29/04/2013 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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Gay marriage is debated again, but This is an issue of redefining


marriage. Regina Purdey will be here on with her analysis. And the health


minister explains more about the recommendation to locate children's


heart surgery in the Republic rather than England. I was wholly opposed


to that idea from the outset, and getting it to an all Ireland network


that dominated discussion in the halls of Stormont today. MLAs were


debating a Sinn Fein motion that called for legislation to allow for


same-sex marriage fewer than six months since a similar motion was


defeated. Martina, how come we are back here again? As you say, the SU


was raised last October, but since then, in the Republic, the has been


a constitutional convention to examine whether the Irish


constitution should become changed, and there was a 79% vote in favour


of same-sex marriage. It was in that context that Sinn Fein wanted to


return to the assembly to note that development and ask the elective to


legislate in favour of what they say is equal marriage. That has caused


some resentment within the chamber. Some are saying it is too soon to


revisit the issue, but obviously Sinn Fein feel very strongly, and


they want to be consistent. Alliance party tabled an amendment


today? The Alliance party tabled the amendment, and they passed an


executive motion in its party last October saying that they would be in


favour of same-sex marriage provided they were safeguards for faith


groups such as churches, and that was the amendment that the party


tabled today. The difficulty from the Alliance perspective is that not


only was it rejected by the assembly, but not everyone in the


Alliance party supported the amendment. Stay with us, Martina.


Let's hear exactly what happened in the chamber during today's debate.


Barriers are breaking down, step-by-step, but there is more to


be done. You cannot support equality and be a racist, and you cannot


support equality and perpetuate sexual discrimination, and you


cannot support equality and be homophobic. MLAs represent every


section of our society, including our LGB team members. In a speech on


the community, Hillary Clinton said that progress comes from being


willing to walk a mile and someone else's shoes. She said we need to


ask ourselves, how would it feel if it were a crime to love the person


that I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something


about myself which I cannot change? There are two main reasons for the


amendment. The first is that we believe that the current motion from


Sinn Fein is deficient, and it is not clearly ballads in support for


same-sex civil with another knowledge meant of religious freedom


and the rights of faith groups. As far as we are concerned, this is an


essential prerequisite around the Alliance party's endorsement of


same-sex marriage, and I believe that view is shared with many others


across the society. The second is that lively and land league --


blindly calling for immediate legislation. We could send a


powerful message about support for same-sex marriage alongside a vital


acknowledgement of the need for engagement and the need for mutual


respect. There is clearly a difference between my position and


that of many, including many in this house who share my personal values


and my faith. For them, a Christian should uses influence in the public


sphere to put forward Christian values, not only by example but in


legislation. That is not my position. I have never felt it in my


duty to impose my values on other members of society. If I lived in a


Islamic state, I would oppose the introduction of Sharia law. I oppose


the motion, not because I oppose anybody on how they choose to live


their lives, but because we support something. What we support is the


Institute of marriage, and the traditional, long-standing,


centuries-old definition of marriage. I am a great believer in


marriage. In fact, I am getting married in December myself, if


things go the way I hope. But my view on this, Mr Speaker, is that


marriage is an institution that we can all value. When two people love


each other and are prepared to commit and share their lives


together, I think that should he supported. But I think when two


people of the same-sex commit and love each other and want to commit


their lives together, that should be supported as well. My view on gay


marriage isn't that it threatens the institution of marriage, in fact it


strengthens it, and it extends it to those people who want to be married.


In the previous debate I made clear my opposition to any change in the


current legislation to allow same-sex marriage. That remains my


position. It is a position based on my own religious beliefs. It is a


position which I believe is consistent with the teaching of my


church, the Presbyterian Church, and indeed, consistent with publicly


expressed views of other churches, including the Roman Catholic Church


and the Church of Ireland. And finally, it is a position which is


fundamentally consistent with the teaching of holy Scripture. Mr


Speaker, I listen carefully to Mr Ford, and this is where I differ. As


a Christian involved in politics, I very often recall the words of


Cardinal Wolsey. He was the confidante of Henry VIII. He said, I


would that I had served my god as I have served my keen on his deathbed.


