21/11/2016 Stormont Today


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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today, and it wasn't the best


of days for the Speaker, Robin Newton, who had to come


to the House to apologise to Members for not declaring his links


to Charter NI, when ruling against an urgent debate


Yet again proceedings in the chamber were dominated by debate over


The man at the top table in the Assembly admits he got it


wrong over the loyalist organisation Charter NI.


hindsight, I accept it would have been better if I followed my initial


ease instincts. I apologise unreservedly to the house for not


having done so. Meantime, the Executive Office


continues to be asked We could talk about this, and the


basis on which he was employed by Charter NI is really a matter for


Charter NI. It has absolutely nothing to do with this executive.


And joining me with his thoughts on today's developments


is our Political Correspondent, Stephen Walker.


The Speaker, Robin Newton, was the man saying sorry


Mr Newton told the Assembly he was wrong not to reveal his links


to Charter NI when ruling against an urgent debate


The Speaker now accepts he should have delegated the matter to one


In relation to Charter NI, to make it clear that, while I have offered


advice, I do not hold and have never held a position as adviser to


Charter NI. My involvement with Charter NI has an organisation,


working on the ground in my constituency, has been no different


than it would be with any organisation in my constituency


seeking advice from their elected representative. When a first urgent


oral question was received in relation to Charter NI, on the 24th


of October, 2016, I gave consideration to whether I should


take the decision. Given the time pressure, I proceeded to take the


decision, but in doing so, I made it clear to my office that in future,


if future decisions were required, it would be prudent for me to


delegate to avoid any perception of conflict. As a consequence of that,


when a second urgent question was tabled on the 8th of November, the


decision was delegated to the principal deputies to you in line


with the instruction given to my office on the 24th of October. The


principal Deputy Speaker of the Commons to two procedural advice and


made a decision on the basis of it. In hindsight, I accept it would have


been better if I had followed my initial instincts and those who


delegated the first question. I apologise unreservedly to the house


for not having done so. Members can be assured that I will burn on the


side of in the future. -- err on the side of caution.


The Social Investment Fund dominated much of today's proceedings.


In response to an urgent oral question from the SDLP asking


what audits had been carried out on the fund, the Deputy First


Minister said organisations which have benefited from the fund


have been subjected to the full checking


This includes, firstly, a review of the organisational structure to


ensure that a board and appropriate management structures are in place,


and secondly, a review of the financial and governance processes


to ensure the necessary policies and processes to manage and account for


funding are in place and implemented effectively.


Is the completely satisfied that no conflict of event as exists within


Charter NI, or any other organisation funded by the Social


Investment Fund cache macro is he completely satisfied.


Given the community prioritising projects to avoid certain needs, a


project to manage any conflict of interest was put in place. Group


members were required to declare conflict-of-interest went potential


projects were being proposed. And when a conflict was found, the group


member was not permitted to be involved in any discussion or


decision around the proposal. Can he explain precisely what added


value for the management fee the Charter NI are paid, what this


smaller and less experienced organisation are actually bringing


to the project? They're actually hasn't been an


allegation from anybody, even in the opposition, that ?1 of the ?1.7


million was misappropriated in any way. There has not been an


allegation whatsoever, and indeed, from our perspective as we go


forward, we will go forward on the basis that, if there are specific


allegations, if there are specific allegations to be made, people


should make the allegation, and we can then have them investigated. And


if they're then needs to be a police investigation, we can... Well, it is


exactly what you asked. Can I ask the member not to


intervene from a sedentary position? This debate and controversy has been


sparked by the case of Mr Dees stared, and the question of whether


he was an appropriate person to be employed at public expense by


Charter NI, despite his alleged paramilitary role. As another case


that he was employed not because of his -- not in spite of his


paramilitary role but because of it, and this reflects British government


policy, effectively endorsed by the executive, which involves paying


ministers to buy off paramilitary schema can I remind the member


questions need to be brief. I don't set that argument at all. --


I don't accent. There are many projects to the north, and I would


challenge anybody, and I remember at the time, there was some controversy


around this issue, somebody saw a headline in the Irish News that this


was a slush fund for paramilitaries. Well, where are all these


paramilitaries? We can talk about him and the basis on which he was


employed by Charter NI, which is really a matter for Charter NI. It


has nothing to do with this executive with the British


government. Can the Deputy First Minister


confirmed that, in relation to the structures and the processes of the


Social Investment Fund, that these were cleared and went through a full


business case process, they were cleared by the accounting officer of


the department, cleared independently from the Department by


the Department for finance and personnel, and they were


periodically reviewed throughout the process of policy development by the


public sector exam Clyde Gateway process?


