27/03/2012 Stormont Today


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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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. There may be no more horse-trading


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


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


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


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


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


is Jackie Redpath. Voluntary groups across Northern


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


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


The The Integrated Services for Children and Young People claim


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


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


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


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


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


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


representing West Belfast and Greater Shankill. I am proud that


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


communities and erstwhile enemies working together for the benefit of


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


brought these two communities together. It is vital that this


continues because the only thing that will suffer will be the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Greater Shankill is one of the waste -- most disadvantaged


communities. The problems family space are sometimes beyond belief.


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


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


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


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


problems but to open up opportunities for those families,


children and young people. There are significant success stories.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


service delivery within the health system. Argued prepared to sack


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


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


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


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


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


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


health service possible. We are told they deserve the salaries


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


resolve whatever problems these departments have about this.


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


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


the opposite. This is integrated services for children and young


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


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


co-ordinating those services to make them more effective for


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


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


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


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


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


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


winter chill during questions to the Regional Development Minister.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


timescale would people stop the timescale for some of the processes


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


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


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


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


Minister help to recommence dialogue between prison officials


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


prisoners in our custody, commensurate with their human


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


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


to face questions about winter preparation. I think it is


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


differences in emphasis and approach. That they may not be


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


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


successfully. Financial matters are always hot topics during Question


Time. Members of the Assembly Commission took their turn to


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


circumstance in which there are cutbacks to the overall block grant


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


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


introduced a wide review of all business areas to ensure services


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


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


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


will happen without wide-ranging consultation with members as the


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


confirmed that the viability of video conferencing facilities.


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


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


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


want to liaise with their counterparts in the Irish Republic?


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


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


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


video conferences facilities are available to individual members.


The Assembly Commission serves essentially members as opposed to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


better communicated we need a better organisation better


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


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


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


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


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


that started voting four our political opponents. Target people


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


is about the timetable for increasing the state pension age to


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


is the chair of the Social Development Committee which has


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


development minister, Nelson McCause lands. This is a clear


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


around �270 million. Several members raised quetion regarding


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


taxing as well. The British government have been saying that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


were amendments tabled from the SDLP which would of resulted in


that possible expenditure. Our difficulty is that the department


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


his department to challenge that and engage firmly to see what


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


but significant differences in the levels of benefits people will get


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


administered. We saw the problem around the personal independence


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


overturning decision that is resulted in people being put off


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


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


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


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


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


operation of the legislation. are told that the new legislation


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


where you have serious, organised criminals, use sophisticated


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


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


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


director in his evidence to the justice committee pointed to a


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


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


have identified any significant issues about the general terms of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


operating a transparent and open manner, respecting rights and


maximising public confidence. My objection is waus because the


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


DUP's George Robinson defended his poor attendance at committee


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


McCarthy has been talking about comments Edwin Poots made in the


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


suggested that Kieran McCarthy was behaving like a village idiot not


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


He said they were outrageous remarks and should be withdrawn.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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