21/11/2011 Stormont Today


21/11/2011

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. Welcome to Stormont Today. While phone hacking is dominating

:00:29.:00:34.

the news again with a movie star ranting against the tabloids, life

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is equally gripping up here on the hill.

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Jim Allister showed off his softer side. It was in the Queen's library

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I first asked my wife to go out with me. It was the turn of the

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SDLP to play bad cop. Here we are, speaking on cleebing rivers when

:01:01.:01:11.
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there are more -- cleaning rivers Money and how to make more of it is

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the driving force behind the executive's programme for

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Government. Would you give the executive a loan,

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based on their programme for Government? There is a dispute in

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terms of the success of the last one, was it 50 or two-thirds of the

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programme. It was delivered. I might charge a high interest rate

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for that. It is risky. Speaking of interest rates, one of their big

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pledges is to have this loan, this money available to small and

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medium-sized businesses. Of course the banks have had a particularly

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hard time, justifiably so many would say. This is the Government's

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answer then, to take business away from the banks? We will see how it

:02:01.:02:09.

works. I with speak as someone from a bank who has not taken any

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taxpayers' money. It is risky out there. We have to be very

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responsive to our shareholders in terms of how we lend. Obviously the

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Government will see the dilemma for us. They will have to be cautious

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with the taxpayers' money and the type of loans they make. Could you

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do more though? Could the banks do more to help our smaller

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businesses? Certainly we have a programme, Let's Talk Business,

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which the bank has run for a time now.Vy been part of that myself,

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looking for good business propositions. That is our own bank

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at the moment and how we try and bring things forward. You have to

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recognise that the business climate is difficult. There is high

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uncertainty out there. The global, the national environment. Risk is

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high. There is high uncertainty. More to talk about later in the

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programme. Stay with us. Academic underachievement among working

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class boys dominated questions to the Education Minister this

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afternoon. Before him the Agriculture Minister was asked

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about recent poor weather and the effects it has had on the potato

:03:17.:03:27.
:03:27.:03:31.

crop. That is where we start with Mr McAllistte,.

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- McCallister. Our department likes to call itself

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a real champion. We need to see action. Could she detail why she

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accepts a case for flooding in urban areas, but not in rural areas,

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particularly in relation to potato farmers. I think I am a rural

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champion. I will work with the farming community to do all I can.

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We have to be very careful. When it comes to flooding people's homes,

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that's one issue. Then, people have their crop damaged, damage to their

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business, effectively is a separate issue. You cannot say one is more

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deserving than other. Some issues we need to make sure is that

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farmers have insurance to cover this event. I am happy to work with

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farmers in terms of advice in terms farmers in terms of advice in terms

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of what my department can do. Given much of the crop has been

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lost through flooding. It's not practical to put a thatched roof

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over the fields, has the minister made any reputation to supermarkets

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to ensure at least they'll get a fair price for their crops?

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recently had a meeting with Sainsbury's. I intend to meet the

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other major supermarkets also. When we get the ombudsman, I think that

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will be a good help to farmers, obviously not at this stage, but in

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the future. We need the ombudsman to have proper teeth, to make sure

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farmers from every level get a fair price for the product they produce.

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Is this problem of education underachievement in Protestant

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communities now undercontrolled? Is it decreasing and therefore

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improving? Can he tell us the level of the work there still has to be

:05:28.:05:34.

done? Could he quantify what his department is doing for dis

:05:34.:05:38.

advantaged Protestant communities, regarding the work we are talking

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about? Well, I don't wish to get into an argument with the members

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as to which community is suffering the most in terms of educational

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underachievement. I will say this, neither sections of the community,

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in its broadest terms is doing well. Particularly those young people in

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working-class areas, particularly those young people in areas of

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multiple depravation, regardless of their creed or colour. What affects

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them is their class. That is the thing we need to tackle. My

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department, from a predecessors, through to myself, have developed

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policies which are designed to celebrate success and challenge

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under-achievement. That is what we are doing. We are seeing an

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increase in the number of young people from all backgrounds leaving

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our school systems with recognised qualifications. It is up to 3,000

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from 2006. Our policies are beginning to bite particularly.

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Policies on their own will not simply work. I think that the

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school system has embraced the educational output. Teachers and

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classroom assistants, they have all embraced this and moving forward. I

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will also say this, until we open up all our schools to all our

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people and we have the previous question of education, I think

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crossing the barrier will be achieved. The difficult one and the

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challenge which faces us all, we cross education across the divide.

