19/11/2012 Stormont Today


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

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. It was another busy day up here in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


her thoughts, our Political Correspondent Martina Purdy.


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


committee on standards and privileges calling for the


exclusion of Jim Wells for seven days following comments he made


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


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


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


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


interim commissioner on the committee of standards and


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


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


made by Miss McCullen and Miss McCardle. They complained about


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


mechanism of this House. I simply ask and indeed urge


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. This institution on


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


about political opinion or religious belief. This is not about


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


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


misogyny and sectarianism. Misogyny. The definition of misogyny is


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


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


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


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


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


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


situation where people are described as being offended and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


community was outraged because they felt McCardle was rewarded for her


murder of the totally innocent young woman by being given this


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Standards Commissioner starts to investigate something, there's a


lot of correspondence going back and forward between your office and


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


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


suppose other members looking at this will say to themselvess if


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


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


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


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


Alastair's table add private members Bill seeking to disqualify


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


is with the Finance Committee for scrutiny and Anne Travers whose


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


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


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


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


controversial appointment, at the time it was controversial and


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


caused such a controversy it actually spilled over I think into


the Irish presidential race when Martin McGuinness was standing, so


it had repercussions beyond this assembly for sure.


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


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


committee on equality and human rights prompted testy exchanges.


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


clear why it was felt that it was not needed.


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


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


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


Human Rights Commission made it clear that they had not been


involved in proper consultation with the department over the whole


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


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


realised. The Human Rights Commission and the equality


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


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


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


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


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


contained in the Bill for the conformity with the requirements,


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


proposals. It was on the 5th September last


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


equality impact assessment on the proposals contained within the Bill.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


it is possible for the mittty itself, the social development


committee, to explore fully the issues around equality and human


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


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


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


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


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


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


the line. This is about an internationalist squabble.


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


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


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


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


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


legislation already passed it to change our welfare and to really


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


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


Treasury that the Government could penalise the block grant and the


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


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


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


Bill meets equality and human rights standards, that the social


development committee which was looking at the bill and doing its


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


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


Sinn Fein dates back to the executive and where Sinn Fein


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


convinced the Government will penalise if there's extra time


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


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


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


for now. The possible introduction of 20mph


zone and their role in protecting cyclists was raised with the


regional development minister Danny Kennedy during Question Time this


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


roadworks. Indication about how much funds has been transferred


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


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


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


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


possible to bring forward the A5 scheme hopefully at the earliest


possible point. Thank you, Mr Deputy speaker.


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


that I fully appreciate the concerns and frustration of


cyclists caused by vehicles parked within cycle lanes during their


operational hours. Motorists should be mindful and considerate towards


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of the private members Bill and also aware of the representations


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


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


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


to necessary resources or whether people responsible, motorists and


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


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


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


We'll see what emerges. unemployment figures were released


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


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


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


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


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


outgoing programme. The public consultation exercise outlining the


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


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


organisations. This level of interest in the programme is very


encouraging. My officials are now collating and evaluating the


responses received and will use this feedback to inform the design


of the programme. A summary response to the consultation


exercise which will include recommendations on the way forward


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


commence procurement for the plan in February 2013 with an


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


between welfare reform and universal credit. I wonder if you


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


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


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


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


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


to recontract and to redesign our main employment programme --


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


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


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


universal credits themselves are designed to improve the


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


benefits to find work itself more attractive or a combination of


benefits and work and also to address the catchment that many


people find themselves on benefits of not finding work being


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


programme is critical to maximising the employability prospects of


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


department through the redundancy advice service is working in


partnership with the social security agency, further education


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


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


provided on job advice and mentoring, entrepreneurship,


education opportunities and creating advice, as well as


benefits and taxation issues. The service was delivered free of


charge to employees fashion redundancy. In addition, Dell


arranged six job and training affairs and again these were


delivered across all three sites. My officials worked proactively to


target and identify over 30 companies who expressed an interest


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


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


industry experts, employment and careers councillors. There was


access to opportunities and pathways into a different career.


welcome the clinics that have happened and the training fairs et


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


hourly production staff and 50 salary and engineering staff.


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


lot of interest for the cross Border Edgecation debate tonight.


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


business. The minister is concerned ability the announcement last month


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


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


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


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


minister should get his priorities right that there are more pressing


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


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


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


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


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


recommended that the prison should close and to have another facility


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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