24/01/2017 Stormont Today


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24/01/2017

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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Hello, and welcome to Stormont Today.

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And we're done - the last session of the current

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Assembly has been and gone, and it's anybody's guess

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when the new, reduced intake of 90 MLAs will be here

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Perhaps fittingly, today's highlight was the debate over the very issue

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that contributed so much to the collapse of the

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devolved institutions - the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

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But we also heard from the new leader of Sinn Fein

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in the north and her plans for the future.

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The Finance Minister reveals the terms of the public inquiry

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'S there is an urgent need, Mr Speaker, to get to the facts of the

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RHI scheme, to identify negligence, incompetence, alleged corruption and

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abuse and to hold those responsible to account.

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Michelle O'Neill sets out her stall ahead of the election.

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They need to change their attitude. They need to come at the

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negotiations after the election with a really meaningful approach to make

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sure they represent all sections of society.

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And we've saved the best to last - Professor Rick Wilford

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is here with his thoughts on the last day of Stormont.

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It was revealed last week that the Finance Minister

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would call a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat

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But today Mairtin O'Muilleoir put the meat on the bones

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of his plan for the Assembly - announcing who will lead

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the inquiry, when it will start and even,

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The Minister revealed all in the chamber this afternoon.

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I now have in place, Mr Speaker, chair, a retired Lord Justice of

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Appeal,. I'm very pleased he has agreed to lead the enquiry and I

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know he will be unflinching in his pursuit of the truth, unscrupulous

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-- and scrupulous. I've agreed he will be supported by two panel

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members. The team will begin its work on the 1st of February and will

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report as quickly as possible. Openness and transparency will be

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key touchstones for the team. In terms of key requirements I pointed

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to earlier, the investigation will have the power to compel witnesses

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and evidence. Every stone will be turned, there will be no dark

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corners. It will be impartial and objective. It will be tasked with

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getting to the truth of the RHI scheme. I will not interfere in this

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work. It will be entirely independent. There is an urgent

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need, Mr Speaker, to get to the facts of the RHI scheme, to identify

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negligence, incompetence, alleged corruption and abuse, and to hold

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those responsible to account. Can I ask, why the Minister has not

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insisted on a preliminary report so the electorate can go to the polls

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with relevant information on this scandal is to mark why he has not

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confirmed a timeline for publication and also outlined a process for the

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independent appointment of the two panel members referred to in the

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report? Thank you. I know there's an election coming, and I know it is at

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times difficult to appease the unions that I have a memory recently

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of the Ulster Unionist Party wanting enquiry. You got one. Do not

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prejudge the actions. You will act in an impartial and objective

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matter. He will be scrupulous and unflinching. What discussions have

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you had with the chair so far with reference to legal costs and also

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the time frame to ensure the findings can be brought forward as

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soon as possible? I assure the hopes of the member that we will

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expeditiously get a report. That said, these are matters for the

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chair. If I was pressed, I think it would be appropriate for us to have

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a report six months after the enquiry starts. But that, in my

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view, is a matter for the chair. Where will it be held? We don't

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know. I have a desire to see the enquiry held in public session on TV

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and in that regard I know of building whether our committee rooms

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which have TV coverage which can be broadcast. But at the moment the

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decision is continuing. Mairtin O Muilleoir,

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not giving too much away just yet about where he'd like to see

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the inquiry sitting. What do you make of

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it had to be somebody I think somebody from the legal profession

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and I think is a good choice. We don't know yet who will be the two

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fellow panel members. It's no surprise that there will be at least

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three. The venue does not matter. I think what matters are the terms of

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reference. And of course he has been given free rein to give to draw up

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those terms of reference because the act under which it is established

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provides for the Minister to be able to reference -- influence this. The

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key thing is there will be compatibility of witnesses and

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evidence. And if necessary witnesses can be compelled to give evidence

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under oath. I think this will be a no holds barred enquiry. The main

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issue is that it is not going to issue an interim report before the

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election. It is going to be a shadow cast over the election.

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No public sittings until after March second.

