28/02/2012 Stormont Today


28/02/2012

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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Good evening and welcome to Stormont Today.

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New research has found that Northern Ireland is the happiest

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place in the UK. But does that apply to our MLAs?

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He has not manage to recover from the fact that he is not the

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minister for justice. He knows why. But things are more come as members

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listen to Anna Lo. I am thinking back to the young person who tried

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to take my car. Why did he want to do this? With me throughout the

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programme is Jane Beavis. Sammy Wilson at risk to the wrath

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of bigger retailers when he introduced higher rate for bigger

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stores. Have the bigger stores accepted this now? We are faced

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with a better complete. -- fait accompli. We very much support of

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the rate relief being given to smaller businesses. And that is all

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small businesses, not just shops. The bet that we did not like is

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that it is only larger retailers that have been asked to fund it.

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That is a high burden for them. Many other stores are making

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healthy profits. Surely they should pay a little bit extra to help

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those people who are going under? There is a lot of confusion because

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of the larger turnovers that multiple retailers have. Retailers

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generally make a profit of a 5% margin. But you do not think it

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will cost anybody to pull out of Northern Ireland? We do not say

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that it will result and anybody pulling out. But if a larger format

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Straw became they could, -- store became vacant, new retailers it

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might think twice. The UK and Europe are a relatively attractive

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markets. We are not seem big growth in consumer demand. -- we are not

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see him. Sammy Wilson and Alex Attwood are everywhere. Today, they

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were Question Time's double act. We will hear from the finance minister

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in a moment, but we start with the Environment Minister.

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As I previously indicated, I have two streams of conversation going

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on with the Association of British Insurers animal that. 1 in respect

:04:02.:04:12.
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of administrative means in the trading -- training of novice

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drivers. The second is a relation to bearing down on the issue of

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cost. One of those factors is that ensures will not let it be known

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that profit and loss as they have in respect of their businesses,

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including here in Northern Ireland. I find that situation and

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acceptable. I believe that information should be shared. Given

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the higher cost of insurance in the north of Ireland, particularly in

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rural areas, I believe they should assure that information. Reform of

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local government has finally been agreed. This is a once and a

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political lifetime opportunity to remodel local government. I think

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it is desirable even if we fight about detail. We need to be mindful

:05:22.:05:32.
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that we do not have for ever. We now have a deadline of elections in

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May 2014. File that is adequate time to get all the issues, and

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they are big issues around questions of assets and liabilities

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and human resources, we have enough time, but we need to be mindful

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that we apply our mind if it is they will of the Assembly. I thank

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the Minister in light of his response. When people voted in 2011,

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those councillors will remain as representatives of for the entirety

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of the term? Yes, I am pleased to confirm this is a hybrid situation

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that could end up in a muddle. Councillors elected in May 2000 the

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14th, if they are MLAs about time, they will be entitled to continue

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as MLAs and councillors until May 2015. The shadow councils in 2015

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will all Labour shadow until a year later. -- will only be shadow.

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to finance. That will draw spent on consultantss was less than a �60

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million. That is a reduction of �56 million from the level which was

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:07:42.:07:45.

reported in 2007 and 2000 added. -- 2008. The Executive is committed to

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reducing that level every year. We set the target, then a require that

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any consultancy spend above �10,000 has to be approved by ministers,

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and that has affected the number of applications that has come.

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Ministers can a low were that the threshold within their own

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department. -- at ministers can reduce that threshold. Does the

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minister for see a day when they can do without consultants. It has

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to be kept in mind that we will always require some consultants in

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any public body. There will be occasions when the expertise does

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not reside with them back at department. It may be a one off

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piece of work when there is no point in a employing their

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expertise full-time. While we tried to get consultancy spend down as

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much as possible, and indeed, we can build into the contract that

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consoled hims a train up people with they mack the department, I do

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not foresee a situation where we will not have any consultants. --

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within the department. I should have said a 56% of production, not

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�56 million. A motion for calling for tougher sentences for

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carjacking was passed at this evening. It is about sending out

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the message that if you are involved in this crime, you are

