30/11/2015 Stormont Today


30/11/2015

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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Transcript


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After weeks of deals, deadlines and discussion over the DUP leadership,

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

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

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

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

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So tonight, The Health Minister comes out fighting when accused

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

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

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

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without any justification. And there's some difference

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

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

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

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

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of being "asleep at the wheel" after the

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announcement that seven privately Last week Simon Hamilton halted the

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

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shutting several facilities. The decision will affect more than

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

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was tabled and MLAs were keen to This decision was taken

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

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conducted by Four Seasons. We appreciate the closure of seven

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nursing homes by Bontnewydd will impact on many residents and their

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families and cause great anxiety for those directly affected by the

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

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care trust and Four Seasons in developing plans to manage the

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transition for alternative care arrangements. We aim to ensure any

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relocation will be managed with minimal disruption to residents and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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shortage of nurses which is something this sector and all

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

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

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specifically whether he now agrees that either him or his predecessors

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

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

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

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

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specifically going to close seven homes when indicated last Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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distinction between nursing care and visit ensure care. What extra

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

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

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there is an important distinction that is important we follow that

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

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complex nursing needs into residential care. That would not be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We saw the Health Minister being accused of being asleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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his hands at that stage. But Simon Hamilton was very

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It aims to merge the posts of Commissioner for Complaints

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and Assembly Ombudsman into a new office.

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

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

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office from Ombudsperson to ombudsman. The committee considered

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

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several committees and their intentions that it should be gender

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neutral. The committee received evidence from the the ombudsman

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

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

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remain Ombudsperson and we do understand origins of the word and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Assembly special report where injustice has been sustained by a

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

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

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

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

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very effective powers of investigation and yet, by the

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ombudsman finds the person who suffered injustice and that that

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

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

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

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

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

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the person who has reported could well suffer reputational or

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

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

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doctor is brought before the ombudsman because of the complaint.

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

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

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

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whether as be no legal representation. What happens over

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

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

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would agree to initiate an investigatory disciplinary action

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against against their special adviser? Clearly there is a weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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adviser. That special adviser was protected internally from any

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discipline by his minister, who superseded handover of the

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recommendation to that effect. But the individual effects that Mrs

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Palmer was left effectively without remedy. This amendment would give

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

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the bullying and oppressive behaviour to which she was subjected

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

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adviser. And after a series of votes

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on amendments, that bill passed There was some difference

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in opinion during that debate over the right of representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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bully, kids make mistakes. Deal with it.

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The Education Minister faced Question Time today and he revealed

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

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assess pupils here, has been dropped.

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

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The Minister was asked for an update on the matter by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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give us space to continue discussions and allow the

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assessments to begin and, as I repeatedly said during my

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

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

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that we can achieve the best education possible for our young

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

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

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

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Progression as a means of assessment. When the minister talks

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

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the continuation of alternative means of assessment as we move

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

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

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their industrial action. We must achieve an assessment process that

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

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

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

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that the Levels of Progression were used as an accountability measure

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

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

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education authority having an accountability mechanism? How do we

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ensure that our young people are receiving the educational

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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young person's education is up to standard.

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Tuition fees, budget cuts and funding

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

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

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

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We have asked for further clarification on a number of points

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

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

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

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

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looming. Ultimately the issue of the expansion lies with higher

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education, has the member will appreciate and higher education is

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

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onwards. Does he accept that proposals to increase tuition fees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:20:58.:21:01.

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

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

:21:05.:21:08.

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

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

:21:40.:21:42.

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

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

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

:21:48.:21:49.

real costs already. Does the Minister intend to make his

:21:50.:21:51.

recommendations on the funding of higher and further education decided

:21:52.:21:53.

the election or was the big conversation be delaying tactic to

:21:54.:21:55.

avoid potentially unpopular decisions? I hear the former

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

:21:58.:21:59.

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

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department was chosen last because of the political hot potato of

:22:03.:22:04.

tuition fees was left unresolved until after the Assembly Election.

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

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

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

:22:18.:22:21.

Our universities are bleeding already and we have issues that are

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unresolved will undermine our credibility. With the Minister agree

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

:22:31.:22:35.

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

:22:36.:22:38.

with recent cuts in places of universities are entirely counter

:22:39.:22:42.

strategic to the introduction of corporation tax and that ambition.

:22:43.:22:48.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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important that we start now to further invest in skills.

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The stop-start upgrade for Windsor Park has attracted much

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attention in recent months, but today the Culture Minister

:23:17.:23:18.

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

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

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

:23:32.:23:33.

The consultation document has been developed to reflect priorities

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

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takes into account these priorities as well as subsequent needs that

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

:23:55.:23:59.

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

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Will the Minister recognise the Minister recogniser into media and

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junior football in real need of support for the individual and

:24:08.:24:12.

community outcomes it achieves four groups in areas of particular high

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

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

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

:24:28.:24:31.

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

:24:32.:24:34.

the intermediate and junior football, and within that I include

:24:35.:24:39.

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

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representation of women, particularly in the three big sports

:24:43.:24:49.

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

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must have and to demonstrate inclusiveness, they must demonstrate

:24:58.:25:01.

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

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

:25:06.:25:10.

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

:25:11.:25:17.

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

:25:18.:25:24.

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

:25:25.:25:29.

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

:25:30.:25:33.

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

:25:34.:25:41.

for additional resources for sub regional opportunities in the next

:25:42.:25:44.

mandate. Those discussions have started and while we are launching

:25:45.:25:48.

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

:25:49.:25:53.

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

:25:54.:25:56.

needs of also those conversations between the big three sporting

:25:57.:26:00.

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

:26:01.:26:05.

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

:26:06.:26:10.

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

:26:11.:26:17.

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

:26:18.:26:22.

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

:26:23.:26:27.

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

:26:28.:26:31.

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

:26:32.:26:35.

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

:26:36.:26:40.

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

:26:41.:26:43.

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

:26:44.:26:46.

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

:26:47.:26:49.

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

:26:50.:26:52.

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

:26:53.:26:55.

that in the light of other opportunities we really should be

:26:56.:26:57.

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

:26:58.:26:59.

development in developing stadium that still stands. Prior to this

:27:00.:27:05.

consultation being launched today I consulted my colleagues in

:27:06.:27:07.

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

:27:08.:27:10.

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

:27:11.:27:11.

And Alex Kane is with me for a final word.

:27:12.:27:14.

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

:27:15.:27:17.

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

:27:18.:27:33.

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

:27:34.:27:36.

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

:27:37.:27:39.

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

:27:40.:27:43.

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

:27:44.:27:48.

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

:27:49.:27:51.

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

:27:52.:27:54.

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

:27:55.:27:59.

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

:28:00.:28:03.

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

:28:04.:28:07.

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

:28:08.:28:11.

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

:28:12.:28:15.

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

:28:16.:28:18.

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

:28:19.:28:26.

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

:28:27.:28:29.

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

:28:30.:28:31.

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

:28:32.:28:37.

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

:28:38.:28:40.

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

:28:41.:28:43.

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

:28:44.:28:47.

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

:28:48.:28:50.

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

:28:51.:28:55.

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

:28:56.:29:00.

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

:29:01.:29:04.

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

:29:05.:29:06.

Goodbye.

:29:07.:29:11.

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.