19/11/2013 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. Coming up on the programme tonight.


Passions run high as the Assembly discusses the disappeared.


That was never to be. Liz McVey has passed away and every woman who was


wracked with agony, sort reand grief. The speaker gives memberses a


dressing down after heating words in the chamber yesterday. I just cannot


allow members to get contributions to be so offensive it's unbelievable


as senior position polices. I'm joined by Simon McBride to look over


the day's proceedings. Flags, parades and dealing with the


past. Three of the most contentious issues in Northern Ireland politics.


So contentious that the former US envoy Richard Haas is here to help


politicians find a solution. Today in Stormont, it was the past that


was centre stage with a heated debate on the disappeared. The


Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt brought to motion to the House


following the BBC and RTE documentary telling the story of


those abducted, murdered and buried by paramilitaries during the


troubles. Of the 16 people listed as disappeared, only nine bodies have


been found. In the case of Jean income Conville, that was not


because of information supplied by the provisional members of the IRA.


Her demaines were discovered by a member of the public. So, Mr


Speaker, after nearly 15 years, only half the disappeared have been


recovered because of information supplied by Republicans.


Republicans who enjoyed the prif Lynn of immunity from prosecution if


they engaming in the process which is independent and is international


-- process of immunity. Only half the families have had the comfort of


a Christian burial because Republicans engaged successfully. Mr


Speaker, in terms of dealing with the past, half the truth is simply


not enough. It may be helpful to remind


ourselves of the state of the IRA position on this tragic matter. In


April 1999, the IRA issued a statement, coinciding with the


establishment of the Commission, accepting responsibilities for the


deaths of a number of people kill and secretly buried. At that time,


they blamed their position and the commitment to cooperation with the


Independent Commission for the location of victims' remains and


stated "our intention has been to do all within our power to rectify the


injustice for which we accept full responsibility and to alleviate the


suffering of the families. We are sorry that this has taken so long to


resolve and for the prolonged anguish caused to the families". For


the families of the disappeared, they are left with the fate worse


than death. I suspect most, if not all of us in this House at some


stage, have lost a relative, have lost a loved one, be it a mother,


father, brother, sister, some even unfortunate enough even to lose a


child, and we all know the trauma of that. At least for all of us in this


chamber, we've had the opportunity to grieve, to go to the graveside,


to be able to attend a funeral. No such privilege has been given to the


families of the disappeared. That's why for them it's a fate worse than


death. If you look at our politics over the


last 40, 50 years, especially over the last 20, it's gone, Mr Speaker,


through a number of phases. The ceasefire phase, the devolution


phase, and the devolution of justice phase, the Uniteded stand against


terror period. If our politics is to be defined in this time in any way,


it must be that the needs of victims and survivors, including the


disappeared, must have primacy that this must be their time and this


must be their place. The forceable removal of people from their


families, torture and burial in unknown locations, has to be among


the worst human rights abuse imaginable. It's indelible evil on


the history of our community. I think in particular whilst there are


many stories in that programme, while people refuse to visit the


area. "I have a vision of Columbus standing there looking into a hole,


I've never done anything to the IRA, neither did my mum, so why are they


torturing us 38 years on and they are still torturing us today. All we


want is to put him in the grave beside my mum and dad", that is what


one of the victims said. I will never forget Miss McVey saying to us


that day "we only want his body so that we can have it interred and the


family plot -- in the family plot" where his father at that stage was


already buried. She said "before I die, I want him there". ".


That was never to be. Miss McVey has passed away, an elderly woman, who


was wracked with agony and sorrow and grief.


That programme didn't play to our politics. That programme played to


our humanity. It was a challenge to all to search their conscience, even


those whose conscience is seered by years of justifying and supporting


terrorism. In the case of some perpetrating terrorism. Appeal to


whatever ounce of humanity might yet exist to do the right thing. The


motion was passed with an amendment calling for anyone with information


about the disappearance of Lisa Dorrian to bring it forward to the


police. News editor Political Correspondent Sam McBride joins me


now. A measured debate in the House today across the benches? It was. I


think by the standards of what was being discussed and how some of


thesish yous, which are extremely emotional, and where people feel


strongly about it, have been dealt with in the past in the Assembly,


this was quite restrained, I think it was a sombre point. We saw Lord


Marlow there being understandably very emotional about the mother of


KLM BA McVey who met Ian Paisley when he was First Minister a few


years ago and of course died before her son's remains were recovered and


still I believe haven't been recovered. I think that in a way was


reflected no how Sinn Fein dealt with the issue. They, quite


unusually, didn't force a vote. Normally when parties disagree with


the motion, as Sinn Fein made very clear today, both on the airwaves


and in the chamber today, they didn't agree with the motion, they


thought it unfairly targeted Gerry Adams, but they didn't force a


division of the House and that was something that some of the speakers


in favour of the motion, Tom Elliott being one of them, really asked


them, please don't do this, it would add to the distress of the families.


