23/04/2013 Stormont Today


23/04/2013

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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Transcript


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Good evening and welcome to Stormont Today.

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Coming up on the programme: The First and Deputy First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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retailing prompts some soul- searching on the back benches.

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

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

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

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

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talks in an attempt to mend their reportedly faltering relationship.

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

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pair made their first public appearance together since the row.

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

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

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

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surprised that occasionally we might might have a different

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

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parties with different ideologies and different backgrounds. The

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

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

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

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

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

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

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people are living in a very different Northern Ireland than the

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

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

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lead this country through peace and stability.

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

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

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

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

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

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have reasoned dig log and discussions about what we need to

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

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

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

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

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

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deal with that sort of stress and difficulty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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delivering. The Executive is delivering. Maybe our failure is

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not being able to transmit the message of how successful this

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

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

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

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newspapers who glory in the fact that they are the official

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opposition. We have to have our information transmitted to the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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time to move on. The First and Deputy First

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

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

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

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

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they have put together a working relationship because there did seem

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

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

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

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interesting that Robinson talked about making some announcements in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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whatever party they come from and wherever they practise their

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

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

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no formal opposition in the assembly itself and the local press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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their remit. Let's move move to this petition

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:07:38.:07:38.

launched against the conflict cons formation -- conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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began with the latest stage of the Tobacco Retailers Bill introduced

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by the Health Minister. Its provisions include strengthening

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

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scrutinising the legislation, the debate featured several personal

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interventions over the dangers of smoking. While we have made

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substantial progress since the 1960s when over half the population

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

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high in areas of social and economic deprivation. Because there

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

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

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

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

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regular basis, over half frequently purchase tobacco products from a

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

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

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rigorously applied by retailers as the proposed legislation will

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

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significant number will continue to sell tobacco products to those

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under the legal age unless we apply stricter sanctions.

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

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compulsory for all tobacco retailers in Northern Ireland to

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register with their local District Council. Granting courts the power

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

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person for up to 12 months following an application by a

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

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offences have been committed within three years. Creating new offences

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in relation to the register including failure to register and

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

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banning order and allowing for Fixed Penalty Notices to apply for

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

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

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

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

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

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banned from selling tobacco. The committee welcomes this sanction.

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

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

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which can be counted towards a banning order are not registering

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

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

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suggested that the Bill should contain a provision to allow the

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

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

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made this suggestion to the department, it initially advised

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

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someone could be banned from selling tobacco if convicted. When

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the committee inquired further into this matter and we contact the

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Department of Justice we learned that the tobacco duties Act had

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never been applied here. There is a worrying situation at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The minister might take the opportunity to talk a little bit

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about the need for other departments and the Executive as a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:15:45.:15:49.

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

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

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

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

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The Enterprise Minister has called the G8 summit in County Fermanagh

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the biggest opportunity Northern Ireland has ever had on the world

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stage. Speaking during Question Time, Arlene Foster also reiterated

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the importance of devolving corporation tax and continued

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growth in the tourism sector to reinvigorate the local economy.

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am disappointed that the Prime Minister delayed his decision on

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devolving corporation tax powers until the autumn of 2014. The

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Executive remain committed to securing this additional policy

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

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contained within the economic strategy and the more recent

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

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the economic strategy's key objective of rebalancing the local

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:17:13.:17:18.

the Northern Ireland Executive put forward a compelling case in in

:17:18.:17:21.

respect of corporation tax, however the Westminster Government decided

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

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

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

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

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

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Commonwealth Office and local stakeholders to maximise

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opportunities to show case Northern Ireland's business development and

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tourism offering to visiting delegations as a positive place to

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

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

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

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we are meeting with some of the forward delegations already that

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have visited Northern Ireland and Fermanagh and they are engaging

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very much with Invest Northern Ireland and all of the other

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

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

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

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might appreciate over the past period since the G8 was announced

:18:41.:18:45.

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

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

:18:47.:18:53.

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

:18:53.:18:58.

miles to Northern Ireland. Despite the challenging and economic

:18:58.:19:04.

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

:19:04.:19:08.

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

:19:08.:19:13.

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

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

:19:18.:19:28.
:19:28.:19:28.

excellent first year visitor number figures for Titanic Belfast and the

:19:28.:19:36.

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

:19:36.:19:43.

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

:19:43.:19:50.

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

:19:50.:19:55.

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

:19:55.:20:01.

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

:20:01.:20:04.

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

:20:04.:20:09.

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

:20:09.:20:13.

