29/11/2011 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Hello and welcome to Stormont Today. Despite a gloomy economic forecast


coming from the Chancellor, there has been some good news for us in


his Autumn Statement, with up to �200 million more to spend on


public services over the next three years. Also tonight, Emilys call


for tougher sentencing for violent crime against older people. We need


to send a clear message that a tax on the elderly will not be


tolerated, and that, if you attack an elderly person, you are going to


go to prison. And he was firing shots across the chamber at the


Deputy First Minister. I think that was called a cheap shot. But that


is not unusual coming from Gregory. Keeping me company tonight is a


pensioner activist, Ivan Baxter a. There was some good news for


pensioners and the Chancellor's Autumn Statement that the basic


pension going up by �5.30 next year. But is that enough? It is less than


we would have liked, of course, because the Chancellor is now using


an inflation rate, of the CPR, which is less than the previous


inflation rate, the retail price index which was 5.8% this year, so


we have lost 0.6% already. If that continues into the future, people


will in fact lose quite a few 1,000 pounds of their pensions over a


period of time. For less well-off pensioners, I would have thought


any increase would have been welcome, given how tight things are.


The air was a concern that the Chancellor might not even give the


5.2% during the last week or so. There were rumours going around


that he would not be able to afford it, but he has done that and I


suppose we should be pleased that he has given us 5.2% when we were


looking for 5.8%. 5.2% is better than nothing, really. War or other


main issues worrying pensioners at the moment? The biggest concern


pensioners have is getting through the winter. There is a lot of fuel


poverty among pensioners in Northern Ireland. More so than on


mainland in Great Britain, because we depend heavily on oil, add or


oil has increased, as you know, considerably over the last couple


of years. This year, they have reduced the winter grant by �50 for


ordinary pensioners, and for those who are 80 years and over, it has


been reduced by �100. This has seemed to be a rather peculiar


thing to do, given the price of oil is going up. At one time, you could


have bought a tanker oil for the winter fuel brand. Now you can only


by less than half of and 900 litre tank of oil. So, not only is the


amount of the winter fuel brand going down, but the value of it has


gone down considerably, because of the oil price inflation. We'll talk


more about that later. It was at u p double act that Question Time to


stop it when Pitts faced questions on the winter weather and healthy


eating. But first it was financed and by Stormont Today, the like to


bring breaking news. His Sally Wilson going green? -- is Sammy


Wilson going green? I must say, I think his question probably would


have required a little more research than it has demonstrated,


because as he will know, renewable sources, especially wind energy,


which seems to be the main renewable source we are promoting


in Northern aren't, is much more expensive than all -- in Northern


Ireland, then much -- than all the other sources of electricity. The


cost of energy from wind, as opposed to energy from gas, is


about 3.5 times more per unit, and therefore, if we're looking at ways


of reducing energy consumption and energy bills, the one thing we


certainly would not be doing is relying on the untested and


expensive technology which there is from renewable sources. Indeed, I


suspect that a more effective way of getting energy costs down, and


we have got to do this, given that we have caught a �200 million bill


across the public sector, the quicker way of doing that is to use


energy more efficiently. Then it was on to rates, and they then got


their own back on the minister. notice that the minister has taken


to wearing dark glasses. And I think I would be seeking some form


of the skies if I was presiding over the Department with a great


debt of �150 million. Can I asked the minister to swap his dark


glasses for his rose-tinted glasses, and to tell us what serious


proposals he has to reduce this debt? I can assure you I do not


need dark glasses. Because there are not too many bright, shining


lights are coming from the side of the chamber, anyway! Can I just say,


he has raised an important point, but, I would like to see some


consistency, not only from members of his party, but members of other


parties, as well. Of course we have to pursue those people who do not


pay the right for packs which has been levied -- to write poll tax


which has been levied, but just before I came into the chamber


today, there is a balance to be struck, in times of economic


difficulty, do we pursue those who have not been able to pay their


rates to the ultimate, take them to court, bankrupting them and putting


them out of business? I guarantee that if we pursue did a corny it --


the draconian line implicit in his question, he would be criticising


me for something different, namely, for putting people on the dole. I


hope he understands that there is a complexity here, and there's a


