29/02/2016 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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It was a red letter day on the hill as John McCallister's crusade


to formalise arrangements for an Assembly opposition passed


And there was a promise from the Deputy First Minister


It's been a long journey, but John McCallister has rewritten


And joining me with his thoughts on today's business is our


political correspondent, Gareth Gordon.


At times it appeared to be an almost impossible task as John McCallister


laboured to create the legislation needed for an opposition


But today his Bill passed its final stage and it now proceeds


to Westminster to receive Royal Assent before the end


What makes it on to the statute books may not be quite what he set


out to deliver, but the South Down MLA


still believes his Private Members' Bill will improve how


We've had 15 hours of debate and consideration stage lasted over nine


and a half hours over two days. 52 votes at committee, on different


clauses, 20 divisions and considerations using another five


considerations. It gives you a place called opposition. Opposition gives


our elected the chance to change the Government. I think on the whole as


the Bill has emerged, I'm very, very pleased with what has come out at


the other end of so many hours of debate and scrutiny. I think it's


fair to say this Bill has evolved considerably from the Bill that was


introduced and scrutinised by the Assembly and the executive


committee. Key provisions such as the formation of the opposition by


technical groups, establishment of a budget committee, renaming of the


office of the first and Deputy First Minister and the proposal for


departments to be a single legal entity have now been removed. Given


that sentiment and the SDLP, consistent with the democratic


structures endorsed by the people of Ireland on the good Friday


agreement, we recognise that creating a place called opposition,


or a place for more formal dissent in this chamber is healthy for our


democracy. We remain totally convinced of the need and necessity


of opposition structures to be put in place. The reasons Assembly was


structured has been acknowledged in all stages of debate, but I think we


should all aspire to improve what we are doing and move in time with our


ever evolving society. But it is clear from the increasing disconnect


that we are failing to do so when it comes to the structures of this


chamber. I know this Bill has been well read since its inception, but


as the sponsor himself said, the opposition part of it is largely


intact and perhaps most important part of the Bill, perhaps the bit he


would have selected if all else had to fail. It is also, there've been


times in the passage of this Bill where I didn't expect it to go any


further, because we had the unedifying spectacle of Sinn Fein


voting against every clause of the committee, and the DUP weren't


helping by abstaining. The party that in the Assembly during the


course of Mr John McAllister's Bill has done most to try and derail it,


namely Sinn Fein, that after their failure to attain their ambitions in


the southern election, and falling significantly short of what they


hoped to attain, that the height of their ambition now in the Irish


Republic is to form the opposition. And yet in this House on every vote


on this Bill they've sought to deny even the right to have an


opposition. Because I think we had an opportunity to really improve


governance in Northern Ireland. I believe it's an opportunity wasted.


We wasted the opportunity to abolish Petition of Concern. We wasted the


opportunity to abolish community designation. We wasted the


opportunity to introduce collective responsibility. And we wasted the


opportunity to introduce a mechanism by which we can hold Ministers to


account. And the final stage


of the Opposition Bill passed by 63 So, John McCallister's Bill has made


it through the Stormont maze. It's a bittersweet moment for John


McAllister. Many said he would never get past the final stage, but he has


done so. That's a little victory in itself. It means that anyone after


May in the Assembly election who wants to go into opposition, the


bigger parties, the mechanism is there to do so. They'll be funded


and they'll have enhanced speaking rights. But no guarantee that any


parties will at this moment take the opportunity up. It is not the Bill,


however, that John McAllister envisaged when he set out on this


long road. For example he wanted to end the community designations. That


is not happening. Sinn Fein and the SDLP blocked that with the Petition


of Concern. They said it was too much like majority rule. The DUP


blocked the plan to rename the office of the first and deputy


Minister to the office of the First Ministers. It is not what he want.