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That is a challenge. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Could

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I ask for his response to allegations that he used the launch

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of the programme for Government to effectively bury the publication of

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a report on literacy and numeracy, which found wide dispartiy for

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pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds? No. I was the person

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who insisted we had a launch of the report into numeracy and literacy.

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I believe it is so important... I could have signed off in that

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report. I was the one who asked for a public launch. It is unfortunate

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it clashed with the programme for Government. I can assure you there

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was no conspiracy. I believe my department and my party's history

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in the department. There is a defensible set of policies in place.

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It is now showing results. 3,000 more young people leaving school in

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the last term with recognised examinations than there was in 2006.

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That is a result. Is it good enough? No, it's not good enough.

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We intend to bureau down on under- achievement. Celebrate success and

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challenge under-achievement. There is no conspiracy on this one.

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Everyone has had time to digest the programme for Government. There's

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been praise, but some criticism too. I asked the enterprise minister if

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it will have to broaden its remit to create the 25,000 jobs the

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programme talks about. We are in a different situation

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than we were in when I took this job on in 2008. As well as re-

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balancing the Northern Ireland economy we have to re-build the

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Northern Ireland economy. That is what my economic strategy talks

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about, re-building and re-balancing. We will look at the medium to

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longer term measures to help us have higher productivity and close

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the gap in relation to standards of living the rest of the United

:09:17.:09:22.

Kingdom, we must recognise we have to re-build as well. The re-

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building around the jobs fund, that �t0 -- �90 million is something I

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have encouraged Invest Northern Ireland to do. You have seen them

:09:31.:09:34.

do it around their business programme, which talks about

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increasing the number of exports, increasing the number of jobs. That

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is something they have to deal with for the short-term problems we find

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ourselves in. You mention the jobs fund. How many jobs has it created

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so far? Around 400 jobs. We have 1300 jobs approved. They have not

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just been announced yet. I hope to make announcements in the near

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future. What about the lick quitty fund? �50 million. At the end of

:10:05.:10:11.

How can you convince us it is a good risk? These companies will be

:10:12.:10:16.

a good risk? I don't see it as a risk. I see it as filling a gap

:10:16.:10:21.

which has firmly been identified for us. When we look at statistics

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which came out recepbtdly in relation to small and medium-sized

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enterprises, 92% of those companies were having finances from

:10:32.:10:36.

mainstream banks. That has dropped back to 65%. That does identify the

:10:36.:10:40.

people having to look elsewhere for funding. We need to help in

:10:40.:10:45.

relation to that package. That is why we've put together this, what

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we call "the growth loan fund." It will help businesses looking to

:10:50.:10:53.

grow, but having difficulty getting that finance. Of course there will

:10:53.:10:57.

be safeguards in and around that money. We will not just hand out

:10:57.:11:00.

any money to any company that comes forward to us. There is a need to

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fill that gap. That is what people have asked me to do. That is why we

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came forward with this proposal. When it comes to the number of jobs

:11:10.:11:15.

you want to create, we have job losses, 33,500 in the last three

:11:15.:11:22.

years, if you take on top of that the welfare changes how will you

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get 114,000 on benefits into work by 2015? Sh There has been a

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misunderstanding about that figure. One of the strengths of the

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economic strategy is it does not just sit with me, but my other

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executive colleagues N the economic strategy you have targets put

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forward about 8,000 more affordable homes. Just like the minister

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putting forward that he will take 114,000 people off benefits and

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into training and employment opportunities. Actually, something

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which has been missed in the last programme for Government, the

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target was 90,000 and that target, ass I understand it, was met. There

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is a need to be challenged and a need to work ahead on that. That

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114,000 is not related to the welfare reform. We will have a

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discussion at the executive about how we deal with all those issues.

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That work around 114,000 is what they are doing in their every day

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work at present. Angela, corporation tax - it looks as far

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away now as ever. How important is it for us to have those powers to

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reduce the rates? Well, I am a big supporter of the corporation tax.

