18/11/2013 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 tonight:


As Richard Haass returns to Belfast,


the First Minister says he and his party are committed to the process,


but there will be challenges. It will be more likely to get agreement


around issues relating to parades than it is to flags and more easy to


get it on flags than in the past. A debate about the Police Ombudsman


sees old divisions resurface. I would like to ask the member while


he is on his feet about the organisation that he belonged to and


how many of his colleagues have dual membership or was he colonel blimp


who didn't realise they were out killing Catholics while he was doing


his duty? I'm joined by our political


correspondent, Martina Purdy. Richard Haass is back. The former US


envoy to Northern Ireland, who's chairing all-party talks on flags,


parades and the past returned to Belfast today. Dr Haass and his


assistant, Megan O'Sullivan, will meet all the parties this week


before round table talks on Friday. The American is still confident of a


resolution before Christmas and the major parties are also hopeful that


a deal can be struck in the next six weeks. From experience of previous


negotiations, the real negotiations as you will remember because a lot


of you were involved in watching it and questioning it, actually


occurred in a tight process. I don't think it is too tight. I think we


are down to the nitty-gritty and if the will is there, we will be able


to advance and we will be able to come to a conclusion before that. I


don't want to deal with extending. Richard Haass said he doesn't want


this extended. He thinks it is long enough. I think it is long enough,


but it needs the political will. If there is going to be a positive


outcome, it will be because the executives parties who are on that


panel reach a conclusion and that depends very largely on whether they


are going to retreat into old ways because there is an election or two


coming up next year or whether they are prepared to look at what is in


the best long-term interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I hope


it is the latter. My party is certainly up for attempting to


resolve differences in these matters. I think it will be more


likely to get agreement around issues relating to parades than it


is to flags and more easy to get it on flags than in the past. Our goal


was, our goal is and our goal will be to complete this work before the


end of the year. That is to reach agreement and to make a full report


to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and soon after to the


public. Imwe continue to believe that this goal and this schedule are


equal parts do-able and desirable. Richard Haass. Our political


correspondent, Martina Purdy, is with me. It will be an intensive


week for Richard Haass and the parties. What do you think we can


expect? Well, I think this is the point in the talks where we step up


a gear or as Richard Haass would say, it is time for the he pivot. It


will be intensive. We heard Gerry Kelly say it is time to get down to


the nitty gritty, Richard Haass is to hold two hour sessions with two


main parties this week. He is going to hold a separate session with the


First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The main point of


consensus is that the past will be the most difficult to crack. The


First Minister said if he had to rank them, I suppose, parading is


the least contentious followed by flags, followed by the past and


Richard Haass said this was because of the complexity of the past, but


because it has not had the same attention as the other issues.


Sinn Fein published its proposals on the key issues today. How likely is


it that these will form part of the solution? Sinn Fein is the only


party to publish its submissions. Some of the proposals are likely to


be rather contentious. One commentator suggested parading won't


be easy to crack after all. The party has resolved from that


position of being in favour of, or at least willing to compromise on


scrapping the Parades Commission. It wants to keep the Parades Commission


and give it more powers. That will would include rules around what


flags or emblems can be displayed on a parade and wants monitors to


examine parades and to report back to a post parade review and it talks


about a Scottish model whereby those organising the parade would pay the


costs and be liable for any damage done through public disorder. The


party not happy to have the flag flying on main routes or have kerb


stones painted. It wants two flags or no flags and no surprise that


Sinn Fein is seeking an independent commission, but the party has got to


go in hard and what Richard Haass said, what counts is not where the


parties are now, but where they will be at the end of the process.


Richard Haass says a deal by Christmas is desirable and do-able.


