Key Speeches

2017-01-24 Public Inquiry on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Ministerial Statement | Northern Ireland Assembly

I welcome the fact that we will have an independent means of getting to the truth. Given the maelstrom of information and misinformation that has been in the public arena, I would like to get to that truth as quickly as possible. Therefore, I would have preferred a different kind of inquiry, but nonetheless. Was there a discussion with the panel chair about how long it will take to conduct this inquiry? Will there be an early findings paper produced based on the initial findings? If so, how quickly can that be received, because I think that the public deserve answers quickly?

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2017-01-24 Community Halls Programme | Oral Answers to Questions — Communities | Northern Ireland Assembly

7. Mr Poots asked the Minister for Communities to outline the demand and uptake for the community halls programme. (AQO 966/16-21)

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2017-01-24 Community Halls Programme | Oral Answers to Questions — Communities | Northern Ireland Assembly

I thank the Minister for his reply and for his hard work over the last eight months. Was this scheme only for Orange halls to apply to? I notice some of the media are putting it out there as some sort of sectarian scheme. Was it available to all of the community? Maybe the Minister could tell us some of the organisations that benefited from this scheme.

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2017-01-23 Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report | Private Members' Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

I thank the Member for giving way. I omitted to mention when I was speaking the tenacious work that Margaret, Marty and the SAVIA team did to bring this forward. On the subject that he is talking about, does the Member agree with me that we have got some honesty but that we could also do with justice? The PPS and the police should be pursuing the sadists that he is talking about.

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2017-01-23 Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Report | Private Members' Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I welcome the fact that it has been tabled and congratulate the proposer of the motion for doing so.

Around five years ago, someone called into my office and related stories of what was going on in Rathgael, both at that time and in the past. Ever since then, I have been working with victims of institutional abuse to get justice, and I welcome the fact that the inquiry was set up. I commend Sir Anthony Hart for the work that he did. I do not know how he sat and listened to the stories day after day, but he did and he did so in a very fair way. More importantly, I want to congratulate the people who told their stories at that inquiry. It took many of them back to the circumstances of what had happened in the first instance and was hugely traumatic.

I want to relate a couple of stories very briefly, because we do not have time to give the stories justice, to tell them in full or to tell them as well as the people themselves. There was a young lad in Rathgael who was not sleeping well at nights and so forth and had a few problems. He was taken out at 6.30 am and made to jump off the pier into cold, icy water. That caused huge flashbacks for that individual, and, ultimately, he had an early death as a result of it. A young girl went into a Sisters of Nazareth home. From the age of eight, she was sexually abused by the priest who was supposed to be looking after confession. She was made to clean the toilets with her bare hands — to carry faeces out of blocked toilets with her bare hands— and to bath in bleach after a priest had abused her. That is the scale of what was happening to children in our society in this western, civilised country, not 100 or 200 years ago but 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It was right that the victims had their voice, and it was right that that voice was heard and acted on. It is immensely regrettable that we do not have a functioning Executive Office so that we can respond to the Hart report. That is absolutely critical.

I appeal to everybody in the House. We are in an election — the die is cast, so that is that — but I appeal to everybody in the House to get round the table and get things resolved quickly — I mean not over months but over weeks — and get back to dealing with issues like this. If you are talking about equality, here are people who need equality.

Where is the fairness in the victims not having their voice heard — not having a response made to them on these important issues?

Lord Justice Hart made a series of recommendations. Some of them are about finance. We will have to get our heads together, look at all those issues and seek to respond as quickly as possible. What I am absolutely clear about is that Ireland, North and South, has a mark of shame on it as a result of abuse of children by a range of people from various organisations. I want a line drawn under this, where we give victims recognition and take every step possible to ensure that new victims do not appear.

Our social care system has improved dramatically, but I do not believe for one instant that we have taken every circumstance out where a child can be abused. Let us have zero tolerance of child abuse in this society. For far too long, people turned a blind eye, covered it up and created the circumstances where child abusers could go from one place to another to carry out their abuse. That is just wrong. We as a society can do so much better. I appeal to the Assembly to give victims all the support possible to get resolution and to draw a line under this very important issue.

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

I thank the Member for giving way. Sinn Féin was in the same Executive as the DUP when all this was happening, and one of the Ministers who was promoting RHI was the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Can the Member deny or confirm that that Minister, right up to and even during the spike, in November 2015, was publicly promoting RHI to farmers?

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Yes, I will give way in a moment. The chickens thrived better in the drier heat produced by the woodchip boilers than that produced by gas boilers. The gas boilers are on also. They are not part of the scheme, by the way, before we get new accusations flying about. Very often, woodchip boilers do not bring the heat in the house up to a high enough temperature. So, for people who think that heat was being generated just to be blasted out the doors, that is not the case; the heat was being generated and was being augmented by the old gas systems when those chicks were in their early stages.

