20/03/2012 Stormont Today


20/03/2012

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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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. They say while the cat is away the

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mice will play but as the first and Deputy First Minister celebrated a

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belated St Patrick's Day, it was business as usual in the chamber.

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The Finance Minister has strong words for the Chancellor's regional

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pay idea of. It will be divisive, deflationary and it is not a good

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tactic economically if you want to promote growth across the whole UK.

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And there with a leadership race going up here but it was a

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different race that had our MLAs out of the chamber.

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And with animal welfare on the agenda, I am joined by Stephen will

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pot of the USPCA. New and a full welfare legislation

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is about to come into force in the next few weeks which is designed to

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provide protection for pets, working animals and livestock but

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there are some concerns about the changes. Stephen Philpott, you have

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reservations about this. It is getting very late in the day, the

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legislation is due a week on Saturday and we still have not

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clarified where the animals are going. Rescued animals will be

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going through some sort of third party who look after the animals

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but as yet no one can tell us who that is. The tender documents do

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not deal with how the animal is the disposed of. As a welfare

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organisation that is a great concern. Are there any good part in

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it? Yes, this is going to put Northern Ireland ahead of the game

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with regards to the legislation and the budgetary side of this

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legislation is not to be sneezed at, almost �750,000 will come from

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Westminster. That is a big positive but we very much need to be

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satisfied that this legislation will be enforced properly and the

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animals will be the beneficiaries not the humans. It is a big change

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for people, we will not be able to phone you for lost animals or

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cruelty to animals, is that why? is a grey area. We believe that the

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public will still continue to contact us. What we would have to

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do is read direct them. We have to ascertain what type of animal and

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then we will we direct them to local government to get their query

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sorted out. That fills us with the dread because we deal with 7,000

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calls a month and that brings its Channel jeers. To be direct those

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calls will be a big issue. With a generous pay rise coming and

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a day off yesterday, the agenda was packed with a double helping of

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questions. Four half hour sessions instead of the usual two. We will

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hear questions to the employment and learning Minister, but first

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here is the agricultural Minister being asked about reform to the

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single farm repayment scheme. new payment system due to its

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complexity could have the potential to increase the risk of fines.

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department over all departments has the most engagement in European

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funding. It is very frustrating the said policies. How they are being

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implemented and how you are faced with a fines. The proposals would

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be so hard that Ministers will find it hard to administer. Potentially

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moving from one payment to six would be hard to administer and you

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would have the commission watching every stage of that. We are in

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negotiation stage and we have to get this process simple as possible.

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Four fines could be on the way and in particular the horse mussel

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weeks. We are looking at a multi- million pound infraction find. Does

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she accept it is a failure on behalf of her department that we

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find ourselves in this unpleasant position? This issue has been going

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on for quite some time as the member is quite aware. There has

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been a number of actions taken in terms of increasing exclusion zones,

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a management plan put in place but the commission, the Queen's

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University report was keep in moving forward. On to employment

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and learning. They wanted to know if the Minister had plans for

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retraining outgoing present offenders. I recognise this is a

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particular cohort of people who have a particular set of needs. We

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are not talking about a redundancy situation but these are people who

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will have the ability to make a further contribution to the economy

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and the Careers Service of by department is very much available

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to everyone in Northern Ireland, adults included. I will certainly

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strongly recommend anyone in that circumstance to make contact with

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the careers service through their local jobs and benefits office and

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to make an appointment to discuss their future opportunities. Can I

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ask the Minister, given the vast amount of money that has been set

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aside for severance in this scheme, does the Minister agree that when

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an enhanced package like that is available, that people should not

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be allowed to go back into the service again? There should be a

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cause. It is important that we distinguish -- responsibilities and

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the direct command the member has asked me something my collie the

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Minister of Justice would be better placed to respond to. Public sector

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workers are holding their breath for tomorrow's Budget over plans to

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introduce regional rates of pay. The pilots Minister Sammy Wilson is

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flying to London tonight and plans to speak during the Budget debate

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at Westminster. I asked him to outline his objections to the idea.

