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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 3 July 2000

Contents

Joey Dunlop

Assembly Sitting of 27 June 2000: Matters Arising

Statements by Ministers

Agenda for Government

Public Expenditure (2000-01): Reallocations

Points of Order

Waterways and Languages: North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

Waterways

Languages

Agriculture: North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

Assembly Affairs

Oral Answers

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Assembly Commission

Dogs (Amendment) Bill: Second Stage

Ground Rents Bill

Dogs (Amendment) Bill

Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill

Fisheries Bill

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Joey Dunlop

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Mr Speaker:

It is with regret that I advise the Assembly of the tragic death in a racing accident of the motorcycle ace Mr Joey Dunlop.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey): There can be no one in the Assembly, in Northern Ireland or further afield, or in the world of sport generally, who has not yet heard the tragic news of the death of Joey Dunlop. He reached the pinnacle of his sport of road racing. He was idolised by legions of fans throughout the world. His untimely death has left a void, both in Northern Ireland and in motorcycle racing, that will never be filled.

Only two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Joey at a reception in Ballymoney. I was immediately struck by his modesty and the high esteem in which he was held by the people of his home town. He was never too busy to help others. He found time to carry out charity work for those less well off in Romania and the Balkan countries. His huge talent on the motorcycle was matched by his generosity of spirit. We will never see his like again.

I am sure I speak for all Members and for everyone in Northern Ireland in offering my condolences to his wife Linda and to his family and friends. Northern Ireland has lost one of her finest sons: Joey Dunlop.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

I add my condolences and those of my party to those expressed by the Minister. Very few sportsmen, from whatever sport, are known by their Christian names. Joey Dunlop was never known as anything in Northern Ireland but Joey, and everybody knew immediately who was being talking about. They also knew the quality of commitment and expertise that he brought to his sport.

This is a tragedy, not just for his sport, for his family and for his community, but for those of us who value sport in our lives and who value the example of someone who really did set a remarkable example of courage down through the years. He will be sadly missed but we are the better for having had Joey as a representative of our community, both at home and abroad, for so many years.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

When I paid tribute to his last races and the victories that he won — three in a row — little did I think that I would be standing here today to lament with all of Northern Ireland and his fans throughout the world the tragic death of Joey Dunlop. It has been well said that great grief is not good at talking. The language of grief is the tear, the lump in the throat, and the feeling of a kindly pressure upon the hand. We want Linda and the family to know that this is how we feel today.

To the God of all comfort and grace, we commend the family at this time. They are passing through a very dark valley, and they need all the support and prayers that we can offer them.

We salute the memory of Joey Dunlop. He was a legend in his own right, and he can never be replaced. He remains, and will remain, the "King of the Road".

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. As a member of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee and on behalf of my party I add my voice to the messages of sympathy to Joey Dunlop’s wife Linda and their children.

We all regarded Joey Dunlop as a tremendous sporting hero and a great sporting ambassador who achieved excellence in his lifetime, in his disciplined contribution to his sport. His death is a great loss to the entire community.

Mr Neeson:

On behalf of the Alliance Party and the Women’s Coalition, I would like to express the great shock I felt when I heard the news yesterday of Joey Dunlop’s untimely death. He was undoubtedly one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ambassadors. He had support across the community, and he was a giant among sports people in the Province. He was a legend in his lifetime.

I met him on several occasions, and he was a very sincere, warm family man. Not only did he care for his own, but this modest man cared for others, particularly in the Balkans.

In the last Assembly Joey was honoured by the Speaker when a special event was organised for him in 1985. I had hoped that this Assembly would have a similar opportunity. Sadly, this is not to be. To his wife Linda, his family and the rest of his friends, we extend our deepest sympathy at this very sad hour.

Mr Boyd:

On behalf of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, I express our sympathy to the family circle on their sad and tragic loss and offer our thoughts and prayers to them at this time.

Assembly Sitting of 27 June 2000:
Matters Arising

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Mr Speaker:

During the sitting of 27 June, a number of matters were drawn to the attention of the Deputy Speakers with which I will now deal.

As recorded in Hansard, page 357, Mr Gregory Campbell asked for a ruling on an alleged threat from another Member. From a reading of Hansard I can say that there is nothing unparliamentary in the language that was used. However, from viewing the videotape recording it is clear that, on all sides, tempers were beginning to rise. I would remind Members that they are all required, whether speaking or sedentary, to observe due courtesy to other Members at all times, particularly, but not only, during sittings of the Assembly.

During a later part of the same speech — Hansard, page 358 — an exchange between Mr Conor Murphy and Junior Minister Mr Dermot Nesbitt revolved around whether Members should address each other in the Chamber even when asking a direct question. Members should always speak through the Chair, and should be aware that when in a speech they say "you", they will be taken as referring to the Chair. Even when making a request that another Member give way, the request should be made through the Chair, although clearly it will be for the Member speaking to decide whether he will give way.

I would remind Members that there is no such thing in parliamentary practice as a point of information. A Member may seek to intervene, and the Member speaking may choose to give way or otherwise. Members may also make points of order, which are ruled upon from the Chair.

Also, Mr Hussey — Hansard, page 363 — asked for a ruling on whether unparliamentary language had been used when a Member referred to civil servants. I have read Hansard and there is nothing unparliamentary about what was said. However, perhaps this is an opportunity to set down how such references should be made. References to officials should always be to an official position rather than to a named individual. It is in the nature of government that officials carry out a wide range of responsibilities on behalf of their Ministers. Officials given discretion in these circumstances must be accountable for their decisions in the same way as Ministers. Equally, officials should expect some degree of protection from public castigation because they cannot respond for themselves in an equally public way. However, officials who have made public statements on their own initiative cannot necessarily expect that these statements will be immune from comment in the Assembly or indeed outside it.

I remind Members that it is not in order to refer to officials of the Assembly at any time. Clerks and their staff are here to assist Members in the performance of their duties but are at all times under the direction of Members. Members themselves must bear responsibility for the actions carried out on their behalf. On occasion, this means, of course, that the Chair must take responsibility for certain matters.

Mr Shannon:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to ask a question about Hansard, page 334. This relates to the arts and culture debate last week. How come there are 11 or 12 spelling mistakes in the Ulster-Scots transcription? I would like your assurance, Mr Speaker, that whenever Ulster-Scots is used in the Assembly, it will be transcribed correctly in Hansard.

Mr Speaker:

I will attempt to review the Hansard record as requested by the Member. I would, however, draw two matters to his attention. First, a transcription is provided, not a translation. Secondly, I regret to say that in trying to provide this facility, we have had substantial difficulty in finding any agreed grammar or syntax for the language in question. I will, however, review the matter and respond to the Member.

Mr Shannon:

I gave the Hansard staff a copy of what I said, word for word. They asked for it, and I gave it to them. However, they ignored it and put their own grammar in. I took the time and made the effort to have it done correctly through the Ulster-Scots Heritage Society, so they had absolutely no reason for not transcribing it correctly.

10.45 am

Mr Speaker:

Order. I fear that the Member does not entirely understand the Hansard process. If the Member reads what is said in English in Hansard, and then views the video tape of what was said, he will find — on occasions to his pleasure — that the editorial staff have made substantial corrections to clarify what was said in English.

The Official Report is not meant to be verbatim; it is meant to be a proper report. I suggest that when Members read what they have said they will often be rather more pleased than they are sometimes justified in being. Having said all that, and being no authority at all on Ulster-Scots, I will, as I have said, review the matter that the Member has raised and be in touch with him about it.

