20 January 2015

Question Time: Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister - Monday 19 January 2015


The appointment of a Commissioner for Victims and Survivors.

At the start of Oral Questions to the First Minister he stated that considering the importance that we place on ensuring that all victims survivors have an appropriate representative voice through the commissioner, we want to ensure that we have the right person for the job. The current process produced a disappointingly small pool of appointable candidates. We have therefore agreed to try to widen the pool through a new competition. In the interim, the commission is continuing to deliver its work plan this year and is working with the victims' forum to ensure that victims and survivors' interests remain at the forefront of our actions.

The First Minister was also asked about the Equality Commission/Community Relations Council: Merger and the Clerical Abuse Victims: Financial Redress.

The Budget and the failure to Support it created the most interest to members during Question Time to First Minister. Jimmy Spratt asked the First Minister and deuty First Minister whether the failure of three of the Executive parties to support the Budget amounts to a rejection by them of the Stormont House Agreement.

The First Minister replied with, "I have to say to my colleague that I hope that it does not. Indeed, we had a meeting on Monday last week, if I recall, when all five Executive party leaders confirmed that they wanted to work towards implementing that agreement. Meetings are now set up to work towards its implementation.

Of course, I think that it is worth pointing out that there were, in effect, two agreements, although only one has been published. There is a second agreement — the Stormont Castle Agreement — in which all five party leaders and their teams agreed to a financial package that included welfare reform, the reform of the public services and a range of budgetary issues. The five party leaders went
to the Secretary of State to show that we were prepared to take those hard decisions that were necessary to get our finances on a stable, sustainable and long-term basis.

It is sad to say that not all the parties that were on that delegation were able to give the degree of support that was necessary when the first issue came before them — namely, the passing of a Budget. However, I hope that they will get themselves into order and will recognise the obligation that they have to implement those elements of the agreement. That is because, as I sat at Stormont House, I did not hear anybody around the table say that they rejected the agreement. I recognise that there are some who would choose to use it as an à la carte menu by picking the bits that they like and leaving the hard decisions for the two larger parties. That is not giving leadership, and it is certainly not very responsible.