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Woodchips and wood pellets are for renewable heat boilers. They are both renewable forms of heat. Nonetheless, I was trying to explain that these are being used for good purpose. So, when Mr Wells discovered that his brother and a number of his cousins have one, they are not doing anything wrong. They are legitimately carrying out a business and have invested many tens of thousands of pounds each in acquiring the boilers. I will add that I know Mr Wells's brother, and the last person he would seek agricultural advice from is Jim because Jim is not really someone who is known to be that interested in broiler chickens; he is more interested in birds of prey.

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

This is a very difficult moment for me because I have to agree with absolutely everything that the leader of the Alliance Party has just said. In truth, it is common sense.

I deeply regret that we are in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I committed to the Assembly 10 years ago to try to get devolution off the ground again and I think that, for all its faults and foibles and so forth, it has been a good thing, and last night's shooting demonstrates the importance of us working together. The fact that we are going into an election and probably going into negotiations after that election takes us into an unknown, which, I believe, was avoidable and hugely regrettable.

Getting back to the point, Mr Deputy Speaker, before you pounce on me, supporting the regulations would be a demonstration that the Assembly means business.

It wants to put right something that it got wrong. It would be a step forward for the public. As I have said before, the public are looking for solutions; some politicians are looking for scalps. That is unfortunate. Even on the evidence that has been provided thus far, it has been demonstrated that it has been wrong to engage in the hate campaign against Arlene Foster and to identify and pinpoint one individual as the person who devised the scheme. She did not devise the scheme, and everybody knows that.

We are where we are. I encourage people to support the regulations. I would not be altogether happy with the regulations as they stand if they were for 25 years, so I encourage the Department to work comprehensively with the industry to identify the means by which to go forward with a scheme that can support those who are involved in producing renewable heat and does so in a way that gives them a return on their investment but does not lift £490 million from the taxpayer. Everybody would be a winner at that point.

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Will the Member give way?

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I thank the Member for giving way. If he cares to look back on any of the communication from Peter Robinson around the period of him stepping down, he will see that that was not for investigation but because he wished to spend time with his family, who were going through extremely difficult circumstances. There seems to be a lot of confusion about that, and it appears to me that, if you keep pumping out a message, even though it is the wrong message, it appears eventually to be the truth when, in actual fact, it is not.

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue. Much has been said about RHI over a number of months, but there has been very little action. Now is the opportunity for Members to take action to do something about it and to ensure that the £490 million that the BBC claimed had gone up in smoke does not go up in smoke and that public resources are used for other purposes. At the same time, that would give us time to come forward with a more comprehensive package to deal appropriately and adequately with the issues of concern that have rightly been raised on the overspend.

The concept of RHI is a very important one because, as of today, we are still members of the European Union.

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2017-01-23 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 | Executive Committee Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and apologies for moving around.

A number of years ago, of course, nobody imagined that we would be leaving the European Union, which has set us very stringent targets for the use of renewable energy. Therefore, the concept of a renewable heat initiative, using woodchip instead of fossil fuels, was a good one. When the uptake was slow, many did not anticipate that there would be a spike at some stage. The spike happened only after a Minister in the Westminster Government announced that they were to withdraw funding from wind energy. Nonetheless, the spike happened, and we are now in the circumstance that we are in, and something needs to be done.

There has been a whole series of efforts to try to make it appear that this is hugely corrupt. I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that there are significant inadequacies, that people got it wrong and that the scheme as devised is clearly flawed. All of those issues are out there, but I do not believe and have not seen evidence that this involves political corruption. I do not think that that case can stand. Nonetheless, let us have the public inquiry, and let us have its findings as quickly as possible. I do not like and would resist a long public inquiry, as might be proposed. I would much prefer a very rapid inquiry: one that has all the papers, witnesses and everything else that you can have at a public inquiry, but one that also gets answers for the public quickly.

We find ourselves in this circumstance today, and we will see the colour of Members' money. Those Members who choose to go through the Lobbies and do something different are saying, "Roll on. Keep spending the money. We will make plenty of noise and plenty of protest and seek to get as much publicity as possible over this issue. Let us get as angry as possible, but we are quite happy for it to go up in smoke because then we can continue to blame the DUP for what is going on". So, let us see the colour of your money. If you are for real, you will do the right thing and vote for the proposals today. I know that the proposals will hurt people who have installed boilers. People who installed woodchip boilers are not criminals, rogues, thieves, murderers or a whole lot of other things; most are just involved in a business that needed heat and, therefore, they looked at this option and did it.

