23/10/2012 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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Welcome to Stormont Today. The Justice Minister makes clear his


stance on the age of criminal responsibility.


I agree with the majority of those who responded to the public


consultation that ten is too young to be dealt with the weight of a


Criminal Justice System. Talking tough, the Finance Minister


warns he is no push over when it comes to the press. I expect that


people will not treat you with kid gloves, but I do not expect and


will not allow people to wilfully walk over the top of me.


The Justice Minister, David Ford told MLAs that he is committed to


pressing the case for a rise in the age of criminal responsibility.


While briefing members on the implementation of a review of youth


justice, Mr Ford says he recognises the majority of the House is


against a rise, but stressed that the evidence does support a change.


The report provides a blueprint for the transformation of our youth


justice system. It is the view of those who responded to the public


consultation. It is my intention to see it implemented over the next 18


months in line with the commitment I have made in the programme for


Government. I am today publishing an implementation plan to give


effect to that commitment and to demonstrate publicly that I intend


to see this agenda through. My department is pressing ahead with


matters that lie within my ambit. I have announce that had the


Woodlands Centre will be the sole detention for juf juveniles. I am


pleased to report today there are no juveniles head at Hyde bank


Young Offenders Centre. No statement on the review of youth


justice will be complete without making mention of the one


contentious recommendation, raising the minimum age of criminal


responsibility to 12. Personally, I agree with the majority of those


who responded to the public consultation that ten is just too


young to be dealt with by the weight of a Criminal Justice System.


Medical research on brain development, and social policy


research on the negative impact of criminalising young children, tells


us we should seek non-criminal injunctions for the small number of


children in this age group who offend. A mining ort in this House


is not -- a minority in this House is not persuaded. I am committed to


pressing the case for an increase. Perhaps with safeguards to allow


for the rare case of a very serious offence, by a child under the age


of 12 to be addressed. This arrangement has been operating


without difficulty in the Republic of Ireland for the past six years.


I welcome the fact that he recognises his efforts to increase


the minimum age isn't going to happen in terms of it moving from


ten to 12 and that will allow us to focus on what are important issues.


It will be for the judiciary to decide whether someone has


committed an offence within that age bracket and we shouldn't


frustrate them in their efforts to protect society. I am not sure that


the statement recognised there wasn't going to be a raise in the


minimum age of criminal responsibility. Including


highlighting the issue where the most serious offences are exempt


from the change in the Republic of Ireland a lesson was in line with


what was suggested by by some Unionist members.


In relation to the criminal age of responsibility, how the criminal


age of responsibility in Northern Ireland currently compares with


that in other European countries and what further work he thinks is


needed in that issue? The issue of minimum age of criminal


responsibility within Europe is wider than the brief I have with me,


but I can say that at ten the minimum age of criminal criminal


responsible in Northern Ireland is very much at the lower end by


European standards. I believe in Scotland it is 12, with


consideration being given to increase. It is ten in England and


Wales and it has been increased six years except for the most serious


offences in the Republic. The most important thing is we get a minimum


age of responsibility which is consistent with what we understand


about the developments of young children in a way which is


meaningful. The minister is a great advocate of


the processes and the architecture of this House. Being such, why


therefore, is he so intent on trying to sub vrt the reality --


subvert that there is not the support for his foolish notion of


increasing the minimum age for criminal responsibility? Why waste


time and effort on a proposal which is stillborn.


I am not sure whether it is in order to accuse a minister of


seeking to subvert the processes of the House. I think the evidence


which shows my engagement in this House and the committee is anything,


but. I am joined by the Chief Executive


of Opportunity Youth which supports a rise in the age of criminal


responsibility. Why do you think it is important that the age goes up


from ten in Northern Ireland? we are not in line with Europe.


Where the age would be around 14, 15. The Republic of Ireland and


Scotland have already raised the age to 12 and England and Wales are


soon to look at it. Children are ten, is a child, you know, they are


young children. It is very, very rare in Northern Ireland for a


child of that age to perpetrate a serious crime. So why not raise it?


There is no negative evidence to show that raising the age of


responsibility will cause any issues. The evidence is there. As


David Ford put forward today very well and as an organisation we are


disappointed they did not get the support.


