20/02/2012 Stormont Today


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

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Hello, and welcome to Stormont Today. In Brussels, they have been


haggling over-rate �130 billion bail-out for Greece. But here, our


MLAs have been talking tough as well.


I am afraid there is not an answer I can give. I am not going to play


with him. And the Social Development Minister


was not in the mood for playing either.


As I had said in the past, it people would just eremite, God gave


us two ears and one mouth, and I am sure he will benefit from that


advice. For back to where it all began.


What brought the former First Minister, now David Trimble, back


to parliament buildings this evening?


To add a gentle prose to the events of the seething, my guest is Martin


Lynch. We are all watching the pennies and


the pounds these days, and the arts are no exception. My guest tonight,


playwright Martin Lynch, obviously we have had the recent controversy


over funding. You must be feeling pleased you have got your money?


I feel a relief it has been reinstated.


Funding for the answers right across the board is a tiny


proportion of government funding. That straddles right down to


funding for the cathedral quarter. �300,000. This is nothing. Add


water generates, I get a small grant, I did a play last year, and


we get about 2000 �5,000. Extra money is spent in bars and


restaurants, and so we know that actually art and culture is a money


generator, so it is stupid to cut that.


D C D art as an easy target? Do we do not live by bread alone.


People will tilt all kind of things to survive in this world, in the


arts and culture generally, there are a huge part of what we do. It


is right across the social spectrum. It is everyone who participate in


the art. We have just done a number of plays,


right across the spectrum, loads and loads of people come and enjoy


Caused a bit of a stir at Question Time earlier which some members not


happy about how the culture minister, Caral Ni Chuilin and to


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 51 seconds


I am in discussion with other colleagues about how we do that.


What I have said is that in relation to the council's going to


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 51 seconds


Could I reminded the Minister include the words, promoting of a


Has she changed her bigoted stance on any of those issues? The I don't


feel there is an answer. It was then return of John O'Dowd,


education minister. The Good Friday Experience of what is going on here.


This is about to young people, children learning in Irish go


through the medium of Irish. They come from all walks of life. And


all different opinions on many He was extremely critical of the


Minister and especially around the issue and especially in relation to


the reduction or the increase in pupil and teacher ratio and clearly


Sinn Fein cannot have it both ways and it is critical go of what is


happening bus-stop can remember finish his question, please? When


it will the Minister act in the best interest of the children in


Northern Ireland and stop chasing moonbeams, especially the one that


is in Middletown. Cannot we welcome them member's interest and


particularly in Sinn Fein contributions. It is always good


for people to broaden their horizons. Or whatever language they


were in, is a welcome the fact. In regards to the funding issue on how


the Dublin government fund education, I don't think it is


appropriate for me to get involved in that debate but I can tell a


member of that we have actually ring-fenced funding for specialist


educational needs in this jurisdiction, we have not been


involved in cuts in special education needs provision. The


money is there and as the member well knows as well, but regards to


the overall budget, working alongside the First Minister, we


have invested formally in this jurisdiction and so we are not


involved in a penny pinching programme around those most


honourable in our society. We do face a difficult issues but those


are matters that the Executive continues to study. I have said


that Middletown, there is an ongoing report being prepared and


it will be before the next a 0 South ministerial meeting in May


and we will make a decision on the way forward on that occasion.


Looking at the wider issue of the Cathedral Quarter, do you see that


now as the hub of theatre and arts in Belfast? It is one that cluster


of groups and activities that is important. It is not the most


important, we have fabulous menus in Belfast, a lyric, the Crescent


Arts Centre, the opera house at the Cathedral Quarter as an interactive


area draws in not only local people but tourists and will be a focus


will stop if you look back at the Cathedral Quarter 10 years ago, it


was a derelict community. Donegal Street have been devastated by


bombs in the Seventies. I wrote the first paper saying it could become


a cultural area and it was picked up and from that, what was a


derelict community has die had somebody estimated �2.100000000


invested into it. In terms of the arts, there was some debate last


week and it brought a lot of different views out and people did


say, why not go to some of the bars and restaurants and get them to


subsidise and give you some grants to what it? Private income is


something we stride to bring into it. We work hard trying to raise


private finance every year for our projects, all the arts groups do.


There is in the culture in United States for doing so but here there


isn't that culture so it is an uphill battle all the time but we


do try very hard to breed of private income into the arts.


