26/11/2013 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 Deputy First Minister won't confirm


if Gerry Adams was in the IRA, but is happy to admit his own past.


I am on the public record that I was a member of the IRA. It didn't do me


any harm getting elected in mid-Ulster.


Sunday racing at the North West 200 moves one step closer. There has to


be a flexibility because of the economic benefit that has to the


region. Indeed, if we had a repeat of what has happened in the past


three years, it would be my contention that a lot of people


would not come back. And political commentator Alex Kane


is with me to review today's proceedings.


He was asked directly, but he avoided answering the question. In


the Assembly today the Deputy First Minister failed to confirm or deny


if Gerry Adams was ever in the IRA. Martin McGuinness also told the


Assembly he believes the loyalist protests planned for Belfast city


centre are being organised by the UVF. But first Mr McGuinness


criticised comments made by the UK Work and Pensions Minister about


Welfare Reform. I am sure people are well aware of the interview that


Mike Penning gave to the BBC here just a short time ago. I think


instead of threatening cuts of ?5 million her month from our block


grant, he would be better spending his time working out why DWP has


written off ?34 million on an IT system that's not fit for purpose.


The departmental estimates suggest the figure for write office could


reach ?140 million. The out working of Welfare Reform in England is


being challenged in the courts and tested in the courts and indeed, DWP


have not got it right. I am not sure why people are in such a rush for us


to get it wrong as well. I support the Deputy First Minister. Could the


minister tell us whether or not there is a Plan B if these threats


become real in relation to cuts in our budget and how that's going to


be managed through the executive? I think it is too soon to go into


that. I think from our prospective, we are dealing with the reality of


the here and now and the fact there has been useful discussions taking


place among members of the executive and quite clearly people are


focussed on the challenges that this poses for us. As I said, in relation


to Mike Penning's contribution which I have to say in my opinion was one


of the worst interviews I have heard whenever, not alone did he attempt


to deal with that issue in a very clumsy way, he ventured into areas


of responsibility for this assembly and this executive. Areas he had no


right to venture into. Does he believe that had gads was not a


member of the IRA despite all the evidence from other witnesses to the


contrary? Well, I am on the public record that


I was a member of the IRA. It didn't do me any harm getting elected in


mid-Ulster. The people of South Derry and east Tyrone whenever they


made a decision to make me their MP in 1997 did because they believed I


was committed to building the peace process. Because they wanted peace


and they saw my contribution to that as being an important contribution.


I hope I've made an important contribution. And I think those


people who make the argument that you can't further contribute to


society in a meaningful way because you were a member of the IRA in the


past. They are making a huge mistake. Given the fact that there


will be a march on Saturday in the centre of Belfast which again will


disrupt business, would the Deputy First Minister agree with me that


these people have made their point in relation to flags and they should


desist from future demonstrations and if possible, enter into the


Haass process where they could make their points more effectively?


Well, I agree that it is a responsibility of everybody involved


in this to recognise the importance of discussion and dialogue. I do


think people have made their point and I note with interest that the


media are now exercised about who is organising the parade on Saturday. I


don't have any doubt as to who is organising this parade. This parade


has been organised by the UVF. It has been supported by elements


within the Orange Order. I think there clearly is a responsibility on


the progress why I have unionist party as they call themselves to


recognise the damage that can be done if these protests continue.


Martin McGuinness making clear how he feels about the planned loyalist


flag protests. The commentator Alex Kane is with me now. There was a lot


in that session today. The Deputy First Minister made his views very


clear first of all on Mike Penning and what he had to say about Welfare


Reform? Well, he did and through that he called him the direct rule


minister, proving yet again about old habits dying hard. I am not sure


where they are coming from in this sense of attacking Penning tonne. We


are talking about the most important legislation across the UK for the


past 50 years. The executive, the assembly has never had a proper


serious debate about this. We are coming up to Christmas and they have


not had the debate and they get shirty when somebody goes, "Why


haven't you dealt with it? If you haven't dealt with it, we will


punish you." We kneed clarity because the clock is ticking? They


can't do anything now. There is two weeks left of this session. When


they come back in January, they come back for Eurotunnel, Westminster and


-- European Council and Westminster and no party wants to get bogged


down. What about Mr ss' response about gads and whether or not he was


in the IRA. It was a strange answer, did he duck the question? It sounded


like he was answering the question, were you Mr McGuinness ever in the


IRA? I was. The reality is this Adams question is not going to go


away because former IRA people are saying he was in the IRA and people


close to him are saying he was in. It will be difficult for people like


McGuinness to not keep on not answering. They are going to have to


give an answer whether they like it or not.


