19/03/2014 Stormont Today


19/03/2014

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 in the next 30 minutes...

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MLAs tread over old ground, as they debate the flying of flags over

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council offices. We are in and around Belfast city Hall and all

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about these amendments. Are you concerned about your rates

:00:49.:00:57.

bill under a new council? I think it is important to protect and rate

:00:58.:01:05.

payers. MLAs seek to lessen the impact of any change.

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And I am joined by Steven McCaffery, for his take on a special sitting on

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the Hill. Day two of the debate on the Local

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government Bill and the most heated exchanges came late on, when MLAs

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discussed amendments relating to the flying of flags on council

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buildings. Four amendments were tabled - two from Alliance and two

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from the Ulster Unionists. Amendment 63, from Alliance, stated that the

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Union flag should be flown on designated days on all council

:01:31.:01:33.

offices. The party's other amendment, number 65, suggested the

:01:34.:01:36.

flying of bespoke council flags on days to be determined by individual

:01:37.:01:43.

councils. One of the Ulster Unionist amendments called for the Union flag

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to be flown every day at Belfast city Council offices. We begin with

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Anna Lo setting out the Alliance stall. In the majority of the jewels

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in Scotland and Wales this would represent the constitutional status

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of Northern Ireland. I am disappointed that some parties have

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feel the need to table a petition. As legislators, it is up to others

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to have a mature and thoughtful discussions on contentious issues.

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It is up to others to find the solutions. Putting forward petitions

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of concerned prevents as having a full debate on this issue. These

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amendments are already dead in the water, which is deeply regretful. As

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the member outlines, the Belfast agreement seeing what people want,

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in Belfast, 16,000 people responded to the consultation, 95% of whom

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said they wanted to flank to remain every day of the year. Given that

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number, should her party not have recognised the will of the people in

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that? There are many people who support this. This is a compromise

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agreement and that is the way to go. It is based on equality. If we

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do not do it. We do not put in this compromise agreement that there will

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be no flank but the council office. That would be the case if Sinn Fein

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had the array. We have proved former designated days. I give way. But the

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member you gave way to previously brought up this figure of 16,000,

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they have to recognise that nearly 1 million people live in Belfast. It

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is only a fraction of the number of people who live in the capital city.

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What is most patronising is that the Alliance party not only telling is

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what to do, but the are putting forward the new design of flight to

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be in its place. Northern Ireland as part of Great Britain and those

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people feel that should be represented. I feel the Good Friday

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Agreement regulates for this. The days for British amendments being

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put forward by long gone. In my own constituency, the union flag is not

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flown from a council building, various mutual respect for all who

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work within the building and indeed, those who visit it. The

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council building is neutral and three from flanks. We should maybe

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do a bus run, taking 82 of Londonderry. We will do it to and Mr

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Campbell can do that, we will look at the Guildhall and see all the

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symbols of British identity, of historic imperialism in our city, of

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which we have not scrubbed away because I think it is important to

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recognise our history, because we have a shared history. I am not

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proposing we have done the walls of the city because they are a symbol

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of British imperialism. We have two debate the issue of restoring the

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unified in its rightful place. If the decision had not been taken back

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in December 2012 to take it down, we would not be here today. A wrong

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decision was taken at that time. We are having a debate around the city

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Hall in Belfast and everything except talking about the amendments.

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There are so many nationalities who come here and when they may continue

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to identify themselves as Irish Americans, but the one thing they do

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is the talk about the national flag. The thing you need to accept is that

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most people do not care. They want to move on and enjoy their lives.

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There are people here still talking about this issue, people have been

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out on the streets for the last year, riots in the streets, we have

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destroyed the Belfast city centre, so it is important to some people.

