23/04/2013 Stormont Today


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

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Good evening and welcome to Stormont Today.


Coming up on the programme: The First and Deputy First


Ministers appear in public for the first time since their falling out


last week. Look, we have the ability to have a good row every


now and again. Not like others in the past who huffed and puffed and


refused to speak to to one another. Are Peter Robinson and Martin


McGuinness now back on the right track? We'll have analysis from


politics professor, Rick Wilford. Also tonight, a debate on tobacco


retailing prompts some soul- searching on the back benches.


an early age my life has been ruled by cigarettes. I plan my day around


cigarettes. I plan what time I get up in the morning around cigarettes,


I plan meetings around cigarettes. It is a week since Peter Robinson


and Martin McGuinness had to schedule so-called clear-the-air


talks in an attempt to mend their reportedly faltering relationship.


Today, as if to prove that a week is a long time in politics, the


pair made their first public appearance together since the row.


They spoke to our Political Editor, Mark Devenport, who asked them


first how they're now getting on. The only thing that surprises me


about some of the press commentary on these matters is they are


surprised that occasionally we might might have a different


opinion on issues. The fact is we come from very different political


parties with different ideologies and different backgrounds. The


remarkable thing that we reach agreement on so many issues and the


issue isn't so much that we find something we disagree on, the issue


is that we are able to resolve it and that's what is important and


that's what is important for Northern Ireland. We have made


spectacular progress in Northern Ireland. We don't get credit from


the media for it, but nonetheless, this is a completely new era,


people are living in a very different Northern Ireland than the


one that Martin and I grew up in. I think we have a massive potential


for the future and we are resolved and determined that we're going to


lead this country through peace and stability.


Look, we have the ability to have a good row every now and again. Not


like others in the past who huffed and puffed and refused to speak to


each other. We have been in Government together for the last


six years and there has never been a threat to the institutions. So,


we are well rounded individuals. We have the ability to sit down and


have reasoned dig log and discussions about what we need to


do and we know there are things we need to do. We're not trying to


bluff people. There are decisions that have to be made and we have


been involved in trying to get agreements on a range of decisions


which will bring, I think, enormous benefits to our people. There is


not a coalition Government anywhere in the world that doesn't have to


deal with that sort of stress and difficulty.


REPORTER: So you think having the rows is healthy? I think every now


and again it does no harm at all. Well, I think that over coming


differences is the process that we are engaged in is about. We are


involved and have been for a long period of time in resolving a raft


of issues and making real progress. I think over the next number of


weeks you will see the product of that. But from the point of view of


the people of Northern Ireland, I think it is important that we don't


have a daily diet from our media indicating that the Executive isn't


delivering. The Executive is delivering. Maybe our failure is


not being able to transmit the message of how successful this


Executive has been to the wider public and we are having to sift it


through newspapers who glory in the fact... Hang on, he made a speech


having a go at you, it wasn't the media? When you have you have


newspapers who glory in the fact that they are the official


opposition. We have to have our information transmitted to the


public. That doesn't seem fair to You are convinced the DUP are in


power because they want to be, not because they have to be which is


what you said at the ARDESH? From my prospective, there will be times


at party conferences, whether it be a DUP party conference or a Sinn


Fein party conference where people will make speeches. My speech was a


genuinely held view. There is a difference of opinion about my


speech. We have had our own discussions about that. It is now


time to move on. The First and Deputy First


Ministers speaking to Mark Devenport. Well, I'm joined now by


Professor Rick Wilford from the School of Politics at Queen's


University. First of all, do you get a sense that they have


metaphorically kissed and made up? Well, I think for the time being


they have put together a working relationship because there did seem


to be some distance between them. I don't know whether they they hugged.


There has been agreement for the future. But there are still


potholes ahead on the road, aren't there? There are. It was


interesting that Robinson talked about making some announcements in


the next short period really. I suppose one of of moz may relate to


-- those may relate to issues. The other one which will cause real


difficulty and I can't see a way they will agree is on the scope of


Welfare Reform in Northern Ireland and that's going to prove difficult


because they are far apart on some of the aspects of the proposals


that the coalition Government in London put forward. Not least of


which is the so-called bedroom tax or spare room subsidy and that's


going to be an issue. But for the time being, given that the


atmosphere has cooled, we can only welcome that, but that's not to say


there aren't further, as you put it Mark, potholes or bump in the road.


What about the idea that elements of the press are a self appointed


opposition. Is that a threat or a safeguard? Well, it is a safeguard.


