They need that programme to match it. I have asked for ages

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for someone to physically come and visit the centre and see first-hand

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the quality of the work these guys are producing. It's as simple as

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:12:18.:12:19.

that. The last two feedbacks we had was a refer -- we've been fobed off.

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I think there's a -- fobbed off. think there's an issue. These

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people have come from difficult backgrounds. They have been led up

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the garden path and dropped, so the committee will want to take it up.

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If you do have a job and if you are asked if your salary was high

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enough, what would you say? MLAs are being surveyed on pay and

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allowances. Martina Purdy asked the chair of

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the independent review panel if a It's within our powers to cut the

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salaries by 50%, either do that or increase it by 50% or more or

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somewhere in between. That's something which the evidence will

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support. We haven't gathered that evidence fully yet. Do you think

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their pay is too low? Currently in comparison with the other

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legislatures, in Wales for example, the level of pay is �53,000 per

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annum, in Scotland, �57,000 per annum. With �43,000, per annum,

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albeit for 108MLAs you might take the view there is a little headroom.

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What is your view now? I don't have a view. I will have a view in

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February. Even if the best of times or the worst of times, the level of

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remuneration for politicians will always be controversial. It's

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simple to understand why. And in terms of those MLAs who have

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responded to your consultation, have any said they don't want to

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take a pay rise? Not that I've seen. Well let's put that issue to our

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guest. Fiona, what do you think about the pay MLAs receive. It is

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significantly less than in Scotland and Wales. I mean everybody has a

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right to fair pay. And also pay review and to see the pay is

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commence rat with the skills and level of work they're carrying out.

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At this time, when they're imposing cuts from the coalition Government

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at Westminster, it would be seen as very insensitive. It is eradicate

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poverty day across Europe. Is it realistic to see our getting rid of

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poverty? Poverty is seen as abuse. So this special day comes every

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year. Targets have been set. Unfortunately the Government at

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Westminster and at Stormont do not look as if they're going to meet

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the targets. We'll chat more in a moment. Now small rural schools

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should be allowed to work together to survive Government cuts, that

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was Conal McDevitt's call during debate this afternoon. Teachers and

:15:07.:15:17.
:15:17.:15:17.

parents face uncertainty over the the future with classes decided as

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not viable. The things putting schools under threat is a

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conconstituency, the fact we aren't taking decisions in the proper way

:15:26.:15:30.

at many other, in many other parts of the education governance

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structure. Deputy Speaker, there is a problem with premature school

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closures. Why should any of this be happening before the boards and the

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department itself is reorganised? Surely they should rationalise

:15:48.:15:53.

themselves and their costly support services before they begin to

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butcher our rural schools. No-one denies, least of all me, the need

:15:58.:16:02.

for maximum efficiency in the deployment of resources, but what

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is open to question is the process we're engaged in to achieve this.

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Boards appear to be jumping the gun with or without the tacit support

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of the department and school closures are being predetermined

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ahead of the audit the minister has announced. That's the perception

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out there with the public. That is the perception of the principals in

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the report I mentioned. There is one thing that I'm sure of and that

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is that this premature race to close schools will tear the heart

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out of many rural communities and will do so at a time when we need

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to look at schools as a community resource. I will deal with each

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school on the basis of need, not on the basis of creed. I will ensure

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there is equality of treatment for all children and young people

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regardless. Schools are there to meet the needs of puerp ills

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whether in rural or urban settings. I am determined to reshape the

:17:10.:17:14.

system to provide high quality education that can be sustained for

:17:14.:17:18.

all pupils. I understand schools carry with them emotional

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attachment and history. However, let's not let that cloud our

:17:22.:17:25.

decision making with emotion or history. It's our young people's

:17:25.:17:29.

futures we are dealing with. We should not blight that because we

:17:29.:17:33.

hanker after the past. With me is Mervyn Storey, chair of the

:17:33.:17:37.

Education Committee. Why did you not support the alliance motion

:17:37.:17:41.

about integrated education? Because surely that's the DUP's vision?

