25/03/2014 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 in the next 30 minutes:


The First Minister reacts to concerns over the judge-led inquiry


into OTRs. I want to see this issue dealt with and dealt with


thoroughly. If at any time I feel it has not been dealt with robbery and


thoroughly I will try for you. There were rhyming couplets in the Chamber


as one MLA asked about poetry funding. Budgets, flags, parades, we


drop out one by one and only recently we have hovered on the over


those On the Run. And joining me to give his view on another busy day at


Stormont is political commentator, Alex Kane.


A row over On the Runs was threatening to derail Stormont just


a few weeks ago. The First Minister suggested he'd quit if he didn't get


a full inquiry. Now there's several inquiries including one by the


Justice Committee. It quizzed the permanent secretary of the


Department of Justice this afternoon. But let's hear first from


Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.


The judge led inquiry demanded by the First Minister has been


criticised because Lady Justice Hallet will only examine a sample of


cases and won't consider whether the letters sent to Republicans classed


as On the Run were legal. I met with the judge yesterday. I


believe she will conduct a fair and impartial review of this. At a time


like this, all sorts of political agendas are trying to influence it.


My sense of it is she will not be influenced, she will stick to the


agreement. That is what she has got to do. Dominic Grieve, the Attorney


General, was a perfectly lawful process. All of the cases will be


reviewed whether they are reviewed by the police or by the judge is the


issue. As I understand it, the police are reviewing all 228 of


those who are involved in receiving letters. Many of them might have


been considered to be associated with multiple offences so we're


talking about many hundreds of case files. There are some nonsense,


political opponents are trying to make something of it, that this is


not a full review. If we had the kind of public enquiry that some


people are asking for this issue would go on for at least a decade.


That is not acceptable to me no visit acceptable to the victims of


terrorism in Northern Ireland. They want this issue dealt with quickly.


I am prepared to fold the delay until the end of June if that is


required. I want to see this issue dealt with thoroughly. If at any


time I feel it is not been dealt with properly and thoroughly then I


will cry foul. The Justice Committee began its own


inquiry today. The first witness was Nick Perry, the highest ranking


official in the Department of Justice. Mr Perry was aware of the


scheme when he was a director at the Northern Ireland Office. But did not


inform the Justice Minister when he moved over as this would have been


contrary to civil service rules. The justice minister has addressed


on a number of occasions many areas of confusion. I mention it again


because it is of a fundamental importance. Nor the Department of


Justice or any of its staff have had any involvement to the scheme dealt


with OTRs. There had been suggestions the department had been


implementing these arrangements without the Minister 's knowledge.


That is wholly incorrect. I don't see anywhere that explicitly stated


aim in -- administrative scheme will be retained. You make an assumption


that because of a delectable, this is a matter we are going to keep. It


is an issue you were going to close your ears to shut your eyes to


without getting any independent legal advice as permanent Secretary


of the Department of Justice. I find that not just remarkable but


incredulous that is the position you would take. I would repeat the


point. I do make the assumption, and it is a reasonable one, that the


division between devolved and non-devolved matters was taken on


the basis of legal advice. You may ask some other ministers what their


view is. If I was the Minister for Justice and you had withheld this


information from me, you wouldn't be my permanent secretary. It'd be a


clear breach of trust. Withheld this information based on nothing more


than your own assumptions. But isn't something I would tolerate from any


permanent secretary. I am entirety happy I worked within the guidance.


Have you find yourself in a situation when the Minister has


asked the question that if it goes and answered, you may have


information which could compromise? No, I haven't. Could you find


yourself in a position? I don't believe so. This issue will always


going to re-emerge. A blank man on a galloping horse would realise this


would re-emerge. I think that is what you should have briefed your


minister at the time but you fail to do that.


