22/04/2013 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. Coming up on the programme: An


exemption for schools from fair employment legislation faces fresh


opposition from both Unionists and Sinn Fein. How can the any


political party that claims to be committed to equality, be content


to oversee what is an overt discrimination in how our teachers


are recruited? Why is Alex Attwood coming to the defence of the public


sector? There are Many services better delivered by a private


organisations. -- public organisations. And Mark Simpson


joins us with his thoughts on the big political stories of the day.


All that and more coming up on tonight's programme - but first I'm


joined by our correspondent, Mark Simpson. This time last week we


were discussing a growing sense of crisis within the Executive - but


at the start of a new week, the foundations haven't moved at all.


No. Sometimes you look at the DUP and Sinn Fein and they remind you


of an old married couple. They fight all the time yet still stay


together. Crisis, what crisis? This time last week we were talking


about relations being at an all- time low. A week later, there has


been a clear the air of meeting between Martin McGuinness and Peter


Robinson. If proof were needed, it is pretty firm. At the tail end of


last week, there was disagreement over the Maze project, even though


it was granted planning permission. Yes, this is going to be one of


their next tests. I think this could go to the door of Martin


McGuinness. The details, at the fixtures and fittings, who is going


to be the tour guide around the age Block, that negotiation has still


got to be held. My indication is it my right go to the top. This is all


about dealing with the past, of course - and today there was a


contribution to the debate from the Progressive Unionist Party. Yes. We


have been here before. Another initiative, another attempt to get


something sorted out in terms of dealing with 30, 40 years of


conflict. As the Bulls when you talk to parties, you get somebody


within all of the party's who say that if the deal with the past, you


are condemned to live in it. -- parties. The DUP have been talking


about her new initiative, a truth commission, something to look at


what happened here. There are indications that loyalists and


Republicans have been talking. When we talked to John Kyle earlier, we


asked and the extent of those contacts between Republicans and


loyalists. Conversations have been going on since the days of Long


Kesh. There has been the dialogue and debate taking place between


republicanism and loyalism over many years. Within society at large,


the question of giving with the past has really just dropped off


the agenda. -- dealing with the past. While we're prepared to talk


to anybody wants to talk to us, what we say is that it needs to be


broader than just loyalism and republicanism. It needs to be owned


by the society as a whole. PUP's John Kyle. And shared


education was also an issue that was on the agenda today. Another


big issue which really has not been dealt with in terms of the two


biggest parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, coming to some sort of


agreement and overall education policy, whether it is transferred


tests or shared education. That has been the problem with this report.


Recommendations about bringing Catholics and Protestants together


in school. It also raised the issue of what should happen in terms of


bringing people from all sides of the community in terms of the


social divide, together again. The pitch did get a little bit weird.


Education, there has been a bit of a stand-off between the parties.


Today people are at last talking about education again. Thank you


for now, Mark. We'll hear more from you later in the programme. The


long-standing exemption for schools from aspects of fair employment


legislation is discriminatory and should be abolished, the Assembly


heard this afternoon. The exemption has been used by the Catholic


Maintained Sector to require teachers to have a special


religious education certificate to work in its schools. An Ulster


Unionist motion calling for its removal was backed by the DUP, Sinn


Fein and Alliance - leaving the SDLP as the only main party in


disagreement. This motion should not be something that it conjures


up via or suspicion. It should be an issue that truly unites this


house. How can any political party that claims to be committed to


equality, be content to oversee what is an over discrimination in


how teachers are recruited? They cannot. It would be rank hypocrisy.


Mr Speaker, to provide a very quick background to this debate, in order


to apply for teaching posts in Catholic maintained nursery and


primary schools, applicants must possess a recognised religious


education certificate. This certificate is supposed to be sure


that teachers in Catholic maintained schools have an


understanding of the Church, its teaching and a way of life, to


enable them to contribute to the maintenance of the ethos of the


school, and to assist parents in educating their children in the


faith according to the principles of Catholic education. That appears


to be all very noble. But should every single primary school teacher


in the maintained sector require it? The answer is clearly no. For


many people, the requirement of primary-school teachers to all the


certificate which effectively eliminates up to Haka of the


potential workforce, would sound grossly discriminatory. And that is


because it is. It was discriminatory within the PSNI and


it is discriminatory within the education system. To anyone who


says this is an attack of the ethos of Catholic schools, they are wrong.


