27/11/2012 Stormont Today


27/11/2012

A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Mark Carruthers is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.


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Welcome to in Stormont Today. It has been an interesting days on the

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hill as MLAs got their wrists slapped for wasting the First and

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Deputy First Minister's the time. Having it is time for the Speaker

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to consider penalising those members who did not turn up. Also,

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the Agriculture Minister explains the measures taken to combat a

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deadly trade disease. The Justice Minister response to concerns

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following the murder of prison officer, David Black. Since I last

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reported on this matter, a number of changes have been made to the

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protection scheme and to the processes -- processes for officers

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are leaving the prison service. joining us to share his sense dinks

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-- his insights, the journalist Sam Dick bright.

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-- Sam my pride. Question time at the Assembly is

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the ideal opportunity for MLAs to hold ministers to account. Today,

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that session became more about to was not in the chamber rather than

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he was. The deputy brush Minister - - the Deputy First Minister spoke

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out against the absent MLAs. Can he say how there has been a slippage

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in the monitoring compared to other departments, and when that the

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relevant committee will have insight to the up-to-date

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information? There is not delay. There is ongoing monitoring of the

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programme for government targets within the parliament. As I

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understand it, the delivery plan has been given in its initial form

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to the committee and I understand that officials are meeting with the

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that officials are meeting with the that officials are meeting with the

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committee tomorrow and will provide a more up-to-date delivery plan. As

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far as the overall assessment of where we stand, I believe that a

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meeting has been scheduled later today -- later this week to sign

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off on the copy that will go to all of the department committees,

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depending on the position of each of the ministers. I'm sure the

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House is encouraged to hear that the First and Deputy First Minister

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have received real-time information on the performance against the

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Government targets. He will be able to confirm in real time terms that

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used unemployment has risen every month for the past 12 months and is

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now at a historically high level. - - youth unemployment. Maybe he can

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tell the House what steps within the programme for government had

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been taken to address it. I can confirm that around the world youth

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unemployment has risen very considerably over the last few

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months. It is a worldwide recession. If there is a global downturn, it

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has an impact. That is why we have tailored the proposals we have

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brought in, and they do not know what he is talking to the sky for.

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If he is looking for divine intervention, I am happy to pray

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with them. The fact is, we brought forward proposals which recognise

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that there has been the need to increase skills available so that

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people would be able to move into jobs when jobs became available. I

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am convinced that the economic strategy of this Assembly is the

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right one. I recognise that because of the problems with the downturn,

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that there are immediate steps that we can take to alleviate some of

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the hardships that have been felled and that is why we have taken the

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immediate action of bringing those interventions forward. Far better

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that people are acting than carping. Question number six. I hope we will

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come back to the subject of members withdrawing questions without

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notice being given before we stand. That is to be members during the

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course of today. Corrals the First Minister what role he and the

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Deputy First Minister might play if any at Beachy eight conference wed

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comes to Fermanagh? -- can I ask the First Minister. Like him, I am

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very glad that eg age will be coming to Northern Ireland, and

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Fermanagh is the ideal place. -- the G8. Given the beauty of the

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countryside, I think a landscape lends itself to the atmosphere they

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would want to create. Of course, Northern Ireland will want to show

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its -- showcase itself to the world when the attention is on that

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conference. And we have discussed the issue with the Prime Minister.

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Of course, there will be a role for Northern Ireland to play. It is

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possible that some of the G8 leaders may decide to do something

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outside the conference itself, and we would encourage them to do so.

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Joe Byrne is not in his place. Tom Eliot, not in his place. David Mack

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nori is not in his place. We have just witnessed a question-time or

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where seven questions that were table for a response were not asked.