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We have, certainly, we have forecasts from Oxford Economics in

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terms of where the economy will grow in the years to come. Really

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without some.... We talk about a silver bullet, it is not the silver

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bullet, it will not work in isolation. We need skills for it to

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work. We need something as a small regopbl economy we need something

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extra -- regional economy we need something extra. When you look at

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what we are competing 100 miles down the road in the Republic of

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Ireland. It is hard to attract them to pay a higher level of

:13:15.:13:24.

corporation tax. As Northern Ireland paid the

:13:24.:13:32.

penalty over farming subsidies? The Department of Agriculture made

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mistakes in implementing the single farm scheme. Members wanted

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assurances that farmers would not have to wait longer for this year's

:13:40.:13:49.

payments. How well this impact on the current wave of farm

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inspections for a single farm payments as the department has been

:13:52.:14:02.
:14:02.:14:03.

slow up to this very day it? tried my best in that very lengthy

:14:03.:14:08.

statement to clarify my position. I have clearly said it is �80.6

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million. DEFRA holds 11 million. I cannot be any clearer than that,

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that is the figure that has been audited. It is clear for everybody

:14:19.:14:26.

to see it. Could I ask the Minister who is to blame for this issue? Is

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it the Department, the commission, farmers or a combination of all

:14:31.:14:39.

these stakeholders. I thank the Member for his question. It is very

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simplistic to blame anyone for this situation. That is not to say the

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various parties are not at fault. In relation to the Department's

:14:49.:14:54.

responsibilities, some of the issues are very technical. The

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department had issues in terms of the maps they issued. The

:15:00.:15:03.

commission delayed the whole process and it made everything a

:15:03.:15:13.
:15:13.:15:15.

lot slower and harder to deal with. Some farmers had not legitimate

:15:15.:15:21.

land. You need to look at it in the round and those areas need to be

:15:21.:15:26.

considered. The that has to be recognised, that the department was

:15:26.:15:33.

at fault for the delivery of the system. Discrepancies found buried

:15:33.:15:37.

EU Audit -- auditors were generally very minor. If your department has

:15:37.:15:45.

created a minor errors that has enabled you to ecru 80.6 million, I

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would hate to see if your department was making major errors.

:15:48.:15:57.

As I understand it there is more coming down for the inefficiency in

:15:57.:16:02.

regarding the Forest end of muscles. Where will it stop. Northern

:16:02.:16:08.

Ireland's pubs are a major tourist attraction, but times are tough in

:16:08.:16:12.

the local tavern and rates relief could help. At least that is what

:16:12.:16:16.

members of the finance committee have been told. Here is our weekly

:16:16.:16:22.

look at the work of this dormant committees. It's his key to our

:16:22.:16:26.

tourism and culture and has been around for an off a long time. The

:16:26.:16:29.

majority are owned by families who have passed it down through the

:16:29.:16:34.

generations. We ran a very responsible industry and provide a

:16:34.:16:40.

lot of employment, particularly in rural areas where you do not have a

:16:40.:16:48.

mobile workforce. Our rates is the early business rate based on our

:16:49.:16:56.

turnover and we pay 30% more than any other commercial body. To be

:16:56.:17:04.

honest, that has evolved as a social levy because we sell alcohol.

:17:04.:17:08.

But the supermarkets sell the majority, but they pay the standard

:17:08.:17:13.

rate. We are small businesses, we are spread right across the

:17:13.:17:20.

province. It is where people meet, it is where the cohesion comes from.

:17:20.:17:27.

I have a village where I live close to and church groups use it, it is

:17:27.:17:31.

where people moving into the area meet the locals and become part of

:17:31.:17:37.

the community and were the cornerstone of the tourism industry

:17:37.:17:47.

is. 70% of tourists eat in a pub and it is the number one thing to

:17:47.:17:53.

do when visiting the province. All the hotel rooms in the province you

:17:53.:18:01.

can have as you like, and we are part of that fabric. The future

:18:01.:18:10.

growth of tourism and the economy means we are a key in that. I have

:18:10.:18:14.

been in touch with a large number of prison officers, both current

:18:14.:18:19.

and past. They were offended by the manner in which it was handled and

:18:19.:18:24.

I am asking upon reflection, do you think that is an issue that he may

:18:24.:18:30.

regret and what would you say to those officers and families? It

:18:30.:18:37.

caused them heard. I believe what I said reflected the reality of that

:18:37.:18:42.

position, although I accept my phrasing was a bit clumsy. If

:18:42.:18:46.

people were offended by what I said, it was certainly not my intention

:18:47.:18:52.

to cause offence and I regret any offence was caused. Clearly we are

:18:52.:18:56.

now in the position we have established the different levels

:18:56.:19:00.

which the issue will be dealt with. The issue will have to know be

:19:00.:19:04.

dealt within a way which takes account of all the views around the

:19:04.:19:12.