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He has to look at what happens to benefits. Do you realise benefits

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because you cannot have a situation where people in work have their

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wages frozen and people in benefits have it improved by inflation every

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year. You close the gap between work and being out of work. The

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Government is talking about making work pay and once you start down

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this road you are going to hit the poorest by having to reduce

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benefits in areas like Northern Ireland. How do you sort out the

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difference in the rate of pay between the public and private

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sector? If you go back four yes -- years ago, private sector wages

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were a bar of public sector wages in many situations. For example,

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when I was the Minister, we could not hold on to officers. We could

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not hold on to a technical staff in the health service. Joiners,

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electricians because they were going to the private sector because

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wages were so good and this is a swings and roundabouts. Daybreak

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they get the private sector wages up is to get the economy growing,

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once it is growing, there will be an increase in demand for labour

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and that will pull the wages are. You do not get better wage parity

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by making the economy even poorer because in doing that you will

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enforce rages in the private sector, which are very sensitive to

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economic activity, down further. You say you will not stop this on

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your own, we do support industrial action? I would prefer to see a

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proper political debate about this. If this were debated properly in

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the House of Commons and all live the consequences of the it teased

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out, then there will be a lot of people on the benches as well as

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the opposition benches who realised this is a bad policy. It is not an

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economically sensible policy and the Government will be forced to

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pull it up. Is there a sense of regret that the Executive did not

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take control of public sector pay when it was offered? There is not

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because to have separate pay negotiations here in Northern

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Ireland would have meant we would have to set up a whole

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infrastructure for those negotiations which would have been

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costly in itself. Secondly, I think if there is a national rate for a

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job, whether you are a teacher in Northern Ireland or London, you are

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still doing the same job. It is better to have those rates agreed

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rather than to have devolution of them. I have no doubt that Gordon

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Brown offered it at that stage and we were sensitive to this. He often

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did because it was another way of him being able to put the squeeze

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of from the Treasury on Northern Ireland because he simply said,

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let's cut the Northern Ireland a block grant and ensured they can

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make the adjustment by negotiating lower wages with the public sector

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employees. MLAs voted through two motions on

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animal where fell. The first that procedures other than beds are

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carried out on animals. The second livestock. Prohibited procedure

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involves interference of the tissues and bone structure of an

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animal. To insure the procedures that are commonly undertaken by lay

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permanent -- persons remained legal, the regulations set out the

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procedures and which may be carried out by the lay person. The

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regulation will provide clarity by listing all those procedures are

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acceptable for a lay person to perform and also provide clarity

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Stephen, there was some housekeeping going on in the

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Chamber. Going back to an issue we saw last week, just interested to

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find out about the badger baiting and what sort of response have you

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had? There's been a massive response to the work we did with

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the BBC last week. Our phones have rung off the hook. People who have

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not spoken to the USPCA for years are keen to tell us what they have

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seen in the countryside and where they have seen it. Interesting news

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from Wales this afternoon on this ongoing debate about the badger

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cull? The news out of Wales late this afternoon - I was on my way

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here when I was text - the Welsh Assembly have decided to cancel the

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plan cull of badgers. They have now decided they are not going to do it.

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They are based that on scientific information. As a welfare

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organisation, we would welcome that. Thank you. It's 25 years since the

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first IVF baby was born here in Northern Ireland. It was timely,

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therefore, for members to discuss the perceived failings of the

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Health Service to deliver fertility treatment. They're calling on the

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Health Minister to fund three full cycles of IVF for couples who can't

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conceive, as opposed to the current one cycle. Here's the Health

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Committee Chair, Sue Ramsey, outlining the problem. We should be

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providing a cycle. The only chance to try again is to go privately.

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Going privately will cost people in and around �4,000. If it doesn't

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work, and then they try a third cycle, that is another �4,000. So

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in total, couples could find themselves in and around �8,000 in

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debt, at a time when you are trying for a baby, this can create more

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stress at a very emotional time for couples. What happens in practice

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here is the couples go for Health Service treatment and receive one

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fresh cycle of IVF. If it doesn't result in a pregnancy, then that is

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it in terms of treatment available to them. However, half of the

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couple also have generated frozen embryos. -- couples will have

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generated frozen embrie owes. The only way they can use -- embryos.