And with his thoughts on this issue and more, I'm joined by the


Newsletter columnist, Alex Kane. What did you make of the revelations


around this judge led inquiry? I am not surprised. The minute as Oz


announced he had that in quietly and then another three, this is the


fourth one. They are all going to have overlap in all squabbling


remits. Peter Robinson says it is acknowledged Lord Justice Hallett is


as great a look at all of them. All of that is going to take months to


sort out. What if they come to differing conclusions? What if they


concentrate on different nuances? I do think you will be any clearer on


this OTR mess. The critics include Jim Allister. We had statement today


from Mike Nesbitt who said this remit is disappointing. The two


Robinson is making out these aren't just political opponents trying to


make a Beavis issue. -- Peter Robinson. He said he was going to


step down if he did not get a thorough investigation. He got the


fairness minimum he could get. -- their list. He is using the excuse


of five of the committees which even got ask for, he did not make the


resignation issue. They are saving his bacon. I would not be


sympathetic with Jim Allister and Mike Nesbitt but I think on this one


they are right. Do you think first -- the First Minister overplayed his


hand? He knew it was never is going to come to that point. The


government knew what he was going to accept. Nick Perry in the hot seat


there. Later, the chairman of the Justice Committee put out a


statement saying many people would have questions about the fact that


make that Nick Perry says he did not have the details or the content of


the legal advice the minister asked for on this issue. Do you find that


odd? I do find it odd cause we do know she knew the details but chose


not to pass them on to the Minister. He says that is normal ministerial


convention. Ministers are not supposed to give stuff other


ministers had. This department did not exist before. He could have


found a way of letting the minister now. Sinn Fein members on the


Justice Committee could have told David Ford about this. They said


they knew about this all along. Finally, it doesn't matter to the


electorate out there is it going to be issue? No, it isn't going to be


an issue. They have already made up their minds.


It's not often you would like our MLAs to be poets, but one MLA used


his poetic licence when asking a question of the Culture, Arts and


Leisure Minister earlier. Ulster Scots funding was also on the


agenda, but first we turn to mental health initiatives.


Can the Minister indicate if any thought has been given to ensuring


that a champion of people will mental health issues can be brought


forward to help promote those issues in terms of leisure pursuits and


active sports participation in that category? I thank the member for his


question. We are looking. We have a champion for soccer. We have a


number of sports personalities who have been proactive and genuine in


their support around this issue and a happy to give up their time. We


have Paddy Barnes in north Belfast. We have two boxes who went along


with the strap line of we have got your back, we have got to your


corner. We will roll it out across. We talk in anger and just, it is


tempting to give the very best. Budgets, flags, parades, we dropped


them out one by one. We hovered on the brink on those On the Run.


Minister, my supplementary is unconditional. We recognise that


poetry is traditional? Have you got the money to fund this expression


will you let it flow away in another depression?


And you did not wrap! I couldn't then the base for you. That is


probably one of the best exchanges we have ever, ever hired. -- had.


But the members point is right. We need to find poetry. We have a great


history and heritage of poetry in the North. We have marked the sad


passing of Seamus Heaney amongst others. We need to support them.


They will be exam plus four other poets, budding poets and other cases


including guitars. I have consistently asked the Minister to


bring similar programmes. I am waiting on those programmes and have


been waiting since September 2011. Whatever influence you have, it is


important that people from the Ulster Scots community see


ministerial investment and support in those initiatives. Can I have an


assurance that if the project is brought forward, whether it be


language history or culture for the Ulster Scots community across


Ulster, it should have full support and he resourced in terms of money


and people. I have already spoken to people and I appreciate that in


terms of the pressures of language from its not the same. What we do


need to do is look at cultural heritage. It is very important. So


many times I have offered my support and I have encourage initiatives to


come forward. The door is still open and I'm still waiting. I can assure


the honourable member and other members that when they are brought


forward, I will look at them with a view of giving them full support.


