Fair Crack Of The Whip For Womens Sector?

A local Newry woman asked the panel if enough was being done for the women’s sector.

Trevor Lunn said that, as with many issues, it came back to the budget and pointed out that it’s ‘not just women’s groups’ but ‘all sorts of voluntary groups’ that need funding.

Simon Hamilton argued that, with four women in the executive, the influence of women was on the rise. He challenged any woman that felt she could help change things for the better to take to the campaign trail and run for office. The consensus of the panel was that politics wasn’t a boys club and that women’s contribution was welcome.

Is the Assembly a boys club? Are women put off by the world of politics? Are women’s views fairly represented in the Assembly?

Are Water Charges Inevitable?

Water charges have been deferred for two years but is it only a matter of time before we are paying for our water?

There was general agreement on the panel that water charges are on their way – and that the delay was brought in to give the public some relief in difficult times.

Mickey Brady pointed out that water charges are not new as homeowners have always paid for water as an integral part of the rates bills. He also explained that the infrastructure of the water system meant that investment was sorely needed.

Trevor Lunn from the Alliance added that the Executive has limited money raising powers and therefore it was sensible to use water charges to bring in much needed capital.

Danny Kennedy accepted water charges were on the way but felt that ‘metering needs to be introduced’ so that people pay in proportion to their consumption.

How soon do you think it will be before we are paying separately for our water? Do you think rates bills will decrease in fair proportion when water charges start?

Makeover For South Armagh

A South Armagh resident vented his frustration at the lack of tourism and the state of the roads and countryside in South Armagh.

Whilst local MLAs Mickey Brady and Danny Kennedy agreed that the full potential of the natural beauty of South Armagh was not being realised, they believed that there was great enthusiasm for improving the region. The MLAs highlighted for praise the work of RoSA (Regeneration of South Armagh – a rural support network set up by residents) and the Newry and Mourne district council.

Mr Brady contended that there was a dedicated regeneration project underway ‘fuelled by local people’ while Mr Kennedy conceded that it was financially unrealistic to fix every pothole with the large number of minor roads in the area.

Should it be left to the local people of a community to redevelop an area? Is there too much apathy regards improving tourism in more rural areas?

Does The Electoral Register Give You Your Voice?

In light of the Chief Electoral Officer, Douglas Bain’s strategy regarding verification of the electoral register, does making ‘your voice heard’ only apply to households with fewer than 6 voters?

Declan O’Loan started the discussion by saying that the Chief Electoral Officer has a task to make sure he has an electoral register which is accurate, and he spoke of some 150,000 changes which were needed in the current year just to maintain its accuracy. He said that there should be a verification issue in households with more than 8 people.

Simon Hamilton spoke of his concern regarding the number of young people who are not on the electoral register for one reason or another. He felt this was more a problem with society than a problem with the Electoral Office.

Mickey Brady raised concerns with regard a letter his large family received from the Electoral Office giving them 14 days to respond or they would be removed from the register. He raised the issue of what would happen if the family had been on holiday. He also spoke of disenfranchisement, and said that young people need to be encouraged to exercise their right to vote.

Are you a young person and do you feel that perhaps your voice remains somewhat unheard? What would encourage you to vote?

Can Northern Ireland Put Education Above Party Politics?

When will party politics be put aside and education policy be secured for the children of Northern Ireland?

Trevor Lunn from the Alliance opened the discussion by describing the current situation in education as deadlocked and confused.

Danny Kennedy from the UUP said he deeply regretted the political impasse on education that had developed in recent years and regretted that it become a political and sectarian issue. He felt that most of the blame lay with the current Minister for Education.

Moving on to the future of grammar schools, Trevor Lunn felt it is better to have a good secondary school than a poor grammar school, while Sinn Fein’s Mickey Brady spoke of an elitist system which the Minister is attempting to remove. Simon Hamilton from the DUP disagreed with the view that the grammar school system was elitist and remarked that the way the Assembly was handling the education issue would not be described as its finest hour. Declan O’Loan blamed the stalemate on a Unionist veto which was secured at St Andrews.

Chosing Desert Island Companions

Which political rival would you choose to be marooned with on a desert island for an evening or day?

This question was directed to the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan as he had not given an answer when asked at a previous roadshow.

Mr O’Loan chose one MLA from each party. From the UUP, he chose John McCallister saying that as a farmer, he would be good company to have on a desert island. From the DUP he chose Simon Hamilton, saying that Simon has interesting things to say and is not narrow minded. Mitchell McLaughlin was the choice from Sinn Fein because he is a very fair person.

If you could choose any local politician to be marooned on a desert island, who would you choose and for what reason?

Will Frontline Services Be Cut Under The Comprehensive Spending Review?

How does the Assembly plan to implement the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) proposals without having a detrimental effect on frontline service delivery?

Mickey Brady from Sinn Fein began by saying that he felt many front line services will be affected.

SDLP’s Declan O’Loan stated that while there is a general feeling that public services are going to the dogs, this is not the case. He felt that shirking difficult decisions in the past and taking the easy way out is the reason that Northern Ireland hasn’t seen an improvement in service.

DUP’s Simon Hamilton agreed with Declan O’Loan’s comment about the state of local public services, saying that the services here are the highest standard you could find. Mr Hamilton argued that the challenge for Northern Ireland is to ensure that there are infinite demands on limited resources. He also argued that efficiencies are not cuts.