27/01/2014 Stormont Today


27/01/2014

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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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Coming up in the next half hour: The

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Deputy First Minister urges his Assembly colleagues, once again, to

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get the ball rolling on the Haass proposals. What we need to do is

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show the public right across society that we have the ability to tackle

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these difficult issues. With under-18s to be banned from

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buying electronic cigarettes in England, the Health Minister says it

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could happen here too. I know these cigarettes are being used by smokers

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as an alternative and it probably is a better alternative than smoking,

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but I don't think it is any alternative to get youngsters under

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18 hooked on nicotine. And our political reporter, Stephen

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Walker, joins me to cast his eye over the day's events.

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In what has become a fairly common stance for him, the Deputy First

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Minister was again voicing his frustration at the lack of progress

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over the Haass proposals. Martin McGuinness was on his feet during

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questions to the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers this

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afternoon. While the past was a focal point, so too was the future

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and who will be the Attorney General come May. The Deputy First Minister

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will recall in the autumn that the First Minister said that he and the

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Deputy First Minister will be reaching a

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Deputy First Minister will be and what further information can the

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Deputy First Minister give to this House? Well, I can give no further

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information to the House other than to state the position that we

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recognise that come May this year the position of Attorney General

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needs to be filled. We've had a discussion about that in the course

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of the last seven days. And we do hope to be in a position very

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shortly to make an announcement. Given the issues that the Attorney

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General has involved himself in, does the Deputy First Minister think

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he has strayed outside his remit? When he was appointed we invited him

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to undertake the nonstatutory role of adviser to the executive. He has

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a range of responsibilities, 22-5 of the Justice Act 2002 requires him to

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exercise his functions independently of any other person. There may well

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be timed when the statutory role action ways that others might

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consider unhelpful. And there may be times that we as an executive differ

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from his views but it what be wrong to curtail his actions when had ea

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acting in an independent statutory role. Both the Minister and the

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deputy Minister will be aware that the evidence given by the Sisters of

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Mercy nuns was described as haphazard and piecemeal. Will the

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Minister be able to give her view as to where she sees obligations of the

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institutions such as the Sisters of Nazareth in order to co-operate

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fully with this inquiry? Well, just to say to the member, you've asked

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for my view, and really there couldn't be anything more dreadful

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than what those people had to go through, and particularly the

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vulnerability of those children, because they had nobody to turn to.

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Really, I have to say that anyone should be approaching this inquiry,

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on should be approaching this inquiry,

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evidence should be doing it with should be approaching this inquiry,

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organisation they are from. Mr Speaker, can I ask the Deputy First

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Minister, given our commitment to the ongoing Haass process, can the

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Deputy First Minister outline his view on the next steps? Well, I

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think the next steps are very clear and they are in the public domain.

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The party leaders in the Assembly have met now and two occasions, will

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meet again tomorrow. That will probably be a lengthier meeting than

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the first two. I think there is a huge responsibility on all of us to

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find a way forward on these three contentious issues. I think i in

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incumbent on all of us to be positive and constructive and to

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recognise that the lot of politician among the general public isn't

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great. I find that embarrassing. I think that what we need to do is

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show the public right across society that we have the ability to tackle

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these difficult issues. We've tackled even more difficult issues

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than this in the past. Our political reporter, Stephen

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Walker, is with me. The Haass process came up again during today's

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Question Time, do you detect any sign of significant movement there

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at all? In a word, no. We are in limbo land. The Haass talks broke up

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on New Year's Eve. We had a series of meetings in January. We've got

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another meeting tomorrow. We are told that tomorrow's meeting will

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last around four hours. That the will be the longest meeting sips the

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talks broke up. Certainly talking to parties tonight there's no sense

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that parties are coming tomorrow, there's no expectation there'll be

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consensus tomorrow. The problem is this, there is no consensus on

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what's contained in the Haass proposals and there's no consensus

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on the way forward. And lack of consensus but clear tensions between

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Sinn Fein and the DUP about what happens next as far as the proposals

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are concerned? happens next as far as the proposals

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they were highlighted, when you did happens next as far as the proposals

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McGuinness, he talked about the Americans possibly, hoping this

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process could be wrapped up by March, and he said he was fed one

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that process. Peter Robinson gave an interview and said this wasn't Sinn

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Fein's process and accused Martin McGuinness of being a dictator. He