Looking ahead to the planned flag protest in Belfast on Saturday.


Martin McGuinness was clear about who he thinks is organising that? He


was clear with little evidence, I suspect. It is not a helpful


intervention. This is the Deputy First Minister saying the people


behind this are in the UVF and they are linked in with the Orange Order.


It throw that in, was a stupid thing to do. Just as you look ahead to


that. How do you think that situation might unfold? There were


calls for those involved to think again and we know that John Kyle


said in a private capacity today on BBC Radio Ulster, he thought a


Saturday is not a day for a demonstration like that? He said


that. That's what he said this morning and then he tweeted later


that he would be going to the protest himself. Look, you have


10,000 people coming into the centre of Belfast. It is not at wise thing


to do at any time let alone when you are trying to tie it in with parades


and other emotional issues. Alex Kane, thank you.


It's one of the biggest sporting events held in Northern Ireland, but


twice in the last three years the North West 200 has been cancelled


because of poor weather. Today the Assembly passed the second stage of


a motion that could allow racing on a Sunday if the Saturday is washed


out. The motion was brought by the Regional Development Minister. Road


racing events have value and contribute not only to the local


economies, but to Northern Ireland as a hole. Both in terms of direct


spend and the positive international media coverage arising from them.


Road racing has become hugely popular with major international


events such as the Ulster Grand Prix and the north-west 200 attracting


thousands of spectators. They also attract considerable sponsorship


from major international companies, often and within the automotive and


related industries. That sponsorship and the events which they support


would be put in doubt if more ka cannot be done to ensure that races


can be rescheduled as they are in the Isle of Man when bad weather


prevents them taking place. The road races Amendment Bill is


straightforward. It has a single clause and a single purpose to


introduce flexibility into existing road racing arrangements. My


department received almost 900 responses to the public consultation


on the Bill and 92% of respond arnts ents were in support of its aims. It


is good for the economy. Good for sport in Northern Ireland and


indeed, good for tourism. And we, the committee, support the Bill. Can


I turn now to some party remarks leaving my chair's hat behind, Mr


Principal Deputy Speaker? It is important to balance the rights of


the local community and indeed churches. I think that is something


that everyone within the committee within this House would want to do


in relation to any Bills. Coleraine is not the affluent place that


people think it is. There is a short tourist season and especially during


the years of the troubles, it was very difficult to fill beds and


today, I think we're privileged that we have this event along with a few


others that sustains the tourist industry. Not just in Coleraine and


Portrush and Portstewart, but beyond it. I do support the principle of


the Bill in this instance. There has to be a flexibility because of the


economic benefit that that has to the entire region. Indeed, if we had


a repeat of what happened in the past three years, it would be my


contention that a lot of people would not come back, a lot of our


visitors particularly from England and Scotland and the Continent who


have come over and who invested hugely for many of these people,


that's their only holiday of the year and they come and they are


relatively wealthy and affluent people and they part with their


money during their time that they are here.


Churchgoers have rights too. Yes, I have a house on that circuit. Yes, I


am a churchgoer. Yes, I fail I have an entitlement to exercise my right


to go to church. Why should I or anyone else who feels entitled to


exercise that right be suddenly told on 24 hours notice, " Sorry, your


right has been trumped." Because the public road that you use to travel


to church won't be available to you." Jim Allister voicing his


opposition to allowing Sunday racing at the North West 200.