balance to be struck and we will pursue those who do not pay their


rates, but equally, we have got to have recognition that, in a


difficult economic climate, some people will not pay their rates,


and refuse to pay their rates, and we go after those, there are some


people who cannot pay their rates, and it is a balance, and we have to


make a judgment. Despite the fact that we're at in a recession, we


have brought the Great Britain and the debt burden down -- the Great


Britain and the debt burden down.. Held next, and Edwin Poots may


manage the biggest budget in the Executive, but can he forecast the


weather, as well? I will wait and see what the good Lord sends us. I


trust that it will not be as cold as last year. And we hope to have


some savings and there are plenty of areas that we can spend money on,


always towards the end of the year we tried to buy in more operations


and reduce the waiting lists for cardiac care, and orthopaedics. We


have ample opportunities to spend money that his insistence. At the


moment we are �15 million short of the total budget. We can make that


up over the next number of months. I am confident that if we get a


warm, wet winter, that we will be able to spend all the resources we


have. Nicky Brady of Sinn Fein asked, would the Minister consider


giving extra winter fuel payments to the terminally ill? We actually


do support some are very vulnerable people, and through the winter, we


assist them. It is a very worthy idea, and if we can facilitate them


to do it, we certainly will do that. It is quite challenging to be able


to identify a those who are most in need, without excluding people who


are in real, genuine need. But we are wholly sympathetic to the


notion. We will forget the cold spell of last year. Our pensioners


worried about that bad weather, given how difficult it is to find


the money to pay the bills? They are certain to be worried. We found


last year that there were around 700 pensioners who died because of


the Cold War because they did not have enough food to eat, -- because


of the cold, or because they did not have enough food to eat. And


then of course, some of them did not have the money because they


were using it for food, not hitting. So these unexplained deaths


amounted to over 700. We will be worried if we get another winter


like that with the winter fuel brand going down and oil prices


going up, that it will be more than 700 this year, at that will be an


absolute disgrace for a well of country, despite the fact that we


have economic difficulties, we're still, in global terms, a well-off


country. It looks like the Stormont Executive is in line for up to �200


million more to spend on public services over the next three years,


as a result of measures in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.


George Osborne announced a review into regional pay for public sector


employees, that could ultimately lead to pay cuts for 230,000


public-sector workers in Northern Ireland. I asked our economics


editor Jim Fitzpatrick if it would make a difference. People on the


streets of Belfast and Northern Ireland asking themselves, after


the Chancellor's Autumn Statement are they better off or worse off,


and the answer seemed to be a bit of both. In terms of the headline


figure, and the impact on the storeman budget, we are better off.


Sammy Wilson had feared that they could have seen a budget cut. In


fact we have seen �200 billion more or coming to Stormont to spend over


the next three years. Most of that will be infrastructure spending


poor roads and railways, so that is good news, but the sting in the


tailors for public-sector workers. There are 230,000 people employed


in the public sector here and the Chancellor has told us that after


their PP's comes to an end they will only see their pay increase by


1%, instead of 2%, up to 2015. When inflation is currently at 5% that


is a real terms reduction in living standards. What is more, there


could be worse to come for workers in Northern Ireland, because the


Chancellor announced a review of public sector pay, to consider the


idea of regional variation. If there was the Asian in Northern


Ireland, it would certainly not mean pay increases, because


currently, the median pay in the public sector is 40% lower than it


is you and the private sector. So the starting point of any


negotiations is a downward trend. That is the news tonight, good or


bad, a bit of both. U p m p Nigel Dodds wanted more detail on the


statement. It is good to see some effort made to boost growth. How


will it play out in practice? We need to see the fine print. We have


to see what happens now with the 60% of the banks that are southern


Irish own. And we have to see what this means in terms of the Barnett


consequentials. We have to see what at actually means. Northern Ireland


will benefit to the tune of �142 million over the next two years


which is good news for construction and those involved in capital


projects. How will that trickle- down? It comes straight across in


the Barnett formula. There is very significant investment on


infrastructure coming up across the United Kingdom. That will benefit


Northern Ireland directly. But the detail of it, which projects are


chosen, is in hands of local politicians and the Executive.