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said this was all about consensus and moving forward. This didn't

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belong to one party but all five. That gave an indication of the gulf

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that exists between Sinn Fein and the DU puxt. We'll watch tomorrow

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afternoon's meeting with interest. In the meantime the Attorney

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General's future was raised during Question Time. Yes, we had a

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reference to it there with Martin McGuinness. We were told last year

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this whole issue of John Larkin remaining as Attorney General, or

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whether he would go on to another job, we were told this issue would

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be wrapped up by now. You get a sense of frustration among

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politicians that they want a decision and want to know what is

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happening about John Larkin's future. He's been a controversial

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figure. The controversial views on adoption and abortion. Recently he

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gave an interview, talking about offences during the Troubles. I

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think there was a feeling from some parties here, they want closure.

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They want to know, is John Larkin staying? Or if he is going, what is

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the the process for the next Attorney General? Are we clear what

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timetable we might be talking about in terms of clarity, knowing if he's

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staying or not staying, presumably they've got to put in place plans

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for finding a successor? No-one has mapped out the timetable. What we do

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know is his term of office expires in May. Here we are in January, so

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if he was going, and there was to be a successor, clearly you would have

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to have an advertisement, a short-listing, a process in place.

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But as of yet we don't know anything about that. For now, thank you.

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One of the biggest pieces of legislation facing the Assembly was

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debated today - the Public Service Pensions Bill. The changes

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debated today - the Public Service one from Jim Allister which called

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for changes surrounding pension payments to the widows of police

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officers who died while in service. Arguably this is the most

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significant piece of legislation to come before this chamber thus far in

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this mandate, and therefore it is important at this last stage when

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amendments can be tabled that we can try to reconfigure the Bill as best

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we can in the interests of the people that will be affected, the

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230,000 people that will be affected by the Bill on the far side of royal

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assent. What all that reveal me, Mr Deputy Speaker, is this House needs

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to be vigilant about this pensions legislation, because the Treasury

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and George Osborne and his team aren't finished with this yet. As I

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say, we are talking about a small number of widows in very particular

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circumstances, yet the objections from with Whitehall departments has

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been that to amend the regulations would breech principles such as

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retro specktivity and parity. The Minister hasn't found a resolution.

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Mr Allister says the Bill offers an opportunity to address this issue

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and the Alliance Party has sympathy with the widows. I've met with one

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of the widows in this circumstances, who lost her husband, who was killed

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because of the job le was doing. She had very I don't think children and

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is now in a position where she would seek to remarry, but the financial

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consequences of doing so are very severe. Therefore, has been stuck in

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the position for quite a number of years now, wanting to do the right

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thing according to her faith, because this individual is a

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Christian and they want to honour those principles that she lives by.

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But in doing so, these regulation would bring a great deal of

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financial hardship in that particular circumstances.

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Unaccustomed as I am that in respect of this particular

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amendment. Let's be very clear, Mr Deputy Speaker, the purpose of this

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amendment is to bring equality of treatment to all police widows.

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Because at this moment in time, we have an inequality in regard to the

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retention of lifelong benefits by widows, because since the changes

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made under the new regulations of 2009, a new widow, to put it in

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those terms, retains her lifelong benefits upon remarriage. I have to

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say I welcomes amendments 15 and 19, the content of this proposed new

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clause is something I understand the Minister of Justice has previously

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been petitioned on by several representatives, including Mr Given,

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who mentioned Diane Dodds and Geoffrey Donaldson and the Justice

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Committee, and Mr Allister as well, to make a change for police widows

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and widowers as well. It is gender blind in Northern Ireland. I

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certainly can understand that and share Mr Allister's concern on the

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inconsistencies between police pension scheme legislation in

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respect of pensions paid to police widows and widowers on remarriage.