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Six months seems to be the target date for it to be

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in a position to report back - is that over-ambitious?

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It could be, because of course the witnesses some of whom will be

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compelled to come and give evidence, they will bring legal teams with

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them and there could be a lot of legal argument. So if they are

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meeting five days a week the six months I think nine is probably more

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likely. All things RHI also

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dominated questions Simon Hamilton told MLAs

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he still hopes to reveal the names of everyone on the scheme,

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despite a judge issuing an interim injunction to prevent

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the publication of hundreds Yesterday one of the assurances you

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gave to the house was in respect of the robustness of your scheme and

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yet this afternoon we learnt that some 300 boiler owners have managed

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to block or thwart your promise to this house and to the citizens of

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Northern Ireland to deliver the names of boiler owners. In those

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circumstances would you publish the names of those others who are not

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currently blocked by the injunction? I very just received the news and I

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haven't seen the full judgment yet. I will consider it in full before

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making any decision. I'm sure you like me wish to have the fullest of

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transparency around the names, that is still my objective. That is what

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I was seeking to do by making the announcement that I did last week.

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We had to run through a process which the department undertook in

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pretty quick time given the volume of work. I signal my intention to

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publish the names inconsistent with the process is laid out. I deeply

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regret the injunction that has been sought and awarded this afternoon,

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because I think in and of itself it prevents full transparency, and

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obviously I will take the time to consider what can now be done in the

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circumstances. As the minister given any thought to publishing an

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anonymous list that could provide some geographical detail, dates and

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payment, so we could get a sense of the level of applicants that are

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credible and the level that are not? Thank you. I think it is asked in

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the appropriate spirit. The whole purpose of doing this was to seek to

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instil better public confidence. He said it was going to be challenged,

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I suppose it was. What I've heard about the judgment is it is not

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permissible to publish the names of members of the association. However,

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I am happy to look and I will look at other options. I think it is

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interesting the member says there is something short of the full

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disclosure which the court is now preventing from happening which may

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help to instil public confidence. That is what I want to do. That is

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what my objective is, and I certainly will look at the option

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which you have mentioned along with others to hope to achieve that

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purpose of maximum transparency with the aim of instilling public

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confidence in the scheme. Is it his own ultimate ambition to publish the

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names and addresses of all participants when they applied and

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if so when does he expect to be able to do so? That is what was my

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publicly stated position, it is the position I stated in writing to

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recipients of the scheme. Because I believe that there was a public

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interest, clear public interest, in having maximum transparency. That

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was my intention. To publish business details and a geographical

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information as well as other information. I still hope to be able

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to do that but obviously I will have to reflect on the judgment that has

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been made. 24 hours after assuming the mantle

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of Sinn Fein's leader at Stormont, Michelle O'Neill sat down

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with our political editor, Mark Devenport, who asked her how

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precisely she'd got the job. It was an appointment by the

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President and I was chosen to lead the party and I am honoured to do

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that. Other parties have elections with candidates and campaigns. Why

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not Sinn Fein? It has its own internal process. They ratified my

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position and I'm very pleased they did. You are obviously now going to

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face interaction which, according to some predictions, will be quite

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brutal. What you see main challengers? The public will have

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their say and we will deal with all the issues but we said we can't

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return to the status quo. We need change and attitude from the DUP. We

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can't tolerate their debts respect for the public. And we can't be part

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of institutions like that. Do you think Arlene Foster is someone you

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can work with? I don't have a choice. If the electorate returned I

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will work with them. But I will only work with them on the basis of

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respect and equality for all citizens. That is the any situation

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where I believe our party can be part of that institution. Would you

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be relaxed about a rate of a long period of direct rule? Others need,

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the negotiations after the election with a real meaningful election to

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want to make sure they represent all sections of society. We seen heavy

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actions of the DUP, things like the decision to remove ?50,000 first

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disadvantaged children to learn Irish. That is petty. For myself, as

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an Irish republican, and for my party, we want to make sure we look

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after all citizens. Not interested in just looking after the needs of

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nationalists and republicans. We are interested in looking after the

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needs of all. We've seen in the past has been a failure by the British

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Government and the Irish Government. To make sure they deliver on the

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presence was the issues identified in previous negotiations. We have

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outstanding issues. We could get the point where there is full and 20 and

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of the agreements that have gone for. That is where we need to be.

