22/11/2011 Stormont Today


22/11/2011

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome. As boardroom salaries go through the roof, at

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least we know who pays them. But who is funding our political

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parties? Isn't it time politicians opened up their accounts? Members

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of the public are seriously concerned about the potential

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corrective influence of large donations. And what could we have

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possibly done to upset the enterprise minister? I find it

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rather strange when I watched the Stormont Live programme last night

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that we need to see more enterprise in Northern Ireland. And to bring a

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touch of college to Stormont, and joined by Nick Livingstone of the

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We saw some of the picture's last night of the new artwork grazing

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the Great Hall here at Stormont. The director of strategic

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development at the Arts Council is here. Why has this project come

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about? The Gizzi great opportunity for us to sell -- tell the story of

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artists from Northern Ireland, both emerging and established, and there

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was a lively level of interest among the MLAs. I gather they have

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been treating each other about their personal favourites. It will

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boost the reputations of the artists themselves, to show what we

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are doing as a development agency for the arts in Northern Ireland,

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and to engage with our political leaders at a critical time when we

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have just published a programme for government and show how the Arts

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Council is helping and can help to deliver some of the objectives and

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commitments made within that. possible to imagine that it is very

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difficult climate for emerging artists, because it is seen as

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something as a luxury, spending money on art work. There has never

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been uneasy time artists. But that doesn't daunt them in terms of the

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challenges that they want to do in investing in their careers. We

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believe that by buying art, not collecting for its own sake, but

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helping the get their careers on to a firm footing, we're getting them

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off to win a positive start. If you look back at some of the artists

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whose work is shown in this exhibition, you will see something

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of the great things they have achieved since. That helps us to

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stand out as a region, as well, as an area that is rich in terms of

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culture. What about the arts generally? How will you survive the

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cuts that are coming down the tracks? We have been accustomed to

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using the arts as a catalyst to try and bring about change in many

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areas. These are highlighted within the themes for the programme for

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government, and if you just take one of those areas, the emphasis on

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jobs and wealth creation and investment in the economy, there

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are lots of ways in which artists and creative people are helping to

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build and create new connections and helping to generate wealth

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within the creative industries themselves which are now in fact

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one of the promising areas of growth potential. Stay with us,

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plenty more to talk about. Should we be commemorating the

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Titanic disaster next year? And why has Stormont today been getting the

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enterprise minister a bit bothered? All was revealed during questions

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this afternoon, where there was also a lot of curiosity about the

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religious make-up of staff at St Mary's teacher-training college.

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Minister, quite recently you provided to me a policy statement

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as adapted them 22nd October 1998 by St Mary's University College.

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Can you explain why, on 22nd September, 2011, some 13 years

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later, there is only 7% Protestant workforce, and how do you plan to

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deal with this inequality? And do you accept that equality not only

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needs to be done, it needs to be seen to be done? I thank Lord

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Morrow for that supplementary, and they do recognise it is an equal

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opportunities employer, but at the same time, where only 8% of the

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workforce are from a Protestant background. The college does have a

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religious affirmative action plan which is reviewed regularly, and

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the college is also promoting equal employment opportunities. I do

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believe that St Mary's is conscious of the need to improve the

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situation. It is certainly something I would have concern

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about in terms of the balance of the workforce. It is important to

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have recognised there is a halt range of historical factors that

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have led to the situation in which we are today. But that does not

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mean that he doesn't have to be changed, and that change needs to

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come soon. But I do want to impress upon the house and Lord Morrow that

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some Mary's is conscious of the issue and the need to address it,.

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Mistake I would like to know what evidence you base the reference on,

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because there is no evidence to suggest that they have even

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commenced... I would remind you that we are on the report now.

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relation to the report, will that report also include an explanation

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as to why St Mary's won't allow students to do the Catholic

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certificate? It forces our students to go and have it paid for in

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Glasgow. Surely that is not the indication of the University?