that money is ring-fence? That is quite clear. One of the issues talk


about is this idea of regional public-sector pay. We have to see


how the consultation pans out. It could be to the benefit of Northern


Ireland, because it has poor property costs, and some are like


London, it could bring more activity to Northern Ireland. But


it is worth looking at what we have done right across the board for


families. We had added the only last week on fuel. What the


Chancellor has managed to do on fuel prices is significant. The


planned Labour increases have not come about. As a result your duty


is 10 pence lower than it would have been under Labour. -- fuel


One budget that has been ring- fenced his help. Despite that,


changes on the way and we need to change our mind set about what we


want from hospitals. John Compton is delivering his report to the


health minister this week. Last year it was nearly bankrupt. I


asked him if that was still the case. There was a debate about what


should and should not be in the Budget settlement. We know at what


we have got. We have got about �4.7 billion. It is not easy in a health


and social care because we do have demands. However, we are looking at


how we will spend that money and that is what the review is about.


Have you come up with a golden figure, the number of hospitals we


should have? We haven't. It is about the quality of treatment and


care for people. He explained what that is an show evidence. We need


to get away from thinking about hospitals as a separate entity.


They are part of one a system of care. Do we have to change our mind


set about how hospitals operate? need to change our mind set about


what we want out of hospital care. People want the best outcome and


when we are able to explain why it is better to reorganise services,


no-one disagreed. If you look at some of the services we have


reorganised, some of the cancer services for example, I think


people understand you get a better outcome. What is not reasonable is


to ask people to travel to make someone else's life convenient. If


people have to travel, it is because the outcome will be better.


One of the difficulty for people in rural communities is we do not have


great infrastructure in terms of public transport. Is there anything


in your report that says we need to look at that if we are going to


close or stop services in particular areas, expect people to


travel further? We heard people talking about the poor road


infrastructure, particularly in the West. It goes to the heart of


joined-up government. The review will say something about trying to


make that more real and it will reflect on rural transport because


it is an issue. People are talking about this as a once-in-a-lifetime


issue. Is there that political well throughout to implement the changes


you are recommending? I hope so. The difficulty is there aren't any


neutral decisions. If people said we do not want to implement your


review, I can tell you now there will be changes anyway. It will


happen in an unplanned and disjointed manner. I would hope


that the political system would recognise the need for change and


support the change. It is right it is challenged to make sure the


change is designed to deliver a better service, but I hope there


will be support for it. MLAs had voted for mandatory prison


sentences for people who commit violent crimes against older people.


The motion was passed by a narrow majority.


When need to send a clear message that attacks on older people, or


senior citizens will not be tolerated and that if you attack an


elderly person, you are going to go to jail. Clearly an message has to


get out there tougher sentences are important in relation to this type


of violent crime. I cannot agree with mandatory sentencing in this


context. I do not believe that you can simply have a mandatory minimum


sentence and believes that that inflexible instrument will cure all.


A pensioner paedophile assaulted a young boy. The father of that young


boy took it upon himself to go round to that pensioner's house. He


struck him. He broke his jaw. Now, should back father go to jail for


seven years or any time, or should he be treated through a suspended


sentence, for example? In his is a difficult issue for older people,


not just experiencing crime, but the fear of crime and living with


that feeling of fear. How big an issue is it and would you like to


see tougher sentences? Well, we condemn all attacks on older people,


but they are actually relatively rare. The thing is, there is a fear


of crime which is prevalent amongst older people and it was one of the


main concerns. The pensioners were concerned about sentencing policy,


they were more concerned about preventive measures. One of those


is seen policemen out on the beat. By and large, that would be a


solution that would sit well with pensioners - a more visible


approach to the prevention of crime. Thank you.


