21/11/2016 Stormont Today


21/11/2016

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, and it wasn't the best

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

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

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to Charter NI, when ruling against an urgent debate

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Yet again proceedings in the chamber were dominated by debate over

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

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wrong over the loyalist organisation Charter NI.

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

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ease instincts. I apologise unreservedly to the house for not

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having done so. Meantime, the Executive Office

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

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

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

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And joining me with his thoughts on today's developments

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is our Political Correspondent, Stephen Walker.

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The Speaker, Robin Newton, was the man saying sorry

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

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to Charter NI when ruling against an urgent debate

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

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

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

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

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

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than it would be with any organisation in my constituency

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seeking advice from their elected representative. When a first urgent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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decision was delegated to the principal deputies to you in line

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

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principal Deputy Speaker of the Commons to two procedural advice and

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

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

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delegated the first question. I apologise unreservedly to the house

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

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

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

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In response to an urgent oral question from the SDLP asking

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

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Minister said organisations which have benefited from the fund

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have been subjected to the full checking

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

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

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and secondly, a review of the financial and governance processes

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

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funding are in place and implemented effectively.

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

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Charter NI, or any other organisation funded by the Social

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Investment Fund cache macro is he completely satisfied.

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Given the community prioritising projects to avoid certain needs, a

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

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

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

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member was not permitted to be involved in any discussion or

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decision around the proposal. Can he explain precisely what added

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

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smaller and less experienced organisation are actually bringing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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policy, effectively endorsed by the executive, which involves paying

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ministers to buy off paramilitary schema can I remind the member

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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has nothing to do with this executive with the British

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government. Can the Deputy First Minister

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

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

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

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the department, cleared independently from the Department by

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the Department for finance and personnel, and they were

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periodically reviewed throughout the process of policy development by the

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public sector exam Clyde Gateway process?

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

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

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

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Walker is with me now. Once again the Social Investment

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

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

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broadcasters have been talking about, newspaper journalist have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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proceedings today. The problem for the Executive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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reminding viewers that Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness are agreed on

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

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because at Martin McGuinness thinks that he needs to reconsider his

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

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

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rrChartern. And it was certainly a day to forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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a day I suspect he will want to forget.

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

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

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

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

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another episode, further questions will clearly be asked.

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

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

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Office during Question Time today - and not surprisingly

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

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What engagement has taken place with the Irish government, particularly

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

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influence on the British government and the EU?

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

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

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engaging with various governments through the North - South

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ministerial Consul and the respective administrations. We will

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

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

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British- Irish consul. Can the Deputy First Minister

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

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devolve that ministrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh?

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We are all very conscious of the responsibility they devolved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the devolved institutions. Both the Deputy First Minister and I

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

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

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

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

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be decoupled from wider constitutional aspirations and?

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

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

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

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

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repercussions for devolved institutions, particularly for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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north and south. Would he accept that this process

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has been flawed, there is lack of accountability of the

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

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

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

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

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

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overall programme. Whenever the junior minister or first blister

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

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

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photographs. The Deputy First Minister unable

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

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Question Time today. Simon Hamilton was asked

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about the important issue The Minister revealed

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Northern Ireland is on track to meet its renewable energy targets

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and that he supports The second North-South

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interconnector is to be considered in February next year and this

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

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compressed air storage, have the potential to contribute to our

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future security of supply. Supplementary. I thank the Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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fatalistic tendency which runs through the Ulster Unionist Party

:15:52.:15:55.

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

:15:56.:15:58.

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

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

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planning process properly. In terms of the principle of the

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

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

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integrated electricity market viable. What does the Minister

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intends to do to promote future development of renewables in

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Northern Ireland stop there is already considerable support for

:16:37.:16:41.

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

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

:16:49.:16:56.

renewables generated electricity. In 2005 electricity consumption from

:16:57.:17:00.

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

:17:01.:17:05.

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

:17:06.:17:12.

consumption by 2020. There is already a considerable amount of

:17:13.:17:17.

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

:17:18.:17:21.

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

:17:22.:17:27.

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

:17:28.:17:30.

Simon Hamilton, clearly optimistic that those renewable

:17:31.:17:32.

It's emerged that an immediate review of vulnerable inmates

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with mental health issues is to be carried out.

:17:38.:17:42.

The Justice Minister made the announcement following recent

:17:43.:17:43.

deaths in Maghaberry Prison and a high-profile case

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

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

:17:58.:18:05.

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

:18:06.:18:10.

health awareness and a further 740 prisoners recorded as having an

:18:11.:18:15.

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

:18:16.:18:18.

read poetry at the custody environment is not designed to help

:18:19.:18:24.

those with chronic mental health issues, whatever tuning provide to

:18:25.:18:28.

star in prison officers, identifying and supporting prisoners of mental

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

:18:33.:18:37.

episode of self harm can be prevented. Tragically some suicides

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will happen despite the best episodes bat the best efforts of

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

:18:52.:18:54.

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

:18:55.:19:00.

quantity of prison officers soon that we can better deal with

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

:19:06.:19:11.

and watch while our man slashed himself and blinded himself

:19:12.:19:16.

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

:19:17.:19:20.

review that prison staff will be encouraged to take the initiative

:19:21.:19:23.

and take responsibility when required and stop this sort of thing

:19:24.:19:28.

