22/10/2013 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.

Similar Content

Browse content similar to 22/10/2013. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!



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


tonight: The Environment Minister is in feisty


form as he pulls the plug on the Planning Bill. The majority of


parties in this assembly will certainly be behind me and they will


be giving my statement the thumbs-up, not the fingers.


Another day and another row between Sinn Fein and the DUP over


education. The only two schools you are interested in. Let's dispel this


myth. And the News Letter's Sam McBride is


with me to look back at today's events.


The Environment Minister has withdrawn the Assembly's Planning


Bill because of legal concerns. Mark H Durkan said changes to the bill


backed by the DUP and Sinn Fein could run counter to the European


Convention on Human Rights. The bill was introduced by Mr Durkan's


predecessor, Alex Attwood, in June. But today, Mr Durkan pulled the plug


on it. Since taking a office, I have had meetings with key stakeholders


including representatives of the business community in Northern


Ireland, Local Government and environmental groups and academics


from Queen's and the University of Ulster in order to listen to their


thoughts on the planning Bill as amended at consideration stage. I


have carefully and fully studied the legal advice obstained by my


predecessor and I have made that advice available. It is now clear


that the intent of the amendments was not to introduce new planning


powers, but to make OFDFM a new planning authority in Northern


Ireland. I have grave reservations about the amendments to the Planning


Bill and the restriction of the right to judicial review for legal


procedural and evidential reasons. Therefore, after very careful and


lengthy consideration, I have decided not to move the planning


Bill to further consideration stage either now or in the future.


Has the minister sought or received any advice, any legal advice from


the Attorney-General in relation to this matter and can he confirm


whether it is consistent with any legal advice he has received?


I have not sought advice from the Attorney-General nor have I received


advice from the Attorney-General. I have received legal advice from an


eminent QC in this field and that is legal advice that I have shared with


this House. It is legal advice available to the public. I have not


heard any legal opinion contrary to that advice and I have spoken to


many lawyers, many academics and many planning experts over the past


four months. A proposed power grab in terms of economic planning was so


ill conceived, so badly thought through, so arrogant that it is


actually illegal and can I ask the minister if he will tell and confirm


to the House that he will stand firm in continuing to offer responsible


leadership because no doubt he will come under various pressures to


change his mind? The member used the term power grab. That's not a term


that I intend to use today. This statement is about planning. It is


not about politics. In light of the fact this decision was taken


subsequent to the Tracey Ruling which indicated that a minister who


failed to bring a controversial decision to the full executive was


in breach of the Ministerial Code. Why is there minister defying that


ruling today and breaking that Ministerial Code?


People will ask when they hear an accusation that I might be breaking


the Ministerial Code. People, the public will rightly ask what is the


Ministerial Code? If someone is deemed not to be in breach of the


code for denying someone the right to donate blood based on their


sexuality or for promoting public disorder, they are not in breach of


the court, but for trying to prevent bad law from coming in, I am. I


don't think so. I can only act on the legal advice that I have seen.


Given the fact that the minister in the past has described the use of


titions of concern as putting up two fingers to other parties. How many


fingers is he putting up to other parties today? I recall my


description of the abuse of a abuse of petition of concern. Not the use.


The abuse of a petition of concern when it was able to be used by one


party, one party to thwart the wishes of other parties in the


assembly. Now, as it stands, the majority of parties in this assembly


will certainly be behind me and they will be giving my statement the


thumbs-up, not the fingers. Mark H Durkan in robust form in the


chamber today. I'm joined by the News Letter's Political


Correspondent Sam McBride. Sam, was the announcement today by the


minister a surprise? It was a surprise in that it seemed to appear


in the order paper at short notice. There was a ministerial statement to


be confirmed which is what I saw when I loblegd at it a few days ago.


