30/11/2015 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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After weeks of deals, deadlines and discussion over the DUP leadership,


it was back to more procedural politics on the hill today.


But that's not to say the matters they talked about weren't important.


MLAs discussed the recent closure of some private care homes, the


powers of the new Stormont watchdog and funding in local football.


So tonight, The Health Minister comes out fighting when accused


I think it is disappointing that the member in his opening comments chose


to make a baseless political attack on me and that is absolutely


disgraceful on such an important day that he would seek to do that


without any justification. And there's some difference


in opinion about the powers given to It may well be you will have an


ombudsman here, claiming against a doctor or a dentist when there has


not been legal representation. And with me to share his thoughts


on today's developments is the The Health Minister has been accused


of being "asleep at the wheel" after the


announcement that seven privately Last week Simon Hamilton halted the


planned closure of ten state-run homes after Four Seasons said it was


shutting several facilities. The decision will affect more than


250 patients and almost 400 staff. Today, an urgent oral question


was tabled and MLAs were keen to This decision was taken


independently of the department and we are no input to the analysis


conducted by Four Seasons. We appreciate the closure of seven


nursing homes by Bontnewydd will impact on many residents and their


families and cause great anxiety for those directly affected by the


closures. My colleagues are working closely with the health and social


care trust and Four Seasons in developing plans to manage the


transition for alternative care arrangements. We aim to ensure any


relocation will be managed with minimal disruption to residents and


that they are able to remain as close to their original location as


possible. The continued well-being of residence will be the priority


it. Should we conclude the minister has been caught asleep at the wheel


on this issue? Given the fact it's such a serious issue which affects


254 residents and their families, and indeed over 300 staff, I think


is disappointing that the member in his opening comments chose to make a


baseless political attack on me and it's absolutely disgraceful that on


such an important issue that the member would seek to do that without


any justification whatsoever. I am aware there are a range of issues


facing this sector and some of them are around staffing issues and


shortage of nurses which is something this sector and all


sectors in health and social care and parts of the UK and beyond are


facing in terms of a shortage of staff. And as the minister


specifically whether he now agrees that either him or his predecessors


have actually perceived this as a failure in terms of planning for our


ageing population? I don't accept the chemists of a failure by my


predecessors. -- premise. While we been aware of difficulties that we


are facing, we were not aware until the very luckily that we were


specifically going to close seven homes when indicated last Tuesday


they were going to close. I do not accept that there is much I could


have done in my position as health Minister in a devolved region to be


allowed a company who have over 10% of... Think of their debts, there


was very little I could have done to arrest that. Permit me important


distinction between nursing care and visit ensure care. What extra


support will be available at the residential homes if they are going


to accommodate some of these people moving from... ? You are right,


there is an important distinction that is important we follow that


flew in terms of the question he has asked about moving people with


complex nursing needs into residential care. That would not be


appropriate for particularly those who are very, very complex needs.


They were not get the standard of care that we would want to see them


gets. We need to be very, very careful. This is not the statutory


residential care homes, it is not a solution to issues with those of


complex nursing care needs. That doesn't mean there may not be


opportunities elsewhere within the state sector for those who do have,


let's nursing needs to be looked after all indeed elsewhere within


the independent sector. That's why there emphasis should be on us


seeing that the residents get the appropriate care they need, and in


most cases that is nursing care. And to try getting as close to their


care location as we possibly can. We will be working to that but it will


not be a matter of moving people with complex needs and put them into


residential care homes, that would not be right for them.


We saw the Health Minister being accused of being asleep


It is an affair. This is a private company running its own homes. There


is no evidence that anyone in the Department knew they had huge


financial problems, so huge they would have to close homes. This came


as a bombshell. Suddenly, you have seven homes closing, the other ten


are not closing, still having to find room for 450 odd patients. I


don't you can claim he was irresponsible, because it was out of


his hands at that stage. But Simon Hamilton was very


keen to defend his position? You don't offer seem angry. He


doesn't jump up and down, that is as close as I have seen Simon to


steaming. He was angry. Usually Simon is confident and relaxed, he


was very angry. And in this case defender of the policy of the


departments, I think in this case he was justifiably angry. This was not


his fault. How do you think Simon is doing? And then the health ministry


as a grave political careers. There's always something, so we need


people go through that system, some of the compliments. I think he was


much more comfortable, it is partly his background, he was much more


comfortable as finance minister. But we've you talk to people coming but


the two bombers, senior civil servants, people who have met him,


they all say he is enormously likeable, but he is also remarkably


well briefed. He is well thought of, but that may not come across to the


public, though I think he is one of the best ministers we have. Not for


the top job this time, but do you think we might see that in the


future? It is possible. He is after generation and younger, he needs to


learn the ropes. I would think that maybe in 7-10 years' time, Simon may


be First Minister. If he keeps the performance up that he has over the


last few years, it would take an awful lot at this stage to blot his


copybook. He is on the ladder. Thanks, Alex.


