27/03/2012 Stormont Today


27/03/2012

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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. There may be no more horse-trading

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at the old Lamas Fair but up here, the ancient art of deal-making is

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thriving. Ministers even have to crack the whip at times. I need to

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hold those to account in the service who are fooling me. If they

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fail, I fail, so people within the system rather performing to the

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best of their abilities step up to the market will move on. My guest

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is Jackie Redpath. Voluntary groups across Northern

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Ireland are facing austere times just like everyone else. One group

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came to Stormont today to campaign to have their funding continued.

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The The Integrated Services for Children and Young People claim

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that their funding is being cut by two-thirds. Jackie Redpath - is

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that the figure? You are losing two-thirds? The offer that is on

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the table would result in only one third of funding being available.

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What impact would that have on the services you provide? A dramatic

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impact on the work we do with families and children in west

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Belfast. If I could just say, it is a privilege for me to sit here

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representing West Belfast and Greater Shankill. I am proud that

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people were on the steps of Stormont today to protest together,

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communities and erstwhile enemies working together for the benefit of

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children and young people. Bat has a very strong message. It has

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brought these two communities together. It is vital that this

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continues because the only thing that will suffer will be the

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programme, and the thing that will result will be a significant number

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of job losses. The biggest damage that will be done here will be the

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damage done to families that we are working with. We are talking about

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something of a significant scale here for. We are working between

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children, a young people and their families, with 4066 people. What

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are you doing to help them? What would be lost? What happens in the

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family is the most important thing. We also know west Belfast and

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Greater Shankill is one of the waste -- most disadvantaged

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communities. The problems family space are sometimes beyond belief.

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Local people are trained to. We make sure that those problems are

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not exacerbated and go into something else. The second thing is

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that any intervention is intensive - that when the problems are there,

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we can go a n one at 24 -- on a 24/7 basis, not just to resolve

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problems but to open up opportunities for those families,

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children and young people. There are significant success stories.

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The Health Minister says he has told the senior management of the

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five health trusts that performance must be improved. Edwin Poots held

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an emergency meeting with the chief executives and chairs of the Trust

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this morning. Conditions in A&E were among the items discussed. Mr

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Poots says problems in the system need to get better quickly. We need

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the system to get better quickly to. I believe it is a management issue

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of. We do need to ensure that doctors are available, perhaps more

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often than is currently the case. How far are you prepared to go to

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hold your managers and chief executives to account? I made it

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quite clear to the trust chairman that they account to meet for the

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performance of the trust and the executive directors account to them,

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so if they do not hold the executive directors to account,

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then I will be holding them to account. The very clear challenge

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function that they have to exercise to ensure they do get quality and

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service delivery within the health system. Argued prepared to sack

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anybody? Let's work together to make things better. -- are you

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prepared. If the system does not improve, that is something we need

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to address. You have not ruled out sacking at chief executives?

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need to operate in a way that encourages people to perform to

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their best and I want to ensure that is the case. We need to ensure

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we do not exclude any option on the table to ensure we get the best

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health service possible. We are told they deserve the salaries

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because they are UK-wide salaries but looking across the water,

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people do get sacked when they underperform. Bat is the case and

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we need to reflect on all of these issues. But number one, I have put

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it very clearly that they need to deliver. I have put it to them and

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they cannot get it any more clearly. Let's see how things pan out over

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the next few months. You have given them months to turn things around?

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I think we can see improvements. How many months? I think we can see

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improvement over two to three months. I will be asking them what

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they have done to make improvements in a three months' time, and I want

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to see that they are continuing to improve them move things forward.

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Doesn't the buck stops with you? Yes, and I need to hold those to

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account who are failing me. If they fail, I ultimately fail, so I need

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to ensure that people who are not performing to the best of their

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abilities step up to the mark. Jackie, you have laid out the

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services that you provide - what is the timescale for this funding cut?

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The timescale is that they have got until Friday to get this resolved.

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What we understand to be on the table at the moment, which we have

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only been told verbally, will make the programme totally untenable.

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That is why we had to come here today. I am delighted that this

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place works and that democracy is here, and I support it. I am just

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sand that in this case, until today, government has not worked. -- sad.