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The only way they can use these is to pay to have them transferred. We

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are on tricky moral ground here. We are creating embryos for people in

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the Health Service as part of the public-funded treatment. In the

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case of any frozen embryos being available, we are only allowing

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them to be transferred on the private sector. It was a short

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debate with little dissent, however Jim Allister did raise three points

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he wished to see clarified. first pertains to the fact as part

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of the process ultimately there is destruction of unused embryos. An

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embryo is biologically a human embryo, is a living human being at

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the earliest stage of its development. Of course it needs -

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it is dependent upon the mother to give it nurture and life, but

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genetically it is a distinct organism different from both the

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egg and the sperm. The second issue that I would have concerns about is

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the development of process, particularly in the United States,

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of sex selection within IVF treatment where you have that

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particular dimension. The Minister maybe can tell us how far, if at

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all, that is permitted within Northern Ireland's arrangements.

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The third issue which does concern me is something not referred to in

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the NICE guidelines, is the question of the use or abuse of IVF

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treatment by lesbian couples. response, the Minister, Edwin Poots,

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made it clear the guidelines for embryo storage and on sex selection

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were laid down by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology

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Authority and that he was personally opposed to sex selection.

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On same-sex couples he said the treatment was available to all

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eligible couples. We've heard many of the arguments for and against

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the plastic bag levy, environmental and economic, but what about health

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and safety? The Environment Committee has been hearing expert

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evidence on that topic and we'll hear more in a minute. But we start

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our look at the work of the committees with health, where

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members were hearing evidence on a planned private psychiatric

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hospital. Am I right in thinking - this new facility will not be

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subject to the Freedom of Information Act, unlike a Trust

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facility? Is that not an immediate impediment? Does that mean for

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instance if we were to ask a question about provision, that we

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would get a response saying, "This is a private company, it is none of

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our business." Will that cause some unease? There will be a requirement,

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registration includes a requirement - sorry, a requirement on a private

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health facility to provide the Department with such reports it

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requires for the purpose of its operation under the mental health

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order. Failure to provide that information will constitute an

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offence. Would that be the same as if the information had been

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available for a state-run institution? The same information

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will be provided by this facility each time someone is detained there,

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so a Freedom of Information will apply and any Trust who place

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people in this. As Christine has already said, Article 93-E provides

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that the Department and other bodies can obtain what information

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they want from a private organisation and that organisation

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must provide it because it is an offence not to do so. I understand.

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But does that mean it is available to the public under the normal way

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under FOI? We have the information from the private company so we

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can't divulge that to you? It would be my view that if the Department

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holds information about a private facility, we would be required to

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provide it. We do support the work that's been done on environmental

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issues in every way. However, we have a serious concern about the

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introduction of this charge because we see this as a potential food

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safety issue. We are concerned about the risk of cross-

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contamination and because of that risk, we sat down with our members

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and discussed it and decided we would get independent research

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carried out to establish whether there was a risk of cross-

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contamination, whether consumers would be put at risk of consuming

:18:39.:18:45.

food that had been put into multi- use bags and we engaged Professor

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McDowell on my right to carry out that research on our behalf. Just

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looking at the science, it is clear there is a potential significant

:18:56.:19:01.

risk of bacterial cross- contamination in relation to bags

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:19:11.:19:13.

to carry hot-food items. The scientific evidence demonstrates

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that contact with the surface of a previously-used bag is likely to

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lead to the transfer of bacteria on ready-to-eat foods. Food can carry

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potentially dangerous bacteria but these are killed by standard

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cooking processes either inside or outside the home. Bacteria can

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recontaminate food after cooking. There is nothing to stop them

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getting into people and causing serious disease. Looking at the

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Welfare Bill, do you see a point over the next week or so that you

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will get clarification on what is going to happen? Or will it be put

:19:50.:19:55.

into practice and then it will be solved one way or the other? I know

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there are meetings scheduled over the next ten or 11 days. We think

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it is very, very late in the day for some of these important issues

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to be left this close to the deadline to be resolved. Other

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issues we have with the Bill are the recruitment process is now over.

:20:11.:20:16.