The fear in some quarters if you move the age up from ten to twelve


or fourteen, what you are doing is giving carte blanche to children


younger than the age that is decided upon to be criminally


irresponsible? That's the danger, isn't it? We have to look at the


evidence that we have. There is, in Northern Ireland, very, very few


children commit serious criminal offences. We have to remember these


are children. I mean, I am sure your ten-year-old and many out


there ten-year-olds are tucked up in their bed looking forward to


Christmas. We have to look at these children and we need to be


protecting them. If you could pick a figure, what


would that figure be? The minister talked about 12. Would you agree


with him or not? We would be satisfied with 12. It would be


progress, but we would like to see that the age responsibility was in


line with the rest of Europe. Some of the most safest places in Europe,


the limit is 15. And I mean, we are actually criminalising our children.


We need to be looking in Northern Ireland why we are insisting that


the age of criminal responsibility is is ten? Why young people of this


age, children and young people of this age would be perpetrating


serious crimes. What's the answer to that question?


The answer to that question is quite broad. I mean there are


poverty issues. There are dysfunctional issues within our


society. That is not supporting children and young people. We need


to look at those issues broadly and it is not just an issue for the


Department of Justice, it is across Government.


Are you also saying though this evening that while you would like


to see the figure going up to 12, or 14 or 15, you accept in certain


circumstances a judge would have the discretion to hold a child


under that age still criminally responsible? For example in a


murder or rape case? It would have to be the case. In cases of serious


crime, murder, rape, serious assault, absolutely. It is not


carte blanche. That's not what we put forward in terms of the


consultation paper to the review, but we are clear about not


criminalising ten-year-olds. If it is the case that you you


would be prepared to see a child held criminally responsible for a


serious crime, why would that child not be held criminally responsible


for a less serious crime? We are more interested in why a child of


that age would be perpetrating a crime of that seriousness and it is


very rare. We have to get across to the public that it would be very,


very rare for that to happen. Quickly, the minister said today


that he knows he won't have the support support within the assembly


to raise the age from ten to 12. will continue to lobby the minister


and continue to lobby the other political parties. This is an issue


and a debate we would like to see continuing.


We will see if that does happen. Thank you very much indeed for


coming in. The viral minister has told MLAs he


will consult on reducing fees for renewing planning applications. The


minister said he wants to ensure that that planning opportunities


are not lost to the recession for bankruptcy. The minister made clear


his opposition to new European regulation on vehicle licensing.


You are a big supporter of the European Union. And why wouldn't I


be given their contribution to this part of the world and to peace in


Europe and notably a Nobel Peace Prize and therefore, I would like


to see us build and deepen a relationship with Europe, but these


particular proposals in my view cross a line that the EU when it


comes to our own jurisdiction and to our own road worthiness is lying


best not crossed. Would the minister agree this


matter is typical of the EU, attempting to enforce a nonsense


nonsense policy on its member States and would the minister agree


that decision of this matter should be with our own Government?


Well, I don't agree with the member. This is typical of decisions of the


European Union. We are within days and hopefully within touching


distance of the European Union through the SEUPB releasing 22


million euros, �17 million, why? To build infrastructure on this island.