The press are there to be a thorn in the flesh of all politicians,


whatever party they come from and wherever they practise their


politics. The fact, I suppose, the choice of phrase of Peter Robinson


used about being in opposition, it maybe points up the fact there is


no formal opposition in the assembly itself and the local press


found themselves in the position where they felt in a sense they


have some warrant to act in that capacity, but it is a bit rich, you


know, that politicians spend a lot of their time mingling with and


briefing politicians, some people liken it to dogs and lamp posts and


I don't think we should be surprised when some elements of the


press criticise politicians, justifiably or not, that's part of


their remit. Let's move move to this petition


launched against the conflict cons formation -- conflict


transformation site the Maze Prison. They had an agreed candidate in the


mid-Ulster constituency a month ago. I suppose what it does is it


highlights the fact that McGuinness and Robinson and the DUP and Sinn


Fein have been able to cobble a working relationship. It looks as


if the Unionist family, is resembling more. And it is


dysfunctional and this is going to place strain on this grand project.


Thank you very much for joining us. Today's proceedings in the chamber


began with the latest stage of the Tobacco Retailers Bill introduced


by the Health Minister. Its provisions include strengthening


the penalties for those who sell tobacco to children as well as


scrutinising the legislation, the debate featured several personal


interventions over the dangers of smoking. While we have made


substantial progress since the 1960s when over half the population


smoked, our smoking rates remain too high. Rates are particularly


high in areas of social and economic deprivation. Because there


is around one in three people smoking in those areas compared to


the average of one in four for the general population. The reasons why


young people take up smoking, despite the evidence of harm it


causes, are complex and varied. Of the 8% of children who smoke on a


regular basis, over half frequently purchase tobacco products from a


newsagent, Tabakonist or sweebg shop. My ob-- sweet shop. My


objective is to ensure the minimum age of sale policy is more


rigorously applied by retailers as the proposed legislation will


introduce tougher measures for non- compliance. The evidence is that a


significant number will continue to sell tobacco products to those


under the legal age unless we apply stricter sanctions.


The Tobacco Retailers Bill would aim to achieve this. Making it


compulsory for all tobacco retailers in Northern Ireland to


register with their local District Council. Granting courts the power


to ban the sale of tobacco either on a named premises or by a named


person for up to 12 months following an application by a


District Council. An application can only be made if three tobacco


offences have been committed within three years. Creating new offences


in relation to the register including failure to register and


failure to notify of changes. Creating the offence of breaching a


banning order and allowing for Fixed Penalty Notices to apply for


a number of offences including that of selling tobacco to under 18s.


One issue has arisen which is of course, which is of concern to the


committee. The Bill will introduce a three strikes in three years and


you are out rule. If a retailer commits three offences, of the sort


specified in the legislation within a three year period, they can be


banned from selling tobacco. The committee welcomes this sanction.


However, we are concerned that the offences leading to a banning order


are too narrow. Currently, the Bill states that the type of offences


which can be counted towards a banning order are not registering


the premises to sell tobacco, failing to notify changes to the


register and selling to under-age persons. The committee has


suggested that the Bill should contain a provision to allow the


courts to include a conviction for selling tobacco as as one of the


three strikes which would lead to a banning order. When the committee


made this suggestion to the department, it initially advised


that the tobacco sales were dealt with by HMRC under the Duty Act and


someone could be banned from selling tobacco if convicted. When


the committee inquired further into this matter and we contact the


Department of Justice we learned that the tobacco duties Act had


never been applied here. There is a worrying situation at


the moment where 20% of tests fail where people who are under-age go


in and are able to buy cigarettes and the majority of those who


consume tobacco products start when they are young. I have only


consumed two cigarettes in my life. Back 40 years ago and I have to say,


I have to say, I found them disgusting. I through them tht bin


and I -- in the bin and I never touched them since.


The minister might take the opportunity to talk a little bit


about the need for other departments and the Executive as a


whole to seize this issue. I lost both my parents to tobacco. And I


make no apology for having little tolerance for it. I am quite happy


to describe myself when it comes to tobacco and the regulation of


cigarettes and tobacco to be a bit of a fascist. I think that's the


sort of stage stage we need to get to in this society.