Farmers are facing huge fines for mistakes made in claiming the Single


Farm Payment, a subsidy paid to farmers by the Department of


Agriculture. A motion, proposed by the DUP, claimed there's a rising


number of reviews of decisions regarding the payment and called on


the Agriculture Minister to make sure adequate resources are in place


to process all cases. Our off office staff found a body of work coming to


us by way of review of single farm payments. If a farm made an over


declaration or made some other failure they are fined. In one case,


we have been dealing with a young man who took over the farm business


after the sudden death of his father. He is facing losing well


over ?15,000 of this year's single farm payment because of some


confusion over three cattle tags. For stage one reviews, in 2011 the


time taken to process a stage one application from receipt to decision


issued averaged now, I say ampling averaged at 263 calendar days. In


2012, the average was 186 calendar days and in 2013, the average is 205


calendar days. Stage two, in 2011 the time taken to process a stage


two application from receipt to decision issued averaged at 975


calendar days. In 2012, the ampling average 1083 and in 2013 to date,


the average is 612 calendar days. This procedure is meant to ensure


the department acted in accordance with the relevant EU regulation. The


review process is falling below this standard. A farmer's wife called


into my office last Wednesday to explain the extreme distress and


worry that she has for her husband because of a request from DARD that


he repay 100% of his 2012 single farm payment. In their case, just


under ?14,000. She is worried for the mental health of her husband as


a result of this request. This is a huge weight hanging over this young


farming family. They have 150 cattle on their farm. And have told me they


will soon be unable to receive meal deliveries. I rise to support the


motion and would register an interest in single farm payment. The


service given to me by the department has been first class, but


I am not a recipient of thousands or hundreds of acres. I am sure the


minister is disappointed at these lengthy waits and will be doing all


in our power to ensure that vast improvements are carried out.