The truth is, there is a generation of young people, and I see them


every day in my office, who, because of their treatment by society, find


themselves feeling on the margins, feeling excluded and feeling


prejudiced. We need to be careful. We need to be careful that what we


say does not drive some individual to feel further worthlessness, or to


be more inclined to take their own lives. This has been put forward as


an issue of equality. It is not an issue of equality. This is an issue


of redefining marriage. And not marriage is defined by the state,


but marriage as has always been understood. In fact, the state did


not define marriage. All the state has simply done is enshrined in view


that always pertained, even in ancient societies, long before there


were religious views in this, that marriage is between a man and a


woman for security, comfort and support, and the procreation of


children. What will happen, and this is where people's right will get


trampled on. If the definition of marriage is to be changed, once


there is a change in the legal definition of marriage, then those


who take a contrary view will find themselves up against the law. Their


rights will be infringed. As far as this house is concerned, we have


introduced concern today. I believe that we have got every right to


introduce this concern, because our position on this, we believe this is


such an important issue that it is one that it is appropriate to use


the mechanism which allows to stop reckless legislation in this


assembly. The DUP's Sammy Wilson. Martina is still with me. The DUP


tabled a petition of concern, effectively vetoing the motion


today. How did MLAs wrote? majority voted against the motion,


53 to 42. Set effectively the DUP veto wasn't needed. But it does on


the core -- the depth of feeling within the DUP. All the Sinn Fein


MLA is turned up to vote in favour of the motion. What about the and


the STL the? They voted against with two exceptions. The party leader,


Mike Nesbitt, wasn't there to vote because he was away on assembly


business. But he is on record as saying that he would have voted


against it, but he believes that civil partnerships are sufficient.


Out of the 14 MLAs of the SDLP, eight voted in favour of same-sex


marriage alongside Sinn Fein. There were five no-shows. What about the


Alliance party? Stephen Agnew of the Green party voted yes. Basil McCrea


voted yes. David McNarry voted no. Jim Allister voted no. David McCarty


was unwell and not here to vote. In terms of the Alliance party, you


could say they were all over the show. The party tabled an amendment


seeking safeguards for faith groups to ensure that churches would not be


forced under the law to perform same-sex marriages. But not everyone


in the Alliance party backs this amendment. Trevor Lunn opposed it,


and others abstained. When it came to the substantive motion, the Sinn


Fein motion, the party's official position was to add stain, and that


is what the party leader, David Ford, did. The minister would have


abstained but he had to leave before a meeting. But notably, Trevor Lunn


voted against same-sex marriage, as did Judith Cochrane, and Anna Lo was


the only member of her party to vote in favour. And just finally, the


issue has now been debated twice. that over and done with, or will it


be discussed again? This has been an issue right across Europe, and


indeed North America. It is not going to go away. Campaigners will


keep on pressing, and it will be part of the assembly soon enough.


Martina, thank you. MLAs had an hour and a half to debate the motion


today, but not everyone got their say. The time was allocated by the


gimp business committee, and not everyone was happy with how that was


that not enough? If Chris Little had not let me speak, I would not have


got time to say anything. It was interesting when I listen to how the


voting was going, many of these votes are won or lost by what the


Independents do. It would have been better for democracy if we had a


chance to speak. If you had got five minutes, what would you have said?


would have said that everyone is a son or daughter, they are an


individual and the way democracy should be judged is how we deal with


minorities. That is what you would have said. You were not given that


platform. Is it your contention that increasingly Independents are being


squeezed out of important debates? Absolutely. The debate should not


have been limited, it is huge issue. We finished at 4:30pm, we


could have spoken a lot longer and got everyone who wanted to speak to


talk. I know that Jim Allister wanted to speak as well. What is the


rationale of the committee for setting a time limit on the debate?