Mr R Hutchinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you agree that it is an absolute disgrace that civil and religious liberties were denied to the Orangemen of Portadown yesterday? I call upon the House to back their right to march on the Garvaghy Road.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member knows perfectly well that this is not a point of order, and not a matter that is appropriate for him to raise at this time. He is in danger of abusing the responsibilities of the House.

Statements by Ministers

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Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you intend to establish any procedures with regard to Ministers making major statements outside the House, instead of coming first to the House and giving details here?

Mr Speaker:

The Member will be very aware that that is a substantial point of contention in another place where he sits. It is no easy matter to resolve.

Agenda for Government

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The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

With permission, Mr Speaker, we wish to make a statement on the agenda for Government. This is the first opportunity we have had to make a statement to the House on this issue. I am making this statement on behalf of the Executive as a whole, and individual Ministers will, in the course of this week, be making more detailed statements on aspects of the agenda.

Following last Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting the Deputy First Minister and I announced an agenda of actions to address some key concerns and help to improve and modernise services. We wanted to announce the agenda at that stage when the Executive was together — giving visible expression to our overarching theme: "Moving Forward Together". However, the Executive recognises that full and further information must be presented to the Assembly, which is why we are making this detailed statement this morning.

Devolution is about local politicians taking responsibility and decisions on local issues. People will expect the Executive and the Assembly to pursue policies and programmes which make a difference to their lives. We, for our part, need to listen to people to find out what is important to them and what changes they would like to see. In taking forward the work on the programme for Government with the Assembly and its Committees, we will be doing just that.

We will need to decide on strategies, objectives, policies and programmes which will help to improve and modernise Northern Ireland in the first few years of this new century. In doing so, we will wish to draw together the work of different Departments and agencies. Often it is only when we bring together the resources of different Departments that we can start to crack the major problems that we face. At the same time we will need to decide how to make best use of the resources available, and link the programme for Government to the budget. We are going to have to face difficult decisions on priorities. We will be seeking views on what our programme for Government should contain. Ministers are already seeking Committees’ initial views on the programme, but I can assure Members that we will be coming back on a number of occasions.

Later this year we will be presenting the outcome of the work on the programme in draft form for the Assembly and its Committees to consider. The programme for Government will take effect in the next and following years. Preparatory work is proceeding. Our more immediate issue is what we should and can do in the remainder of this year to start us in the right direction.

We have identified five clear areas in the agenda covering the economy, health and education, the environment, tackling disadvantage and social exclusion and modern and accessible public services, and we have identified actions which will contribute to dealing with those areas. We wish to see a step change in the economy by which we mean increased growth and employment taking advantage fully of the opportunities that a peaceful society will bring. There is significant scope for our economy to advance. We should therefore ensure that our economic development agencies are best organised to meet the new challenges. This change was also recommended by the ‘Strategy 2010’ review.

We need to encourage and develop the information-age society. In the short term we intend to help accelerate work on the ‘Leapfrog to the Information Age’ initiative, which is intended to progress Northern Ireland towards a highly attractive, dynamic and supportive knowledge-based society.

On 19 June the Minister for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment announced the new support programme for university research to the House, which will develop the local universities’ research capacity and strengthen their research base, increasing the amount of research of the highest international standard. The support programme will be funded partly by the private sector. The work on developing the research programme is included in our agenda and it will help to contribute to the creation of the knowledge-based society.

The Executive also agrees that we need to do more for the long-suffering agriculture industry. We are working for the achievement of low BSE incidence status, and we have allocated £500,000 to enable the beef industry to avail fully of export opportunities.

We are also addressing the need of farmers to benefit from the new technology-based society. We will be enhancing the access of farmers to information technology, focusing particularly on farmers in the west, where progress in training farmers and members of farm families has been slower than in the east of Northern Ireland. Farmers will also be given electronic access to high quality, user-friendly business support information to help them run their businesses.

Better health and education are important to us all. We want to ensure that our schools have the information technology they need to improve the skills of our young people. We also want to improve the condition of schools, in particularly to upgrade sub-standard facilities in smaller primary schools. On health we need to improve the situation with waiting lists, and we have allocated £5 million for this programme.

We must also give emphasis to the importance of public health. The Health Minister is planning to launch a new public-health strategy to improve our health status, which is among the worst in Europe, and to address the significant inequalities that exist. The strategy will be wide ranging and will include accident prevention, the need to improve the health and well-being of the elderly and action on the high levels of teenage parenthood in Northern Ireland, and it will involve other Departments where relevant.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

The Executive has also agreed that we should highlight examples of actions which we wish to undertake in the coming weeks and months, areas where urgent and early action is needed. The agenda demonstrates that the Executive Committee can agree, and has agreed, a package of measures targeting specific needs. These measures are additional to the already agreed programmes and activities which Ministers and their Departments will be taking forward and developing this year.

In drawing up the agenda we have decided that it should be resourced from a modernising fund. That fund will support the projects that we are highlighting this morning, amounting to £27.6 million in total; a second tranche will be available to support additional actions later in this year. Allocations made from the fund are solely for the specific purposes identified.

The First Minister has already detailed some actions to improve the economy and to achieve better education and health. I will now cover actions which will support our aims of tackling disadvantage and social exclusion, making the environment safer and providing improved, modern and accessible services.

We must tackle disadvantage and social exclusion and the agenda includes a number of actions which are intended to do just that. We know of the concerns that there will be a gap in EU funding for certain groups and projects.

We have allocated £3.2 million to tackle that problem. We want to do more for the disabled. A number of actions in the agenda will benefit the disabled including housing adaptations, work on accessibility to cultural and sporting events and the implementation of the new disability legislation.

We have also committed ourselves to important initiatives on targeting social need (TSN) and equality legislation. On TSN we have allocated finance to enhance research so that we can ensure that the programme is fully evaluated and monitored. Work will commence on a single equality Act to extend protection to groups not already covered by anti-discrimination legislation and, where appropriate, to harmonise protection upwards. This is a key objective.

In relation to the environment, we need to address the most urgent health and safety work on the railways pending the completion of the railway task force’s work on the long-term future of the rail system. We are aware of the need to improve safety on our roads, where we continue to see an appalling loss of life and injury. The additional resources will allow us to appoint 10 new road safety education officers to enhance contacts with schools. There will also be an intensification of the road safety advertising campaign, focusing on young drivers and, especially, drink driving.

With our aim of a better, safer environment we will also target some resources on improving health and safety at sports grounds.

With regard to planning matters, we are providing additional resources to initiate work quickly on the Belfast metropolitan plan covering the six relevant district council areas. We are also taking steps to reduce the planning applications backlog.

We also plan an arts and culture programme of events to develop a better appreciation of our cultural diversity.

The people of Northern Ireland deserve better and more modern services. We will set in hand over the coming months a fundamental appraisal of the structures and location of public service. We will open a representative office in Brussels to improve our links with Europe. We will progress North/South co-operation through the establishment of the tourism company by the autumn and an action plan to reduce the barriers in place for those who move from one side of the border to the other on a short-or long-term basis.

The agenda represents examples of what we will be doing. The actions indicate our determination to work together for the benefit of all. We know that we can make real improvements to people’s lives when we move forward effectively together.

Mr Speaker:

I am allowing the maximum of one hour, which is the longest time available under Standing Orders, for questions to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on their statement.

Mr B Bell:

I welcome the statement from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I was interested in the Deputy First Minister’s reference to a second tranche. Will he state how much will be in this second tranche and when a decision on it will be reached?

