24/01/2017 Stormont Today


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Hello, and welcome to Stormont Today.


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


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


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


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


that contributed so much to the collapse of the


devolved institutions - the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.


But we also heard from the new leader of Sinn Fein


in the north and her plans for the future.


The Finance Minister reveals the terms of the public inquiry


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


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


abuse and to hold those responsible to account.


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


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


negotiations after the election with a really meaningful approach to make


sure they represent all sections of society.


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


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


It was revealed last week that the Finance Minister


would call a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat


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


of his plan for the Assembly - announcing who will lead


the inquiry, when it will start and even,


The Minister revealed all in the chamber this afternoon.


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


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


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


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


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


report as quickly as possible. Openness and transparency will be


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


independent appointment of the two panel members referred to in the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


decision is continuing. Mairtin O Muilleoir,


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


the inquiry sitting. What do you make of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


key thing is there will be compatibility of witnesses and


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


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


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


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


No public sittings until after March second.


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


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


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


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


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


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


likely. All things RHI also


dominated questions Simon Hamilton told MLAs


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


despite a judge issuing an interim injunction to prevent


the publication of hundreds Yesterday one of the assurances you


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


circumstances. As the minister given any thought to publishing an


anonymous list that could provide some geographical detail, dates and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


interesting the member says there is something short of the full


disclosure which the court is now preventing from happening which may


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


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


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


purpose of maximum transparency with the aim of instilling public


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


names and addresses of all participants when they applied and


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


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


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


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


was my intention. To publish business details and a geographical


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


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


been made. 24 hours after assuming the mantle


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the negotiations after the election with a real meaningful election to


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


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


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


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


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


nationalists and republicans. We are interested in looking after the


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


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


presence was the issues identified in previous negotiations. We have


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


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


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


there is a witchhunt against former soldiers and they want to


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


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


The Stormont house agreement identified mechanisms to deal with


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


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


For everybody that is different full stop some families just want


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


of mechanisms which avoided been agreed by the sword and house


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


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


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


Michelle O'Neill talking to Mark Devenport.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


partner in an overarching all Ireland leadership team? I expect


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


round of Ministerial question Bedroom tax mitigation and funding


for community halls are issues which have loomed large in recent


weeks for the Minister, The necessary legislation was


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


the parliament the necessary powers to make accurate and timely payments


to the estimated benefit claimants who may be impacted by the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the legislation to mitigate against this. Nobody could have legislated


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


the most vulnerable are not impacted. The community halls


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


and closed in November 2016 with 800 applications received and following


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


which is used by the local community, and applications were


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Applications were being put into a pilot scheme which we recognise


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


sitting from this, parochial halls within the Catholic Church


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


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


role whatsoever in assessing any of the applications.


The Communities Minister, Paul Givan.


Meantime the Health Minister has blamed a breakdown


in communication for a disagreement between the Belfast Health Trust


and families of several very sick children, over access


Yesterday, the BBC revealed that three children who suffer


from a severe muscle wasting disease - Spinal Muscular Atrophy -


are waiting to hear if they will receive the drug.


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


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


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


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


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


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


be taken to make contact with families involved. I understand


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


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


there any assurance that those three children do meet this suitability


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


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


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


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


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


make sure that these families who are dealing with very complex


challenging conditions to make sure they have every support and every


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


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


something I have asked the trust to do.


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


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


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


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


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


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


satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for continued detention


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


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


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


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


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


criminal justice systems in the way that some of the extravagant


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


effective framework for bail which properly balances the needs for


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


as soon as possible. And on this final day


of the mandate, Steven Agnew brought forward the first sole


Green Party motion. The motion called for urgent


legislation to expand the role of the Assembly Commission


for Standards to allow for investigation into alleged


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


transparent process for investigating ministers. I have


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


mechanisms are in place under the Northern Ireland act 1988 to


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


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


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


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


urgent legislation lacks any understanding of the process


involved. The Assembly commission can investigate members of this


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


trust continues to decrease because there are no accountability


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


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


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


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


that is deliberate. And that motion passed


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


with Rick Wilford. Are you expecting the brutal


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


opportunity for the opposition parties I think because there are


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


policy issues. And that's it for tonight -


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


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


shift to the campaign trail as the parties do battle


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


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


the politicians are back up here on the hill,


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


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


Politics. For now, though, from everyone


in the Stormont Today team, bye-bye.


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