19/09/2011 Stormont Today


19/09/2011

Late night political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills guides viewers through the corridors of power at Stormont.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today - all that's worth watching from

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the day's proceedings up here on the Hill. And with MLAs still

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reeling at Martin McGuinness's big news, we hear from the new Deputy

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First Minister as the hours tick down to him taking up his post. But

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what will be his style of management? I am going to employ

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the tactics of a fisherman - patience! And Jim Allister asks the

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big money question. Can you advise the House if while the Deputy First

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Minister pursues his project, he will be paid? Plus find out what

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surprised the Health Minister Edwin Poots and how the Finance Minister

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surprised everyone when he revealed there'll be no cut in corporation

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tax for at least four years. To discuss that and more I'm joined by

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Is the prospect of a cut in corporation tax here as far off as

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ever? While the Chancellor, George Osborne, is poised to announce

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whether the power to set the rate of corporation tax can be devolved

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to the Executive, it now looks like an actual tax cut won't happen

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during this Assembly term. This is what the Finance Minister, Sammy

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Wilson, told members this afternoon. One of the reasons why I believe

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there has to be very hard negotiations with the Treasury over

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the autumn to make sure that we are not getting a bill which is totally

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unsustainable for the devolution of corporation tax. The second thing

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is, there's been no provision made in the current four-year budget for

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the devolution of corporation tax so even if we got it down to a

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figure which was manageable, there would still be an impact unless it

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is deferred because many people argue that, look, it is the

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certainty that the tax rate will be down to a certain level by a

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certain time which will influence investment decisions. Since there

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is a long lead-in for investment decisions, I don't believe we will

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see a reduction within the lifetime of this Assembly. Business leaders

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and politicians have campaigned to see the tax lowered from the

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current UK rate of 26% to equal the Republic of Ireland's 12.5%, in

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hopes of boosting the economy and helping Northern Ireland companies

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compete with those in the South. So is this a sign of the times and the

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tough decisions that our MLAs will have to make? With me is Neil

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Gibson an economist with Oxford Economics. Thank you for joining us.

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Sammy Wilson made this announcement at tea time. What do you read into

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it? It is a bit disappointing. It sends a message of defeatism almost.

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We know there are a lot of political challenges, but to send

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out a message - he quoted a high figure for cost. He suggested it

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would take a long time to get things through. It does not send

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the right message to the business community that our local executive

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is ready to get stuck in quickly. That will have been another four

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years that have passed. Are we running scared? It does seem odd

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that what we are fixated with is what the cost might be. Let's see

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the cost and make our decision accordingly. We are almost putting

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up problems before they have arisen. We are warning people there might

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be a cost, which is a strange concept that anyone out there

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should think that any form of economic development will be free

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somehow. We are going to have to invest in a better economy. Let's

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find out what the cost is and then make our decision. There are no

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guarantees that all these companies which we think will come and invest

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here in Northern Ireland, it is a gamble for the Executive? Any form

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of policy change will carry some degree of risk. We have done some

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modelling work and tried to look at what the returns might be. We only

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have to look at the Republic of Ireland experience, very

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challenging times that they have now. Look at the firms that came

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there and didn't come to Northern Ireland. If we could only capture a

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small portion of those firms, we would be in a better place than we

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are now. The Executive have said we need to incentivise the private

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sector. What about how the Government is looking forward. What

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advice would you give them? It is difficult in that we are trying to

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think long-term. Northern Ireland is dependent on the British

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taxpayer continuing to subsidise our standard of living. They may

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choose that they have problems of their own, they may decide to

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reduce that. We need to think long- term. Can we prepare for a Northern

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Ireland economy that is all the things we have talked about -

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private sector led? So a bit of long-term planning is what we would

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like to see. Stay with us. Well, the other big news of course is

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that we're getting a new Deputy First Minister while Martin

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McGuinness goes to seek his fortune in the Republic's presidential

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election. While the six-week campaign is ongoing, he will be

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replaced by the current Education Minister, John O'Dowd, who will

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juggle both portfolios. We'll hear from Mr O'Dowd in a moment, but

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first here's how the chamber reacted to the news this morning -

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or rather, here's what Jim Allister wanted to know. Point of order.