The First Minister:

Perhaps I can answer that question, Mr Speaker. We have endeavoured to identify resources that can be used for the agenda for Government and group them together under the heading of a modernisation fund. We intend to have a second tranche in the autumn; part of the reason for this is to allow time for further work to be done on this for consideration after the summer. We must be prudent since, by then, there may be other activities requiring extra resources that will have to be considered. We will decide on the extent of the second tranche after the summer recess.

Mr Fee:

I too welcome the statement and the level of detail that the Ministers have provided on what they can achieve over the next number of months.

11.00 am

I certainly hope that the fundamental appraisal of the structures and location of public services will ultimately lead to a decentralisation of public sector employment, because that is central to the well-being of rural and border constituencies. I also hope that it will lead to a rationalisation of the plethora of boards, trusts, councils and agencies.

My specific point though is much more parochial. I welcome the fact that there is going to be more investment in and new structures for North/South co-operation. However, it is not just in the public sector where we need some regulation and some help. Can the Ministers tell us how they can reduce the disadvantages people experience in living on one side of the border and working on the other. They suffer difficulties with currency, taxation and all of the problems associated with having banking and other services in another jurisdiction.

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the question. The issue of decentralisation will be central to the review of public services. It would be unwise to speculate on the nature or the extent of that review at this stage. However, it is a review which must be fundamental in the sense that the Member has spoken about. Like him, I am aware of the difficulties that people face in their everyday lives and in the area of North/South co-operation. Our office, which has overall responsibility for that, is becoming more and more aware of the difficulties faced by citizens moving North or South to pursue careers. Difficulties arise for such citizens especially if they are establishing residence. The problems are not dissimilar in many ways to difficulties encountered between other European states.

Therefore, we propose to consider ways in which institutions, public and private, can reduce obstacles in the range of areas that matter to each person who falls into this category. Such areas include housing, health, education, childcare, taxation, social security, pensions, vehicle registration, telephones and banking. People face a very comprehensive range of problems, and we hope to be able to bring in agreed proposals before the plenary North/South Ministerial Council meeting planned for early autumn.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

It is to be regretted that the Executive has set a precedent by going to the press before consulting the House about its statements. It would be better if the House were to hear first what it intends to do and what public moneys it intends to spend and had the first opportunity to question Ministers about these matters.

The statement says that the Executive recognises that full and further information is needed. Would the Chief Minister care to tell the House what that full and further information is that was not given at the press conference? That is the first thing that the House is entitled to know.

When it comes to the matter of money for helping our beef industry — when we do obtain low BSE incidence status — the statement says we have a sum of £500,000. However, the following paragraph talks about farmers. How much money will be made available directly to the farmers, because it is they who are facing the burden and heat of the day? I do not hear many meat plant owners or directors saying that they are going to commit suicide or that the banks are pressing them and they have to buy a smaller car. The farmers are feeling those pressures. Perhaps the First Minister will tell us the amount of money he is prepared to give to farmers to help them look after their farms as time progresses.

Page 3 of the agenda for Government states that there is a gap in EU funding for certain groups and projects. Will the Minister list the groups and projects that he has in mind? I am sure that the people concerned are anxious to know whether they are included in that list.

The statement refers to a better appreciation of our cultural diversity. Our cultural diversity would be best served if people who have been attending church services over many years were permitted to return home from them. We should face up to the sort of cultural pressure that is put on people attending their places of worship on the sabbath day — a practice that has continued for at least 150 years.

With regard to the £400,000 per annum, which the Minister of Finance and Personnel said would have to be spent, what percentage of that money will go towards the salaries of the people employed in the Brussels Office?

The First Minister:

Dr Paisley has raised a range of points. First, on his point about cultural diversity, he was of course referring to the difficulties at Drumcree. The Assembly has no responsibility for that matter, although many might wish that we had such responsibility. There are a range of views in the Assembly on that issue. The hon Member will recall that I expressed my views on that subject at some length at the weekend. I may repeat them on occasion, but this is not the time. We are discussing the agenda for Government at present.

I understand the points that were raised about holding a press conference on Thursday, before making this statement. One has to bear in mind the consequences of the Assembly’s sitting for only two days a week. If we were to try to adopt the rule that is honoured sometimes more in the breach than in the observance across the water, we would have considerable difficulty, unless the Assembly sittings were to change. I am not suggesting that the sittings of the Assembly should be changed, as there were good reasons for choosing the pattern that we have adopted. However, there will be days when the Assembly does not sit, and following an Executive meeting, such as we had on Thursday, there will be important matters to put into the public domain. I believe that our course of action was reasonable. My statement contains further information than that contained in the press release last week. I cannot look at that press statement now and compare it with this one, but I am sure that this one contains further information. Even more information will be available during the week, as Ministers make detailed statements on the measures that I and the Deputy First Minister have outlined.

The Member raised a number of questions with regard to the funding arrangements for agriculture. Dr Paisley knows that none of this money will go directly to farmers. European state aid rules prohibit the Executive from offering direct grants to farmers, and the Assembly cannot breach those rules. It would be nice if we could, but we cannot. There is £500,000 to take advantage of the low-incidence BSE status which we hope will be achieved before long. Arrangements will have to be made, but it is too early to say precisely how that money will be spent.

We wish to offer the industry whatever support is needed. That could take the form of additional marketing support, or resources could be deployed to support meat plants taking necessary measures. All of this is, of course, subject to discussions with the industry and the European Commission.

There will be an additional £560,000 for the other measures included in the statement regarding enhanced access to information technology. The sum for helping small farmers run their businesses more competitively by using information and communication technology will be £240,000.

There is a problem with gap funding in the community and voluntary sector, since the detailed negotiations on the next round of European structural funds will not be completed until autumn. We are pursuing this matter as vigorously as possible. We are on target to meet the autumn deadline and have managed to make up some ground on the issue since resumption.

I am not, of course, in a position to list all the community projects in receipt of EU funding or to say which projects will be assisted by this gap funding. The Departments and other organisations responsible for overseeing these funds are seeking to identify projects facing a threat to which assistance could be given. Not all schemes will require such assistance, since not all of them have spent all their money. This will be taken into account when deciding whether gap funding will be supported. Not all existing schemes supported under Peace I will be supported under Peace II, a consideration one must also take into account.

The funding for the European office includes both capital and recurrent expenditure. I am not presently in a position to make a statement on how much will be spent on salaries.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas na maidne seo faoin chlár rialtais. Ba mhaith liom díriú ar chupla pointe agus cupla ceist a chur.

I welcome the statement. In essence, the Executive is trying to develop a coherent way of redistributing the available finance, particularly in the run up to the agreement on a programme for Government. I suppose suspension has prevented the various departmental Committees from having any real input into this agenda.

In specific terms, I welcome the announcement of £3.2 million towards bridging the gap in European funding. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have already addressed this matter, but I am anxious to know, if possible at this stage, how far that £3.2 million will go towards meeting the needs of these groups?

Can the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister tell us when we shall be able to measure what effect the new TSN will have on those areas most in need?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for his question. It is impossible to make a projection on the £3.2 million, since there is never enough money in any allocation, however much it might be. However, it is an indication of our intent to ensure that whatever hiatus there may be is dealt with as effectively as possible.

As the Member will realise, new TSN is a huge cross-departmental task. The Departments have made their initial responses, which are being assessed. It is very difficult to ensure that commitments under new TSN are carried out in a co-ordinated way so that essential assessment can be made of them. We have agreed ongoing assessment to monitor the effects.

