23/04/2012 Stormont Today


23/04/2012

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 to Stormont Today. And we start with congratulations

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to the SDLP's Conall McDevitt. He completed yesterday's London

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Marathon in less than four hours. And the session in the chamber was

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equally speedy today, just under four hours from beginning to end.

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Well done to all our MLAs for that feat of endurance.

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And back in the chamber today, Mr McDevitt hadn't run out of steam.

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He wants action from the Education Minister. This minister needs to

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move from fiddling with the policy to bringing in a right. A human

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right. A right to pre-school and nursery education to every child

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who showed -- also wishes to avail of it.

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And whose grandson came to Stormont today after a chance meeting with

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an MLA? William happen to say, I have a relative involved in

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Northern Ireland. And Chris Herd, who was that? I expected to -- I

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expected him to say Almera something, and he said captain

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O'Neill. And with me throughout, my guest is

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Paula Kelly of digimumsni. Children's issues dominated

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business in the chamber this afternoon. There was a motion on

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support teams for young people and the ongoing problem with pre-school

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nursery provision. With me now is Paula Kelly from the website

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digimums. Thank you for being our guest. This subject of the nursery

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provision has had -- has been highlighted. What have been people

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saying on your website? This isn't the first time this has been

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brought up and certainly the parents, their feeling is they fail

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criteria for pre-school education. The government have made a

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commitment to children's education and we have made great strides, and

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parents feel they would like criteria as a whole reviewed.

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unfortunate we have gone into a situation where parents who are

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working Orrell must set against parents were not working? -- who

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are working are set against. They feel the criteria is weighted

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:02:46.:02:48.

against them. They feel it is difficult up July and August. They

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feel it is more difficult for their children to be educated and there

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are bigger issues. If there is part-time and full-time places,

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depending where their child has, it is a logistical nightmare.

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there as many parents on benefits getting in touch? We have a cross

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next. I couldn't say for sure. Other people have made contact

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outside of the platform by a direct message. But there are views on

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both sides. The general feel is that children would like to be...

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It is about locality, children educated in their communities and

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socialising in their communities. Frankie. -- thank you.

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If Stephen Farry was on a high after his party conference at the

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weekend, he would have been brought back to earth quickly enough as he

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took questions today. We'll hear him in a moment but first up was

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the Education Minister. And here he is responding to a query on the

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number of schools here with control of their own budgets.

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The delegation of financial and managerial responsibilities are key

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elements in the department's policy to improve the quality of teaching

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and learning in schools. Within the resources available for education,

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I am committed to ensuring as much funding as possible is delegated to

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schools however it is important to recognise their -- recognise it is

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not always practical to do that. Their number of budgets are held

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centrally. For example school transport, meals, and schools

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should recognise the greater delegation will mean greater

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accountability and responsibility, as well as time management. Can the

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Minister respond as to why in Northern Ireland we have the lowest

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percentage of delegated schools budget compared to anywhere else in

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the UK? This is one of the arguments that you use statistics

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in any way you choose best. I can quote statistics back tee which

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suggest that the delegation of funding is as good as if not higher

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than in other jurisdictions. The member refers to the delegation of

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the funding formula, broken down to schools, but we also provide

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schools with different services which, if they were taken into

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account, would bring this up to what is happening in England.

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the issue of budget cuts and when a party colleague has a question for

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a minister, he can safely bet it will not be taxing. Can the

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Minister reiterate the extent of the impact of the Budget as a

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result of the British Government cuts and perhaps he could outline

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how he liaises with the finance minister in regard to these

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particular budgetary difficulties. The out workings of the British

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Government's cuts have been devastating to education and while

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we are able to make announcements as they did today of several

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million pounds invested over a number of years, and, indeed, those

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are very welcome, it has to be remembered when you were dealing

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with tens of millions of pounds, this makes a major difference to

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his school or community and we have to focus on that. The impact of the

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budget has been devastating and I have been reviewing my budgets as

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they have come into post and we are making savings where recant and

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reinvesting those savings back into education. The minister refers to

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devastating cuts. Can he explain to me how he can justified issuing

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50,000 circulars surveying, asking on views about cross-border

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education. Can he tell us how much this will cost? With respect to

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remember, his objections are political. If you set them aside,

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the then planning cross-border educational services makes economic

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sense because many of the border communities, regardless of their

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political views, operate across the border as if the border didn't

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exist so if we can provide education to the benefit of those

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local communities, and this is how it will be plant, if it is for the

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benefit of those local communities, we will move on to that plan. And

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if we plan on economies of scale, we will save money in the long run.

