24/06/2013 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Today. On tonight's programme: An image our leaders won't want


broadcast around the world. Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly comes under fire


from unionists after this video was recorded at the weekend. Economic


growth versus preserving our environment as the future of


planning is debated in the Assembly. Economic investment is already a


material consideration, has been for as long as I know. It is already


part of the narrative around planning decisions. And I'm joined


by our political correspondent, Gareth Gordon, to discuss another


Belfast on Friday night, but the incident Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly


found himself involved in made a brief appearance at Stormont today.


Unionists have accused Mr Kelly of trying to prevent a police officer


from carrying out his duty. Sinn Fein said he was trying to diffuse a


tense situation and an Orange Order parade. Either way, it's not an


ideal start to the marching season and unionists raise this -- raised


this issue at the start of proceedings. The parading season has


got off at the weekend to a relatively peaceful start, but the


House will be aware of an incident in north best fall -- Belfast, where


a Sinn Fein MLA has been videoed, it would appear, to be impeding a


police officer in the carrying out of his duty. The police ombudsman


has a direction and system to investigate police officers, but can


you advise what we as a House can do to ensure that we investigate fully


what appears to be the attempted physical impeding of a police office


officer by a member of Sinn Fein in this House. Order, let me deal with


this point of order first of all. Members will know in dealing with a


procedural matter I would also advise members to go to the business


office. I am not going to go into the issue on the matter of the day


submitted to the business office, which is -- I have made a decision


on. Please talk to the business office. That's where we should leave


this issue. If it's an issue around procedures very happy to take it.


Thank you Mr Speaker. Can you confirm to this House that under the


code of conduct of members, it is stated as our public duty that MLAs


should uphold the law, therefore given the loutish behaviour of Mr


Kelly last Friday what investigation will be conducted... Order. The


member knows this issue rests with the committee. That's where members


should be directed to as well. Order. Let us move on. Well, I'm


joined by Gareth Gordon. What's been the fall out from this incident?


you heard, the Speaker managed to close down that debate inside the


Assembly chamber, but it's not been so easy outside. It's been raging


all day, all weekend indeed. It's another example, no matter what the


rights and wrongs of what happened on Saturday night, or Friday night,


that what happens on the streets does impact the political process.


Practically already Jim Allister has made a formal complaint against


Gerry Kelly. A DUP MLA has questioned the fitness for office of


Gerry Kelly. An the culture minister, who was injured in that


incident, the most significant development today the First


Minister, who was at an event this afternoon, was asked about what


happened. He said he believed Gerry Kelly's actions were reckless and


ill advised. Sinn Fein couldn't let that go. They have accused the First


Minister of making politically motivated comments. We see quickly a


period with positive headlines which have been flagged up, suddenly


replaced by negative ones. This incident curd just hours after the


first and deputy first ministers appealed for calm ahead of the


marching season. It's almost as if they anticipated trouble. They put


out a joint statement on Thursday night for Friday morning. I was at


the council meeting in Derry on Friday, where the two men, it has to


be said, they appeared as relaxed in each other's company as I've ever


seen them. They were making gentle jokes at each other's expense. They


were singing from the same hymn sheet, making appeals for calm and


respect ahead of the tour of the north on Friday night. Yet, quickly,


all the good work, as they would put it, they have accused us in the past


of being too negative, they say so many positive things have happened


and the success of the G8, it shows you how quickly that can unravel.


Now we have Peter Robinson saying Gerry Kelly was ill-advised and


reckless. We have Sinn Fein's response. It will be interesting to


see what happens when the two men appear together in public and see if


that happens. The mood music will be very interesting indeed. Indeed.


Thank you very much. Now, back to business on the hill. The planning


bill designed to modernise our planning system. The aim is to speed


up planning decisions, deliver faster and fairer appeals and


toughen up when it comes to enforcing planning laws. The bill


sparked a marathon debate he the consideration stage. Several


amendments have been tabled. Here's a sample of the early exchanges this


morning. Planning is fundamental to everything we do in society. How we


plan our towns, cities and rural areas is key to our health and well


being. That's why it's important to get it right. My concern about


elements of this bill and indeed, some of the amendments that we're


going to debate today, is that we're in a rush to seek to get planning


quickly at the expense of getting it right. There is no-one who would


argue with making planning more efficient. There's no doubt that our


track record in this regard has been poor. I think there are any number


of examples and I appreciate that some of those examples may be more


about speed and may be about lack of speed and a lack of efficiency


within the planning system, but I think there are Newham rabble


examples of where nebz around this chamber can point to examples in


their own constituency where the planning system has impeded economic


development. It has cost Northern Ireland jobs, at a time when


Northern Ireland desperately needs jobs, at a time whenever thousands


of people from these shores are emigrating from anywhere around the


world to get employment. I've listened carefully to the two


previous contributors, in relation to their support for clauses two and


six and talking about Northern Ireland being open for business.