Regarding the specific element, one of the important factors in new TSN is making sure that we have the statistical analyses required for the basic assumptions. No formula ever works completely, but we have to get a programme in terms of those analyses, whatever form or shape they take, so that we know we are working on the basis of proper information. If we have, and when we have, as we will have, the proper information, it will be for the entire political process to ensure that the new TSN is working as it was designed to work, to benefit those who are disadvantaged or marginalised in whatever way they are.

11.15 am

Mr Neeson:

I share the concerns expressed by Mr Robinson and Dr Paisley about the procedure.

The First Minister referred to the economic opportunities. Will he elaborate on what he means by

"We should therefore ensure that our economic development agencies are best organised to meet the new challenges".

Secondly, the Deputy First Minister did not have the opportunity to answer the question I asked last week about the new office in Brussels. How does the Executive propose to recognise the work of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE)?

The First Minister:

The proposal is to reorganise the development agencies as suggested in ‘Strategy 2010’. We need to bring that work up-to-date, and we hope that there will be a number of options to be looked at and considered. I cannot add to that at this stage. There will be consultation with the Assembly, with industry and with other interested bodies. The object of the exercise is to ensure that we are providing an efficient and effective service in support of economic development. It is about delivery of service. The objective is to be customer-orientated, open, accountable and accessible. I know that sounds a little like "motherhood and apple pie", but the objective is to try to streamline in that direction.

On the question of the European office, yes, we acknowledge the work that has been done by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe. That has been quite important, and I am sure that it will continue to be important. Discussions are ongoing between our office and NICE about the future. I am not in a position to say more than that because the discussions have not been concluded. We would like to see a co-operative relationship with NICE, but we need to know first of all what NICE’s plans are. How does it propose to carry forward its work and how can we help it?

Ms Morrice:

We welcome the statement and particularly the reference to the joined-up aspect of government which we believe will be very important in future years.

The First Minister mentioned, and we welcome it, a plan of action on the high levels of teenage parenthood in Northern Ireland. The Women’s Coalition would be particularly interested in an explanation of what type of action is envisaged.

Secondly, there was a reference to the aim of achieving a better and safer environment. While we welcome this important move with regard to road and rail safety, we would like to understand why there has been no mention, indeed, a sad lack of mention, of tackling the important issues of pollution, recycling and waste disposal. What are the intentions there?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the questions. We have to focus on the fact that this agenda for government is not all-encompassing. It does not claim to be and, by its very nature, it is not. It is a selection of areas that should be dealt with, and I repeat that it is not totally comprehensive. It cannot be. I recognise the problems that the Member mentions, for example pollution. It is something which I feel very strongly about, but that will be dealt with by the Departments. I said Departments, because it is a matter that concerns the administration and budgets of a number of Departments.

Teenage parenthood is a cross-cutting issue and will be dealt with by the Department of Health. It is going to be central to the Minister’s approach and to her proposals. The equality aspect will also affect the Office of the Centre. The Office of the First and the Deputy First Ministers and the Minister of Health will both be dealing very closely with the matter, as will the Department of Education.

When we discuss this programme for government we see how much there is in it which is actually cross-cutting. Nothing can simply be corralled in terms of one Department, and the more we are able to equip ourselves to deal with the cross-cutting issues, the more effectively we will deal with them.

Dr Birnie:

I thank the First and the Deputy First Ministers for their report. My question relates to the reference made by the Deputy First Minister to bridging moneys for community groups, hitherto supported by "Peace I", during the gap until "Peace II" flows out. There has been recent disquieting evidence that some "Peace I" supported projects are unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. Indeed, in some cases there has been the possibility of the dubious use of money by such projects. Can either the First or the Deputy First Minister say how such bridging moneys are to be targeted to avoid the repetition of such mistakes in the future?

The First Minister:

That funding which is intended to try to cover or help with the gap that the community and voluntary sector can expect is in the region of £2 million from the Department for Social Development and £1.2 million from the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment. The intention is to try to provide some help to bridge the gap. Obviously that help will be selective. It will depend on circumstances that I mentioned earlier. Whether projects are likely to be supported under Peace II is one consideration that will have to be made.

The Member mentioned the question of whether all proposals and schemes supported under Peace I have been as well administered as they could have been. This, of course, is a perennial concern with regard to European money generally and, indeed, the peace programme in particular. When we were in Brussels, Commissioner Barnier, who is responsible for this, made it very clear that one of his key concerns is that European money is spent in an appropriate manner. He wanted to be assured that the local Administration responsible for supervising expenditures would take all the measures possible to ensure that there is not misappropriation of funding. In the United Kingdom we have a very strong framework through audit and other means to ensure that money is spent appropriately. That is reflected in reports made by the Audit Office from time to time.

The point that the hon Member made about sustainability is very appropriate. We cannot repeat too often that this is likely to be the last significant amount of money coming from Europe under the likes of the peace or regional programmes. With a change in priorities in the European Union after enlargement it is unlikely that this will come again for us. Consequently, all community programmes of this nature need to have a strategy to deal with this. They need to have it thought through so that in a number of years’ time they do not simply fall off the edge of the cliff. They need to have worked out how a project is going to be sustained or how it is going to be handed over to someone else or completed in the period concerned.

At present we are simply providing funding for a short gap until the autumn when we expect the money from the next round of structural funds to be available. The amount of funding may be modest, but I am sure that it will be welcomed by the community sector.

Ms Lewsley:

I welcome the statement this morning and, in particular, references to equality and disability. Are we talking about the budget for housing adaptations? I assume this will come out of the housing budget. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that part of the money for that should come from the health budget given that some of the services delivered in housing adaptations are delivered by occupational therapists? I welcome the addition of 10 more road safety officers and the fact that support staff are to be put in place to enable this programme to be delivered and implemented properly.

The Deputy First Minister:

This is a very relevant question. We all know that one of the difficulties with housing adaptations for the disabled is the logjam in the occupational therapist’s department and that the Housing Executive cannot move until it receives the reports from them. The resulting delays are quite staggering. I do not blame individual occupational therapists, nor do I blame them collectively. There are not enough occupational therapists to deal with the growing problem. This is one of the attempts to ease that burden. There was discussion as to whether it would be administered by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety or the Department for Social Development, and we decided upon the latter.

The £2 million will help provide much needed assistance in this important area, which demands continued growth and places pressures on other parts of the housing budget. The Housing Executive has confirmed that it will be able to spend the additional £2 million on the basis of referrals that have already been completed by occupational therapists.

In the health budget this year an extra £200,000 is being spent on the occupational therapy service. A further £400,000 has been put into the budget for disability aids and appliances. We should all be looking very carefully at how the Department is equipped to deal with these occupational therapy reports, because unless we deal with them, no matter how much money is allocated, if the blockage remains, delay will be inevitable.

Mr Dodds:

Does the First Minister agree that the information provided to the House today is substantially less detailed than that which was provided to the media on Thursday? Will he confirm that the media were provided with the detailed figures allocated to various programmes and Departments on Thursday, which were printed in some papers on Friday, and that this statement today does not contain many of these.

No reference is made anywhere to the figure of £2 million for housing adaptations for the disabled in this statement. There is not further and fuller information; there is substantially less information. That is a disgrace and a shame and it is discourteous to the House. Just because he wanted to get a press headline on Thursday, the First Minister could not wait to make an announcement to the House today. Will he not also agree that other decisions were taken at the Executive which, for reasons of confidentiality, I cannot make reference to, but which will no doubt be made public in due course? Those decisions were not released to the press in advance of a statement to the House.

