20/03/2012 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. They say while the cat is away the


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


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


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


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


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


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


different race that had our MLAs out of the chamber.


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


pot of the USPCA. New and a full welfare legislation


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


provide protection for pets, working animals and livestock but


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


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


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


clarified where the animals are going. Rescued animals will be


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


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


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


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


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


with regards to the legislation and the budgetary side of this


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


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


satisfied that this legislation will be enforced properly and the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


hear questions to the employment and learning Minister, but first


here is the agricultural Minister being asked about reform to the


single farm repayment scheme. new payment system due to its


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


department over all departments has the most engagement in European


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


University report was keep in moving forward. On to employment


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


retraining outgoing present offenders. I recognise this is a


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


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


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


and the Careers Service of by department is very much available


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


strongly recommend anyone in that circumstance to make contact with


the careers service through their local jobs and benefits office and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


difference in the rate of pay between the public and private


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


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


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


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


electricians because they were going to the private sector because


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


economically sensible policy and the Government will be forced to


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


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


because to have separate pay negotiations here in Northern


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


infrastructure for those negotiations which would have been


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


make the adjustment by negotiating lower wages with the public sector


employees. MLAs voted through two motions on


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


carried out on animals. The second livestock. Prohibited procedure


involves interference of the tissues and bone structure of an


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


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


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


regulation will provide clarity by listing all those procedures are


acceptable for a lay person to perform and also provide clarity


Stephen, there was some housekeeping going on in the


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


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


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


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


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


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


from Wales this afternoon on this ongoing debate about the badger


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


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


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


They are based that on scientific information. As a welfare


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


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


therefore, for members to discuss the perceived failings of the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


genetically it is a distinct organism different from both the


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


the development of process, particularly in the United States,


of sex selection within IVF treatment where you have that


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


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


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


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


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


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


were laid down by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology


Authority and that he was personally opposed to sex selection.


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


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


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


and safety? The Environment Committee has been hearing expert


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


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


members were hearing evidence on a planned private psychiatric


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


subject to the Freedom of Information Act, unlike a Trust


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


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


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


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


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


health facility to provide the Department with such reports it


requires for the purpose of its operation under the mental health


order. Failure to provide that information will constitute an


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


available for a state-run institution? The same information


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


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


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


that the Department and other bodies can obtain what information


they want from a private organisation and that organisation


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


and discussed it and decided we would get independent research


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


contamination, whether consumers would be put at risk of consuming


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


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


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


risk of bacterial cross- contamination in relation to bags


to carry hot-food items. The scientific evidence demonstrates


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


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


potentially dangerous bacteria but these are killed by standard


cooking processes either inside or outside the home. Bacteria can


recontaminate food after cooking. There is nothing to stop them


getting into people and causing serious disease. Looking at the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The new Animal Welfare Officers have been recruited. We are


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


to ensure the effective co- ordination across all of the


Departments and all of the local governments. Would the Minister


agree that we should look at promoting GAA tourism in particular


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


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


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


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


feels that the introduction of a credit review office or agency


which would give small businesses an opportunity to appeal


unsuccessful loan applications would prove a beneficial aspect of


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


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


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


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


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


executive colleagues, I propose to carry out a comprehensive


consultation with the independent retail sector to identify areas of


difficulty and develop a co- ordinated approach to helping the


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


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


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


three to five year unsecured loans will be available to viable


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


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


the settlement and yet Policing Board staff are included in the


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


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


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


incomplete information. That information later came to light.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


explain - along with the latest on the Ulster Unionist leadership


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


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


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


they call me leader? Question four, Mr Speaker.


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


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


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


involved in disciplinary action which is all to do with newspaper


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


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


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


his name in the disciplinary proceedings and he said that


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


than anything else. An interesting question to the Environment


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


which was announced with so much fanfare and the Environment


Minister decided that financial and tourist considerations would


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


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


Causeway. Stephen Agnew is concerned lest it might be affected


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


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


felt there were circumstances which outweighed the environmental


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


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


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


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


lunchtime. The DUP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance took part


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


his colleague Mark Durkan across the finish line well before


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


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


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


great opportunity to raise awareness and money for a good


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


good that, as public representatives, we are taking part


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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