Do you think that was part of drawing this thing or trying to draw


the sting out of the debate? There wasn't the - All sides in the House


were agreed that people with information about what happened to


the people that were disappeared should brimming that forward to the


Commission for the -- bring that forward to try to find the remains


of those people. There was agreement on that point and on the point that


it was absolutely wrong. Sinn Fein probably felt that with the way that


public opinion has reacted to the documentary, there was very lit toll


be had by forcing a vote which they were going to lose anyway and which


would look poor, I suppose. Do you think, Sam, that this will put the


issue to bed for a while, or is it something that's never going to be


too far away from the headlines? I think at the time of the Good Friday


Agreement, you can imagine people thinking these issues of the past


would fade as time has gone on. Yet, week after week, they come back to


the Assembly. There is no prospects of this stuff going ie way. The Haas


talks might come up with some sort of solution which removes some


issues from the agenda, but as long as there are bodies not discovered


and as long as there's Croftry around certain incidents about the


troubles or historic moments marking anniversaries for for atrocities, it


will keep coming back to the chamber. For now, thank you very


much. Yesterday, we brought you some of the heated exchanges during the


debate on the Office of the police ombudsman. This morning, the speaker


made it clear he wasn't happy with some of what was said.


I was asked by members to look at Hansard, especially during the


debate yesterday on the awsmts I have to say, on initial look at


Hansard, it does not make good reading. We are almost half way


through this term and this Assembly and I have to say, the debates in


this Assembly have very much fallen very much to a point where I have to


say some of the debates themselves I would ask members to question, some


of the offensive language members are using in this Charles de


Gaulleberg. . Certainly reading Hansard yesterday


-- chamber. Reading Hansard yesterday, I refer to remarks made


by Mr Alastair, Mr Elliott and Mr Keegan in the chamber yesterday.


I have to say, some of their contribution fell far short of the


good temper in moderation and that we should all expect in this


chamber. Let me say to the three members I've been watching closely,


the three members that I have named. I have to say, if I find that they


have crossed a line in future, I will not call them for the


contribution. In fact, I will go further. I will ask them to take


their place and I will move on. Members need to realise, my job


here, is to protect integrity of this Assembly and very much protect


the business that goes through this Assembly House, debated in this


Assembly. I just cannot allow members to get to be so offensive


it's unbelievable. The speaker reflecting on some of


yesterday's more colourful exchanges. The removal of members of


paramilitary organisations from safety partnerships was on the


agenda for the Justice Minister today at Question Time. But first,


we hear a lot about dissident Republicans, but what about the term


dissident unionists? There are a small number of


disaffected people on both sides of the community seeking to take


Northern Ireland back to the past. We have seen their reckness and


willingness to endanger life. Whether that is through acts of


terrorism, organised criminality or public disorder. The term dissident


Republicans is well understood. I use the term dissident unionists in


reply to Mr McGinness referring to those who engage in criminal


behaviour and do not accept the current political arguments. Neither


dissident can be allowed to thwart the process of Northern Ireland.


They need to see the futility of their actions and to pursue peaceful


means. Nothing should be said to encourage


the dissidents. That term is insulting. I wish you would put it


beyond all doubt and confirm that you do not regard those engaged in


legitimate peaceful pro-South Coasts such as those on the flags issue on


ongoing protests as dissident unionist and that we must be careful


in our choice of words. Thank you. -- peaceful processes. Does he agree


with me that those involved in loyalism who're causing disorder and


mayhem are in fact dissidents? He's correctly identified the way in


which I used the phrase last time, the way in which I've used it again


today and I believe people need to be careful if they sit here with a


democratic mandate that they do nothing to en encourage dissidents.


Is it not a scandal that a well-known member of an illegal


organisation now sits on the Belfast Policing Board. Is that not


something which ordinary members of the public would rightly object to?


