19/11/2012 Stormont Today


19/11/2012

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. It was another busy day up here in

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the House on the Hill and just as in big brother, the possibility of

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an eviction was on everybody's minds. Mr Wells must acknowledge he

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went overboard, crossed the line on this issue and could have quietly

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made amends for his actions... any suggestion of a further delay

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to the reform Bill was given short shrift by the Social Development

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Minister. This is not about welfare reform, this is about a squalid

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little squabble between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. And joining me with

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her thoughts, our Political Correspondent Martina Purdy.

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The day got off to a live lively start with a report on the

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committee on standards and privileges calling for the

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exclusion of Jim Wells for seven days following comments he made

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last year to the Sinn Fein Culture Minister and her adviser.

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I take no satisfaction whatsoever in asking the assembly to do this.

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However, I do think that the assembly has a duty to respond to

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the breach of the code of conduct that has been identified by the

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interim commissioner on the committee of standards and

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priflinls. All members have received a copy of the report on

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the complaints about the conduct of Mr Wells -- privileges. They were

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made by Miss McCullen and Miss McCardle. They complained about

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separate encounters they had with him in 2011. The complaints were

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investigated and members also have received a copy of the reports. Mr

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Wells must surely acknowledge he went overboard, crossed the line on

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this issue and could have quietly made amends for his actions. Of

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course, Mr Speaker, Mr Wells wasn't the only one outraged at the

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appointment at that particular time. We were all outraged. Mr Speaker,

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why is it so difficult for cup members and perhaps others in this

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assembly to say sorry -- DUP members. Disappointed to learn this

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morning that there was a petition of concern, another misuse of the

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mechanism of this House. I simply ask and indeed urge

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members to support this motion this morning. Thank you. This motion

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does nothing to protect the integrity of this House. Mr Speaker,

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let me put on record my reasons why I think this House should be

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opposing the motion as is on the order paper today. This is not a

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proportionate response. The issue here is that the member has been

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found in breach and it's in the report. I have to laugh when I

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heard him because I've experienced Mr Wells in the previous committee

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and mandate and I've never heard Mr Wells in my time mumble anything.

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He's very articulate in everything he puts across, I'll give him that.

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Other members who're mandated and represent the communities here also

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signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. This institution on

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how... This institution and the formation of the institution and

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they're here to respect that or they're not, so they're either

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going to follow the rules and regulations of it or they're not.

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Put the victims first by asking them what do they think about this.

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Here is an interesting fact, Mr Speaker. Anne Travers feels guilty

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about what's happened in this chamber today. I don't need to tell

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Sinn Fein this. They get it immediately. But for the rest of us,

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the point is this. A part of Anne thinks it's her fault that we are

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having this debate, that if, and these are her words not mine, if

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she had not "Made such a fuss about Mary McCardle being promoted by

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Carol McKinle, we couldn't be doing this". I asked Anne if she had any

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advice and she said three words "Support Jim Wells". It has to be

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pointed out and maybe Mr Wells needs to know this, many members

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around the committee table tried to avoid this day. We didn't want to

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bring this to the chamber, mainly because we didn't want to give Mr

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Wells another platform and all the other people. We offered Mr Wells a

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way out. We offered him a way out. Mr Wells was offered to provide an

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apology to the offended parties which he refused to do and now we

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are here today so it's on Mr Wells why this is being debated in the

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House today. The bottom line - I'm sure you will have your say, Mr

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Wells - the bottom line is that it's income bent on everyone in

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this house to treat each other with respect, whether you like them or

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not, whether you agree with them or not or whether you are in

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Government with them or not, you have to treat each and every

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colleague in this House with respect. Miss McKiln said she found

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it unsettling with Mr Wells. I wonder why I for 14 years have

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treated Sinn Fein in a particular way and there's never been a

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complaint. I wonder why there's never been a complaint. Have people

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got the stomach for a complaint or do they not want to complain?