But he says it is a worthwhile exercise. It is an achievement


achievement to get a Private Member's Bill through. It hasn't


happened too often. Sinn Fein voted against. How significant a piece of


legislation do you think it is, because it did go through today with


a significant majority. Well, I think potentially it opens the gates


and makes people think more about it. Whether or not as I said in my


first answer min will take up this offer at the moment is open, and


unless they do it sits on the statute books and doesn't mean a


lot, I suppose. We'll find out early in May when we come back with a new


mandate. The Deputy First Minister told MLAs


that he would be "absolutely willing" to appear at a commission


designed to provide information to relatives of those killed


in the Troubles. Plans for an Independent Commission


on Information Retrieval were set out in the Stormont House Agreement,


and today Jim Allister asked Martin McGuinness if he'll take


part in the process. Does the Deputy First Minister


intend by way as example to other IRA men to provide information the


information retrieval commission when it's established? Well, that


brings us back again to the negotiations that we participated in


prior to Christmas, and the huge progress that was made. There isn't


much point in establishing an organisation like the ICAR or the


other organisations that we agreed in terms of the structures if we are


not going encourage people to participate to ensure that families


who've been victims of the conflict can get some resolution to I suppose


the information that they are seeking. If that's so perhaps the


Deputy First Minister would answer the question: Will he as an officer


commanding in the IRA lead by example and give information, to the


information retrieval commission if it is to afford any hope to the many


innocent victims of his IRA? Well, I think that on a number of occasions


in the past I've made it clear first of all that Sinn Fein policy was to


argue for the establishment of an independent international Truth


Commission. And obviously we didn't achieve, that but what we have done


is compromised in terms of the structures and mechanisms that we


agreed prior to Christmas. I further make the point there isn't much


point in establishing those if people aren't prepared to go


forward. If I am required to go forward, on any point of relevance


to myself, I am absolutely willing to do that. The Deputy First


Minister refers to detrimental first contributions... Are will he agree


that's always been the case? And every time I have indicated to him


about his involvement in the past in paramilitary groups that was equally


detriment, it doesn't hold much water when he denies knowledge of


every single incident mentioned to him, which leaves people to the


conclusion that he was the most overpromoted person in


paramilitary... In the history of the world? Isn't it just as well for


all of the people out there that we represent that I am not as bitter as


the member who has just spoken? I spent a year in the office of first


and Deputy First Minister with Ian Paisley during which time we built


up not just a good working relationship but a friendship which


lasted until the day he died. We had many conversations about many


things. I know the member held Reverend Ian Paisley in high rafrmtd


never once did we recriminate about anyone, not once, and the 8 years I


worked with Peter Robinson. All we were interested in was making this


place work, making the executive work, delivering for our people,


getting jobs, and starting against against the activities of those who


would plunge us back into the past. It is a pity we still have maul


minded MLAs in this Assembly and one of them has just spoken and another


one spoke just a very short time ago. Fortunately for all of us in


the Assembly the vast majority of people are not like that.


The Deputy First Minister in combative form.


Was in comphebt from Mr McGuinness a complete surprise? It is not what he


set out to say, but he has had many questions in the past from John


McAllister and Mr Campbell about his past. He told the Bloody Sunday


inquiry he had for a time been the IRA's number two. But to put into it


context we should say that plans for an independent commission on


information retrieval, to agree other aspects of legacy of the


Troubles. John McAllister said, if it is set up would he be prepared to


give details about his IRA past? Martin McGuinness can hardly say no


if he wants other people to do the same thing. He says, if I'm required


to go forward on any point of relevance to myself, I'm absolutely


willing to do that. There is no such commission and there may never be


one. Gareth, thank you. And just 36 hours after


Carl Frampton won in the boxing ring, it was no surprise


that his name was mentioned a time or two during questions


to the Culture, Arts and Leisure But first Caral Ni Chuilin had


to answer questions about the cost of repairs to the MAC


arts venue in Belfast. The total cast of repairs was


estimated at ?938,000. Almost a million pounds. This figure includes


the repressed and of the stone facade and pipework as well as


management and supervision of the works which include professional and


legal fees. It is regrettable that almost ?1 million of public money is


being spent to not only carry out repairs, but to cover some of the


outstanding work which is health and safety related. I can assure the


member of this house that I will, my department, through the arts


Council, will pursue full recovery of this money. I believe it is an


important building. Many people have gone through the door. It has raised


a lot of concern considering the amount of money spent from the


public purse. Can the Minister provide an update


on the legal situation with reference to the repairs.


