25/02/2014 Stormont Today


25/02/2014

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. Coming up on the programme. Unionist

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outrage as it's revealed the man accused of the 1982 Hyde Park

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bombing will not face prosecution. Nobody should be above the law.

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Everybody should be subject to the law. It seems that because of a

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letter that was sent to this individual, he has effectively

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received a get out of jail free card. The Environment Minister says

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he believes the 5p levy on paper bags should remain in place. There

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is no justification for doing a bags should remain in place. There

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unnecessary bag use. I'm joined by Dr Orna Young with her perspective

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of another busy day on the Hill. John Downey, the man accused of

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killing four soldiers in the IRA bombing in Hyde Park in London in

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1982, has walked free from court today. He was revealed that he had

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been given an official guarantee he would not face trial it has also

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been revealed that another 186 people wanted for Troubles-related

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crimes may have received similar assurances. I've been discussing the

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cases with our political editor, Mark Devenport. I asked him for the

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assessment of the significant of today's development. Certainly the

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existence of this scheme was not widely known. There were press

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reports that Sinn Fein got some kind of assurance about individuals on

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the runs. The notion that there were 187 letters of comfort, this scheme

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went on even though the legislation that was meant to deal with on the

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runs fell when it came to Westminster will come as a shock to

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many politicians here at Stormont. Are two separate issues at work,

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aren't there? Yes. Focus on the PSNI's administrative error which

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the judge called "catastrophic" checking whether the Metropolitan

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Police wanted to interview John Downey about about the Hyde Park

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bombing when they found out it was the case not correcting the letter

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sent out in his case. That is of great importance to the families of

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the victims the judge took it so seriously in relation to this case.

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On the wider political scale, if you like, the fact cannot be avoided we

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didn't know about the existence of this scheme at all. So, when people

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are saying - oh, there shouldn't have been this particular

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administrative blunder, there is the bigger political question of whether

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the scheme should have existed at all. There has been considerable

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political reaction to the development As you would expect,

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unionists outraged. The First Minister, Peter Robinson, saying

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it's a dark day for justice. Justice should have no sell-by-date.

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Republicans saying, look, the arrest of John Downey was completely wrong

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in the first place. It was a breach of the commitments that they knew

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they had even if the wider public of the commitments that they knew

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don't think it makes anything any easier. It possible to say what

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happens next? We know that officials will be looking at the letters sent

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out to see if there are similar administrative errors. It may be

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republicans will get a second letter saying, we can't give you that

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assurance. It's possible that this will now provide some kind of

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precedent for future cases. I think it will stir once again the

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controversies that we visited a couple of weeks ago in relation to

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John Larkins call for an end of prosecutions. There was talk of an

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amnesty. Unionists saying has there been a back door amnesty any in

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case. There has been political fallout from from today's

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development we begin with this reaction from the Ulster unionist

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MLA Danny Kinahan. Who was a close friend of one of the soldiers killed

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in the bomb attack. You think, what's been going on? Is we are told

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187 people were getting letters to say that they were no longer wanted.

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We discover, if I have it right, they hadn't checked them all. Some

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may have been wanted, some don't. We have a clock up we have to find out

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what went wrong and find out who is wanted. Families want justice. We

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all want justice, at the same time we want to move forward. 187 am

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nesties. We effectively have an amnesty. That why Haas and everyone

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else want to brush the past under the carpet. That is why they want to

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talk about immunity. They know that the dirty deal has already been done

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for many of them. They don't want any search light of truth shining

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upon it. This judgment opens up that can of worms. I, for one, will make

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sure that we do explore more fully to find out such truth as we can of

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just how horrendous the skull dug are you was that went on. It's a

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black day for justice in the United Kingdom. Of course, nobody should be

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above the law. Everybody should be subject

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above the law. Everybody should be because of a letter that was

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card. That is something that I find offensive. I'm sure a lot of people

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in the UK find offensive tonight. Where do you think responsibility

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for this situation rests Well, we all know that at the time of the

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Belfast Agreement, subsequent negotiation in and around 2000, 2001

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there were political machinations in relation to the so-called on the

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runs at that time. Reaction is that it was a good decision. Decision

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that we were expecting. John Downey should never have been arrested. It

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was part of an agreement reached in the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome

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the fact he is now released and free to go home. You said it was a result

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of a firm agreement with Sinn Fein and the Government? This was part of

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the Good Friday Agreement where the on the run, as it is termed, had an

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I agreement where they would be clear to go free. Does this mean

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that other on the runs are now unlikely to face prosecution? We are

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dealing with the John Downey case today. I welcome that decision. The

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fact he is now free to go home. That's as far as we can go today.

