24/10/2011 Stormont Today


24/10/2011

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


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today, the best of the day's business from

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the windswept and rain-soaked Assembly. And if the constant rain

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is getting you down, let your MLAs lift your spirits with fine debate

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and high rhetoric. Coming up on the programme:

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New rules for appointing special advisors are unveiled. What we have

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done is we have made it clear that the walls on appointing special

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advisers have been tightened. People have complained about

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whether or not those who are appointed are competent. The method

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they are appointed by has been changed as

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The prisons challenge facing the Justice Minister is laid out in

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stark terms. It prison officers want good management, they have to

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be prepared to be managed. There are new ways of working.

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And with his own expertise in that field, Professor Phil Scraton from

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Queen's is with me. Our prison service is too expensive

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and under effective. That's the view of a report which has been

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described as a watershed moment for the prison service. Professor Phil

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Scraton has written extensively about our justice system. What do

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you make of today's report? I think you could look at the report as the

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pinnacle of a series of events that have gone back over the last six or

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seven years. There have been reports after reports, plus the

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inspections. They have bought more or less said the same thing. The

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prisons are not fit for purpose and the staff within the prison are

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demoralised. There has been very little replacement of staff. The

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management itself has not been up to scratch, and we have seen that

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over and again with some spectacular cases and big issues,

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and also the accommodation. It is a boy for and in parts it is

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completely unsuitable and breaches international guidelines for

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prisoners. I think that that combination of factors, plus the

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lack of will, lack of political will to change. A lot of that is

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the legacy of the conflict, but there has to be changed now and

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this report, this review in actual fact, is going to be the catalyst,

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I hope. Dame Anne Owers carried out the

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report. She described the main changes that need to be made.

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immediate priority is back to basics. Getting and the prisons

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running efficiently and properly. That is a staging post. The real

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goal is to get to a prison service that can be a model of good

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practice and can work with prisoners to increase public safety

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by tried to get them to change and not to offend when they get out.

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That is what we should be aiming for. It all needs to be geared

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towards that one aim. Our does our emphasis on rehabilitation can

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their hair to England, Scotland and Wales in terms of rehabilitating

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prisoners? There is less good work going on in prisons. There is good

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work going on outside, but in prisons one of the problems is that

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the regime has not been consistent enough that you can get prisoners

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to activities. There is a bit big learning centre at Maghaberry that

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prisoners cannot get to. The UCB Prison Officers' Association of the

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management as a key stumbling block to the changes? In it is both. You

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have to have a good and effective management of prisons and there has

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not always been the space for that. I think that is improving at the

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top at -- of the service. At the other end, you need to have the

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willingness to be managed. Prison officers need to be prepared to be

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managed, especially with things that are not comfortable. There are

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new ways of working, perhaps maybe worrying because it has not been

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done before and that is why the development and management of staff

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is so important. The issue over the time that people spent on a remark

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has become a big issue today. Just to us what you would like to see.

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We need to cut down the amount of time spent on remand. One in three

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prisoners here have not been tried. They are still innocent. That

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compares with one in 10 in England and Wales. One of the things that

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helps in that, and that has been around for a long time, is having a

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statutory time limit between when you get charged and when you go to

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court. So what is a sensible time? Different time limits for different

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cases. If you are looking at low level cases, youth justice cases,

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it should be in a matter of a few months. Obviously with serious

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cases you need longer because unique to get the evidence and

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witnesses together. It is not a one size fits all and it is not

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something that should happen immediately, but if you do

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something like what the youth justice advice to do, do with young

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people quickly, and that works you can make up the system. We have not

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suggested any time limits because they would need to be what is

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suitable to a particular case. this give you hope and optimism

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that there will be built change? is my hope and optimism that the

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issues are understood. The review is - that the review is

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comprehensive. It singles out Maghaberry as being one of the most

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complex. It recognises that it cannot go on in the way in which it

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is. However, Maghaberry is for long-term prisoners and I think the

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issue around longer term prisoners is that they have to be accessible

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to their families. On the one hand, the review says they want it to be

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close and move to an urban centre, but it also says it is not possible

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and it should be refurbished. I have been at my Gilligan on a

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number of occasions and there is no way that present should be allowed

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to stay open. If we are serious about cohering families around

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prisons, we need to make them more accessible. Thank you.