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I understand there are intensive talks. We had MLAs and ministers

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out, who spoke to us today, and I believe there are discussions going

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on in the background that would give me some hope that this matter

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may be resolved. Our request is that what is on the table for one

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year should be made pro rata for six months and that the money

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should be up to some degree. That should give us six months to try to

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resolve whatever problems these departments have about this.

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should you get the money? Everybody is facing cutbacks. What is it that

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you provide? Is there not a danger you duplicate some services? Quite

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the opposite. This is integrated services for children and young

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people. What we do is bring those services together to make them more

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effective. It is quite the opposite to duplicating services - we are

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co-ordinating those services to make them more effective for

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families, young people and children. We have had amazing success in

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relation to that. On the Shankill, we have worked with social services

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and we do on a daily basis. 27 children last year who were on the

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social services register, 23 of them have come of it this year.

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figures speak for themselves. The sun was shining appear on the

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hill but it did not stop assembly members reminding us about the

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winter chill during questions to the Regional Development Minister.

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But first, the Justice Minister had to face a few frosty questions.

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He asked a question to which I did not hear an answer so I'll ask

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again. Where prison officers given advice that the outcomes of their

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gratuity payments would be... My understanding is that they were,

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but I ask him that they were given that advice. It is my understanding

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that information was conveyed at one stage to members of the justice

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committee that payments would be taxable, potentially, next year. I

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believe that was made in November last year and was directed at a

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meeting of the committee in February this year. I am not in a

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position to say what information may or may not have been supplied

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It is regrettable that that mistake was made last year but it was

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corrected. Is it credible that he will be able to deliver full body

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scanners? Are I think -- thank Mr McCartney for his question. I can

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only state what I said yesterday - that we are not sure what the

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timescale would people stop the timescale for some of the processes

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depends on licensing arrangements, which have to be considered at a UK

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level, but I will repeat my assurance that we will be working

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as fast as we can to move on the issue of fall body scanners, to get

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pilots under way as fast as possible. In the meantime, will the

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Minister help to recommence dialogue between prison officials

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and Republican bristles -- prisons, in order to bring this continuing

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dispute to an end? I certainly share his desire that we should

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bring the dispute to an end. As I understand it, the author of a

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prisoner forum has been made to those on that row three and a row

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four core but prisoners have been unwilling to engage in that form of

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discussion, which I believe would be the best way, given it is in

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line with the 20th August 10 agreement. The important issue for

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me is to ensure that we provide the best possible regime for all

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prisoners in our custody, commensurate with their human

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rights and the need to provide safety and security for staff and

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prisoners. It was then the turn of the Regional Development Minister

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to face questions about winter preparation. I think it is

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important that we look at all aspects of winter preparation. I

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can inform the House that on a yearly basis, after the winter

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period, my department does review how it has performed and if there

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are any outstanding issues to be addressed. The member has raised

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one and we will look at it and, at some stage, discuss it further with

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What intention does he have in increasing cross-border co-

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operation? I'm grateful to the member, it seems a long way from

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Lindhurs Hurst Gardens. I say that there are, I think, issues that

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where there is, where there is common cause we will, of course,

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co-operate. My understanding is that the system operated in the

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Republic of Ireland, I would be very grateful if the member would

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pay attention to the answer to the question he posed, that there are

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differences in emphasis and approach. That they may not be

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easily reconciled. Certainly, we will happy to look at instances

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where by co-operation in a meaningful way can be operated

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successfully. Financial matters are always hot topics during Question

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Time. Members of the Assembly Commission took their turn to

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answer questions. We should not sit in an ivory tower. In the

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circumstance in which there are cutbacks to the overall block grant

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in Northern Ireland, the Assembly from that point of view has to take

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its share of the pain. However, we've organised, the Commission's

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introduced a wide review of all business areas to ensure services

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are done in the most efficient manner. It's possible that the

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nature of the delivery of services will change in some areas as a

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result of these reviews. The programme for the reviews, nothing

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will happen without wide-ranging consultation with members as the

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Commission's key stake holders in that front front.. The member

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confirmed that the viability of video conferencing facilities.

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Given the austere times we are in at the moment, everyone is looking

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to try to initiate cost-saving measures, does this mean ministers

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will be able to avail of video conferences, for example, if they

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want to liaise with their counterparts in the Irish Republic?

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Are you keeping well yourself, Gregory? Could I just say, zepty

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speaker, that the same argument could be applied on an east west

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basis. There might be a churlishness in the question. The

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video conferences facilities are available to individual members.