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I understand that two were withdrawn but five other members

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were not present to ask their questions. I think given the amount

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of effort and time that is Putin to the work in responding to these

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questions by civil servants, in particular, not to mention the work

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of the First Minister, who has to stand up along with the Junior

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Minister in his apartment, and given the workload, being in China

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and Cardiff and all the other responsibilities that ministers

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have at that level of government, I have to say I think it is a

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disgrace that so many members were not present to answer -- and to ask

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their questions. I figured is time consider penalising those members

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who did not turn up. -- I figure it who did not turn up. -- I figure it

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is time. Martin McGuinness not happy. Sam McBride is with me. Not

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the first time that this has happened but today it was on a

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scale that we have not seen before. Do you agree? The scale was

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completely novel and a think, you got a sense in a clip of the chaos

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behind the Speaker's desk as they called MLA after MLA. And clerk was

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saying, not in his space, not in his place. It normally, in defence

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of the MLAs, normally they do not get beyond five or six questions

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because the ministers give long answers. Also, there is a clear

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issue here, MLAs are not terribly excited by Question Time. They do

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not rush to the chamber in the way that they do at the House of

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Commons. I think that plays a part in it not being a compelling

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spectacle. But they do not feel they have to be there for it.

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was a call from the Deputy First Minister for the Speaker to look

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again at the structure of questions and the way in which MLAs can

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perhaps be persuaded to be in their seats. That needs to happen quite

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quickly. I think it needs to happen urgently. Not just for the

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credibility of the Assembly but I think it would improve the

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credibility of the Executive if ministers were seen to be being

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held to account by the Assembly and taking tough questions, topical

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questions. At the moment, they tabled questions to Matt weeks in

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advance and issues are often a lot out of date by that stage. It is

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completely dated at this point. Shortly after as we sh -- shortly

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afterwards we heard explanations for why some of the MLAs have not

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been in their places. On a similar subject, can I apologise to the

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House for my absence during question time. Personally, I accept

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the rebuke and they do not think it was anybody's place for me to be

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rebuked. I wanted to make that position clear. I do not think that

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question 11 would be reached. I was absent with a reason but not an

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excuse and I trust I will be indulged with a written answer.

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With regard to the missing members, two Ulster Unionists were not in

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their place and we would like to point out that they were serving on

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the at hoc committee on welfare reform. I believe the party took

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all reasonable steps to inform the business office that they would be

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absent and as they have requested written answers in lieu of oral

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questioning, I believe the Deputy First Minister is wrong to allege

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that the work by officials will be wasted. It will not. The SDLP and

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Sinn Fein have also sought to explain the whereabouts of absent

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MLAs but Jim Allister focused his criticism on all end -- 0FN DSM. --

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OFMDFM. It is rich coming from them. I have a sheaf of questions where

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it has taken up to 16 months to get an answer. I have other questions

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outstanding for 14 months. The last people to talk about penalising

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anyone for failing to be there to ask him or question are those who

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are serial offenders when it comes to refusing and failing to answer

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dozens of written questions. Does Jim Allister have a point? To a

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certain extent, yes. The MLA should have been in their place today,

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despite whatever reasons they had. But, it has to be said, government

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departments, in particular OFMDFM have been poor in answering

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questions, sometimes some of the most difficult questions. Also,

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Freedom of Information requests, which have previously had to go to

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court to get the request after 360 days. That is pretty poor by any

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standard. For now, thank you very much. The agricultural minister

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reveal today that ash dieback, the tree disease, has been found a day

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for the six sites here. Emergency legislation to combat it has been

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co-ordinated on both sides of the border. These images show how it

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can affect trees. The Minister was asked what else she is doing to

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prevent the spread. Can the Minister outlined if the court --

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the co-ordinated approach goes beyond the legislative processes

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and what other implements are being used, apart from the Actual

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emergency legislation? Ash dieback emergency legislation? Ash dieback

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is a very serious disease with is a very serious disease with

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devastating consequences and another committee is aware of that.

