23/04/2012 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 to Stormont Today. And we start with congratulations


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


who showed -- also wishes to avail of it.


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


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


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


expected him to say Almera something, and he said captain


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


Paula Kelly of digimumsni. Children's issues dominated


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


parents feel they would like criteria as a whole reviewed.


unfortunate we have gone into a situation where parents who are


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


It is about locality, children educated in their communities and


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


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


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


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


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


number of schools here with control of their own budgets.


The delegation of financial and managerial responsibilities are key


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


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


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


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


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


centrally. For example school transport, meals, and schools


should recognise the greater delegation will mean greater


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


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


percentage of delegated schools budget compared to anywhere else in


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


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


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


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


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


schools with different services which, if they were taken into


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


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


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


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


result of the British Government cuts and perhaps he could outline


how he liaises with the finance minister in regard to these


particular budgetary difficulties. The out workings of the British


Government's cuts have been devastating to education and while


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


reinvesting those savings back into education. The minister refers to


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


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


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


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


the then planning cross-border educational services makes economic


sense because many of the border communities, regardless of their


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


bringing in outside consultants. The star difference in my own


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


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


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


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


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


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


Northern Ireland to show case itself. I want to provide


employment and taboos the local economy through these. The skills


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


hospitality as a priority skill area. My department has been


working with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. They have developed


and put in place a customised training programme for customer


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


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


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


anticipation, my officials have developed a short training


programmes with the Northern Regional College to assist the


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


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


investment in infrastructure, and attracting events over the next


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


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


years to come and all of the international evidence shows the


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


month -- word of mouth and recommendations from families and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Minister after he announced plans to change the entry requirements.


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


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


the July-August criterion is wrong and it disadvantages younger


children. The minister said he would introduce separate


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


house because there are clearly concerns the current process could


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


encourage people going back to employment, and to create an


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


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


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


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


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


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


not need to have policies that tackle inequality if they just


perpetuate another inequality. Which is why this minister needs to


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


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


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


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


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


profess to be committed to transforming education and putting


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


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


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


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


last three years, additional funds have been made available through


voluntary and private providers and today additional funding will be


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


recurrent basis to further close a funding gap between statutory and


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


gap and the funding will close that Do you think that news goes far


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


registered on like an income related benefit, therefore that


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


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


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


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


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


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


you. Prisons here are currently undergoing major reforms with


hundreds of officers leaving with enhanced payments and being


replaced by new recruits. The Prison Officers' Association has


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


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


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


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


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


trade union have that responsibility. We went along and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


with comments like "Customs and practices exist which should not


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


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


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


management and detention of prisoners." Is everybody in this


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


created. As the head of the association, representing the


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


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


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


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


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


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


where health and education professionals work together to help


children with issues such as behavioural difficulties or speech


problems. The Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs proposed the motion calling


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


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


benefits is the multidisciplinery nature so this a range of issues


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


professionals required to help the child an the family overcome those


difficulties and then benefit from education. I would like the


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


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


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


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


highlighted that the children benefit from the intervention from


the maths service. What other things are exorcising people and


parents about this nursery provision? I would say that mainly


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


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


want them socialised, establishing those relationships at a young age


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


strong family connection to Stormont. The grandson of Captain


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


grandchildren regret, I only started paying an interest when it


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


real interest is we achieve reconciliation here. That's


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


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


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


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


interests me. Have the party offered you a future leadership


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


Politicians at Westminster had their say last week about the legal


case the Attorney General is taking against the former Secretary of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


coffin of a personal friend, a former paramilitary and because


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


DUP and even Alliance were questioning the action and whether


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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