This place is criticised for not debating a big issues. Their


rationale appears to control the agenda and what is obvious that most


of the good speakers in the Assembly, who do not always agree


with, but we do not get a chance to speak. That is why a lot of the


debates are so boring. They are determined to control the agenda, it


is not good democracy and I do not believe it should be allowed to


continue. Is this a bigger problem? Yes. You will see it during question


time, you cannot get motions put forward, this is all done in a


controlled fashion and it is no wonder that people are upset.


can you do about it? You're not happy about it. We have all raised


it with the powers that be. Hopefully in the elections, we will


be in a position to do something about it. It is a long way away. We


will take our arguments through different channels, through the


media, but it seems to be silly when we are having this big debate about


important issues and key people with good electoral mandates are not


allowed to speak in the Assembly. will see if the issue is addressed.


Thank you. The health minister told the Assembly he will try to retain


some form of children's heart surgery in Belfast. Last week a


report recommended that all paediatric cardiac surgery soon be


centred in Dublin. The health minister said he is in discussions


on the best way forward, but first he updated MLAs on the state of the


accident and emergency unit at the Antrim Area Hospital. I visited the


hospital to hear at first hand the concerns of the consultant. I am


advised by the trust it is working with the emergency Department


consultants to mitigate the potential risks to patients within


that department. The trust has put in place a range of measures to


improve performance at the Department. My department has


invested �9 million in a new emergency department at the hospital


which will cater for up to 90,000 attendances a year and a new unit is


expected to be operational from June 2013. Will the Minister put more


resources so that we have got more bed so we have a hospital that can


function on the ground or otherwise it is time that we had someone else


running this department, because at the moment it is going horribly


wrong? Having inherited a mess from his colleague, we are actually doing


the work that needs to be done. There are more nurses in the


hospital now than there was under the minister when his party was in


control of this hospital. I understand that they have huge


problems in the hospital, they are inherited problems and we will get


on top of them. There is a lot of good work going on in the hospital


and I get letters from members of the public indicating that, in spite


of the headlines, they have received excellent care and I want to commend


the staff are working in the Purcell D under huge pressure. We have a


particular problem in that department and we are looking at


that. We are looking at it in a clear way. Does he inspect -- does


he accept, that all those who campaigned against the closure of


the accident and emergency at the city, and we have seen problems


elsewhere? The Ulster Hospital has been having a lot of problems. The


Royal picked up most of the work. Its figures have improved


dramatically. There are issues in and around the populace in the


Ulster Hospital and we know we have an older population and the


consequence of that appears to be that there have been a lot of winter


pressures. I have said that before I make my decision, I want to take the


opportunity to hold discussions with our counterparts in the Republic of


Ireland and explore the scope for flexibility in the location and the


future delivery of the service without compromising any aspect of


patient safety. My key priority is to ensure the delivery of a safe and


sustainable service for these vulnerable children and I want to


ensure that we have fully explored every possibility for addressing the


concerns which have been raised by parents and bike cardiology


consultants and I will now take time to consider the report and its


recommendations in full and I will make my decision shortly. I will


continue to work to see what best we can achieve, so there is more work


to be done, more discussions to be had and I really welcome the fact


that we have moved away from any suggestion that all of this carer


should be provided somewhere in England, because I was wholly


opposed to that idea and getting it to an all Ireland network in the


first instance is a success and if we can achieve some surgery in


Belfast, and I do not know if this is possible, that certainly would be


something I would be positive about. The Health Minister. Taking a break


from what happened in the chamber, there was important business taking


place elsewhere on the parliamentary estate. At Stormont Castle, the


first and pity first ministers met the Secretary of State and the


attorney shtick aiming Gilmore. The meeting took place amid suggestions


that the Westminster government will agree a proposal to improve


community relations. The press Conference began with Mark Devenport


asking to reserve the leers if the proposed economic package is still


linked to the publication of the long-awaited shared future document.


