21/01/2014 Stormont Today


21/01/2014

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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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme: The

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Finance Minister talks tough to Sinn Fein on welfare reform.

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The move forward on the basis on a package of measures that will take

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away some of the worst effects that people will suffer. Let him think

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about the effect he has having right now.

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Requests from the Speaker's chair meet with a frosty response during

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Question Time. Could I have a question please shortly all we will

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move on. I will set down. I do not like where you are doing this. --

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sit down. And I'm joined by the Newsletter's

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political correspondent, Sam McBride.

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Money was top of the agenda at Stormont today as the Finance

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Minister divvied up his loose change. The health department was

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the big winner, with an extra ?30 million being allocated to help deal

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with winter pressures. There was also extra money for improvement of

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the road network and the expansion of the University of Ulster in

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Belfast. But it was welfare reform, or rather the lack of it, that was

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first up. Before I go on the allocations made, I returned to the

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welfare reform issue. I am hugely disappointed that no progress has

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been made on this. The executive had no option but to set aside ?50

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million to cover the cost of financial penalties for the

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remaining three months of this financial year. This in effect as

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one executive colleague described it is dead money, returning to the

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Treasury, which is now unable to be spent on services that benefit us.

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Those who resist the inevitability of welfare reform can answer why our

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health budget, our roads budget or our schools budget has to lose out

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this year and potentially next year as well. The -- the Department of

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Health will receive an allocation of ?30 million towards key health care

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pressures. Whilst there are further significant pressures, I have made

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it clear to the health Minister that I expect his department to contain

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the remaining costs. That said, this allocation will help to alleviate

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the significant front line pressures that have emerged during 2013, 2014.

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It will pray a critical role -- play a critical role -- in those issues

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affecting patients and the elderly population, and benefit the large

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number of patients and service users. The Department for reach

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another look -- development -- regional development was allocated

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money to maintain our road network and improve local bus stations. The

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Department for agriculture will receive ?3 million for expenditure

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disallowed under the current Common Agricultural Policy. The executive

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agreed a further ?3.3 million under the rule development programme. The

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executive agreed to provide capital thundering to the University of

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Ulster through a system financing their greater Belfast development

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scheme. -- funding. It is my party's view that in terms of the

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?15 million of welfare money the Minister refers to, but is not dead

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money, that is still in the black -- pockets of many low incomes -- low

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income people, and is more likely to be spent, so that money is not dead

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money, but money that is quite important to the local economy. The

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reality of what we have had to do today in making provision of ?50

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million, which will rise to ?200 million, is to deny that money from

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some of the very same people the member tries to speak very fondly

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about. By taking ?50 million this year away from expenditure into

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health, that we can put into education and elsewhere, is denying

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some of the very same vulnerable people key services that they

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require on Ady today basis. So whenever the member and his

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colleagues deny the inevitability of moving forward, they move forward on

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the basis of a package of measures that will take away some of the

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worst effects that vulnerable people will suffer. Let him think about the

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effect he is having not in the future, but right now. I will be

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interested in the Minister's understanding of what is and is not

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happening at the Maze site and what -- and the reasons why. What goes on

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at the Maze site is not a direct responsibility of my department, I

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have to deal with as I have in this set of circumstances. The reality of

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no progress on a particular project. That is a question better

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put to those who are responsible, that being the first Minister and

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Deputy first Minister. It is unfortunate that we are not able to

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progress with the full potential of the development of that site. I

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appreciate there are huge sensitivities around certain aspects

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of that area, but I think the member I am sure would agree with me that

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beyond one particular project earmarked for that site, there is

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huge economic and social benefit for Northern Ireland.

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Simon Hamilton. I'm joined by the Newsletter's political

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correspondent, Sam McBride. Failure to deal with the issue of welfare

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reform remains a huge issue, and the costs of that as the months unfold

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were laid before the house today. Yes, it is about ?5 million on

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month, and that figure was first raised last summer. It was to try to

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joke people into some sort of sense of urgency about this issue. --

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jolt. Now we are getting close to where the cuts are going to come,

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perhaps more so. But I suppose ?5 million is a substantial sum of

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money, and it will necessitate cuts in other areas, but in the grand

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scheme of things in our budget of many billions of pounds, it it is

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for a few months I think we can certainly live with that, and after

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the election I think it would be used to compromise on this issue.