They have had an extra day. The reports, when they are in front of


me, will go to the committee. I will ensure that they are copied to the


member for information. It is unfortunate that given the amount of


money spent on the building, when I invested additional money from the


public purse. They are repairing a building that shouldn't need so many


repairs given that it is quite a young building.


Given the great victory on Saturday night, what plans are they to host a


reception for him in Parliament Buildings on his return.


We have had receptions for athletes who have achieved a lot in the past.


We are certainly planning to do that on the 9th of March in Enniskillen.


We will look at the achievements of all athletes competing at different


levels. I would hope that not just Carl Frampton but all the other


athletes who performed on Saturday are more than welcome to that as


well. He has said he would love to have a


fight in Windsor Park, in terms of Belfast. What would you, and your


parliament, given that we have the champion here in your own


constituency, what are you going to do in terms of yours Department to


support him? I'm not a boxing promoter. It is up to promoters to


come forward with opportunities not just for Carl Frampton but for other


boxes as well. We have met with many boxers, professional boxers in the


past. Worthy opportunities to create a spectacle for us to enjoy we would


be trying to have. Whilst we are all engrossed in


watching Carl Frampton on Saturday night when his boat was going on,


and another boxer became the band term weight champion in mixed


martial arts. What support can the minister give mixed martial arts. It


is a growing sport in this country? I will go on very quickly and three


I think we need to do more. I follow the work of many people in this


field. I believe that the work these teams do is absolutely brilliant,


particularly working with children and young people who are hard to


reach. We are showing them they can compete on a world stage. We


Time is up. That is the end of question Time. Congratulations,


Minister on completing your mandate. Congratulations, Minister


on completing your mandate. The Speaker congratulating Caral ni


Chuilin on her final appearance Another piece of legislation


reached its final stage today, It will enable credit unions


to offer shares which entitle holders to interest rather


than a dividend and allow them to offer membership to groups


as well as individuals. The passage of this bill represents


the culmination of almost eight years of work. It enables credit


unions to expand their range of services and offer the same


facilities that their counterparts in GB and South America have been


able to offer since 2000 and 21 respectively.


The bill was designed to promote these continued growth and


sustainability of this sector. I believe this bill will deliver what


is required. The required change to create an improved service. The


success and significant of these servers that credit unions provide


here is backed up by statistics. 34% of the population hold a credit


union account. Compared with around 5% and the rest of the UK. With


membership doubling in the past decade.


Frankly, the more you imitate banks, the more you become like banks. The


more you become susceptible to the same pressures and regulation. We


know what happened to them! I do hope that the sector continues its


progress. It has always been a marvellously well-run system in


Northern Ireland. I am sure it will continue to be so.


Credit unions are enormous importance. I could speak for hours


on the value that credit unions have maimed too many people.


Individually, like myself, and collectively for families. I am glad


that they have the level of support they have in Northern Ireland. That


is reflective of the value that the people of Northern Ireland place in


them. I remember back when I had a sunbeam that cost ?50. They told me


I would be an essential car use and would need a reliable car at work.


It was to the credit union, you turned for the loan for the


second-hand car that allowed you to get a career.


And the Credit Unions Bill passed on an oral vote.


A Licensing Bill, brought to the house by Judith Cochrane,


If it progresses it would mean outdoor stadia would be able


to apply for permanent licences to sell alcohol.


Currently stadium operators have to apply for temporary licences.


This bill aims to apply the licensing provisions to outdoor


stadium. The committee supports the bill for this new type of licence. I


believe that the reform of our licensing laws is well overdue. The


committee for social development has discussed this on a number of


occasions throughout this mandate. We have a mandate to bring forward,


comprehensive legislation to do with the licensing laws on that basis,


the social development committee supports the bill. Can I just say,


with your indulgence, it would be remiss of me not to mention our


congratulations to Carl Frampton who is now a superbantamweight champion.


He is a great credit to himself, his family and the people in the area he


comes from. Can I start with the chair left off


and congratulate Carl Frampton. It was clear on Saturday night that the


Ulster boys were making all the noise everywhere they went. We wish


him every success for the future. The issue that has been alluded to


several times already is one that was the subject of some scrutiny by


the committee, that is the issue of the 9pm threshold. Particularly for


games, and there are quite a few games which commences in and around


seven or 730 in the evening. Therefore, either run close to the


9pm their shoulder or certainly, if people want to stay on after the


game, the 9pm threshold effects them particularly if they are families.


