25/09/2012 Stormont Today


25/09/2012

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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Welcome to Stormont Today. On the programme tonight, the protection

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of victims or discrimination? MLAs debate a bill which will make it

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illegal for a certain with a criminal conviction to serve as a

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advisor. The Mary McArdle pinement highlighted a significant gap in

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our law and as legislators, we either face up to it, or we ignore

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it. Also on the programme, concerns over the future of children's heart

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surgery in Northern Ireland. The health Minister says he prefers an

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all-island solution and rules out a stand alone service in Belfast.

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There's no realistic option which would permit a stand alone

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paediatric, cardiac surgery in Belfast. People might not like that,

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they might find it hard to accept. But that is just a factual

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situation. Later we will hear from one mother who is campaigning on

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the issue. Now an attempt by the TUV to

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prevent some former prisoners from becoming Ministerial special

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advisers took another step closer to becoming law after a private

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members bill passed its second reading in the House this evening.

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The bill was introduced by Jim Allister following the

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controversial appointment of the convicted killer Mary McArdle as a

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special advise tore the culture Minister. She was sentenced to life

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in prison for the murder of Mary Trafrs in 1984. Young Mary Travers,

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22 years of age, embarking on a career, full of life, and

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enthusiasm and from everything I have heard about her, carrying with

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her those same characteristics of compassion and humanity and great

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gentleness. She was broughtly -- brutally shot in the back. Estate

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agents cannot by law be estate agents if they hold certain

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convictions. Solicitors clerks cannot be solicitors clerks if they

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hold certain convictions. So why not special advisors? I say

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that the Mary McArdle appointment highlighted a significant gap in

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our law and as legislators, we either face up to it, or we ignore

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it. People have a lot of difficulty with people - we have to move on.

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Prisoners have to be reintegrated within the community, within

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society. We can't turn back the clock. There should be no return to

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discrimination. There should be no return to the days before the Good

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Friday Agreement and we should really stop bringing legislation to

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this House and debates to this House which are sitting uneasily

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with members of the public and we should show leadership on these

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issues and members of the exprisoners community, regardless

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of where they came from, steps need to be taken to ensure they

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reintegrate into society and play a positive role in our communities.

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We as a party are sympathetic to the declared aim of this bill,

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which is to tackle the issue of the appointment of Ministerial advisors.

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In particular, the protection of victims of paramilitary violence

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from appointment to office, of those who have caused death and

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injury to their loved ones. However, Mr Speaker, that does not mean that

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we give unqualified support to the bill. Sinn Fein appointed the only

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person convicted of this murder to be a special Ministerial advisor.

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That appointment was both insensitive and provocative. Some

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may on first sighting perceive there is potential pher knit some

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aspects of the bill. If indeed there is merit then it would

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probably be more appropriate that the department itself would bring

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forward such legislation as it would be more considered and

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balanced and reflect policy elsewhere. Why I am supportive of

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this bill is I do not want to have another victim suffer in the same

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way. Undoubtedly, if someone else who had been involved in a

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murderous act were to be appointed, they will come into the public

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domain. The issue will be forced upon those victims' families to

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relive the incident. Every time that advisor, because the advisors

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are always close to their Minister might be caught on camera, or on TV,

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they will relive that incident. think that this is an issue of

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equality and it's an issue of fairness. I think if people are in

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any way bringing any sense of honesty or integrity to this debate,

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then they should state it for what it is. This is an attempt to

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prevent Republican ex-prisoners from fulfilling the role of special

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advisors and indeed the proposal of the bill -- proposer of the bill

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has a long history of saying Republican ex-prisoners shouldn't

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have any sense of ekwult and fairness -- ekwult and fairness and

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this is part of that particular process. The way in which Sinn Fein

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did deal with the appointment of the advisor to the Minister for the

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department of culture, arts and leisure, great hurt was caused to

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an individual. However, great anger was also caused in the general

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community and I think that it was the way in which Sinn Fein

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themselves handled the reaction to that that highlighted that they

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really didn't get where the community was on these things.

