Poots: 'blame lies with the perpetrators'

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The health minister rejected a suggestion that his department had failed children in care, on 17 September 2013.

Edwin Poots said "the blame lies first and foremost with the perpetrators and not with the department".

His comments came after 30 people were arrested as part of a police investigation into the alleged sexual exploitation of children and young people who went missing from care.

"Whenever young people themselves don't believe that they are the victims of violence or sexual violence you have a great difficulty, because many of these young people wrongly perceive that they are being appreciated and shown some kind of care and attention when what is really happening is that it is malign attention that they are receiving from people who have evil purposes," he said.

Sinn Fein's Sean Lynch asked for assurance from the minister "that children in care today are safe".

Mr Poots said "children in residential care homes are in homes, and that's why they're not locked up, because it is to be a home, not a prison".

Chris Lyttle of Alliance asked the minister why he was using scarce public funds for legal cases against blood donation and adoption by gay people.

The minister said that "if someone takes you to court you do have to respond".

He said that when a direct rule minister held a consultation on gay adoption it revealed that over 95% of the population was opposed to it

"We would do well to pay attention to the democratic will," he said.

The Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry advised members not "to take too much stock" of university league tables.

Thomas Buchanan of the DUP said the University of Ulster had dropped from 54 to 88 in the Guardian league table of British universities.

Mr Farry said there were many tables and they varied in their emphasis on research, or student satisfaction.

"We are investing as an executive heavily in the higher education sector," he said.

Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay asked the minister what he was doing to address the difficulties faced by students from the north wishing to study in the south of Ireland.

Mr Farry said the level of student flows was "below its potential" and that his officials were working with their counterparts in the Republic on the matter.

The minister said one of the key issues was the lack of recognition of the A* grade at A-level by the education authorities in the Republic.

He said he had discussed the matter with Ruairi Quinn, the Republic's education minister.

The SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell, asked for an update on the future of teacher education.

The minister said he had appointed Dr Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish expert, to chair an international panel to review Northern Ireland's teacher training infrastructure.

He cautioned that the current arrangements for teacher training were "not sustainable going forward".

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