26/02/2013 Stormont Today


26/02/2013

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. Coming up: Debate and discussion over

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flags has dominated political proceedings in recent months. Once

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again it was the hot topic in the Assembly chamber. We come up the

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Prince of Wales avenue. We come past car sons statue. We come in

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under Britannia' lines. Poppies are sold in November. Yet our national

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flag is not flown. We'll hear more on that topic from Alex Maskey and

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Tom Elliott. The Finance Minister spells out the extent of our

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financial dependence on Westminster. Will we ever get to the position we

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don't have a deficit? I doubt it very much.

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Since the flag decision at Belfast City Hall last December, the DUP

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and the Ulster Unionists have been pushing for the assembly commission

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to look at the issue of flags and emblems here at Parliament

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buildings. The commission is made up of one member of each party, but

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since December, the SDLP and Sinn Fein have boycotted it. These

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parties want a new ad hoc committee to look at flags and emblems and

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today they put forward a motion to that effect. The DUP before

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Christmas were calling for a forum to discuss the issue of flags and

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identity. Today, they have tabled a petition of concern in order to

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block the establishment of such a forum. Seems to me that both

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Unionist parties are letting themselves be led by the illegal,

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anti-democratic protesters. Some of the staff in this building have

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come to me saying they feel their traditions and identity have not

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been respected. They do not work in a neutral environment. And they

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feel discriminated. Would you allow a situation where a member is

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making reference to members of staff in this House and I ask the

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Speaker to rule on this issue and I ask the member to withdraw what is

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a scurrilous and a very dangerous position. On the point of order,

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there is a mechanism outside the chamber if staff have a problem

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with this building. I would be careful and caution members on

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drawing staff into a political situation. We come up the Prince of

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Wales avenue. We come past Carson s statue. Poppies are sold at every

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entrance during November. Yet our national flag is not flown. Our

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Irish language is not given the place it deserves. Our symbols, for

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example the Easter lily, are not given parity of esteem. It's really

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not conducive to good debate for the member or anyone else to wave

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redundant documents from 15 years ago. That really isn't conducive to

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where we are now and the progress that we need to make for the future.

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The issue at the moment is this: That the factual position in law is

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that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Now I know the

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member for south down doesn't like that, doesn't want that, but has to

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accept that. Now that's the reality. It doesn't matter how many ad hoc

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committees she wants established. It doesn't matter how many votes

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she wants, that's the reality. A reflection of that reality is that

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the flag of the United Kingdom flies in the Parliament of the

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United Kingdom in London. Why do we need a new way of dealing with

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these areas when we already have an appropriate mechanism? The

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commission has attempted to meet on a number of occasions recently to

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progress this matser with the SDLP and Sinn Fein also the Alliance

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Party on two occasions boycotting the meetings. If these parties are

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not prepared to discuss these issues within the context of the

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commission meetings, then why should we expect any progress

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within an ad hoc committee? My party is seeking to effect change

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which is fair through reaching a consensus. That is why it is so

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disappointing that others are not willing to participate through the

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usual forum. We are all here to lead and this is what leading does,

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by the setting up of this group. Not just looking singly at the

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flags, but looking at emblems, symbols and language strategy, a

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mature discussion in this chamber by all should take place and that

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is how we demonstrate to those in the community and to the outside

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world that this Assembly does not shy away from the difficult

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decisions and that we are capable of maintaining political

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recognition over the flags and symbols. Rpbgts I believe the

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existence of an ad hoc committee and the work proposed for the

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commission are not mutually exclusive. One might inform the

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other. Therefore I'm content to support the motion. There is a need

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for mature debate. No I won't give way. There is need for mature

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debate. Order. The member shouldn't persist. We need to balance the

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role of the commission where the members are to act with integrity

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including political impartiality and with the views of members which

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could be expressed viate committee. We should see this motion today not

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as a threat but as an opportunity to look at issues which will allow

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the Assembly to be' flected as an Assembly for everyone. Sometimes

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people say also political traditions aren't represented here.

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We need to deal with symbols an emblems. There's no reflection of

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Irish Republicanism in this building. Will he give way? Yes.

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am happy to see -- pleased with what the member is saying so he

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could have an added minute. Could I just say to the whole House, I will

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not allow members to abuse interventions. For allowing a

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member an extra minute. Order, interventions should be making a

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contribution to the debate. They should be genuine interventions. I

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warn the whole House. I hope I don't have to warn the member again.