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Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy giving his reaction to Vincent Kearney

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outside the court in London earlier today. Back here at Stormont, the

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further consideration stage of the Carrier Bags Bill focussed on

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whether we should pay for bags made from paper or if they should be

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exempt from the current 35 p levy. TUV's Jim Allister began by

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explaining why he is pushing for paper bags to be excluded from the

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new charge. Ordinary folk in the street find it amazing they are

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resent offul of the fact that it's proposed on all paper bags we should

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be paying a tax. A paper bag, by its very definition, leaving it outside

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on a day like today and where, how long will it be there? It will very

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quickly, by virture of soaking up the moisture, disintergrate and

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disappear. It's not something akin to, parallel to, alike to a plastic

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bag which will withstand the elements for years on end. If paper

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bags were to be exempt from the levy, as I said, I worry paper bags

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will substitute the single use plastic bags and we will see

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millions of paper bags a year being thrown away. Many littering our

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streets and countryside. I would be interested in Mr Weir clarify

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whether or not the DUP were instrumental in supporting paper

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bags. Whether now there is a U-turn by the DUP on that particular

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proposition? In response to that, all I can say, I can speak for my

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own position, I'm not aware of the DUP having ainsisted on the Paper

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Bill, unlike some members in this House who have a full range of

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events in that regard they may be able to produce something. I cannot

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deny. Quite frankly, the point on this is, I think this is an

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opportunity for us to pause and see whether changes are to be made to

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make this better. If that means, quite frankly, because the

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legislation that was passed through, I appreciate Mr Allister wasn't here

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at the time, but in terms of the main parties here, all the parties

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passed that. If we got things wrong in 2011 we should be big enough to

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admit we got things wrong. If there are changes to be made, which can

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improve this, if that means a U-turn, if it means changes in terms

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of some of the detail within this, I'm perfectly happy to say that we

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should be U-turning because we should be actually providing the

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best possible legislation. In relation to parties who have on

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committees and brought party positions, when I find it back in

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the chamber, you know, those people are contradicting some of the things

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that were said. As we look into this whole issue and we thought that the

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paper issue, you know, was the better way to go forward in relation

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to paper verses plastic, I shouldn't make it a paper verses plastic

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issue, to be honest with you, it should be either, it should be about

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reusable bags and reusing what you have. I'm happy to see if we got it

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right in 2011, if we got it wrong, maybe we did. Mr Weir and the DUP

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were supporting the pro-- proposals at that time. He has a right and

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were supporting the pro-- proposals at it here today. Obviously, what I

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want to ensure is that the wider consumer gets the best deal. That is

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irrespective of whether they are purchasing the goods or indeed of

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protecting the environment. Because I do believe that the initial

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reasons was the protections of the environment to make it more

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environmental friendly. The 5p tax seems reasonable. A slight

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disincentive for disposal, using a disposable piece of material that

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requires so much energy to produce. It's strange I'm being asked this

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now. This Assembly has had every opportunity to consider these

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issues. This policy, as I've said, has been three years in the making.

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It has been agreed by the executive and passed by this Assembly. We have

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collectively agreed already a levy on paper bags is justified. There is

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no justification for doing a U-turn now. As I have already said, the

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policy objective has always been to reduce or eliminate unnecessary bag

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use. Whatever materials they are made from. Jim Allister's amendment

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wasn't passed. Neither was the DUP's which sought exemptions for hessian

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and cloth bags. Members did support an amendment calling on the

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department to prepare a report on biodegradable carrier bags, the

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motion then passed. The plight of fishermen was touched on during

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questions to the agriculture minister today ahead of a meeting

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she was to have with them later in the afternoon. Fishermen say recent

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bad weather means they are enable to fish their quota allocation. First

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up though, yet again, was the issue of Single Farm Payments.