The arrangements for removal are quite clear. If somebody has


demonstrably failed to uphold the declaration against terrorism which


they made on appointment to the PCSP or the district PCSP, that is the


way the law was formulate and put through this House. If there were


changeses to be made, including vetting prior to appointment, they


would have to be considered by this House at a later stage. I certainly


understand the concerns which have been expressed by Mr Maginnis if


that is the feeling about the community -- the feeling of the


community of some members. In light of recent events in


Coleraine and east Belfast, can I ask the minister what discussions


he's had with the Chief Constable in respect of illegal loyalist activity


and the status of the UVF ceasefire? We need to be careful how we handle


those issues. The specific matter of a UVF ceasefire or lack of it issues


is a case in the organisation are not for the Department of Justice,


but they remain with the Secretary of State. But the member and others


will appreciate that when I meet the Chief Constable, I discuss a range


of issues which include criminal and terrorist activity. Social


Development Minister also faced Question Time and he was asked if he


had misled his committee over a meeting with double glazing Fareham


Turkington Windows. He was asked the question by Stuart Dixon. Given the


evidence to the DST Inquiry on Thursday past with regards to a


letter of 24th May 2012 to the chair, did you mislead the


committee? There's a proprocess being taken


forward by the committee at the moment. There were a number of


submissions made last Thursday. There'll be further submissions made


this Thursday. I'm due to come to the committee later on in the month


of December, I think it's the 12th December, and at that point, I will


in fact be giving a submission to the committee. I think it would be


wrong and premature to address until I have the courtesy of giving that


to the committee. It's a very simple question to the


member, dishe mislead the committee. Why did you instruck a civil servant


to change the content of that letter? I don't know if the member


has difficulty understanding plain English, but I simply said there in


response to the first point that I would make the information available


to the committee on the 12th December when I go to the committee


and I intend, in response to your second question, to give the answer


to that in due course as well. Very simple answer will be given on the


12st deaths and I would ask the member to have a bit of patience --


12th December. Do you have any concerns that delays to the welfare


reform Bill will place his department's ability to administer


and provide benefits to the most vulnerable at risk? The member makes


a very important point here. One that has been largely overlooked in


general comment and in particular in the media. Because when we talk


about welfare reform and delays, we tend to think in terms of the recent


visit by Mike Pinning and the point he made by way of financial


penalties that would impact on the Northern Ireland block grant.


There's more to it than that. Potentially, it can also impact on


the viability of the jobs we have in Northern Ireland providing services


to the rest of the United Kingdom in the delivery of welfare. There's


also this point that's been made there, that, as regards this - I'm


really concerned that delays to welfare Bill are already resulting


in operational difficulties - due to the need to put in place clerical


work around as the two benefit systems begin to diverge. There are


practical difficulties as well, putting at risk the social security


agency's ability to administer and provide benefits. The agency is


already incurring additional costs. At the moment, modest, but they'll


quickly rack up. So it's important, not just for the penalty issue to be


kept in mind. That's a hugely important one, as the DWP minister


pointed out, but there's also the practical difficulties that are


detrimental to claimants in Northern Ireland.


We are totally dependent in Northern Ireland on the IT system throughout


the rest of the United Kingdom. There's no possibility of Northern


Ireland going it alone and devising its own IT system for welfare


payments. It would be totally impossible. The cost would be


astronomical. It would be simply totally destructive to the Northern


Ireland block grant in terms of the cost of it. How we could do it, I


could not imagine. Social and development minister Nelson McCause


land. The Assembly has backed cross party motion, calling for


streamlining. It's said a better structure would improve economic


growth, competitiveness and social well-being. Sandra spoke in the


debate and she's with me now. Are you saying individual departments


aren't pulling their weight, because you said some parties treat their


departments as thief Domes? Yes, well, fit for purpose and strong


infrastructure is key for economic matters in Northern Ireland. It's


important this matteder is addressed. It's an important issue


and we are doth calling on all ministers to make sure that all


infrastructure projects are progressed as speedily as possible


and the construction industry who we met last week, many of us, they tell


us how they've suffered since 2007. We have a glimmer of hope on the


horizon here and it's important that we have as many projects coming


forward now as possible. At the same time, the executive can't single


handedly keep the construction industry afloat in Northern Ireland?


Absolutely. I mean, you will go to airports and you will see members of


the construction industry heading to GB and they have been doing for


quite some time. The construction industry's been working in Northern


Ireland and working across in they are parts of the UK and the world to


keep them going. Singled out the education department


today, John O'Dowd, you said to him, the schools building process aren't


acceptable. Why that department specifically? Just because I was at


a meeting last week with members of the construction and employers


federation and it was raised at that meeting that minister O'Dowd had


announced a plan of school buildings, but they haven't reached


procurement, never mind build yet. It was an issue brought to me at


that meeting. That's why I raised it today. You said construction


industry needs the capital projects, but if your party rode in behind it,


there would have been so many projects? There are so many projects


that need to happen in Northern Ireland. That was a big one though?