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I am grateful for the support for the emergency legislation that were

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brought forward. It is important that we take a proactive approach

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with regard to this. In this instance, we have co-ordinated

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legislation on both occasions, but I'm also regularly in contact with

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the Minister responsible for this area of work. We are regularly in

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contact every day on the phone. Officials are continuing engagement

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and they have another meeting this evening. I think it is important

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that we continue to work together. By way of an update, we have had

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five recently planted premises confirmed to have cases. There are

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another number of sites currently being filed up -- followed up as

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part of this exercise. We have destroyed 4500 saplings, which

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shows you the scale to date of the work we are involved in. As part of

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the exercise, six premises have been confirmed to have the fungus,

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bringing the number of positive confirmations to 11 across the

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counties of Antrim and Derry and Down. I want to stress that these

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are all recently planted sites, so they are relatively young. We will

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continue that engagement and I will continue to engage with my

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colleagues in Britain because they are obviously in a worse situation

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than we currently are. We will have to continue all of that ordination

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as we make our way through this path, and see where it develops in

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Was there any discussion at your meeting about possible compensation

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to those people who have suffered all will suffer in the future?

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Compensation was not an area that was discussed. As I said, this is a

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very serious disease and something that we are very much involved at

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this moment in time in a process of ratification. We are fortunate in

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that today, the confirmed sites have all come from one import of

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plants. However, at this stage, I cannot say that that will be the

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case going forward so compensation is not something I am concerned

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with at this moment in time. I am concerned with eradicating the

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disease, we keep the disease out and minimise the impact it has on

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industry. He will be aware from presentations in the culture

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committee on the devastating impact this can have, not just in people

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involved in forestry but other industries.

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The introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes and how it might

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help tobacco smugglers was put to the Justice Minister during

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Question Time this afternoon. First, though, with the recent murder of

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David black by dissident republicans on their minds, MLAs

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focused on the security of prison officers. My department in the

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Prison Service or regard the safety and security of prison staff as a

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high priority. The director-general has therefore already arranged for

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all prison staff to be issued with advice on personal security and a

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reminder of the need for vigilance, both on and off duty. My department

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on the Prison Service will continue to work closely with the British

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authorities -- appropriate authorities. I have met with

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colleagues to discuss the current security situation and discuss what

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measures are in place to protect prison staff. Since I last reported

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to the Assembly on this matter, several changes have been made to

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the Prison Service protection scheme and to the process for

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officers leaving the prison service who wish to apply to have a

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personal protection weapon. However, I trust members will agree that it

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is not in the best interest of prison staff to discuss individual

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details all the changes made to. A number of meetings have now taken

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place between the PSNI and prison service senior managers and I'm

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confident that appropriate and up- to-date advice on personal security

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will continue to be provided to staff. I can also confirmed that a

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watch with an in-built camera and recording facility was found on a

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prisoner during a routine search at a prison on 18th October this year.

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The prisoner concerned was charged under prison rules. Can the

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Minister, without going in to find still, assure us that in regard to

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firearm licensing, past delays will no longer be an issue in terms of

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issuing and granting personal protection weapons? I thank him for

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that point. I have received assurances from the PSNI about

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speeding up the issue of the application for approval for

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personal protection weapons for those retiring from the prison

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service, and it will be done within the timescale of the notice

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individuals will have on leaving. Could I ask the Minister, in his

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review, touching upon the serious issue of security, as he reviewed

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the arrangements for home security in respect to prison officers,

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particularly in respect of those who were removed from behind

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security scheme in terms of being told that it was their own

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responsibility to pay for and maintain such facilities. --

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removed from the home security scheme. Will heave reinstate that

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scheme so that members might have the comfort of some security at

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home? I have previously advised the house but I am happy to repeat

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today that the protection scheme for officers' Homes has been re-

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examined in recent weeks and it has been decided that where equipment

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is being supplied, it will continue to be maintained, contrary to the

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position best short time ago, so I believe the issue is already being

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addressed. I am sure the whole house will find it disturbing that

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one in five packets of cigarettes sold and Northern Ireland castles

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to the eagerly and these are not subject to controls or regulations.

