22/11/2011 Stormont Today


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


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


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


of the public are seriously concerned about the potential


corrective influence of large donations. And what could we have


possibly done to upset the enterprise minister? I find it


rather strange when I watched the Stormont Live programme last night


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


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


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


the Great Hall here at Stormont. The director of strategic


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


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


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


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


been treating each other about their personal favourites. It will


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


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


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


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


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


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


difficult climate for emerging artists, because it is seen as


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


jobs and wealth creation and investment in the economy, there


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


build and create new connections and helping to generate wealth


within the creative industries themselves which are now in fact


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


plenty more to talk about. Should we be commemorating the


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


enterprise minister a bit bothered? All was revealed during questions


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


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


Minister, quite recently you provided to me a policy statement


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


religious affirmative action plan which is reviewed regularly, and


the college is also promoting equal employment opportunities. I do


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


situation. It is certainly something I would have concern


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


have recognised there is a halt range of historical factors that


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


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


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


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


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


because there is no evidence to suggest that they have even


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


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


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


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


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


thank Mr story for his supplementary question. All I can


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the differential access that exists between the students in terms is


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


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


will be a momentous year for Northern Ireland were Burke series


of significant dates, commemorations and anniversaries.


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


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


the centenary. This would be an opportunity to clearly identified


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


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


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


Titanic. The programme will provide a real platform to change


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


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


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


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


in Belfast in 2012 but commemorating the lives that were


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


could acknowledge that. One reference to BBC Radio Ulster


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


across Northern Ireland, they are having severe access issues for


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


over donations to Northern Ireland's political parties and a


cap on donations. The identity of donors remained secret while


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


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


potential corrupting influence of large donations on political


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


main ones in Westminster have committed themselves in their


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


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


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


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


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


transparency, not least because recently there was a consultation


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


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


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


Ireland who would like to think that normality had returned.


have also highlighted the issue of Irish citizens giving donations to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the Electoral Commission should now publish summary details of how much


money actually flows from Irish citizens she Northern Irish


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


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


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


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


the removal of the hint and suspicion that big money is


influencing decisions in an improper way. Are you convinced


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


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


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


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


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


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


funding our party so if there are perceived interests they can


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


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


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


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


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


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


were not entitled to privacy about political allegiances? The argument


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


This speculation will continue until we have full transparency.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


money that they do on massive billboard campaigns and whatever


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


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


political process. Last month they Health Minister


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


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


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


medicine is at Stormont tonight and he explained why.


We are saying there might be occasional circumstances when women


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


arrangement. The coalition government want to create a new way


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


invitation is there to all galleries, both within the private


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


shown that they are very resourceful and capable, and the


work they are doing is paying dividends in terms of opening


opportunities for be but the participate in the art and get


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


and in many other areas. process of bringing about major


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


which will change what is currently known as incapacity benefit passed


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


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


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


influence the legislation. Out of engagement with the labour


market represents the best opportunity for the future. For


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


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


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


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


fair but effective framework around responsibility and sanctions, will


be the first stepping transforming implement and service allowance


into a forward looking active benefit, balancing support,


obligation, flexibility and conditionality. Sinn Fein's Nicky


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


they? The legislation goes through at Westminster and then transfers


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


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


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


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


consider that the legislation itself is the biggest change since


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


introduce this kind of draconian legislation a one of the worst


recessions we have experienced in many generations is going to create


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


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


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


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


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


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


try to increase even temporary training placements so that people


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


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


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


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


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


coming off incapacity, many have mental health problems or


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


have argued very strongly that staff were going to make these


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


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


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


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


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


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


strike of a pensions. Workers Fraser hiking contributions from


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


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


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


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


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


choice but the Treasury. But the Environment Minister said he


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


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


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


He said other ministers have and taking his arguments on board


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


would change their mind this Thursday when there is another


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


sector pension hike. But this proposal is effectively that other


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


teachers could help out their less well-paid colleagues.


potentially it could be very divisive? It is possible that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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