11.30 am

On a second point, may I ask the First Minister, and I would be interested in the Deputy First Minister’s comments on this also — I suspect that he was in the lead on this one — if he intends to continue as part of his great theme of moving forward together, his futile action against the DUP while, at the same time, refusing to take any action against Sinn Féin/IRA Ministers for their complicity in the murder of Mr McCoy or their refusal to fly the national flag on Government buildings?

Can we now get a detailed breakdown of allocations for programmes from each Department? The First Minister may need to refer to Thursday’s press statement and, although that information was not in today’s statement, it would be of considerable help to the House if he would read it out.

A Member:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

I have already ruled that points of order will be taken after ministerial statements and questions. [Interruption]

No, the ruling is that points of order will be taken at the end.

The First Minister:

The Minister is, of course, perfectly correct. I have not repeated the information that was in Thursday’s press release because it was already available to everybody. Would Members be happy to come here and simply repeat themselves at great length? [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order.

The First Minister:

We felt that it would be better to issue a statement rather than just read out a list of headings with a sum against them [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order.

The First Minister:

As I said in that statement, individual Ministers will be making more detailed statements in the course of this week, and we will have some of those today.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

One of the statements we will have today will be from the Finance Minister on the normal monitoring round. As Members know, in the course of a year, there are a number of monitoring rounds where we consider the allocation of moneys to be made available through extra receipts or underspends and so on. That will happen in the normal way. Last Thursday we made the significant point — and I think everybody in Northern Ireland recognised this — that this Administration is determined to make a difference; it will not simply be a continuation of direct rule. It involves locally elected Members working together, identifying their priorities and pursuing them. This we wish to do. The Minister has repeatedly asked me if we will continue with various matters. We might very well ask the Minister if he is going to resign and continue to be part of this silly stunt of the DUP. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order.

The First Minister:

People want to know when the DUP is going to drop this pretence. Everybody here knows that the DUP is part of this Administration, is part of this — [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order.

The First Minister:

Members from the DUP have attended hundreds of meetings of Assembly Committees. They are boycotting only one Committee, which happens to be the most important of all. That says something about their priorities and their willingness to serve their electorate. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order, please.

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. I welcome the statement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister work in collaboration with the Dublin Government on economic development on a range of issues which would benefit agriculture on an all-Ireland basis to try to get the industry back into European markets?

Is the £500,000 for marketing additional money, or does it represent savings made by those in the export business, such as meat plants, from not having to spend their own money on marketing? There is a European market out there asking for people to export prime beef into it, yet we are unable to get there. That is partly because we are tied to the British Government’s policy of acting as one unit, making it difficult for us to get low-incidence BSE status. I want to see us achieving that status as soon as possible. Is that marketing money additional money? Will the Minister work to get low-incidence BSE status as soon as possible?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for that question. I am sure he will indulge me by allowing me to reply to the previous questioner, who sought my views — [Interruption] I will give way if the Member wishes.

Mr Dodds:

I am interested in this procedure. I would be happy for the Deputy First Minister to answer my question.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

It is not normal to ask a Minister to give way when he is responding to a question.

Mr Dodds:

I did not ask him to give way. He gave way to me.

The Deputy First Minister:

It is difficult to know what level of petulance hon Members will reach. Does the Minister want to ask a question or is he denying that he wants to ask a question? I find it strange when Ministers — and, in case we forget, this is a Minister who is asking questions, humiliating himself — [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order.

The Deputy First Minister:

— by coming to ask questions of the Executive Committee, of which he is a part.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. Will the Deputy First Minister please address the Chair.

Mr Dodds:

Collective responsibility in action. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have asked the Deputy First Minister to address the Chair.

The Deputy First Minister:

Working together and moving forward is important. It is important for this community, for this Administration and for everybody in the North of Ireland. If we had less child’s play and messing about —

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Please address the Chair.

The Deputy First Minister:

I will return to the question.

As the Member said, £500,000 will be spent on achieving low-incidence BSE status. A further £560,000 will be spent on enhanced access to information technology, especially for farmers in the west, and £240,000 on helping small farmers with information technology and communication technology. That adds up to a total of £1·3 million.

This is not a panacea for agriculture’s ills, but it lays a basis for dealing with the question of markets when the BSE issue is resolved. It has been recognised by the agricultural community as a good step, and I commend it to the Assembly as such.

Mr Close:

I rise with trepidation after that ministerial tiff. I hope that if Ministers are treated like that, the Deputy First Minister will not launch into attacks on ordinary Members.

By and large, I welcome the allocation of moneys in this agenda for government, but I am extremely disappointed by the manner in which it was done. Do the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the other members of the Executive, not recognise that this establishment operates on a Committee system? There are scrutiny Committees. Why was the Finance and Personnel Committee, for example, not taken fully into consideration before these sums were allocated?

In this House — and certainly in this party — we do not want to be faced with what can only be referred to as a form of drip-feed of the programme for government. That must be made known in full. I fear that this is the start of the drip-feed, and I seek reassurances that I am wrong about this. Also, how was this money arrived at? How much of this money came from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s March Budget? How much of this money is end-of-year flexibility and how much has been arrived at by the monitoring round which was discussed by the Finance and Personnel Committee? Can the First and the Deputy First Ministers understand how I felt early on Thursday morning when, having attended a meeting the previous day of the Finance and Personnel Committee, I discovered that I had been denied access to these additional figures? The press rang me up to ask for a comment on the agenda for government, and I did not know what they were talking about.

I raise these points in all sincerity, not to make some cheap criticism but to enable us in this House to begin operating fully, as it was intended that we should. The Scrutiny Committees need to be able to function fully. I have concerns, as a member of the Finance and Personnel Committee, about the amount of information that is made available to us. If we are to perform a proper scrutiny role, particularly when it relates to finance, it is vital that we are equipped with the full information.

The First Minister:

I can understand the Member’s annoyance at being asked for comment on figures on Thursday morning. I would have been equally annoyed had the journalists phoned me; indeed they would have got a pretty sharp response. There is a serious weakness somewhere in the system if details of policies, which at that stage were entirely confidential and had not then been considered by the Executive, were being circulated. This is a matter of great concern. We are ourselves greatly concerned about confidentiality problems with regard to Executive business. On Thursday morning nothing had been decided, and these matters were waiting to be considered by the Executive.

I appreciate the concern about making a press statement before coming to this Chamber, but if we were always to come here first, we would have problems with the sittings. If there are problems with information being leaked even before an Executive Committee meeting, consider how many more problems there would be, for example, in the interval between an Executive Committee meeting and a sitting of the Assembly in terms of a drip-feed of information coming through.

We have to consider how to do things in a structured way. The object of the agenda for government was to show that we in the Executive are, for the first time, beginning to identify some priorities ourselves. This is only a first step towards a programme for government. It is not intended to replace the work on the programme for government and there is not, as the Member suggests, going to be a drip-feed of the programme for government. The programme for government will be prepared in a coherent manner. The work is ongoing and we will come to the Assembly and the Committees in the autumn with the intention of deciding final policy towards the end of the year. It will then be considered in the Budget. This is the intention. We felt — and Members may appreciate this — that to sit between now and November without having the opportunity, as a new Administration, to indicate our priorities and what we want to achieve would be seen with considerable disappointment by the Assembly and by society as a whole.