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The Assembly Commission serves essentially members as opposed to

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the Executive. I'm sure if they seek use of this facility it would

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be granted to them. I've in doubt about that. Only four days to go

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and there will be a new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. They are

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going head-to-head in Londonderry tonight. It's behind closed doors.

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We put three quick fire questions to both contenders earlier to see

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how they compare. If you are elected leader what will the Ulster

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Unionist Party look like in five years' time? We will be more

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cohesive, in terms of our membership, more coherent to the

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public in terms of our policies. The two things we have to do very

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simply, one is politicalcle, one is organisational, better policies

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better communicated we need a better organisation better

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resourced. I hope wee of had an Assembly election. I would hope we

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would of done a period of opposition and fit and ready to

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return to government. What three things would you do to entice

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ordinary people in Northern Ireland to vote Ulster Unionist at the next

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election? Different groups we have to target. We have to target those

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that started voting four our political opponents. Target people

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who stopped voting altogether am have you to reconnect with people.

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Number one, you have to go out and find what's important to them.

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Secondly, in what is it meets the needs, is it jobs, is it health or

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education, is it a mix of all? Use that time in opposition to

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scrutinise and develop, meet trade unionists and business people. Meet

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people in community groups to hear what are the issues and what are

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the policies that make a difference to their lives and improving their

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lives. That is what we have to do to reconnect. On tackle stickly our

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young people, it's engaging with young people and seeing what is it

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that it important in their lives as well and making them understand

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that politics is local and that politics, whether it's funding for

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their local football club or rugby club or whatever the issue happens

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to be, running campaigns for safer driving, like we had my local

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constituency, issues like that are how we connect politics to young

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people and make it seem relevant in their lives. I think people are

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looking for common sense government and that is what I'm offering.

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Looking for people to be honest with them about what we can and

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cannot achieve. I think people are looking for hard work on the ground.

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So, that's what I'm offering. I'm getting a response, even at this

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stage, from a lot of people kolg up and saying, I don't vote, but if

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you get the leadership, I will vote. I will vote for you. Some saying

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they will join up with your party and help you. What would make Mike

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Nesbitt a good leader? You do know he is running against me. I'd

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rather, at this stage I would say, do you want to ask what would make

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me a good leader? I'm Mike, I think he would be better as the leader

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maybe after me, would he not? would make John McCallister a good

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leader? Would you have to ask John McCallister. MLAs spent most of

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their time today debating the finer details of the Pensions Bill. This

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is about the timetable for increasing the state pension age to

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66 and harmonising the retirement age of men and women. Alex Maskey

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is the chair of the Social Development Committee which has

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been scrutinising the legislation. First, here's the social

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development minister, Nelson McCause lands. This is a clear

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breach. It would result in cost to the Northern Ireland block of

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around �270 million. Several members raised quetion regarding

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the extent of the cost to the Northern Ireland block grant and

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the figure is estimated to be �270 million. I know that some members

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seem to believe we can have a kind of pick and mix approach to parity.

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We can gobble up the goodies we like and spit out the things we

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don't. They seem to expect the Westminster government, or perhaps,

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more correctly, taxpayers across the UK to pick up the tab. Can we

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say to people in Britain that we'll happily take the �3 billion you

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give us every year to keep our social security system running, but

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don't expect us to work as long as you before we can access our

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pensions? There is an issue here of equality and parity across the

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United Kingdom. Nelson McCause lands has a point. Why should

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people retire sooner here than in the rest of the UK? People here pay

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taxing as well. The British government have been saying that

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the reason why they want to increase the age which people will

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be retire is that people are living longer. That is right. The

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difficulty is, a lot of people's health isn't good as they live long.

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Therefore, the figures we received here about the health profile of

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the population here in the North is that it does not compare with parts

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of Britain. We are not comparing like-for-like. What we have is, as

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an Assembly to do, is to try to make sure we make devolution work

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for people here that we represent. What we are trying to do within the

:20:06.:20:09.

Pensions Bill, those of us trying to oppose some of these measures,

:20:09.:20:12.

we are trying to resolve the problems that people here face,

:20:12.:20:16.

through no fault of their own. �270 million, if we were going to

:20:16.:20:19.

take the option that you recommend, where would you take that money

:20:19.:20:23.

from to pay for it? What services would you doubt pay that money?