Executive table. We have made our position very clear that if it does

:19:12.:19:19.

come to the Executive table, we will not support it, so I would

:19:19.:19:24.

suggest it is not worth considering by the Prison Service. Can I come

:19:24.:19:32.

in? I understand you are a member of the DUP and you have a party

:19:32.:19:37.

position, but you are also the chair of this committee. The chair

:19:37.:19:42.

of any committee, and I had done this in my capacity as chair of

:19:43.:19:49.

other committees, I believe the chair should maintain where

:19:49.:19:55.

possible a non-partisan position. If there are contentious issues

:19:55.:20:02.

arising I do not think it is appropriate for you to be active as

:20:02.:20:10.

a spokesperson for the DUP on such a sensitive issue. The other

:20:10.:20:16.

colleague could quite properly raise such issues. I beg to differ

:20:16.:20:20.

in terms of how I should conduct myself as chair.

:20:20.:20:25.

The SDLP were firing on all cylinders this morning because of

:20:25.:20:29.

the lack of legislation coming to the floor of the House. Dolores

:20:29.:20:33.

Kelly made her attack during the debate on a cleaning our rivers.

:20:33.:20:36.

She said there were much more pressing issues the Executive

:20:36.:20:41.

needed to take action on. Once again we start another week in the

:20:41.:20:44.

absence of Executive Business other than the Minister's statement this

:20:44.:20:49.

morning. It is disgraceful. At a time when youth unemployment is at

:20:49.:20:54.

its highest ever, one in five young people in the north are unemployed,

:20:54.:21:00.

over the weekend and today there is a plea from small retailers for the

:21:00.:21:05.

Executive to do something to help them. We have not seen any business

:21:05.:21:10.

coming through that is going to do that, nor any suggestions from the

:21:10.:21:16.

Executive. There is no imperative bide his Executive to deliver.

:21:16.:21:19.

why do you think there is such a delay in getting legislation

:21:19.:21:25.

through the House. It has not just been this time around, it was the

:21:25.:21:30.

same over the last four years. If any of the issues were not agreed

:21:30.:21:35.

on, they are still sitting in the in-trays. Peter Robinson said

:21:35.:21:39.

clearly last week that his Executive would be judged on

:21:39.:21:44.

delivery and that is a message we are putting strongly to Sinn Fein

:21:44.:21:48.

and the DUP. They have to start looking at their parties and

:21:48.:21:51.

constituency interests and look at the needs of all of the people of

:21:51.:21:58.

the North. You are on the Executive, you minister is there, could the

:21:58.:22:03.

Minister of their environment not be doing more? He has eight pieces

:22:03.:22:08.

of legislation which are going through various processes, such as

:22:08.:22:12.

the climate has changed bail. He has written to the first and Deputy

:22:12.:22:16.

First Minister about their responsibility in terms of the

:22:16.:22:22.

Social Investment Fund and the social protection fund. Each has

:22:22.:22:27.

�20 million allocated this year and will not be spent. These funds are

:22:27.:22:31.

supposed to be targeted at the most vulnerable. He has also written

:22:31.:22:35.

about the fuel poverty initiative and nothing has been agreed on

:22:35.:22:42.

those with no movement on any of these fronts. He will try to

:22:42.:22:45.

delayed their a form of public administration. He wants 15

:22:45.:22:52.

councils and everyone else has said 11. He has not been delaying it, it

:22:52.:22:59.

is the DUP who has shifted position. We agreed 15 as the preferred model,

:22:59.:23:04.

but Sinn Fein wanted to go for seven. Alex Atwood has an

:23:04.:23:08.

intelligent argument in terms of the 15, one that can show that

:23:09.:23:14.

money can be saved even more so than with the 11 model. But

:23:14.:23:19.

unfortunately Sinn Fein and the DUP are too busy interfering in his

:23:19.:23:23.

department rather than managing their own. On a slightly different

:23:23.:23:29.

issue, you were a judge at quite a controversial contest last week.

:23:29.:23:35.