A bid by the SDLP to get the Executive to make opposition to


welfare reform its highest priority has failed to get support in the


chamber. Sinn Fein supported a motion but the DUP and Ulster


Unionists would it against. These reforms are not about


simplifying the system, they are surely at tool to cut costs. The


Tories also have great expectations for most of the personal


independence penance which are to replace the L A go stub their


expenditure will be 20% less than that on the D L F. That is money


coming from the pockets of people in need. This restructuring will be,


reduction, is already under way with people being assessed as being


able to walk 100 metres after really demonstrating the ability to


walk 10. Northern Ireland has a higher percentage of people on


benefits than the rest of UK, largely attributable to the likes


of the Troubles. We need a unique solution for what is a unique


situation. Here in Northern Ireland, I am sure that all of us who have


ever worked in trying to guide a citizen through the benefits system


will agree that the system does need to change. It is too complex


and Unwin tinkle stop there are too many benefits were there too many


different criteria reading too much confusion. Once alliance is


supportive of reforming welfare system, in getting people to work


were possible, to gain skills and contribute positively to society.


We have serious concerns. Bluntly put, you have to be able to get a


job or be able to increase you're working hours for the current


proposals to mean something other than a poor return. One of the


shortcomings I detect and the SDLP and from some of their more local


exponents is simply that they are big on rhetoric and strong also on


denial, that they live in a state of denial about the realities that


we face and perhaps if they were as a more constructive as to what


might be done, then perhaps we as an Assembly might benefit from


their support and from their advice, rather than... No, I will not be


giving way. As I have said to others in this House, as I have


said in the past, if people were doing just their mind that God gave


us two years and one might, Alastair McDonald will benefit from


that his advice. We must recognise that we need to break into


generational work and break the cycle of dependency. This will be


difficult and it will require all of us in this Assembly to show


leadership in supporting the measures necessary to achieve these


important cultural and societal changes. After the vote, the SDLP


leader head out of the Unionist and Alliance parties for not supporting


the motion which was lost by just six votes. Nelson McCausland is


telling us he is merely a bailiff for the Tory government in


Westminster, let him tell us that outright. There's always room, we


have devolution here and there is room for an Executive to be


creative and to think ahead and they are not doing that, they are


just sleepwalking. With me now it is Mickey Brady from Sinn Fein. We


are disappointed with the outcome of this afternoon's did it? Yes,


disappointed that there was a division on the amendments and


indeed on this it stands up motive because certainly in relation to


the Sinn Fein amendment. Obviously you are on the committee that is


looking at this as you have had a lot of discussion, the one thing


that seems to be coming across is that we don't actually know what


impact this is going to have on people, how do you think you can


push the Minister or push the government at Westminster to give


We're told that parity cannot be broken because of the financial


link. We are looking for the minister to do that, and the


Assembly. We want them to look at how we can best mitigate the


effects and the impact of welfare reform, because it is about cuts,


it is ideologically driven. 4th what we are going to try and do is


do the best we can to mitigate the effects of welfare reform, because


the votes to vulnerable in our society, particularly the disabled,


and if you read the British pressure, the disabled have been


vilified. This is legislation which has been ideologically driven up,


it is more relevant to the south- east of England than it is to


Northern Ireland. We have different circumstances.


For his change not overdue? Whether or not we have different


circumstances, people were on benefits has become something to be


ashamed on. I would not agree with that,


because my previous benefits -- previous background was working in


a JobCentre with people on all kinds of benefits. Prior to that, I


worked in a security service office in Belfast. Welfare reform is like


the age of though all over again, because we have seen all these


changes, they do not really work. They do not help the people who


most needed. There is this myth that people like being on benefits.


I have never met anyone who has coming to me and said that they


love being on benefits. It does not work like that. I deal with people


who have been employed for 30 years, and because of the recession they


have lost their employment. Those are the people who are also going


to be the victims of these cuts, and let's have no doubt about it,


these are cuts. The chief constable, Matt Baggott,


paid a visit to the Justice Committee on Thursday, his first


grilling from MLAs. We will see some of that in a moment, but let


us start how we did look at the committee's with the doomed


Department of Employment and learning.


Option one of creates a number of advantages. It underpins the


strength of the economy and would not only included job creation, it


also include skills policy and increased productivity and


competitiveness. Until this strategy is entirely implemented,


you may not have read is in full, and you may misinterpret things. In


recent times, there have been very major changes. There is try to --


quite a strong connection I have with of Ireland. The the whole


thing is around a shared skills, which have come about in recent


times. The department will prepare people for new investment. We have


150 graduates, for example, who are being employed by companies here,


and we are working with universities and colleges to get


them on other courses. Option two, skills and Employment Service. This


is all-rounder employment law and further education, higher education,


the back to pre- devolution. I do think that you have a strong case


for linking with the economy, because you are so skilled around


The argument may come from others, whether it gets aborted or not. It


was certainly articulated earlier that higher education is churning


out professionals. They have a case to make about why they are put up


to it, as I am just saying to you, that is an issue we are looking at,


and it will be a developing discussion, I have no doubt. I am


only putting arguments about, I am not expressing an opinion.