Belfast. The Enterprise Minister, Arlene

:20:13.:20:16.

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

:20:16.:20:20.

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

:20:20.:20:23.

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

:20:23.:20:26.

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

:20:26.:20:32.

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

:20:32.:20:36.

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

:20:36.:20:41.

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

:20:41.:20:47.

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

:20:47.:20:57.
:20:57.:21:01.

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

:21:01.:21:07.

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

:21:07.:21:15.

access to counselling. The Rowan will refer people to other

:21:15.:21:19.

organisations. The committee has written to one of the main

:21:19.:21:23.

providers of counselling and they have confirmed that their waiting

:21:23.:21:28.

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

:21:29.:21:34.

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

:21:34.:21:37.

important job of providing the care services alongside the justice

:21:37.:21:40.

services which the victims of domestic and sexual violence

:21:40.:21:46.

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

:21:46.:21:51.

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

:21:51.:21:53.

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

:21:53.:21:57.

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

:21:57.:22:04.

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

:22:04.:22:10.

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

:22:10.:22:15.

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

:22:15.:22:19.

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

:22:19.:22:29.
:22:29.:22:30.

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

:22:30.:22:36.

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

:22:36.:22:40.

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

:22:40.:22:45.

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

:22:45.:22:50.

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

:22:50.:22:53.

environment and working in partnership with the voluntary

:22:53.:22:56.

sector, we will provide better support to the victims and

:22:56.:23:00.

survivors of sexual crime and seek to bring those responsible to

:23:00.:23:05.

justice. The Health Minister, Edwin Poots

:23:05.:23:09.

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

:23:09.:23:16.

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

:23:16.:23:20.

open during office hours. The minister tried to reassure people

:23:20.:23:25.

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

:23:25.:23:29.

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

:23:29.:23:34.

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

:23:34.:23:40.

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

:23:40.:23:45.

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

:23:45.:23:50.

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

:23:50.:23:56.

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

:23:56.:23:59.

evenings. But somebody can speak to another

:23:59.:24:05.

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

:24:05.:24:08.

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

:24:08.:24:13.

specialist nurse initially and they will make the arrangements for you

:24:13.:24:16.

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

:24:16.:24:20.

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

:24:20.:24:24.

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

:24:24.:24:31.

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

:24:31.:24:36.

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

:24:36.:24:42.

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

:24:42.:24:50.

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

:24:50.:24:52.

staff are unhappy with its planned move to Ballykelly in County

:24:52.:24:55.

Londonderry. The Finance and Personnel Minister told the chamber

:24:55.:24:57.

this afternoon. Speaking during question time, Sammy Wilson said

:24:57.:25:00.

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

:25:00.:25:10.
:25:10.:25:11.

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

:25:11.:25:21.
:25:21.:25:21.

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

:25:21.:25:27.

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

:25:27.:25:31.

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

:25:31.:25:37.

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

:25:37.:25:40.

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

:25:40.:25:48.

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

:25:48.:25:53.

suggested and somewhat scatheingly that Northern Ireland departments

:25:53.:25:57.

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

:25:57.:26:02.

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

:26:02.:26:06.

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

:26:06.:26:12.

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

:26:12.:26:15.

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

:26:15.:26:19.

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

:26:19.:26:23.

we have budget flexibility arrangements which were negotiated

:26:23.:26:29.

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

:26:29.:26:33.

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

:26:33.:26:38.

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

:26:38.:26:43.

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

:26:43.:26:47.

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

:26:47.:26:51.

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

:26:51.:26:55.

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

:26:55.:27:00.

far better than previous direct rule ministers ever showed when

:27:00.:27:04.

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

:27:04.:27:11.

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

:27:11.:27:14.

levels of youth unemployment and a lack of political decision making

:27:14.:27:19.

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

:27:19.:27:24.

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

:27:24.:27:28.

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

:27:28.:27:35.

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

:27:35.:27:41.

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

:27:41.:27:46.

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

:27:46.:27:51.

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

:27:51.:27:56.

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

:27:56.:28:00.

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

:28:00.:28:03.

believe that they have got this problem under control?

:28:03.:28:08.

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

:28:08.:28:14.

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

:28:14.:28:19.

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

:28:19.:28:25.

technical knowledge and the geeks who deal with these particular

:28:25.:28:30.

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

:28:30.:28:33.

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

:28:33.:28:39.

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

:28:39.:28:43.

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

:28:43.:28:48.

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

:28:48.:28:52.

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

:28:52.:28:57.

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

:28:57.:29:06.

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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