On the specific question of the sources of the money, those programmes and actions which are receiving additional resources will be funded from unallocated resources identified at this stage of the year. That does involve some of the additional spending that came from the March Budget. There was a certain unallocated amount. That was considered together with other funds coming mainly from underspends carried forward from last year under year-end flexibility arrangements. Indeed, some other additional resources have been identified, and significant among those were the receipts from house sales.

The agenda is not simply about putting extra money into specific actions. A number of actions are being pursued within existing budgets. Rather, it is about highlighting matters which we, as an Executive, have agreed to undertake in the coming weeks and months to underline our wish to improve and modernise Northern Ireland and to identify and tackle key issues.

11.45 am

Mr McFarland:

A recent Audit Office report highlighted serious underfunding in the structural maintenance of roads. I ask the First and the Deputy First Ministers why roads’ maintenance is not on the agenda.

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for his question. We have not yet had the opportunity to consider fully the recommendations and the observations of the audit report published last week. We wish to see a full report from the Minister, Mr Peter Robinson, to the Executive Committee, on this. Like the Audit Office, we want the Department for Regional Development and its Minister rapidly to address the strategic issues relating to roads. Indeed, this must be looked at in the much wider context of an overall transport strategy. There is no doubt that it is a major issue. It affects everyone in the North of Ireland, and it affects all policy areas. That is why we believe that it is the duty of Mr Robinson to come and discuss these issues with the rest of the Executive Committee. We are fully aware of the difficulties with the underfunding of infrastructure, and that includes railways and school buildings especially. We are trying to do what we can immediately for school buildings, and we want to do the same for roads. However, it makes it all the more difficult, and disadvantages people in the North of Ireland all the more, if those Ministers who are supposed to be dealing with these matters do not come to the Executive Committee to bring forward, with their Colleagues, the types of proposal that the hon Member is rightly seeking. They will have to be made, with or without the Minister, at some point.

Dr McDonnell:

Will the Executive commit itself to embracing the information-age society and to pushing forward aggressively an electronic information communications strategy? What are the implications for the agenda of that?

The First Minister:

I thank the Member for his question. There are a number of ways in which the agenda that has been announced demonstrates commitment to encouraging the information-age society. This is relevant to the university research programme to which we referred, to the Classroom 2000 projects for schools, to information technology for farmers, and to the allocation of an additional £1·4 million in support of the information-age initiative. The plan is entitled ‘Leapfrog to the Information Age’. This reflects the importance that the Executive attaches to the development of the knowledge-based economy in Northern Ireland and was a key theme in ‘Strategy 2010’. The information age initiative stressed that information and communication technologies must be a top priority for economic growth in Northern Ireland. The funds now being made available will be used to support and provide further impetus to the 25 actions detailed in ‘Leapfrog to the Information Age’ document, thus helping to drive forward the information-age agenda.

Mr Campbell:

I welcome the opportunity to ask questions on the statement, although, like other Members in the DUP, and in other parties, I would reiterate the point about questions being asked by the press on Thursday while, four days later, Members still do not have the details of the expenditure commitments that were given to the press. This is Monday morning, and we still do not have them. I hope that the First and the Deputy First Ministers will rectify that problem.

I have a second question. The Deputy First Minister made a fleeting reference towards the end of the statement to an arts and culture programme of events to aid a better appreciation of our cultural diversity. What plans, if any, are in place for a more equitable funding programme to promote the cultural outlook of the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland?

The Deputy First Minister also commented on the need to address urgently health and safety work on the railways pending the completion of the task force’s work on their long-term future. Was it an unfortunate error or a deliberate omission not to include any commitment to the long-term development and viability of the rail network in Northern Ireland?

The Deputy First Minister:

I say again, that if we had had a Minister at the Executive to fight the case for the rail network, it might have been easier for us to be informed and to make assessments about it.

Another reference was made to spin. I will deal with that because there is a difference between spin and information. [Interruption] In this statement we have set out the amount of money to be spent, whether it is new money or that within existing allocations, by the lead Department and what it is specifically meant to do. That is not spin. I ask my fellow Minister to put as much effort into communicating with other Ministers in the proper manner as he does into sitting like a child, making a noise in the corner, while — [Interruption]

Mr Dodds:

We are all working together.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order.

The Deputy First Minister:

I would love to have time in the Executive to show the Minister how working together can be effective. [Interruption] I look forward to doing that.

Mr Campbell:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I cannot take a point of order while the Deputy First Minister is speaking.

The Deputy First Minister:

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

My last point relates to cultural diversity. I believe that the Department dealing with this issue in Northern Ireland can make significant advances. It is a serious matter which should be addressed earnestly. But the more I listen and see, the more I believe that perhaps the greatest diversity exists in the various communities. If we started to look at the diversities in the two main communities, we might start to address some of the problems that the Minister and his friends have been a manifestation of this morning.

Mr Molloy:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. First of all, I would like to welcome this morning’s statement by the First and the Deputy First Ministers. It is important that we get a clear picture of what is happening. It is unfortunate that time has been wasted by Ministers, who should be sitting in the Executive, asking questions in the House the answers to which they should already know.

I especially welcome the announcement of the money going to the health service. That is a very important subject, particularly with regard to waiting lists. There are extremely long waiting lists at Craigavon Hospital because of the transfer of patients there from South Tyrone. At last week’s board meeting it was clear that the cost of the transfers last year was in the region of £1.5m. There is a deficit before we even start. It is important to keep this in mind for the future. We must realise the cost of temporary transfers and try instead to provide a proper service in the area.

I also welcome the announcement on gap funding. At last week’s hearing the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust said that the different groups that they were associated with already needed gap funding of £1.5 million in order to continue on to Peace II. It is welcome that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has put together funding to help that situation.

It is important to do research into TSN and tackle social need. We need to have some sort of injection of funds to ensure that we can reverse the discrimination of the past and redress the imbalance that exists between east and west of the Bann. We must ensure that people living west of the Bann have proper hospital services and the new schools that are required. There also is a need for a proper roads infrastructure in there areas.

I am certain that when we start to tackle social need those are issues that the Executive will want to deal with.

With regard to the railway task force — and I know the Minister is not present at the moment — we need to look at the railway structure to ensure —

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Perhaps the Member would get to the question.

Mr Molloy:

I have raised a number of issues. One was that we need a great deal more additional funds to enable us to tackle all these areas. I welcome the fact that the Executive is dealing with the issue of rural planning and area plans. Will the Executive confirm that there is money available to put all the area plans in place, not just the Belfast one, so that there are no further delays?

The First Minister:

The Member touched on a wide range of issues, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not manage to cover all of them. On planning, there are significant additional resources there to help, particularly to speed up appeals and

deal with area plans. I do have to tell him, however, that one of the key focuses of the area plans — or at least the additional money that has gone in to it — is that the metropolitan plan for Belfast move forward. There is £250,000 under that heading, which is very urgently needed.

I welcome the comments that the Member made with regard about additional money for health. This is a matter of very great concern to us. We are trying to target this money on waiting lists. One of the most important things for people is speed of access to medical services. The waiting-list situation here continues to concern us and, indeed, the continuing increase in waiting lists is partly due to winter pressures and partly to a failure by the former Administration to target this problem in previous years. As a result of that we have the worst waiting-list situation in the United Kingdom. Our waiting lists are significantly worse than those of Scotland, Wales and England, so we are putting additional money in to try to deal with that.