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What's the problem you have with placing a complaint?! This is not

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about political opinion or religious belief. This is not about

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what happened in our kunflict in the past, though Jim and his mates

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might try and dress it up about that -- conflict. This is about

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misogyny and sectarianism. Misogyny. The definition of misogyny is

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hatred or dislike of women and girls, and that is what Jim Wells

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has done here and been found guilty Sinn Fein will not tolerate

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bullying behaviour. We won't tolerate inequality. We certainly

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won't tolerate misogyny and we won't tolerate anyone being treated

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as a second class citizen. If Mr Wells thoughts he could intimidate

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two strong women, he has another thing coming. We are here in a

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situation where people are described as being offended and

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hurt by a comment Mr Wells made. And we are here today about

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misogyny and about the hatred of women coming from here. What hatred

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of women was involved when someone saw fit to pump full of bullets Tom

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Travers and his daughter Mary. That is a real hatred of women. To

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demand that Mr Wells on the other hand should apologise, for doing

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what? Waving his finger! It's not good enough if you actually wave

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your finger but it's all right if you put it on a trigger.

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community was outraged because they felt McCardle was rewarded for her

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murder of the totally innocent young woman by being given this

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very important post. Now, that caused outrage. I was angry. The

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community was angry. I was concerned. Having a right in a

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democratic society to express that concern - yes, because if I don't

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have the right to express that concern forcibly in a way that can

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even cause concern, that even can cause upset, then there is no

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freedom of speech in this building. I have to have that right and I

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exercise that right. I make it absolutely clear. I accused Mary

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McCardle of murdering Marie Travers because it's true and I said she

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was unfit to be an adviser. debate has descended in the way it

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has into name-calling and abuse across the chamber and to some

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extent disrespect from both sides of the House when we are here to

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discuss the code of conduct of members and how we should act

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respectively towards each other. It seems to me incongruous that the

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DUP on one hand wish to sit in Government with Sinn Fein but then

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believe it's OK to name call. I believe that it's disrespectful,

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not only to the member who you abuse in that way, but to these

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institutions which all members in the House to some degree have to

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accept when they take their seat in this chamber. The Green Party's

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Stephen Agnew. The motion was rejected and Jim Wells survived to

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fight another day. Martina Purdy, the vote was very close? You can

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see from the film that the House was sharply divided so it was a

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close vote, 51-49 against, effectively evicting Jim Wells from

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the House for a week, from Stormont. They had a device called the

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Petition of 7 concern which forces both sides of the House which would

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have had to agree to punish Jim Wells and would have given the DUP

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a veto which they didn't need in the end. Jim Wells didn't say sorry,

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we are clear about that. Do you think perhaps he regrets the

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incident? As we have heard, he says he's not sorry for what he said. I

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would say he regrets the amount of time this incident's taken. I mean,

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it's been hanging over him for almost 18 months. And when the

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Standards Commissioner starts to investigate something, there's a

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lot of correspondence going back and forward between your office and

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the commissioner. You are also dealing with a lot of lengthy

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questions and inquiries. So he could have done without it. I

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suppose other members looking at this will say to themselvess if

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they have something to say that's robust, they might decide to say

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nit the House. The controversy is not about to go away however?

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Although Mary McCard sell no longer a special adviser, she's moved to

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another post, the legacy of that appointment goes on because Jim

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Alastair's table add private members Bill seeking to disqualify

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anyone who's served five years or more in prison from that. That bill

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is with the Finance Committee for scrutiny and Anne Travers whose

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sister was murdered 30 years ago and Mary McCardle served time for

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that, she'll give evidence to the committee this week so it will run

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and run. It will be a public discussion. It's an issue that will

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remain on the agenda for the foreseeable? It is. It's a very

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controversial appointment, at the time it was controversial and

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indeed Anne Travers' complaints to the assembly and to the media

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caused such a controversy it actually spilled over I think into

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the Irish presidential race when Martin McGuinness was standing, so

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it had repercussions beyond this assembly for sure.

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Stay with us because that debate wasn't the only frank exchange

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today. The controversial Welfare Reform Bill and the bid to set up a

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committee on equality and human rights prompted testy exchanges.

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Alex Maskey spelt out why he thinks it's needed. It was equally made

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clear why it was felt that it was not needed.

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I assure the minister and the department that the purpose of this

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motion is not about delaying, it's about making sure we max mews the

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scrutiny available to this House on its concern about human rights. The

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Human Rights Commission made it clear that they had not been

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involved in proper consultation with the department over the whole

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process of this Bill thus far. The equality commission also had a

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number of kshs. -- concerns. None of the assurances have been

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realised. The Human Rights Commission and the equality

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commission comes to me and tells me they are not satisfied A with the

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degree of consultations that's been had with them or that their

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concerns have been addressed, I will ensure that this House will be

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given the full benefit to make sure this Bill complys with the human

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rights. My department carried out a detailed analysis of the proposals

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contained in the Bill for the conformity with the requirements,

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including, I might add, a public consultation on these same

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proposals. It was on the 5th September last

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year, more than a year ago, that the department published its draft

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equality impact assessment on the proposals contained within the Bill.