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Treasury cannot collect any tax from them. The minister will be

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aware that there is the push nationally and locally by some to

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introduce plain packaging for tobacco products and health grounds

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but would he share my concern that one of the unintended consequences

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of this could be that it makes it much easier for criminal gangs

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organisations to produce and distribute counterfeit tobacco

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across Northern Ireland? I must dress that the issue of plain

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packaging for tobacco is an issue for a colleague and I did not wish

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to interfere. I saw at an event went for business groups last week

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that the quality of printing on counterfeit goods is sufficiently

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good that I am not sure it is a significant deterrent at this stage.

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The could ask him directly, please, in his capacity as chair of the

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organised crime Task Force, to confirm which paramilitary groups

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he believes are involved in the Sale and distribution of

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counterfeit cigarettes and other illicit material? I do not suspect

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he expects that I have access to all the available intelligence in

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the detail which he perhaps asked the question. It is her, however,

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certainly the case that there are a number of gangs involved in tobacco

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smuggling and counterfeit cigarette production who have links with

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paramilitary groups, both republican and loyalist and it is

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clearly an issue of concern to the society that level of ongoing

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criminality. The Justice Minister. Funding is always a big issue up

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here but today, MLAs were reaching out beyond Westminster to Europe.

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Sinn Fein called for the Regional Development Minister to work with

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the Irish government to advance the so called Prix identified projects

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list for inclusion in the next round of EU funding.

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European fund in the past has paid dividends and advantages to the

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island of Ireland, particularly the South. Only for this European fund,

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I do not think that the state would have been as competitive as it has

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been. I know that there has been a downturn in the economy there but I

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think if people all states... I think it needs to deal with its

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infrastructure across the region. It is important to identify that

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funding now because Ireland will become president in January and we

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hope that the decision is made and agreed during that period. But as

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somebody who travelled to Europe, to Brussels, as part of a committee

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- and other members can confirm this - there are difficulties with

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in Europe, having a vision of where Ireland is situated. They actually

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thought that we were connected to the mainland of Europe. We had to

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take out a map and show them that the blue stripe between us was

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water. These were the people who were making the decisions as to the

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next funding. Yet again, this motion farcically comes before this

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House at a most unsatisfactory time. The list still does not include any

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actual projects in Northern Ireland and they are only indicative

:21:30.:21:35.

projects. Until regulations are settled, there will not be any

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definitive list with actual projects. It will probably not come

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to the house as a surprise that I have a different take on this

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nation than maybe most of those who who have spoken today. Regional

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funding in the EU is something which we are citizens of the UK

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should examine very carefully because the reality is that it is

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our own money that we are looking to recover park. When that funding

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comes back, it is not Europe's money. It is not money that

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somebody else has given to subsidise the United Kingdom. Far

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from that, it is our own money being returned. But being returned

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with all sorts of constraint upon it. And then we are supposed to be

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great for and to speak about the largesse of the European Union for

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being so graciously to give us back some of our own money. The projects

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list does not really identify any specific projects. It refers to the

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upgrading of the network on a pre- identified section from Dublin to

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Belfast. In addition, I would wish to see opportunities for road

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projects to be included on the list but I must Cathy at this by stating

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that until there is more clarity around national and regional

:23:19.:23:29.
:23:29.:23:30.

capital budgets -- I must qualify this. A disability campaigner has

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predicted that the introduction of welfare reforms will be

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excruciating for disabled people. Michael Wilson of Disability Action

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gave evidence to the OFMDFM committee. -- Monica Wilson. There

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are a couple of areas. One is, there's no focus on older people

:23:53.:23:57.

with disabilities, and they comprise a large percentage and

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there is a direct correlation between age and disability. So we

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think, although it may be presumed, we would rather see it as a more

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formal approach and the massively important thing is that there is no

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action plan. So if there is no action plan, there is no action, in

:24:20.:24:28.

my opinion. There is no action plan? There is no action plan.

