28/11/2016 Stormont Today


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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Once again moral matters were was the major talking point


in the chamber as Members discussed potential changes


to abortion legislation here - and pardons for men found


guilty of now abolished homosexual offences.


The Health Minister says proposals recommended in a report on abortion


in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality will be


Now that the first and Deputy First Minister have seen the report, I


will be bringing forward proposals in the New Year.


And as gay pardons are debated, one MLA calls out the DUP.


Where is he hiding? And it was who sat in pews yesterday in a church


that still believes homosexuality is a sin.


And joining me with his thoughts on today's developments


Could one of the longest-running issues at Stormont be


The Health Minister told MLAs that she will bring proposals


to the Assembly in the New Year dealing with abortion here.


The proposals will be based on the findings of the working group


set up to look into the law around cases of fatal foetal abnormality.


That report is now with the Health and Justice Ministers and Stormont


sources have told the BBC that it recommends a change


Michelle O'Neill revealed the likely timetable of events,


but before that she was asked about hospital waiting lists,


as she and the Ulster Unionist, Steve Aiken, engaged in a running


In view of those awful figures we are hearing, could be minister,


given the recent media reports on the lengthening of waiting list


times, explain how massaging targets is beneficial to the near 250,000


cases on our waiting list? I am not interesting in massaging anything. I


am most interested in people being seen in the most timely manner. That


is my priority in terms of being the Health Minister. We need a


transformed health and social care. That is why we're trying to deliver


21st-century health and social care with a 20th-century system. We have


a rising demand, more people being seen, but people are also living


longer with more complex conditions. We have short-term initiatives and


long-term initiatives. Let's transformed health and social care


and I want to deliver that because if we do not do that, we will be


having this conversation for many years to come. This problem does not


happen overnight. This has been a result of cuts year on year by the


Tory government, and you can laugh all you want, but your friends, the


Tories, cut year-on-year and made it really difficult. I would do


absolutely everything I can. I will continue to do that because I want


the public to get the message loud and clear, I am doing everything I


can to bring waiting lists down and the public will thank us for that.


It has been over six weeks since the working group on fatal fatal


abnormality completed its work. One will the report be published? The


Justice Minister and I received it on the 11th of October. The First


Minister and Deputy First Minister have seen the report and they just


minister and I will continue to work closely on the matter and we will


bring proposals forward in the New Year. Many people are now calling up


the establishment for what it was, a political whitewash the provided a


convenient escape the DUP when they needed one. Will she restore some of


the rapidly waning confidence in this report by giving us an


anticipated timescale? How long will it take her and the Justice Minister


and executive to form an opinion? I was very interested. It was a very


important piece of work in so far as it sought the views of women and


their families who are impacted, and I had to be a core element of the


work group toad. I welcome the input which they provided and I want to


thank them because I appreciate what they did. I also appreciate the


upset that lies behind their own personal experiences because it is


not easy to show your own personal story. I believe the work has been


invaluable. Professionals including midwives, gynaecologists, GPs, and


also took into account the views of interested parties who responded to


the recent consultation on the matter. The time frame we will bring


proposals forward early in the New Year. Early in the New Year. Now


that the first and Deputy First Minister has seen the report, we


will work on it, but I will be bringing forward proposals in the


New Year. Michelle O'Neill -


and as the Minister said there, the First and Deputy First Ministers


have now seen the conclusions reached by the working group,


and just last Friday our Political Editor, Mark Devenport,


asked them both for their There are challenging situations,


particularly the whole issue of fatal abnormality is whether there


is no prospect of life. I have met with Sarah Ewart in particular, are


very important case a much publicised in Northern Ireland,


where she travelled to England in the most distressing circumstances


possible. I do think it is an issue that our Assembly needs to deal with


in the time ahead because quite clearly, we support the right of any


family who have been told they have a fatal abnormality to have that


child. But we also support the right of any family unable to do that to


access the termination in our health service. But that is something that


can only be resolved by the Assembly. We should make no after a


consideration of all of the implications. I wanted to do that


back in March of this year. I felt it was absolutely wrong to tackle


onto a justice bill dealing with firearms a piece around abortions on


the two fatal abnormality in sexual crimes as well. That was wrong. We


asked them to come forward, they do it. They have reported to the


Justice Minister and Health Minister and I look forward to having further


discussions in relation to those issues. Had you seen that paper now?


The paper has been shared with me recently. I have been able to read


the paper but of course I want to engage with my own party in relation


to those issues, I want to ask questions in relation to the


conclusions reached. It is only right I did as well. I have already


started that process in relation to engagement and have started the


process of asking questions around the conclusions.