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It's worth noting that neither the Human Rights Commission, nor indeed

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the SDLP bothered to respond. The fact is that if this process

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proceeds in the direction indicate and it's taken away from the DSD

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committee into an ad hoc committee, the matter is then stalled until

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that ad hoc committee's finished its work. We are already operating

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under a very tight timetable and framework. If we go beyond that,

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and that would be the result of what is proposed. I noticed the

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chair said that it was not the intention to delay, but the fact is

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that it will delay. Let's look very clearly at the implications of that.

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If we delay this by ten days, and I take the figure of ten days because

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30 days is the normal period set out for an ad hoc committee, but if

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we delay it by ten days, the cost to the budget in Northern Ireland

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is �4 million. �4 million for a ten-day delay. If it was the full

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30 days, it would be �13.1 million. And if we go beyond that and, if

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you look very carefully at the timetable, it might well go beyond

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it, it would run up to �28 million. Now, the fact is, there's no need

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to squander that money. There's no need to waste that money. Because

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it is possible for the mittty itself, the social development

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committee, to explore fully the issues around equality and human

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rights without the sort of delay that they are contemplating. This

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is not about welfare reform. This is about a squalid little squabble

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between the SDLP and Sinn Fein where the SDLP want to be able to

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say and it all came out in the press statement this morning from

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Mr Durkin, they want to be able to say we led Sinn Fein by the nose,

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we pulled them along, we are the people who did it, we got them over

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the line. This is about an internationalist squabble.

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The social and development minister there. Martina, the minister isn't

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happy with this move to put the Bill before an ad hoc committee for

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scrutiny. What do you understand to be his concerns? His concern is

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that he says there is a tight time frame for this Bill to pass by next

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spring and if the executive doesn't pass the Bill swi matching

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legislation already passed it to change our welfare and to really

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give it a radical overhaul to change the way credits are paid

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every month, that if they don't make that deadline, he says the

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Treasury that the Government could penalise the block grant and the

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figures he gave today were that, for example, a ten-day delay could

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lead to �4 million cost to the block grant here. Now, his concern

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is that if this goes to an ad hoc committee to examine whether the

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Bill meets equality and human rights standards, that the social

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development committee which was looking at the bill and doing its

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job of scrutinising it has to stop its work while the ad hoc committee

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does its work. He's concerned about delay and his reference to the SDLP

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Sinn Fein dates back to the executive and where Sinn Fein

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delayed agreing to bring the Bill before the executive finally did,

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but the SDLP objected saying the Bill needs more work, so he's

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saying Sinn Fein is dancing to an SDLP tune. So it's not been

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resolved? No, Alex Maskey isn't happy with the remarks the minister

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made in the chamber today and I'm told he button-holed the minister

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afterwards to quiz him on the figures he gave saying they want

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the figures that he gave him at a meting last week. Sinn Fein is

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saying we have to get this Bill right and Alex Maskey isn't

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convinced the Government will penalise if there's extra time

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taken to ensure this Bill does meet equality standards, so Sinn Fein

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are determined to go ahead. They've tabled the petition of concern and

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so this is coming up for a vote tomorrow. OK, thank you very much

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for now. The possible introduction of 20mph

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zone and their role in protecting cyclists was raised with the

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regional development minister Danny Kennedy during Question Time this

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afternoon. First he had to deal with the clever question linking

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roadworks. Indication about how much funds has been transferred

:17:59.:18:09.
:18:09.:18:10.

from the A5 pot for road maintenance for us? Very ingeniusly

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delivered question by the member! I have made plain that whilst the

:18:19.:18:29.
:18:29.:18:36.

In relation to reprioritising the alLe Kateed fund and we very much

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hope the situation can be resolved. I still believe that it would be

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possible to bring forward the A5 scheme hopefully at the earliest

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possible point. Thank you, Mr Deputy speaker.