Could I bring the subject back to this hair-brained proposal from


Brussels. Brussels will never win the common sense prize for regular


regulations such as this which would seek to introduce... Can we


have a question, please. The burden of MOTting farm


machinery. Does the minister have any idea what the cost would be to


the farming community and to the department in admin straighting


such nonsense? As I indicated, the cost of this never mind the policy


implications of this in my view are disproportionate and extravagant to


the proposal of any proposing coming forward. It will mean that


more money invested in resources and technical machinery in order to


conduct the assessments. It could mean in respect of some vehicles


that they have to have the parts at the time of manufacture. The cost


in my view for the owner and for the State is extravagant and


excessive. Has the minister considered


dezoning development land in areas where there are high numbers of


unfinished housing developments? Well, I am pleased to hear that


suggestion because it has not come on my radar before and I will take


that into krltion because -- consideration because we are


looking in these circumstances that the member indicated, what do we do


where there are development opportunities for example, that are


about to run out of time? So at the moment we are we are about to go


and consult and this is within the next number of days around


introducing, reduced fees for planning applications to be


extended beyond the original lifetime of the approval namely


five years in a way to demonstrate that at the moment there will be a


lot of planning approvals that will go nowhere because of the recession,


lack of money, bankruptcy and so on, so forth. Are there opportunities


to aid development going forward by reducing the fees for renewal of


planning approvals in a way that will keep the approvals live,


especially if they are of great value, in a way that will plan for


the time after a recession. The Environment Minister. Next, the


gloves are off in Question Time as Sammy Wilson warns he won't be


walked over by the press. But first the pension minister gives a


warning about why Northern Ireland must meet the reform date.


To keep in line with the equivalent schemes in the rest of the United


Kingdom or in GB. Despite having made that decision I have been


attelt to go persuade my colleagues in the executive to agree to


legislative motion which would would enable the the Pension Bill


to give effect to those reforms in Northern Ireland. Only if we do it


in that way, can we avoid first of all falling behind the introduction


of the pension reforms in the rest of the UK and more importantly,


avoiding the very, very serious financial consequence that is there


would be if we do fall behind the deadline of April 2015.


This is a big challenge for Sinn Fein on this. Is are they prepared


to face up to the financial challenge if we do not deliver this


on time and I have got to say to this House that just as we have had


the issue of Welfare Reform and the way in which members on the other


side have tried to despite all of the evidence staring them in the


face, tried to hold up the Welfare Reform with all of the financial


consequences on that, Sinn Fein are doing the same on pensions, despite


the fact they have agreed that we will follow the GB pension


arrangements which are going through Westminster at present.


Could you outline how the uptake of the new retail tenants compares


with previous years when empty retail concessions were not in


place? Well, again, I don't have the exact


figures for that. What I can say is that despite the recession the the


no matter which band you look at, the occupation of premises has


remained steady, even though there has been the recession and I


suspect many of the rates concessions have enabled us to keep


that level of occupancy at the rate at which it is.


Everyone knows in this House I seek to keep good relationships with my


friends, my enemies, those who abuse me and those who praise me.


However, on occasions when I believe that there has been wilful


wrongdoing then I think it is right for any minister to impose whatever


sanction they believe is necessary. And about a year ago, the Press


Association ran a story which was totally without foundation, which


they made no attempt to check, which even after they have been


given the facts still stuck by their story, I don't believe that


it would have been reasonable in a situation like that for me to have


ignored what had been done and therefore, I made it clear that


they would not get any co-operation from me or from my department. That


situation existed until I met with Derek Henderson from the Press


Association. He made a plea to have the situation changed. He made an


polling, privately, not not prepared to do it publicly, but I


accepted that and the situation was resolved a number of weeks ago, but


let me make it clear that as a minister, I expect that people will


not treat you with kid gloves, but I do not expect and will not allow


people to wilfully walk over the top of me and even when that


involves ignoring the facts. Snool I am tempted to ask the


minister how many in each of those categories, who are friends and


whoever else. I am just wondering if he reported the issue to the


Press Complaints Commission and what was their response? I did


report the matter to the Press Complaints Commission. The Press


Complaints Commission upheld my objection to the story and asked


for a retraction of the story. That was slow in coming which


contributed to the way in which the matter was handled. I thought the


member, I am glad he didn't, but I thought the member was start


criticising me for my attitude to the press. I am glad he didn't go


down that line because I would have had great fun had he done so.


Sammy Wilson. The row between Mr Wilson and the Press Association


was sparked by an incorrect story claiming the minister had been


involved in blocking a party. Mr Henderson said it was another


example of the tensions which exist from time to time between the media


and local politicians. Cross-border education was on the


agenda today as MLAs discussed a Sinn Fein motion.


I want to propose this motion, a motion which is all about removing


barriers which prevents students from the north from gaining


admission to universities, colleges, and institutes of technology in the


rest of the island. And of course, vice versa the problem of students


from the south not being able to gain admission to universities in


the north or gain relevant information appropriately. In


proposing this motion I am conscious of a lot of young people


who have experienced really an obstacle course of hurdles put in


their way when they tried. Perhaps the member would have been best


passing this motion on to his counterparts in the south who could


have debated it in the the the Irish Parliament.