I absolutely agree with the member. What's more, all of this was


well-known within this Assembly. Martin McGuinness happy to agree


with that point from the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly - and Stephen


Walker is with me now. Once again the Social Investment


Fund is the issue that It is a story that won't go away, a


story that has been in the headlines for weeks now. It is a story that


broadcasters have been talking about, newspaper journalist have


been talking about, and I think when you look at the timeline of this


story, you get an understanding of how detailed it has been. The story


was on BBC Spotlight, then that was the Guardian interview, then the


story in the Belfast Telegraph, when it was thought he was about to


resign, and we have had various stories in the days afterwards. So


it is the story that won't go away, and as we have just heard, dominated


proceedings today. The problem for the Executive


is that as long as this story continues, it will overshadow


the other work of the Yes, I mean, that is the point that


the executive mate. Arlene Foster has used this phrase that she finds


the story a distraction. She says it is important to see this in context.


She says what about ?1.7 million, a whole fond of 18 million. She says


there is a lot of good work being done. I suppose it is worth


reminding viewers that Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness are agreed on


the sense that you have to see this in context, but they on what to do,


because at Martin McGuinness thinks that he needs to reconsider his


position, Arlene Foster says that as an employability matter, and really,


she can't intervene when it comes to judge an eye. -- when it comes to


rrChartern. And it was certainly a day to forget


for the Speaker, Robin Newton. He said he should have been aware of


his arrangement with Charter NI. This wasn't an official arrangement.


He was basically saying that as an MLA, he advises democratic. He said


he should have delegated that issue when it came up for review. There is


an old adage in politics, that when you are explaining, you are losing


the argument. He had to come to the chamber today to explain. It will be


a day I suspect he will want to forget.


And briefly, do you think he can now draw a line and put this behind him?


He obviously wants to draw a line under it. But I think if there is


another episode, people will be asking questions about him. It was


clear today the opposition accepted his apology, but I think if there is


another episode, further questions will clearly be asked.


Thank you very much. We will hear more from you later on.


It was the Deputy First Minister's turn to represent the Executive


Office during Question Time today - and not surprisingly


the Social Investment Fund was raised, but so too was another


What engagement has taken place with the Irish government, particularly


to identify issues of mutual interest, and also to exert joint


influence on the British government and the EU?


Well, as I said earlier, there is ongoing engagement between officials


up to the head of the civil servants level, and specifically, we are


engaging with various governments through the North - South


ministerial Consul and the respective administrations. We will


be carrying out an audit of border issues. This was discussed at the


meeting last Friday. We will also engage further in Brexit via the


British- Irish consul. Can the Deputy First Minister


explain whether it is his assessment of the approaches have a different


devolve that ministrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh?


We are all very conscious of the responsibility they devolved


Administration is out of the people that they represent. In Wales, the


people of Wales voted to leave. In Scotland, the people of Scotland


voted to Remain. People here voted to remain, and of course, people in


England voted to leave also. So that does leave us with a very


challenging situation to deal with, and no doubt, in the reports that


are coming out of London almost on a daily basis about the appeared in


ability thus far of the British government to have a collective view


as to how to approach these negotiations, is also exercised in


the devolved institutions. Both the Deputy First Minister and I


agree on the need for special status of Northern Ireland. But would he


also recognise that, if this is to get traction with the whole


community, including with Unionists, that this has to be sold in very


pragmatic terms, about the interest of Northern Ireland, and therefore


be decoupled from wider constitutional aspirations and?