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So it ticks all those boxes. How much will it cost? The final cost

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hasn't been worked out but it will be minimal because we are not

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bringing in outside consultants. The star difference in my own

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department will be analysing the statistics. I'm not aware of the

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costs. I am sure -- I can assure him that it will be value for money.

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Employment and learning next and with high hopes this will be a

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major year for tourism, Army training enough people for the sect

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are? Northern Ireland will continue to host events and celebrations.

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These events often of a lion to showcase -- offer a chance for

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Northern Ireland to show case itself. I want to provide

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employment and taboos the local economy through these. The skills

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of staff are fundamental to success. I have designated tourism and

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hospitality as a priority skill area. My department has been

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working with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. They have developed

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and put in place a customised training programme for customer

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service. In the financial year just ended, I allocated �350,000 for

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staff. And have committed finance for future training of staff. We

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are delighted the North coast will host the Irish Open and in

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anticipation, my officials have developed a short training

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programmes with the Northern Regional College to assist the

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tourism sector in this area to upscale stuff. This programme will

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be rolled up to other areas. The Executive is making a wonderful

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investment in infrastructure, and attracting events over the next

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number eat of the years but we went to see Northern Ireland tourism

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grow and flourish and to be a feature of our economy for many

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years to come and all of the international evidence shows the

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way we build a legacy and get a return Vizards is through word of

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month -- word of mouth and recommendations from families and

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between friends, and the there are - were the key determinant is the

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quality of the customer care, so it is important to complement what is

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happening in terms of investment and make sure we have an all-round

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package, make sure the tourism industry is a great success.

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Let's go back to the issue of nursery provision and hear today's

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debate calling for the right number of pre-school places in the right

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locations. The motion was brought by the Alliance Party's Judith

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Cochrane. In January, she said she was so happy she could kiss the

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Minister after he announced plans to change the entry requirements.

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But with no sign of the legislation to make the changes, there was no

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love lost in the Chamber earlier. Let's be clear, we have established

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the July-August criterion is wrong and it disadvantages younger

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children. The minister said he would introduce separate

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legislation. It was not in place quickly enough. Whilst it is

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progressive, it will not be complete in time. The minister has

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the park to act on this now and the parents want action. You should

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always go to your nearest school. It is difficult to put you on a bus

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alternative car if you are free to travel miles. The department has an

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issue and what this debate will insure is that yet again the

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genuine concerns of working parents is placed on the record in this

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house because there are clearly concerns the current process could

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become a disincentive for working parents. If we are trying to

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encourage people going back to employment, and to create an

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environment where by families can have a lifestyle that is able to

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accommodate all the challengers and needs, then, clearly, this policy

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is not able, as is currently constructed, to deliver. I have

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been here two and three-quarter years and we continually see no

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sense of urgency. No target dates, rarely target dates. This is a plea

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to everybody. Please let's look at how we can do things quicker.

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not need to have policies that tackle inequality if they just

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perpetuate another inequality. Which is why this minister needs to

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move from fiddling with the policy to bringing in a right. A human

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right. A right to pre-school or nursery education to every child.

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And, for once, he has simply refused to entertain that

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possibility and I do not understand why. It doesn't matter what I think.

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Parents don't understand why. They don't understand why, when we

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profess to be committed to transforming education and putting

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young children first, something I know Mr Rogers also in his speech

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and feels passionately about, that we continue to build a pre-school

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and nursery system on a policy that discriminates. I am at -- I am

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allocating a further �1.4 million for pre-school places. Over the

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last three years, additional funds have been made available through

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voluntary and private providers and today additional funding will be

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recurrent. A total of �1.3 million will be made available on a

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recurrent basis to further close a funding gap between statutory and

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other sectors. This was one area of concern. We do need to close the

:13:57.:14:07.
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gap and the funding will close that Do you think that news goes far

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enough? It goes. I think it's great to hear that July and August is

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going to be reviewed. There are other aspects of the criteria that

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need to be reviewed on a longer term basis. But it's a bigger issue.

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I think it's going to take time to know what the right criteria is.