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finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, and Jim list Jim -- Allister is with me

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here. Can we pick up on Sammy Wilson first of all, the finance

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Minister, of course, put measures, guidelines in place to deal with

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this issue sometime ago. Why do you think legislation is necessary?

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Well, his guidelines so far as they went, have not been implemented in

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the sense that Sinn Fein are refusing to operate them. Therefore,

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since those guidelines came in last September, we have had two Sinn

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Fein special advisors appointed who have refused to go through the

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vetting procedures set out in Mr Wilson's guidelines and there is

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now a standoff about that and consequence they're not being paid.

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What I am saying is that we need to put on a statutory footing issues

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like vetting so that rather than guidelines we have it in law what

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is required, and therefore, there's no wriggle room for anyone and

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these are special advisors who equate to senior civil servants,

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they're vetted, so why not special advisors, that's one part of the

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the bill. The hrepbl hraeugs you want to see -- legislation you want

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to see would include a vetting procedure which is mandatory and

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the current system couldn't be the case in a future scenario? Yes,

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because the past year proves that Sinn Fein can thumb its nose at

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those proposals and carry on with people with access to highest level

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Government papers as special advisors and the guidance on the

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vetting has not been implemented because they refuse co-operate on

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it. I am saying they've brought this on themselves in that regard.

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Let's get it on a statutory basis and do the other things that need

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to be done on the bill. difficulty is that you got the

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legislation, the proposed legislation through today 2-1,

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majority of about 30 votes in the House. With DUP support, Ulster

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Unionist support, and SDLP support. It's going to become mired in

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committee stage now and there will be all sorts of horse-trading and

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compromises and it may bear little resemblance if it comes out the

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other end to what you put on the table today. Let's wait and see. It

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has certain core principles in the bill. I am not hard and fast on the

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exact detail. I can negotiate about minuteua but the principles are

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important and the principles I hope will emerge the other side in tact.

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Are you confident the DUP will continue to support new future?

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Well, I can only judge by today, I had support from across the chamber.

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I think the DUP has been using my bill as an attempt to trade-off for

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Sinn Fein the threat of the bill to get Sinn Fein to sign up to the

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guidance. It hasn't worked. If Sinn Fein did, would they back away from

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my bill? I can't say that but if they did they would be backing away

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from rectifying the situation which was created by the Mary McArdle

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appointment and not creating a situation-- where that could never

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happen again. I want a situation where an instoult a victim's party

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that was perpetrated by the can never happen again. OK. There

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are bigger issues potentially as well. The Attorney General

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expressed concerns at a hearing last week the legislation could

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contravene the European Convention on Human Rights because it would be

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like a second punishment for an original crime. It's not a second

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punishment. He He expressed some concerns about maybe Article 7 of

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the convention which proheub its -- prohibits secondary criminal

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penalties. This is simply establishing as a disqualification

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from holding a post the fact there is a previous conviction. I am

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quite happy with my situation because the bill is only on the

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floor of the House. Not just because I say it's competent, not

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just just because those who advise me, but the Speaker has been

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advised by lawyers of legal service in the Assembly that it's kpe tent

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and human rights compliant. other issue, your reaction to the

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news that the newly appointed chair of the Maze development board sat

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on the panel that conducted the first trawl for board members?

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astounded that anyone could sit on a panel, fail to select anyone to

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appoint anyone, then think they can resign from the panel, apply

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themselves, and be appointed. You know, I do think there's an issue

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here that the commissioner for public appointments needs to

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examine. It seems incredible that arrangement could have been allowed

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to pass. And we arrive with a board appointed in that fashion. There is

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no suggestion that the two processes weren't entirely separate,

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though, and that best practice was not followed. Let's hear what the

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commissioner says. But I have to say, it does not bode public

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confidence in the process if someone is sitting on a panel, a

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panel doesn't appoint and then they themselves apply, come off the

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panel and are appointed. You know, who advised him to apply? There are

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all sorts of issues that just leave this wholly unsatisfactory

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situation. Would you like to see the matter taken further?