Is it? Well, I think it is a tall order, but it is not impossible. It


comes down to whether the parties are willing to make the hard


decisions, you know, Peter Robinson said if the process fails, it is not


down to Richard Haass, it is down to the parties. But he is going home at


the end of the week for Thanksgiving. So he will get at


least one holiday meal in peace! Earlier we saw the First Minister


talking about the Haass talks during Question Time. But Peter Robinson


also answered questions about the planned loyalist flag protests


before Christmas and, first of all, the Planning Bill which has been


dropped by the Environment Minister. Yes, we will be meeting with the


Minister for The Department of the Environment in the near future to


discuss the position, the executive should take on this matter. It would


be better if the minister had had this meeting before he made his


announcement. The issue of planning remains a key element in the


development of our local economy. It is still the case that many of the


potential investors that we speak with throughout the world, who are


looking to invest in Northern Ireland have been put off by our


planning system. It is internationally recognised that


Northern Ireland has a poor planning outcome and an example of this is


Sainsbury's Chief Executive, Justin King's remarks when he said a lack


of speed and logic and joined up thinking when came to issues


planning permissions makes Northern Ireland a challenging place in which


to invest. If we are serious about getting jobs into Northern Ireland,


we need to look at our planning system and ensure that it delivers


the right outcomes. It seems to me, that the right thing


to do would have been to put the legislation through the assembly and


allow it to be tested in the courts if necessary. I hope that we can


reach some agreement as to how we should go forward. There are a


number of options available to us and I know that the member would be


aware this forms part of the economic pack that we signed on


behalf of the executive with the Prime Minister. It is therefore,


executive policy, the ministers are required to, of course, meet all the


decisions that are taken by the executive and uphold them. So I hope


we can get a way through this particular problem. Thank you, Mr


Deputy principal speaker. Can I ask the First Minister to clarify as he


mentioned the that these were agreed with the Prime Minister and the


planning Bill passed by the assembly at consideration stage, whether he


believes the environmental minister is in breach of the pledge of


office? Well, clearly, the pledge of office


does require every minister to act in awe cordance with decisions taken


by the executive. The executive took a clear decision on these matters.


It is recorded in the minutes of the executive meeting. Yes, he is in


breach of the pledge of office. However, without going into his


position, I think it is important that we resolve the issue and move


forward on planning. Planning continues to be a significant


problem in Northern Ireland. We have to address that. And it will require


new legislation to address some of the weaknesses in the planning


system at present. As is so often the case in Northern


Ireland, we are dealing with competing rights. I have to say that


it seems to me that in relation to this matter, as the actual


anniversary of the decision by Belfast City Council comes early in


the week than the Saturday, and also that the decision led to the flag


being lowered which occurred other than on the Saturday, it appears to


me that a lunch time protest would do less violence to trade in


Belfast. It would more accurately be able to protest against the people


who took the decision because I suspect very few of them are going


to be in the City Hall on Saturday. While, it is not ideal for anybody,


it would be a worthwhile compromise. The First Minister talking about the


planned loyalist flag protests. There were heated exchanges in the


Assembly today as the future of the Police Ombudsman's Office was


debated. A DUP motion calling for changes to the organisation was


passed, but not before nationalists and unionists locked horns over one


of the Assembly's most divisive topics. The original consultation in


2012 centred on the individual skills of the ombudsman. Issues


regarding their appointment and the structure of the office. But this


latest consultation looks nothing less than a last minute attempt to


add even more powers to a body that has far from proved its ability to


fulfil the purpose it has at present. We are back to the old


blame the Brits mentity which does nothing to help us deal with the


past. I think it is a disgrace. A disgrace members that former police


officers whose duty it was to uphold the law, to enforce the law, are now


refusing to comply. What other profession or organisation would get


away with that? Would nurses get away with that? Would sworningers


get away -- social workers get away with that? No, they would not. Yet


we are about to stand here and say that it is OK for some of them


actually not to comply with the standards that are required. Dealing


with the past is a toxic mix for not only the ombudsman, but for the


politician, for this chamber and for the wider society in Northern


Ireland. We all have a duty and responsibility, whether it is


through the Richard Haass talks or other mechanisms that are going on


throughout our community dealing with the past. It has to be dealt


with in a much wider context and to place the whole responsibility of


dealing with the past entirely on the ombudsman is unfair and


unreasonable. The lack of accountability was o poison at the


heart of policing for many years. And so it is in the interests of


everyone in society here that we have a fully accountable policing


service. The office of the Police Ombudsman plays a crucial and


indispensable role in all of that. But why doesn't Mr Sheehan ask his


own members to be open and honest and co-operate with other bodies


here instead of his Deputy First Minister here saying at the Saville


Inquiry that he was bound by some code of honour and he couldn't give


anymore information... Our position is quite clear, if there is an


independent truth recovery process, Republicans will co-operate with it.


I would like to ask the member while he is on his feet about the


organisation that he belonged to, how many of his colleagues had dual


membership or was he some sort of Colonel Blimp and didn't realise


they were out killing Catholics while he was doing his duty? Order.


Order. I would ask the members to have good temper and regard for what


they are saying. You have an extra minute.


Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. Those remarks of someone


who is a convicted terrorist in this province, it is shameful against


people who are upholding law and order. Why doesn't he go to Mr


McGuinness and tell him to come and give the evidence that he should? If


I am going to be shouted down, Mr Deputy Speaker, he hasn't the


courage the way he sneaked behind ditches when he was in the


profissional ra. Is that -- IRA, is that what he wants to continue to


do? This is a democratic process here. Something you may not be


overly au fait with, but it is something we have here. I didn't go


out and murder people in the streets of Northern Ireland like he and his


colleagues did. The code of practise issued under part two of the krill


national procedure and investigations act sets out the


manner in which police officers are to record, retain and reveal to the


prosecutor material obtained in a criminal investigation which maybe


relevant to an investigation and related matters. It is not clear


that these provisions are inadequate. As has been well


hoimented, former officers cannot be compelled to co-operate with the


Police Ombudsman's investigations, the only exception if a criminal


investigation is being conducted, there would be sufficient grounds to


arrest an officer. I would urge anyone who has information to


co-operate with the Police Ombudsman in all respects.


The Justice Minister, David Ford. Now, do you remember the Civic Forum


set-up in 2000, its aim was to address pressing social, economic


and cultural matters, but it hasn't met since 2002. The SDLP is now


trying to have it recalled. Today was the second time in eight months


the party has brought the issue to the floor of the house and it met


with a mixed reaction. To be honest, Mr Speaker, I couldn't care if the


Civic Forum was never recalled because let's be honest, it was a


product of the Belfast agreement. Something that our party opposed and


still do. It was operationally ineffective with not one of its


original recommendations being accepted or implemented by the


executive of the day and I have no reason to believe that if recalled,


it would change. We do not want another unelected Parliamentary


organisation. Our existing assembly committees already perform a similar


function in taking evidence from the public, various bodies and society


in general. Much more could be done to develop this system and improve


the context between the Government and the public. The establishment of


a Civic Forum is a requirement of the Northern Ireland Act on which


these institutions and this society is founded whether some people like


that or not. It is an opportunity to enhance the representativeness and


effectiveness of our political process, but I believe that the


Civic Forum is one way to include the creativity and expertise that we


have in civic society in the political process and to encourage,


enhanced democratic par peus tation in Northern Ireland. I would argue


had we had a Civic Forum operational for the last number of years, we


would not have needed to have a Haass process because we would have


had the benefit of people out there who have views and the fact that we


have not been able to resolve the difficulties tells us there is a


deficit in the dialogue that is required to reach agreement on these


matters. The reason for the motion isn't that we are a broken record or


anything else, we got this motion passed last April and nothing


happened. Unfortunately, we don't want to use our time to discuss


things that we have already got passed through this House, but


sometimes you have to do that. Colum Eastwood. The SDLP's Alban


Maginness is with me now. We have managed without the Civic Forum


since 2002, why bring it back? Well, as John McAllister said today, we


need a critical friend in civic society to tell us where we are


going wrong, where we are going right and there is an added value in


civic society making its contribution, think of people in the


arts, think of people in trade unions, think of people in the


churches all making their voices heard, or particular lating concerns


within the community. For example, the flags controversy could well


have been articulated in a timely fashion within the Civic Forum. Alex


at wood made the point yesterday that several hupd submissions have


been made by Civic society to the Haass talks? Well, there is an


appetite out there amongst people who are not politically involved,


who want a say in the shaping of our future, who want to contribute


something to the political process without entering the formal


political process such as the assembly or councils and therefore,


this is a vehicle, this is a method in which they can express their


views. What do you make of Lesley Cree, we need another elected,


Parliamentary organisation, like we need a hole in the head. He wasn't


enthusiastic. Stephen M outrey pretends that the DUP aren't working


under the Good Friday agreement. As for the Ulster Unionists, shame upon


them for going back on the Good Friday agreement and saying that the


Civic Forum is not part of the agreement. Do we need another level


of expensive bureaucracy? The cost in 2001/2002 was ?425,000, the


following year it was ?328,000, that was ten years ago, so today the


costs would be that and more. There is a limit to the amount of public


money that's available? Of course, there is a limit and you can


introduce economies in relation to any institution, but I think it is


money well spent whenever you are giving a voice to people in civic


society and it is not a disproportionate cost particularly


if you compare it to the money that we are throwing away on flag


protests, and on policing generally and this could well have avoided


that situation arising in the first instance. In a sentence, can it


happen? Will it happen? Well, it can happen and there is an appetite


there in civic society for an institution such as this.


Well, we will see. .