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going to pay for the consequences. We cannot panda to these people are

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we think they are above the law. That is why we felt this amendment

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was necessary. It does not take away from the existing motion, we

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would not want to do that. But they just felt it out a little bit. We

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acknowledged the fact that this is a crime in there should be dealt

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with as a crime. I am not known to my liberal views in relation to

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criminals. Those who break the law should be dealt with. In this

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instance, we have a scenario where the person targeted is generally

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female and alone. Cars are stolen and destroyed. No right-thinking

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individual could or would do anything other than condemn these

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actions. I think there has been 21 carjacking is in Belfast this year.

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That is not acceptable. There needs to be visible community policing.

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There has been a... Community policing should not just be

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comforting phraseology. It should be at the heart of everything the

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police do. The committee have a role, the justice system has a role,

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and the police have a role in bringing this to an end.

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appreciate the PSNI has established a special task force to step up

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patrolling and gather intelligence to make arrests. I am thinking back

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to be done person who tried it could take my car. I wonder why he

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wanted to do this? Breaking the law and putting himself and others at

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:12:19.:12:22.

Anna Lo mentioned joyriding there, and there is a certain irony to all

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of this, when joyriding figures have had gone down, we have this

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increased threat of carjacking. and they think what some of these

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criminals are doing is carjacking and hijacking. We had the seen a

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week ago where a man was hit with a hammer. The fact is that the

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criminals have stepped up their game. This is the next step, upping

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the ante on it. They are hijacking cars and throwing people out and

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injuring people in the Moses -- in the process. It is very difficult

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to police this kind of crime. indeed. A short time ago, I saw a

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case where Cartwright to be carjackers, but when you look at

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the research out today, it is not only in Belfast, and it is not a

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new crime. There is a media attention on it in recent times,

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and rightly so. But it is happening north, south, east and west Belfast,

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so it is hard to police. But the police are doing all they can to

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address people. The judicial system needs to be doing all it can to

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make sure that sentences are put on people. Interesting figures, up to

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six years for people who have been convicted. That sounds like a fair

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enough sentence for that type of crime. The maximum term but no

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individual can get his 15 years, but the fact is David Ford, the

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Minister, had 26 cases in recent years where people had been

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convicted. And if you add the 26 convictions, it wouldn't even add

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up to 15 years together. The maximum sentence has never been

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imposed on an individual. So the justice department needs to step up

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to the market and make sure that it is made quite clear to anybody who

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is talking about it, there is a lack of confidence, and that

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confidence Mr be restored. The poor state of the economy has

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many knock-on effect, some of which are already being felt now. During

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the boom, many sites were bought and cleared with a view to

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development. But after the bust, they have been left vacant. Many

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are not only are eyesores but pose a danger to locals. Mary Creagh

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would called on the Environment Minister to act. We would like

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property owners to take steps to secure and tidy up premises. There

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are a significant limits to the powers, and this has been

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acknowledged through the answers to written questions by the Minister.

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There are a number of areas in my own constituency, and I have no

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doubt this is the case throughout Northern Ireland, where sites are

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lying and secure. -- insecure. Sometimes this is because a portion

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of land is left were materials were left during building, or other

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areas which have been cleared in readiness for development. In

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today's economic climate and the devastating in Cap -- impact this

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has had on the building trade, the latter example is very prevalent.

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Some may have fencing around them, others no fencing at all. But it

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appears that local councils have no powers to secure a green field

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sites, but can secure site awaiting development. This gap is not filled

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by the Health and Safety Executive either, I Magnus -- a matter which

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was confirmed. This has been referred to us as an urban problem,

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but in fact it is a rural one as well. It does make reference to

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clear sites. There are towns where the developer has come in, demolish

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the building on site, and leave something which looks like the

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Sahara desert. Serious health problems can arise, and am quite

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serious about that. That can go on for years, if the companies go into

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liquidation. During that debate, the Environment

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Minister promised to call councillors together for a summit

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to see how the issue could be tackled, and he said he hoped to

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release money to improve town centres. The motion was carried