Quite a few of those attending the games are families, and therefore an


issue does arise in terms of accessibility.


I too would like to pass on my congratulations to Carl Frampton.


There is a relevance with this legislation today in that in some


point in the future and outdoor stadium may be required for a


subsequent world title fight. It is important that we update our


legislation. I am disappointed that there was no


attempt to restrict the licence from a 360 Friday year year licence, to


one, if the purpose is to facilitate sporting events, when the stadium


are actually in use for those purposes.


He was aware that this is a new reform of licence, it is a specific


licence was stadium. It is ancillary to an event occurring in the


stadium. This notion of a 365 day licence, we are not opening a pub in


the stadium. It is ancillary to an event. If our stadium, that has been


arrested in by the Northern Ireland executive could manage to run events


began to 65 days a year, I would be immensely surprised. It would mean


that they were really, really realising the potential of the


stadium. I don't see that that is happening. It's not in the business


The licence will always be ancillary to an event.


The Alliance Party's Judith Cochrane, who brought


the Licensing Bill which passed its Consideration Stage


Now on to matters from the weekend, not the Irish elections,


but the Green Party's annual conference which was held


This sort of photo is featuring a lock on the conference trail.


Candidates on display and ready for doorsteps. But the Greens have never


had a picture like this before. This is the first time they are running


in all 18 in situ disease. Half of the candidates are women. This was


emphasised by the leader. -- 18 in constituencies. This reflects how it


is in society. It reflects the assembly as it should be. He is


currently the Greens only MLA. Taking his seat will be the party's


first priority in May. They seem confident they can do better than


that. I am looking for at least the


Greensleeves. I am confident, my record in the assembly, my party's


record in terms of campaigning, we can go with confidence to back it


up. And so he is aiming for the stars.


This is a new Pope. Let's hope it's the force a week and is! -- a new


Hope. We are offering the electorate something to vote for rather than


against. The big message we got in May 2015 was that people are trying


to break the cycle of voting something that they didn't support


to keep something that they didn't support out. We had a huge mandate


and our best election result ever. But is there a limit it did pool of


votes for parties that are not Unionist or nationalist. They think


the appeal to the post-troubles generation.


We are leading that agenda. We are looking at things like transparency,


whether it be defending student fees, ensuring they don't go any


higher. We represent young people. The


conference did not hold the attention of everyone, but this was


the biggest Green party gathering ever hear. Membership has trebled,


but whether the party will achieve their ambitions will become clear in


May. Chris Page reporting,


and Gareth is here for a final word. The former Foyle MLA


Maurice Devenney has quit the DUP, But it's not as clear


as to whether or not he's joining He has a starring role, his very own


political soap opera with a different plot twist every week. He


was briefly an MLA here, co-opted to replace the former Speaker. He


disappeared after about seven months. Recently the DUP suspended


imports allegedly standing out a police station in encouraging people


to vote for the SDLP MPU. Last week the Ulster Unionist party said he


had joined them. The gauche Asians have been going on for some time. --


negotiations have been going on for some time. Today he has said he is


not joining the Ulster Unionist party at all. He has changed his


mind. He said in a statement that as a result of discussions over the


weekend, there are a number of issues I feel we cannot find


agreement on. That seems to be news to the Ulster Unionist leader who


issued a terse statement tonight saying that the contact had been at


his own request and not progress of Ulster Unionist party. When we met


on Saturday he claims he was less sure. It is news to me. All in all,


an episode from which neither the Ulster Unionists nor the man himself


emerge well. And the Speaker has


been hosting an event for the Royal British


Legion tonight. It's part of his outreach as a Sinn


Fein member. He hosted our remembrance event in November. He is


hosting the British Legion tonight, it was one of the things he wants to


do before he retires in a few weeks. He praised what he called the


significant contribution be Legion has made to marking a shared


He expressed his respect for helpful direction.


Join me again at the same time tomorrow night,


Until then, from everyone in the team, goodbye.


If this offer isn't good enough for you, I'm absolutely not interested.


I became jobless, penniless and homeless...


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.