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When it comes to the issue about how we deal with the particular position

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on the amendment, I am surprised that they brought it. It is

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mischievous. It is designed for political opportunism. When the

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Alliance party may be calculated and deliberate move to empower Sinn Fein

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and the SPL he too obtained a long-held objective of pulling down

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the Union flag from the building. Not only did the release turmoil on

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our streets, but they then sought to take refuge in something of a

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catchphrase, it was a democratic decision. How critical to note that

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when it comes to this house debating the issue, that this house is not to

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be allowed to make a democratic decision because of the pernicious

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use of the petition of concern. TUV leader Jim Allister. Journalist

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Steven McCaffery, from The Detail website, is with me. Steven, after

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well over a day of debate it was only when the MLAs got to that

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familiar issue of flags that the temperature began to rise in the

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chamber. It did rise, but maybe not even meet in the wee some people

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thought it would. The Unionist members were almost going through

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the emulsion, you could not escape the feeling that people see this

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issue of the Union flag as being a horse that has bolted. The most

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passionate contribution was Basil McCrea. Run the issue first arose,

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he, unlike many unionist, argued that he designated day for it to be

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flown was quite a good idea. He was referring back to that today. He was

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suggesting it was an opportunity lost. We also have this spat about

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the sense of Irishness, relating to the likes of the rugby team. Yes,

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the Unionists accused the Nationalists of what mixing of

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identity. Week to the extremes, like the courting of extracts from the

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Good Friday Agreement, with relation to the likes of emblems. The

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response from nationalists was that the agreement did not spell out

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about flags and there should be a compromise and an even tempered

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approach. Is there not some sense that this was the whole debate

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because this needs cross-party support and that is never going to

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happen. Yes, you need a consensus and Ludwig was possibly dead before

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it even started and that maybe contributed to that slightly

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lacklustre feeling about it. Do you get a sense that in some cases, they

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are maybe playing to the gallery, with elections down the road? Yes,

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for the Unionists to ask for Union flag the two be flying 365 days a

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year was a bit of a nonstarter. ? Steven, thank you.

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Well, after that very lengthy debate on just four amendments, the

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Minister got to his feet to respond. As we have here today again and

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again, the issue of flags is a contentious issue. It was agreed

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that this bill was not appropriate for resolving that issue. I would

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like in conclusion to commend members for their mature approach to

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parts 1-5. I asked them to revert to that and maintain the constructive

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approach as the bill progresses to sue its next stage. I would urge

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them not to be tempted, and I reiterate tempted, to any major

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reactions. Letters lead. Letters get through this ground-breaking piece

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of legislation that will transform local government and bring power

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closer to the people. These amendments to the opposite to that.

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I recommend that members should reflect reject all four.

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Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan. Let us return to yesterday's

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late-night sitting. MLAs were in the chamber until ten o'clock, debating

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yet another group of amendments. The Environment Minister expressed

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strong opposition to amendments tabled by Alliance to replace the

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D'Hondt System as the preferred mechanism for allocating posts in

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local councils. The schedule provides that the default method

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should be by that D'Hondt method unless the Council, by a qualified

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majority has selected a specific method. One of the method specified

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in part two of the schedule is the use of the single transferable vote

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to fill the positions. The effect of these amendments would mean that

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instead of D'Hondt being the default method, STV would be the default

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method. The use of the D'Hondt method as the default option was

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agreed by the political parties represented on the strategic

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leadership board. The use of STV as a default method was discussed by

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the Environment Committee and rejected. We believe that it is a

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system which better reflects the cross community government that we

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wish to see implemented on the new councils. It also makes sure that

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bolts of independence or groups too small to make quota are not lost

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when locating seats -- votes. This will ensure that all parts of the

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community are able to influence positions of responsibility and

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reduce the likelihood of a carve up of seats. Under the dance system, it

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would currently be too easy for one section of the community to be

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excluded from governments and Harry -- D'Hondt.