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Question six, please? Mr Deputy speaker, I want to begin by saying

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that I fully appreciate the concerns and frustration of

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cyclists caused by vehicles parked within cycle lanes during their

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operational hours. Motorists should be mindful and considerate towards

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cyclists when using our roads and should not park illegally in cycle

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lanes. However, my department road service Hadad viezed a traffic

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attendant can issue a tenlty charge note toys a vehicle park -- has

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advised that a traffic attendant can issue a penalty charge. However

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one can not be issued unless other parking restrictions apply, for

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example bus lanes or clearways. The traffic observant, when he notices

:19:46.:19:51.

that, the appropriate enforcement action will be taken. The beginning

:19:51.:19:54.

of Road Safety Week, Mr Deputy speaker, could the minister

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indicate to the House whether he'd be willing to strongly consider the

:19:58.:20:03.

merits of introducing 20mph zones on a statutory basis or supporting

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the private members Bill for the house in the coming months to do

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so? I'm grateful to the member for his supplimentary and I recognise

:20:13.:20:18.

him as a keen cyclist and a very good cyclist. Can I say I'm aware

:20:18.:20:22.

of the private members Bill and also aware of the representations

:20:22.:20:31.

made by those in favour of introducing 20mph schemes. While

:20:31.:20:37.

not being opposed, it seems to be the issue is one of enforcement and

:20:37.:20:45.

how such limits are to be enforced while they're not PSNI committing

:20:45.:20:50.

to necessary resources or whether people responsible, motorists and

:20:51.:20:54.

vehicle users, will be prepared to accept the restrictions that are

:20:54.:21:00.

placed upon them. I think it's an ongoing disRussian that I'm having

:21:00.:21:05.

with my officials -- discussion that I'm having with my officials.

:21:05.:21:09.

We'll see what emerges. unemployment figures were released

:21:09.:21:13.

last week and it remained unchanged. MLAs wanted to know what the

:21:13.:21:18.

Minister for Employment is go doing to help get people back to work.

:21:18.:21:24.

Here is what he had to say. return to work programme is due to

:21:24.:21:29.

end on the 31st March 2013 when the current contract force delivery

:21:29.:21:34.

expire. Steps to success is being developed as the successor to the

:21:34.:21:38.

outgoing programme. The public consultation exercise outlining the

:21:38.:21:41.

high level design of steps to success ended on 12th October,

:21:41.:21:45.

resulting in over 80 responses from a wide and varied range of

:21:45.:21:48.

organisations. This level of interest in the programme is very

:21:48.:21:51.

encouraging. My officials are now collating and evaluating the

:21:51.:21:56.

responses received and will use this feedback to inform the design

:21:56.:22:00.

of the programme. A summary response to the consultation

:22:00.:22:03.

exercise which will include recommendations on the way forward

:22:03.:22:07.

will be published once this work has completed. It's planned to

:22:07.:22:12.

commence procurement for the plan in February 2013 with an

:22:12.:22:17.

anticipated start date of February 2014. There must be some connection

:22:17.:22:20.

between welfare reform and universal credit. I wonder if you

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could identify what that is for us? Well, in Northern Ireland, we have

:22:27.:22:31.

had the steps to work programme as the main employment programme. That

:22:31.:22:37.

itself was a successor to the new deal and even without welfare

:22:37.:22:40.

reform taking place in Great Britain and now in Northern Ireland,

:22:40.:22:43.

we would have been in the aichwaition where we would have had

:22:43.:22:48.

to recontract and to redesign our main employment programme --

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situation. Obviously an employment programme is important because it's

:22:53.:22:57.

critical to enabling people who've been out of work for a prolonged

:22:57.:23:01.

period of time to assist them to return to work. Obviously,

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universal credits themselves are designed to improve the

:23:06.:23:10.

employability of people and to incentivise people who've been on

:23:10.:23:14.

benefits to find work itself more attractive or a combination of

:23:14.:23:18.

benefits and work and also to address the catchment that many

:23:19.:23:23.

people find themselves on benefits of not finding work being

:23:23.:23:27.

beneficial and paying its way. What we do in terms of the work

:23:27.:23:31.

programme is critical to maximising the employability prospects of

:23:31.:23:39.

people who are on benefits today and on unit universal credit. My

:23:39.:23:41.

department through the redundancy advice service is working in

:23:41.:23:44.

partnership with the social security agency, further education

:23:44.:23:51.

colleges, HMRC and other agencies to provide 15 clinics across all

:23:51.:23:57.