We have a duty to ensure that we do everything in our power to prevent


people becoming addicted to this vile drug. Mr Speaker, I can call


this a vile drug and a filthy and disgusting habit because I'm one of


the 24% of adults in Northern Ireland addicted to tobacco. I


started smoking almost 30 years ago as a teenager and I can remember


that within a very, very short time, I had become an addict to the


properties of this drug. And from an early age, my life has been


ruled by cigarettes. I plan my day around cigarettes. I plan what time


I get up in the morning around cigarettes. I plan meetings around


cigarettes. I even plan the time I spend in this chamber around


cigarettes and it is correct what will Wells stated early, smoking is


one of the biggest regrets of my life. I welcome the minister's


presentation of this Bill, I do so as a smoker. I do not recommend


smoking to anyone. I was not an under-age smoker or even a teenage


smoker. In fact, I got hooked on it when I stopped playing football and


sport at the time. In welcoming the Bill, I would like to say to the


minister and he is fair and he is straight and he is consistent on it


which I respect, but I would like to say to him now, and I don't


normally speak on these issues. Just ease back on the voluntary


smoker. None of this this nonsense that we were picking up yesterday


on banning a person from smoking in their own car. I just find that


intolerable. A number of members raised the 1979 Act. Why has there


been no prosecutions under the 1979 Act? That's a good question. All of


us need to know the answer. Why are we not doing more to go after those


who engage in the is in the ill lis it tobacco industry. Mr Wells


confessed to having two cigarettes. I don't know why he had two


cigarettes. One did me! The Health Minister, Edwin Poots,


like some of his fellow MLAs, in confessional form about cigarettes.


The Enterprise Minister has called the G8 summit in County Fermanagh


the biggest opportunity Northern Ireland has ever had on the world


stage. Speaking during Question Time, Arlene Foster also reiterated


the importance of devolving corporation tax and continued


growth in the tourism sector to reinvigorate the local economy.


am disappointed that the Prime Minister delayed his decision on


devolving corporation tax powers until the autumn of 2014. The


Executive remain committed to securing this additional policy


leaver. We will continue to work together to deliver the actions


contained within the economic strategy and the more recent


economy and jobs initiative. However, it must be recognised that


the economic strategy's key objective of rebalancing the local


economy would be delivered more quickly if we had the power to vary


the rate of corporation. The delay isn't an indefinite one. We have


been told once the Scottish referendum is out of the way, that


a decision will be taken. I want to say that I think that it is a


fundamental mistake that we have not, from the Prime Minister, that


he has not made the decision now. Frankly, if I was Alex Salmond, I


would use it as a way to argue for independence because I would say


the Northern Ireland Executive put forward a compelling case in in


respect of corporation tax, however the Westminster Government decided


not to devolve that and if I was Alex Salmond I would say what you


need is independence. In actual fact, I think it goes contrary -


well, I am not arguing for independence. I can actually join


the dots unlike some people across the way. My department is working


closely with the Prime Minister's office, the Foreign and


Commonwealth Office and local stakeholders to maximise


opportunities to show case Northern Ireland's business development and


tourism offering to visiting delegations as a positive place to


live, work, visit, study and invest and do business with to a global


audience. Could she add to her previous answer, what excess she is


-- access she will have to these potential important investors?