Ombudsman or Ombudsperson? That, again, was the question during the


further consideration stage of the Public Services Ombudsperson's Bill.


It aims to merge the posts of Commissioner for Complaints


and Assembly Ombudsman into a new office.


MLAs raised a number of concerns over the ombudsman's powers and


The amendments all relate to a change in the title of the new


office from Ombudsperson to ombudsman. The committee considered


the use of the term Ombudsperson in the bill and noted that it was


several committees and their intentions that it should be gender


neutral. The committee received evidence from the the ombudsman


Association and the Welsh and Irish ombudsman, that the term ombudsman


is already gender neutral. Our view was that we will prefer the title to


remain Ombudsperson and we do understand origins of the word and


the whole question relating to the gender issue. And it been a gender


neutral word. By the same token, we believe there has been an ongoing


cultural change in the last number of years whereby people tend to move


away from using the word manner. Amendment 139. It has been


considered by the OFM committee and it cannot support it. This amendment


would remove entirely clause 46 of the bill for delay before the


Assembly special report where injustice has been sustained by a


person aggrieved and that injustice not been, nor will be, remedied. The


power for an ombudsman to make a special report to the Legislature in


such circumstances is common to all UK ombudsman. It would seem strange


to say the least if this Assembly were to establish an ombudsman with


very effective powers of investigation and yet, by the


ombudsman finds the person who suffered injustice and that that


injustice has not and will not be remedied, to strip the ombudsman of


the power to make a special rapport before this Assembly. We cannot just


give a blanket permission to an ombudsman to make a special report


which could, as the chair has a very fairly pointed out, could have a


reputational impact, and adverse position of impact. In other words,


the person who has reported could well suffer reputational or


professional and damage. You can have a situation where it really is


around the medical profession that we are speaking, a situation where a


doctor is brought before the ombudsman because of the complaint.


At the moment, it it is the ombudsman's discretion and that's a


discussion for another day. But he may well be that you will have an


ombudsman involving a complaint against a GP, Doctor or dentist,


whether as be no legal representation. What happens over


special adviser, perhaps under the encouragement his or her minister,


acted outside the code of conduct? Does they all think such a minister


would agree to initiate an investigatory disciplinary action


against against their special adviser? Clearly there is a weakness


in the current system and my concern is that the legislation in front of


us today may not be specific enough and enable that to continue into the


future. I think some people may be misunderstanding the importance of


this amendment. This is to give you remedy to someone like Jenny Palmer


-- a remedy, who felt she had been bullied and oppressed by a special


adviser. That special adviser was protected internally from any


discipline by his minister, who superseded handover of the


recommendation to that effect. But the individual effects that Mrs


Palmer was left effectively without remedy. This amendment would give


her the potential of remedy to make a complaint to the ombudsman about


the bullying and oppressive behaviour to which she was subjected


by a fully paid civil servant under the guise of being a special


adviser. And after a series of votes


on amendments, that bill passed There was some difference


in opinion during that debate over the right of representation


for anyone subject to a complaint? I think what we already his system


is a number of Ombudsperson all. It takes an extraordinarily long time


for them to do a report. In some cases it has taken almost two years.


I'm not sure if bundling them into what is almost like a soup


Ombudsperson is going to help. They might make it much more difficult.


If you talking about a remedy, I'm not sure this is the best way, I


think it is actually complicated. Some MLAs were bringing up special


advisers there. I take the point that Jenny Palmer may have been able


to go, but I'm not sure that is the case. The nature of special


advisers, they are protected by the party, by the Minister, and they


will be protected if the Minister of the word in the ear of key


departmental figures. If 18 years -- months down the line, some


Ombudsperson says Jenny, everything's fine, it is too late.


It will have moved on. In a case like that community and still are. A


matter of weeks at most. She would still be waiting now, maybe for


another six months! She can do nothing else, she will not be able


to move into the Ombudsperson brings out the report. -- until the


Ombudsperson brings out the report. John O'Dowd brought out and


anti-bullying bill. We are asked about another layer of red tape and


teachers will be expected to make notes and it is just nonsense. We


have to sometimes sated teachers that they are running a class are


acting on our behalf and use your judgment, not everyone makes a


bully, kids make mistakes. Deal with it.