The new Animal Welfare Officers have been recruited. We are

:20:16.:20:21.

disappointed those people aren't from a welfare background. Animal

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welfare and animal control are two different tasks. As we saw in the

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Dogs Order, controlling dogs and ensuring for their welfare were two

:20:30.:20:35.

separate things. We need to be very sure that the legislation is being

:20:35.:20:39.

brought in and is going to be implemented for the animals'

:20:39.:20:44.

benefit, not for the Government's. Thanks very much. It was an economy

:20:44.:20:47.

and finance double header for the second half of Question Time. Golf

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tourism, hurling tourism, what could be next? Here's the Economy

:20:50.:20:52.

Minister, Arlene Foster, on the economic boost the Irish Open Golf

:20:52.:20:59.

Championship at Royal Portrush will bring. Let's hope she turns up at

:20:59.:21:06.

the right course! We haven't staged an event such as this for nearly 60

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years, so we, as a Department, are working very much in partnership

:21:11.:21:20.

with our colleagues at Royal County - that is the wrong place! The

:21:20.:21:26.

Portrush Golf Club and the council and with other partners in DRD

:21:26.:21:31.

because we realise that we need to have a delivery structure in place

:21:31.:21:35.

to ensure the effective co- ordination across all of the

:21:35.:21:41.

Departments and all of the local governments. Would the Minister

:21:41.:21:45.

agree that we should look at promoting GAA tourism in particular

:21:45.:21:51.

hurling tourism given we have some of the best hurling teams in the

:21:51.:22:01.
:22:01.:22:02.

world in North Antrim? Order. This is certainly very focused on golf!

:22:02.:22:06.

LAUGHTER Order. Access to finance is a huge issue. This member wanted

:22:06.:22:11.

to know had all avenues been explored. Can I ask whether she

:22:11.:22:14.

feels that the introduction of a credit review office or agency

:22:15.:22:18.

which would give small businesses an opportunity to appeal

:22:18.:22:22.

unsuccessful loan applications would prove a beneficial aspect of

:22:22.:22:26.

getting businesses more access to finance? As I understand it, that

:22:26.:22:31.

is a scheme that works in the Republic of Ireland. I think the

:22:31.:22:35.

junior minister has looked at this issue in the context of the

:22:35.:22:40.

economic sub-group. It is a matter we are discussing at that sub-

:22:40.:22:45.

committee. At last, a helping hand for retailers. Together with

:22:45.:22:48.

executive colleagues, I propose to carry out a comprehensive

:22:48.:22:53.

consultation with the independent retail sector to identify areas of

:22:53.:22:56.

difficulty and develop a co- ordinated approach to helping the

:22:56.:23:04.

sector overcome these. At present, a range of advisory support to

:23:04.:23:11.

business is provided, including ICT advice. Retail businesses will also

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be able to benefit from the new �5 million loans fund through which

:23:20.:23:24.

three to five year unsecured loans will be available to viable

:23:24.:23:30.

businesses in all sectors. On to finance questions, and the equal

:23:30.:23:40.
:23:40.:23:40.

pay issue. Could I ask the Minister why are PSNI staff excluded from

:23:40.:23:44.

the settlement and yet Policing Board staff are included in the

:23:44.:23:49.

settlement? Well, if I could deal with the Policing Board staff

:23:49.:23:54.

first? The Policing Board staff were not entitled to the lump sum

:23:54.:24:02.

payments. The Policing Board staff were paid in error based on

:24:02.:24:07.

incomplete information. That information later came to light.

:24:08.:24:12.

But the payments had already been made to the staff. No attempt has

:24:12.:24:17.

been made by the Policing Board to recoup that money. So let's make it

:24:17.:24:21.

something quite clear here. That payment was paid in error. There

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was no entitlement there. The Policing Board did not present all

:24:25.:24:28.

of the information at the time. Therefore, the payment was made. As

:24:28.:24:38.
:24:38.:24:38.

far as the PSNI staff are concerned, the agreement that was negotiated

:24:38.:24:46.

was negotiated by Northern Ireland civil service staff, was agreed and

:24:46.:24:50.

it was only for Northern Ireland civil service staff. If the police

:24:50.:24:56.

and the police do have money for the equal pay claim, that money was

:24:56.:25:00.

negotiated and sits in the police budget at present, but the Police

:25:00.:25:04.