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You can understand the logic of that if it is for a few months, but Simon

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Hamilton made it clear that it becomes very expensive. ?200 million

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perhaps in two years' time. There was a lot said today about the extra

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?30 million for health, it is not long before it matches up.

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Absolutely. I think ?3 million to health was pretty significant in the

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context of what was being divided up, but immigrant scheme of things

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it is not massive. It is going to be interesting to see whether Simon

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Hamilton as a massively different personality to his predecessor is

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able to make process -- progress in this area. If he had been there

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today I think he would have been confrontational about this. He would

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have been spoiling for a fight perhaps with some of those he thinks

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are holding this up. Simon Hamilton's approach is more of

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gentle persuasion. The Finance Minister was back on his

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feet facing questions from the floor in the afternoon. The behaviour of

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banks and addressing income inequality were in his in-tray, as

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well as more on welfare reform and the penalties handed down by the

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Treasury. I met with the Chief Secretary to

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the Treasury on 18th November, where he reinforced his intention to

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enforce penalties should the Northern Ireland Executive and this

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Assembly not progress the welfare reform bill by January 2014. As the

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member we know from the January statement earlier, I have had to

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make a provision of ?50 million for penalties we will incur this year.

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The Northern Ireland welfare reform bill remains stalled, and Mini to

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progress it as a matter of urgency to avoid any further fines. -- we

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need to progress in. I am indebted to the Minister for his answer. I

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did hear what I thought was a Mini forewarning about the rolling on of

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debts or call ups by the Treasury which could end up in ?200 million

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if we do not use something about this.

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However, since April 20 -- 2007, prices have risen but 18%... Can we

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have a question, please? Could we have a question, please?

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Can I repeat where I was, in the middle of a question? Could I have a

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question or we will move on. I tell you what, I will sit down. I do not

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like the way you are doing this. What discussions has he had locally

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with the Ulster bank, the RBS and the appropriate Treasury Minister to

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ascertain what can be done to prevent more companies being forced

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out of business by the seizing of assets. Evidence albeit anecdotal

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coming forward from various companies of what they might

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describe as sharp practice from some of the banks who were seizing the

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assets, putting them out of business in order to repair their own balance

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sheet. I would add that that is anecdotal, we get some of that

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evidence coming through the Department, it is hard to assess

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whether it is true or accurate because we do not have a full view

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of everything. Lawrence Tomlinson carried out a review on behalf of

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the business secretary Vince Cable, it's happens am meeting with him

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tomorrow. -- it so happens. Since his report was published, we have

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had some people raising some particular concerns about the

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practice the banks have with them. I have passed that along, and there

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are various enquiries following on from Lawrence Tomlinson's report,

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and I will engage tomorrow on how we can feed any Northern Ireland

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evidence into that. If individual members have evidence of sharp

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practice, I am more than happy to channel but on anonymously through

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the appropriate authorities. How does the Minister proposed to

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address the challenges of income and equality? This is a problem that

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Northern Ireland has faced for a number of years, and will not be

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simply or easily resolved by me or anybody within the executive. Most

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economists talk about an imbalance between Great Britain -- the rest of

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the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. If you go south of the

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border you would see incomes and disposable household income is

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higher must say, than in Dublin and the West of Ireland or Donegal or

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somewhere like that. It is not an easy thing to address, but this is

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where the executive's economic strategy comes into play, focusing

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not just where -- on why it is important to get jobs into our

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economy, and I welcome the significant progress made by the

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jobs fund that the economy Minister announced yesterday. But we need to

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continue to pursue trying to attract new businesses into Northern

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Ireland, existing businesses, to encourage them to move into sectors

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where the average wage is higher. Simon Hamilton. The Environment

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Minister Mark H Durkan, also faced questions today and the continuing

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delay in the publication of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan

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dominated proceedings. Mr Durkan told the Assembly that the

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construction industry and many other businesses depend on getting the