Last Friday the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said


the Assembly should not just deliberate on, but legislate


And the abortion issue also opened proceedings in the chamber today.


Last week the Green Party MLA, Clare Bailey, brought a petition


to the Assembly calling for abortion law in Northern Ireland


Today, the DUP's Jim Wells brought what he called 'the largest petition


ever' to the Assembly, aiming to protect the rights


Today, I am presenting you with what I believe to be the largest petition


ever received by the Northern Ireland Assembly. 300,000


signatures, not 35,000, calling for the protection of the unborn child


in Northern Ireland. These have been signed by Northern Ireland residents


who have given their address and can be verified. Therefore I believe


this petition is authentic. In the time that it has taken to make this


short speech and the present this petition to you, another child will


have been aborted. One child is aborted every five minutes in the


rest of the United Kingdom. That is an awful strain on the character of


our nation. 98.9% of those children are totally well, fit and able, they


have been aborted on many occasions because it was simply not convenient


that they were born. Jim Wells very firmly


making his point there. Alex, this issue of fatal foetal


abnormality has been one of the most divisive matters to come


before the Assembly. Are we inching towards


a resolution perhaps? I think we are. It was interesting


that body language there and also what Arlene Foster said and did not


say. She said, I did not want it on the previous legislation, I have


begun talks, we will have further discussions then reach a conclusion.


I do not want to read too much into it but it sounded to me like she was


prepared to have a debate that the DUP would not have done.


Can you see the DUP backing a change to the law in cases of fatal


foetal abnormality - or even allowing its


My instinct is they will allow a free vote. I am not sure over the


whole house have the vote will go but there is a clear distinction in


Northern Ireland between people who oppose abortion and others who do


oppose it but think there should be leeway when it comes to fatal faecal


abdominal at it. I think the lifetime of this Assembly it will


get through. So it is more likely to be a free vote rather than the party


actually supporting the recommendations of this working


group? A free vote makes sense. People have told me their concerns


about abortions but have admitted they have no huge problem, moral


problem, with a fatal faecal abnormality changes. If she gives a


free vote, it will be interesting. She is a strong position at the


moment. She has her own mandate now and as far away as the next election


as you can possibly be. So if she is going to do something like this,


arguably now is as good a time as any. There are two or three big,


social moral issues. The DUP has to give leeway on at least one of them.


All my instincts suggest that it will be on this issue.


It was, of course, a DUP Health Minister -


Simon Hamilton - who set up this working group.


Does that somehow make his party 'obliged' to accept


That at least is the point that will be discussed internally. Simon


himself has said he will be guided by the signs. Claire Sugden's


personal opinion is there should be change. She is in a key position,


she can say to the First Minister, I would like some leeway here, it


would make it better. We saw Jim Wells presenting


a petition to the Assembly there. It's very clear where


his priorities lie. Could attempting to force this


legislation through cause a major There is certainly an evangelical


wing of the DUP, mostly outside the Assembly. People there would not


have been there ten years ago who have softer views than some of those


moral issues. I just think the mood is against Jim. I respect his


opinions but the mood is against him. There is still a bigger broader


audience out there. We will hear more from you later in the


programme. The second moral issue


to raise its head today was that of pardons for gay men for now


abolished sexual offences. The matter was dealt with by way


of a Legislative Consent Motion where the Assembly agrees to hand


devolved powers back to Westminster. As the Justice Minister


presented the motion, everyone present appeared


to be in agreement, The fourth and final proposal within


the motion concerns pardons for sexual offences. The UK Government


has indicated its support to provide in England and Wales statutory


pardon the gay and bisexual men who were convicted of sexual offences


but would not be offences today. The activity must've been consensual and


involved a person aged 16 or over. Everyone today who is going to


endorse by their silence or their vote this pardon is accepting that


homosexuality, which many of their churches teach is a still, that


buggery is still wrong, that is the teaching many of them have. That


nonetheless is a normal sexual activity. These amendments are an


existing provisions in England and Wales. Subsequent amendments tabled


by Lord Laxton would make provision for Northern Ireland by introducing


powers in the protection of freedoms act 2012 along with new provisions


which provide statutory pardons. Those shot at dawn were pardoned 90


years after. Don't the good pardons. Allen showing was pardoned in 2013.