Moy Park encouraged its growers to do it. What really bugs me, particularly on social media, is that people do not seem to realise that day-old chickens need considerable amounts of heat, and for quite a long period afterwards. Woodchip boilers provided that heat from non-fossil fuels, and that was beneficial. Moy Park encouraged farmers to install them because the chickens —

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2017-01-23 The Shooting of a Police Officer in North Belfast | Matter of the Day | Northern Ireland Assembly

Last night was a stark reminder of what many of us grew up with in this country and what many of us heard all the time in news reports: murders and attempted murders. First, I wish the police officer well in his recovery; we are thankful that his injuries are not life-threatening.

This has not been a success for those who set out last night. Success for them means the same outcome as happened with Constable Carroll, David Black and Adrian Ismay and, indeed, civilians who have been targeted by the same individuals. What stands as a stark reminder to us all is that, this time 10 years ago, we were discussing with our members and the wider public the outcome of the St Andrews negotiations and whether we should proceed into government with Sinn Féin, which was a hugely difficult decision for us. We took the decision to do so because we did not want to go back; we wanted to go forward.

We are now in a similar circumstance in Northern Ireland, where, perhaps, others have greater problems, but the question that has to be posed is this: are we going to back or are we going to go forward? Instability creates vacuums, and evil people step into those vacuums. I think that it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to commit ourselves to ensuring that we, for all the problems and wrongs of Stormont, continue to provide stability and leadership and continue to be there for the people of Northern Ireland, because we have had the awful, horrible, bloody past that I have had to grow up in, and I do not want my children or grandchildren to grow up in that environment. I want the people who carry out the likes of the shooting last night to be marginalised, sidelined and incarcerated and to serve very long sentences for what they do, not given the opportunity to go out to carry out more of this in the name of Ireland or of any other cause.

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2017-01-17 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Opposition Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

I thank the Member for giving way. As I indicated in the speech I made four weeks ago, the Saville-type or Chilcot-type inquiry is not in anybody's interest. If you go back to how I dealt with pseudomonas, for example, you will see that we had an inquiry done and dusted in a matter of months, whereas the hyponatraemia inquiry, which the Member rightly asked a question about, has cost £15 million and, seven years later, has not delivered the answers. That is not the way forward. We want the truth.

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2017-01-17 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Opposition Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the issue. There are a lot of people who have culpability: two ETI Ministers; the officials who drafted the scheme; the specialist consultants who were brought in; Ofgem; and the Assembly Committee that oversaw it. Everybody — everybody — has culpability in this. We owe the public an apology for devising a scheme that was not fit for purpose. An important message that needs to be got out there is this: we devised a scheme that was not fit for purpose, we regret that and we need to fix it. That should be the focus of the Assembly and everyone in it. We need to rectify the mistake and move on.

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2017-01-17 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Opposition Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Yes, Mr Beggs.

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2017-01-17 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Opposition Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

Yes, I would, and the entire Executive for that matter and the SpAds who were involved. Everybody has culpability in this. However, this is what I am coming to: the motion targets one individual — the First Minister, who was Arlene Foster. Arlene Foster did not devise the scheme. She was presented with it. She did not ask for it to be changed by civil servants so that it was different from the UK one. She was presented with a scheme and told, "This is the best way forward for Northern Ireland". She accepted the advice of the energy division, which devised it after input from all the specialist consultants and Ofgem. Here we have a fixation with a hate campaign against Arlene Foster. I say clearly that Arlene Foster brought in tens of thousands of jobs, in conjunction with Invest NI, to Northern Ireland during her period as ETI Minister. Northern Ireland had the second-highest success rate in bringing in inward investment in the United Kingdom. The only place beating us was the south-east of England. Every other region in the United Kingdom was trailing in the wake of Northern Ireland when Arlene Foster was ETI Minister and was out there bringing jobs back to Northern Ireland, yet Members are fixated with a hate campaign against her.

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2017-01-17 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Opposition Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

It is absolutely true that Amber Rudd moved early and that that created all sorts of issues and problems. There were issues about wind energy as well that we had to close early. Had that not been the case — I know that Mr Frew worked hard to ensure that it was not the case, as indeed did Mr McGlone — we would have been in a worse position.

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2017-01-17 Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme | Opposition Business | Northern Ireland Assembly

The Member gets back to this "Get rid of Arlene" campaign. Ofgem did not see it, the officials did not see it, the specialist consultants did not see it and the Committee, which had Alliance members, did not see it. Nobody saw it, but Arlene Foster has to take the hit on it all. Arlene Foster brought in tens of thousands of jobs as ETI Minister. She was a hugely successful ETI Minister and has been a hugely successful First Minister. The hate campaign brought about by all of the other Members here needs to stop. They need to stop the hate campaign against Arlene Foster.

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