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The regulations were less generous overall, provide for lifelong

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benefits to be paid to the surviving spouse or nominated partner of a

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police officer. I realise that what we have before us today is a

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sensitive issue. It is especially emotive for those in the situation

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who've lost a wife of a husband or a partner who served in the police. It

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is patently unfair for the survivors of police officers, whether in the

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royal Ulster Constabulary or the Police Service of Northern Ireland

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to be treated differently. And that amendment from Jim Allister

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was passed. You can catch up with the entirety of that marathon debate

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on Democracy the entirety of that marathon debate

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with England in the entirety of that marathon debate

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Edwin Poots was speaking during Question Time, when he was also

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asked how he would spend the extra money recently given to his

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department by the Finance Minister last week. Can I ask the Minister to

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detail how the ?30 million allocated in the January monitoring round will

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be used? I thank the member for that question. There's a series of things

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that we will have to invest in. As I indicated to the House, one of the

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areas where we identified that we were having particular issues and

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problems was in children identified as children at risk. I think it will

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shock many members of the public to learn that we have hundreds more

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children now identified as children at risk this year than we had last

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year. I think that will be to do with the issues highlighted on

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television, relating to Savile and many other personalities mostly

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associated with the BBC. That has brought that to people's attention.

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?5 million is being spent on that. There are a number of other areas,

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including urgent care, including elective surgery and so forth that

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we will want to continue to support, because we've been making a real

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dent on many of the waiting times that existed. People are receiving

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care at a much more appropriate time. There's a whole series of

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things that we will be spending that money on. While we are continuing to

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attempt to save money within the system, and that is always a

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challenge to us, to ensure that we have as efficient a system as

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possible. If we don't deliver efficiencies, we deny people

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services, because we are spending money on things that are un. The

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Minister will be aware that the Government at Westminster are

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bringing forward an amendment to the children and families Bill that will

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outlaw to sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s. What sacs will

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outlaw to sale of e-cigarettes to will need to be looking at how we

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can quickly assess the situation and carry out some movement on it. I

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will speaking to my teenage daughter the other day and she was telling me

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that lots of children in her school are using e-cigarettes. That's

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something which I would be most unhappy with. I know that

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e-cigarettes are being used by smokers as an alternative, and

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probably it is a better alternative than smoking. But I don't think that

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it is any alternative to get youngsters under the age of 18

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hooked on nicotine. I think it is very, very important that we make a

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full assessment of this and we respond quickly to it and I will be

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looking closely at what Westminster is doing and see how we in Northern

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Ireland can move this forward. The took industry -- the tobacco

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industry has been very good at making smoking appear cool. I have

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no doubt that people selling e-cigarettes will have no problem in

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making it appear to be a cool thing to do. Anybody teen is a more

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addictive substance than heroin. We really need to be challenging the

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use of nicotine in such a way. We need to be discouraging people and

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particularly our young people, because two thirds of smokers start

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smoke whenever -- smoking is when they are under 18. We need to ensure

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that we are getting the right messages out, and we are taking the

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right actions to ensure that young people don't start smoking in the

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first place and they don't believe it is cool, hip or trendy.

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Health issues are very much centre stage in the Assembly this week.

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We've just had questions to the Minister of Health, and today's

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adjournment debate was on nursing staff levels in key hospital wards.

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Meantime, tomorrow there are two more debates on the current

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situation regarding Accident Emergency departments. With me now

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is Janice Smyth from the Royal College of Nursing. Evening to you,

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thank you for joining us. Good evening. Toe Ed a -- today's motion

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on staffing levels called on evening. Toe Ed a -- today's motion

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the Minister's going to make about increasing staffing levels in some

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of our wards and in our communities. So you think there is movement there

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imminently from the ministry? He hasn't quite spelled it out yet. He

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hasn't given the detail yet but we've been involved in a piece of

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work. The Minister was giving that due consideration, and in fairness

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to him he was receptive to the concerns that we were raising, so we

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are hopeful that this is going to be the start of putting some of those

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things right. And is that a development that members of the

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public will see when they find themselves visiting hospitals for

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whatever reason? They are very quick to say when they see problems, do

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you this I this could put those problems right? Members of public

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are consistently saying that nurses are too busy. This work is starting

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in general medical wards and general surgical wards in our hospitals

:18:46.:18:48.

across Northern Ireland. So if there's additional resource to

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increase the staffing in those clinical places, patients will see

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it, relatives will see it, and it will improve patient care and

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experience. We though that A departments have been at the

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forefront of people's minds since the major incident at the Royal a

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few weeks ago tnlt chair of the health committee said tonight in the

:19:09.:19:13.

chamber that 36 people at that stage were waiting on trolleys in A at

:19:14.:19:18.

the RVH. People will think, here we go again. 36 too many, and certainly

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the nurses in that department have been raising concerns about that for

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a considerable amount of time. There are real issues about our system and

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how it is coping with the numbers of people coming through our

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departments, and more importantly the availability of beds to put them

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into to. It is not just the problems in A People are waiting on

:19:43.:19:47.

trolleys because there aren't beds for them to go on to. That's right.