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Further to your announcement under Section 16A, can you advise the

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House if while the Deputy First Minister pursues his project, he

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will be paid as the Deputy First Minister of this House? Order. It's

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not a matter for the Speaker. The Speaker has fulfilled his role this

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morning. I simply received a letter from the Deputy First Minister,

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that letter is very clear, it is correct and I am informing the

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House this morning, that is where my role ends. I am sure the

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educated member would also know that as well. It's now less than an

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hour until John O'Dowd steps up to his new role. I spoke to him

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earlier and asked him if he could shed any light on the issue of the

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Deputy First Minister's salary, but first was he up to doing two jobs

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instead of one. I will be stepping into take over Martin's role as DFM

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for the next six weeks. It will be business as usual. There is a

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programme of work which requires to be completed for the benefit of the

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people whom we represent. I along with my colleagues, both in the

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Sinn Fein and with all the other ministers, wish to see that

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programme of work concluded. Do you think you can do both jobs

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effectively? Six weeks is workable. I have spent the summer reading

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myself into the education brief. I am preparing a major speech for

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next Monday to the Assembly which will set out a range of initiatives.

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I am very fortunate that within the Department of Education, I have an

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experienced group of civil servants who know the thinking of the

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minister. So that is fortunate. We have a very experienced group of

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civil servants and advisors. You couldn't carry out both tasks over

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a prolonged period. Are you confident that the important

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decisions that need to be made over the next six weeks will still go

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ahead? I can assure parents that the Department of Education is in

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safe hands. I have spent my summer months reading myself into the

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brief, deciding on the next steps in education. I will be setting

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those out next week. A full programme of work will be rolling

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out. It will involve the Education Library Boards. I will be keeping a

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close eye on it. My department knows my thinking on the various

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matters. So I would say it is in safe hands over the period. It is

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interesting because the Deputy First Minister role is busy and

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there are important decisions to be made, not least the programme for

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Government? Yes, that is an executive collective decision.

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There has been good work done over these last number of weeks. I am

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confident that can move on. I am sure we will have a radical

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programme of Government in place to set the course of direction. Do you

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think Martin McGuinness will win? hope he will win. I believe the

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potential that is building up behind his campaign puts him in a

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good place. He will be a big loss to the party. If he does win, he is

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taking on the President of Ireland. I think in the overall wellbeing of

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the peace process, the nation, I think it is the right thing to do.

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What about the issue of pay, then? Do you think is it fair that he

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keeps the Deputy First Minister's salary and that you don't get any

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acting-up pay? My understanding is that Martin won't be collecting any

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salary over this period of time. That is my understanding. I'm

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notested in acting-up pay. -- I am not interested in acting-up pay.

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I'm fortunate that I do collect a wage. Certainly not an extravagant

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lifestyle. What about the issues of the past? How do you think he will

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handle those? How do you think that will impact on the Sinn Fein

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campaign? Martin McGuinness has been a public figure for almost 30

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years. His past has been closely examined by the media in varying

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degrees, from honesty to mistruths. I have no doubt Martin will be able

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to handle any question placed in front of him about his past. I

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think it's wrong - and I think the general public sees through this -

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it is wrong to pick out an individual or a group from our past.

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If you want to examine the conflict, let's examine the conflict in its

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entirety. We have set out a process where we believe that can be

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achieved. That is our proposal. I think the general public will judge

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Martin McGuinness on his merits. He has been a successful politician. I

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have no doubt the people of the South will judge him on his

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character and the work he has achieved for the peace process in

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Ireland. Why do you think the party has chosen you to step up?