:24:28.:24:32.

two-year strategy hardly seems worth the effort. I accept your

:24:32.:24:37.

concern, don't stop the process. But for victims and survivors of

:24:37.:24:45.

conflict, there is a ten-year strategy. Is there anything to stop

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saying, we will plan to run this longer than 2015? The walls that

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are between government departments are very difficult for stop for

:24:55.:25:01.

example, the health and social care "transforming your care" document,

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which is the Labour strategy on community care, most disabled

:25:06.:25:09.

people already live in the community and to not have a good

:25:09.:25:15.

service. So if the Health and Social Care Board is to ring of

:25:15.:25:18.

physical and sensory disability strategy, there is the autism

:25:18.:25:23.

strategy, there is a lot that needs to be joined up. They wrap pieces

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in all of them that could make an action plan but at gathering is

:25:30.:25:38.

OFMDFM's job, I pity him, -- I presume, and I think it would take

:25:38.:25:43.

a reasonable amount of resources and this piece of work within

:25:43.:25:49.

OFMDFM needs to be much better resourced. The strategy, even when

:25:49.:25:53.

you get it, sits high above the ground and without smart targets

:25:53.:25:58.

and an action plan, you do not actually achieve anything. And how

:25:58.:26:01.

long will it take to compile an action plan, up when we are moving

:26:02.:26:07.

into the second year? How long would it take you to devise an

:26:07.:26:16.

action plan? Based on this? It would take to months' hard work.

:26:16.:26:20.

your opening presentation committee said the environment is getting

:26:20.:26:27.

worse for disabled people. Can you expand on that? We have been having

:26:27.:26:31.

meetings. I will give you an example of a person. We have been

:26:31.:26:34.

having meetings around Northern Ireland trying to support disabled

:26:34.:26:41.

people and explain what the changes that are coming in are and when

:26:41.:26:45.

they are coming in. At one meeting, a man was they who that not slept

:26:45.:26:48.

for two nights because he was worried about losing his benefit

:26:48.:26:53.

and that is not unusual. Our information advice service is

:26:53.:27:00.

getting about 20% increase only on welfare reform. The issues around

:27:00.:27:06.

welfare reform are many and complex and disabled people are not saying,

:27:06.:27:10.

"don't adapt it, and, but saying that this is the wrong way to go by

:27:10.:27:19.

just cutting people off." For example, if there was a check on me,

:27:19.:27:24.

I did not be entitled to anything because I used a wheelchair. We

:27:24.:27:29.

need to address the issues that make people like this. A 20% cut

:27:29.:27:34.

will be excruciating for disabled people. If you look at the housing

:27:34.:27:38.

issue, we have managed to get it changed from the spare room issue

:27:38.:27:43.

so that a wheelchair user can have a care whether but, for example, if

:27:43.:27:52.

you are alone -- a lone parent, you need someone coming for the weekend.

:27:52.:27:57.

I understand the purpose but I do not think the purposes as preached.

:27:57.:28:00.

But I think it is going to be disastrous because it is going to

:28:00.:28:06.

put lots of resource needed in the existing services that are not able

:28:06.:28:13.

to cope at present. We are going to have a disaster by next year.

:28:13.:28:16.

Monica Wilson from Disability Action. A final thought, Sam, on

:28:16.:28:21.

the subject of committees. A man who has been in the headlines a lot

:28:21.:28:25.

recently, the Attorney General John Larkin, appeared before the just as

:28:25.:28:29.

committed but we could not hear what he was having to say. It was

:28:29.:28:33.

quite unusual. It happens quite often in councils were able send

:28:33.:28:36.

out the press and members of the public to say they want to hear

:28:36.:28:40.

something in private. It is not so common instalment and that has a

:28:40.:28:45.

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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