Asfar as I'm concerned, everything is on the table. Nobody can put


their hand on their heart and say that we have this negotiations going


to work itself out, or where we will find ourselves, in a year or two


year's time. If it is a hard Brexit, I think it will have very dramatic


repercussions for devolved institutions, particularly for


ourselves, who are in this unique position of having a land border


with a country that is in Europe. So I think in the time ahead, in the


discussions that we will see happen between our officials, but also


between the First Minister, myself and the Taoiseach, the best way


forward for us is to work very closely together, so that we can


reach an outcome which can then be put to both the British government


and the European Union as the combined wisdom of both governments,


north and south. Would he accept that this process


has been flawed, there is lack of accountability of the


decision-making that went along with it? I would not accept it was flawed


at all. Practically every party in this Assembly have been involved in


the process from the very beginning. It was interesting, even though


people have now seized on what is a very sad situation in relation to


East Belfast, they have seized on it in an effort to criticise the


overall programme. Whenever the junior minister or first blister


went to Eniskillen last week for the opening of a ?900,000 investment


from the SIF fund that UUP and SDLP were tripping over themselves to get


photographs. The Deputy First Minister unable


to resist that pop at the two And the Economy Minister also faced


Question Time today. Simon Hamilton was asked


about the important issue The Minister revealed


Northern Ireland is on track to meet its renewable energy targets


and that he supports The second North-South


interconnector is to be considered in February next year and this


prospect such as for a gas fired power station, battery storage,


compressed air storage, have the potential to contribute to our


future security of supply. Supplementary. I thank the Minister


for his answer. The Minister will be where that the UUP will be putting a


motion on energy to the Assembly tomorrow, will he take the


opportunity to indicate tomorrow what is Plan B is if there is


further delay in the north - south interconnector? I look forward to


not least having to provide the entire House with the opportunity,


and I hope the defeat is brought forward an effort as I will respond


in kind. This is a challenging issue. I know that the committee


will have got a clear indication of the seriousness of this issue and


the challenges it faces. If the motion is brought to the House


tomorrow in that spirit I will respond in kind. The member is


fairly new to the Ulster Unionist Party but he'll really has that


fatalistic tendency which runs through the Ulster Unionist Party


like a stick of rock, he has already written off the interconnector


before it has gone to the planning appeals committee. The member is


right. It is an incredibly complex issue. I wanted to run through this


planning process properly. In terms of the principle of the


interconnector to something that I am committed to. But essential not


just terms of security of supply in the long term but also any


integrated electricity market viable. What does the Minister


intends to do to promote future development of renewables in


Northern Ireland stop there is already considerable support for


renewable electricity. It will remain in place until 2037. It has


been a successful project in this respect, in terms of increasing


renewables generated electricity. In 2005 electricity consumption from


renewable sources was 3% in Northern Ireland, but has now grown to 25.4%


at the end of last year. We are well on course to meet our electricity


consumption by 2020. There is already a considerable amount of


renewables on the growth and some more to receive offers and I believe


not only will be meet the 40% target but all of those offers when they


are met able to generate 100% of peak demand from renewable sources.


Simon Hamilton, clearly optimistic that those renewable


It's emerged that an immediate review of vulnerable inmates


with mental health issues is to be carried out.


The Justice Minister made the announcement following recent


deaths in Maghaberry Prison and a high-profile case


Since November 2015 there have been five deaths in custody in Northern


Ireland, four relating to mental health issue. In November the prison


population totals 1533. Of these 417 were recorded as having a mental


health awareness and a further 740 prisoners recorded as having an


addiction. This amounts to over 75% of the prison population. However


read poetry at the custody environment is not designed to help


those with chronic mental health issues, whatever tuning provide to


star in prison officers, identifying and supporting prisoners of mental


health issues as a high priority for the prison service but not every


episode of self harm can be prevented. Tragically some suicides


will happen despite the best episodes bat the best efforts of


staff. I believe there will be positive benefits. It will help with


sickness absence rates and hopefully that will enable us to have our full


quantity of prison officers soon that we can better deal with


prisoners. Prison staff and senior staff stood by for over half an hour


and watch while our man slashed himself and blinded himself


manually. Is the Minister satisfied that the demo comes out of this


review that prison staff will be encouraged to take the initiative


and take responsibility when required and stop this sort of thing


if it is being observed, rather than wait for somebody to give them


guidance? I would certainly hope that it ever does come out of this


review that they can provide more of an immediate response so that they


do not have incidents happening like the member describes. But this has


to be a holistic approach. Giving officers the right training and


skills in terms of how they can deal with the immediate environment and


also looking at their health care site to ensure we do not get to that


point. The assessment is prisoners are coming and protect only into


Maghaberry, is it effective enough, but also in terms of resource and


use of resource, the present resource review team said resources


could be brought into place. I have stated before that this proposal has


been at best ignored but the degree of resistance and around it. With


the Minister revisit that and perhaps that would allow some


resource. Any approach taking forward we have to have more focus


on us now that present with mental health problems. 75% is not an


insignificant number. It is something we need to take seriously.


I would hope that review will take into account how to move forward. I


am keen to look to see what we need to put in place to ensure that this


is not as much of a problem in the future.


Claire Sugden on her continuing challenge of dealing with prisoners


Charter NI and Dee Stitt may have temporarily replaced Brexit


as Stormont's current buzzwords, but it's hard to keep a good


Brexit will, of course, have a huge impact on our


agricultural industries and it was a motion raising that


concern which the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP


I hope I'm whom probably hear more from the Minister that at this point


in time lots are being given at executive level at consultative


committee for development of strategy. A strategy which does not


leave as in the situation where farmers and food sector in the


situation that come 2020 financially and otherwise falling off the edge


of Hartcliffe. That has to be avoided at all costs, irrespective


of what people's views are in relation to Brexit or not to Brexit,


we must at all avoid that situation. Farmer after farmer was saying we


want to get out of Europe. Why did they want to get out of Europe?