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thank Mr story for his supplementary question. All I can

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say is that I have had a number of dealings with St Mary's. A range of

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issues both have a financial nature and also relating to equality of

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opportunity were raised by myself and by my officials. I have to say

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that I did find that St Mary's were engaging in a constructive and

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creative way, and were very alert to a number of the issues and

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concerns that have been raised by an number of members, and indeed in

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the wider community. Certainly the issue of the Catholic certificates,

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the differential access that exists between the students in terms is

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one that I am minded about, and it is certainly an issue of which St

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Mary's a engaged with me at the moment. Question number four.

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will be a momentous year for Northern Ireland were Burke series

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of significant dates, commemorations and anniversaries.

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The key anniversary will be the anniversary of the maiden voyage of

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the Titanic. The Titanic the bitter experience is a significant mark of

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the centenary. This would be an opportunity to clearly identified

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Belfast and Northern Ireland as the home of Titanic. A recently

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launched NI 2012, and exciting year-long programme of national

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events, includes Synek to prevent - - significant commemoration of the

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Titanic. The programme will provide a real platform to change

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perceptions of Northern Ireland on Given that 2012 will mark the loss

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of life associated with the sinking of the Titanic, I asked the

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minister why the major celebration was not the launch of the ship,

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which took place last year? This is about celebrating what was going on

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in Belfast in 2012 but commemorating the lives that were

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lost on the Titanic as well. I am sorry he has not seen the plans. If

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he had been at the all-party working group on tourism on Monday

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morning he would have seen plans for not only celebrating, but

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commemorating. It is about that balance. We want to celebrate what

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happened in the past and we want to look to the future for Northern

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Ireland and recognise the great work that happened at that time. Do

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not forget, she was all right when she left Belfast! Many people will

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be amazed that the Minister doesn't know how many of the jobs which

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Invest NI said they promoted over the last five years, they in fact

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saw created, and how many still exist? Surely that knowledge is

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essential to measure promise of future job creation to see how the

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people who are making no promises actually performed in the past. As

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it may be welcome that they are now beginning to put in motion of

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things to answer those questions, how have we live through a system

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where we do not know how many jobs were created? We know how many jobs

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were lost. Is it not time the minister knew how many were

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created? He just cannot acknowledge the we are dealing with this issue.

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Instead, he reverts back to what I read of his Radio Ulster piece of

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work, where he said that we were only interested in foreign direct

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investment. We are not. I have already detailed the number of jobs

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coming from our own companies, coming from business starts, from

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at their jobs band, but yet again a member cannot acknowledge that is

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the case and seeks to mislead this Assembly in relation to the 25,000

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jobs. This is being dealt with and it would be nice if the member

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could acknowledge that. One reference to BBC Radio Ulster

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we were not forgotten 80! I know speaking to small businesses

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across Northern Ireland, they are having severe access issues for

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funding. That is why I find it strange when watching Stormont Live

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last night when I heard it represented of a bank saying we

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needed more enterprise. That is absolutely right, we do need to see

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more, but wouldn't it be lovely if the Bank stepped up to the mark and

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held those small and medium-sized businesses to actually invest in

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their companies and grow? Flat to see the minister was tuning

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in. A government-appointed watchdog has called for more transparency

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over donations to Northern Ireland's political parties and a

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cap on donations. The identity of donors remained secret while

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parties in Britain must report donations of more than 7,500.

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The evidence is that members of the public are concerned about the

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potential corrupting influence of large donations on political

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decisions. The political parties recognise that and all three of the

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main ones in Westminster have committed themselves in their

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manifestos to read politics of big money. Our proposals are addressed

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to that issue, how to take big money out of politics. You have

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called for greater transparency, but what of the argument that for

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security reasons, Northern Ireland is not ready for that? I recognise

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the issue over security. We have not called for immediate greater to

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transparency, not least because recently there was a consultation

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of combat. -- a consultation on that. The government should now set

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a timetable for it moving back to normality. Do you think Northern

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Ireland should be exempt? I think there are many people in Northern

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Ireland who would like to think that normality had returned.

