29/04/2013 Stormont Today


29/04/2013

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

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

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minister explains more about the recommendation to locate children's

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

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

:01:12.:01:22.
:01:22.:01:27.

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

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

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

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

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

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a constitutional convention to examine whether the Irish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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they want to be consistent. Alliance party tabled an amendment

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

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

:02:43.:02:46.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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support equality and perpetuate sexual discrimination, and you

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cannot support equality and be homophobic. MLAs represent every

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

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the community, Hillary Clinton said that progress comes from being

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

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

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

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

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

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

:04:12.:04:15.

same-sex civil with another knowledge meant of religious freedom

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

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essential prerequisite around the Alliance party's endorsement of

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

:04:29.:04:39.
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across the society. The second is that lively and land league --

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blindly calling for immediate legislation. We could send a

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

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acknowledgement of the need for engagement and the need for mutual

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respect. There is clearly a difference between my position and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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each other and are prepared to commit and share their lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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position which I believe is consistent with the teaching of my

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

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expressed views of other churches, including the Roman Catholic Church

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

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fundamentally consistent with the teaching of holy Scripture. Mr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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themselves feeling on the margins, feeling excluded and feeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the mechanism which allows to stop reckless legislation in this

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

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tabled a petition of concern, effectively vetoing the motion

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

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

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:10:23.:10:28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:11:12.:11:16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:13:03.:13:13.
:13:13.:13:22.

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

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

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

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

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

:13:43.:13:53.
:13:53.:13:55.

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

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

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

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platform. Is it your contention that increasingly Independents are being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:14:50.:15:00.
:15:00.:15:02.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:15:35.:15:40.

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

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

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

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will take our arguments through different channels, through the

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

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important issues and key people with good electoral mandates are not

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

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

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

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report recommended that all paediatric cardiac surgery soon be

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

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

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

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:16:36.:16:40.

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

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advised by the trust it is working with the emergency Department

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consultants to mitigate the potential risks to patients within

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

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improve performance at the Department. My department has

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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control of this hospital. I understand that they have huge

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

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

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

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

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

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particular problem in that department and we are looking at

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:18:14.:18:23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:18:47.:18:52.

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

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opportunity to hold discussions with our counterparts in the Republic of

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

:18:59.:19:04.

future delivery of the service without compromising any aspect of

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

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sustainable service for these vulnerable children and I want to

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ensure that we have fully explored every possibility for addressing the

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concerns which have been raised by parents and bike cardiology

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

:19:26.:19:32.

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

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

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

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

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should be provided somewhere in England, because I was wholly

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

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

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

:20:05.:20:10.

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

:20:10.:20:14.

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

:20:14.:20:18.

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

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

:20:23.:20:26.

attorney shtick aiming Gilmore. The meeting took place amid suggestions

:20:26.:20:33.

that the Westminster government will agree a proposal to improve

:20:33.:20:36.

community relations. The press Conference began with Mark Devenport

:20:36.:20:40.

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

:20:40.:20:44.

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

:20:45.:20:51.

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

:20:51.:20:55.

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

:20:55.:21:03.

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

:21:03.:21:09.

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

:21:09.:21:12.

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

:21:12.:21:19.

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

:21:19.:21:24.

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

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

:21:30.:21:35.

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

:21:35.:21:40.

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

:21:40.:21:43.

would be reaching the agreements that we are reaching that the

:21:43.:21:48.

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

:21:48.:21:53.

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

:21:53.:21:57.

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

:21:57.:22:00.

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

:22:00.:22:04.

only bring out shared future proposals if the government puts its

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

:22:08.:22:18.

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

:22:18.:22:25.

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

:22:25.:22:29.

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

:22:29.:22:33.

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

:22:34.:22:42.

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

:22:42.:22:44.

the public record that these issues that were contentious during those

:22:44.:22:49.

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

:22:49.:22:53.

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

:22:53.:22:56.

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

:22:56.:23:00.

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

:23:00.:23:07.

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

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

:23:12.:23:16.

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

:23:16.:23:21.

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

:23:21.:23:27.

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

:23:27.:23:33.

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

:23:33.:23:36.

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

:23:37.:23:42.

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

:23:42.:23:46.

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

:23:46.:23:50.

For some time, there have been strained relations between

:23:50.:23:57.

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

:23:57.:24:01.

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

:24:01.:24:06.

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

:24:06.:24:09.

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

:24:09.:24:12.

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

:24:12.:24:16.

progress on all the issues because there are difficult issues around

:24:16.:24:20.

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

:24:20.:24:24.

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

:24:25.:24:34.
:24:35.:24:55.

about the economy, there was talk about a possible investment

:24:55.:24:58.

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

:24:58.:25:01.

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

:25:01.:25:04.

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

:25:04.:25:06.

have the Prime Minister encourage world leaders to bring end investors

:25:06.:25:08.

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

:25:08.:25:10.

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

:25:10.:25:13.

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

:25:13.:25:15.

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

:25:15.:25:17.

Assembly that all communities need to work together to solve interface

:25:17.:25:20.

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

:25:20.:25:23.

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

:25:23.:25:26.

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

:25:26.:25:29.

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

:25:29.:25:34.

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

:25:34.:25:38.

my department is addressing the safety and security of residents

:25:38.:25:43.

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

:25:43.:25:47.

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

:25:48.:25:50.

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

:25:50.:25:58.

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

:25:58.:26:01.

local communities to address interface structures and ask if he

:26:01.:26:06.

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

:26:06.:26:13.

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

:26:13.:26:18.

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

:26:18.:26:23.

we need to address economic issues and are issues are undoubtably

:26:23.:26:26.

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

:26:26.:26:32.

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

:26:32.:26:36.

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

:26:36.:26:39.

as part of a programme for government to reduce tensions in

:26:39.:26:42.

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

:26:42.:26:47.

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

:26:47.:26:50.

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

:26:50.:26:53.

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

:26:54.:27:03.
:27:04.:27:09.

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

:27:09.:27:11.

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

:27:11.:27:14.

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

:27:14.:27:17.

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

:27:17.:27:20.

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

:27:20.:27:24.

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

:27:24.:27:28.

structures to be removed. Minister alluded to the fact that

:27:28.:27:33.

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

:27:33.:27:40.

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

:27:40.:27:43.

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

:27:43.:27:47.

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

:27:47.:27:51.

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

:27:51.:27:54.

get back confidence in both communities before we can begin that

:27:54.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:06.

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

:28:06.:28:10.

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

:28:10.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:19.

address with CCTV and white lights, the opportunities to enable

:28:19.:28:23.

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

:28:23.:28:28.

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.