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In the past, Sinn Fein would have been reluctant to see the

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transferring of additional powers and responsibilities to local

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government, not least because of incidents of misuse of powers in

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certain councils and that is why safeguards are so important and in

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particular, I want to note that positions of responsibility will be

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allocated according to party political strength via D'Hondt as

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the default position. This is real progress and throughout our analysis

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of the bill, Sinn Fein has been at pains to point out that we will not

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accept anything short of the D'Hondt principle. It is clear to us, when

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all the parties agreed that D'Hondt would be the mechanism that we would

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rely upon, as the default mechanism, and it is difficult to

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hear from the Alliance Party, when they had two ministers and they do

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not have a right to them, talking about proportionality, it perhaps

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explains why they are not too clued up on the figures around how STV and

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D'Hondt would affect the filling of positions on any given council. 68

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of the Ulster Unionist Party proposal and that is clearly that

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there would be a minimum three years for the rate conversion support. I

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do hear other members and the minister talking that there is much

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good work going on between the Department of Finance and personnel

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and the DoE in respect of bringing forward the mechanism and proposals

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and I have no doubt that that is happening and I hope it progresses

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well. All we are trying to do is ensure that that is in place for a

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minimum of three years, otherwise you could have some sort of support

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to councils for one year and then it is over to you, get the money from

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the ratepayer and let them pay for this change. There are huge issues

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for different councils and I am not sure whether Mr Elliott is declaring

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an interest between Fermanagh merging with Omagh and the problems

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that would cause. It is important to protect ratepayers and that they

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know that that has been thought about, debated in this Assembly and

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those points made. John McCallister of NI21. So twelve years since the

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launch of RPA and after two days of debate, is the Local Government Bill

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shaping up to be a good piece of legislation? Will it give the 11 new

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super-councils the power and guidance they need to work well?

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Joining me is Derek McCallan, the Chief Executive of the Northern

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Ireland Local Government Association... So what have you made

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of the last two days? The last two days have been like the 12 years you

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mention, it has been a marathon, there has been forensics work done

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by all of the members participating in the debate and has been a lot of

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preparation in the three years prior to those days and it did not

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surprise me that there had been that level scrutiny of. That is what a

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committee is for and that is good government. What are the key bits of

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the bill for you? The key elements for ourselves by the strengthening

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and the provision of new powers, because of the transfer of functions

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and chapter one of the transfer of functions, because there will be

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additional powers subject to review beyond the limitation on day one.

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What about the issue of flags? Would you rather it was resolved here and

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enshrined in legislation? Our view is a membership association on this

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matter is that there is time within the period of the shadow councils

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commencing and the day one of the new councils. It has to be a

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combined effort, there has to be shared political leadership.

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Framework could be introduced and that could be tailored by the local

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implementation bodies -- a framework. You would kick the can

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down the road a bit further? Let us get these things bedded in and get

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them right. The extra money that's being made to new councillors, up

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from just under ?10k pa to just over ?14k pa, does that make sense? It

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makes sense when you consider that there has been very little

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movement, there has been in a share in terms of remembering shin for

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councils for five years. Some of the powers, not just a transfer of

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functions, but the responsibilities, the management of issues to do with

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reputation as well as services, all of these will require new

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competencies and challenges -- renumeration. When one looks at that

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process in comparison to our colleagues who are MLAs, it is not

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something people do for the money, there is no more public spirited

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area than in terms of councils. It is fair and it creates, at least an

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opportunity to incentivise people who have trade, to keep those

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trades, but also get a significant remuneration associated with the job

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that they do in addition to their main job. Do you think it will be a

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workable piece of legislation for the the new councils to work from?

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The bill in itself, it gives a framework. It will be down to the

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interpretation and that means interpretation not just by the

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councils but by the departments. It cannot be a top-down command and

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control. It cannot be 11 admin this to tune at serving all the

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government departments, it has to bring the local into government --

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administrations. We need to make sure there is more participative

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local democracy and make the good councils great. The bill gives us a

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framework. Derek McCallan, thank you. This morning the marathon

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debate over the wholesale changes to local government in Northern Ireland

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focused on some planning powers being transferred to the new

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councils. The Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who chairs the Environment

:22:48.:22:49.