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The department set its highest payment target for December 2013 at

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85%. Significantly exceeded it by finalising 90% of claims. More

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farmers received their single farm payment in December than ever

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before. In November 2013 I payment in December than ever

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that 95er % of claims including payment in December than ever

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end of February 2014. That target has been exceeded. If relation to

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the percentage of single farm payment that has not been paid, I

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think she talks about a 4% or 5%. The could she tell us what it

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represents in terms of real cash, bearing in mind that it's

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concentrated in two areas mainly, mainly South Tyrone and North Antrim

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Don't have an exact figure. We are talking somewhere at about ?9

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million. We are talking about just 3% of Single Farm Payments, ?255

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million has been paid out. I'm not dismissing for one moment if you are

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in a category waiting to be paid, I understand the feeling you have. We

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are, woing around the clock. I give that assurance to anybody waiting

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for their payment. Comes around with remarkable regularity. I just wonder

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does she engage in discussions before winter months on a pre-plan

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basis to say this is what we are going to do rather than the

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emergency provisions which she outlined in her earlier answer? I

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will go further, winter is every year! I engage, as I said, with the

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minister when required and have done in the past. I do welcome the fact

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that he has engaged farmers and local contractors to be able to

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clear roads, particularly in rural areas. That is something we are

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maybe perhaps the gritters and services that are going around the

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main roads don't get into the rural areas. I'm keen that is something

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that is always expanded upon. In terms of my own department what we

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are doing. We have done a range of meetings, particularly preparing for

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winter given the winter we have come out of. We have engaged around

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winter preparedness. A task force, a range of issues. I can assure the

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member I know when winter is. I do my job carefully. It has been a

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particularly trying time. It's not the traditional fishing time, the

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weather prevented any activity taking place at all. I'm meeting the

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delegation of fishermen this afternoon and will discuss their

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plight. I want to commend the local charity for the work they have done

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in terms of supporting the local fishermen through a time of lead.

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turn to charity to aid their lives and what measures can the Minister

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put in place, given that there is a change in the season experienced by

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these fishermen and can she entertain any permanent support

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schemes, or more consistent support schemes, given the situations they

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face? The member will be aware that last year, the Executive made a

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hardship payment to fishermen of around ?400,000, which was welcome

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at that time. As I said, it is important that we look at what the

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long-term challenges for the industry because year on year, our

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weather is getting worse. It is going to be difficult not only to

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fishermen but a number of sectors so there are challenges, and I think

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there are longer-term challenges. MLAs discuss the importance of guide

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dogs following a motion to reclassify them as working dogs. In

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a moment, we will speak to one guide dog owner who has join me with her

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dog Chazz. First the flavour of what was said in the chamber. Today has

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three focuses. One is to celebrate the work of guide dogs since the

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opening of the offices here in 1984. Secondly, to acknowledge the

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work that a guide dog does and how the environment can impact on this.

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And thirdly, to demonstrate support the guide dogs Association as they

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continue complex work regarding reclassification. Reading through

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the information, I was astonished that they are not already in the

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classification, because they do tremendous work working for the

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majority of the day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, which for me

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means they meet the working dog criteria and should be exempted. The

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HMRC definition of working dog is based on the type of food that a dog

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consumes rather than the work it requires, and I

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consumes rather than the work it aware of role Hardy dogs play

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consumes rather than the work it guide dogs. It is not the type of

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dog, but type of dog that they eat. As guide dogs eat food that is

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suitable for all dogs, they are not exempt. A working dog is defined as

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not merely a pet but learning and working methods performing tasks to

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age matters which aid is human companion. The flaw is that guide

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dogs fit this description. And that motion passed on an oral

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vote. With me are Elaine Orwin and her

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guide dog, Chazz. You are both very welcome to the programme. This is a

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first, I think, we haven't had a guide dog in the studio before. He

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has stolen everyone's hearts, that is no surprise. We are very honoured

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and he does it in every situation we are in. Somebody said they wanted to

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take him home and you said, "join the queue" . What about the more

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serious business of speaking to MLAs, how important was? From IM

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prefatory point of view -- from my point of view, it is very important.

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It is important these dogs are recognised the work they do, in

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assisting people with visual impairment to get out and about

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independently. That is so vital, that we can go into the world,

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living our lives as independently as we can. I think a lot of people will

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be surprised to hear they are not actually classed as working dogs.

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How has that situation come about? The situation has come about because

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originally, they were just perceived as basically very amenable pets. And

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basically, it was guide dog owners and the work of the Belfast Mobility

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Team, who actually wanted to have them classified for the work they

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do. And they are a lot more than amenable pets? Totally. What

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difference does Chazz make to your life? He works in several

:19:19.:19:23.

locations. The most crucial one is using and accessing public

:19:24.:19:25.

transport. He has been trained to take me on to buses and trains

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transport. He has been trained to know you can get on and off the

:19:38.:19:41.

bus, cross the road? Absolutely. The only unfortunate aspect is that

:19:42.:19:45.

still within Northern Ireland, and we are campaigning, we would like

:19:46.:19:49.

audio buses, because we are getting on the bus and we are still reliant

:19:50.:19:55.

on the driver to obviously stop when we need to. So that is another

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development you would like to see. We would like to campaign for that.