we are meeting with some of the forward delegations already that


have visited Northern Ireland and Fermanagh and they are engaging


very much with Invest Northern Ireland and all of the other


partners. This is the biggest opportunity we have ever had on the


world stage and therefore, we must take those opportunities and that's


what we intend to do. There have been many meetings as the member


might appreciate over the past period since the G8 was announced


as come to go Northern Ireland and I very much welcome the officials


from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister's


office to Fermanagh on a regular basis. We are increasing their air


miles to Northern Ireland. Despite the challenging and economic


conditions, I remain positive about our prospects. Full year figures


for 2012 on visitor numbers are not available, there are many


indicators of the success of the NI 2012 campaign. I am encouraged by a


10% increase in hotel occupancy rates during 2012 and by the


excellent first year visitor number figures for Titanic Belfast and the


giants Causeway Visitor Centre. We have the UK City of Culture and the


G8 Summit in Fermanagh. I know that the first and Deputy First Minister


have been along to Titanic Belfast this morning to celebrate the the


that 807,000 visitors have come to Titanic Belfast since it opened in


April last year. Noi, Noi now, that's a tremendous success. From


128 countries as well. They have come from across the world and I


think that shows the benefit of having a centre like the Titanic


Belfast. The Enterprise Minister, Arlene


Foster. Northern Ireland's first Sexual Assault Referral Centre is


to open at Antrim Area Hospital next month. It has previously been


billed as a national model of good practice, but in an Assembly debate


today, some Members expressed concerns that it might not live up


to victims needs. My first concern is about the opening hours of the


centre. Currently it is proposed that the core core business hours


of the centre will be from Monday to fid from 9am to -- Friday from


9am to 5pm. Perpetrators do not carry out their attacks to ensure


they fit in with office opening hours. They should know they are


not alone in their battle. We are here to help. There is the issue of


access to counselling. The Rowan will refer people to other


organisations. The committee has written to one of the main


providers of counselling and they have confirmed that their waiting


list are long and some areas up to four months. We should recognise


the fact that we will have a specialist facility which will dot


important job of providing the care services alongside the justice


services which the victims of domestic and sexual violence


require and I think that is a key way which will ensure the people


were to give best evidence and that cases will stand up in court and at


the same time ensuring that people's needs are met in the


aftermath of the troubles. There is a culture issue in our society


about men, in particular, finding it impossible to appreciate the


right of women, children, other men to their own bodies. The right and


the sanctity and the integrity of someone's body and there is a


cultural under under currant that does lead people to think that it


is OK to abuse. The Rowan will be open to deal with a victim at any


time, 365 days a year. All victims will receive the same level of


specialist support whether they attend out-of-hours or during core


hours. This is a significant step forward in supporting the victims


of rape and sexual assaults within a safe, a secure and confidential


environment and working in partnership with the voluntary


sector, we will provide better support to the victims and


survivors of sexual crime and seek to bring those responsible to


justice. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots


and the DUP's, Pam Brown joins me now. Thank you very much indeed for


joining us. You raised the point there that the Rowan will only be


open during office hours. The minister tried to reassure people


it would be 365 days a year in terms of phone access. Did that


allay your fear as soon as. Somewhat it did, Mark. The service


is to be there, the core hours are to be Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm


and that strikes you as well, it struck me as unusual because when


you think of rapes and sexual attacks, you don't think of them


happening between am and 5pm and -- 9am and 5pm and from Monday to


Friday, it is something you expect to happen at the weekend or


evenings. But somebody can speak to another


human being quickly? Yes, there is an on call service 24/7 and that's


very reassuring. As far as I know you will be in touch with a


specialist nurse initially and they will make the arrangements for you


to attend the clinic. How much is a service like this


needed in Northern Ireland, do you think? It is greatly needed. I mean


at the moment there is the service, but it wouldn't be the one stop


shop that the Rowan is intended to be. Hopefully all the services that


a victim would require after such an assault, hopefully all those


needs would be met in the one place which would be in the Rowan. So it


is good news? It is very good news. 86% of Department of Agriculture


staff are unhappy with its planned move to Ballykelly in County


Londonderry. The Finance and Personnel Minister told the chamber


this afternoon. Speaking during question time, Sammy Wilson said


help will be given to staff who want to be reallocated in another


department. There has been some work done with DARD staff to assess


their response to the relocation. 86% of sap of DARD staff indicate


ter not prepared to work -- they are not prepared to work in


Ballykelly. There are procedures which can be used where staff are


unwilling or unable in some cases to move to a new location which


will assist staff to either locate to other departments or help them


with the move to the new location. The Secretary of State has recently


suggested and somewhat scatheingly that Northern Ireland departments


currently under spend and somehow or other she regarded that as an


example of economic under performance. I have got to say, as


in so many other cases, the Secretary of State displays either


a lack of understanding or a lack of briefing about affairs in


Northern Ireland. Because, of course, and I am not too sure what


she was actually referring to. If she was referring to the fact that


we have budget flexibility arrangements which were negotiated


by the Executive, with the Treasury, which allow us to carry money over


on our capital Budget and on our current spend budget every year,


then, of course, that is something which we are entitled to do and


represents and was sought indeed, so that we could have good, prudent


financial management and not have a frenzy of unnecessary spend at the


end of the financial year. So I'm not really too sure what she is


referring to. All I can say is that our record on under spends has been


far better than previous direct rule ministers ever showed when


they were this charge. Can I thank the Minister for His


answer which I note consisted of excuses at a time of record high


levels of youth unemployment and a lack of political decision making


at the Executive. But it might be helpful if the minister could


outline whether or not he posed some of those questions to the


Secretary of State and if so, what were her answers? I think the lady


fails to listen to answers. Maybe somebody in the SDLP writes a


question for her which she feels she has got to read out


irregardless of what has gone on before. I would like her, I mean,


where were the excuses? There weren't any excuses.


Can I ask him if he has received any assurances from the Ulster Bank


in relation to the relation IT glitches at the bank? Does he


believe that they have got this problem under control?


Well, all I can do, I am not an IT expert and I suspect the people I


speak to in the Ulster Bank have not, are not IT experts either.


They take the assurances from the anoraks and the people with the


technical knowledge and the geeks who deal with these particular


issues. All I can say is that in the conversations I have had with


them, Ulster Bank assured me that they believe that they are on top


of the technical problems now. Point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.


I ask that you read the record of the minister's response to my


question where he suggested that I read a pre-prepared supplementary


question and he replied in a sexist manner and furthermore, the


particular minister has a record of sexist abuse and could I ask to


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

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