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Northern Ireland has yet another world champion. Not a golfer, an

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athlete nor any other sportsman. But a bricklayer. The information

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that comes out during question time, and that nugget was from Stephen

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Farry of Employment and Learning. But first, let's hear the Acting

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Deputy First Minister John O'Dowd, who may well have been holding the

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fort for Martin McGuinness for the last time. Here he is answering a

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question on that perennial topic, the past.

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The recent debate on dealing with the past in this Chamber

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illustrated the range of views. We are a post conflict society. We

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need to find a way it for what that is sensitive to the victims and

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survivors in our society. There is the value in making the process

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objective and inclusive. I am conscious there are other views and

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I don't want to be presumptuous of prescriptive in saying how

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discussions will take place. It remains this department's

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intentioned but the voices of victims and survivors will be heard

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and their needs met. Could I thank the acting Deputy First Minister

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for his answer. But could I ask him to reflect on what was contained in

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the Bradley Report in terms of dealing with the past? And up what

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he and the First Minister not address this issue on the basis of

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that report so that they can be a truly comprehensive approach by the

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Office in relation to dealing with the past and the Office no longer

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it ducks the issue, but get stuck in and develops mechanisms that are

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necessary to heal the wounds in this society. It is certainly not a

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case of a lot of this ducking this issue. It is a very important issue

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and affects members of our society deeply. We want to make sure we had

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the right mechanisms going or what. The Member refers to the Bradley

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Report. I note the comments of the British Secretary of State in

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regards that report. I can assure the member that the way forward

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should not be prescriptive. We want to make sure that the way it

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forward meets the needs of victims and survivors. With reference to

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public confidence, can he advised the House on the return of the

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former Deputy First Minister, how will confidence be enhance? When he

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was giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, he claimed he had

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taken an oath of secrecy to the IRA. What is the chance of getting any

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It is quite clear that everyone is going to have to play their part in

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shipping our future, part of shook and that future is going to be how

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to deal with our past. I have no vote that the Deputy First Minister

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will play his role in ensuring that the society can move forward, to

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start delivering a new future for this generation, without forgetting

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the past. Employment and learner, and the future of St me these

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teacher-training college was on the agenda. -- St Mary's. I am just

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wondering if the minister is committed to supporting its

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sustainability? Would he consider delivering students to the

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university? I am certainly very conscious of the importance of St

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Mary's in the context of his constituency, and the member will

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be aware that there are a number of issues pertaining to future of

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teacher training within Northern Ireland and I am giving active

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consideration to all of those. There are other aspects to it, as

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well. I have a meeting with the member and his colleague and the

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principal of St Mary's, soon in the future. Assured future has long

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been a central plank Alliance Party policies which should be no problem

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for Minister Barry, to underline what he's doing to make it happen.

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It should lead to the creation of a former Shia future policy proofing,

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in addition to current forms a policy proofing, this mechanism

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would be applied to all future of departmental policies to assess if

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they will lead to a share society, or inadvertently reinforced the

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visions. Those policies that then towards separation will be avoided,

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whilst those that arnica or which will advance assure future will be

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fairer. This will be broader than the current aspect of quality

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prevent. I believe these changes would represent a ground-breaking

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development, in terms of the policy-making process and

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demonstrate a commitment to Ayrshire future by my department

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and others. And finally a tribute to a world champion. We have a

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number of people in Northern Ireland, we have the world champion

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gold medallist in terms of bricklaying, coming from Northern

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Ireland. This is testament to the strength in depth we have in our

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young people. He Steven Farry, there. The First Minister has found

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an extra �40 million for the Kohl ownership housing scheme. The

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department will help got an extra �25 million to buy specialist it's

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an stops animals need denies that as part of the October monitoring

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Brown, where money that has not been spent by departments is

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reallocated. And the minister had this warning for banks that do not

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play ball. We do not want to put money into the corner sheet scheme

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and then think people can get money from the coal ownership scheme and

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then cannot get one over the other percentage is to purchase the

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property from the banks, and for that reason, after this debate or

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statement is over, the banks, representatives from the banks will

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be in this building, making a commitment in the briefings they

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will give to the press, on their willingness to participate in this

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scheme and make money available, through this scheme, and also

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working with the scheme to ensure that every is any duplication of

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the way in which things are process, then there is a need for banks to