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Mervyn Storey raised the issue of a disincentive to work. Are you

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finding that, are people saying there's no point if trying to get

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back to work to have to organise the child care and transport to a

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nursery school that's miles away. There are parents particularly over

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this weekend who have said it doesn't incentivise them to go back

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to work, that they'd be better off staying at home and wait until

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their children are in the education system and that they would be then

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registered on like an income related benefit, therefore that

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would help them in their criteria. Is the stracher to provision the

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answer do you think? I think they need to align the supply and demand.

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I think it's maybe extending, having time extensions, whether we

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are looking at statistics and working out what are the areas that

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have high birth rate and forecast soing that we can extend --

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forecasting, so that we can extend provision in certain areas. Thank

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you. Prisons here are currently undergoing major reforms with

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hundreds of officers leaving with enhanced payments and being

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replaced by new recruits. The Prison Officers' Association has

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long been a very vocal force and its head, veteran, Finlay Spratt,

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was not short of words when he was invited to the Justice Committee

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last week. Tonight we concentrate on his appearance as we look at the

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work of the Stormont committees. The budget was cut by �17.6 million,

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that's what it amounts to. Whether people like it or not, we as a

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trade union have that responsibility. We went along and

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said you were prepared for discussions. I've said clearly from

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the outset, that the programme was not the answer of the Northern

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Ireland Prison Service. What the seed programme has done it hasn't

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reformed the Prison Service, it's dismantled it. That will be borne

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out over time. I hope I'm wrong. But indications would be to me, and

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I wrote to the department on August 2011 and said that again, it was an

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English solution to an Irish problem. The shift patterns from an

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English private prison and imposed it in Northern Ireland. I accept

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our job is to be there when we're required to do the job. But this

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has left the biggest mess that's ever, and you are not getting all

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the facts or the truth. It's all about, I'm here to tell you exactly

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what's going on. It could get worse. In fact all you people around this

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Justice Committee, who signed up for this wonderful SEE programme,

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you signed up to lock up prisoners earlier. That's what it's about.

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People need to realise, there are people in this committee shouting

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about reform. I'm all for reform, 100%, but just actually lock the

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prisoners up early. It hasn't broke out there yet. These prisoners

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don't realise on a Saturday and Sunday they're going to be locked

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up at 5.30pm. That's what's going on. If there's an independent voice

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of this, then why was it that the criminal justice inspector time

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after time, have had reports on the Prison Service which have come out

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with comments like "Customs and practices exist which should not

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exist in prison establishments, need for radical reform and the POA

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are part of the problem. All the parties signatories to the

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agreement all agreed there was a need for a radical review into the

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management and detention of prisoners." Is everybody in this

:18:34.:18:39.

instance wrong but the POA. That's not what I said. When I wrote to

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the department in August, we fully support a reform of the Northern

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Ireland Prison Service. We fully accept it was needed. Coming back

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to the criminal justice, I wouldn't set much to these people. They're

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just a quango produced by direct ruled ministers. It's easy to go

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along and criticise. I could come in here today and criticised all

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you people for different reasons and very easy to criticise the POA.

:19:10.:19:14.

It's very handy for management to abdicate their responsibility and

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blame the POA. The POA took a conscious decision and said fine,

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you get on with it. You only have to look at the mess that's been

:19:24.:19:28.

created. As the head of the association, representing the

:19:28.:19:32.

prison officers for 36 years and the head of this organisation for

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26, I've taken that opinion. It's management's job to management when

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we agreed the framework in 94, admitted in 97, management had it

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on their job, then the POA wouldn't have got, the PO ar bailed them out.

:19:49.:19:52.

It was handy for the inspector. If you blame the POA.

:19:52.:19:56.

Multi Agency Support Teams. What does it mean? Well, it's a scheme

:19:56.:19:58.

where health and education professionals work together to help

:19:58.:20:00.

children with issues such as behavioural difficulties or speech

:20:00.:20:05.

problems. The Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs proposed the motion calling

:20:05.:20:08.

for all schools and nurseries to adopt the scheme. Here he is

:20:08.:20:17.

outlining his case. I think in terms of the scheme, one of its

:20:17.:20:21.

benefits is the multidisciplinery nature so this a range of issues

:20:21.:20:26.

can be dealt with in a child- sentaerdproch. I'll demonstrate how

:20:26.:20:32.

one issue can trigger others. Whenever a child has a speech and

:20:32.:20:35.

language problem and thae rife at primary school, they're not able to

:20:35.:20:39.

communicate well with their teacher. They might not be integrating with

:20:39.:20:42.

the rest of the class. They're likely to have behavioural problems

:20:43.:20:47.

that flow on from that. They might be very withdrawn. They might be

:20:47.:20:53.

disruptive. That will affect other children in the classroom. So

:20:53.:20:59.

because there's a fundamental problem, other problems can arise.