We have an eight -- we have an impression People will comply with


our ethics. We have expectations of people's conduct. If they do not


fulfil the expectations, I would be very anxious to correct that. The


issue about whether the ombudsman can investigate somebody is a


matter for the law changed. What I would say is that if somebody


breaks the law, whoever they are, they will be investigated with the


full rule of law. There is no it special dispensation, there is that


Amnesty, people will be subject to a criminal investigation whether


they are removed in terms of the contract on up -- or not.


I am not saying all suggesting that. But there is a history of retired


police personnel are not co- operating with the ombudsman. They


are now being required into the police force, and they find


themselves in exactly the same position, as they do not have to


drawbridge. You have a serious -- senior member of your staff who was


asked a question. I would have left that meeting feeling that staff


were not accountable. If there is a lack of clarity, I


was not aware that. The word yes cannot be any clearer.


There is no room for misinterpretation.


There has been much debate about this. I have clarified my own views


on this. What you have done is take a simple line.


No, I have not. But let me declare. I have spoken to my colleagues on


the policing Board and come away with that.


If cannot clarify my position? -- can I clarify my position? If there


is ambiguity, then and there should be an apology. But I think there is


an expectation that people would co-operate with ombudsman's


investigations. That is my expectation.


The former First Minister, Lord Trimble, was back at Stormont to


write for the unveiling of his portraits that will hang in the


corridors of power. He paid tribute to the artist, David Nolan, for


making him look a vaguely human. I asked him what it was like to be


back. The fact that the institutions are


here and operating, and operating by people who a dozen years ago


vigorously criticised at the very agreement that we made, it's just


underlines how right we were to make that agreement. What a shame


that the implementation did not go according to plan. We lost a number


of years, but it is here and it is working. It is important that it be


here and it is important that it works better. It still has a lot of


problems to tackle here, which is there to be done.


During the Lords now and sitting on the Tory benches. How does that


figure he now in future? Do you see yourself actively campaigning for


Conservative candidates hearing Northern Ireland rather than the


Ulster Unionist colleagues? At the last election that is


exactly what I did. I was delighted to support the Conservative


candidates. But the next camp -- campaign I am going to have is to


get Boris Johnson a re-elected as a Mayor for London.


In the meantime, should the Ulster Unionists go into opposition here?


That is a decision for them to take. I remember thinking about it and


discussing it. We did not have to decide whether or not to do that,


but it is obviously a nice decision, and his is a nice decision as to


the timing of it as well. So I think I'll leave it entirely to the


current party, they are the best people to make the decision there.


What about the DUP? How do you feel about them and their move towards a


more integrated society? Words are cheap. Actions count. I


suspend judgment. The record of the DUP would not encourage me.


From the former first minister to the current one, Peter Robinson and


Martin McGuinness were in London today. They have trips planned much


further afield this year. They will be doing a lot of globe-


trotting in the next few months. They met the Chinese vice-president


at a state banquet in Ireland. Earth they have been on a trip to


London and they intend to go to China in the coming months. That


will be after they have already visited the USA and Canada which


they will do next month for some Patrick's Day, and India as to buy.


-- St Patrick's Day. Some criticism. Amnesty International saying that


when they are in China they will have to raise the human rights


concerns about Chinese authorities, but business will be enthusiastic


about it. Also, academics have already established relationships


with China. No doubt they will want an input pulse of academics from


the world of science were at Stormont here today.


Yes, it was the first meeting of an all-party group. It is considered


important in terms of economic growth, but the politicians are not


as well-informed about side of it manners as maybe they should be. --


scientific matters. They discussed are many different matters. Eight.


That was made by a number of scientists, including one from the


Royal Society of Chemistry, was that Stormont should really match


other devolved administrations in having its own chief scientific


adviser. Their results of evidence to


suggest in Scotland and Wales that this has helped to drive through


technology and science within assemblies. It is a no-brainer.


On to a different thing, there was an interesting question today.


It was a slightly unusual example of MLAs tried to get to grips with


scientific reality. He had a question to the agricultural


minister asking whether her department had researched the


cancer risks of putting microchips into cats and dogs. This is not


something they have been campaigning on, but he was asked by


an animal welfare agency to try and get to the bottom of the research.


He thinks it is a good thing, but there was a long list of scientific


papers from the Department of Agriculture that showed that there


might be some risk to laboratory rats and mice, but there was not a


risk to the average domestic pet. What is next on your agenda?


For I am very busy. We are doing eight re-run of one of my plays,


which has been incredibly successful. Then we are doing a big,


big show at the Opera House in August. It is based on a group of


shipyard workers who was selected to sail on the Titanic after they


had built it. Everyone died, so it is a very unique story. They are


all aged between 18 and 21. Were they the best of the bunch at


were given it as a reward? Yes, two weeks before the Titanic


sailed the boss walked in and asked who the best people were. He then


told the -- he then said they were sailing on the Titanic. They


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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.