Last night it seemed to' merge last night that there was going to be a


statement. The legal advice which seems to be the basis of what


happened today leaked out last week. It was referred to by the m are and


it emerged and I think it left him in a position where given that his


party opposed this, it was going to lose power to, it was never going to


be popular, it gave him a clear hook on which to hang this decision and


the fact that that advice came from one of the top five or six planning


QCs in the UK gave it a certain amount of clout from outside the


political system. The statement certainly provoked


strong, passionate reaction in the chamber, didn't it? Yes. From, it


was massively noticeable from the press gallery in the Sinn Fein side


there was silence. I think it was silence. But in the DUP side, there


was just constant baying. There was the sort of heckling that you get


when a party is really unhappy about something and that told a real story


because Sinn Fein are not the people who have been driving this. They


voted in the same lobbies as the DUP when this came up in June these


amendments which were controversial at the time, but it is the DUP who


really wanted this. What do you think are the


implications for planning of what happened today? That's what is at


the heart of this? And it is easy to amid the politicking of it, but the


planning Bill was one of the Bills that it tied up lots of area of


planning law. It tried to put into statute things that had been in


advice really from the minister. It did things like it increased the


fines for people who flout planning laws and tightnd the restrictions of


tree restriction orders. Lots of practical things like that and


that's now lost. It maybe resurrected as a private members


bill. That would take a long time and planning is going to go to


councils. So it is gone now. Briefly, what did you make of Mark


Durkan's performance? It was gutsy. He came of a political age here. He


showed he was no weak young minister who is going to be railroaded. Doing


this when Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were out of the country.


Had a political astuteness. The Social Development Minister


faced questions today and it was welfare reform that dominated


proceedings. Nelson McCausland told MLAs that he hopes to bring more


details of the reforms in front of the Assembly soon. I ask the


minister to confirm when discussions involving the First Minister, the


Deputy First Minister and the Finance Minister were on a Welfare


Reform package of getting measures for Northern Ireland concluded? This


has been a major area of work for myself and for the department over


the past year. There were very detailed and lengthy discussions and


intense discussions with those at Westminster, with DWP and DFP have


an engagement with the Treasury in that regard. We got to the point at


the end of June where we had the negotiation with Westminster. We


have had the interm discussions with OFM and with DFM and also


discussions with the Finance Ministry as well, Finance Minister


and we are at a point where we have put together, I believe we have got


a package of measures that will result, if they were implemented in


a much better situation for Northern Ireland than if we were to take


welfare reform as it is. Is the minister in a position to say


when he is going to bring the Bill back to the House? I have indicated


in response to that question, that I think it would be good for the


general public to be aware of the contents of the particular package


for Northern Ireland. For a range of reasons. That's an additional


reason. The information that was passed on by the Finance Minister is


information that has been in the public domain for sometime. The


Prime Minister has spoken about it. The Secretary of State has spoken


about it. Other Westminster ministers from DWP have spoken about


this and from the Treasury. So there is a concern there that over a


period of time, you get into a difficult position there in terms of


potential penalties. But this is not a matter that is just for me. It is


a matter which is for the entire executive and therefore, I believe


it is right and proper that as soon as possible we get this into the


executive and get it out into the public domain and into the assembly


for further discussion. You spoke in broader terms about welfare he


reform. I -- Welfare Reform. Which wonder if there is any analysis to


the loss of income to families by the welfare reform changes brought


in by the Tory Government? There are good parts in Welfare Reform and


parts which are not so good and you have the Treasury attempt to limit


the increase in expenditure on welfare benefits over the next


number of years. There are winners and losers in these things. That is


the case often. But I would just pick up on one point and that's some


of the figures that have been quoted in the media about the cost to


Northern Ireland have been unrealistic. We need to be careful.


We make people aware of the issues and get accurate information out as


far as possible and not create situations where people have


unnecessary fears. There are concerns. We all share them, but we


should not, I think, exaggerate and create unnecessary fears.


The Social Development Minister, Nelson McCausland. The differing


stances of the two main parties over education is well known, and they


came to the fore today as the Education Minister made a statement


on Shared Education. So shared education is not a bolt on or an


optional extra. It is fundamental to delivering good schools and central


to my vision that every learner should achieve his or her full


potential. Good education comes first, but equality and good


rerations add to the case for change. Choice can't be at the


expense of good education and neither can it be at the cost of


separation because of religious belief. Such separation is bad for


children and bad for society. Let me turn to the recommendation on


academic selection 18 to 20. Would surprise no one when I say I welcome


and endorse them. Some people have criticiseted the group for including


these recommendations. They claim they are nothing to do with sharing.


Those people are missing a very important point. Sharing means


education without barriers. Without segregation. The group's advice is


very clear. Selection discriminates, selection divides, selection is a


barrier to children from low income families. It is disappointing that


yet again the minister has lit the litmus paper to create more


contention and controversy around an issue whereby there shouldn't be


controversy and there is a time when the minister is under ex-tensive


pressure in relation to the common funding formula. I think he would


have been better spending his time addressing that problem rather than


putting another problem and other problems on the table today.


However, Mr Speaker, can I on behalf of the committee say that


recognising the growth of popular and sharing among schools is


something which we should celebrate in terms of the schools that have


been successful in relation to that issue... Pressure goes with the job.