:20:00.:20:04.

Is their assistance for someone like yourself in owning a guide dog? Are

:20:05.:20:12.

there benefits that you can actually have or drawdown because you have

:20:13.:20:14.

got a guide dog? Do you get, for example, assistance with that these

:20:15.:20:23.

-- veterinarian fees? Absolutely, and our charity wants to make sure

:20:24.:20:28.

that these dogs are accessible for everyone with visual impairment. The

:20:29.:20:34.

owner is charged just a nominal fee of 50p and at that extent, guide

:20:35.:20:38.

dogs then take on the responsibility of all veterinary care, of all food

:20:39.:20:46.

for the guide dog for its life and basically to ensure that everyone

:20:47.:20:49.

who wants to access the mobility of a guide dog can. But that means, of

:20:50.:20:55.

course, but the breeding, training and homing of guide dogs is a

:20:56.:20:59.

multi-million pound business for the charity. Absolutely, it really is

:21:00.:21:02.

and a lot of people don't realise this. For the working life of a

:21:03.:21:08.

guide dog, from puppy to retirement, each dog costs in the region of

:21:09.:21:15.

?50,000. A huge amount of money. Chazz has been absolutely brilliant

:21:16.:21:21.

it, I think he is completely not perplexed by the circumstances. His

:21:22.:21:27.

name in the office is Mr cool. Does he take everything in his stride?

:21:28.:21:32.

Absolutely. He is a cross between a Labrador retriever. Guide dogs are

:21:33.:21:36.

matched to the needs of the owner. I am a former teacher and I am out and

:21:37.:21:41.

about campaigning, going in and out of schools, and that I needed had to

:21:42.:21:45.

be that temperament and as you can see,

:21:46.:21:46.

Thank you. We know the cycle race the Giro

:21:47.:22:00.

d'Italia is on its way, but could Northern Ireland also be about to

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get a velodrome? The Culture Minister was asked just that during

:22:04.:22:07.

Question Time today. Caral Ni Chuilin also discussed the

:22:08.:22:09.

redevelopment of Windsor Park and Irish language funding. But first,

:22:10.:22:12.

to that velodrome and the Minister perhaps feels like she's going round

:22:13.:22:17.

in circles on the subject. We are now only a matter of months away

:22:18.:22:20.

from one of the biggest event ever to come to Northern Ireland hitting

:22:21.:22:24.

the streets. That will say have a massive impact in terms of the

:22:25.:22:27.

interest in cycling and people who feel they can take of the sport.

:22:28.:22:31.

They asked the minister if there is any further development in terms of

:22:32.:22:33.

getting velodrome in Northern Ireland? I know it was previously

:22:34.:22:38.

said that the business case was unsuccessful in the past but is

:22:39.:22:40.

there any development on that and the prospect of getting velodrome in

:22:41.:22:45.

the future? The member will know that the velodrome case previously

:22:46.:22:49.

did the stack up in terms of numbers but there is a study underway -- did

:22:50.:22:58.

not. There is a body pressing forward with the Department of sport

:22:59.:23:01.

and myself for a business case and I look forward to seeing that. I know

:23:02.:23:06.

anecdotally and through evidence and from seeing previous Commonwealth

:23:07.:23:12.

Games and Olympics that the sport of cycling is increasing in popularity

:23:13.:23:16.

and I have no doubt that after the Giro d'Italia, that will continue to

:23:17.:23:18.

flourish and look forward to having the plans for the future. 800 M

:23:19.:23:24.

people will be looking forward to having the Giro d'Italia around the

:23:25.:23:26.

world, and not just that, the emphasis to put forward a commission

:23:27.:23:32.

from business case that will stack up. Will the minister consider that?

:23:33.:23:39.

I am delighted to see so much interest in cycling and indeed for a

:23:40.:23:42.

velodrome. The member is right, we do need to see a business case and

:23:43.:23:46.

we need to sit stacking up, so it is really important that once a

:23:47.:23:50.

feasibility study has been completed and I have discussed it and

:23:51.:23:53.

considered it and met with the governing bodies, with sport

:23:54.:23:55.