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have also highlighted the issue of Irish citizens giving donations to

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parties in Northern Ireland and in Britain. Why have you highlighted

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that issue? There are two things in in Northern Ireland which are

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different from the arrangements in the rest of the UK. One thing is

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the absence of transparency and the other is the fact that in the rest

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of the UK, the only people who can't do are those on the UK

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electoral register -- register. -- can donate. It is a special

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condition that we drew attention to for Northern Ireland. We suggest

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the Electoral Commission should now publish summary details of how much

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money actually flows from Irish citizens she Northern Irish

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political parties. If you changes go ahead will the electorate in

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Northern Ireland notice the difference? That is a good question.

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That depends upon the use of the money that would be provided. I

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hope they will notice a difference not just from that but also from

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the removal of the hint and suspicion that big money is

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influencing decisions in an improper way. Are you convinced

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your timescale will be met? We are not suggesting the big changes, the

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Caporn it donations and reductions in spending, should come into being

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until 2015. The Green Party is the only one here to publish its

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donations. Stephen Agnew joins us. You could say it might be easier

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for you because you are a smaller party? That is true. Equally, we

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made this decision. Green is clean. We want the voters to know who is

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funding our party so if there are perceived interests they can

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investigate them and check it out. We publish them on mind so people

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know her fans as and show that we are acting in their interests. --

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online. We also do not take corporate creations. If businesses

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donate to a political party they expect something at the other end

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and we do not believe that is in the best interests of democracy.

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Can you imagine big changes once they new rules come in? Our people

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were not entitled to privacy about political allegiances? The argument

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always used his about security. We have taken down watchtowers and

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taken shoulders -- soldiers off the street and we have said that peace

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is here. The one things that remains unchanged is that political

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donations are hidden. It means every decision is in question. Are

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they are acting in the best interests of the people of Northern

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Ireland, or of the people who fund the political parties? In my

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constituency, and a political party takes a side, people ask if they

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are funded by the developers? We do not know and I cannot answer them.

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This speculation will continue until we have full transparency.

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What about the idea of political parties getting public funding. I

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cannot imagine there would be public support for it? It is a case

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of what price do we want to put on democracy. The trade-off is, if we

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stop large corporate donations that the public purse makes up the money.

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To ensure the democratic process is operating in the interests of the

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people at rather than vested interests, I think a small subsidy

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might be worthwhile. Let's look at that. First, we need transparency

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in Northern Ireland to seek party - - money going into political

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parties. Political parties can run cheaper election campaigns. We do

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it on a limited budget. Other parties do not have to spend the

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money that they do on massive billboard campaigns and whatever

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else it to promote their party. It should be one person, one vote, not

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�1, one vote. Money could be seen to court in -- to be corrupting the

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political process. Last month they Health Minister

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announced plans to make it harder for women to opt for a Caesarean

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delivery. We have the highest rate in the UK. Guidelines for England

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have been relaxed. Man in charge of the organisation which regulates

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medicine is at Stormont tonight and he explained why.

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We are saying there might be occasional circumstances when women

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who are frightened to deliver vaginally, even after they have had

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psychological help, those so -- sort of circumstances, it is not

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unreasonable to deny a Caesarean section. We do not expect this to

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be in any way a common occurrence. It is not the Caesarean section on

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demand. They have Minister appears to be taking a firmer approach in

:18:28.:18:38.
:18:38.:18:42.

I think we have to remember do but Caesarean section is now very safe,

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and a lot safer than some of the medical intervention, for Sirte

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type deliveries. I wouldn't criticise, and they think these

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things are very difficult. You have to have arrangements to suit your

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circumstances. There is not a hard and fast rule. One of the other

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pressing issues is the price of drugs. Is there of thing your

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organisation can do to reduce the price? Why we can't, no. The

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companies set the price they want to set, that is the current

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arrangement. The coalition government want to create a new way

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of looking at drug pricing and trying to match it better to the

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value that the drug brings, and they are wanting to, in a sense,

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work out the way in which the value of the drug is established and the

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price is adjusted accordingly. They have provided no details about how

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this is going to work, but of course the problem is that drug

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pricing is a reserve matter, it is a UK wider matter. So I think we

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are a long way off finding a solution to this. There has been

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this new scheme to help people try to buy art more affordable, paid

:20:06.:20:11.

off over a certain length of time. Is there any controversy and the

:20:11.:20:14.

fact that and there is a small number of galleries involved? Well

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the other galleries not feel their noses put out of joint?