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think the DUP's vision is for shared education. Therecy -- there

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is a difference. It has created considerable difficulties

:17:56.:18:01.

particularly for the control sector. We wanted to ensure that we have a

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debate which focuses around the needs of schools and this debate

:18:05.:18:10.

today was an important debate because there's huge amount of fear,

:18:10.:18:14.

concern and suspicion with parents and teachers right across Northern

:18:14.:18:17.

Ireland, about what their future is. I think the debate today was

:18:17.:18:22.

extremely useful to have those issues aired. What is that future?

:18:22.:18:26.

The future is to ensure we have sustainable schools which give the

:18:26.:18:31.

best quality education to our children. So under a certain number,

:18:31.:18:35.

the schools will automatically close, do you support that? We need

:18:35.:18:41.

to move away from this arbitrary figure, unless it has 105, if it's

:18:41.:18:46.

a rural school or 500 if it's an urban post-primary school, that

:18:46.:18:50.

somehow that school is unviable. We have to look, the minister was

:18:50.:18:53.

indicating that today, about the quality of the education and I

:18:53.:19:00.

think we have to ensure that we have the buy in from the local

:19:00.:19:03.

communities tone sure we have communities which are content and

:19:03.:19:06.

happy with the education provision which they have in their area.

:19:06.:19:10.

People aren't going to be happy if their small, rural school, just

:19:10.:19:14.

down the road is going to close. That surely is going to happen in

:19:14.:19:18.

many cases, if not the majority. The sad reality is particularly in

:19:18.:19:23.

the control sector, we have seen the closure of some rural schools.

:19:23.:19:28.

There are some rural schools which should never have been built. I can

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think of one particular school in my constituency that was opened in

:19:32.:19:37.

2006, at a cost of well over �500,000 where somewhere in the

:19:37.:19:42.

region of 25 pupils. Today it's closed. The issues we have to face

:19:42.:19:47.

is to ensure that we have education provision, which is the very best

:19:47.:19:51.

and I think that's looking at the needs of the local community. And

:19:51.:19:54.

it ensures that our children, either in the primary, post-primary

:19:55.:19:58.

sector, are getting the best possible opportunity to have the

:19:58.:20:02.

best possible education. On another issue, where do you stand on this

:20:02.:20:06.

issue of MLA's pay? I know it's been taken from your hands. Have

:20:06.:20:10.

you to take what they have said, are you happy to take a pay

:20:10.:20:13.

increase at a time when services are being cut and so many thousands

:20:13.:20:19.

of people out of work? The DUP's position has always been that we

:20:19.:20:23.

wanted an independent advisory panel to look at this. That has

:20:23.:20:26.

happened. We have come through on rer does situation in the past,

:20:26.:20:31.

when the focus has been around what MPs have been paid and all the

:20:31.:20:35.

issues around expenses. I think that now we have a situation

:20:35.:20:38.

whereby this will be put into independent hands and they will

:20:38.:20:42.

make the decision, I'm happy to abide by that. You'll accept a pay

:20:42.:20:47.

rise if they give it to you? think we have to look at what is

:20:47.:20:50.

said coming out of the review. It would be foolish of me to pre-empt

:20:50.:20:54.

what that is. Certainly, in the economic climate that we're in

:20:54.:20:59.

today, I think we have to look at every option in relation to

:20:59.:21:03.

payments, expenses, all of those things. We are well scrutinised and

:21:03.:21:07.

people know well what is the situation with regards to our

:21:07.:21:11.

financial situation. Mervyn Storey, thanks for joining us. Now we've

:21:11.:21:15.

seen tears and tantrums at recent committee meetings. At the Justice

:21:15.:21:18.