That's how you deal with the pressure with I is the important


thing. I can assure you that as has been recently evidenced in the media


when I challenged political parties to come up with alternatives, they


are left fumbling to come up with alternatives. You have another three


days to come forward with alternatives to my proposals around


the common funding formula and I wish you well.


The minister does put a heavy emphasis on the education and skills


authority. Without stating the obvious, how long can he run that in


shadow form and continue to fund that? When is he going to bring the


legislation back and how does he hope to get it through the House?


This cannot go on forever. Both myself and the executive need to


make up its mind whether they want to deliver that programme for


Government commitment or they don't and that day is coming to us


realisation. I suspect now we are not going to meet the programme for


Government commitment. This is the last number of weeks in October. I


have a programme for Government signed up to by other executive


parties to have it established by 2013. I suspect that is missed. If


it is missed, the executive will have to make up its mind. Do they


want to continue with it, but it is coming to make your mind up time.


These will be taken forward through area planning. Can he inform the


House of Such all ability schools are rejected by the majority of


people will he endeavour to enforce this on a community? There is


another one defending the Protestant working class. You are not


interested in the Dixon Plan. You are interested in two schools in the


Dixon Plan. There are only two schools that you are interested in


the Dixon Plan. Let's dispel this myth.


John O'Dowd challenging the DUP's support for the Dickson Plan. The


provenance of the eggs we eat and the conditions in which the hens


that lay them are housed was on the Agriculture Minister's plate at


Question Time today that, along with the health of our woodlands and


forests. The disease whose scientific name, it is tracked over


100 species of plants. This includes ash trees and bilberry, over 600


hectors of woodland has been felled. The December is continuing to spread


within areas infected in previous years in the Antrim plateau. We


found scattered infections in Tyrone and Fermanagh. Once the disease is


well established in the woodland environment, it is impossible to


eradicate and as this is the case in south-west Scotland and parts of


Wales, we are close to that point in the north of Ireland. Since 1st


January 2012, it has been illegal to keep laying hens in battery cages. I


am pleased to report that all of our producers are compliant with that


directive. Can you confirm whether we are


imforting eggs into this country now which are being illegally produced


in other countries? I can confirm that it is Germany and Italy who are


the two member states who are not compliant. There were 11 others, but


when legal action was taken against them, they became compliant. We have


Italy and Germany that are not compliant. There is free movement of


table eggs so we can't stop the movement in, however, I can say that


in the past six months inspectors have not encountered any


consignments from any of the two member states that are non


compliant. The recent announcement of an


outbreak of ash dieback in county Leitrim is regrettable, but not


unexpected. The disease often spreads from recently planted trees


to older trees by the release of spores of ineffected spores.


Officials have kept counterparts in Dard and the forest service aware of


how they plan to eradicate this outbreak. Our surveillance has been


increased and has not found any sources of the disease in older


trees. Many constituents have planted out


land using ash and using department grants. They had to remove the trees


when ash dieback was found. Is there any grants available to replant the


areas? In June, I announced grant support for any of the woodland


owners affected. If you have had to remove trees, we have put grant


support in place that will help you to replant with alternative species


because we want to continue to be planting trees. This is something


that will scare landowners and they will be careful about what they are


planting so what we are doing is, we we have announced grant support that


will encourage replanting with species that are less susceptible to


these types of December. The Agriculture Minister, Michelle


O'Neill. Poverty, deprivation and mental


health - all serious social issues affecting people here, but what's


the best way to deal with them? Earlier today MLAs supported a


motion backing social investment programmes. John McMullan from the


Bryson Charitable Group joins me. Thank you very much for joining us


on the programme. Let me ask you to explain what the social enterprise


model is? OK, Mark. It is really not that complicated, but it may sound


that. It is when a charity changes the way it does business rather than


looking for grants, it looks for contracts. So for an organisation


like Bryon, instead of getting a grant and doing 100 homes helping


people to keep warm, we can do 6,500 or 7,000 homes. It allows you to


scale up. It is a different way to do business.


And Bryson Group is at the forefront of developing that notion of


thinking? We have developed our social enterprise model over 15


years. It allowed us to grow over 15 years and we are employing 693


people today. Turnover is at ?34 million. A year? Per year. It is a


lot of money and you employ a lot of people? It is a big part of the


economy. That's why we are glad to see the assembly debating this issue


of investing for social good and social investment.


It is because we are a big part of the real economy.