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certainly like to see the matter taken further and I think the

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commissioner should have a say on this. We will see what happens.

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Thank you very much. Now, after standing in for Carole

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ne Killen at questions yesterday John O'Dowd was back this afternoon

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for questions. As well as The Minister gave details of the new

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Education Bill. He also responded to questions about a school in

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Omagh which was destroyed in a fire It is hoped that the pupils will be

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able to return to the school in January 2013. I have instructed

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officials to investigate all possible options to allow for the

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provision of new school buildings on the site as a matter of urgency.

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I thank the Minister for his response. Can the Minister give was

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more indication as to when the new build will commence on the site for

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this school? I think it is important that this new build

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commences as soon as possible. the member will appreciate, the

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current situation is not of our making. The fire is continuing to

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be investigated by the appropriate authorities. We were presented with

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a catastrophe on the weekend before the school started back. The

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concern was to identify premises for the children and young people

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to attend. That has been achieved. We are now looking at the medium-

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term plans for the site. Some of the buildings on the site can be

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secured but there is a major clearance operation to take place

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but a lot of damaged material, including asbestos giving us

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concerns that asbestos was broken up and destroyed during the fire

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and should be removed by properly qualified contractors. And we

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continue to investigate moving the school permanently. I would like to

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see the school constructed, and open, by 2015. What cross-border

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co-operation is happening as part of this planning? Cross border co-

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operation along the border corridor is important and we have passed the

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education boards to look at this. Candy might provide education

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services to the benefit of young people in the area on a cross-

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border basis and will they assess they are rare plans? We will look

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at that in detail, as well. We're conducting an attitude are no

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survey along the border corridors to see if there is a demand among

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parents and pupils to travel across the border. All of that will be

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taken on board and we want to provide effective and efficient

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access to education for communities along the border and that might

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include sure resources on a cross- border basis. Can the minister

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agree -- outline what the main benefits of their respect will be?

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The main benefits of the Education Bill is that we will be modernising

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how we deliver education within society reducing eight bodies done

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into one, giving us a more modern, efficient, monitoring structure.

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The monitoring of schools will be the responsibility of the boards of

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governors, but overall, policy direction that we want to see below

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what is that each of us will deliver policies set by the

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department. We want to raise standards. There will be an

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independent tribunal with the power to stock interference in schools. I

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think we have achieved the bill, the bill allows us to continue with

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its functions but it will not be the case that we have centralised

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control, the boards of governors will continue to run schools. And

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there will be a lot of autonomy for schools in their day-to-day affairs.

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Workers at if you will son were told 760 of them would lose their

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jobs. It was that turn of the implement and learning Minister

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Stephen Parry to outline what his depart that order to out -- to help

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those facing redundancy to find alternative employment. Officials

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have been proactive in identifying up schooling opportunities and

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alternative employment. They have worked with the company says it it

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avows that was made in June of this year. We were put the Social

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Security Agency, further education colleges and other agencies to

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provide advice of alternative job opportunities, access to training

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courses, careers advice, as well as a range of other issues such as

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benefits and taxation. This redundancy advice service is

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available to all on site to deliver a package of support to each

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employee. It is vital that we not only retain the skills of the

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workers, but we also need to formally recognised skills through

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accreditation it necessary and, where appropriate to provide up

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skilling up to meet the demands of employers. The department is

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looking at the skilling staff through the college. The college

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has informed me that as well as offering up schooling and training

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it is undertaking a skills audit of staff, and likewise, Belfast

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Metropolitan coloured has offered a range of support including job

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search, careers information and access to training facilities.