Because over the period of 45 years that they were in Europe they had


managed to invent something that 2800 different regulations affecting


farming. That is one for every week we were in Europe. They were


regulated to death. Farmers could not get on the work they had to do.


Our farmers depend on payments received such amounts to 265 million


per year in basic payments. The single farm payment and other


payments ensure farmers have the means to survive and without these


farming incomes would have been negative last year and in four of


the last five years. Last year the UK received 3 billion of support,


almost 10% into Northern Ireland, therein lies the danger however or


of Northern Ireland were only to receive a proportion of future


funding through the Barnett Formula we would only be looking at


receiving approximately one third of what we receive is present. We have


the much trumpeted guarantee of EU funding or the equivalent of EU


funding until 2020 which given it is going to take until 2019 at the


earliest for the UK to leave the EU is not much of a guarantee of any


long-term basis. All the evidence is that the UK Government is likely to


seek to reduce the amount of funding provides pervasive agriculture so we


have the likelihood that after 2020 we will be receiving something less


than 10% of something less than ?350 billion. These uncharted waters


provides a living and opportunities not only for as in this House but


also for our farmers. I and the wider executive will be a strong


voice and I am committed to engaging with those who are in a position to


make decisions which will benefit the sector moving forward. I want to


ensure a debate about the future free Mac moving forward and not one


dominated by funding the focus of what that funding might be used for.


The advantage of leaving EU is a beacon design our policies which


give as scope to remove the unnecessary bureaucracy associated


with the current arrangements. The second big piece of joint


Opposition business today As is now their way,


the SDLP and Ulster Unionists came together to raise the issue,


and to criticise the Education The draft strategic area plan as put


forward by the Minister of education is flawed. First of all matters


concerning that is based on the scene sustainable schools policy


which underpins the previous area plan which was called into serious


disrepute by the Public Accounts Committee only a few months ago.


Removal schools play a key role in communities particularly where small


isolated communities live alongside one another. Such schools are often


the local point for communities and their proposed closure causes


concern among the people who live there. Moving the school out of the


village will leave a big hole in community. I have and continued to


fight for services to be located in rural areas. The sustainability of


communities. I have questioned ministers. However I cannot support


the ongoing provision of a school in a little area does not meeting the


educational needs of our children. It is with regret we have to bring


this motion today. I would have hoped the value of the rule schools


to the many communities would have been self evident but what is clear


from the proposals put forward is that visual schools are being


targeted by stealth. In an area as small as the north we need to make


decisions based on a vision of the entire north and the interest of our


young people and the quality of education they receive. Any such


vision must also have input from pupils, parents, teachers and


principals, as well as what has been suggested in the document, the


managing authorities and sectoral support bodies. They want to have


separate legislative protection for visual schools but this is deemed


necessary to provide protection what is the level of protection for


schools that fall outside of those areas. If you are a pupil in


Belfast, in Londonderry, in Portadown, Ballymena? The Ulster


Unionist Party the SDLP are happy to simply abandon you.


Peter Weir - and Stephen Walker has rejoined me for a final word.


Today was another Opposition day today where the SDLP and the UUP


We are getting to see the SDLP and the Australian in a working


together. What happens behind the scenes as the SDLP and the Ulster


Unionists get together and decide what subjects they are good to talk


about, what speakers are going to talk, what time they want to spend


on certain subjects. We saw today the subjects that they chose, The


Beatles farming, they chose poverty, deprivation, and the issue of rural


schools, and emotive subject. They chose subjects that they felt chimed


with the electorate saw behind the scenes there is a lot of


organisation going on between the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party


we are going to see more of it. And finally Stephen,


we had the spectacle of a rather unusual event in a Stormont


corridor today. Yes. I am going to try to avoid too


many pounds because a lot of pans were used. This was the spend a


penny campaign to twin the toilets and storm of the pilots in Uganda,


it is about raising the issue of clean drinking water and sanitation


and the campaign was spearheaded by clear Hana of the SDLP and we can


listen now to what she had to say at the launch today. One third of the


world's publisher does not have access to good sanitation, yesterday


was world toilet Day so we thought it was the opportunity to remind


people when they are spending a penny of that need that is out there


and international developments. There are light-hearted wheeze to


raise this. Thank you for coming. The toilets twinning organisation.


Basically saying this is a serious issue. There was a good turnout. The


Speaker was there as well. That's it for now, but there'll be


more of the same tomorrow night - Until then, from everyone


in the team, goodnight.


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.