The Education Minister faced Question Time today and he revealed


to MLAs that some legal action by unions, challenging how teachers


assess pupils here, has been dropped.


John O'Dowd told that the so-called Levels of Progression are the best


The Minister was asked for an update on the matter by


I have listened to the views and concerns and they have listened to


mine and demonstrated that this is accurate. We have common ground and


it is my view there can now be no possible justification for continued


industrial action in this area. On October the 22nd wrote to the


teachers Council representing all of the unions and I set out the


significant steps I am prepared to take on the end of Key stage


assessments at 16 and 15 and I recognise those must evolve as they


embed. If other unions follow the examples of those thus far it will


give us space to continue discussions and allow the


assessments to begin and, as I repeatedly said during my


discussions with the unions, that we need to allow this process to


begin. It will evolve over a period of time and we all want to ensure


that we can achieve the best education possible for our young


people and we have the correct way of recording our data for that


purpose. Principal Deputy Speaker, can I ask the Minister that at the


heart of this there seems to be a lack of confidence over Levels of


Progression as a means of assessment. When the minister talks


about our evolving situation, one of the evolution that has two skirt is


the continuation of alternative means of assessment as we move


forward. For this process to evolve, it has to begin. For it to begin, I


welcome the fact that our own number of unions extending -- suspending


their industrial action. We must achieve an assessment process that


makes the neat -- meets the needs of young people in our education system


and our teachers. Perhaps some simple English and using more than


-- no more than two syllable words, would the Minister agree with me


that the Levels of Progression were used as an accountability measure


and eroded any possible use they might have had as an assessment for


learning tool. What is wrong with the Department for Education, or an


education authority having an accountability mechanism? How do we


ensure that our young people are receiving the educational


opportunities they should receive? I make no apologies whatsoever for the


accountability. I have told the unions I have no apologies for Si


King accountability routes and it is how those tools I use that are at


cause for concern for the unions and the unions themselves are not shying


away from accountability. It is the purpose of what the accountability


is used for and they were concerned that Levels of Progression would be


a blunt tool to identify schools under the Levels of Progression that


can be identified as underachieving and therefore all the power of the


Department for Education falls upon them and I have assured the unions


that that is not possible and output changes in place to ensure that is


not the purpose of them and the purpose of them is to ensure that


young person's education is up to standard.


Tuition fees, budget cuts and funding


for further and higher education all came up during questions to the


But first, Stephen Farry was asked to give an update on the current


business case for the expansion of Ulster University's Magee campus.


We have asked for further clarification on a number of points


and that request was made by my officials at the beginning of July


this year and we have yet to receive the revised business case and I


would encourage those who are finalising it to get it to us as


quickly as possible, not least given that decisions and budgets are


looming. Ultimately the issue of the expansion lies with higher


education, has the member will appreciate and higher education is


set to be part of the new Department of the economy from May 2016


onwards. Does he accept that proposals to increase tuition fees


would have a negative impact on his department's commitment to widening


access to people in disadvantaged areas. I have not proposed an


increase in tuition fees, I have simply outlined the fact that our


current system is unsustainable. My first priority is to ensure we have


a sustainable system for the future of our economy and the future of


society, and also to give young people opportunities. Until we can


find a solution around which we have a bill of consensus all options


remain on the table and stage I am not advocating an increase in


tuition fees. The cuts that the executive have imposed on my


department, and I have had to pass on to universities have already had


an impact in terms of people's ability to access higher education.


We have had a situation where we have fewer places on offer from this


year so some people will be forced to forced to go to Great Britain or


elsewhere in the world and be forced off to pay higher tuition fees than


would be on offer in Northern Ireland and in some cases people


have had no opportunity to go to university at all and therefore lost


out on a life transformational opportunity, so we are seeing very


real costs already. Does the Minister intend to make his


recommendations on the funding of higher and further education decided


the election or was the big conversation be delaying tactic to


avoid potentially unpopular decisions? I hear the former


minister did exactly that saying here here so clearly we know where


the form lies in this particular regard to, which I think was why my


department was chosen last because of the political hot potato of


tuition fees was left unresolved until after the Assembly Election.


What happens is very much in the hands of the executive and also the


Assembly. Let me be very clear, I am determined to get this issue


resolved. We cannot park this issue it cannot afford to park this issue.