However, it is a sad reality that there are many brownfield sites


within development zones. There are numerous empty premises in terms of


commercial and industrial comem iss. There are many of -- premises. There


are many shops and town centres that are already empty. It is


questionable as to whether or not planning in itself is the Seoul


driver for economic development. do welcome at this stage and support


the overall principle of this planning bill coming forward. I know


what many people in society, whether that's developers, objectors an the


planning service themselves, want to see is a speedier planning process


and, at times, it has been very frustrating for all those involved.


The principle of this bill at this stage is obviously very welcome in


that it is hoping to improve that. In light of some of the amendments


tabled at the last minute to the bill, I feel I'm speaking with a


heavy heart. In fact, as I have previously stated, I do not think


the minister should have moved consideration stage today. This


would have allowed everyone the opportunity to assess the amendments


cooked up by Sinn Fein and the DUP working closely together behind


closed doors. If it transpires by the time this review commences that


some disastrous decisions are made on the basis that the so-called


economic benefits have been given preference over the environmental


damage caused and we're facing a situation in three years' time


whereby fracking is taking place across Fermanagh or even in Belfast


city centre is now proposed, a Nuclear Power Station has been


constructed across Belfast loch from Titanic Belfast and every town and


village in the north contains a waste incinerator, will those


developments be closed down? Will efforts be made to repair the


damage? Or will we be told that it's too late? It is my view that issues


around the environment are already promoted, in terms of protection,


and legislated for or in terms of practice and policy, accommodated,


within the planning system. If this isn't actually going to give any


greater weight to the economic materials, then what is the purpose


of the bill and the two clauses? think that's a fair question. It


might even be a question that you might want to put to your colleagues


in the executive. It's questions that might be put to other members


of the executive, because I didn't go out of my way to seek in the bill


anything further than what was in the act. Given, I would suggest,


that economic considerations, economic development is a material


consideration, has been for as long as I know, it is already part of the


narrative around planning decisions. You may argue, I don't, but some may


argue that somehow or other these words on the face of the bill


enhance that requirement. I don't agree. But Any Currency -- but in


any case economic requirements have been part of the planning system


forever and a day I presume. Reaction to that bill so far, I'm


joined by economist John Simpson and environmentalist James Robinson.


Welcome to the programme. First of all, John, you think this bill is


long overdue. This bill is absolutely necessary. I'm not saying


that it needs an absolute statement about the economy being a priority,


but it needs to bring the economy into play in a way in which economic


issues can be put into the balance sheet. If we were now to amend the


bill to take that out the reputation for Northern Ireland for being a


difficult place to get planning permission would be made worse. We


do have a bad reputation because planning permission an the


principles behind it have been slow. This bill would tidy it up, improve


it and I hope it can be done in a balanced way. I hope that will come


out of this debate, which is still going on. You're not so keen now.


Economic prosperity has always been part of the material considerations


which are there for planning applications. This is not something


new. We've always argued that it should be balanced against things


like living our environmental limits and creating an equal and just


society. So taking planning decisions which account for all of


these things is surely the best way of creating a sustainable future so


future generation cans benefit from what the decisions are. The balance


was already there,if you like, in the programme for Government, around


sustainable development, the environment and economic issues. Why


are economic issues suddenly to the fore. There wasn't a bill with a


clause that said economic issues were a material consideration. We


might even disagree whether they were taken into account. So long as


we actually take a language of there may be occasions in which something


has a strong economic motivation in which any environmental issue might


be minor or vice versa, then we will have a planning decision where we


can defend the outcomes on the basis we put responsibility. I hope we


actually put the responsibility on the minister of environment and that


we don't alter that responsibility, which is still for discussion.


think it's a bad thing to have the first and deputy first ministers


take some of the planning powers to their department? If the first


ministers want to have particular bits, it sounds as if they're trying


to create an enterprise zone philosophy. Let's have those roles,


if they can find an appropriate areas on the rules, but leave it


with the department of environment and say to them, you've trained in


the past your town planners. You tell us you've been taking into


account economic issues. Let's make sure they're absolutely trained to


cope with the needs of the 21st century, which will require a


sharper training focus. There is the sense of frustration that the


environment is coming at the expense of jobs and investment. What do you


say to people who champion this bill? Absolutely. When the bill


first came out and we read it, the RSPB and other groups were


supportive of it. We want to see better planning decisions. We want


to see it quick. We want those decisions taken in the best way. If


you look back as far as 200#4, the planning commission was clear that


it was the public who were saying they needed a system they could


trust. With these new amendments we think that trust isn't going to be


there. Therefore we need to see a Planning Bill which will secure


sustainable development so future generations don't look back at the


decisions and think, actually, that was the wrong decision. Well, we


still have a few hours to go to make up their minds. Thank you very much.