:19:48.:19:51.

The beds are full and there's nowhere for patients to go. That's a

:19:52.:19:56.

considerable problem and we've seen pressure developing in

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considerable problem and we've seen department in the Royal

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considerable problem and we've seen allocated an extra ?30 million to

:20:00.:20:09.

the health Budget. Where do you think that money could best be

:20:10.:20:13.

spent? Where would it help your staff members and members of public

:20:14.:20:17.

who are trying to avail of the service? It would disingenuous for

:20:18.:20:24.

me to say this can be fixed easily, but it can't. If some of that money

:20:25.:20:30.

is to go to staffing, and I'm confident it will, it will make a

:20:31.:20:33.

difference to front line nurses and the care they can give to patients.

:20:34.:20:37.

There's a big er conversation we have about the services we provide

:20:38.:20:41.

in Northern Ireland, and professionals, politicians and the

:20:42.:20:44.

public need to have that conversation together. We'll see if

:20:45.:20:47.

the conversation takes place. For now, thank you.

:20:48.:20:52.

In this week's committee wrap we're looking at the issue of household

:20:53.:20:55.

rates. Each council sets its own level of rates, so what happens when

:20:56.:20:59.

the current 26 bodies are reorganised into just 11 in 2015?

:21:00.:21:02.

Last week the Finance Committee was briefed by the department's head of

:21:03.:21:05.

rating policy on the plans in place to deal with potential anomalies

:21:06.:21:08.

when the new councils come into being. The first element and

:21:09.:21:14.

probably the most significant of this is managing rates convergence.

:21:15.:21:21.

And the development of a transitional relief scheme to

:21:22.:21:25.

protectorate payers who would otherwise face sudden and excessive

:21:26.:21:30.

increases by councils coming together and also by some rate

:21:31.:21:35.

payers moving into Belfast from Castlereagh and Lisburn. Without

:21:36.:21:41.

intervention, they could face significant increases in district

:21:42.:21:48.

rates. So that's our objective. In terms of where we are, the executive

:21:49.:21:54.

took the decision about a year ago I think it was to provide funding of

:21:55.:22:01.

up to ?30 million in total to fund a transitional relief scheme. We have

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decided and Ministers have decided that the best way of doing this is

:22:06.:22:10.

to allow councils to strike their rates in the normal way, and for the

:22:11.:22:14.

discount to be given to relevant rates in the normal way, and for the

:22:15.:22:22.

rate payers on the face of the rate bill. So councils won't have to

:22:23.:22:27.

strike differential rates to edge rates up top a common district rate.

:22:28.:22:35.

That will be applied at a bill level by D P working with DOE. Our current

:22:36.:22:45.

view is that we can develop a reasonably generous scheme in terms

:22:46.:22:49.

of stepping increases over a three or four-year period and all the

:22:50.:22:54.

modelling that we've carried out with colleagues in DOE suggests that

:22:55.:23:00.

this is doable within ?3 million of funding. Our main concern is to how

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we get this to operate alongside a domestic re-evaluation, which takes

:23:08.:23:10.

effect on the same date. That's what's causing us a head ache at the

:23:11.:23:14.

moment. I'm sure we'll be able to find a way around that. On its own,

:23:15.:23:21.

a transitional relief scheme for RPA is both workable, deliverable and

:23:22.:23:30.

affordable, in our view. In terms of the ?30 million for the transitional

:23:31.:23:34.

scheme, can you elaborate on how that figure was arrived at? You said

:23:35.:23:40.

you are reasonable assured that it will be within that... I don't know

:23:41.:23:46.

what the district rates are going to be next year. That's a big unknown

:23:47.:23:56.

and we don't know the impact of a non-domic re-evaluation. I think

:23:57.:24:01.

that should do it. In terms of a scheme that will at least protects

:24:02.:24:08.

rate payers from some - all rate pay here's would face sudden increases

:24:09.:24:14.

as a result of councils coming together.

:24:15.:24:18.

A snapshot of proceedings from last week's Finance Committee.

:24:19.:24:20.