And, staying with the Culture Minister, she faced a call to work


with Environment Minister and sporting bodies to evaluate the


existing facilities in the 11 new council areas. The Sinn Fein-led


motion noted the lack of sporting facilities for people with special


needs and disabilities. If it sounds familiar, it is. At present, people


with disability exercise less than those without. Just 12% participate


on a regular basis in sporting competitions. This figure indicates


the problem. The most important legacy from the London 2012 Olympic


and Paralympic games was the increase in the number of people


wishing to but it abate in sport. -- to participate in sport. We heard of


the increased demand from people with increased disabilities.


Statistics show that disabled people are still half as likely to get


involved as somebody who does not have a disability. Given that 20% of


the population is considered to have a disability, this is a worrying


statistic. We have made great progress. You have only got to look


at the demand and the achievements of our athletes. It gives you an


idea that there is demand, but the more the elite athletes achieved,


the greater the demand. That is good and beneficial to all of us. We must


do to address the need. Now we need to do our part. One has been


accredited. 19 haven't even gone through any process. We need to


ensure now that this is the opportunity to get all of our


councils on board, to hammer the message home that it isn't good


enough to put up around here, a ramp there. Everybody has to have access


to our facilities. I believe it is a worthy debate. Like many other


ministers, I am prepared to work with our stakeholders. For me, that


includes our Minister for environment, our local authorities,


this sports -- disability sports organisations and the Minister for


health. In short, section 75 and the falling limitation of this


legislation is everyone's business. -- full implementation. The


seemingly successful Olympics 2012 heralded what was other time


considered a new dawn for disabled sports. The reality on the ground is


less tangible. The committee led with disabled athletes in


Jordanstown. -- met with. Like all elite athletes, disabled or


otherwise, they are the exception rather than the rule. Many more


stories exist of what is lacking. So is there enough being done to


facilitate those with disabilities who want to participate in sport?


Joining me now is Kevin O'Neill from Disability Sports NI. How would you


characterise the current state of sporting facilities? It is mixed. A


lot of our modern facilities are very good. The issue is they are not


designed for wheelchair users. If you go down to clubs, provision


ranges from quite limited to poor. If you were advising the Minister,


what would your advice be? It would be to improve across-the-board. The


most important issue is we need access to sporting opportunities.


One of the key reasons for a lack of participation if the opportunities.


One of the statistics was that 20% of people in Northern Ireland are


classified with a disability. Is there demand in that sector for


better facilities? We noticed that after 2012 was a marked increase in


people participating in sport. People want to participate in


recreational activities. There is definitely a demand. The issue at


the moment is the supplier isn't there. How concerned would you be


that MLAs are merely paying lip service to this issue? The issue for


us is that there is political will. We have no doubt there is political


support. It is how we can form the support to grassroots opportunities


on the ground. We are about to launch a strategic plan for the next


period. We hope to get support for that. I am sure we will. Let's see


what happens. Can you give me some of the details? It is


across-the-board facilities. Coaching? In general, we need our


coaches to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. The key


issue in most areas of Northern Ireland, there is nothing for you


fully. We want more grassroots opportunities on the ground. In a


word, will the fact there are going to be these local authorities and


opportunity? It is easier to have a conversation with 11 authorities


than 26. Sport NI have improved things dramatically in recent years


but we need to keep the momentum going. Thank you.


Our MLAs looked beyond our borders today to discuss the plight of 33


Christians condemned to death in North Korea. The DUP motion called


on the Westminster government to use its influence to secure greater


freedom of religious belief and worship throughout the world. I have


said that we have relatively limited powers in this field. Foreign


affairs is an entirely reserved matter at Westminster. We have no


direct input into these issues. But I think we can use our influence as


an integral part of the UK to bring pressure on the Department of


foreign affairs who do all it can through the UN and through


international diplomacy to try and bring some relief to the torture and


ill-treatment of all those Christians in this renegade state.