Committee, brought a list of amendments dealing with this to the

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Assembly. The inclusion of community planning in this bill is greatly

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welcomed by many stakeholders. However, there are concerns that

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unless the wording of the bill is strengthened, then this will be a

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missed opportunity. It is important that the community is involved in

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shaping health and well-being provisions, the Alliance Party has

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tabled several amendments in this group on community planning and how

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to ensure it is best utilised. Any society, which intimidated or

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generates fear amongst some of its citizens or systematically excludes

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or discriminate against them, cannot be equal. In turn, a shared society

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cannot be delivered without equality. Therefore, to achieve

:23:45.:23:51.

equality, we must insist on inclusion and to achieve inclusion,

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we must insist on equality. Surely in Northern Ireland we have seen the

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divisions in Northern Ireland, the bad feelings between communities,

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the deep political divide, I love this country, but there are many

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things that are wrong here in Northern Ireland. Good relations

:24:14.:24:19.

being one. What we are intent on doing in ensuring we get this

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right, is ensuring we do not have good relations, being used as a

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reason to trump equality issues around the are slang which an social

:24:29.:24:36.

housing and other things. We need to ensure that we do do not allow good

:24:37.:24:43.

relations as an excuse to prevent equality. -- the Irish language. In

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truth, no one knows how community planning will work out. There was

:24:51.:24:54.

widespread concerns that were raised by many people that the legislation

:24:55.:25:02.

was not perhaps tight enough and I think it has been put before RAS --

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before RAS in an attempt to tighten that situation and ensure as best as

:25:09.:25:15.

possible to ensure it works well -- before us. There were 335 community

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groups and we have to find a way, and I do not see it yet, as to how

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we get the community groups involved and the answer at the time from the

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Minister and I asked who was involved in the community was the

:25:31.:25:33.

people that live there, worked there, the people that passed

:25:34.:25:38.

through, the people that are affected by what happens, before we

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realise that we are talking about everyone. I am worried about the use

:25:44.:25:48.

of political opinion, that people are allowed... You cannot hold a

:25:49.:25:53.

certain opinion. In any other jurisdiction, that approach would be

:25:54.:25:59.

considered to be non-liberal, because the whole idea about a

:26:00.:26:03.

pluralist democracy is that you are allowed to hold differences of

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opinion. The amendment adds to the clause which places a duty on

:26:09.:26:12.

councils to deliver community banning. The purpose is to clarify

:26:13.:26:16.

that, improving the social well-being of the district and this

:26:17.:26:21.

will include promoting equality of opportunity and improving the

:26:22.:26:26.

economic well-being and this will include tackling property, social

:26:27.:26:32.

exclusion and patterns of deprivation. Mark H Durkan. Steven

:26:33.:26:35.

McCaffery, from The Detail, has rejoined me... The complete reform

:26:36.:26:41.

of local government has been a long time coming. Was it always going to

:26:42.:26:45.

be difficult for him to only take charge in the last six months? Yes.

:26:46.:26:53.

It is a massive issue. We are not only looking at downsizing, also

:26:54.:26:57.

expanding the powers of the council. Huge logistical issues, but

:26:58.:27:03.

on top of that, as we saw around flags, those political issues are

:27:04.:27:09.

causing problems. When the councils are bedded in, that is when we see

:27:10.:27:17.

them fully operating. We will see how the transfers of Paris is

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working. This is about changing democracy and local accountability.

:27:27.:27:36.

-- powers. A new breed of councillors? I would not worry about

:27:37.:27:48.

the negative publicity. A government cost money, we want value for money.

:27:49.:27:55.

We will know about that when the new system is up and running. The

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so-called super-council model is supposed to make local government

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more efficient and cost the taxpayer less, but not everyone is firmly

:28:14.:28:17.

behind it? The argument is that at times we will see the benefit of

:28:18.:28:22.

that. The proof of the pudding will be in NEETs and in this case, huge

:28:23.:28:29.

organisations being formed will have an impact -- in the eating. Steven,

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thank you. That's it from this special edition of Stormont Today.

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There's another helping of political discussion and debate on The View

:28:43.:28:43.

tomorrow night at 10.35pm on BBC One. Do make a point of joining me

:28:44.:28:47.

for that. Until then, bye-bye...

:28:48.:28:57.

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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