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The speaker delivering a stern rebuke to the DUP's William

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Humphrey for what he deemed an inappropriate intervention in

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today's debate. And with me now Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey and Tom

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Elliott of the Ulster Unionist party.Tom Elliott and Alex Maskey,

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thank you. Your effort to establish this new committee failed today. Do

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you accept the outstanding issues will now have to be dealt with by

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the Assembly commission? All these things have to be dealt with. They

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all are very important. I do think it's important to say that on a day

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in which the Assembly was discussing the future of the

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provision for social housing, the issue around school closures, all

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these important mattersant highlight of the news coverage of

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the Assembly is the issue of flags and emblems. That should not be the

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case. They are very important. Yes, they will have to be dealt with.

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That's why we were saying, let's set up an ad hoc committee, go and

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have a rational, mature, informed discussion and then deal with all

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the issues around flags and emblems and symbols and languages. Do you

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accept now that the commission is the place, even though you don't

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necessarily like it, that is the place where that debate has to take

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place? Or what's your next move? a way, if those want, if the other

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parties want to take it in the Assembly commission they'll raise

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it and the commission deliberations will happen. Will you attend those

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meetings, up till now you haven't? We'll see. As far as we're

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concerned we will not be railroaded into continuing to have the

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environment at Stormont representative of only one

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community. That is not tenable. It's not sustainable or acceptable.

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Therefore people think that by using the commission they will

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railroad a one-sided reflection of our symbols and emblems, that's not

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going to happen. You might have won the battle today, but you haven't

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won the war. Well, what we need to recognise is we have a process for

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dealing with these issues, through the commission. Just the same as we

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have other committees in the Assembly to deal with these matters.

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With respect, not if Alex Maskey and the SDLP and Alliance Party

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don't turn up. The commission can't meet to discuss them. We did listen

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to members Sinn Fein today saying we are all for democracy, bring it

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on. That's democracy. That's how we work it. I didn't hear complaints

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from Sinn Fein and others around the Belfast City Hall decision

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simply because they claim that was democracy. We're in a democratic

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process, so why not deal with it through that process? I don't see

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what the issue is around the flag. We're part of the United Kingdom.

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Everybody should recognise that irrespective of whether you don't

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like it or not. We're part of the United Kingdom. I don't complain

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when I go to the Republic of Ireland and see the tricolour

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flying. If it was that simple, there wouldn't be the debate that

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there is about it. It's much more complicated than that. It is, but

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that's only because people want to make it complicated. I hear all

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this about inclusiveness about democracy. Why don't they accept

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it? They continue their cultural warfare. I have been in an ad hoc

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committee that Sinn Fein and the SDLP established because they

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wanted a working environment. Now they have put language things on

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the paper. That's not inclusive. That's nonsense. He might have

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difficulty in regard to his party. The DUP never accepted the Good

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Friday agreement. When you read the agreement and understand it, it is

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about respecting everybody's symbols and emblems. That's what

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this discussion boils back down to. The Belfast City Council decision

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was not a decision taken overnight. There's been years of discussions

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in the City Hall as in other council chambers. That was a

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compromise. This building and the parties in here have to work

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together. Assembly commission, obviously as Tom may think, may end

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up with a majority rule decision. That will not resolve the problem

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of how we respect each other. can't agree on the issues of

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emblems and symbols, but not only, that you can't agree on the

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mechanism for discussing that to try to reach agreement. You say the

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commission's the place, Tom Elliott, the commission is tasked with

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ensuring the Assembly is provided with the property, staff and

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services required for the Assembly to carry out its work. It's not

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about debating huge issues. That is the place for it to be dealt with.

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Why? That's what the commission does. I think we have to be clear.

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Alex says... Briefly. Alex goes back to the Belfast Agreement. If

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we want to quote that, that enshrines Northern Ireland as being

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an integral part of the United Kingdom. Why can't his people

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accept that until the majority of We all have to be respected.

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Elliott and Alex Maskey, thank you. During last week's Budget Bill

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debate, Sinn Fein MLAs clashed with the finance minister, Sammy Wilson,

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over the size of Northern Ireland's subsidy from London. Sinn Fein says

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it believes the size of the deficit may be exaggerated. And it had more

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questions for Mr Wilson at Question Time this afternoon.