It is not right to threaten the execution of Christians in North


Korea, burned churches in need, to massacre Christians in Sudan or


Pakistan, or to burn people out of their homes because of their


religion. It is not acceptable in this day and age. During the Crimean


annexation recently, three Catholic priests were questioned and abused


by pro-Russian forces. Given that we want freedom for all religions and


given that the DUP are standing up for religious belief, I await with


great extirpation their condemnation of anti-Catholicism, where it


occurs, challenging... I won't give way... Challenging the Orange order


when he steps out of line. Maybe they will no longer stay silent on


the more recent behaviour against Christians at St Patrick 's Chapel


in Belfast. In countries like China, there have been far too many


incidents of denials of human rights, including rights in regard


to freedom of worship. We in the West very readily do business. As an


MEP, I often raised issues like this with the foreign affairs


Commissioner. There always was an empathy but one always got the


impression that it was tempered by their desire not to upset the trade


opportunities. We would ask from this House today that a very strong


message goes to our government that this assembly a pause of the


persecution of Christians in North Korea, and right across the world. I


also welcome the fact that his colleague, also a minister in the


FCO, in his response to a member asking a question, said he takes the


opportunities to go and visit Christian communities, whether they


are in Egypt or Algeria, and I think that is a changeable way of --


tangible way of showing support to Christians who may feel under threat


or might be prosecuted by authorities. When I been on trade


missions, I have taken the opportunity to visit Christian


communities, just to say to them that we are supporting them. -- when


I have been. Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster,


speaking in that debate from the back benches. Education Minister


John O'Dowd also faced questions today and the agenda was dominated


by his proposals for the future of the Common Funding Formula. Ulster


Unionist Robin Swann asked the question. On 13 March, after


consideration, I announced my final decision on changes to the common


funding scheme. I maintain this was a genuine consultation. I was


delighted with the level of response we have seen and I have listened to


the views from all who took the time to respond. I have made a number of


proposals. I want to insure that resources remain. No school will


receive less funding this year than it would have done if I had made no


changes to the Budget or formula. There is a fund available for these


schools whose budgets... Schools have received notification of the


delegated Budget for the coming year. I thank him for his answer and


recognising that the first former didn't work. Does he recognise that


a transition makes it hard for principles to Budget into the


future? It is the nature of the Budget system. I don't know the


Department for education but not Budget, so I can't make any


commitment under the guise of education beyond the current


financial year. I can assure the honourable member that I will


endeavour to secure whatever funding I can for the provision of education


going into the future. I will take a serious look at the transition from


going into the future for those groups may have lost funds as a


result of the changes I have made. Members will recall that I was not


satisfied that the exiting scheme was fit for purpose. I set out with


an objective which remains. As I said in response to the original


question, I have taken on concerns raised, but the objective remains.


Schools have received money. I have also committed to putting in place


tracking to make sure the money spent to reduce educational


underachievement for all pupils. Now back to Alex Kane with his


five-month -- with his final fours today's proceedings. That debate


today on the persecution of Christians. Do you think would it


was appropriate for the -- it was appropriate for the Northern Ireland


assembly to delve into that issue? It was not. To spend an hour on a


motion like that which doesn't make the blindest bit of difference to


anybody, any constituent in Northern Ireland, it does a disservice to the


people. They would argue they are putting pressure on the West must


the government ahead of its debate. They are putting pressure but MPs


can do the debate there. They talk about Christianity across the


world, but no matter what the issue in Northern Ireland, it always comes


back to the dreary steeples -- stable.


He has no choice now. If he doesn't stand, the DUP are going to mock


him. They are going to say, oh, Jim, what of the -- is the point of


taking this on? He needs to be the one who provides the trickle down.


They are not getting it anywhere else. They are not getting it in


their own right. The party keep telling us an announcement on this


issue is imminent. Have you heard any news? They have said April the


3rd. We have to leave it there. That's all we have time for tonight.


Mark Carruthers will be back with The View on Thursday night at 10:35


on BBC One. Goodnight. At 11:20, British forces were sent


the fateful telegram


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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