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area plan up and running. The planning appeals commission

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completed an independent public inquiry into the draft Belfast

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Metropolitan Area Plan in 2008 and sent its report in stages. My

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predecessor published all these reports on the draft plan in June,

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2012. My department has now completed its scrutiny of these

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reports and all other material considerations and has finalised the

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draft plan for publication. My department submitted the map to the

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Department for regional development for assessment of a planned against

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their strategy 35 and I can confirm the plan was awarded a certificate

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of general conformity on the 21st of October last year. I recognise the

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importance of this plan for future development the region and the need

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to ensure it is adopted and published in its final form as soon

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as possible. I have sought the agreement of my ministerial

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colleagues and my department now adopts and publishes the plan. Has

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the Attorney General advised the Minister that the Belfast

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Metropolitan Area Plan is a crosscutting issue and would require

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executive approval? I am aware of the view that the map is a

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crosscutting policy issue and therefore the view that it does need

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executive approval. I have outlined in my initial answer that I have

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sought the approval of my ministerial colleagues to proceed

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with publication, particularly given uncertainty that the delay on

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publication is causing outside that developers, businesses and so many

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others. What abuse have been expressed by the business community

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in respect of the adoption of the plan Which? what abuse have been

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expressed by the business community in respect of the adoption of the

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plan? Some have grave concerns over the continued delay. Many

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house-builders see the adoption of it as critical to the recovery in

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their sector to the workforce can only be sustained by the continuous

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supply of planning approvals. A substantial number within the

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business community, including builders, have participated in the

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planning process since its initiation and it is no exaggeration

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to say that millions of pounds have been invested by those participating

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in the public inquiry, engaging specialist consultants and legal

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advisers, undertaking specialist studies and submitting evidence to

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the inquiry in order to secure the zoning of land for housing and

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employment. Whilst he released by my predecessor of the report -- whilst

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the release of my predecessor of the report, that has provided some

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assurance, but many builders supported by their banks through the

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most severe recession in living memory are now under severe pressure

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from those banks to deliver on these sites, to recover significant sums

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invested in the process. I believe we have a duty of care to those

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people and therefore that is why I am determined that it should be

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published as soon as possible. Mark H Durkan. Sinn Fein has called on

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the environment minister to bring forward changes to the law to help

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rural dwellers. It is difficult for non-farmers living in the

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countryside to get planning permission for new houses. What are

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your issues surrounding current planning policy Western Mark --

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current planning policy? There is some provision. If a young person in

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a rural area at this time beyond the development limits of a village or

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town wanted to build a bungalow, a single dwelling in the countryside,

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it is almost impossible. They don't even apply nowadays. I was a

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councillor between 2000 and 2010 and I attended hundreds of site meetings

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where young people were applying for a single House in the country and

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they either got it or did not get it but now they do not apply. If every

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young couple in the countryside wanted to build an additional

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bungalow, you could not cope with the demand. There have to be

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restrictions for that reason. I accept that. I am not for unfettered

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free for all bungalow blight. Think about it. If a site in the

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countryside can be integrated with vegetation, vegetation around the

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House, or arising landform behind it, if you can achieve... If you can

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address road safety concerns... Sometimes there is such a thing in

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the country as a good side. At the minute, it is almost as if they are

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all bad. You must be talking about relatively small numbers. Most land

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in the countryside is owned by farmers and limited the element is

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allowed on agricultural land. The previous planning legislation has

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been relaxed and a lot of people see it as sensible progress. Most people

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who live in a single House in the countryside would not have room for

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a site for an additional House. What is rural? Anything in the North

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outside Belfast and Derry is rural. There is a perception in Belfast if

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you are from outside of fast that you are a farmer. You might not be.

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You could be a plumber, a childcare worker, solicitor. You are not

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likely to be a landowner. Very often a family could give to a family

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member smallholding site and it can be built upon. I have a good memory

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of a particular site in my time as a councillor on the mountain and I

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remember a man had gifted a sight to his daughter. In the background was

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these overwhelming wind farms and yet the girl in question was not

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being allowed... She was a teacher and she was not going allowed a

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single dwelling in the countryside. Integration could be achieved.