Northern Ireland to talk through what the next steps are in terms of

:23:56.:24:00.

a business case, that business case is going to be crucial and it will

:24:01.:24:05.

have the detail that is needed in order

:24:06.:24:05.

have the detail that is needed in provide a velodrome. Then we need to

:24:06.:24:15.

work out what the next steps are, but we have a long way to go before

:24:16.:24:21.

we get to that stage. Given the costs along with the thing she has

:24:22.:24:28.

outlined and that many of the committees have issue with their

:24:29.:24:32.

budgets, aren't there more important things they can't be doing with the

:24:33.:24:35.

budget rather than indulging in the Minister's hobby? I'm not really too

:24:36.:24:42.

sure what the member is trying to prove in the points that she made,

:24:43.:24:50.

other than she is threatening me that if she believes something is

:24:51.:25:03.

contentious, but the member should know the particular remix for the

:25:04.:25:05.

scheme. The question is asked what else we can do and I think as

:25:06.:25:10.

ministers, we are always looking for additionality and the day we stop

:25:11.:25:13.

looking for additionality is the day we should hang our boots up. I have

:25:14.:25:16.

nothing else to say in response to the member's points, I don't want to

:25:17.:25:21.

point to her points other than political. I am progressing with

:25:22.:25:28.

Windsor Park and I have the Belfast City Council, the deadline that I

:25:29.:25:31.

have of them is that there plans, along with the FIA's need to be

:25:32.:25:39.

completed by May. If they are not, I am moving on with Windsor Park. It

:25:40.:25:44.

is unfortunate, but I'm not having any delays to Windsor Park because

:25:45.:25:47.

Belfast City Council have not been in a position to complete their

:25:48.:25:50.

plans for redevelopment. The Culture Minister, Caral Ni

:25:51.:25:52.

Chuilin, in determined mood during Question Time. Joining me now with

:25:53.:25:56.

her thoughts on proceedings is Dr Orna Young. Welcome back to the

:25:57.:26:01.

programme, good to see you again. To go back to the top story, your

:26:02.:26:06.

reaction to the news that John Downey isn't to be prosecuted? I

:26:07.:26:11.

think it is building on a lot of issues around dealing with the past

:26:12.:26:14.

more generally. Certainly, it is feeding into that feeling between

:26:15.:26:20.

the wider victims of the hierarchy, previous discussions we have had in

:26:21.:26:22.

that so previous discussions we have had in

:26:23.:26:34.

how it would progress and this is a step back in terms of confidence in

:26:35.:26:39.

the issue. is confiscated, isn't it? The PSNI handling of the case and

:26:40.:26:44.

the wider issue of the 187 letters that appear to have been sent to

:26:45.:26:48.

individuals? Definitely, there doesn't seem to be this equality

:26:49.:26:51.

across the board in terms of how people are being dealt with.

:26:52.:26:53.

Indeed, the information being given to the families, it is really

:26:54.:26:58.

problematic for the PSNI generally in terms of how we are dealing with

:26:59.:27:03.

the victims' issues across the board. The other issue debated in

:27:04.:27:08.

the chamber today was to do with the paper bag levy, the plastic bag

:27:09.:27:12.

levy. The DUP was accused of doing a U-turn on its view of paperbacks

:27:13.:27:17.

being included in the 5p levy. How significant was this change in the

:27:18.:27:23.

party's position? I think it is less significant than it is surprising,

:27:24.:27:26.

given the fact that it is clearly a U-turn from 2011 and it was made

:27:27.:27:32.

quite clear that basically what it is showing us this the parties are

:27:33.:27:38.

ultimately going back into the electioneering mode, in terms of

:27:39.:27:42.

satisfying particular electorates and constituencies in relation to

:27:43.:27:46.

specific businesses. A lot of the criticism of Stormont is there isn't

:27:47.:27:51.

much primary legislation enacted. This was potentially amending

:27:52.:27:56.

existing legislation, even more complicated. Absolutely and if you

:27:57.:27:58.

think about it, it was quite progressive in terms of a broader UK

:27:59.:28:03.

context and bringing us into line with the Republic and Wales, where

:28:04.:28:08.

it is very successful in terms of the provisions on plastic bags. We

:28:09.:28:12.

also touched about the news that the agriculture Minister was given

:28:13.:28:18.

?400,000 to help fishermen affected by the bad weather. I suppose some

:28:19.:28:22.

people would say it is very not considering the help farmers got

:28:23.:28:24.

last year because of the bad weather? -- fair enough. Yes and in

:28:25.:28:31.

terms of the nature of the work being done, it is a conjugated area

:28:32.:28:35.

and a real issue of the people in those areas where they are reliant

:28:36.:28:39.

in that -- on that and those areas where they are reliant

:28:40.:28:54.

One, when I'll have a rare interview with the Director of Prosecutions,

:28:55.:28:58.

Barra McGrory. Until then, from everyone in the team, goodbye.

:28:59.:28:59.

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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