The House continued to divide this evening as the debate on the


Planning Bill continued in particular causing controversy was a


DUP Sinn Fein amendment to create economically sufficient planning


zones to be administered by the first and deputy First Minister's


office. The amendment itself clearly states to create opportunities for


economic -- economics in the planning application. We're looking


at trying to create certain zones for economic beneficial planning


applications. It's probably on the same principle as simplified


planning zones. I just want to outline the reasons behind all of


this. I want to just state at the outset that this is not about OFMDFM


taking over this role. If the department of the environment


doesn't cooperate, then by order a draft can be laid and approved by


resolution of the Assembly, which is another way of saying that the


ruling DUP Sinn Fein kabal can override the department and force


their will. So, isn't it rather disingenuous to pretend this is


anything but a takeover? If it's about cooperation, would that be the


same sort of cooperation that the minister had in the announcement of


the schemes by the First Minister, which affect his department, in


which there was no consultation whatsoever? Can I thank the member


for the intervection. -- intervention. It states that in 8


br. I go back to the point dr 8 B. I go back to the point and why we're


offering there. The reality is this: Instead of us trying to look at


creating opportunities and creating jobs within our own constituencies


throughout the north, to try and keep our young people here, because


clearly, our young people are leaving and if they -- there were


jobs here they wouldn't be leaving. To say I was shocked when I saw this


amendment would be an understatement. To submit such a


substantial amendment with such far-reaching consequences right at


the deadline for submission is, in my opinion, unacceptable. At


committee I worked closely with my colleagues, including Mr Wear. They


were aware of the likely amendments I would seek. I think to not extend


similar courtesy to committee colleagues shows that this is Sinn


Fein DUP riding roof shooed over the Assembly and indeed, the -- rough


Shooed over the Assembly -- shod over the Assembly. We can use this


as an opportunity not to lose investments, you know, take a look


at our neighbouring jurisdiction, it's not just corporation tax that


they use to attract people in. They have the opportunity of using


quicker planning approvals and have used that there. On one hand, they


use the lower tax regime to attract people then they offer quick


planning approval in areas, that is something we should be zooing.


That's the examples in learning I'm prepared to learn from them. After


all the soft words and after Cameron, Obama and the G8, we are


back to the reality of how OFM DFM do business. This amendment proves


they don't want to work in partnership. They not only want to


have their way without consultation, they want to grab the legal powers


from DOE. Yet as others have said another power grab. Our political


correspondent, Gareth Gordon, who's been following this debate is back


with more analysis. This is a very controversial amendment tonight,


particularly the one around the first and deputy First Minister's


taking some of that planning power back to the centre. Now critics


describe this as a power grab. Is that a fair comment? You certainly


could describe it as that. It depends what side of the argument


you're on. There is the element of the political coup. It takes some of


the planning from the environment department and place it's right at


the heart of the OFM DFM. There's no secret of his displeasure in this.


Of course, the DUP and Sinn Fein were reporting earlier on how they


disagree vehemently about some of the parading issues, they have


agreed about this. It's a carve up and they have the numbers to push it


through the Assembly. Briefly, there has been ape development this


evening. We had been expecting a very late night, for all of these


amendments to be voted on tonight. That is now not going to happen.


Suddenly, the Assembly heard that there is a petition of concern. We


understand that petition has been brought by the DUP about amendments


that were brought by the Ulster Unionist Party and inserting the


word "environment" in some of the amendments. That means that the


whole debate has to close down. They will have to come back tomorrow. So


even at this late stage, it's not certain. Very much. The Education


Minister announced more places for newly qualified teachers through the


project delivering social change. But before the good news, the


minister had to defend his record on the controlled school sector.


minister in a written reply to a question I submitted on this issue


stated that in the Catholic maintained sector there were 182


additional places. In the integrated sector 63, in the Irish language


sector it was 38. It strikes me that the control sector is at the pure


end of your thinking. Do you accept that this is not a fair aloe


indication and distribution of the additional places allocated this


year. If the member is accusing me of prejudice, I have to say I take


it seriously. Outside this chamber to bring me to account and I invite


him to use either. Could the minister give his rational for not


giving additional places to maintain schools which have a history of


oversup scripgs, for example St Francis? I'm not sure how it's


associated with this question, perhaps more associated with the


previous question. I'm happy to respond. Considering that I have


been accused of being prejudiced, the member shows up two good


example. I torn down a school, a Catholic school in my own


constituency in relation to temporary variation. I don't see how


I can display more fairness than that. Why? Because the sums didn't


stack up. OFMDFM, delivering social change project is progressing well.