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Nowadays there is a presumption against of element in the

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countryside and I am saying some sites are good sites. I want to open

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up possibilities for some young people in Australia at this time who

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have emigrated for work I want them to come home and live where they are

:20:08.:20:12.

from. There was an SDLP amendment and you backed it. Is there a way

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forward that everyone can agree on? There is. We were pleased to accept

:20:18.:20:23.

the amendment. We put on the motion but we were happy to accept the

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amendment. In the spirit of things today, we knew it was more likely to

:20:28.:20:36.

achieve maximum consensus. We want to open up greater opportunities for

:20:37.:20:39.

people to build in the countryside. Thank you very much. The culture

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minister reported back to the assembly on recent meetings with the

:20:45.:20:48.

ministerial Council today and plans to extend the island's canal

:20:49.:20:53.

network. Planning approval has now been

:20:54.:20:56.

received regarding the project to reopen the canal. Does the Minister

:20:57.:21:05.

have a definite time frame for that to happen?

:21:06.:21:16.

I thank him for his ongoing interest. As I have stated

:21:17.:21:20.

previously, given the fact that this is a very significant project for

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both governments, a certain timeline has to be considered which is based

:21:28.:21:30.

upon the availability of funding. There are certainly options around

:21:31.:21:37.

funding availability... It has dictated the timeline. For example,

:21:38.:21:39.

a single design and construction contract can take up to two years.

:21:40.:21:46.

Three or four smaller contracts spread over a period of three to

:21:47.:21:51.

five years is an option as well as a large number of small contracts of

:21:52.:21:59.

over a period of six to eight years. Looking at strategic direction for

:22:00.:22:03.

waterways and the need to explore and optimise opportunities to earn

:22:04.:22:08.

income... I also note and welcome the adoption of three new

:22:09.:22:13.

publications. Does she believe that those initiatives have been

:22:14.:22:19.

successful in terms of uptake as far as the number of users on the canal

:22:20.:22:23.

is concerned? What effect has that had in 2013 on the increased

:22:24.:22:34.

earnings? Thank you. I think him for his question -- I thank him for his

:22:35.:22:40.

question. It has been very significant work, and I want to use

:22:41.:22:48.

this opportunity to congratulate the partners as well. The waterways

:22:49.:22:53.

Ireland does not have enough money, like many of our bodies, it does not

:22:54.:22:59.

have enough money to meet the things it wants to do. But one thing about

:23:00.:23:04.

these publications, it reflected the opportunities for people who live

:23:05.:23:07.

and work on the waterways to make income. That is to be welcomed. I

:23:08.:23:12.

would like to see that developed to ensure that not only is it

:23:13.:23:16.

maintained but that they have additional earnings and additional

:23:17.:23:19.

employment opportunities for the years ahead. Party leaders met again

:23:20.:23:24.

this afternoon to discuss draft seven of the Richard Haass

:23:25.:23:30.

proposals. One of the leaders ventured out to talk to the press

:23:31.:23:33.

afterwards. He was heartened by the meeting. Another very useful

:23:34.:23:37.

meeting. Two hours of intense discussions. I am heartened. We are

:23:38.:23:46.

all coming from different positions. We all have different political

:23:47.:23:50.

pressures on us and we have different needs. But I feel we fully

:23:51.:23:56.

recognise the gaps are there. We recognise the difficulties. There is

:23:57.:24:01.

the space for us to get a bridge over the difficulties, I have no

:24:02.:24:03.

doubt. If I did not believe they have the will to do a deal and I

:24:04.:24:08.

would not be wasting time. I believe I have trust and confidence in other

:24:09.:24:12.

political leaders and I believe that we can do a deal. We are here as the

:24:13.:24:18.

SDLP looking quite simply to make progress on the stuff that was

:24:19.:24:21.

broadly agreed in the Richard Haass progress. A lot was agreed there. We

:24:22.:24:27.

want to see the legislation moving, or at least the beginnings laid. We

:24:28.:24:36.

want to see resolution. The SDLP leader. Sam McBride has rejoined me.