Obviously the location of hospital services is also important although, in terms of what the public want, it comes second after access. One needs to bear that in mind. There is a particular problem that has been mentioned with regard to South Tyrone. The Southern Board has informed the Minister of its decision to temporarily transfer acute in-patient medical services from South Tyrone to Craigavon. It is for Ms de Brún to consider the board’s decision and the reasons for it before deciding on the way forward. I understand that she has made it clear that she would accept a decision to transfer services only if she were satisfied that that was unavoidable and that any changes must be the minimum necessary to ensure safety and quality and must also be temporary.

Of course the Member is quite right to say that this has consequential effects on Craigavon. As a result of the transfer of acute services, Craigavon has not been able to offer the same range of elective and outpatient services to people, because of the way it has been affected. We all hope that this will be a temporary situation.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time is up.

Mr A Maginness:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During the course of questions I rose to make a point of order. Given the prolonged questioning by Mr Dodds as Minister for Social Development, and given the bizarre and rather pathetic nature of his questioning of the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister and the spectacle he made of himself — [Interruption] Let me continue my point of order.

Is it in order that a Minister — or someone who purports to be a Minister — should so demean himself as to ask a question that should properly have been asked at the Executive table and not in this Chamber?

12.00

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. The question as to whether a Minister has demeaned himself or otherwise is not a point of order. You may be aware that it is the convention in another place for a Minister not to ask questions of another Minister, but we do not have corresponding Standing Orders in this House. Perhaps, at some stage, the Procedures Committee will wish to consider altering that discrepancy in Standing Orders.

Mr A Maginness:

Mr Deputy Speaker, on a further point of order. May I ask that, in view of your ruling, this matter be referred to the Procedures Committee so that such a serious issue can be properly addressed and our Standing Orders amended to prevent a recurrence of this pathetic spectacle.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am sure that the Committee and its Chairman will take note of what has been said, as reported in Hansard, and will look in to the matter.

Mr Dodds:

It was obviously not so pathetic a spectacle when it caused such consternation among the ranks of the SDLP. It is entirely in order for any Member to stand up and ask a question, and it is entirely in order for me, as a Member for North Belfast and as a Minister, to draw attention to the total lack of detail in the information given to this House. However, I did so not in my capacity as a Minister but in my capacity as a Member, and concern was echoed from various sections of this House — and quite rightly.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr Dodds, you are very well aware that that is not a point of order.

The Deputy First Minister:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I have some guidance as to the basis for your ruling, which, I assume, applies to normal circumstances? From the depth of your knowledge and experience, can you give some guidance as to the emotionally disturbed state that Ministers go through in a pre-resignation period. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I cannot hear the Deputy First Minister.

The Deputy First Minister:

And will you state that Mr Dodds is being not just foolish but demob happy?

Mr Dodds:

Did you resign or not, Seamus?

The Deputy First Minister:

I did — like a man.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. There is no use in continuing with this. I am now moving on to the next item of business.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. A questions was asked of the Deputy First Minister. Rather than answering that question, he decided to go back to an earlier question asked of the First Minister, since he thought that the First Minister had not answered it adequately. Is it in order for someone to deal with a previous question rather than the current one?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

That question has already been asked, and the Speaker will make a ruling later today. I am now going to ask —

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am sorry, but I am not taking any further points of order. [Interruption] I have made it clear that I am not taking any further points of order.

Mr P Robinson:

How can you refuse a point of order?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have received notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel, Mr Mark Durkan, that he wishes to make a statement about financial expenditure in 2000-01. [Interruption]

Mr Haughey:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is a serious breach of proper conduct.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I call Mr Mark Durkan.

Public Expenditure (2000-01): Reallocations

TOP

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan): With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement.

On Thursday 29 June the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister launched the agenda for government, which sets out how the Executive is tackling a range of issues immediately to demonstrate the difference that devolution makes for the benefit of all our people.

That included the allocation of £27 million of additional public expenditure to some of the action points in the agenda. This was possible in the context of a wider review of spending allocations, and my statement provides fuller details of the total picture to the Assembly. Members will find, attached to the copies of my statement, a table summarising the items which are receiving additional spending provision in this exercise. That table and the details of the statement are also being made available to the press.

It is in the nature of budget management that changes need to be dealt with, and the pattern of change can vary considerably from one year to the next, or indeed from one quarter to the next, given the wide range of unpredictable factors which can affect the planning and management of spending programmes. In this case, some £90 million of spending provision became available for reallocation by the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee judged that £63 million should be provided for a range of requirements and bids for a wide range of public services; in addition £27 million was available for commitment to the actions in the agenda for government. This is a first tranche of support for the agenda for government. Further support will be made available in the autumn.

This £90 million came from several sources. Eighteen million was available from the allocations added to Northern Ireland’s budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his March Budget. That had been envisaged by the Secretary of State before the restoration of devolution as being for particular aspects of transport and education spending. However, the Executive Committee thought it right to take a fresh view on this as part of our overall review of immediate spending priorities, and in essence the £18 million became part of our total for reallocation rather than remaining a distinct pot of money. This meant that the Executive Committee was able to look across the whole range of issues and then judge how best to proceed.

The second major source of resources was the End Year Flexibility arrangements, which allow for money which has been unspent in one year to be carried forward into the following year — either to the same area, or elsewhere. This source, including £6 million of additional receipts from the regional rate, accounted for £42 million of the sums which the Executive Committee addressed in this re-allocation exercise. These allocations include some quite novel allocations which show the Executive Committee making use of the available resources more actively and distinctly than would have been the case before devolution. In other cases, where we judged that the funds were best used in the area from which they had originally arisen, they were allowed to remain in that sector. In all cases, the criterion was the same: where was the money most needed, where would it give most benefit.

The final component of the £90 million available was in the form of £30 million of additional receipts or reduced requirements from the Departments which have become available in recent weeks. Savings from such sources are central to the in-year reviews of public spending, and again we are operating on the principle that all savings that arise in individual public services can and should be brought to the Executive Committee for allocation. If windfalls were left with the public service where they happen to arise, this could lead to substantial distortion of spending priorities which would not be in anyone’s interest. Thus, it is regarded as very important that savings of this nature are brought back for reallocation by the Executive Committee. Again our aim is to reach conscious decisions on the best use for such funds, not simply to let them lie where they fall.

As many Members are aware, the largest component of savings came from additional receipts from house sales by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, amounting to £25 million. As I explained last week, extra receipts — that is those over and above the level planned in the public spending allocations at the start of the year — should be at the disposal of the Executive Committee and the Assembly, to be used to address emerging pressures.

Other savings which were also brought back for reallocation by the Executive Committee included £4 million which arose from unavoidable and unforeseen delays in the progress of roads capital projects and £1 million through a rephasing of the planned expenditure on the Springvale project.

These then are the three main components of the £90 million, which were considered for reallocation by the Executive Committee last Thursday.

I must stress to Members that it is unusual at this stage of the financial year to have available such a large sum for reallocation, and they should not expect this to be repeated during further monitoring exercises later in the year.

I do not propose in this statement to set out on a line-by-line basis the individual items which are receiving additional spending provision in their budgets as a result of this exercise. Many reflect routine estimating changes which need to be addressed to ensure the continued delivery of public services at an appropriate standard to the public.

I should also point out that these proposals are not concerned with the running-costs pressures which Departments have identified for this year. A separate exercise later in the year will deal with running-costs issues.