Committee last week one civil servant got a grilling. We'll see

:21:18.:21:22.

that in a moment. First the Education Committee discussing poor

:21:22.:21:28.

leadership in schools. Members will wish to note that no Prince pals,

:21:28.:21:36.

vice Prince pals or teachers have been dismissed for unsatisfactory

:21:36.:21:40.

performance in the last five years. You may wish to consider the

:21:40.:21:43.

information about the correlation between class size and the levels

:21:43.:21:47.

of attainment. The issue in relation, I don't want this to

:21:47.:21:54.

sound as though you're sort of trying to make principals and

:21:54.:21:58.

teachers scapegoats for the issue of underperformance, however we

:21:58.:22:04.

have a responsibility. It is concerning that there are saying

:22:04.:22:08.

that nobody has been dismissed. We want tone sure that we have a

:22:08.:22:18.
:22:18.:22:20.

process that works. What sanction is there against inner schools

:22:20.:22:24.

where there's identified a leadership issue. We all have

:22:24.:22:30.

examples of where there may be an issue of the leadership in the

:22:30.:22:34.

school and, I can think of one particular, and we have lost over

:22:34.:22:40.

the last term at least 25 to 30 children from the school. It

:22:40.:22:45.

becomes almost impossible to stop that. If we're not measuring poor

:22:45.:22:49.

leadership and a school becomes unsustainable because of poor

:22:49.:22:54.

leadership, it is nearly waiting for the inevitable to occur. It's

:22:54.:22:57.

the department letting poor leadership continue because there's

:22:57.:23:01.

no control mechanism there and the inevitable occurring, the numbers

:23:01.:23:05.

go down. It becomes unsustainable and the community ends up paying

:23:05.:23:11.

because someone didn't interview. Staff morale as well. The whole

:23:11.:23:14.

thing. There's correspondence from the chief executive of the forensic

:23:14.:23:17.

science Northern Ireland on the back of our indications we would

:23:17.:23:22.

like to visit the facilities. In the response he has said that those

:23:22.:23:28.

members that are going to attend will need to have DNA taken. That's

:23:28.:23:36.

to ensure that the evidence or any of the items isn't contaminated, if

:23:36.:23:40.

they're taken before a case, someone says actually it wasn't me,

:23:40.:23:47.

such and such was here. They've advise today will not be detained.

:23:47.:23:51.

Have there been assessments made that would indicate yes, we believe

:23:51.:23:55.

this breach of security requires action to be taken or is it just a

:23:55.:24:00.

general yeah, there may be a threat, but it doesn't war Anthony specific

:24:00.:24:06.

response. I'm not asking you to name anybody. As you'll expect I've

:24:06.:24:10.

taken advice on what to say on this because I don't do the assessment.

:24:10.:24:15.

The advice is that it would not be advisable to give details of where

:24:15.:24:20.

they've gone. I want to say, however, if there is action

:24:20.:24:28.

required, it will be taken as the minister has directed. Mr Wells?

:24:28.:24:34.

You didn't do very well on this one, did you? First of all Mr Rogers,

:24:34.:24:39.

can I say I can spot when someone is trying to hide when someone is

:24:40.:24:44.

trying to hide an embarrassing fact. I've been in this business for 30

:24:44.:24:50.

years. You don't want to tell us something. That's why you are

:24:50.:24:53.

hiding behind that about security measure. The chairman is not asking

:24:53.:25:00.

you to reveal anything. We -- he doesn't want to point the finger.

:25:00.:25:06.

He wants to know has someone been so alarmed by something that has

:25:06.:25:12.

happened and have the police been equally alarmed that action has

:25:12.:25:17.

been taken. I ask the question again: Has there been anyone out

:25:17.:25:22.

there, no name mentioned or locality, whose personal security

:25:22.:25:27.

has been compromised by this debacle that urgent action had to

:25:27.:25:30.

be taken? If you refuse to answer that again, the committee can draw

:25:30.:25:35.

its own conclusions. I'm not able to answer that question. Are you

:25:35.:25:42.

not able or not willing? I think it would be inadvisable for me to

:25:42.:25:47.

answer it because I am trying to protect the security of the

:25:47.:25:51.

individual. Why would giving that information compromise the security

:25:51.:25:57.

of anyone. It's a long standing principle in dealing with security

:25:57.:26:01.

matters, if you confirm in one case that security is breached, in

:26:01.:26:06.

another case you are not going to confirm and by a process of

:26:06.:26:12.

elimination you confirm which each is. Out of 183, you would have to

:26:12.:26:20.

be a genius. I'm operating on advice. Don't mess with Jim wells.