Tell us a bit more about that. was one of my local constituency

:23:35.:23:42.

businesses that sponsored the event. There were 14 young women who went

:23:42.:23:47.

through to the MS Ulster finals. The successful winner fortunately

:23:47.:23:52.

came from my own constituency of. She won not only a modelling

:23:52.:23:59.

contract, but she is also going to get onto the front page and various

:23:59.:24:03.

other prizes. But there was a letter put into each pigeonholes

:24:03.:24:07.

say it should not have taken place at Stormont. And as some people

:24:07.:24:12.

said it was demeaning. They were not tripping up and down in bikinis,

:24:12.:24:18.

it showcased their talent. It showcased the talent of many of our

:24:18.:24:24.

young women. They are graduates anywhere or at university. I do not

:24:24.:24:28.

think it was demeaning in any way. What is demeaning to our young

:24:28.:24:32.

people is the fact so many of them or face the prospect of

:24:32.:24:36.

unemployment, no training and many are having to leave our shores to

:24:36.:24:41.

look for work elsewhere. The local library is many things to many

:24:41.:24:47.

people, but a dating service? That is what was revealed today in the

:24:47.:24:52.

Chamber by an incurably romantic MLA. I also have a soft spot for

:24:52.:24:58.

the library and maybe I should declare an interest, but it was in

:24:58.:25:04.

the Queen's library I first asked my wife to go out with me. Enough

:25:04.:25:12.

sentiment about that. She did end up as a librarian. She was a

:25:12.:25:17.

student at that time. Enough sentiment. Dolores Kelly, we saw a

:25:17.:25:23.

different side to Jim Allister. all have our own personalities and

:25:24.:25:27.

people should get to know as as a person rather than a politician on

:25:27.:25:34.

the TV box. There are many facets to each of us. We spent a lot of

:25:34.:25:38.

time waiting for it and now we have it and will spend as much time

:25:38.:25:44.

talking about it. Earlier, Martina told me about the general reaction

:25:44.:25:48.

to the programme for Government. There is a broad welcome it is

:25:48.:25:53.

finally out and there is a mixed response. Some people are saying

:25:53.:25:57.

the 23rd 1000 job target is ambitious. One of the targets that

:25:57.:26:03.

is a talking point is this notion of 114,000 people coming off and

:26:03.:26:08.

employment and into jobs. One Executive soars, not a minister,

:26:08.:26:12.

thought this was bizarre because they said there are 60,000 people

:26:12.:26:17.

unemployed, the Executive has pledged to create 25,000 jobs. How

:26:18.:26:24.

can you get 114,000 of unemployment? Aisling Foster batted

:26:24.:26:30.

back from the Department. programme has finally settled on 11

:26:30.:26:36.

councils, is that right? That is the figure that has been agreed.

:26:36.:26:41.

The environment -- environment minister is not happy. One thing

:26:41.:26:47.

that did come up today was that the council's collectively, 26, 0 more

:26:47.:26:51.

than �400 million in loans to the Department of Finance. It is

:26:52.:26:55.

worrying if you are trying to finance a shake-up. Some councils

:26:55.:27:01.

are quite heavily in debt. 25 million for Belfast. But when you

:27:01.:27:05.

are start pushing them together, the ones that do not owe so much

:27:05.:27:09.

will be resentful of having to take on some of the debt of the others.

:27:09.:27:14.

It does not leave much leeway for council's borrowing. This week the

:27:14.:27:19.

Assembly is opening up its doors to the Arts Council. The work of 24

:27:20.:27:24.

local artists is being showcased and the Arts Council is excited

:27:24.:27:28.

because it is the first time this is happening. The public will be

:27:28.:27:32.

able to look at the art work. One of the pieces getting lots of

:27:32.:27:40.

attention is a helicopter made out of yellow will. That is by Brendan

:27:41.:27:48.

Jamieson. There are lots of other artists as well. The Department of

:27:48.:27:52.

Employment and learning said the 114,000 target is measured in terms

:27:52.:27:57.

of the number of people who will go off benefit and into work by

:27:57.:28:01.

employment support programmes. Angela, we are a small business

:28:01.:28:06.

economy, is there enough in the programme about enterprise?

:28:06.:28:11.

that is simply the answer to that question. It is great to have the

:28:11.:28:16.

economic strategy, but it falls down in two key areas. Enterprise

:28:16.:28:21.

is hardly mentioned. You cannot have economic growth and the

:28:21.:28:26.

service new sectors without small businesses coming forward. It falls

:28:26.:28:31.

down in education. Our targets are not nearly as ambitious as they

:28:31.:28:36.

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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