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You mentioned legacy. Across the border we have Unionist MPs saying

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there is a witchhunt against former soldiers and they want to

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essentially see that brought to a halt. If there was any move to

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prevent these prosecutions going ahead, what response would you have?

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The Stormont house agreement identified mechanisms to deal with

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this. The British Government are hiding behind the cloak of national

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security. That is not the way to do it. We support truth and justice.

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For everybody that is different full stop some families just want

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information. Someone call cases. It is making sure that we have a range

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of mechanisms which avoided been agreed by the sword and house

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agreement that allows us to get to the truth for all those families.

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Funny, I believe my job is absolutely about trying to heal the

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past to get up place where we deal with the legacy issues.

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Michelle O'Neill talking to Mark Devenport.

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Why is she the right choice from Sinn Fein's point of view?

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I think it represents a generational shift. I think that is important.

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She's also someone without any IRA I gauge and I think that is a plus for

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them. They are seeking to project an image of moving on. And also

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becoming civilian eyes and female friendly. We now have three female

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political leaders in Northern Ireland. She is the third in the

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space of a year. To what extent is she likely to be frankly a junior

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partner in an overarching all Ireland leadership team? I expect

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she brings the status and wait with her. I don't think she is in the

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pocket of Gerry Adams but Sinn Fein work in mysterious ways. She is

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quite clearly not going to step outside the party line on any

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significant issue, so I think she will play an equal role. She is

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junior, so no doubt she has a lot to learn and I think she recognises

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that herself, but it is a fresh face for the party, as they contend with

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another election. OK. We will talk more about that election at the end

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of the programme, thank you. Paul Givan kicked off the last

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round of Ministerial question Bedroom tax mitigation and funding

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for community halls are issues which have loomed large in recent

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weeks for the Minister, The necessary legislation was

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approved by the Assembly on the 16th of January. This legislation gives

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the parliament the necessary powers to make accurate and timely payments

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to the estimated benefit claimants who may be impacted by the

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introduction of the social side sector claimant. They will be paid

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for weeks in arrears and the payments will be made in the current

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financial year. There is a whole range of mitigation measures we have

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had to introduce to implement the welfare in Northern Ireland, the

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bedroom tax being one of them. All the plans were being run through

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according to a proper time frame, in the normal course of the business of

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politics, there was no risk whatsoever of not having in place

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the legislation to mitigate against this. Nobody could have legislated

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against the actions in respect that Sinn Fein had. We have to make sure

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the most vulnerable are not impacted. The community halls

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capital grant pilot programme was launched on the 19th of October 2016

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and closed in November 2016 with 800 applications received and following

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a robust procedure, up to 90 projects were accepted for financial

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assistance. Was it only for Orange halls to apply because I know to

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some of the media seemed to be putting it out there that this was

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some sort of sectarian scheme? Was it available for all of the

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community? May be the Minister could tell us of the organisations which

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will benefit from the scheme? The answer very clearly is absolutely

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not. This programme was opened all types of facilities with a hole

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which is used by the local community, and applications were

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received from church halls, JHA clubs, Masonic calls, community

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groups and many others. I ask this question without any malice, but can

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he understand the way that a number of the funding schemes have ruled

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out, there is a perception from some within our community that the

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decisions are secretary and? I think the very point the member raises, it

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is a perception. Whenever we look at the way the funding was allocated,

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and in terms of the community calls, this was something that whenever I

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was out in the community, people were saying we have a need.

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Applications were being put into a pilot scheme which we recognise

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would be very important to those groups, and so you have the GAA when

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sitting from this, parochial halls within the Catholic Church

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benefiting from this so any suggestion that this in any way had

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a sectarian agenda is completely false and I have Minister had no

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role whatsoever in assessing any of the applications.