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tempted to say because I'm the tallest! I'm incensed - I have

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taken a number of leadership positions in the party before. I

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have a broad understanding of the issues which are currently rotating

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around the Executive. It is for a six-week period. I will be relying

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heavily on my support team and on my Executive colleagues. That

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previous job in the kitchen, are you going to employ any of those

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tactics, keeping everybody in order? I will employ the tactics of

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a fisherman - patience. I will take one serious piece of advice - have

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a wee bit of patience. It is not out of the frying pan and into the

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fire? I don't think so. We heard from John O'Dowd. Can he do two

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jobs? Is it appropriate to have the Education Minister be the Deputy

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First Minister? I think there is certainly a challenge, not least

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because he's only into the education brief. It does happen in

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business all the time, people leave for sickness, or they are moving on

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to another post. So it wouldn't be unusual and as he draws attention

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to the fact, it is only for six weeks. It is a tough time. There

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are big decisions to be made. It is quite a difficult period in which

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he is taking over the role. Stay with us. Thank you. The Health

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Minister, Edwin Poots, was under scrutiny at Question Time today

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answering questions on fertility treatment and prisoner medication

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among other things. First up today, though, was Sammy Wilson and who

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was waiting to ambush him but that man again - Jim Allister. The TUV

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leader wanted to know why he had agreed a pay rise for special

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advisers when a pay freeze for civil servants is already in

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operation. Well, the member seems to be very interested in everybody

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else's pay but really doesn't - I could take that from some other

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members in this chamber. But I could take that from some other

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members... He doesn't like this. But this is the member, this is the

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member who goes to court to keep his own pay... Order! Order! Just...

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Order! The Minister has been asked the question and the Minister is

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giving his reply. Can we have order, please? Minister? I think you see

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the member doesn't like the truth being told. He loves the point the

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finger, he loves to posture. He loves to blame everybody else and

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identify what he believes are the faults of everybody else. I would

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think he would have a bit more credibility if he was prepared to

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have some transparency about the money that he gets from the public

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purse instead of looking at the money other people are getting or

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what he believes are getting. the member take his seat? No points

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of order are taken through Question Time. You may raise later if you

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wish. Thank you very much. I will be a bit more restrained than

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hereto. Question two. OK. I thank the member - we know his customary

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restraint. He will not be as restrained in his battle for the

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leadership of the party! LAUGHTER am sure he will be fairly robust

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when it comes to that. I was going to say I wish him all the best, but

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that might be the death knell for him, so I'll not. I will keep that.

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LAUGHTER The issue of issuing a bond is something which has come up

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time and time again. As part of schemes where we are trying to

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identify ways in which we can bring additional spending into the public

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sector for projects which we have not been financed through, through

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money we can raise by the sale of assets. The difficulty with this

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issue - and I have explained this on a number of occasions - the

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difficulty is that if we as an Executive borrow money, the

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Treasury then takes that as part of the borrowing for the whole of the

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United Kingdom and if borrowing targets are set, then they simply

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reduce the amount of money which is given to Northern Ireland according

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to the amount of money which will be borrowed. Questions to health

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next. I would have concerns about that,

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Mr Speaker. We do intend to look at that particular issue. We have the

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problem - we have people who are getting prescriptions for things

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like Ibuprofen, for things you can easily buy over the counter at low-

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cost. We have already given guidelines on these. I should make

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it clear that this Executive, this Assembly and this country spends

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around �460 million per year on pharmacy. That is almost as much

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money as the entire Department of Regional Development spends. We

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need to get better efficiencies into the system. We need to get

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value for money. We need to eradicate a lot of the waste of

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drugs that we are buying and we need to maximise the amount of

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generics we are using. There is a lot of work to be done on this

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particular issue. There is a lot of savings to be made on this

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particular issue. Community pharmacists offer a very important

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role into the delivery of Health Service in Northern Ireland. We

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don't want to make them the fall guy. We do need to make

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considerable savings. The Minister gets annoyed at people failing to

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attend hospital appointments. Introducing these measures, will

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you take into account particular circumstances and particular cases

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such as people with bad eyesight and in terms of appointments going

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out, would it be standard, or is it standard to have them in large