It would be great of an overall strategy was published. It is more


important that programmes go forward. They are happening. As I


have heard this morning, they have got even bigger plans which I am


sure in due course they will want to share with the public. They are


thinking in very ambitious ways about how to bridge long-standing


sectarian divisions and I welcome the efforts they are making. It is


right to say we have been working for a long time on these issues. It


is important to us in terms of what we see as the two major difficulties


that we face, one is dealing with the economy and one is the shared


future agenda. Irrespective of what would be happening elsewhere, we


would be reaching the agreements that we are reaching that the


present time and we will be relaying those to the public. It is an added


advantage to us if by doing that, it levers down some additional support


from the United Kingdom government, but it would be irresponsible of


us, as leaders of this administration, to say that we would


only bring out shared future proposals if the government puts its


hand in its pocket. We will be doing this anyway, they are ambitious


proposals and we do not want to outline them yet, before we announce


them publicly. We formed a working group and we are involved in a


good-faith effort to try and get a comprehensive agreement in terms of


how we move forward. Unfortunately, one or two other parties decided to


detach themselves from that because they did not get own way. It is on


the public record that these issues that were contentious during those


discussions, which represented and minority, when you look at the good


work that was done and the level of agreement which was vastly


outweighing the disagreements on how we've moved forward, but those


issues are there for everyone to see. It is the issue of parades and


flags and the issue of how we learn from the past. Our attitude is that


we should not allow those issues to hold us back. We should move forward


decisively with the projects that will add to the already good work


and huge sums of money that we are pouring into the issue of sharing


and integrating our society. Martin McGuiness. Martina Purdy is with me


again. The keeping that seemed to come out of this was a concession


that an all encompassing shared future document seems to be off the


table for the time being and instead certain elements will be introduced


individually. The Secretary of State seems to be more relaxed about this.


For some time, there have been strained relations between


Hillsborough's Castle and Stormont Castle. It is about the lack of


progress on community relations. In recent weeks that ends been reported


that trees of the Lears would be linking progress on this strategy


within economic package from London and it was cleared up that she is


not looking for a great leap forward, she does not expect


progress on all the issues because there are difficult issues around


flags and parades but if they can get progress on community relations


then there can be sent economic support from London. A lot of talk


about the economy, there was talk about a possible investment


Conference taking place here later in the year. The G8 summit is coming


up and it is important that world leaders do not come here and leave


and we do not get a huge amount of economic benefit. The plan is to


have the Prime Minister encourage world leaders to bring end investors


here in the autumn. We had an investment cough the -- Conference


here in 2008. Because our economy was flatlining, anything could be


seized upon as a welcome development. There is a lot of work


going on in the background. The Justice Minister has told the


Assembly that all communities need to work together to solve interface


violence and bring down the peace walls. David Ford said a lot of work


is being done to solve the problem but more is still needed.


objective is the removal of all interface structures. We know that


will take time, but we must work to bring about the conditions that will


give people the confidence to support change. A key priority for


my department is addressing the safety and security of residents


living in these areas. My officials and the police are assessing how to


reduce the fear of crime in these areas. There is more to do but there


are many positives and I thank the communities and their partners for


their work. Can I welcome the work that the Minister is doing with


local communities to address interface structures and ask if he


agrees with the analysis of the DUP Minister for Finance that if we give


everyone a job, the interface structures may disappear? About my


colleague for that question. I think he would know that my view is whilst


we need to address economic issues and are issues are undoubtably


through lack of jobs engaging in anti-social behaviour and crime,


there is no doubt that even when the economy is booming, there have been


problems in these areas and that is why there has been a concentration


as part of a programme for government to reduce tensions in


these areas, work with local communities and to see the kind of


successes we have been able to report in recent years. There may be


more so-called peace walls and there were at the time of the Good Friday


Agreement, but at the moment they are coming down and opening up not


been added to. Would he agree that sense of trying to impose a solution


in these community's would be counter-productive? I thank you for


that. I agree. There is no sense in which we are trying to impose on


local communities. It is also the case that we are not intending to


proceed at this pace of the slowest. We will facilitate and


encourage and do all we can to build the conditions that enable those


structures to be removed. Minister alluded to the fact that


the community is at the centre of the discussions. Would he agree that


central to the very substance of ensuring that peace breaks out and


community start to relate to each other more directly in interfaces,


that there has to be community confidence, but they will not come


under attack when the fences and walls come down and that they must


get back confidence in both communities before we can begin that


process? I do not know that I agree entirely with that. We need to work


to build confidence but to suggest that we need total confidence before


we can do anything is at variance with what we have been doing. We


have seen work on temporary opening of gates and barriers, work done to


address with CCTV and white lights, the opportunities to enable


movement. We cannot get everything right before we do things, we need


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.