23/10/2012 Stormont Today


23/10/2012

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

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stance on the age of criminal responsibility.

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

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

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Criminal Justice System. Talking tough, the Finance Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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While briefing members on the implementation of a review of youth

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

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

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The report provides a blueprint for the transformation of our youth

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

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

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

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Government. I am today publishing an implementation plan to give

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effect to that commitment and to demonstrate publicly that I intend

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

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

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

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

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Young Offenders Centre. No statement on the review of youth

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justice will be complete without making mention of the one

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contentious recommendation, raising the minimum age of criminal

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

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who responded to the public consultation that ten is just too

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

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Medical research on brain development, and social policy

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research on the negative impact of criminalising young children, tells

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

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

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

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

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

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of 12 to be addressed. This arrangement has been operating

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

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I welcome the fact that he recognises his efforts to increase

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

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

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It will be for the judiciary to decide whether someone has

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

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

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

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minimum age of criminal responsibility. Including

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highlighting the issue where the most serious offences are exempt

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

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what was suggested by by some Unionist members.

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

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age of responsibility in Northern Ireland currently compares with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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age of responsibility which is consistent with what we understand

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about the developments of young children in a way which is

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meaningful. The minister is a great advocate of

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

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

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

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increasing the minimum age for criminal responsibility? Why waste

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time and effort on a proposal which is stillborn.

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

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

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

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but. I am joined by the Chief Executive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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disappointed they did not get the support.

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

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

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younger than the age that is decided upon to be criminally

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

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

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children commit serious criminal offences. We have to remember these

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

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

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

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protecting them. If you could pick a figure, what

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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poverty issues. There are dysfunctional issues within our

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

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

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Department of Justice, it is across Government.

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

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

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circumstances a judge would have the discretion to hold a child

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under that age still criminally responsible? For example in a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and a debate we would like to see continuing.

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

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coming in. The viral minister has told MLAs he

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will consult on reducing fees for renewing planning applications. The

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minister said he wants to ensure that that planning opportunities

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

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his opposition to new European regulation on vehicle licensing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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best not crossed. Would the minister agree this

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

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nonsense policy on its member States and would the minister agree

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

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

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European Union. We are within days and hopefully within touching

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distance of the European Union through the SEUPB releasing 22

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

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

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

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

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have a question, please. The burden of MOTting farm

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

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the farming community and to the department in admin straighting

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

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implications of this in my view are disproportionate and extravagant to

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

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more money invested in resources and technical machinery in order to

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

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

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

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excessive. Has the minister considered

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dezoning development land in areas where there are high numbers of

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

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

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that into krltion because -- consideration because we are

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

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where there are development opportunities for example, that are

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

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

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introducing, reduced fees for planning applications to be

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extended beyond the original lifetime of the approval namely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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warning about why Northern Ireland must meet the reform date.

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

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

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

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legislative motion which would would enable the the Pension Bill

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

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

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

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avoiding the very, very serious financial consequence that is there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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arrangements which are going through Westminster at present.

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

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with previous years when empty retail concessions were not in

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

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

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

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

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suspect many of the rates concessions have enabled us to keep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Association ran a story which was totally without foundation, which

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

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

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

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

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

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situation existed until I met with Derek Henderson from the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Press Complaints Commission and what was their response? I did

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report the matter to the Press Complaints Commission. The Press

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Complaints Commission upheld my objection to the story and asked

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

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

:19:38.:19:48.
:19:48.:19:55.

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

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

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

:20:08.:20:12.

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

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was sparked by an incorrect story claiming the minister had been

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

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

:20:33.:20:40.

and local politicians. Cross-border education was on the

:20:40.:20:50.
:20:50.:20:52.

agenda today as MLAs discussed a Sinn Fein motion.

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

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barriers which prevents students from the north from gaining

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

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

:21:11.:21:15.

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

:21:15.:21:20.

the north or gain relevant information appropriately. In

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

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who have experienced really an obstacle course of hurdles put in

:21:30.:21:33.

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

:21:33.:21:38.

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

:21:38.:21:48.
:21:48.:21:53.

have debated it in the the the Irish Parliament.

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

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

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

:22:08.:22:16.

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

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

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

:22:28.:22:33.

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

:22:33.:22:37.

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

:22:37.:22:47.
:22:47.:22:47.

must be a multinational approach. Further education and schools work

:22:47.:22:52.

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

:22:52.:22:55.

collaborate with the Irish Department of Education and skills

:22:55.:22:59.

to ensure obstacles to cross-border education provision are minimised

:22:59.:23:08.

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

:23:08.:23:14.

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

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fear from my speech last week on education that certain people

:23:18.:23:28.
:23:28.:23:33.

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

:23:33.:23:36.

coming forward so that it includes everyone.

:23:36.:23:40.

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

:23:40.:23:45.

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

:23:45.:23:49.

Britain or in the Ireland or elsewhere. I recognise the

:23:49.:23:53.

important role played by all students in contributing to the

:23:53.:23:59.

multinational atmosphere of come of campuses throughout Northern

:23:59.:24:03.

Ireland. Any opportunities to increase student mobility should be

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

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barriers to cross-border collaboration and mobility are

:24:11.:24:17.

addressed. This is not about favouring student flows in one

:24:17.:24:26.

particular direction over another. The motion was passed with 52

:24:26.:24:31.

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

:24:31.:24:35.

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

:24:35.:24:39.

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

:24:39.:24:44.

real difficulty students here have in following educational third

:24:44.:24:49.

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

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

:24:53.:24:58.

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

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narrowly focused because it is based on evidence coming from a

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specific report which was commissioned by the CBI on

:25:08.:25:14.

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

:25:14.:25:17.

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

:25:17.:25:23.

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

:25:23.:25:27.

barriers in the way of young people accessing the universities and

:25:27.:25:30.

courses of their choice on the island of Ireland.

:25:30.:25:39.

Does it suggest there is a partitionist mentality on the part

:25:39.:25:42.

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

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

:25:47.:25:52.

partitionist. Some of the of the universities down south are

:25:52.:25:56.

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

:25:56.:26:00.

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

:26:00.:26:05.

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

:26:05.:26:08.

independent republics which are universities, but there are

:26:08.:26:11.

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

:26:11.:26:15.

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

:26:15.:26:20.

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

:26:20.:26:23.

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

:26:24.:26:28.

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

:26:28.:26:32.

wrong to believe that a leaving certificate examination in the

:26:32.:26:37.

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

:26:37.:26:42.

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

:26:42.:26:48.

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

:26:48.:26:54.

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

:26:54.:27:03.

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

:27:03.:27:07.

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

:27:07.:27:14.

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

:27:14.:27:18.

Dublin and elsewhere in the Republic involved in the

:27:18.:27:21.

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

:27:21.:27:25.

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

:27:25.:27:29.

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

:27:29.:27:33.

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

:27:33.:27:40.

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

:27:40.:27:46.

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

:27:46.:27:53.

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

:27:53.:27:56.

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

:27:56.:28:00.

to come before the employment and learning committee and

:28:00.:28:05.

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

:28:06.:28:15.
:28:16.:28:17.

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

:28:17.:28:23.

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

:28:23.:28:27.

participants in the north and south inter-parliamentary association.

:28:27.:28:30.

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

:28:30.:28:33.

fertilisation of students on the island of Ireland.

:28:33.:28:39.

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

:28:39.:28:42.

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

:28:42.:28:45.

for them to come before us sooner rather than later.

:28:45.:28:49.

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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