And the decriminalisation of homosexuality came into force 34


years ago. I think what this does is it puts right the consequences of a


bad law. This was a cruel and unjust homophobic law, a dinosaur in the. A


lot of people have been harmed as a result of this law and no one should


be discriminated against or be found guilty or have been a criminal for


falling in love. We should take any opportunity to right wrongs. That is


what this proposal does in terms of pardons for offences. And for that


reason, we will oppose this amendment. It is pretty obvious that


even in the way he says LGBT, he has got a bad taste in his mouth. It is


disgraceful. The way he answered the question or refuse to answer


questions from various members. Mr Alistair's problem is he does not


like homosexuality, he finds it distasteful. He said so, so many


times. It is on the record now. In cases of clear discrimination,


whether it be against the LGBT community, whether it be the issue


of slavery or even if we go back, the burning of so-called witches,


there is shame in our past. I think we should recognise it as a state


and as legislators and I think where possible we should Just a couple of


years ago addressing schoolchildren, Mr Buchanan said, quoted in the


local Ulster Herald, as saying homosexuality isn't right, it is an


abomination. Which Mr Buchanan is here today? Where is he hiding?


Where is Mr Storey hiding? And others who sat in queues yesterday


in a church that still holds that homosexuality is a sin.


Jim Allister, whose amendment was put to a vote, but,


in a strange piece of Stormont choreography, because he was


the only teller to come forward, the House could not divide.


The unamended Legislative Consent Motion therefore


Next tonight to speed limits outside primary schools and plans to reduce


them - a subject for discussion during today's questions


But, perhaps not surprisingly, the much-discussed York Street


Interchange for Belfast took precedence.


Does the Minister believe there is any prospect of the ?250 million


announced in the Chancellor 's statement for infrastructure being


used to ensure that this vital project is commenced? I thank the


member. It will be for the executive to come to the decision on how the


children ?50 million is divvied out, of course the children ?50 million


the member alludes to is for capital projects. Some of that I have no


doubt the problems will be able to deliver but I presume the money will


also be used for schools, for hospitals and new homes, too. I have


established an alternative financing unit within the Department to look


at all available funding not just for this project but for all


projects going forward. I currently have somewhere in the region of ?5


billion worth of projects on my desk that you could proceed with however


I will only have in the region of one or 1.5 billion in the next five


years. A more recent innovation has been the development of part-time 20


miles per hour 's speed limits near schools. The speed limit at the


skills is reduced to 20 mph at school opening and closing times at


term time. The schools are frequently an unlit roads which


further adds to the hazards that school children are exposed to in


dark winter days. Many schools in urban areas are located within


traffic camera zones where traffic speeds are reduced to 12 and 20 mils


per hour due to the self of forcing effects of road humps and crossing


facilities. The area is a high priority, those on hundred 57 on


roads, especially rural roads, where the National speed limit applies.


Can I ask the Minister to comment on figures he provided to me that shows


the peak number of movements in the Yorkshire exchanges 111,000 car as


well as the A5 96 peaks at 20 and 26000 and ask him does he believe


that the Yorkshire entertained is utterly essential to not just the


economy of Belfast but all of Northern Ireland? There are other


statistics and we can bring those other statistics in and I have


alluded to this already. Had you asked for fatality statistics at the


York Street interchange and compare them to the A5 eight sex, you would


have an entirely different set of statistics. I maybe wrong on this


but I am not aware of any fatalities at the York Street interchange. I am


aware of nearly 50 fatalities on the A5 so as I have said strategically


for me the number of criteria we can base this on certainly one of the


most important I think for someone in my position is to make our roads


as safe as possible. I would not have stood in this house recently


and made the decision to proceed with the Yorkshire interchange if I


did not accept the arguments that this was a strategic beat of


infrastructure for not just the city of Belfast but that the economy of


all requires. I accept that. I do not have the financial ability right


now at my disposal to build everything we absolutely wants all I


need to prioritise. When we look at the economy we continue to talk in


this house and public airwaves about moving cars. We need to talk about


moving people. Living people is good for business in Belfast, moving cars


is not. What are we to do after your street? Builders have of great


Victoria Street because we need to wins? Belfast -- demolished Belfast


City Hall? We need to talk about moving people, not moving cars.


Chris Hazzard on the challenge of keeping things moving in Belfast.


A second Legislative Consent Motion brought to the House today extended


provisions of the Higher Education and Research Bill.


The Economy Minister said it would ensure that Northern Ireland


will continue to be a part of how higher education


is co-ordinated throughout the UK, but there will be no link


here between the Teaching Excellence Framework and tuition fees.


Published differential results of universities will be of interest to


potential students and our institutions have a genuine and well


founded concern that they will suffer adversely if they do not


appear on a UK wide list of quality in relation to teaching excellence.


