28/02/2012 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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Good evening and welcome to Stormont Today.


New research has found that Northern Ireland is the happiest


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


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


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


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


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


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


of bigger retailers when he introduced higher rate for bigger


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of the larger turnovers that multiple retailers have. Retailers


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of administrative means in the trading -- training of novice


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


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


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


including here in Northern Ireland. I find that situation and


acceptable. I believe that information should be shared. Given


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


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


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


political lifetime opportunity to remodel local government. I think


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


that we do not have for ever. We now have a deadline of elections in


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


they are big issues around questions of assets and liabilities


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


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


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


those councillors will remain as representatives of for the entirety


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ministers can a low were that the threshold within their own


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


individual could or would do anything other than condemn these


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


acknowledged through the answers to written questions by the Minister.


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


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


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


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


areas which have been cleared in readiness for development. In


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


liquidation. During that debate, the Environment


Minister promised to call councillors together for a summit


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


release money to improve town centres. The motion was carried


unanimously. Do improving town centres are a big


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


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


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


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


Minister bringing forward the business -- Business improvement


District legislation, and one of the ways you can encourage


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


really big names as the anchor stores. That has completely


transformed Cardiff, lots more visitor numbers there, lots more


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


The Justice Minister will be reappointed using a cross-community


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


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


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


same way as other ministries. Martin McGuinness accused the


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


Sinn Fein. Complicit in this arrangement was the abandonment of


the principal opposition for the unprincipled seeking of office and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


position. We would have preferred that the Justice Minister was


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


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


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


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


about how Sinn Fein into DUP perversely used and cynically


gerrymandered the process to exclude the SDLP. Perhaps the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


justice than the dissident member for North Antrim. Happily the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


have been reported after the disease cross to the channel from


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


There was obviously a lot of concern around the building when


Ian Paisley was rushed into the Ulster Hospital around three weeks


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


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


got a statement from the family confirming that he had returned


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


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


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


her husband recuperates. We have been talking about new technology


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


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


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


tweeting from their phones, it interferes with the microphones,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


terms of some more controversial Big contentious decisions, and he


promised somewhat seriously that he would clear around seven major


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


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


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


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


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


We have been involved in some voluntary initiatives over number


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


carrier bags that were taken through that. The people of


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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