:20:23.:20:27.

don't see it necessarily as black- and-white as that. Obviously, there

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were amendments tabled from the SDLP which would of resulted in

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that possible expenditure. Our difficulty is that the department

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here is not properly, in our view, exploring that the flexibility that

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the British government tell us we can get around these measures,

:20:45.:20:48.

around welfare reform, Pensions Bill. We want the department here,

:20:48.:20:53.

and the minister, to robustly challenge this notion of parity. We

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understand that parity is a big issue much we understand the level

:20:56.:21:01.

of benefits affect a lot of people not only here but in Britain as

:21:01.:21:04.

well. There has to be a robust challenge of what this actually

:21:04.:21:07.

means for the people that we represent here. Is now the time to

:21:07.:21:12.

do it? You could wait until the next mandate and talk about parity

:21:12.:21:18.

then. We are in austerity times there isn't the money around to

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start tweaking with the system? There isn't the money around. We

:21:21.:21:27.

know that. We are trying to make sure with the so-called welfare

:21:27.:21:30.

reform agenda we don't make people's plight worse. We are

:21:30.:21:34.

trying to make their plight easier. They are trying to spread the money

:21:34.:21:38.

thinly, but to spread the money around to make sure those more

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vulnerable will get a better outcome. We are trying to do that

:21:41.:21:45.

in the here and now. I have been chairing this committee since last

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year. I have saw precious little evidence of the flexibility that

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people like Owen Patterson tell us we can get. I want the minister and

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his department to challenge that and engage firmly to see what

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flexibility we can actually secure for people that we represent here.

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Bear in mind, we represent people. We don't represent people here. We

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represent those here who elect us. We have a duty to do our best for

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those people. You mentioned welfare reform. The minister met Iain

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Duncan Smith last week, to try to get some moves on the flexibility.

:22:17.:22:21.

It does feel, in some ways, now that the Bill is law in England,

:22:21.:22:27.

that we have lost that argument. We may be able to tweak at the edges

:22:27.:22:29.

but significant differences in the levels of benefits people will get

:22:29.:22:34.

here, that is gone. They will have to accept cuts? I don't expect

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there will be a major difference. There may not be no differences in

:22:38.:22:41.

terms of levels levels of benefit. That may be the outcome of this.

:22:41.:22:46.

There are parties here, for example, I am not making a political point,

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there are parties who stood up in the chamber to say, I'm a unionist

:22:51.:22:57.

I accept the principle of parity. I said that is fine. We have to do is

:22:57.:23:00.

to make the best deal for the people here we represent. Is it

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just talk? What can you actually achieve? I don't think it's talk.

:23:04.:23:08.

The British government say, Owen Patterson has said on-the-record

:23:08.:23:12.

that we can secure flexibility as to how we deliver this system of

:23:12.:23:17.

the benefits. A lot of the benefits, even if we don't change the figures,

:23:17.:23:21.

we may be able to change the level of sanctions or how the system is

:23:21.:23:25.

administered. We saw the problem around the personal independence

:23:25.:23:30.

payments, we saw the mess around that where the tribunals are

:23:30.:23:33.

overturning decision that is resulted in people being put off

:23:33.:23:37.

these payments. Thank you. Plenty more to talk on that on the weeks

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and months to come. Sinn Fein has failed to get the Assembly to back

:23:40.:23:46.

a review of the 2005 Serious Crime and Police Act. This deals with the

:23:46.:23:49.

so-called super grass trials they wanted the Justice Minister and the

:23:49.:23:52.

Attorney-General to use their powers to look again at the

:23:52.:23:57.

operation of the legislation. are told that the new legislation

:23:57.:24:01.

is different. We are told it's different is that we are told now

:24:02.:24:05.

that the deal, which the accomplice gets, were in the past that was

:24:05.:24:09.

kept a secret. If people are telling me that is some sort of

:24:09.:24:12.

difference we will wake up and discover, you know, we will know

:24:12.:24:17.

the deal now, we didn't know it in the past. That will make us feel

:24:17.:24:22.

that the scales of justice are removed from all our eyes. I don't

:24:22.:24:26.

see it. Whenever members propose this issue as some sort of catch

:24:26.:24:32.

all about super grass, it seems to me to deny the vast majority of the

:24:32.:24:37.

public the basic support and help they should expect under the law,

:24:37.:24:43.

where you have serious, organised criminals, use sophisticated

:24:43.:24:47.

techniques to avoid detection and prosecution, surely, if you can get

:24:47.:24:50.

evidence from one of their own, from an accomplice, that that

:24:50.:24:56.

evidence should be used to them behind bar fs at all possible.