The principles of the selected schools have taended information


sessions. The -- attended information sessions. The 230 recent


graduate teachers will be in post from September onwards. The project


will ensure extra support for children and primary schools to


achieve the expected levels of reading and maths. It will provide


tuition to pupils in post primary schools who are not predicted to get


at least a C grade in English and/or maths. I am funding an expansion of


this project adding an extra 36 posts to bring more primary schools


into the project and to ensure that every qualifying post primary school


has at least one fulltime teacher or increasing from one to two teachers


for larger schools. It's emerged the Health Minister


went against the advice of his most senior civil servient and ordered


two proposed health centres to be built by the private sector. The


information was revealed as the health committee questioned the


secretary. I was minded that they actually cancelled the session.


That's how annoyed I am. Over the last number of weeks, we have tried


to accommodate the department. Still papers have arrived to us late. We


have a responsibility and a job to do. I accept thaw have deadlines and


need to get committee papers cleared. I accept all that. But


especially on this issue, I gave another week and still, papers have


come to us late. The rules of Government pointed to doing this in


a way that kept the asset within the public service, owned by the people.


What the minister has done is set aside those rules and taken a


decision to run an experiment which means the asset will be privatised.


The rules of government include the prerogative of ministers to decide,


exercise their own judgment. financial rules. With the greatest


respect shall the rules, you're a counting officer, you will be hauled


in front of the committee with your ability to uphold the financial


rules. It said in these case it's was best to build something and that


the people of Northern Ireland would own it. The minister overruled that


using his powers as minister to say no, we'll privatise them. He has


decided to proceed with a third party development on the basis he


thinks that's worth considering. I wrong in saying that he overruled


it? It's overruling, advice, advisors advise, ministers decide.


That's with every decision taken. I'm accountable to advise in line


with object objective, evidence-based information in


relation to value for money. That was done. The business case is


there. It is entirely reasonable and appropriate for a minister to take a


different view. That's within the rules. The rules provide for that.


What we do know is that despite the minister's protestations that this


is not a charter for the stealth privatisation of the asset base,


that in fact, it is. If he continues to use ministerial direction and if


there's no legislation in place that puts a duty on you to point out to a


minister this is contrary to policy, all you can say to him is - it's


just against the financial rules. If you direct me to do other-wise, if


you say you want to privatise, minister, off you go. Policy is for


the minister and for the Assembly. Science, technology, engineering and


maths were the main topic in Question Time for the employment and


learning minister, Stephen Farry. He was asked how he intends to get more


students, particularly young women, to take them up. Science,


technology, engineering and maths are becoming increasingly important


to our economy. As such I'm providing an additional 1200


under-graduate places by 2016. ? Vment In recognition of the high


growth potential of the ICT industry, I have identified it as a


priority sector for my department. I chair a Working Group which includes


representation from employers, colleges, universities and other


government departments. We've had a significant increase in the number


of applications for compute irscience at both universities.


That's to be welcomed. There will come a point where capacity has been


reached. The ICT sector in Northern Ireland is growing. It is a major


area of indigenous growth. We're attracting inward investment. We are


poised to have tens of thousands of new jobs created over the coming


decade or longer. That is in the current context, where we don't have


a lower level of corporation tax, in the event that we did have to lower


the corporation tax level rnings the number of jobs we could create in


the sector would be hugely significant. Can the minister


outline to the House what discussions are ongoing to increase


the number of schools that actually offer computer science as a


qualification instead of ICT? believe that the new A-level that is


being offered in local schools from September is an important


development. It is important that we make a distinction between A-level


and computer science and an A-level in ICT. It is the build the


programme is makes a difference in terms of people's employability


down-the-line and it indicates what companies actually want to see in


terms of skilled young people coming through. Despite proportionally more


females participating in higher education than males, females


account for fewer than 30% of those graduating in stem subjects,


excludeing medicine and health. Over 70% of students in ICT and over 75%


of those studying engineering and technology are male. As part of a


strategy my department is working with organisations such as E skills


UK, Improve as well, which are promoting stem careers to females.


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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