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delay the process by doing the same betting as the scheme, the same

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conditions that are laid down poor loans, and All those issues have

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been discussed with officials. This is only one aspect of bank lending,

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of course, we're talking about. In the engagement with the minister

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for the St, and that I have had with the banks, we met them between

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making this decision and announcing up today, we have found that most

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of them have been positive, but of course, and we have made this clear

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to the banks, not only do we want a commitment today, for them to

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advertise their products they will make available to people, but we

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will be monitoring just how that is delivered. This is great news today,

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isn't it? An injection of any amount of capital into the system

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of government is good news. We have not patting to study these plans

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fully. There is the �10 million available currently, providing 125

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homes. This will provide an additional 170. People are still

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required to provide a 5% deposit and, more importantly, to secure a

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75% mortgage which is where the difficulty is, with the bats.

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banks were here today with Sammy Wilson, having a meeting, and he

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seemed to suggest they would play ball. The existing scheme has

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certain anomalies where if you have borrowings in the region of fight

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�1,000 for a car loan, or at bit of any kind of �5,000, you're out. So

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and there is a bit of work that could be done round the edges.

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we go to a system where there are 400 people on a waiting list been

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chosen on a lottery system, at random, surely any system to help

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some of those people at least get onto the property ladder and into

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safe homes is a good thing. We for the last several months the number

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of people applying was less than the supply. We have a lottery

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system at one stage. And the unavailability of mortgage finance

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rather than the corner should scheme was what prevented people.

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The last couple of issues, there were you're applications than we

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could find finance for. What else could Sammy Wilson do about this?

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He is the finance minister. It is not for me to tell him what he

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should do, but the way to stimulate the economy is to inject money into

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the bottom end of it because it will come out at the top. If these

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were new build houses that stimulate the housing market. It

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might well be that it is properties that have been lying around for

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some time, and that will help get people House's but it will not

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stimulate the economy. He hoped at 450 new houses would be built every

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year for the next several years. We're already through the �15

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million coal ownership scheme providing 425 houses. My entire

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family whose -- entire family history was in housebuilding, and

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that is gone now. The skills that they depended on are gone and the

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market that they service is going and it will take a good deal of

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effort to bring it back. Planning has to be right. And financial

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functions of the banking system have to suit the needs of the

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business. The Justice Minister David Ford revealed a few weeks ago

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during question time that 80% of inmates on -- at Maghaberry were on

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some form of prescription medications. Last week the Health

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Minister hear more about prisoners and their health issues. And the

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ongoing issue of the police ombudsman was discussed. But we

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start with health. Many prisoners suffer from anxiety and depression,

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personality disorders and serious mental illness, suicidal ideas and

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self-harm is prevalent. Providing treatment and a correction

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environment is challenging. There is a significant need in relation

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to mental health. Up to 5,000 prisoners, including sentenced and

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demand prisoners used health care services each year. The figures

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outline highly level of need. Some 1,000 prisoners will have

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personality disorders. 130 will have psychosis, 750 have some form

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of neurosis, 12 will have tried to kill themselves in the last seven

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days, 110 will have thought about that within the last seven days.

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160 prisoners will have tried to kill themselves in the last year.

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712 people will have an addiction and fight on them 45 will have an

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addiction to alcohol and drug problems. Many inmates are

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receiving prescribed medication and stock in many cases, the Docks

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prisoners take our for their said that there were tranquillising

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effects, rather than for physical ailments. Attempts to manage this

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clinically are received with hostility. Over 90% of complaints

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received relate to medicines management. The administration of

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medicines to such a large population in the security tight

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environment is it time consuming for professional staff, and given

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the levels of Ilka starting, it makes it difficult for us to

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conform to best practice. Sometimes 60% of mustn't think Candy taken

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over the administration of medicine. I percentage of prisoners have a

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history of alcohol and drug misuse and stops some of the youngest

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prisoners and we want to harder drugs in present a stock to help

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them escape detection in prison prisoners are a high risk or

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opposed on discharge and many of the drugs smuggled into prison are

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very dangerous compounds. Any other business? It is in two parts. In

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relation to the ombudsman, the evidence given to the committee on

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the September the it, first of all, he can recall someone who has given

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evidence which was misleading or unsatisfactory. People might have

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an opinion on his performance in his role, but my opinion is that he

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told us... A is this going to take us much other forward on the issue?