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The Communities Minister, Paul Givan.

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Meantime the Health Minister has blamed a breakdown

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in communication for a disagreement between the Belfast Health Trust

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and families of several very sick children, over access

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Yesterday, the BBC revealed that three children who suffer

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from a severe muscle wasting disease - Spinal Muscular Atrophy -

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are waiting to hear if they will receive the drug.

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Clinicians in the Belfast health and social care trust made a clinical

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decision to use the extended access programme to provide this drug in an

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individual case to treat SMA. On this basis, the extension of this

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programme was made on the basis of the clinicians in the Belfast trust.

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I am aware of the concerns of parents with children with SMA. I

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raised concerns with the trust who assured me that urgent action will

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be taken to make contact with families involved. I understand

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direct contact will be made this Thursday and there will be a

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face-to-face meeting with the clinical team in the hospital. Is

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there any assurance that those three children do meet this suitability

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tests, that they will face a very real prospect of getting access to a

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life changing and life-saving drug, given that the health Department

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does not have to pay for the drug and simply provide the theatre space

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and medical staff to administer it. It is not for me to decide who

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should get access to what drug and the trial but obviously, I want to

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make sure that these families who are dealing with very complex

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challenging conditions to make sure they have every support and every

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lifeline possible. I think obviously that has been a breakdown in

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communication and we will need to rectify that problem and that is

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something I have asked the trust to do.

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Michelle O'Neill, who continues until the election in her role

:20:49.:20:51.

A suspect in the case of David Black has had his case reviewed. Last

:20:52.:21:27.

year, he was given leave to change his bail so he could go on a three

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day spa holiday. That same individual has now not been seen

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since the 18th of November. There are of course conditions and

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circumstances in which bail should be denied but the course must be

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satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for continued detention

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before a denial of bail can be justified, and there are potential

:21:54.:22:00.

grounds for the denial of bail. Grounds that a defendant may fail to

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turn up for trial, interfere with witnesses and so on. And while this

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case is a bad case and a hard case and there may be others like them,

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we should not draw conclusions about the character of the police and

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criminal justice systems in the way that some of the extravagant

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language has suggested today. I am not going to defend Mr McLauchlan in

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any way, but I do note that his original bail was set in May 2014

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and I can't help thinking, if he had been remanded in custody, we would

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be having a different debate now. When they say all these good things

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to entice Unionists to thinking that a united Ireland would be some sort

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of Utopia, great place to live, when we all realised it wouldn't be, but

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then the very next day they will sound side-by-side with hardliners,

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with placards outside Knock HP. As I have already said to this Assembly

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before, this review is currently underway. It will establish facts

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about the bail decisions in Northern Ireland and I do not want to

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pre-empt the outcome but I would hope we would find a conclusion to

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that in the coming weeks. But it is vital that Northern Ireland has an

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effective framework for bail which properly balances the needs for

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victims and defendants so how have asked for this work to be completed

:23:27.:23:28.

as soon as possible. And on this final day

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of the mandate, Steven Agnew brought forward the first sole

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Green Party motion. The motion called for urgent

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legislation to expand the role of the Assembly Commission

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for Standards to allow for investigation into alleged

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breaches of the Ministerial Code. We need an Independent, open and

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transparent process for investigating ministers. I have

:23:53.:23:56.

always failed to understand the opposition to this from some in this

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House, but I think given recent events, if the Assembly was to

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oppose this again today, there would be public anger. This would be the

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last decision made by this Assembly. And I would call on members not to

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waste this opportunity, to send a clear signal of the standards of

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accountability we expect of the next Executive. This Assembly has deemed

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this Assembly of good conduct and to be fit for purpose and the

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mechanisms are in place under the Northern Ireland act 1988 to

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correctly deal with any breaches. I have said in several occasions in

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respect of many varying matters, but find myself saying again today that

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bad legislation is worse than no legislation. Even if we were not

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standing on the edge of another election, the call to bring forth

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urgent legislation lacks any understanding of the process

:24:57.:25:00.