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unanimously. Do improving town centres are a big

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issue for your organisation, we have 1,000 shops that closed last

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year, 14% remaining vacant as we speak. Yes, we have seen at the

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highest levels of shop vacancies here in Northern Ireland, and that

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is obviously a worrying feature. So we are looking forward to the

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Minister bringing forward the business -- Business improvement

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District legislation, and one of the ways you can encourage

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partnership and start to invest in and restore those town centres, and

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for the planning reforms to come in, too. Obviously planning is a big

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issue. In terms of regeneration, big stores coming in, we are

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waiting for John Lewis, but what is the experience of other towns and

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cities across the UK? Retell can play a major part in helping

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redevelop. If you look at a place like Cardiff, for example, where

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there is a major new shopping centre, St David's. It has some

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really big names as the anchor stores. That has completely

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transformed Cardiff, lots more visitor numbers there, lots more

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spending, and that has really helped the local economy. Thank you.

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The Justice Minister will be reappointed using a cross-community

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vote and not the previous system, it has been decided. This means the

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current Minister, David Ford, is likely to stay in post. The SDLP

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are not happy, arguing that the post should be allocated in the

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same way as other ministries. Martin McGuinness accused the

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alliance Party of entering into a devilish packed with the DUP and

:19:29.:19:39.
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Sinn Fein. Complicit in this arrangement was the abandonment of

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the principal opposition for the unprincipled seeking of office and

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power. And indeed by sacrificing principle for office, they got

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their just reward. But there subjugation to the DUP and to Sinn

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Fein is something they will live to regret. And have to say to Mr

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McGuinness, hell hath no fury like a would-be Minister scorned, and

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very clearly, he hasn't managed to recover from the fact that he is

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not the Minister for Justice M elected by this House. And he knows

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why the people of Belfast would not have confidence in him having his

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position. We would have preferred that the Justice Minister was

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elected in the same way as all the other Ministers in this Assembly.

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However, we know that at that time it wasn't possible. Now, the SDLP

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are aggrieved at that, because they felt that the Justice Ministry

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should have been ours. And Albarn McGuinness in his speech talked

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about how Sinn Fein into DUP perversely used and cynically

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gerrymandered the process to exclude the SDLP. Perhaps the

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member hasn't noticed that Sinn Fein didn't benefit from the

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outcome of those negotiations, and neither did the DUP. Some say I got

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it wrong. Certainly not. I got it right! Order, order! That is why

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the DUP belatedly had to run scurrying to get changes made in

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the 2009 Act, because they were asleep at the wheel, couldn't see,

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couldn't read what was in the tour to act, couldn't read what was in

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the 2004 Act, and had to get it changed. That is why some of the

:21:54.:22:04.
:22:04.:22:07.

powers which are now going back for review were taken out. Order!

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Nobody in this House speaks with less credibility on the matter of

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justice than the dissident member for North Antrim. Happily the

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people of North Antrim put him on his box as he squeaked through one

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the ninth count. Mr Speaker, I believe we have a balanced and

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workable way forward. We have shown maturity and made progress on

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matters which eluded those who went before us. I commend the main

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motion to this House, and urge the House to resolve accordingly.

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Now, the Agriculture Minister has warned the next few weeks will be

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crucial for farmers concerned about Schmoll and bird virus. 83 cases

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have been reported after the disease cross to the channel from

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the mainland. It is thought to be carried by midges, and can hit

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cattle and sheep. We are watching the situation very carefully with

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other countries, and still have no confirmed cases here. It has

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reached Luxembourg and Italy, so there are 30 new countries. But we

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still have not detected any cases. We are trying to get as much

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information out there as possible to farmers, so it is a new disease.

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We want farmers to be aware of the new sentence and what they are

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looking for, and if they suspect, they should contact the Department.