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It is not the issue. What I am saying is, he told this committee

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that he would have to check documentation, that nothing would

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be changed without the evidence and he would have to get evidence and

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when he was pressed, he asked his colleague who told them, I would

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check. In no uncertain terms, there are no documents, so therefore, he

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changed his opinion and changed the report, without documentation,

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which he told us he would not do. If there is a particular area where

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you think he might have misled the committee, usually, you would

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highlight to remember that provided evidence where there might have

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been an issue on asking him to clarify that evidence. If you are

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suggesting that he is recalled to do it, I would be content that we

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would like to him and say, you is an issue that some members are

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highlighted, can you explain? If it comes down to the issue of

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indicting him back, I don't want the question your motivation for

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that. I think it would go beyond that particular issue and it -- it

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would be another if up to try to apply pressure for him to resign

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his position. We heard about the problems of prescription drugs in

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Maghaberry, so what about the mental health system in the prison

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system? That has been criticised. The way that mental health is

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tackled in prisons is one of the great scandals. One of the things

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that we see is people go into prison with mental help conditions

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-- mental health, and others contact them whilst they are in

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there. That is about the way the prisons are set up, the lack of

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appropriate support or help cure needs. It impacts right across the

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board, on their families, or near communities and it is a barrier to

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them when they are released. One of the issues raised today which was

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spoken about strongly in the report was the fact that, since they

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criticised the Prison Service for its lack of a patient and mental

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ill-health, that is one of the key issues, and we know about the

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stories of suicide, and will self- harm, which have been so prevalent

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within prisons, particularly for women in prison, they raise these

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issues, starkly, in Peggy, and they say that nothing has been done. In

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that time there has been almost zero progress. That is completely

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unacceptable. The finance minister Sammy Wilson says Sinn Fein has not

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objected to a new system for appointing special advisers at

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Stormont. Mark Devon port has been telling me more. There was huge

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controversy back in May and June when the culture minister appointed

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me in a Kabul as a special adviser, even though she had been convicted

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for her role in the murder of a magistrate's daughter in 1984. Now,

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that DUP said it was going to look at this. Peter Robinson asked the

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Finance Minister has responsible for personnel around Stormont to

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look at it. He came up with the review that was completed in June,

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but it Hitler see the light of the until this week when it appeared on

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the Assembly website. It's it's about a vetting procedure whereby

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the justice agency would affect any prospective candidate for special

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advisers, in the same way they book or senior civil servant jobs. I

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asked the minister weather of that review had been applied then, it

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with a stock the appointment of Mary McArdle. What we have done is

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made it quite clear that the rules on appointing special advisers have

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been tightened. It will be a proper procedure. People have complained

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about whether those who have been appointed are competent, the method

0:27:360:27:41

by which they appointed, that has been dealt with, and the security

0:27:420:27:48

vetting has been dealt with, as well. So the rules are quite clear

0:27:480:27:54

and ministers will have to abide by them. Can these bills be enforced

0:27:540:28:00

retrospectively? Sammy Wilson says that this new system has been in

0:28:000:28:05

force since the 6th September, but he only foresees a crisis of there

0:28:050:28:10

is a new appointment that is going to be made and somebody potentially

0:28:100:28:14

has convictions. Sinn Fein has not objected to it so far, but they

0:28:140:28:20

will make the point that they cannot approve this. Lots of

0:28:200:28:28

activity you to a. What is all this about? Stormont does not work just

0:28:280:28:38

9-5. This function is for a group that stands for, where is my public

0:28:380:28:42

servant? It is a charitable group involving young people involved in

0:28:420:28:46

making films and being in contact and campaigning and lobbying with

0:28:460:28:51

politicians on issues of interest to young people, so they having

0:28:510:28:56

will launch. And I am here because I have got roped in as the compere!

0:28:560:29:06
0:29:060:29:08

I will leave you to the programme, What would you say is the priority

0:29:080:29:12

for the prison service? Or there needs to be more involvement of

0:29:120:29:22
0:29:220:29:26

other departments, not just the Justice Department. If we do not

0:29:260:29:32

get this right, what actually happens is we create a problem, a

0:29:320:29:37

greater problem for people who are in those communities. We will see

0:29:370:29:41

an increasing criminality. If we are serious about victims, we have

0:29:410:29:47

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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