There were several violent incidents over the weekend. A 15-year-old boy


was shot in the legs in Coleraine, a pipe bomb thrown at police in


Strabane and the Alliance Party's office in East Belfast attacked with


petrol bombs. This morning the Assembly united in condemning the


attacks. A combination of those events make it very clear to all of


us that across the community there are people whether they be loyalist


or Republican or people not affiliated in such a way that they


want to try and drive us back to the past. This community has to be


absolutely clear, not just in its unity of opposition to such attacks,


which of corks we will demonstrate today, but to take that unity


further to ensure that those people who have carried out these attacks


cannot do so again because they are ap rehelpeded by the police, they


are brought before the courts and they are convicted and put in


prison. One thing all these attacks have in common is the fact they were


committed cowards. People who are not prepared to stand for election,


but done in the shadows. The attack on the Alliesance Paefrt in east


Belfast was reprehensible. The language and actions of some elected


representatives in our community have in my opinion fallen short of


what is required from them with regards to the support for PSNI and


the rule of law and democracy. Anyone who is harbouring any


individuals in relation to any of these incidents need to realise


very, very clearly that until people who are involved and are behind


these attacks are taken of the our streets that it could be any member


of our community, any member of any family in our community that could


fall victim to these attacks. We are disappointed what happened over the


weekend. It is very, very important that the community knows that there


is no support for this type of activity out there in the community.


These people are not presenting any alternatives. They are, the people


want to live in peace and they want to move on. The people car cing out


the attacks have nothing to offer the people of this kunl. Role rain


this morning -- Coleraine this morning, certainly was a wake up


call. A 15-year-old child, whose house entered at 5am by hooded men


with revolvers and baseball bats at a time when grown men should have


been in their beds preparing for a day's work. If as politicians and


many in this House did, you support the undermining of the rule of law


by the early release of prisoners and you diminish the status of the


rule of law, then you cannot be entirely surprised that subsequently


others follow in that mode of diminishing and discrediting the


rule of law. The TUV leader, Jim Allister. Well


the winter has begun to bite with temperatures set to drop tonight


-and the response of the Roads Service to the challenge of


maintaining key transport arteries was on the agenda during questions


to the Minister for Regional Development. But given that snow is


forecast, would the minister agree with me that there must be many


dairy farmers wondering how they are going to get their milk tankers on


to the main roads? And how they are going to get feeding stuffs in? My


department is on alert for the winter preparations and my


understanding is a yellow warning has been issued by the Met Office


for later this evening and into tomorrow. And it is also indicating


strong winds or gales for potentially Wednesday. So we are


into the winter season very much and in general, road service will


continue to provide the services that it can. I can tell you that we


have resources of something in the region of over 100,000 tonnes of


salt. We have 300 operatives. It is a major operation. We don't have the


resources to salt every road and I know that that is an issue even in


my own constituency as we have heard, but the resources are there


for financially not unlimited to us and we make the best use of them and


I think, I want to thank and encourage all of the operatives who


will undertake this important work on behalf of the entire community in


this winter season. Can the minister tell us what consideration he has


given to extending free car parking charges to places like Enniskillen?


Where a town wishes to avail of a special period of free parking, the


council in that area can negotiate with my department to provide such a


facility to the benefit of rate payers and the member has cshl


influence at Fermanagh District Council and he will want to bring


that to bear so it happens in Enniskillen and other areas. It


happened in Newtownabbey Council made similar arrangements for


Ballyclare. Christmas shoppers will use their car, it is the preferred


means of transport rather than buses, rather than bicycles or


walking. Is it not sensible to extend the moratorium on


restrictions to the motorist in Belfast city centre in the run-up to


Christmas and particularly at weekends, can I suggest abandoning


the bus lanes? The evidence of increased bus usage in the centre of


Belfast carrying even more passengers consistently over one


million-and-a-half more journeys made last year. The increased level


of train journeys, and I think a great many people do indeed access


the centre of Belfast by using public transport and I welcome that


and I had the opportunity not last weekend, but the previous weekend to


be shopping with my wife and family in the centre of Belfast and I found


it a very good experience. I think there is a buzz and hopefully a


Christmas buzz. Danny Kennedy, outing himself as a


keen Belfast seasonal shopper. Just before we go, I'm joined again by


our political correspondent, Martina Purdy. You were keeping a close eye


on First Minister's Question Time today. Were there any hints that we


might see the Welfare Reform Bill soon? Well, the DUP asked that


question today and Peter Robinson said he wasn't able to say when the


Bill was coming back. He said it would require cross party support.


The Bill, he said, isn't what is contentious, it is the draft


regulations that accompany it and he doesn't understand why the Bill


can't proceed. He did confirm that the elements of the deal that are in


place include a concession that those already on housing benefit


will not be penalised for having a he spare bedroom. That's good news.


The Speaker is very fond of asking MLAs to move on, but it seems he'll


be taking his own advice next year. Yes, the political editor at the


BBC, Mark Devon port reported that William hey will be stepping out


from the assembly and he has been in the Speaker's post since 2007 and


the expectation is that Sinn Fein's Mitchell McLoughlin will be stepping


into that role. No confirmation yet about who will be replacing William


Hay though. That's it for tonight. I will be


back at the same time tomorrow night. Do join me then. 11. 20pm on


BBC Two. Bye.


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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