25/02/2014 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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up on the programme. Unionist


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


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


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


letter that was sent to this individual, he has effectively


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


been revealed that another 186 people wanted for Troubles-related


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the judge called "catastrophic" checking whether the Metropolitan


Police wanted to interview John Downey about about the Hyde Park


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


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


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


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


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


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


administrative blunder, there is the bigger political question of whether


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


political reaction to the development As you would expect,


unionists outraged. The First Minister, Peter Robinson, saying


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


development we begin with this reaction from the Ulster unionist


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


above the law. Everybody should be subject


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


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


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


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


Belfast Agreement, subsequent negotiation in and around 2000, 2001


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


further consideration stage of the Carrier Bags Bill focussed on


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


will substitute the single use plastic bags and we will see


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


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


whether or not the DUP were instrumental in supporting paper


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


best possible legislation. In relation to parties who have on


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


irrespective of whether they are purchasing the goods or indeed of


protecting the environment. Because I do believe that the initial


reasons was the protections of the environment to make it more


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


disincentive for disposal, using a disposable piece of material that


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


now. This Assembly has had every opportunity to consider these


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


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


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


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


policy objective has always been to reduce or eliminate unnecessary bag


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


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


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


department to prepare a report on biodegradable carrier bags, the


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


questions to the agriculture minister today ahead of a meeting


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


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


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


The department set its highest payment target for December 2013 at


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


farmers received their single farm payment in December than ever


before. In November 2013 I payment in December than ever


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


emergency provisions which she outlined in her earlier answer? I


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


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


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


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


maybe perhaps the gritters and services that are going around the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


delegation of fishermen this afternoon and will discuss their


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


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


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


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


these fishermen and can she entertain any permanent support


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


continue complex work regarding reclassification. Reading through


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


classification, because they do tremendous work working for the


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


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


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


consumes rather than the work it requires, and I


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


vote. With me are Elaine Orwin and her


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


assisting people with visual impairment to get out and about


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


locations. The most crucial one is using and accessing public


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


be that temperament and as you can see,


Thank you. We know the cycle race the Giro


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


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


Question Time today. Caral Ni Chuilin also discussed the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


getting velodrome in Northern Ireland? I know it was previously


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


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


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


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


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


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


anecdotally and through evidence and from seeing previous Commonwealth


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


feasibility study has been completed and I have discussed it and


considered it and met with the governing bodies, with sport


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


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


have the detail that is needed in order


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


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


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


outlined and that many of the committees have issue with their


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


plans for redevelopment. The Culture Minister, Caral Ni


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


that so previous discussions we have had in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


ultimately going back into the electioneering mode, in terms of


satisfying particular electorates and constituencies in relation to


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


much primary legislation enacted. This was potentially amending


existing legislation, even more complicated. Absolutely and if you


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


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


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


also touched about the news that the agriculture Minister was given


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.