Service of Northern Ireland, who are the employers and who have the

:25:04.:25:11.

pay delegation have to show that there is an equal pay entitlement.

:25:11.:25:14.

The Green Party's Stephen Agnew has a bee in his bonnet about the new

:25:14.:25:17.

golf course resort near the Giant's Causeway. Mark Devenport can

:25:17.:25:20.

explain - along with the latest on the Ulster Unionist leadership

:25:20.:25:27.

campaign. Mike Nesbitt didn't make any official statement today. But

:25:27.:25:32.

it did come up in the course of a question that he was trying to ask

:25:32.:25:42.
:25:42.:25:43.

to the Agriculture Minister. Mike Nesbitt dealt with it like this.

:25:43.:25:48.

they call me leader? Question four, Mr Speaker.

:25:48.:25:54.

Not yet! And Mark, the other leadership contender had some

:25:54.:25:58.

interesting thoughts in the newsletter today? Yes, he said that

:25:58.:26:05.

if he became leader, he would expel David McNarry from the party. He is

:26:05.:26:08.

involved in disciplinary action which is all to do with newspaper

:26:08.:26:13.

reports and talks between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP. This

:26:13.:26:22.

is what he had to say. I just think that it's run far too long and we

:26:22.:26:28.

need to bring it to a close. McNarry said he intended to clear

:26:28.:26:34.

his name in the disciplinary proceedings and he said that

:26:34.:26:38.

statement said more about the depth of his ability to unite the party

:26:38.:26:44.

than anything else. An interesting question to the Environment

:26:44.:26:48.

Minister? This is in relation to the Giant's Causeway golfing resort

:26:48.:26:55.

which was announced with so much fanfare and the Environment

:26:55.:27:00.

Minister decided that financial and tourist considerations would

:27:00.:27:10.
:27:10.:27:10.

outweigh any environmental concerns. He's raised a question about a bee

:27:10.:27:18.

that has been seen up around that area in the dunes near Giants

:27:18.:27:22.

Causeway. Stephen Agnew is concerned lest it might be affected

:27:22.:27:30.

by this and wanted to know whether UNESCO had been informed. A

:27:30.:27:34.

conservation report is on its way but he repeats in this instance, he

:27:34.:27:37.

felt there were circumstances which outweighed the environmental

:27:37.:27:40.

concerns to press ahead. We will have to see what happens to the bee,

:27:40.:27:46.

whether it turns out to be a fly in the golfing ointment! If some of

:27:46.:27:49.

our MLAs looked a bit jaded this afternoon, it's because they ran

:27:49.:27:52.

the mile up the road to Parliament Buildings for Sport Relief at

:27:52.:27:54.

lunchtime. The DUP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance took part

:27:54.:27:57.

along with the SDLP who took silver and gold, with Conall McDevitt and

:27:57.:28:00.

his colleague Mark Durkan across the finish line well before

:28:00.:28:05.

everyone else. Mervyn Storey gets a special mention though for running

:28:05.:28:09.

the mile in his suit - and as for our political correspondent Gareth

:28:09.:28:19.
:28:19.:28:20.

Gordon - well the pictures speak for themselves really. It is a

:28:20.:28:23.

great opportunity to raise awareness and money for a good

:28:23.:28:28.

cause and to have a bit of fun and exercise at the same time! It's

:28:28.:28:30.

good that, as public representatives, we are taking part

:28:31.:28:35.

in such things and raising the profile of causes such as Sport

:28:35.:28:39.

Relief. You are getting a bit of name for yourself with all this

:28:39.:28:45.

sporting stuff after your boxing? I'm not a good sportsman! It is a

:28:45.:28:51.

fun way to highlight a good cause. It's a good charity to back. Also,

:28:51.:28:55.

some much-needed exercise. It is a great opportunity to support a very

:28:55.:28:58.

worthwhile cause. Obviously, it is great to get out in the fresh air.

:28:58.:29:05.

It is a break to get some exercise. It is fantastic. Well done to

:29:05.:29:10.

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.


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