:26:20.:26:23.

Foreign visitors to Stormont are not usual. This week we have more

:26:23.:26:26.

than our fair share. Some of our politicians have been on their

:26:26.:26:33.

travels too. Some of the people involved in the peace process here

:26:33.:26:38.

and leading up to the Good Friday Agreement are in the Basque country

:26:38.:26:42.

today? Yes, there have been ongoing contacts between politicians from

:26:42.:26:46.

here and in the Basque country for some time. We had a former senior

:26:46.:26:50.

civil servant here appointed to the monitoring commission, monitoring

:26:50.:26:55.

the ETA ceasefire. A big occasion at the start of this week with

:26:55.:27:00.

Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern and Jonathan Powell all in the Basque

:27:00.:27:05.

country calls for ETA, the separatist group there, to

:27:05.:27:08.

difintively abandon violence, to disband in the expectation that ETA

:27:08.:27:12.

will come up with the goods on that and that the Spanish government,

:27:12.:27:16.

they hope, will then respond positively. What are you hearing so

:27:16.:27:22.

far? Certainly Bertie Ahern has spoken along those lines, made that

:27:22.:27:29.

call. If this comes off, I suppose, it would be seen as the most

:27:29.:27:31.

difintive example of the local peace process here being exported

:27:31.:27:36.

somewhere else. They talk about it in the Basque country as the Irish

:27:36.:27:40.

peace process. Apart from being of interest internationally, it's part

:27:40.:27:43.

of a growing cottage industry here, that we witness at Stormont. People

:27:43.:27:48.

are coming here, trying to learn lessons from what's happened here.

:27:48.:27:52.

We've had visitors from the Middle East, Columbia, looking at the

:27:53.:27:57.

diary this week, we have Americans tomorrow. On Wednesday, we have

:27:57.:28:04.

leaders from Nagaland, which is an area in north eastern India where

:28:04.:28:09.

they have a long ethnic dispute. They're trying to see if they can

:28:09.:28:13.

learn lessons. That's kept politicianed and political

:28:13.:28:18.

commentators on their toe. Another contender for the SDLP leadership

:28:19.:28:25.

set out his stall today? Yes, but the SDLP involved in the ongoing

:28:25.:28:30.

election. Alastair McDonnell was saying this is the last opportunity

:28:30.:28:34.

to stop the terminal decline of the party as some might see it. He

:28:34.:28:41.

launched his manifesto earlier on today. Tomorrow, we have Alex

:28:41.:28:46.

Atwood, setting out why he believes he should be leader. Colin McDevitt

:28:46.:28:50.

set out his campaign last weekend. He was talking then about

:28:50.:28:53.

renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement, maybe leading towards

:28:53.:28:56.

opposition. Still I think the bookies think that the man to be

:28:56.:29:04.

beaten is the man would declared first of all. Fiona, we talked

:29:04.:29:07.

about rural schools tonight, is there a difference between poverty

:29:07.:29:14.

in rural areas and in cities? in rural areas the costs, the more

:29:14.:29:19.

isolated the areas, the cost would increase. The cost of basic things

:29:19.:29:29.
:29:29.:29:30.

like food and transport and fuel are increased. What the Government

:29:30.:29:35.

must do, what Stormont must do, is do an impact assessment to see how

:29:35.:29:40.

this affects the most vulnerable, these decisions and to look at

:29:40.:29:45.

alternatives. As I was listening to the discussion, I was very aware

:29:45.:29:50.

that Stormont is now imposing cuts that will impact the most

:29:50.:29:56.

vulnerable in society. What we need is alternatives to ensure that we

:29:56.:30:00.

don't go back to the dark days of the conflict that poverty is not an

:30:00.:30:04.

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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