Expensive University Fees Questioned

One man in Armagh wondered why Scottish university students aren’t required to pay for university fees while in Northern Ireland, students have no choice but to pay for a university education.
Stephen Farry spoke of how the Assembly have a block budget allocated to them and how free university fees would lead to greater expense elsewhere at a cost of ’40 to 60million pounds’. He went on to say that he supported the notion that a university education should be free of cost.

Dominic Bradley echoed the sentiment that education should be free. He went on to say: “I don’t think it’s fair that students are being lumbered with huge debts when they start off their working lives and we should continue to improve the funding of university education.”

What do you think about the difficulties associated in taking money from other sectors in order to fund a university education? Do you agree with the panel that a university education should be free?

Conflicting Opinions on Tax Raising Powers

When asked about the introduction of tax varying powers to the Assembly, most of the panel believed it would be a good thing. Stephen Farry said it would bring a greater degree of ‘responsibility and accountability’. Mickey Brady said Sinn Fein were ‘very much in favour. The only person to disagree was Danny Kennedy, UUP, who thought it would lead to tax increases and said that ‘most people find that they are already overburdened’.

What do you think of giving the Assembly’s greater degree of autonomy with respect to tax laws?

Questions Arise Over Special Education Funding

The review of funding for special educational needs and how it should be allocated by the Assembly was a topic of concern for one local woman in Armagh. She wanted to know how the money would be used. Mickey Brady was able to confirm that there is indeed a review going on but was unsure of how much money was allocated for it.

Stephen Farry was able to elaborate: “From a financial point of view, the money can’t be lost from the system. I’m acutely aware of the demands in this area and at times the mainstream school system tends to take priority in resourcing and it’s important that we have a level playing field for all the schools”.

What do you think of Stephen Farry’s summation that not enough money is being spent on special education? Do you think there is a ‘level playing field’?

Mixed Views on The Assembly And The Victorious Irish Rugby Team

Going outside the general themes of the evening, there was some fun as people discussed the Irish rugby team’s success and what the Assembly can do to engage with, and learn from, the team’s sporting triumph.

Is the Irish Rugby team a model of success that we can all learn from?

Overhead Power Lines Causing Concern

The health concerns in relation to high voltage power lines were raised in Armagh. One local woman urged the Assembly representatives to act according to local community issues and put a proposed interconnector underground.

William Irwin voiced his agreement with local people and their concerns: “I support the undergrounding of the cable. This is one of the highest powered overhead cables ever proposed in Ireland, North or South. We have no conclusive evidence of what health problems it can cause but if it was coming near me I certainly wouldn’t want it.”

Dominic Bradley, SDLP, was in agreement and went on to say that it would ‘make economic sense to ground the cables and that is advantageous for health and the environment’.

Alliance’s Stephen Farry, however, disagreed. He spoke of the increasing need to use renewable energy and that the west coast of Ireland has all the wind and the greater population is on the east coast and these connecters would be a necessary evil.

Do you agree with Stephen Farry’s view that these connectors are a necessary evil? Or do you think that any health risks should be given priority no matter what the financial cost is?

Devolution of Policing And Justice On The Agenda In Armagh

The current issue of devolving policing and justice to Northern Ireland raised questions about who the new department and Minister would be answerable to.

Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party said: “Any Minister will be part of the Executive and will be held accountable within that wider context as well. There will be a dedicated department, most likely called the Department of Justice, it will be a separate Department and will not be a part of OFMDFM.”
William Irwin of the DUP outlined his party’s opposition to any new Ministry being under the remit of OFMDFM: “We think that the overall picture is not muddied by political posturing among parties.”

What are your views on the devolution of policing and justice? Do you think that a new Ministry will be another step forward for Northern Ireland?

Heated Exchanges About Hospital Closures

There was animated discussion in Armagh as people rose to attack the way money was spent on hospitals and other public institutions. The audience showed their frustration over hospital closures and proposals to reduce facilities. Stephen Farry mentioned a similar situation in Bangor where a closure was reversed and urged local people to keep faith and to keep fighting their case.

Concerns funding for health and social services are common across Northern Ireland. Do you agree with one voter when he said that now this country has money we are worse off than when there was none?