:20:59.:21:03.

And the beauty of this scheme is that it can bring in the range of

:21:03.:21:07.

professionals required to help the child an the family overcome those

:21:07.:21:13.

difficulties and then benefit from education. I would like the

:21:13.:21:17.

multiagency support team to be available for every child, not only

:21:17.:21:20.

in my own constituency but in Northern Ireland. The feed back

:21:20.:21:22.

from the scheme has been very positive for parents, teachers an

:21:22.:21:30.

the children themselves. 78% of Prince pals and 69% of teachers

:21:30.:21:33.

highlighted that the children benefit from the intervention from

:21:33.:21:38.

the maths service. What other things are exorcising people and

:21:38.:21:43.

parents about this nursery provision? I would say that mainly

:21:43.:21:47.

parents feel it's about the locality. They want their children

:21:47.:21:50.

brought up in their own areas, educated in their own areas. They

:21:50.:21:55.

want them socialised, establishing those relationships at a young age

:21:56.:22:00.

and from the working parent's perspective, it makes life slightly

:22:00.:22:05.

easier and it's, otherwise it's logistically can be very difficult.

:22:05.:22:10.

Is there any sense of people doing what they shouldn't be doing, using

:22:10.:22:14.

parents or grandparents' homes as an address to get a child into

:22:14.:22:19.

nursery place? Does that ever come up? Anecdotally you hear of cases.

:22:19.:22:22.

It's difficult to assess how widespread it is. Last year there

:22:22.:22:32.

was research that showed there were so many grandparents being used, as

:22:32.:22:36.

informal child care. There have been instances of that. That's one

:22:36.:22:39.

of the issues we'd hopefully see less of in relation to the July and

:22:39.:22:44.

August issue, but people have been applying applying for a place in an

:22:44.:22:48.

area where their parents are living so they can look after the children.

:22:48.:22:51.

A chance meeting in Limerick brought a visitor here today with a

:22:51.:22:54.

strong family connection to Stormont. The grandson of Captain

:22:54.:22:57.

Terence O'Neill, the former prime minister of Northern Ireland,

:22:57.:23:02.

visited parliament buildings for the first time. UUP MLA Ross Hussey

:23:02.:23:10.

was there to welcome him and told me how the visit came about. It was

:23:10.:23:14.

very surreal. We were in a meeting in Limerick and William happened to

:23:14.:23:17.

say "I have a relative who was involved in politics in Northern

:23:17.:23:26.

Ireland. I expected him to say Alderman Joe blogs or whatever. He

:23:26.:23:30.

said Captain Terence O'Neill. We sort of went, did he just say that?

:23:30.:23:34.

Obviously since then we've had a private conversation and I asked

:23:34.:23:38.

him to visit. He was a significant part of my life as a grandfather.

:23:38.:23:42.

Actually his role in politics was really a very small part of my life.

:23:42.:23:49.

I knew the position he held. I understood that he was there saz

:23:49.:23:52.

sadly, things became more violent and obviously got worse afterwards.

:23:52.:23:58.

Beyond that, I really didn't know very much. Sadly, I think many

:23:58.:24:00.

grandchildren regret, I only started paying an interest when it

:24:00.:24:04.

was too late to start asking him questions or his wife, my

:24:05.:24:09.

grandmother. So the journey to just learn a bit more was a bit late in

:24:09.:24:13.

terms of asking it from the horse's mouth sadly. But lots of

:24:13.:24:18.

politicians are here and still have good recollections. Did you meet

:24:18.:24:22.

anybody today? Yes, I met a few MLAs who had stories to tell or

:24:22.:24:29.

recollections or things to say about him that they inspired, that

:24:29.:24:33.

he inspired him to join the Ulster Unionist Party or they were going

:24:33.:24:38.

no to O'Neill. Yeah, it's been interesting. Is this a one-off

:24:38.:24:44.

visit or will you keep the -- up the connection? Hopefully it's not

:24:44.:24:47.

a one-off visit. I hope to keep the connection with politics in

:24:47.:24:50.