:24:56.:25:00.

director in his evidence to the justice committee pointed to a

:25:00.:25:04.

procedural query on which he was taking advice. I'm writing to him

:25:04.:25:08.

to the PSNI and the police ombudsman office to see if they

:25:08.:25:12.

have identified any significant issues about the general terms of

:25:12.:25:16.

the legislation. I would also take account of what has been said in

:25:16.:25:19.

the debates. What remains to be said in the debate today. I cannot

:25:19.:25:23.

work on the presumption there is something wrong based on a single

:25:23.:25:28.

case, I will continue to listen to the views of members and the

:25:28.:25:32.

agencies I have highlighted. I will review the Hansard of this debate.

:25:32.:25:38.

On the basis of my comments, Deputy Speaker, whilst I accept the

:25:38.:25:42.

generalality of much what has been said I oppose the wording of the

:25:42.:25:46.

original motion. There is much with which I agree. Including the system

:25:46.:25:50.

operating a transparent and open manner, respecting rights and

:25:50.:25:53.

maximising public confidence. My objection is waus because the

:25:53.:26:00.

operation of the legislation is not a matter within my powers.

:26:00.:26:03.

DUP's George Robinson defended his poor attendance at committee

:26:03.:26:07.

meetings he was at fewer than any of miss his colleagues much he said

:26:07.:26:11.

he had the shingles last year and had to take several months off.

:26:11.:26:17.

Martina Purdy has a run down of how the other parties shaped up. The

:26:17.:26:27.
:26:27.:26:30.

Ulster Unionist Michael McJimp si - - gimp si missed some and Pat Shane.

:26:30.:26:33.

The Culture Committee meets on a Thursday. He is doing the Policing

:26:33.:26:37.

Board business and he is on some other committees on the Policing

:26:37.:26:47.
:26:47.:26:47.

Board. It is taking up more time. Alastair McDonald missed 44% of

:26:47.:26:54.

meetings. The enterprise committee he is a busy man, the SDLP leader

:26:54.:27:03.

and an MP. The Alliance Party? Judith missed six out of the 26,

:27:03.:27:08.

compared to the others not too bad. Staying with Alliance, Kieran

:27:08.:27:12.

McCarthy has been talking about comments Edwin Poots made in the

:27:12.:27:17.

chamber yesterday? That is right. Edwin Poots, the Health Minister,

:27:17.:27:22.

suggested that Kieran McCarthy was behaving like a village idiot not

:27:22.:27:29.

making enough rational points. The SDLP's representative complained.

:27:29.:27:34.

He said they were outrageous remarks and should be withdrawn.

:27:34.:27:39.

Here is what he had to say. honestly didn't hear the comment at

:27:39.:27:43.

the time. I was engrossed in the subject we were discussing, which

:27:43.:27:47.

was so important. I do think, when someone resorts to that type of

:27:47.:27:51.

language, it seems to me that they are losing the argument. In fact

:27:51.:27:55.

the argument was lost on that occasion yesterday. I did speak to

:27:55.:28:00.

the Health Minister earlier. He shows no sign of apologising. He

:28:00.:28:04.

suggestion his remarks were all part of Assembly debate. Time is of

:28:04.:28:08.

the essence for you. He you need a decision sooner rather than later.

:28:08.:28:13.

People will be out of a job come Monday? Three days left here before

:28:13.:28:17.

we go into meltdown. We shouldn't need come here today. We did. We

:28:17.:28:23.

were saved. Ministers listened to us. MLA's supported us. I would be

:28:23.:28:26.

optimistic that discussions are going on and we will get a result.

:28:26.:28:31.

They need to do. It families will suffer here, children and young

:28:31.:28:35.

people in West Belfast and greater Shankill if we don't get more money

:28:35.:28:43.

on the table. Does it surprise tu's a cross community scheme and not

:28:43.:28:46.

getting funded? It's the fourth time we have been in crisis. I

:28:46.:28:49.

didn't think we would be here again. Thank you very much for being our

:28:49.:28:53.

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills 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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