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invitation is there to all galleries, both within the private

:20:22.:20:28.

sector and public, to be part of the scheme. But as a private scheme

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at this stage, and we are hoping to be able to stimulate the market a

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little bit, because one of the common complaint that we here is

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that things have been sluggish for the very reasons you outlined, and

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if we are going to make art affordable has put it in the reach

:20:42.:20:47.

of ordinary people, this is a way of doing it. This is a way to

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provide that level of intervention and support. How difficult is it

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for artists to survive in this climate? It is difficult, there is

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no question about it. This highlights that artists have had to

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become quite clever and developing the many strands to their career.

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They are often trying to pin down more than one job. But they have

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shown that they are very resourceful and capable, and the

:21:14.:21:18.

work they are doing is paying dividends in terms of opening

:21:18.:21:20.

opportunities for be but the participate in the art and get

:21:20.:21:24.

involved, and that is having benefits in education, in schools

:21:24.:21:29.

and in many other areas. process of bringing about major

:21:29.:21:32.

changes our welfare system to go step forward today as a motion

:21:33.:21:36.

which will change what is currently known as incapacity benefit passed

:21:36.:21:39.

through the house. The changes are being imposed by Westminster as

:21:39.:21:44.

part of the Welfare Reform Bill, while MLAs can voice concern about

:21:44.:21:48.

the impact of the new rules, there is where little Stormont can do to

:21:48.:21:53.

influence the legislation. Out of engagement with the labour

:21:53.:21:57.

market represents the best opportunity for the future. For

:21:57.:22:01.

those claimants have some capacity to work, taking practical steps it

:22:02.:22:06.

in the shape of care for -- carefully considered work-related

:22:06.:22:11.

activity, is the best route towards that goal. Allowing flexibility for

:22:11.:22:15.

advisers in supporting claims, was to the same time establishing a

:22:15.:22:20.

fair but effective framework around responsibility and sanctions, will

:22:20.:22:24.

be the first stepping transforming implement and service allowance

:22:24.:22:28.

into a forward looking active benefit, balancing support,

:22:28.:22:38.

obligation, flexibility and conditionality. Sinn Fein's Nicky

:22:38.:22:42.

Braidley joins us. There isn't much that any of the MLAs can do, is

:22:42.:22:49.

they? The legislation goes through at Westminster and then transfers

:22:49.:22:55.

to the assembly. In terms of the legislation, the party is a bigger

:22:55.:22:58.

issue. It is maybe something it needs to be addressed in the wider

:22:58.:23:03.

sense. In terms of what we can do, the administration of welfare

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reform is something we can do something about, because if you

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consider that the legislation itself is the biggest change since

:23:10.:23:16.

1940, certainly since the inception of the welfare state, and obviously

:23:16.:23:21.

it is going to impact on our society. It will mean huge changes.

:23:21.:23:24.

Many people are very worried about what is going to meet for their

:23:24.:23:28.

future, but at the same time there are many people who feel that the

:23:28.:23:32.

system does need to be looked at again, and this is a good thing.

:23:32.:23:36.

don't think anybody has any argument with the fact that his is

:23:36.:23:43.

better for people to seek work and then to be on benefits. And

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certainly that aspiration is there. The difficulty, of course, it is if

:23:48.:23:54.

we have at the moment something like 61,000 people unemployed, to

:23:54.:23:57.

introduce this kind of draconian legislation a one of the worst

:23:57.:24:02.

recessions we have experienced in many generations is going to create

:24:02.:24:06.

the huge difficulties, and people are right to be concerned, because

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it is going to mean huge difference is right across the board for

:24:09.:24:15.

younger people, for children, for all the people as well. We need to

:24:15.:24:20.

look at the administration of that reform and see what we can do to

:24:20.:24:24.

alleviate the impact it has on the people who live here in the north.

:24:24.:24:27.

Is there some sort of argument to have training schemes for people to

:24:27.:24:31.

try to increase even temporary training placements so that people

:24:31.:24:36.

are going off benefits and on to something? The difficulty is that

:24:36.:24:43.

as the moment, there are 76,000 people being moved from Inga Bath

:24:43.:24:48.