I am well aware of the important role that premier school teachers


play. The commune, for instance, and the excellent education


throughout. -- the communion. I do propose that some protection


remains in plays. In my amendments to the Education Bill I propose up


to 20% of teaching jobs, the teaching of religion in various


ways. This one in five will be similar to the case in England.


While some parties may talk a good game on the vision for a single


education system, the fact that the DUP leader or any of the other


three executive leaders could not be bothered to read and respond to


this debate, shows how insincere they are Willie Halve. -- they


really are. The Education Minister should realise that his silence on


this issue is the equivalent of his compliance. It is totally


unacceptable that any organisation is allowed to discriminate in the


way in which this practice has been going on for the last 40 years.


Let's try not to dress it up. Let's not try and hide it. What is at the


core of this? At the core of this is one sector that once took, by


all means and methods, ensure that it protects its own sector. I speak


in support of the motion. I am delighted that the Ulster Unionist


Party has finally seen fit to introduce terms like equality and


equal opportunity into their educational discourse. The recent


decision to formally amend this current policy, that all teachers


seeking appointment to Catholic maintained primary schools must


halt his certificate in teaching Catholic Education, is to be


welcomed. This amendment now enables all teachers irrespective


of their background, to be considered for Catholic maintained


schools, subject to a commitment. Given that this House has examined


the future cohesion of the excess of -- education system, perhaps


today's Mohsin is important -- motion.... I do think it is


salience to stress that a any proposed repeal will not be the


silver but some believe it may be in a dress in the ongoing legacy of


the sectoral education system or any poll rise workforce. Sinn Fein


do not propose the continuation. We would call upon the Education


Minister to take forward proposals under article 71 of the fair


employment and treatment order following the features Dabbers and


of the education and schools of the Mac. The SDLP a strong advocate of


parental choice when it comes to school. Equally we want student


teachers to be able to apply for jobs in the full range of


educational sectors, whether it be Catholic, controlled etc. The


certificate in religious education was never designed to be exclusive


ticket to employment or to exclude talented teachers. The Catholic


maintained sector... In addition, at primary level sacramental


preparation is an important part of religious education. The sacrament


of reconciliation at Holy Communion Taarabt two stages. I believe it is


a positive step to encourage those students if it enhances their


profile and bodies their choices when it comes to applying for work.


Our goal as the assembly must be to ensure their children across the


North have access to a first-rate education system and our teachers


are equipped to deal with a diverse range of pupils in one of Herceptin.


Hits the SDLP will not be subordinates Mohsan. -- hence the


The SDLP MLA Sean Rogers. And Mr Rogers is with me now in the studio


along with the Ulster Unionist Party member, Jeff Dudgeon, who's


been heavily involved in the campaign to have the legislation


changed. You are both very welcome. Apart from the SDLP, all the other


main parties got behind this motion today. How significant was that?


think it was a dramatic moment. To some extent it was not expected


that there would be almost unanimity. It is 35 years old. It


is time that the teachers were not exempted from firms. As long as


were backed by every party, including Sinn Fein. Were you


surprised? We were not expecting it, to be asked. I thought it would be


I had no way job. And the DUP, who backed the thing, had tried to


amend it. They suggested it was a matter for DUP and Sinn Fein to


decide privately. Sean Rogers, the SDLP has put itself out on a limb,


hasn't it? The SDLP, parental preferences very important to the


SDLP. There is a large demand for Catholic Education, particularly


primary education. And we need to have teachers properly trained to


teach in Catholic schools, particularly primary schools.