:24:37.:24:43.

An optimistic note. It is interesting that nobody else was

:24:44.:24:47.

prepared to come out and talk to us. Martin McGuinness obviously came out

:24:48.:24:52.

and did a lot of talking last week and that did not advance the process

:24:53.:24:56.

even though it was interesting for journalists and people trying to

:24:57.:24:59.

work out what is going on behind the scenes. I think Alistair MacDonald

:25:00.:25:02.

was very optimistic but the still be have been relentlessly optimistic

:25:03.:25:06.

throughout the entire process and it has not got us very far. At various

:25:07.:25:11.

points, other people have also suggested we on the cost of

:25:12.:25:18.

something. I do not think there is massive belief that prior to an

:25:19.:25:22.

election there would be a breakthrough -- other people have

:25:23.:25:27.

suggested we are on the cusp of something. No one is suggesting

:25:28.:25:34.

there were about to change their position. It seems the process is

:25:35.:25:37.

beginning to take shape. Next week's talks will be expanded to a

:25:38.:25:43.

party leader plus another colleague plus a note taker. Potentially 15

:25:44.:25:48.

people in the room next Tuesday afternoon. Depending on how you look

:25:49.:25:52.

at it, that is either good or bad. I am not sure it will increase the

:25:53.:25:58.

chances of consensus. The parties will be reluctant, particularly

:25:59.:26:01.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, they will be reluctant

:26:02.:26:06.

to admit it has failed. It will probably drag on. I do not think

:26:07.:26:11.

there is any real suggestion that on the key issues that are dividing the

:26:12.:26:14.

parties that they are prepared to compromise this close to an

:26:15.:26:18.

election. Martin McGuinness has said in the past, we are not getting into

:26:19.:26:22.

when negotiating process and this will be kept at leaders level. Now

:26:23.:26:26.

it is being extended. Alistair MacDonald today knows, is

:26:27.:26:30.

interestingly used the term negotiations -- Alasdair McDonnell

:26:31.:26:36.

today used the term negotiations. It may have is been significant. It may

:26:37.:26:43.

have been a slip of the tongue. Who knows. It begs the question of after

:26:44.:26:49.

months of going through these issues, why would they suddenly now

:26:50.:26:52.

without the outside help of Dr Richard Haass be able to bridge the

:26:53.:26:59.

gap that Alasdair McDonnell says still exists? What is your view on

:27:00.:27:05.

the involvement of the two governments and the Americans?

:27:06.:27:09.

Alasdair McDonnell would say that the Americans are determined it

:27:10.:27:13.

should we pushed forward. It is very counter-productive for Martin

:27:14.:27:22.

McGuinness and other people to quietly suggest that the Americans

:27:23.:27:26.

are upping the anti-on this issue and might not invite our leaders out

:27:27.:27:32.

to Washington for St Patrick's Day. I do not think that outside pressure

:27:33.:27:36.

will cause great concern. There will be a little bit of embarrassment,

:27:37.:27:42.

but it is not going to win them votes and that is what they are

:27:43.:27:44.

thinking about at this point. The other big story of the week, of the

:27:45.:27:51.

fortnight really, the interview with Ian Paisley. Is it done and dusted?

:27:52.:27:56.

Can the DP move onto the next stage of politics in Northern Ireland --

:27:57.:28:06.

VDU P. It is certainly not done and dusted. What came out last night and

:28:07.:28:10.

the massive audience that saw it, I just do not think it will be raised

:28:11.:28:14.

from people 's memories for quite some time. It has blown apart the

:28:15.:28:19.

idea of something that was united behind the scenes. But the reaction

:28:20.:28:23.

has been really pretty negative towards Ian Paisley insofar as there

:28:24.:28:30.

has been reaction. There is still a son -- a stunned silence. A lot of

:28:31.:28:36.

sadness. They cannot believe what he has said and how he has said it.

:28:37.:28:42.

Fascinating situation. Thank you very much for joining us as ever.

:28:43.:28:47.

That is it that night. Don't forget to join me on Thursday. Until then,

:28:48.:28:52.

from everyone in the team, good night.

:28:53.:28:59.

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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