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Could the minister allow brake on the type of training programme that

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could be available so that more of those made redundant will have an

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opportunity to get new skills and regain implement? We need to

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understand exactly who is going to be made redundant. But is why I am

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stressing the point of the skills audit. The further education sector,

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which has a very good track record in terms of Engineering, is well

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placed to provide refresh your courses and conversion courses for

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stocktaking the general skills that people have and the training them

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with specific skills that companies wish to take advantage of, of staff

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the deploying. What sort of liaison is there to make sure that other

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employers looking for the type of school set that exists in the

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affected workforce can avail themselves of those people with the

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right kind of grinning? We need to have a very smooth set of

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communications around all this. We have to make sure we have a number

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of different agencies with different specialist functions all

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pushing in the one direction or. And we avoid duplication of effort

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which adds complication and stress and makes more difficult for if she

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wasn't in terms of managing this process. There is an ongoing and

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active discussion between all the relevant agencies. Even within my

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own organisation we're trying to set up a single liaison point with

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the company to make sure we are handling this as smoothly and

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efficiently as possible. Minister, can you tell us if you are

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satisfied with the Northern Regional College and other

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education providers that they will have sufficient resources made

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available to them to deliver on the promises that have been made to a

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significant number of employees who, regrettably, are losing their jobs?

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I thank Mr Dixon Bono those comments. This is a very serious

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matter when people are losing their jobs, and it is important that we

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place people with the right skills in companies and to encourage those

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companies to crawl, and to flourish, and just to stress that Northern

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Ireland has a real future in terms of manufacturing. Talks with

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Northern Regional College are ongoing and those issues to be

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ironed out are about how we take forward training. I give the House

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a commitment that the wall out of these programmes will not flounder

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on the issue of money and argument over the sources. And unambiguous

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commitment from their employment and learning Minister, Stephen

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Parry. Child heart surgery has been discussed on an All-Ireland basis

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but before a final decision is made the minister wants to consider all

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:21:40.:21:40.

the options. Here is the motion's proposer. Each year 140 children

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require surgery. Most of it is done at the Royal Hospital. Another -- a

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number of others are referred to other sectors in Dublin and England.

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The review was published in July it will like and it found children

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here with congenital heart disease are well served by a dedicated and

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experienced team of doctors and nurses. It did not identify any

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immediate safety concerns with the current arrangements. But the

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report that conclude the surgical element of the service in Belfast

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was not sustainable. The review recommended the potential safety

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risks be addressed within six months and that would mean a

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paediatric cardiac services will have to stop within six months, too.

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In England and Wales there are criteria that paediatric Kardex

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surgery centres should be within three years troubling time by

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ambulance. Clearly that is never going to be the case with children

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from here travelling to England. Firstly they cannot travel by land,

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it would need to be air transport, but in English review they state

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that travel cannot be relied upon because opera whether, as we have

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seen this, today. Our Travel is seen as acceptable, or unacceptable

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for children in my England and Wales but is suggested as suitable

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for children here - what is the difference? Children and families

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would not need to travel by air, but would be within a reasonable

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distance of their own home and families. He would have thought

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they would give more time to understand the needs of this region

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and, given that this region is part of an island, it is not a political

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point I am making, it is an geographic fact, and best nation

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has clinical collaborative networks in this area of medicine that they

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would have thought about talking to hospitals in Dublin. Is this the

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way to seriously review such a critical clinical service? The safe

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and sustainable quality standards suggests the criteria to maintain a

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centre in Northern Ireland would mean the service should be staffed

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by four full-time consultant congenital cardiac surgeons. The

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service should perform a minimum of 400 surgical procedures a year with

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the recommended number being 500 and that the service must provide

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enough staff to provide a cool 24 hour emergency service. What

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legally can plight rotas including cover by a consultant paediatric

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cardiologist. It is clear that with such small demand a region this

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size cannot hope to sustain such a centre and it should be clear that