Our universities are bleeding already and we have issues that are


unresolved will undermine our credibility. With the Minister agree


that the corporation tax to work properly and benefit all in society


we need a high productivity, high waged and high skilled economy and


with recent cuts in places of universities are entirely counter


strategic to the introduction of corporation tax and that ambition.


Yes, I entirely concur with the sentiments that the member has


expressed anger has been a major focal point of question Time to date


and I would echo the point that I have made, that was important as we


look ahead to making our own budget decisions over the coming weeks and


months that we very much have in mind some of the things have been


done in the past and the requirements of the future and it is


important that we start now to further invest in skills.


The stop-start upgrade for Windsor Park has attracted much


attention in recent months, but today the Culture Minister


revealed that it's not the only stadium that can expect an upgrade.


Caral Ni Chuilin today launched a 12-week consultation aimed at


invigorating grassroots football in Northern Ireland, with more than ?36


The consultation document has been developed to reflect priorities


outlined in the draft paper prepared by the IFA in 2011. Today's launch


takes into account these priorities as well as subsequent needs that


have emerged in soccer since then, by providing an opportunity over the


next 12 weeks for every one to input before the programme is finalised.


Will the Minister recognise the Minister recogniser into media and


junior football in real need of support for the individual and


community outcomes it achieves four groups in areas of particular high


social need? Witchy commit to ensuring that as many football clubs


as possible are fully aware of the opportunities that this fund will


create? I thank the member for his question and I certainly agree with


most of the sentiments he has made, if not all, particularly in terms of


the intermediate and junior football, and within that I include


boys and girls as well because there is a real problem with


representation of women, particularly in the three big sports


and in fairness there should be steps to ensure more inclusion. All


must have and to demonstrate inclusiveness, they must demonstrate


that they are reaching people who have not been reached in the past


and not just for the application process but also for the future, and


it will be strongly tested. Can I asked the manager there are any for


a similar scheme for rugby in the future? The member has engaged with


the three main sports and he would have heard that along with the sub


regional programme for soccer, along with the IFA, along with Ulster


Council GAA and indeed Ulster Rugby, the three bodies have actually asked


for additional resources for sub regional opportunities in the next


mandate. Those discussions have started and while we are launching


the consultation into the sub regional soccer, I have already said


that there was probably and most likely not enough money to meet the


needs of also those conversations between the big three sporting


bodies are my department have started and I am encouraged by what


I have heard is thus far because it would seem the direction of travel


for the three big sports, not just looking at single facilities but


facilities they can share, and share physical facilities and also skills


and expertise. Speaker, I understand that this announcement comes from an


decision by the executive on the 10th of March 2011 and that is some


time ago and a lot has changed since then, not least of which is the


financial position we are in and I wonder if the Minister has had cause


to bring this minister back to the executive at all and ask them if


they are sure that in the light of other opportunities we really should


be in a lot has changed since then, not least of which is the financial


position we are in and I wonder if the Minister has had cause to bring


this minister back to the executive at all and ask them if they are sure


that in the light of other opportunities we really should be


the member will be aware that there is a programme for government


development in developing stadium that still stands. Prior to this


consultation being launched today I consulted my colleagues in


correspondence to let them know it is the case. I have had no feedback


from anyone to suggest that this is not value for money.


And Alex Kane is with me for a final word.


Away from the chamber, there was a significant ruling today on abortion


People say this is landmark, and it is. But is it another one of those


little signs that a lot that is going to change in Northern Ireland


is coming through the courts, because the Assembly has not been


able to do it or have the proper debates and it has become very us


and them on all sorts of strange issues like the gay blood thing and


this and same-sex marriage and on all the big socio moral issues that


we need to see changed in Northern Ireland it is going to be the courts


that need it and that is astonishing. Is there any chance now


that we will see legislation on abortion? I think it will have to


come. There is no doubt there will be a appeal, it has to be a test


case, that has been accepted by all sides, but I would be very surprised


if we did not in the next 18 months or two years see legislation because


the Assembly won't. They cannot just throw down a petition and say they


do not care about the court and judicial reviews, it will be forced


upon them. You do not then expect this to be the last time that court


intervenes on a very contentious political matter? Know, and they


shouldn't have to to convene -- intervene. They should be the very


last port of call on these matters and they should not be just because


the various parties do not want to deal with an issue. You get the


sense that they want to pass it on, they know they will have to make it


but they want to shop there for shoulders and say they were forced


to do it. They knew was coming down the road and it is unstoppable.


Thank you very much for joining us on storm on today. That is it for


tonight and Mark is back at the same time tomorrow night at 11:15pm on


BBC Two. Until then, from everyone on the team, have a good evening.




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.