is no suggestion that teachers about the certificate and not


properly trained? Yes, but it is one very important area. It is not


just the subject of religious education, it is about the


Christian ethos, sacramental preparation. In terms of sacrament


preparation, there important years for new teachers. The exception


applies to every school and every teacher in Northern Ireland. So


every school will have to adjust their activities and their


appointment processes. Is that 20% exemption not acceptable? We didn't


know anything about the 20% until the debate today. You know about it


now? I know. We will consider it carefully. You have to think in


small primary schools where you have two or three teachers, the 20% rule


wouldn't be useful. The problem for your party is if the SDLP says it is


interested in equality and fairness, you look like you are supporting an


anomaly in fair employment law? want equality in terms of what our


parents want for primary schools. Others would say if you want


equality, you should be supporting this? I would like to see greater


access for this certificate, that students shouldn't have to do it by


distant learning. That is the equality in terms of our students


when they are doing their A-levels. If they want employment in a


Catholic primary school, they need to have the certificate. That is the


type of equality I want. Do you not accept that Sean Rogers has a point,


that this is very important? Well, it is true also in controlled


schools. The law applies to them. It is not a Catholic law. It is unique


in Europe. Not a single country in the 27 members of the EU need that


exception. OK. It is an interesting one. We will see how it turns out.


Thank you both very much for coming in. Now, three long-running issues


raised their heads again during First and Deputy First Minister's


Questions in the Assembly today. The investigation into the Magdalene


laundries, the jond going struggle to have corporation tax devolved and


what is being done to encourage economic growth were all discussed.


The Junior Minister answered questions on the inquiry. We are


mindful of the pain suffered by many individuals who were resident in the


Magdalene laundry type institutions here. We sympathise greatly with the


plight of all who have experienced abuse. Anyone with any information


on any abuse of any kind should report it to the PSNI and to social


services for investigation. Anyone who was resident here within the


Magdalene laundries, or similar institutions as a child between 1922


and 1995 can go forward to the inquiry into historical


institutional abuse to relate their experiences. They will be able to


talk in private about their experiences to two members of the


inquiry's acknowledgement forum and contact details for the inquiry are


available on its website. Can the Junior Minister outline how many


people have come forward to date? The inquiry and investigation is


independent of office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.


I know the work has been continuing. Many people have already been to see


the acknowledgement forum and have had the opportunity to tell their


experiences. In addition, I understand 240 people have come


forward with complaints to the inquiry and these are being


currently addressed and looked at to identify locations and the systemic


similarities. We met with the Prime Minister on 26th March to discuss


devolution of corporation tax powers to the Executive. The Prime Minister


indicated that no decision on this would be made until the autumn of


2014. You will already be aware of our considerable disappointment that


a decision on the devolution of these powers has been deferred. We


briefed the Executive on our discussions on 28th March and our


disappointment was reiterated and shared by every member of the


Executive. This was not unexpected but it is regrettable and will delay


our efforts to rebalance the local economy. Our meeting was adjourned


so consideration could be given to an economic package for Northern


Ireland. The aim would be to assist our economy through encouraging


private sector growth. We are presently working with the United


Kingdom Government on the details of this economic package which would


use the economic levers open to the Northern Ireland Executive and the


UK Government. We would hope to be able to resume our meeting with the


Prime Minister and agree a formal package in the coming weeks. As far


as the announcement that they would take a decision by 2014, we want to


be clear that not only will a decision be taken in the autumn of


2014, but that it is capable of being implemented and legislated for


before they entered that parliamentary term. The Executive


has taken the important step of making the economy a top priority in


its programme for Government. We are committed to growing a sustainable


economy and and investing in the future. We must rebuild the labour


market and rebalance the economy to improve the wealth and living


standards of everyone. Our programme for Government sets out the main


actions. We are committed to increasing the number of jobs,


increasing value of exports, increasing research and development,


providing rate relief, eliminating IPD, investing in social enterprise


growth, supporting creative industries, regenerating former


military sites, supporting business, improving skills attracting tourism,


increasing uptake in stem subjects and implementing a strategy to


address economic in activity. First Minister. The Environment


Minister has given his early assessment of the success of the new


plastic bag levy. Mr Attwood said the feedback he's received from


retailers has been positive so far. Before that, he outlined how the


extra revenue will be used. When the single use plastic bag levy was


introduced, the administrative costs, which will be around �600,000


a year, with those jobs being located in the city of Derry, the


residue monies that come in will go to environmental causes and what


will they be? My ambition will be to have a river restoration fund. That


will be a sustainability and innovation fund and more money to


rethink waste. As a levy, 80% of the money will go out in terms of


intervention to support the economy, especially at community levels.