three FG Wilson sites affected by the announcements. At vice was

:23:57.:24:01.

provided on job advice and mentoring, entrepreneurship,

:24:01.:24:05.

education opportunities and creating advice, as well as

:24:05.:24:10.

benefits and taxation issues. The service was delivered free of

:24:10.:24:14.

charge to employees fashion redundancy. In addition, Dell

:24:14.:24:17.

arranged six job and training affairs and again these were

:24:17.:24:22.

delivered across all three sites. My officials worked proactively to

:24:23.:24:26.

target and identify over 30 companies who expressed an interest

:24:26.:24:34.

in attending the jobs fares with 28 attending the larn event, 16 in

:24:34.:24:41.

another area and 16 in yet another area. We worked in partnership with

:24:41.:24:46.

industry experts, employment and careers councillors. There was

:24:46.:24:50.

access to opportunities and pathways into a different career.

:24:50.:24:54.

welcome the clinics that have happened and the training fairs et

:24:54.:24:58.

cetera, but is the minister able to indicate what the outcomes have

:24:58.:25:02.

been in terms of the number of employees, whether agency workers

:25:02.:25:08.

or permanent employees of FG Wilsons who've been able to get

:25:08.:25:12.

alternative employment? I thank the member for his sum plimentry. We

:25:12.:25:16.

don't have the precise figure yet of the placements and jobs that

:25:16.:25:21.

have been filled as a consequence. It's very much a work in progress -

:25:21.:25:25.

- supplimentary. The number of people to date who've been affected

:25:25.:25:32.

by the redundancies are 490, broken down to 108 agency staff, 332

:25:32.:25:36.

hourly production staff and 50 salary and engineering staff.

:25:36.:25:40.

employment and learning minister. Martina is with me once again. A

:25:40.:25:45.

lot of interest for the cross Border Edgecation debate tonight.

:25:45.:25:50.

How did that turn out? That was brought under a private members

:25:50.:25:55.

business. The minister is concerned ability the announcement last month

:25:55.:26:00.

that he and his Dublin counterpart were serving families on the board

:26:00.:26:03.

tore ask them about provision for schools and it's been noted that

:26:03.:26:09.

this is taking place. The concern is that it's a very narrow area of

:26:09.:26:12.

Northern Ireland that's been surveyed. He's concern tad the

:26:12.:26:16.

minister should get his priorities right that there are more pressing

:26:16.:26:21.

issues that the minister should be focused on. David Ford has some

:26:21.:26:26.

decisions to make. We know about the future of McGilligan prison. He

:26:26.:26:33.

was lobbied on that difficult issue today? That's right. Finlay Spratt

:26:33.:26:39.

lobbied the minister with a petition of 5,500 signatures. There

:26:39.:26:42.

is concern about jobs and the future of the prison. It was

:26:42.:26:46.

recommended that the prison should close and to have another facility

:26:46.:26:49.

close to Belfast perhaps. The minister is looking at the issue.

:26:49.:26:54.

He is going to make an interim statement next week and a final

:26:54.:26:59.

decision in January. If McGilligan stays open, I think there will be

:26:59.:27:02.

changes to it but the minister hasn't closed the door all together.

:27:02.:27:05.

One last thing. Opposition, much discussion about that in the

:27:05.:27:11.

corridors up here, we know. The SDLP ended up talking about it at

:27:11.:27:16.

its conference two weeks ago. John McKallis ter, the Ulster Unionist

:27:16.:27:22.

MLA, we understand, is making a speech about how our position might

:27:22.:27:31.

work tonight, do we know anything about that -- McCallister?

:27:31.:27:37.

didn't win his argument but he's going to look at other ways of how

:27:37.:27:41.

to press the issue. There are issues, he agrees there should be

:27:41.:27:45.

an opposition but he has to get Sinn Fein's agreement. For example,

:27:45.:27:49.

they wouldn't necessarily need to Leggett at Westminster to have an

:27:49.:27:55.

on zition - orb opposition. You could try for some opposition

:27:55.:28:00.

rights. Jim Alastair accused the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP of

:28:01.:28:04.

being door mats, saying they should pull out of the executive. I don't

:28:04.:28:09.

think we are at that point yet but until we get opposition, we'll hear

:28:09.:28:19.

a lot about it. Thank you very much indeed. That's it from all of us

:28:19.:28:23.

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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