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The purpose of the latest net fiscal balance report is to provide

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a broad overview of the public sector finances in Northern Ireland

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for 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011. The report provides an estimate of

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overall net fiscal balance position, which is essentially the difference

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between Government expenditure and the revenue which is raised locally.

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In that regard, VAT estimates is only an element. It is indicated in

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the report, it is not provided for an accurate estimate of VAT, which

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has been estimated it in the absence of regional data.

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minister well known that income tax, VAT, corporation tax, estimated

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makes that up. That is based on two surveys and in terms of corporation

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tax, there is questions as to whether the headquarters of

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companies are based here will affect those figures. Can I ask the

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Minister does he agree the estimates are insufficient for the

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Executive? Also there is a need for the minister and Executive to put

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pressure on the Treasury to release more accurate figures? Of course,

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not in all cases do we have the exact figures for revenue collected

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here in Northern Ireland, and that is not of course just true for

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Northern Ireland, it is true for other devolved administrations.

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Does the minister had a strategy for reducing the fiscal deficit,

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and what would be within that strategy? Of course, we don't want

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to be reliant on subsidies from central Government, because of

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course that leaves the Northern Ireland economy evict interchanges

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at central Government level when it comes to fiscal decisions. The

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reason why we have given primacy to growing the economy, especially

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growing deprive its sector of the economy, is to reduce our

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dependence upon the transfer of funds from Westminster, or from

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parts of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland. I would point out

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to the member of course, we are not in a unique position here. Of all

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the regions in the United Kingdom, only two are in surplus, the others

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are in deficit. That is because economic activity is mostly

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generated. Will we be in the position where we won't have a

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deficit? I doubt it very much. I think it is nine other regions in

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the United Kingdom also in debt as a because of their geographical

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position, and it is difficult to attract investment and generate

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economic activity, and that it will always be. That is the benefit of

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being in the Union, we have that ability as part of a bigger

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constitutional units, we have that ability for the weaker areas to be

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helped out by the stronger areas. The finance minister, Sammy Wilson.

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During health questions, the minister found himself dealing with

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two highly topical issues - waiting times at the Ulster Hospital's A&E

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department and the ongoing issue of horsemeat. Here is Edwin Poots

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taking a question from Sinn Fein's Southdown MLA, Chris Hazzard, on

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the horsemeat scandal. Can the Minister outlined who funds the FSA

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here and who they are accountable to? The Food Standards Agency is

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funded directly by ourselves, but it is not responsible to this

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Assembly, as such. It is a body which is outside the Assembly. That

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has been set up because of the issues that surrounded the BSE

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problems. The lack of fate there was in politicians at that point in

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time. And I note the party has been suggesting Food Standards Agency

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should come under political authority. This is the same party

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that called for an independent Environment Protection Agency just

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a few years ago. It would appear the party has done somersaults on

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this particular issue. Can I ask him to clarify what the position is

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on the slaughter of courses in Northern Ireland? It is legal to

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slaughter and sell horsemeat in the United Kingdom, provided it is from

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an approved abattoir and an official stamp it is fit for human

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consumption. There were horses killed in Northern Ireland up until

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a relatively short time ago. Around 40 every fortnight. Those were

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exported, and all of that trade was legal and legitimate. It was being

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carried out properly. The company has since discontinued doing that

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course of work because it was interfering with other aspects of

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business. But there was no indication whatsoever, no evidence

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of any kind which would indicate that particular horsemeat was

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ending up in the food market. There has been a huge amount of testing

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carried out. We are satisfied from a food safety perspective, this is

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not a danger to the public. This is a labelling issue, an issue of

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fraudulent behaviour and I trust people will be in court and charged

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in due course over this. Some of them are very big companies. Let's

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be honest, the need to be went after and pursued rigorously.

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you are a work, the stuff that is in the media around the Ulster

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Hospital, can you outline to me why patients were laying with the

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ambulance crew for four hours, and the ambulance crew were held up for

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four hours? If you can outline, was there a divert on by the Ulster

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Hospital, and it the Ambulance Service put a divert on away from

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the Ulster Hospital? There are diverts on an ongoing basis from

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the Ulster Hospital to the Royal, and I will deal with that a little

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more in a moment. There was 66 ambulances yesterday at the Ulster

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Hospital. Last Monday there were 68 ambulances. Normally it is in the

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50s. When you have ambulances are pulling up, you get 60% of patients

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being admitted to the hospital. It has proved a very tight in terms of