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print? Well, those are issues and I accept that sometimes when people

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don't turn up it is not necessarily their fault. However, 61% of people

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who didn't turn up had forgot, 16% of people who didn't turn up felt

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embarrassed about coming to the outpatients and another 13% didn't

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think it was important and another 10% tried to cancel but couldn't

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get through. So I think you can take from those figures that the

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main core of the problem is people who fall into the category of

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forgetting or who didn't think it was important. Drugs in prison are

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a long-standing problem but what about prescribed drugs? How many

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prisoners are on medication? levels of prescribing up to three

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Northern Ireland prison establishments, 80%, 58%, 38%,

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these levels of prescribing reflect the fact that prisoners tend to

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have poor physical and mental health in the population at large.

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Healthcare service is provided at the three prison sites. I am sure

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prisoners' needs are appropriately met. I think thank the Minister for

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his answer. There is obviously doctor-patient confidentiality.

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Does his department have any view or do they put in place any

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monitoring process to ensure the high level of drug use in prison is

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monitored? I will have to say that I am shocked by these figures. So I

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welcome the fact that it's been brought to our attention. I

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certainly will be asking questions as to whether this high level of

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prescribing drugs to people in prison is necessary, or whether

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it's suitable because prisoners are camera as a result of it. Prisons

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are reform institutes. If people are coming out having received

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large quantities of prescription drugs, as opposed to overcoming

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their problems, there is some degree of failing. Agreeing a

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programme for Government has been one of the trickier tasks up here

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on the Hill. Today the Ulster Unionist Party released its own

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plans for the economy and party leader Tom Elliott joins us now.

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Thank you for coming in. We have had an election this year, your

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party manifesto was there. What is the reason for publishing this

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Dockham document? It was indicated to the two main parties that we

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needed a programme for Government. We had set a bung et in March but

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we suggested that the programme for -- budget in March but we suggested

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that the programme for Government was done before the budget was set.

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We do need a programme for Government. Just last week, we

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witnessed the student fees project having to be changed and that's

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changed to the budget already, only a few months into this budget. What

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we are saying is, there are probably going to be many more

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changes throughout the four-year period. Let's have collective

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Government. We have come out with our own proposals. Before we get on

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to those, just looking at the reasons for having a programme for

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Government, was it not the case the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists sat

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on the outside of discussions, so again what is the point in doing

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this right now? I think you sit outside if you are kept outside.

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The Ulster Unionists and SDLP weren't involved in that process

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because we weren't invited to be. We have come forward with our own

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proposals, hopefully that we can set up a stage for the next four

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years so we can make decisions together and hopefully make a

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better decision-making process. is about joined-up Government

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rather than any idea of opposition now? What we are doing is putting

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forward our proposals. The proposals that we have put forward

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today are very reasonable. They are workable within a Government,

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within an executive of Northern Ireland. I am sure that all parties

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won't find too much wrong with them. I hope it will set a basis we can

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work to. We need to get that collective Government and hopefully

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that we can do that now. It's not an easy task. We do know the two

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major parties are dominant in the Executive. Quite a lot of the time

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they want to exclude the SDLP and ourselves. Just reading through the

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document today, it is a wish-list. But some of the proposals seem a

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bit woolly on some reading of it. Reduce poverty by 2015 and

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completely by 2018. Almost half the population is in fuel poverty, is

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that realistic? What we want to do is set this as a basis for

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discussion document. There may be some other proposal that will come

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forward from the other parties. We are inviting that. If they want to

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come forward with their proposals, we are happy to discuss those

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issues. But unless we get progress on corporation tax - and I noted

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Sammy Wilson's suggestion today in the Assembly that it appeared

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somewhat ambiguous as to whether we would move forward in this term or

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not with at least the powers to reduce corporation tax and then

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hopefully that we would do it. I also noted that he said that he

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didn't know what the meaning of "enterprise zones" were. Enterprise

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zones, you may be able to give tax breaks, business start-ups, for

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certain individual projects. The North West could be a tourist