involved. The Assembly commission can investigate members of this

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Assembly, then it seems reasonable that a similar process should be in

:25:05.:25:08.

place to hold ministers to account. Can you believe this? In the months,

:25:09.:25:18.

this is the DUP, why should we have this model to create conditions

:25:19.:25:26.

where none exist. Where it is better to have no legislation than bad

:25:27.:25:30.

legislation? Would Pam Cameron explain to people where it is that

:25:31.:25:35.

she sees that where we are trying to create issues where none exist? What

:25:36.:25:41.

will have you been living in?! We don't have openness and transparency

:25:42.:25:45.

about public dealings, then we see at the crease in trust, and if the

:25:46.:25:49.

trust continues to decrease because there are no accountability

:25:50.:25:56.

mechanisms two mechanisms at work, it turned to complete cynicism. Yes,

:25:57.:26:03.

we have a code of conduct, yes, there is a ministerial code, but

:26:04.:26:10.

there is no mechanism to investigate in any Independent sense, whether or

:26:11.:26:16.

not a minister has fallen short of the standards thereby imposed. And

:26:17.:26:17.

that is deliberate. And that motion passed

:26:18.:26:20.

on an oral vote. Let's have a final word

:26:21.:26:22.

with Rick Wilford. Are you expecting the brutal

:26:23.:26:29.

election campaign that Arlene Foster has talked about? Guess, I think it

:26:30.:26:34.

will be pretty bitter. I think we already hear the sound of sectarian

:26:35.:26:41.

trenches being dug. I just want to contrast Jim McAllister. There are

:26:42.:26:47.

so many issues which are overhanging the election, not least the no plan

:26:48.:26:54.

enquiry into RHI, the Irish language act and Brexit which is looming ever

:26:55.:26:59.

larger, and now the Assembly will not have a role. There will not be a

:27:00.:27:04.

legislative consent motion. That was a result of the Supreme Court ruling

:27:05.:27:10.

today. I think it will be bitter. It will be protracted, six weeks. So I

:27:11.:27:15.

am not sure whether we will see any significant changes. A real

:27:16.:27:18.

opportunity for the opposition parties I think because there are

:27:19.:27:22.

some open golf here, not least over RHI, but I think it will be bitterly

:27:23.:27:29.

fought and will leave a lot of people licking their wounds. You

:27:30.:27:34.

have listed a number of areas on the political landscape which are likely

:27:35.:27:38.

to come up on the election campaign, will they be critical? Are those the

:27:39.:27:42.

issues on which people will decide how to vote? Or will it inevitably

:27:43.:27:47.

come down to Orange versus Green? On hopes that this is an occasion when

:27:48.:27:51.

the electorate, and let's hope a greater share of the electorate get

:27:52.:27:59.

out of and vote, bring their rational behaviour and not be pulled

:28:00.:28:03.

into the same old voting of the past. One thing we cannot predict is

:28:04.:28:10.

what Sinn Fein is asking, namely a change in attitude particular yonder

:28:11.:28:15.

part of the DUP. You cannot legislate for that or behavioural

:28:16.:28:17.

change, so goodness knows how long this will be put back together, even

:28:18.:28:22.

if there can be an agreed platform at some stage on a whole raft of

:28:23.:28:24.

policy issues. And that's it for tonight -

:28:25.:28:26.

and for this run of Stormont Today. The Assembly is formally dissolved

:28:27.:28:31.

on Thursday of this week - and then all attention will formally

:28:32.:28:33.

shift to the campaign trail as the parties do battle

:28:34.:28:36.

to keep their numbers up As to what happens after that,

:28:37.:28:38.

it's still anyone's guess - but rest assured, if and when

:28:39.:28:42.

the politicians are back up here on the hill,

:28:43.:28:45.

we'll be here too to bring you full Until then, we'll have full coverage

:28:46.:28:48.

of the unfolding political story, as usual, on The View and on Sunday

:28:49.:28:52.

Politics. For now, though, from everyone

:28:53.:28:54.

in the Stormont Today team, bye-bye.

:28:55.:29:02.

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.