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the number of missions that it was taken place in the South Eastern

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Trust area. There has been more medical admissions taking place of

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the elderly population, and consequently the hospital is under

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greater pressure. The Royal does take diverts from the Ulster

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Hospital. It is something we need to give some consideration to,

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because the Ulster does not have the capacity, it is the main

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hospital. It does not have the capacity the Belfast Trust have in

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terms of acute bed numbers. I think that we would do well to give some

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consideration to the numbers of birds that are likely to become

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available in the Ulster Hospital on a particular day, and if it is

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recognised there is pressures on to put the diverts in at an earlier

:19:55.:20:00.

point, to ensure the pressure is absorbed in a better way. We don't

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want to see people waiting in ambulances outside hospital. It is

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not the type of care this Assembly wants.

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The health minister, Edwin Poots. Speculation about proposals for

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reform of social housing has been unhelpful and perhaps uninformed,

:20:13.:20:16.

according to the social development Minister. In a statement this

:20:16.:20:19.

morning, Nelson McCausland, also stressed that change was needed in

:20:19.:20:27.

order to deliver value for money. The housing Executive has a long

:20:27.:20:32.

track record over the past 40 years of improving social housing stock.

:20:32.:20:37.

My proposals for the form of social housing is about acknowledging past

:20:37.:20:42.

achievements in terms of social housing provision while it is

:20:42.:20:46.

focusing on future sustainability and delivery, for the benefit of

:20:46.:20:51.

tenants and the taxpayer. The fundamental review of the Northern

:20:51.:20:56.

Ireland Housing Executive by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2011, found

:20:56.:21:02.

the current model and structures no longer allow optimal delivery of

:21:02.:21:06.

either strategic housing or landlord services. The general

:21:06.:21:10.

consensus from a series of meetings from stakeholders, concluded that

:21:10.:21:15.

do-nothing option was not a realistic solution. Over the last

:21:15.:21:21.

few weeks, since I made the written statement, there has been a lot of

:21:21.:21:24.

unhelpful and uninformed speculation about my proposals.

:21:24.:21:29.

They are not about abolishing the Housing Executive, they are about

:21:29.:21:33.

improving the structures for the delivery of those functions. They

:21:34.:21:37.

do not herald large-scale job losses, as I made it quite clear

:21:37.:21:42.

that staff in the housing Executive, currently delivering landlords and

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none landlord functions, will still have to deliver those functions,

:21:46.:21:51.

but in different, more focused and financially sustainable structures.

:21:51.:21:56.

By the end of 20th March 15, I aim to have in place, a sustainable

:21:56.:22:02.

housing system which delivers regional housing needs through

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landlord structures and housing associations and which is

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strategically Govan, and regulated. With regard to a rent setting

:22:11.:22:16.

regime, I propose an independent setting rent Panel is established,

:22:16.:22:21.

which will agree annual rent levels within the parameters of the fiscal

:22:21.:22:25.

rental policy based on affordability, set by me as

:22:25.:22:29.

minister and subject to scrutiny of the Assembly. In the establishment

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of a regional housing body, I intend the current housing

:22:34.:22:36.

Executive and on landlords functions will fall under the remit

:22:36.:22:40.

of a Northern Ireland regional housing body. It is disappointing

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he has said little apart from wishing to explore and develop

:22:45.:22:50.

proposals are ready in scant detail. In 2012 the minister accused the

:22:50.:22:53.

Housing Executive of having failed its tenants. I am sure he denied

:22:53.:22:59.

his party and other reasons, will be sad to see it go? The issue the

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Member refers to what comments I made about failures and

:23:03.:23:06.

shortcomings in the Northern Ireland exec -- Housing Executive.

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And I'm sure the concerns I expressed that time were shared by

:23:12.:23:16.

members of all parties, right across the chamber, because there

:23:16.:23:22.

were very serious matters in terms of the quality of the delivery for

:23:22.:23:28.

tenants. And also serious questions with regard to the value for money

:23:28.:23:34.

issue in terms of some of the management and maintenance contract

:23:34.:23:36.

issues. The social development Minister,

:23:36.:23:39.

Nelson McCausland. Now, Stormont will be few politicians lighter

:23:39.:23:43.

next month as a posse of them heads off to the annual St Patrick's Day

:23:43.:23:46.

festivities in Washington. But precisely how many should go from

:23:46.:23:49.

the OFMDFM Committee was a source of disharmony at its meeting last

:23:49.:23:59.
:23:59.:24:04.