The 2013 single farm payment year, there were 37,633 applicants and 65%


of these were submitted in the first two weeks of May. The first two


weeks of May or the last two weeks of the application period and that


equates to 24661 applications landing in Orchard House. 20.4% of


these were completed online which the maths will state that 80% of


farmers still don't complete them online and that's something which


needs to be addressed. It takes ten weeks to scan and key in the data


from all of these applications and there are over 50,000 errors


identified in the first validation. Additional staff have been seconded


to the team to assist with clearing the backlog. 272 cases have been


cleared and the current case load has been more than halved to 117


over the last five months. In 2012, I secured additional resources for


stage two team, while additional staff were brought into the team


because of the number of dup mri kate fee cases and the impact of


these staff have not been realised as work was focussed on clearing the


long-standing cases. This year we have finalised 63 cases and that's


in line with the target that was given to the committee back in


October. The Agriculture Minister, Michelle


O'Neill, and the motion passed on an oral vote. Back to Question Time and


the Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, where


apprenticeships, youth unemployment and the prospects of a rural


university were all on the agenda. Can the minister give us an update


on his plans for a rural university? The member is referring to project


ten within the higher education strategy. And we are in discussions


with a number of different providers in that regard. I am sure the member


could guess which ones those would be given the rural aspect of this


particular project. What this is about is opening up access to people


to higher education provision and having particularly in mind those


who may well experience barriers and perhaps those who are studying


part-time and trying to balance work maybe those who are best placed to


take advantage of this. Discussions are on going and I would hope to


make announcements within the next number of months. What measures are


being put in place in ensure that university degrees are tailored to


the needs of the economy so that people once they are qualified can


get jobs, based upon the qualifications that they have? Those


who invest in higher level skills are in the main much more likely to


be in employment to sustain employment and to have higher levels


of wages or salaries. However, we do have issues regarding skills


shortages and shortages of skills within our economy and often a


general higher education or further education qualification particularly


in the absence of work experience isn't enough to find and sustain


employment. That's why in the short run, we are putting such an emphasis


on work experience including for recent graduates in order to address


the needs of unemployed graduates, but I come back to the point around


apprenticeships, apprenticeships need to be seen not as a secondary


alternative to people going to university. It could be seen as a


viable choice for someone with good A-levels. 63,000 young people


between the ages of 18 and 4 never had a -- 24 never had a job. When


does the minister think his schemes will result in jobs for these young


people? In particular because we have placed such a is heavy emphasis


fond upon the community and voluntary sector to tackle the issue


of those who are perhaps furthest from the labour market. Our claimant


count in terms youth unemployment is falling. Notwithstanding the fact


that the Labour Force Survey can bounce up and down. It is worth


stressing that the performance in terms of our youth employment scheme


in Northern Ireland, even though we started it later is significantly


better than the performance of the youth contract in the rest of the


UK. And that does show the advantage of devolution in action where we can


shape the nature of schemes to suit our local circumstances. Can I ask


the minister if he might look at and his department might look at end


suring that careers add -- ensuring that careers advisers are skilled up


in the CAE system as well as the UCAS system? The member touches on a


key issue. This is not about us directing students to Great Britain


or to the Republic of Ireland, but ensuring that they are informed of


the choices. We are not sending as many students southwards that are


coming from the south to the north. So there is scope for an expansion


in terms of student flows in both directions, but for that to happen,


we need to have proper information around university admissions. It is


more than simply a case of the knowledge of how the system works,


there is the issue about the recognition of qualifications which


is an ongoing source of contention between the two jurisdictions.


The Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry. That issue


of how A-level grades are recognised in the Republic was also touched on


by the Education Minister today. John O'Dowd was reporting back to


the chamber on the most recent North and South Ministerial Council


meeting on education. The Minister also updated MLAs on a range of


cross-border initiatives. We welcome the continuing support through maths


weeks and books Ireland. We noted the work of the educational under


achievement working group has been reviewed and the group will have an


intended educational outcome. The group will focus on three strands of


work. International branch marking studies, school based and social


interventions to address educational under achievement and the impact of


pre-school placements on prary level performance. I welcome this change


of focus. We note that work is on going between the education and


training inspectorate on the production of two inspector reports.


Provision of post primary level and numeracy level at post primary


level. Moving on to teachers qualifications, both departments are


progressing. A decision taken by the teaching council Ireland in December


2012 has now been implemented. Both teaching councils continue to work


to simplify assessments of qualifications of teachers for the


purpose of registration with the teaching council Ireland. What I


don't see on the list is a clear and consistent academic standard of


assessment in primary schools. Something which maybe that group


could look at with regard to the entire island because there is an


issue there which I have come across myself with people moving up into


Northern Ireland and then secondary schools struggle to understand their


achievement levels when they get here and I have no doubt that works


in reverse as well. Maybe that's something this group could look at,


minister. We want to have a situation where whether it be


teacher qualifications or student qualifications that are students are


able to travel and students are able to understand each other's


qualifications. Was there any discussion about the devaluing of


the A-level grade in respect of applications made to Irish third


level colleges through the central admissions office? I am confident of


Mr Quinn's support. Minister Quinn wishes to see this matter resolved.


The authorities in Ireland refused to recognise and give full points to


the A-level qualifications or the A star qualification how the points


systems work pose a disadvantage. Because you require 600 points to


get into the some of the yufrts. They only award 150 points to an


A-level. Most of our students only study three A-levels. Therefore,


they are at disadvantage. It is an issue that's been raised time and


time again. M are qip is supportive of our -- minister Quinn is


supportive of our position and continuing discussions need to be


brought to bear on the universities. The Education Minister said the


refusal of universities in the Republic of Ireland to fully


recognise A-levels had been discussed "time and time again", on


26th November 2013. Alex Kane is with me.


There has not been much legislation coming through? I can't think of


anything that's come through. I think a lot of decision have been


made, Peter Robinson said, a lot of decisions had been made, but none of


them required - a lot of them have been put in the long grass. A lot of


that will happen over the next two years because the election cycle has


started. It was interesting to see the DUP backing racing. That would


have been unimaginable a couple of years ago? It might have been


unimaginable as 2007. They are having to change. The fact they will


come into television studios on a Sunday and radio studios on a


Sunday, they are realising if they want to keep the impact, if they


want to attract voters they have to look like a normal modern party. A


final word on Scottish independence. That debate will be watched closely


here? There is more chance of me growing a full head of hair than the


Scots voting in favour of independence, but it will be


watched. It will be one to watch. The unionists should stay out. It is


going nowhere. The Scots will vote with their hearts. You this I there


is no need for them to get involved. Do you think they will be able to


resist the temptation? You can guarantee unionist will get involved


and say the wrong thing. It is not a cause they need to get involved in.


They don't need to ral crisis behind the Conservatives Dunkirk rally


behind the Conservatives. They can sit back and enjoy it.


Thank you very much indeed. That's it for tonight.


Don't forget to join me for The View on Thursday night at 10.35pm on BBC


One. For now, bye-bye.


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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