Hearing that they are allowed to take part will provide the


institutions with an assurance that they are on a level playing field


across the UK. The argument from some scenes mistakenly that should


universities use the TEF then they can use the increased fees when


interest they have already risen with inflation year on year. I noted


that it is sufficiently different and to some extent you need context,


meaning that the role of choice is diminished. The institutions here


that the Minister has at this issue in his opening remarks. They also


asked that the committee sought a guarantee that outcomes will not be


links to view it was in again something that has been addressed.


Strong and compelling arguments have been made to highlight the


likelihood of universities pretend -- potentially using this framework


to create what could become elitist institutions. While it may be used


in terms of higher-level fees in terms of what happened in England


that is not a rich we are forced to go down in Northern Ireland. That is


a matter that is purely something that is entirely within our own


discretion. I think assessments should be done in an open and


democratic way where students should be allowed to come together and


collectively discuss and assessed courses and teaching to the


clustered system and through student unions. England want to link


inflationary fee increases to the TEF when is the fee increases in


both and Ireland are automatic. The British tradition must be


accommodated in a United Ireland, according to the Deputy First


Minister, Martin McGuinness. He was speaking at the launch


of a Sinn Fein discussion document entitled,


"Towards a United Ireland". It examines how unification


would affect key areas including the economy,


tourism, transport, policing, A new Ireland built on the


principles of equality and inclusion. We believe that this


would require a new constitution and a bill of rights. It would require a


discussion on symbols and emblems, to reflect and includes a violent


including the safeguarding of British citizenship and the


recognition of the union's identity. We in Sinn Fein recognise that there


are many Unionists who are against Irish unity, and there is therefore


an onus on those of us who want unity to persuade unionists and


others of the merits and efficacy of this position. We in Sinn Fein are


up for this challenge. The imposition of Brexit, despite the


vote of the people in the north to remain, underlies the undemocratic


nature of participation at the unequal relationship between London


and Belfast. Now is the time to look to the future and talk about the


plan and to deliver a new and lighted Ireland. The future and


cottages proposition lies in the hands of the people of the North and


the South. The Good Friday agreement which makes the Irish Embassy


achievement legislator unity is the choice of the people of North and


south. The B unification is about more than adding the North to the


south, it is about building on what is best in both two distractions.


Success of British secretaries of State have said, and this was


supported by Unionist leaders, that there is no barometer which suggests


that there would be a change in attitude. I have a very simple


question, if they believe that they would win the day in such a


referendum, then the sensible thing for them to do from the perspective


is not to make that argument but to have the referendum and put it to


the test of public opinion. Martin McGuinness,


and Alex has joined me Why is Sinn Fein launching this


discussion now, do you think? They have been doing this for some


time, I could go back to Unionist outrage in the cover more


conversations in the reconciliation last week, it is partly because the


uncomfortable conversation they need is with their own people. Across the


stock instrument they are stuck with the DUP and in Northern Ireland,


they also have an deck any talking about United after Brexit. They have


to try and find some kind of relevance for themselves.


Meantime there's a head of steam building around the idea


that the Pope might visit Northern Ireland in 2018?


As an atheist I couldn't care one way or the other but I think the


response from the DUP is interesting, they set out a bland


statement and then changed it to say that Arlene Foster would meet him.


They would find a form of words to say that he is there, if Arsenal


visit but also as head of the Vatican State. But some church


leaders have welcomed it. A huge change from 20 years ago when there


would have been uproar. It seems to be is different now to what it was


several decades ago. But there are still do romantic twist and turns as


far less is is concerned. It is interesting when you look at Arlene


Foster's statement that she says she would meet him in his capacity as


head of state. The speculation was that he was coming on a pastoral


visit and not as head of state but you see don't read too much into


that. Had read too much into it. We had Martin McGuinness meeting the


Queen in essence as head of state, it would look at radius from the


national 's point of violent was to find a way to say I will not meet


him unless the condition is met. They will knew of the form of words


to say they see him in one capacity but he's also visiting Northern


Ireland as his capacity as head of state of the Vatican. She has to


meet him, she's going to meet him, no matter what happens in the


meantime she will shake his hand. There will be some Unionists, a


small minority, there will be uncomfortable about this and who


will not presumably choose to be quiet about it. There is an


evangelical section of the DUP, and in one sense the time is gone, they


are no longer running unionism. They're certainly no longer running


the DUP. She knows she has to do it, the party will accept it and that is


all that matters. We live in interesting times. Happily, yes.


That's over now. We back tomorrow night. Until then, goodbye. Thank


you. I was asking myself,


"What would I do?"


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.