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

:19:29.:19:33.

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

:19:34.:19:37.

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

:19:38.:19:40.

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

:19:41.:19:47.

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

:19:48.:19:51.

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

:19:52.:19:54.

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

:19:55.:19:59.

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

:20:00.:20:03.

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

:20:04.:20:06.

use of resource, the present resource review team said resources

:20:07.:20:16.

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

:20:17.:20:21.

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

:20:22.:20:24.

the Minister revisit that and perhaps that would allow some

:20:25.:20:28.

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

:20:29.:20:34.

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

:20:35.:20:38.

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

:20:39.:20:43.

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

:20:44.:20:50.

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

:20:51.:20:54.

is not as much of a problem in the future.

:20:55.:20:55.

Claire Sugden on her continuing challenge of dealing with prisoners

:20:56.:20:57.

Charter NI and Dee Stitt may have temporarily replaced Brexit

:20:58.:21:02.

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

:21:03.:21:04.

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

:21:05.:21:08.

agricultural industries and it was a motion raising that

:21:09.:21:11.

concern which the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP

:21:12.:21:13.

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

:21:14.:21:25.

in time lots are being given at executive level at consultative

:21:26.:21:29.

committee for development of strategy. A strategy which does not

:21:30.:21:34.

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

:21:35.:21:40.

situation that come 2020 financially and otherwise falling off the edge

:21:41.:21:44.

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

:21:45.:21:47.

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

:21:48.:21:54.

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

:21:55.:21:58.

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

:21:59.:22:02.

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

:22:03.:22:07.

managed to invent something that 2800 different regulations affecting

:22:08.:22:13.

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

:22:14.:22:19.

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

:22:20.:22:24.

Our farmers depend on payments received such amounts to 265 million

:22:25.:22:29.

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

:22:30.:22:34.

payments ensure farmers have the means to survive and without these

:22:35.:22:41.

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

:22:42.:22:45.

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

:22:46.:22:49.

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

:22:50.:22:55.

of Northern Ireland were only to receive a proportion of future

:22:56.:22:58.

funding through the Barnett Formula we would only be looking at

:22:59.:23:03.

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

:23:04.:23:09.

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

:23:10.:23:14.

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

:23:15.:23:18.

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

:23:19.:23:25.

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

:23:26.:23:29.

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

:23:30.:23:34.

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

:23:35.:23:39.

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

:23:40.:23:45.

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

:23:46.:23:51.

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

:23:52.:23:55.

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

:23:56.:23:58.

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

:23:59.:24:02.

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

:24:03.:24:06.

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

:24:07.:24:11.

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

:24:12.:24:15.

give as scope to remove the unnecessary bureaucracy associated

:24:16.:24:15.

with the current arrangements. The second big piece of joint

:24:16.:24:17.

Opposition business today As is now their way,

:24:18.:24:20.

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

:24:21.:24:24.

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

:24:25.:24:37.

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

:24:38.:24:41.

concerning that is based on the scene sustainable schools policy

:24:42.:24:45.

which underpins the previous area plan which was called into serious

:24:46.:24:49.

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

:24:50.:24:56.

Removal schools play a key role in communities particularly where small

:24:57.:24:59.

isolated communities live alongside one another. Such schools are often

:25:00.:25:06.

the local point for communities and their proposed closure causes

:25:07.:25:10.

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

:25:11.:25:13.

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

:25:14.:25:19.

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

:25:20.:25:23.

communities. I have questioned ministers. However I cannot support

:25:24.:25:31.

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

:25:32.:25:34.

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

:25:35.:25:39.

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

:25:40.:25:42.

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

:25:43.:25:52.

from the proposals put forward is that visual schools are being

:25:53.:25:57.

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

:25:58.:26:01.

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

:26:02.:26:06.

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

:26:07.:26:10.

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

:26:11.:26:15.

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

:26:16.:26:18.

managing authorities and sectoral support bodies. They want to have

:26:19.:26:24.

separate legislative protection for visual schools but this is deemed

:26:25.:26:28.

necessary to provide protection what is the level of protection for

:26:29.:26:32.

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

:26:33.:26:35.

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

:26:36.:26:42.

Unionist Party the SDLP are happy to simply abandon you.

:26:43.:26:43.

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

:26:44.:26:46.

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

:26:47.:26:50.

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

:26:51.:27:06.

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

:27:07.:27:09.

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

:27:10.:27:13.

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

:27:14.:27:17.

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

:27:18.:27:23.

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

:27:24.:27:29.

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

:27:30.:27:33.

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

:27:34.:27:37.

organisation going on between the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party

:27:38.:27:38.

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

:27:39.:27:40.

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

:27:41.:27:42.

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

:27:43.:27:50.

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

:27:51.:27:55.

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

:27:56.:27:59.

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

:28:00.:28:05.

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

:28:06.:28:09.

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

:28:10.:28:15.

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

:28:16.:28:18.

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

:28:19.:28:22.

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

:28:23.:28:27.

and international developments. There are light-hearted wheeze to

:28:28.:28:33.

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

:28:34.:28:43.

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

:28:44.:28:47.

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

:28:48.:28:49.

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

:28:50.:28:55.

in the team, goodnight.

:28:56.:29:03.

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.