The Deputy First Minister has been back at his desk here in Stormont


for a number of weeks, but earlier today he was back in the Chamber


reporting to members on a North South Ministerial Council.The issue


of the A5 road scheme and his recent unsuccessful foray into


southern politics both came up for discussion. Roy Beggs was one of a


number of MLAs seeking guarantees on funding promises from the Dublin


Government. Given the withdrawal of the �400


million, this is a significant amount to have been withdrawn and


then is to be a re examination on the affordability of any such


project. Can he advise how certain we can be of even the offer of �50


million, given that the 400 million has been withdrawn? Well,


government has gone on record and made it clear that 25 million


sterling will be made available. I agree with a member that it is


hugely disappointing for all of us. I know especially for your own


constituency because it is a flagship project along with the A5.


So, the challenge for all of us is how we ensure that the commitments


made to our flagship projects are brought to fruition. It is not a


question of whether or not the product are going to go ahead, it


is a matter of how they are going to go ahead and how they will be


funded. From our own perspective in the Executive, we need to have


certainty around the issue that you raised that the Irish government


are going to find the other 350 million, which will be the balance.


That is what our discussions are about at the moment, about getting


certainty and getting certainty from the Irish government that they


are totally and absolutely committed to the construction of


this road as aware Executive and this Assembly is. What relevance


does the Deputy First Minister think there might be for Northern


Ireland, given the Irish Republic's forthcoming EU presidency? I ask


that because of the irrelevance of the Irish Prime Minister's


involvement in the recent elections. I think that is what is known as a


cheap shot, but that is not unusual coming from Gregory. Obviously the


Irish presidency of the EU in 2013 was discussed at the meeting. No


doubt that will offer opportunities for all of ours. -- or of us.


Stormont's hosting its own version of MasterChef tonight. Young people


with learning difficulties have been cooking up a feast under the


watchful eyes of some local chefs. It's all part of a drive to get


better opportunities and jobs. I am doing a surf and turf been a


show called Vanessa. I am really looking forward to it. -- with a


chef called Vanessa. How important is it for you to be involved?


Really important. I want to follow it in my parents's footsteps.


they caterers? Meyer parents showed me how to cook and they take a lot.


Might that inspired me -- my dad inspired me. He encouraged me to go


and get my food and hygiene certificate. Fantastic. What do you


hope to do after this project? Do you want to work in a restaurant?


want to get the qualifications to go into the Merchant Navy and


travel the world. That is my dream. When I come back maybe I will start


up a chain of restaurants of my own. It is a fantastic opportunity for


them. You might get a new trainees here? I hope so.


The public sector strike planned for tomorrow has left many MLAs in


a quandary - to cross or not to cross the picket line. So I asked


Martina Purdy how the issue would play out. As you know, it could be


the biggest right for decades in Northern Ireland and it is going to


be interesting to see who crosses the picket line and he does not


tomorrow. We are expecting picket at three gates at Stormont in the


morning, probably from 7:30am. The expectation is that the number of


committees will meets -- meat. there is a party split when it


comes to supporting the strike? does appear to be Unionists bursars


nationalists. -- versus. There was a challenge in the chamber today?


Yes regarding murders during the Troubles. That was ruled out of


order. There has been a trend in the Assembly of Unionists accusing


the Irish government of various things. And we had various


portraits around parliament buildings and a new one has been


unveiled. That is right. Eileen Bell was the only woman to have


been Speaker here and she was appointed in 2006 before she was


endorsed by the members, which was the protocol at the time. She was


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.