It was a big one, yes, but what the Ulster Unionist Party want to do is


what is right for Northern Ireland and, you know, we'll find other


projects and we'll do what we can to find other projects, to find


projects for the construction industry.


Can I just ask you one final question on a subject that we have


already dealt with on the programme, the debate on the disappeared. Are


you satisfied with the way in which Sinn Fein handled it and didn't


force a vote? It was a very sombre debate this afternoon. I was pleased


that we had almost unanimous support for that. It's very important that


the Assembly shows their support for the families of the disappeared and


we managed to do that today so I was pleased with the response. Thank you


very much. There was a third Question Time


today featuring the Assembly Commission. It has the task of


ensuring the Assembly's provided with the property, staff and


services required for to it carry out its work. Committee members


fielded questions from the floor. There has been a concerning trend of


reducing participation in elections over the past decade. Would the


member assure me that the commission will continue to support and expand,


rather than potentially reduce, the educational outreach service and,


can she update me when it plans next to engage with my constituency?


First of all, the member can be absolutely assured that I'll have


and will continue to fight very hard to ensure that there are no


reductions and indeed that we increase the work that the Assembly


education staff are doing and that the programme does. In retlietion


your own constituency, the Assembly team work with every constituency,


if events are planned, we'd be happy to hear them, please feel free to


contact myself or any member of the Commission in relation to that.


Could I ask one of the Commissioners if the Commission's given any


consideration to having a stocktaking exercise in relation to


our lifts within this building? There's one of them I think has been


out of Commission for at least a year. I see another one out of


commission at the moment. Are our lifts fit for purpose?


I thank Lord Morrowfr for his supplimentary. I was in the lift


this morning and I pushed the buttons and the door opened and told


me I had arrived, then they closed again. It was comical, like a


cartoon sketch. I reported that as a fault. Obviously, the lifts with


quite old, but the technology is not rocket science and I am advised that


major work is being done to the lifts. A Commission placed in the


House, in this long-going issue, placed the House on sale for the


open market in January 2012. There's been a considerable level of


interest in the property for development opportunities, there


have been very few substantive bids made for Ormiston House and the


committee is not in a position to agree a sale. The Commission has one


bid for the property but that bid was at less than the asking price.


The DUP member of the Assembly Commission there. The final Business


Today, remember the passing of one of east Belfast's most famous sons.


22nd N 1963, 50 years ago this Friday, the world was stunned to


learn of the death of President John F Kennedy who was assassinated on


the same day that he tragically lost his life in Dallas Texas, drive


Staples Lewis died one week before his 65th birthday. Harper Collins


boasts that his Chronicles of Narnia books alone have sold over 100


million copies. We should be looking, not just at how we can


commemorate him, but at how we can, sadly in a commercial way, make more


of our great writers. We have Brian free, Brian Moore, Louis McNiece,


Seamus hurricany and Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett. The creative


writings of CS Lewis has inspired imagination, a love of reading and


story-telling amongst children all over the world. The Alliance Party's


Chris Little. A few final thoughts now from Sam McBride. We touched on


it earlier the Haas talks, the expectations, perhaps the lack of


expectation. Do you think we'll see progress this side of Christmas?


I've no idea to be honest and I don't think anybody else has, if


they are honest, but yesterday Richard Haas alluded to his


displeasure that Sinn Fein published their submission. We saw the


submission of the retired police officers. It makes it harder to have


negotiations. What is your explanation for why Sinn Fein did


what they did. Have you been able to work it out? I really don't know.


It's possibly trying to up the anti a bit and make sure that people know


that something is going on behind-the-scenes. But we now know


what their opening bargaining position is, which is very unusual?


Some of their proposals are novel, such as having a single flag post in


certain areas, things like that. Maybe they are hoping that by


putting out their initial submission, it will make it easier


for the unionists to say they didn't get everything they wanted but I'm


not sure. Haas said the past is really difficult an issue and we


have touched on the that already. A lot of people saying it may be the


most difficult issue but cannot be brushed under the carpet? And the


SDLP and the Ulster Unionists are talking about that. It's the most


difficult issue but underpins a lot of the problems that come up in


terms of parades and flags. A quick final thought. No legislative


discussion again today? Yet again, there's been none. This was being


talked about at the weekend, a legislature with no legislation.


Westminster had an opposition day and they brought pieces of


legislation. It's getting routine that there's little of substance


being debated here. Thank you very much. That is it for tonight. Join


me for The View on Thursday. Bye-bye.


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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