If you were watching last Tuesday's programme, you may remember this

:24:21.:24:23.

exchange between the Deputy Speaker, Roy Beggs, and UKIP's David McNarry

:24:24.:24:26.

during questions to the Finance Minister. I call

:24:27.:24:39.

during questions to the Finance was a meaningful warning about the

:24:40.:24:43.

ruling on debts or call-ups by the Treasury which could Ed up in 200

:24:44.:24:49.

million if we don't do something about this. It is time we did do

:24:50.:24:54.

something about it. Since April 2007 prices have risen by 18%. Can we

:24:55.:25:01.

have a question, please? Pardon? Could we have a question, please?

:25:02.:25:10.

Can I repeat Mr Deputy Speaker where I because in the middle of a

:25:11.:25:16.

question? Could I have a question please shortly or we will move on. I

:25:17.:25:21.

will tell you what, Deputy Speaker, I will sit down. I don't lie the way

:25:22.:25:26.

you are doing. This OK. Well, back in the chair this

:25:27.:25:29.

morning, the Speaker, William Hay, referred to an "incident" last week.

:25:30.:25:37.

I want to put on record my concerns about an exchange that took place

:25:38.:25:42.

between a member and a Deputy Speaker during Question Time last

:25:43.:25:47.

Tuesday. I have to say Hansard on this particular issue is not good

:25:48.:25:53.

reading. It is not that long ago I reminded the House that the

:25:54.:25:56.

authority of the chair is always the same, regardless of who is presiding

:25:57.:26:01.

over business in the chamber. Members think that because I'm not

:26:02.:26:05.

in the chair, they can be discourteous to Deputy Speakers and

:26:06.:26:10.

challenge their rulings, they need to think again. Members though that

:26:11.:26:16.

if they stray from the normal rules, they can expect whoever is in the

:26:17.:26:20.

chair to intervene. The chair gives a direction, it should be respected.

:26:21.:26:27.

And should not be challenged at any time. Certainly I will be keeping a

:26:28.:26:33.

very close eye on this particular issue. Our political reporter,

:26:34.:26:38.

Stephen Walker, is with me. What is this row all about? We can only

:26:39.:26:44.

assume it is about that encounter that we just witnessed between

:26:45.:26:56.

individuals. We can only assume it was this encounter between Roy Beggs

:26:57.:27:03.

and David McNarry. What we do know, and David McNarry confirmed this, he

:27:04.:27:06.

was trying to ask a question during the finance questions. There was a

:27:07.:27:11.

preamble and Roy Beggs pushed him to come up with a question. I suppose

:27:12.:27:16.

David McNarry was frustrated and he sat down and he complained about the

:27:17.:27:21.

way he was being treated. And we had this intervention today from the

:27:22.:27:25.

Speaker, saying there needs to be respect for the authority of the

:27:26.:27:29.

chair. It is all a bit of a storm in a tea cup, but you get these things

:27:30.:27:34.

in the cut and thrust of the debate. Nuclear tr nuclear -- David McNarry

:27:35.:27:39.

believes that the reference was to him. Is he remorseful about Roy

:27:40.:27:46.

Beggs? He feels he was being respectful, that there was a

:27:47.:27:50.

preamble, and he was getting to his question, so he feels he was

:27:51.:27:54.

behaving properly. Not the first time that the Speaker has issued a

:27:55.:27:59.

warning to members. No, we had a warning last year when a number of

:28:00.:28:04.

members were named, and a warning in 2010, so these things happen from

:28:05.:28:12.

time to time. Willie Hay was making it clear there is a code and members

:28:13.:28:17.

should abide by it. He said some members are more respectful to him

:28:18.:28:23.

than they are to Deputy Speakers. He said it doesn't matter who sits in

:28:24.:28:27.

the chair, there has to be respect. And the bottom line is the Speaker

:28:28.:28:31.

is right even when he is wrong? That's always the joke isn't it?

:28:32.:28:34.

David McNarry says he is going to have a conversation with the

:28:35.:28:38.

speaker. The speaker has made his position clear, that he wants

:28:39.:28:41.

respect from the members. I don't suspect there'll be a meeting of

:28:42.:28:45.

minds during that meeting. You would like to be a fly on the wall

:28:46.:28:50.

wouldn't you? That's it for tonight. Join me again tomorrow at 11.20pm on

:28:51.:28:54.

BBC Two. Until then, from everyone in the team, good night.

:28:55.:28:57.

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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