Northern Ireland and what happens in Northern Ireland. I suppose my

:24:50.:24:56.

real interest is we achieve reconciliation here. That's

:24:56.:25:00.

something that interests me. If there's a small part I can play

:25:00.:25:04.

brilliant, and if not, I'll be an interested observer. I want to keep

:25:05.:25:10.

my link with what's happening with the political situation here and

:25:10.:25:15.

hopefully to see communities slowly build bridges. That's what really

:25:15.:25:18.

interests me. Have the party offered you a future leadership

:25:18.:25:21.

role? No, they haven't. That would be unwise on their behalf!

:25:21.:25:24.

Politicians at Westminster had their say last week about the legal

:25:24.:25:27.

case the Attorney General is taking against the former Secretary of

:25:27.:25:30.

State Peter Hain. But as Mark Devenport told me earlier it wasn't

:25:30.:25:37.

so straightforward for our MLAs. Yes, it was definitely the case

:25:37.:25:41.

which has been dominating the chat in the corridors. In terms of the

:25:41.:25:47.

chamber, even though there was an urgent oral question asking whether

:25:47.:25:50.

the Attorney-General still had their confidence, given some of the

:25:50.:25:55.

criticism from DUP minister and the DUP Deputy Leader recently, he

:25:55.:25:59.

wasn't able to get that question in because it was said there wasn't a

:25:59.:26:04.

minister available. Jim Allister was unhappy about that. He raised

:26:04.:26:09.

that in a point of order. Nowhere does it suggest that a minister can

:26:09.:26:15.

simply say "I'm not available". Considering there are four

:26:15.:26:18.

ministers, can you confirm this matter didn't get to you for

:26:18.:26:23.

decision but that someone in the business office took a decision it

:26:23.:26:25.

wouldn't be accept yapbl because they claimed they weren't

:26:25.:26:31.

available? We expect to hear more about this case tomorrow? Yes, it's

:26:31.:26:34.

due for a mention tomorrow morning in the Royal Courts of Justice.

:26:34.:26:38.

We've heard a lot from the politicians with the DUP weighing

:26:38.:26:42.

in on the side of those who say that contempt of court proceedings

:26:42.:26:49.

shouldn't go ahead. Jim Allister making a different view whether

:26:49.:26:59.
:26:59.:27:01.

there's interference in the Jew dishary here. -- judiciary here.

:27:01.:27:08.

And controversy over the MLA Colin Eastwood. Yes, he carried the

:27:08.:27:12.

coffin of a personal friend, a former paramilitary and because

:27:12.:27:16.

there was paramilitary regalia at this funeral, other parties, the

:27:16.:27:20.

DUP and even Alliance were questioning the action and whether

:27:20.:27:25.

it was consistent with the SDLP's opposition to any kind of violence.

:27:25.:27:29.

Mr Eastwood said he was there in a personal capacity. The situation

:27:29.:27:33.

was confused somewhat because over the weekend, we had a confirmation

:27:33.:27:39.

of an SDLP reshuffle which saw Mr Eastwood off the Justice Committee

:27:39.:27:43.

and given a place on the standard and privileges committee. They make

:27:43.:27:49.

the point that was planned before the latest controversy and that it

:27:49.:27:53.

was simply co-incidental. They therefore are saying nothing to do

:27:53.:27:59.

with this. They have a principle over the image that went out with

:27:59.:28:03.

his carrying that coffin. It would have been the image that would have

:28:03.:28:13.
:28:13.:28:13.

been the SDLP criticising Sinn Fein over. In terms of the website, is

:28:13.:28:16.

it filling a gap there that people want to get in touch with each

:28:16.:28:23.

other and with your side? Yeah, it's great fun and it's a good site.

:28:23.:28:27.

It's interactive where mums talk to each other and get advice. There's

:28:27.:28:34.

a network kind of like, digi mums, mothers and business people, who

:28:34.:28:37.

give great support for each other. Questions or queries, people are

:28:37.:28:40.

helping each other with things. could be a life line for people

:28:40.:28:44.

working at home I suppose. It's a good forum for people to talk to

:28:44.:28:49.

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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