there any suggestion that proposed savings that the administration


costs would be for the single-use bag levy? Well, there was a


suggestion within the department initially that the management of the


single-use bag levy should be administered by a third party


private organisation. I proposed that proposal. Why? The costs would


have been significantly more. There are many services better delivered


by public organisations than private organisations. People should not


embrace the private when there is a better public model. There is a


better public model when it comes to the carrier bag levy. The costs of


�600,000 a year, given the environmental benefits of this


proposal, and given the small income streams that will go back to the


environmental organisations. I don't think that that is a highly


significant amount of money for bringing about a highly significant


change in environmental practice. Thank you. Early as it may be on


feedback, whether it be positive or otherwise, have you had any feedback


at all from the shop owners? Yes, I have, of course. I have had feedback


and I think more and more that the retail industry is more and more


recognising that this was the right time for this right measure. My


sense, very strongly, is that the citizens and the consumer were well


ahead of where some of the politics and the law was in this regard, that


people had been conditioned by the plastic bag levy in the Republic of


Ireland to begin to adjust their behaviour. There has been


enthusiastic welcoming and embrace for the levy in the North from the


consumers. Yes, there were some questions raised in respect of the


business side. (A), because we were innovative of how we rolled this out


and (b) because there were some very good business leaders who said the


Northern Ireland Association of Small news agencies said - this is


nearly verbatim - said this would reduce costs to the local newsagent


without having any disproportionate increase in terms of the management


and bureaucracy. That was a wise - those were wise words and that has


been widely recognised. Environment Minister had a busy


afternoon. He remained on his feet to deliver a statement on local


government reform. It's been years in the making. When can we expect


change to happen? The reform is one of the fundamental building blocks


of streamlining public administration, a process started


some years ago. It has produced change in the administration of the


health sector and the education sector is also under going major


change. I believe Northern Ireland does reform well, even if too slowly


and in some places, with reluctance. The local government reform


programme is arguably the most complex policy issue before the


Assembly today. As I indicated in Question Time, whilst there have


been many examples where the number of councils may have been reduced in


a jurisdiction, it is not often the case that at the same time as


merging councils you have the transfer of significant function.


After extended negotiations, I can report that on 11th April the


Executive agreed a package of functions which will transfer


through to legal councils. -- to 11 councils. My own department will


transfer local operational planning. DRD is transferring off-street


parking except park-and-ride. DSD is transferring the following areas of


urban regeneration. Functions associated with physical development


- and members will note the statement issued by the DSD Minister


in that regard today. Some community development programmes for the


voluntary and community sector. Now the package of functions is agreed,


it is important we move to confirm the number of staff transferring and


the quantum of funding. In confirming these details, the


Minister will have regard to the principle agreed by the previous


Executive. Functions without transfer from central to local


government should be fit for purpose, sufficiently funded and


cost neutral to the ratepayer at the point of transfer. The recent


Executive funding decision means council through low interest loans


can help ensure reform is fully-funded. Mark Simpson is here


with a few final thoughts. The new Principal Deputy Speaker Mitchel


McLaughlin was in the chair for that debate? It was always going to


happen. Mitchel McLaughlin was always going to become a speaker of


some sort. For those of us that covered the peace process


negotiations here at Stormont, he was always seen by Sinn Fein as Mr


Safe Pair of Hands. When something controversial was going on, they


would send Mitchel McLaughlin out, rather than Gerry Adams or Martin


McGuinness. He was seen as the night watchman. When we looked at Mitchel


McLaughlin in those days, we knew he wouldn't be a Minister - he was des


tinned for the Speaker's -- destined for the Speaker's chair. A lot of


people were surprised when ever that was mentioned last week, his age.


This was your first day following proceedings specifically in the


Chamber for quite some time. How do you think proceedings compare to


what they were like a decade-and-a-half ago? One thing has


changed. Even when I was here in the days of David Trimble as First


Minister, there was always this issue with the Chamber not being


lively enough, not making enough news, not being as topical as it


could be. That is still a problem. The one thing that I have noticed is


the barriers coming down between the parties. Somebody said to me the day


power-sharing started, "We don't need to like each other to work with


each other." I'm detecting more across the big divide people in


different parties are starting to like each other. It is nice to have


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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