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safety concerns have not been raised about the quality of care

:24:44.:24:49.

that patients currently get. The issue is on sustainability and

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future safety of the services to be left -- have it is to be left as it

:24:54.:25:02.

is. I cannot ignore the views of imminent officials as some members

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of the sow's wish me to do and that would be a very bullish

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recommendation to make. It is incumbent upon me, as minister, to

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take appropriate steps to address the concerns. And in so doing, I

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want to have a clear appreciation of all the options available for

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the delivery of this service to children in Northern Ireland

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including an All-Ireland solution, with the Republic of Ireland, but

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it is necessary and appropriate that I acknowledge that there is no

:25:32.:25:39.

realistic option which would permit a stand-alone paediatric cardiac

:25:39.:25:45.

surgery in Belfast. That is the clear analysis by the relevant

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experts and is the view of the service commissioners. People might

:25:48.:25:53.

not like that and find it hard to accept but that is the factual

:25:53.:25:58.

situation. The Health Minister. Listening to that is the chair of

:25:58.:26:03.

the heartbeat trust parents group, Katie Boyd. The minister was clear

:26:03.:26:07.

about that. He does not think the stand-alone service in Belfast is

:26:08.:26:15.

an option. Do you accept that? do. The preferred option is an All-

:26:15.:26:21.

Ireland solution. We would like to protect and enhance surgery in

:26:21.:26:26.

Belfast so that we have some form of surgery in this country and also

:26:26.:26:31.

increased links with our Lady's Hospital in Dublin. From your point

:26:31.:26:36.

of view, what the minister says is good news. The worst-case scenario

:26:36.:26:42.

for us would be cardiac children having to have been a sort of air

:26:42.:26:48.

travel. Because this review suggests that that is not a good

:26:48.:26:52.

option because there is this magic three hour period, and that is

:26:52.:26:59.

usually problematic for children from Northern Ireland, specifically.

:26:59.:27:03.

Surgical centres must be able to insure an ambulance with suitably

:27:03.:27:07.

qualified staff that can travel within three goals and that cannot

:27:07.:27:12.

be guaranteed if the ambulance is coming from a centre in England

:27:12.:27:16.

because there has the Irish Sea to contend with. And air travel itself

:27:16.:27:22.

is not 100% reliable. Absolutely. In document it states that air

:27:22.:27:27.

travel is not consider as an option for children in England and Wales

:27:27.:27:31.

because it is not reliable. Why should it be considered for

:27:31.:27:35.

children here? The worst-case scenario is that the minister would

:27:35.:27:40.

try to impose an English solution to Northern Ireland, but he seems

:27:40.:27:44.

to not to want to go down that road. He seems to want to create a

:27:44.:27:50.

completely new solution to this problem on an All-Ireland basis.

:27:50.:27:55.

Absolutely. Sir Ian Kennedy and his team in this report were working

:27:55.:28:01.

from the criteria set for England and Wales, so England with its

:28:01.:28:04.

population of 60 million, Northern Ireland with its population of 1.8

:28:04.:28:09.

million, we need the minister to address this situation in the

:28:09.:28:15.

Northern Irish context. You are satisfied at the moment? At present.

:28:15.:28:22.

Thank you for joining us. That Ms early story concerning Terence

:28:22.:28:26.

Brannigan as chairman of the knees long case development corporation,

:28:26.:28:30.

a statement has been released on that saying that was a Brannigan

:28:30.:28:35.

was a member of the initial competition for the post and it was

:28:35.:28:38.

we run and he applied for the position of cheer himself. The

:28:38.:28:41.

commissioner for public appointments ruled that he was

:28:41.:28:45.

entitled to apply and should be treated in the same manner as any

:28:45.:28:49.

other candidate. The panel insured on the commissioner's advice that

:28:49.:28:53.

questions were not the same as those posed in the first

:28:53.:28:58.

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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