When you talk about, not using grants, but bidding forcrats. Give


us some sense of the contracts that you are bidding for and winning? In


Northern Ireland, we hold about 60% of the domestic recycling programmes


which councils. So we have to bid and keep our costs right and win the


business and we take a different way of doing business. We are driven by


maximising the quality of materials and recycling them in Northern


Ireland. 35% of our materials go into local companies for


remanufacturer. There is a further 1,000 jobs supported in Northern


Ireland as a result of that. It is about being clever how you deliver


services. Bhaes your definition of profit?


Profit is really interesting. We require a profit. We need the profit


to reinvest, but our profits are locked in because we are a charity,


our money is all used for social purposes. The profit we make allows


us to invest in people and invest in services and develop new services.


You have ex-ended d extended that model outside Northern Ireland which


is a good model for other companies and other charities in Northern


Ireland perhaps to look to? Well, absolutely. We have doubled our size


in the Republic of Ireland and we have had our first contracts in


North Wales in Conway. For us, it is good for Northern Ireland. It is


good for jobs in Northern Ireland. We bring back our profits and we


reuse them in services here. Is it letting Government off the hook? No,


it is working in partnership with Government and helping Government to


deliver its services, deliver better services. That are better targeted


and delivering better outcomes. The consultation on proposals to


change how schools budgets are allocated is to end this week. The


proposals were under discussion at last week's session of the Education


Committee and there was little support for them around the table.


This is disappointing to say the least. I have to say that we have


had what can only be described as the most shambolic attempt by the


Department of Consultation. Hear. Hear. We are four out of the five


education and library boards potentially losing 80% of funding


and we had two consultation events. One in Omagh which was advertised on


a Friday for a Wednesday at which four parents arrived. We had another


one in Belfast which ends up being the beneficiary of which 40 people


attended. Most of the people there, were people who were losing as a


result of this consultation. The message has to go out, please


listen. You know, the Prince pals that I have spoken -- principals


that I have spoken to, the parents that I have spoken to are very, very


concerned. I declare an interest here as a chair of a board of


governors. It is within budget, etcetera, etcetera, I can't see how


our schools can make cuts any further. We can't switch the heat


off. That's the stage. There is no maintenance being done. The question


about the use of children. I have no problem if the minister wants to


sort of consult children in something like this, but it depends


how much weight you give it. There is adults that don't understand this


formula, so there is not much hope for the kids. I accept the


criticisms around the public meetings that have been organised


and I know nothing about the one in Omagh, but I do know the one in


Belfast was well publicised. There is no doubt about that. But it is a


feature of these consultations that most people prefer to make written


submissions. The issue is those who already face obstacles. They are in


a situation where there is no parental expectations in terms of


educational achievement and that has to be addressed by the education


system and you know, I think some people are getting too exercised


about the issue. The minister said he will listen and I believe he


will. Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan standing up


for his colleague, John O'Dowd. Sam McBride has rejoined me. Is there


fractured relations? The office of the First Minister and Deputy First


Minister sent an e-mail to Mark Durkan if he was planning to do what


he was going to do, he would be in breach of the Ministerial Code.


There is open disagreement between the two main parties. Peter Robinson


and Martin McGuinness are out of the country. It doesn't seem to make


much difference whether they are here or whether they are away. The


relations are very strained. They don't really trust each other at the


moment. The Maze decision was a big issue for Sinn Fein. And Welfare


Reform which we have talked about tonight. A huge unresolved issue? It


is a huge issue which comes up to the foreand it dips away, but it has


been there the whole time. Nelson McCausland had a plan since before


the summer which he thinks can get around the concerns that there are


about the Welfare Reforms which he supports, but has not been able to


bring it to the executive let alone get it on to the floor of the


assembly and have a vote. That's a massive issue about ?5 million a


month the Treasury said they will start take from the block grant from


January if they can't agree this. He could bring something to the


floor of the chamber and it could be blocked by one of the other parties?


Which would be disastrous for him. Some people criticised the DUP for


not selling the Maze Peace Centre strong enough. Nelson McCausland


supports the ethos of what has been proposed by Iain Duncan Smith and by


the coalition Government. I think there is really an onus on him to go


out and sell it and say this is a good deal if he is going to get


people behind him. What have you made of the row over


the forthcoming Miss Ulster putty pageant? It -- beauty pageant? It


caused me to look at the rules. Delores Kelly seem to be the people


who are down as the spondors of this. Today we had Joanne Dobson


pull out. It is a throw back to another age. It is not politically


correct, but there are all sorts of controversial things going on up


here. It will be interesting to see how it


ends up. That's it for tonight, but don't


forget to join me for The View on Thursday night at 10.35pm on BBC




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.

Download Subtitles