Dudi jobseeker's. The difficulty with doing that is it will take --

:24:48.:24:55.

from incapacity to jobseeker's. The difficulty with that is it will

:24:55.:25:02.

take several years to do. The difficulty is those people who are

:25:02.:25:07.

coming off incapacity, many have mental health problems or

:25:07.:25:11.

particular types of conditions such as autism, Parkinson's, where we

:25:11.:25:15.

have argued very strongly that staff were going to make these

:25:15.:25:19.

assessments need to be particularly well trained, because if you had

:25:19.:25:24.

someone for instance with bipolar, they may present a one-day is being

:25:24.:25:29.

find, at the next day they may not be. Those things have to be taken

:25:29.:25:36.

into account. We can certainly do something about that. We will have

:25:37.:25:40.

to leave it there, but we will come back to this topic over the next

:25:40.:25:44.

weeks and months. In just over a week, unions are good to go on

:25:44.:25:48.

strike of a pensions. Workers Fraser hiking contributions from

:25:48.:25:52.

next year. But exactly who should pay has been the subject of debate

:25:52.:25:59.

between the SLP and Sinn Fein. I think the local people --

:25:59.:26:03.

politicians are gearing up in terms of their differing responses to the

:26:03.:26:07.

one-day strike which is due next week on Wednesday. The Stormont

:26:07.:26:14.

executive said it is having to pass on the cost, and has been given no

:26:14.:26:18.

choice but the Treasury. But the Environment Minister said he

:26:18.:26:21.

thought they should be some wriggle room, because he felt that there

:26:21.:26:25.

was a local government element of the pension scheme, which covers

:26:25.:26:29.

about 44,000 workers, and this didn't have to be covered by this.

:26:29.:26:32.

He said other ministers have and taking his arguments on board

:26:32.:26:35.

previously, but he is writing to them again in the hope that they

:26:35.:26:37.

would change their mind this Thursday when there is another

:26:37.:26:44.

executive meeting. I think there is good argument, and their good

:26:44.:26:50.

government prevails. Whatever was decided in September, now is an

:26:50.:26:57.

opportunity, a week from the pension strike, to do things

:26:57.:27:03.

differently, do things better, and protect 44,000 people who are in a

:27:03.:27:09.

pension scheme, many of whom are low-paid, part-time or women. This

:27:09.:27:19.
:27:19.:27:19.

is a chance to get things right. And reaction from to Sinn Fein MLAs.

:27:19.:27:25.

Yes, an article earlier said that Alex at which a publisher's

:27:25.:27:34.

proposal and be more specific about it. Any teachers who earn less than

:27:34.:27:38.

�32,000 a year, it is suggested, should be exempt from this public

:27:38.:27:42.

sector pension hike. But this proposal is effectively that other

:27:42.:27:51.

teachers would pay for that. It has been suggested that better-paid

:27:51.:27:55.

teachers could help out their less well-paid colleagues.

:27:55.:27:59.

potentially it could be very divisive? It is possible that

:27:59.:28:04.

teachers might not be impressed with that. It may well be seen as a

:28:04.:28:14.

divide-and-rule tactic. Sinn Fein, and also the SDLP, are very keen to

:28:14.:28:20.

be on the side of the strikers. But when it comes to health, the DUP a

:28:20.:28:23.

much more keen to come out and so that the strike action should not

:28:23.:28:31.

be taken. Nick, a final thought from you. What is the Arts

:28:31.:28:34.

Council's top priority in the coming months? There are many

:28:35.:28:38.

challenges, but thinking in terms of what is happening now, this is a

:28:38.:28:42.

defining year in terms of trying to put Northern Ireland on the map. A

:28:43.:28:46.

high priority has to be in terms of developing what we can do for the

:28:46.:28:50.

creative economy, and also to help put Northern Ireland in this

:28:50.:28:54.

critical year in terms of promoting it as a destination for visitors.

:28:54.:28:58.

Thank you very much for joining us. That is it from Stormont for now. I

:28:58.:29:02.

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


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