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What other sentence? As we enter into lambing season, it will be a

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very good time to detected. When the lambs are born, if there are

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any birth defect, we want the farmer to inform their vets so that

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they can report the situation. In adult cattle, it causes diarrhoea

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and fever. And at this stage, is there any risk that it could be

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passed from animal to animal? this stage we believe it is coming

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from vectors, from midges. So I think there is a lot of research

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going on. Because it is a new disease, trying to establish all

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the contributing factors. worried should farmers be? We don't

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want to put anybody on alert and panic them, the but we have a

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surveillance operation, and we need to watch the situation as we enter

:24:29.:24:32.

the lambing season. It will be a key time to establish whether or

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not we have the disease. The former DUP laid it in Paisley left

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hospital today after being admitted three weeks ago for heart problems.

:24:42.:24:46.

There was obviously a lot of concern around the building when

:24:46.:24:49.

Ian Paisley was rushed into the Ulster Hospital around three weeks

:24:49.:24:55.

ago. In more recent times, we have learned that he was discharged from

:24:55.:24:58.

intensive care and moved to another unit within the hospital, then we

:24:58.:25:01.

got a statement from the family confirming that he had returned

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home today. Peter Robinson released a statement that he was delighted

:25:05.:25:11.

by that. Baroness Paisley thanked the medical staff. And she thanked

:25:11.:25:15.

those who sent wishes and prayers, and asked for more privacy while

:25:15.:25:19.

her husband recuperates. We have been talking about new technology

:25:19.:25:27.

within the chamber. There was news on that today? Yes, the Welsh

:25:27.:25:32.

Assembly is particularly hi-tech, and Stormont has lagged behind a

:25:32.:25:37.

little. The problem has been that if MLAs decide to start texting or

:25:37.:25:41.

tweeting from their phones, it interferes with the microphones,

:25:41.:25:45.

and comes out on the televisions. So a committee on procedures has

:25:45.:25:47.

been considering this, and they have decided that there is a way

:25:47.:25:52.

round it, and with the use of wi-fi or tablet computers, politicians

:25:52.:25:57.

can get on with their work in the chamber at the same time as debates

:25:57.:26:03.

going on around them. Gerry Kelly, chair of that, has now put forward

:26:03.:26:07.

that as a proposal to the commission that runs the building.

:26:07.:26:11.

It is a good move to make. Everybody was up for it, even old

:26:11.:26:18.

fogies like me. There also needs to be training to use this type of

:26:18.:26:24.

equipment. If you can do it with wi-fi without ruining the sound

:26:24.:26:28.

quality for that all-important kit for Stormont Today? Absolutely. We

:26:28.:26:35.

have the ability, totally have the ability to bring wi-fi here. That

:26:35.:26:42.

would do away with the interference. And the Environment Minister had a

:26:42.:26:45.

lot to say today. He was taking part in the debate which you have

:26:46.:26:50.

already heard about disused development sites, and he's hopes

:26:50.:26:55.

to spruce up some of the areas that will be open to view by visitors to

:26:55.:26:59.

the Irish Open. He also made a statement about major planning

:26:59.:27:02.

applications, saying he was trying to hurry up the planning system in

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terms of some more controversial Big contentious decisions, and he

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promised somewhat seriously that he would clear around seven major

:27:12.:27:15.

planning applications tomorrow. He set himself a deadline of the end

:27:15.:27:19.

of February. He didn't give any details of exactly what those would

:27:19.:27:23.

consist of, but he should have some decisions for us within the next 24

:27:23.:27:28.

hours. A final thought from you. One other thing we are doing by

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ourselves here is the plastic bag tax. Where do stores stand and it?

:27:35.:27:38.

We have been involved in some voluntary initiatives over number

:27:38.:27:42.

of years now, and have managed to halve the number of single use

:27:42.:27:48.

carrier bags that were taken through that. The people of

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Northern Ireland take your bags per head than anywhere in Great Britain

:27:52.:27:57.

for example. So I think a lot of progress has already been made.

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Clearly we are waiting to see the regulations and how the levy is

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going to be administered, and we want something that is a light

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touch and on burdensome. Do you think it will be a reasonable cause

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to take? We hope we can come up with a system that satisfy as the

:28:18.:28:21.

Government and is easy for business. Could thank you for being addressed

:28:21.:28:25.

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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