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enterprise zone. Briefly, Martin McGuinness said that victims'

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feelings are being whipped up around this issue of him running

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for Irish President. What do you think about that? Well, it's up to

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the people of the Republic of Ireland who they elect as their new

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President. The point I would make is that I don't have to whip up the

0:24:460:24:52

fears within the victims' sector. That tension is there. There is a

0:24:530:25:02
0:25:030:25:09

frustration there. There is a traumaisation there. --

0:25:090:25:17

traumatisation there. I think it is time that he came clean. I think he

0:25:170:25:21

should stop trying to justify the 30-year campaign of terrorism in

0:25:210:25:26

Northern Ireland. That is the one thing that continues to niggle the

0:25:260:25:30

victims of Northern Ireland. Thank you very much. We've already been

0:25:300:25:32

talking about the programme for Government. As our political editor,

0:25:320:25:39

Mark Devenport, told me earlier it's also on the agenda tomorrow.

0:25:390:25:44

The SDLP has a motion which will be debated tomorrow, calling for the

0:25:440:25:47

Executive to get together a new programme for Government,

0:25:470:25:51

criticising the delay that there has been since the election in

0:25:510:25:56

having that. That has in turn been criticised by Sinn Fein who argue

0:25:560:26:03

the SDL is disingenuous, that you can't brush aside the budget that

0:26:030:26:10

had previously been pushed through. The challenge facing the Executive

0:26:100:26:16

parties will be can they get through a programme for Government

0:26:160:26:21

when John O'Dowd is acting up? Will all the parties buy into it? Or

0:26:210:26:28

will we see a breakdown where the bigger parties may go one way and

0:26:280:26:32

the smaller parties go another way? Martin McGuinness has already been

0:26:320:26:39

facing questions about his past. Of course, Mark, the past is very much

0:26:390:26:41

the backdrop for all of the political debate up here? Yes. It's

0:26:410:26:46

going to be a question which will be coming back again and again in

0:26:460:26:49

relation to the Irish presidential campaign. It is something he is

0:26:490:26:55

used to. So many of the debates here - we had the debate on the

0:26:550:27:05
0:27:050:27:06

Police Ombudsman earlier on today. Various speakers were harking back

0:27:060:27:12

to that image of a young Martin McGuinness as a self-confessed IRA

0:27:120:27:20

leader. I think this is something that which we will have to get used

0:27:200:27:26

to. Martin McGuinness isn't the only politician who is on the move?

0:27:260:27:31

No. He's going south. But certainly a number of politicians, four

0:27:310:27:36

members of the regional development committee and the regional

0:27:360:27:40

development ministers are off to France, for a shorter period of

0:27:400:27:45

time, just for a couple of days. They are going to look at the bus

0:27:450:27:50

way in Nantes in France to see whether that might form some

0:27:500:27:54

example for the much talked about but so far little actually built

0:27:540:28:02

bus way that's been talked about in relation to Belfast. So, four of

0:28:020:28:09

them will get to make the trip. A number of them won't. But here is a

0:28:090:28:19
0:28:190:28:20

sight of what they are missing. Thank you. Neil, Sammy Wilson

0:28:200:28:24

laughed off that question about public sector pay. It could

0:28:240:28:27

potentially save the Government a huge amount of money? Absolutely.

0:28:270:28:31

Although it was a loaded question, the sentiment behind it, it

0:28:310:28:35

shouldn't be laughed off. We talk about the need to implement cuts

0:28:350:28:39

and how difficult the climate is. The public sector pay bill is the

0:28:390:28:45

biggest element of our expenditure. So you can make quite a significant

0:28:450:28:51

saving. That is really the world we are in now. We need to talk about

0:28:510:28:57

things like welfare reform, public sector pay. These are very

0:28:570:29:01

difficult subjects. Thank you very much. That's it from the programme

0:29:010:29:03

Late night political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills guides viewers through the corridors of power at Stormont. She is joined by key guests and decision-makers, making the experience enlightening and entertaining.