Education and opportunities taking place on an east, west dimension as


well as as well as on a north and south basis. Unfortunately, this


motion fails to reflect that with a proposal being so narrow minded he


chose only to deal with obstacles. This is one of the reasons why I


cannot and will not be giving my support to the motion.


To me, it was a half hearted approach to north and south co-


operation. North and south was mentioned in the same breath as co-


operation with Europe and the rest of the world. To me, the way ahead


must be a multinational approach. Further education and schools work


with the executive taking the lead. The Department of Education must


collaborate with the Irish Department of Education and skills


to ensure obstacles to cross-border education provision are minimised


and will not be an impediment. It is said that our amendment was


not pick up. So we did include Scotland, and England and Wales. I


fear from my speech last week on education that certain people


expect me to be paranoic. I would look forward to seeing this motion


coming forward so that it includes everyone.


He He remain committed to ensure that students from here continue to


have a free choice of academic institution, whether local in Great


Britain or in the Ireland or elsewhere. I recognise the


important role played by all students in contributing to the


multinational atmosphere of come of campuses throughout Northern


Ireland. Any opportunities to increase student mobility should be


considered. As part of this, I am committed to ensuring that any


barriers to cross-border collaboration and mobility are


addressed. This is not about favouring student flows in one


particular direction over another. The motion was passed with 52


members voting yes and 28, voting Barry McElduff is with me.


Did you miss a trick here in focusing only in north and south


relations as far as education is concerned and not looking at the


real difficulty students here have in following educational third


level degrees across the water?. support choice, you know. Whatever


the young person, whatever is in the best educational interests of


the young person is what I'm supporting. This debate wasn't


narrowly focused because it is based on evidence coming from a


specific report which was commissioned by the CBI on


obparticularicals to -- obstacles. A similar report hasn't been


carried out east and west. I am reacting to that report. That


report is startling. There is an obstacle course of obstacles and


barriers in the way of young people accessing the universities and


courses of their choice on the island of Ireland.


Does it suggest there is a partitionist mentality on the part


of southern institutions? They don't need them in the sense they


have the numbers already in the 26 counties. You could say that it is


partitionist. Some of the of the universities down south are


demonstrating appetite and hunger for the future. One of them is


Dublin City University, coming to north and talking to people about


enhancing their opportunities. Yes, there is work to be done with the


independent republics which are universities, but there are


obstacles in the way of young people at Government level as well


for example. For example, in the whole business of entry


requirements. They put the bar too high, do you accept that? They


don't value our A-levels as well as they ought to? That's one of the


points in the report and it is one the points I made today. It is


wrong to believe that a leaving certificate examination in the


south is worth two-thirds of an A- level. It would be more proper to


be valued at half an A-level. Children in the Republic do seven


or eight leaving cert exams, here, people do three or four A-levels.


You have got to compare like with like? It is onerous to expect a


young person to achieve four A star to get into the high demand courses,


pharmacy, dentistry and law. It is shutting the door.


How do you persuade the powers that be down south? Here are people in


Dublin and elsewhere in the Republic involved in the


institutions who don't agree with you and seem to want to do


everything they can to stop students from here going down there.


High quality, high flying students who would add to the education


experience of everybody if they were at Trinity and UCD? That's the


point I'm making. We want the central admissions office and UCAS


to be more streamline. It is like pulling hen's teeth to get careers


advice about options down south. The CA O and the UCAS, I would like


to know who is their Chief Executive. We have asked for them


to come before the employment and learning committee and


interestingly today, the motion was passed, the Sinn Fein motion was


passed with the support of the of the SDLP, it was the DUP and Jim


Alistair had a reflex action. This is the same DUP who are active


participants in the north and south inter-parliamentary association.


This is about making sure that there is a proper cross-


fertilisation of students on the island of Ireland.


Can you maybe it better? Yes. It is all about holding to account CAO


and UCAS and the employment and learning committee, we have asked


for them to come before us sooner rather than later.


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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