Wednesday. This is an annual picture that the Kennedy travelled

:24:04.:24:10.

to Washington in and around St Patrick's Day. As I understand it

:24:10.:24:16.

is normal an invitation is extended to ditcher and deputy chair of this

:24:16.:24:23.

committee, whereas clearly, in paragraph two, in this instance the

:24:23.:24:28.

invitation is to five members of the committee, the chair, deputy

:24:28.:24:32.

chair and one representative from each of the other three parties. I

:24:32.:24:40.

am just wondering if members have any views? It is up to the parties

:24:40.:24:48.

if they want to send a representative. We are content to

:24:48.:24:52.

discuss and do the same. Beyond the top sheet it you will see a draft

:24:52.:25:02.
:25:02.:25:03.

from the clerk. Which I suppose is a reasoned argument for accepting

:25:03.:25:12.

the invitations. And on the back page, we can see a best estimate of

:25:12.:25:19.

the implication for costs if we went with what has gone in previous

:25:19.:25:26.

years, we're looking at 5,700, approx. If all five parties decide

:25:26.:25:32.

to send a representative, that could trouble. I have read the

:25:32.:25:36.

letter and I don't see any rigorous just to vacations from moving to

:25:36.:25:40.

two to five people travelling. So, I would like the committee to reach

:25:40.:25:46.

a decision and I have to say, I see no rationale for extending it to

:25:46.:25:55.

fire people. I think on the one hand, nobody else does, because

:25:55.:25:59.

they are representing their parties then fair enough. I wouldn't be

:25:59.:26:08.

happy under the current claim to go to do not represent everybody. If

:26:08.:26:13.

we can facilitate a representative of every delegation, leave it up to

:26:13.:26:18.

the party whether they want to go or not. We had previously discussed

:26:18.:26:22.

this with Danny Kennedy as minister for regional developments and we

:26:22.:26:28.

have reached a decision were one or all of us would go, but not both

:26:29.:26:32.

travel at the taxpayers' expense. Danny went last year as minister,

:26:32.:26:36.

we took the view that it one of us was going this the it would be me

:26:36.:26:45.

as capacity of the chair. But that is your party represented. I hope

:26:45.:26:50.

you don't mind me telling you it is for information. You are entitled

:26:50.:26:56.

to do that, obviously. Do you want to vote on the invitation to one

:26:56.:27:04.

from each five? I think it is an invitation and if it can be a

:27:04.:27:07.

facilitator to have a representative grouping, I think we

:27:07.:27:12.

should consider that in a positive light but leave it to the parties

:27:12.:27:19.

if they want to send someone on Oct. So the proposal is if it is left to

:27:19.:27:24.

individual parties to decide if they accept the invitations he can

:27:24.:27:27.

only extend to the chair, the vice- chair and one representative from

:27:27.:27:31.

the other three parties on the committee? Should we have a

:27:31.:27:36.

recorded vote of those who are in favour, please. Why do we need a

:27:36.:27:41.

recorded vote? Because I would like a recorded vote so I know who I am

:27:41.:27:49.

voting against? Do we have anybody in favour of the proposal? Yes.

:27:49.:27:55.

against? Myself. I won't be travelling to Washington as chair

:27:55.:27:58.

of this committee because I see no just a vocation for sending five

:27:58.:28:03.

people, when in previous years, two seemed perfectly adequate. Does

:28:03.:28:13.
:28:13.:28:18.

that mean Danny Kennedy will now go? Note. As explained, you are

:28:18.:28:25.

making a political point,. I am worried about the cost to public

:28:25.:28:30.

purse and value for money. I made the point about you and Danny

:28:30.:28:37.

Kennedy, you agreed one or other would go. You are now opting out.

:28:37.:28:42.

With your party be represented in Washington? I need to be speaking

:28:42.:28:47.

to a Danny. You said no, and minutes ago. You said does this

:28:47.:28:52.

mean, I said no, because I cannot tell you that because I have not

:28:52.:28:56.

spoken to Danny. The question you asked, does this mean Danny will be

:28:56.:29:03.

going? You said no, he wouldn't. said no, not necessarily. I did not

:29:03.:29:07.

hear that. The answer is No, not necessarily.

:29:07.:29:10.

Mike Nesbitt and Alex Maskey in discussion at last week's meeting

:29:10.:29:14.

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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