19/03/2014 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

Similar Content

Browse content similar to 19/03/2014. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!



Hello and welcome to Stormont today. Coming up in the next 30 minutes...


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


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


about these amendments. Are you concerned about your rates


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


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


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


the Hill. Day two of the debate on the Local


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


discussed amendments relating to the flying of flags on council


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


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


Union flag should be flown on designated days on all council


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


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


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


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


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


in Scotland and Wales this would represent the constitutional status


of Northern Ireland. I am disappointed that some parties have


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


to have a mature and thoughtful discussions on contentious issues.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Agreement regulates for this. The days for British amendments being


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Hall in Belfast and everything except talking about the amendments.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


mischievous. It is designed for political opportunism. When the


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


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


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


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


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


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


be allowed to make a democratic decision because of the pernicious


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


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


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


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


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


thought it would. The Unionist members were almost going through


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the Unionists accused the Nationalists of what mixing of


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


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


response from nationalists was that the agreement did not spell out


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


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


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


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


it even started and that maybe contributed to that slightly


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


like in conclusion to commend members for their mature approach to


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


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


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


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


of legislation that will transform local government and bring power


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


I recommend that members should reflect reject all four.


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


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


yet another group of amendments. The Environment Minister expressed


strong opposition to amendments tabled by Alliance to replace the


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


local councils. The schedule provides that the default method


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


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


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


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


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


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


agreed by the political parties represented on the strategic


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


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


system which better reflects the cross community government that we


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


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


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


community are able to influence positions of responsibility and


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


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


excluded from governments and Harry -- D'Hondt.


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


transferring of additional powers and responsibilities to local


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


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


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


allocated according to party political strength via D'Hondt as


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of the Ulster Unionist Party proposal and that is clearly that


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


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


good work going on between the Department of Finance and personnel


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


an interest between Fermanagh merging with Omagh and the problems


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


combined effort, there has to be shared political leadership.


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


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


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


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


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


makes sense when you consider that there has been very little


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


opportunity to incentivise people who have trade, to keep those


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


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


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


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


interpretation and that means interpretation not just by the


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


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


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


administrations. We need to make sure there is more participative


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


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


debate over the wholesale changes to local government in Northern Ireland


focused on some planning powers being transferred to the new


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


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


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


welcomed by many stakeholders. However, there are concerns that


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


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


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


tabled several amendments in this group on community planning and how


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


generates fear amongst some of its citizens or systematically excludes


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


cannot be delivered without equality. Therefore, to achieve


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


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


divisions in Northern Ireland, the bad feelings between communities,


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


things that are wrong here in Northern Ireland. Good relations


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


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


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


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


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


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


widespread concerns that were raised by many people that the legislation


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


pluralist democracy is that you are allowed to hold differences of


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


councils to deliver community banning. The purpose is to clarify


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


will include promoting equality of opportunity and improving the


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


exclusion and patterns of deprivation. Mark H Durkan. Steven


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


working. This is about changing democracy and local accountability.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


for that. Until then, bye-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.

Download Subtitles