More widely, it has proved an extremely valuable opportunity in addressing needs which have arisen since the budget was agreed by the Executive Committee in December of last year. Through the availability of the additional resources from the Chancellor’s Budget and the savings from Departments, it is now possible to meet a wide range of budgetary pressures, including the needs of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company for the public service obligation (£6 million); Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s animal health programme (£8 million); the IDB’s selective financial assistance budget (£6·4 million); and capital programmes for voluntary schools and the pre-school initiative (£7 million).

All these reallocations will be subject to Assembly approval through Supplementary Estimates in due course. It will take some time for the detail of the decisions taken by the Executive Committee last week to be translated into detailed redistribution at the level set out in the Estimates such as those recently approved by the Assembly. When that detailed process has been completed, Supplementary Estimates will be brought before the Assembly and a new Appropriation Bill will need to be introduced. This will pave the way for full and proper authorisation of the proposed additional expenditure.

I believe that these reallocations are clear evidence that the Executive Committee is in the business of sound management of our finances. This means that the agenda for government, and, in due course, the programme for government, can be built on the very solid foundations which are represented by the reallocations of resources which I am announcing today. And the two aspects of this review of spending allocations in 2000-01 are highly complementary — the agenda on the one hand setting out some of the Executive’s early initiatives for the region for the next nine months, and, on the other hand, the redeployment of resources to better effect within the wide range of ongoing policies and services, which I am addressing today.

I believe that the content of my announcement this afternoon is very positive from the point of view of those who depend on the public services which we are funding. We have redeployed the resources available from areas where they are no longer needed or from centrally available resources to the pressures which are the most acute. I recognise that it is impossible to please everyone or deal with all the pressures on budgets that may exist. The Executive Committee has taken the opportunity to make some innovative actions in the agenda for government, but this would not have been possible without the resources available from sound oversight and management of public finances, and it remains our determination that this should continue. We will also ensure that the Assembly is kept informed of the proposals which may emerge through the various monitoring reviews during the course of the year.

Mr Leslie:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wonder if you could — [Interruption]

I was taking the opportunity before the hour for questions started —

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am sorry, but we do not normally take a point of order until after everyone has spoken. We had agreed to that.

12.15 pm

The Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee (Mr Molloy): A LeasCheann Comhairle, go raibh maith agat. As Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee, I wish to welcome the Minister’s important general statement today. We must have more detail, with as much advance notice as possible, in all these statements so that the Committees can start work on them. I know there are difficulties dealing with this in the Executive and when the Minister has to make a statement himself.

It is important that we view today’s announcement in the overall context to see how this will affect us in future. This monitoring round has turned up a number of reallocations. Can the Minister state exactly when he expects the next round? Does he expect to turn up additional funds every time we have a monitoring round? Do we simply receive budget allocations which are then reallocated? If we achieve a tighter control of the budget, surely monitoring will not turn up a large amount of money for the finances of the Assembly will be more tightly controlled.

I draw particular attention to the £4 million for roads, which has been reallocated because of unavoidable and unforeseen delays. I know of my own area’s demand for improvements to the road infrastructure. We heard about the condition of rural roads in the debate last week, and it seems strange that we should have to reallocate now, for there are a number of major projects. I could talk about the A29 from Dungannon to Cookstown or the A4 to Ballygawley, both extremely dangerous roads much in need of finances. Yet we are told that this is part of a long-term budget. I should appreciate an explanation of how this comes about.

The addendum to the statement mentions the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and reduced income from timber sales. Is this another injection into the timber sales or the same one we discussed earlier in the year where money was put into the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as compensation?

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee for his comments. First, I have recognised before here and with the Finance and Personnel Committee that we have difficulties regarding the quality and timing of information that can be made available to the departmental Committee for its consideration. In many such issues, we in the Department are clearly dealing with bids and proposals from other Departments, not all of whom have necessarily shared their ideas with their own departmental Committees. That puts some constraints on us regarding the timing and scope of the information that we can present to the departmental Committee. Given the need for the Executive Committee’s good conduct and a degree of confidentiality regarding certain proposals, exchanges and decision-making, these decisions are obviously for the Executive Committee itself. It puts constraints on what we are able to make available to Committees, the Finance and Personnel Committee in particular.

We must try to continue to improve this position, since I recognise Committee members’ frustration. I share that frustration, since I would prefer more active and open engagement with the Committee. We tried to make such information as we could available regarding moneys accessible to us. We asked the Committee for its views and recommendations on possible allocations and on the pressures there are.

This monitoring exercise identifies money available through underspends and additional receipts, but let us also remember that it identifies where there are serious pressures in programmes.

In future, the monitoring exercise will identify pressures in certain areas of the budget; if we are lucky, it will also identify further available resources. As I said, we should not expect resources of this order to be the natural or likely outcome in future monitoring exercises.

Two questions were raised, the first of which concerned the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and timber sales. This is not a repeat of the old moneys; it is new money, but the reason for it is the same — the pressures created by the reduced price of timber, which is a global issue.

With regard to the second question, the £4 million that was yielded by the Department for Regional Development was for the roads programme and capital work which, for operational reasons, has not been spent this year. Further pressures on roads maintenance have not been addressed in this set of allocations, and those pressures will have to be considered later.

Mr B Bell:

I welcome the Minister’s statement, but I have a question on the issue of flexibility. About £6 million additional receipts were obtained from the regional rate. I wonder whether the Minister considered carrying that forward to alleviate this year’s regional rate — I have asked questions on the regional rate before.

A question was asked earlier about the Finance and Personnel Committee not receiving answers to questions. Last Wednesday, an officer from that Department was unable to answer questions on any issue. That was frustrating, and perhaps this question could have been asked then — had we been allowed to ask it and to receive answers. I welcome the First Minister’s assurances that that will not happen in future and that Committees will be taken further into account when dealing with budgets.

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for his question, and I simply repeat what I said earlier. I recognise the frustration felt by members of the Finance and Personnel Committee. I stress that it is somewhat frustrating for me too, as a Minister, that we cannot engage in the open flow of information in automatic response to all the questions that Members have, when these matters are being discussed by the Executive. That issue applies to other departmental Committees at the stage when proposals or measures for their Departments are the subject of Executive consideration. I ask Members to appreciate that such constraints create difficulties for officials as well. Officials want to be helpful, and I believe that they have a very good relationship with the Finance and Personnel Committee. However, there are constraints by virtue of the fact that we service the decisions made by the Executive. We are not at liberty to fully disclose all information. It is not our information — much of it is confidential Executive information.

The £6 million extra in rates came as a result of a higher yield from greater buoyancy. There are greater returns because of more new properties, and that is where that £6 million came from.

The rate has already been set for next year so there is no point in seeking to revise it downwards. The £6 million is a useful contribution to the moneys that we now have available. It is being allocated appropriately and will be spent well, as part of the wider £90 million. Perhaps the Member wants to identify which measures he believes should not be funded in our allocation exercise.

Mr Dallat:

I also welcome the Minister’s statement. It represents the very positive side of the work of the Assembly, which is in stark contrast to the earlier scenes that were witnessed by a large group of young children of impressionable age in the Public Gallery.

Is the Minister satisfied that the additional moneys available for voluntary and community sector projects is adequate to ensure that the Assembly delivers on new TSN in rural and socially deprived urban areas?

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for his question. We should be clear that we are talking about some additional allocations. Given the scale of those allocations, I would not pretend that they are going to be sufficient to ensure that Departments or, indeed, the community and voluntary sector are best able to meet their responsibilities under TSN.

The work on TSN across the full range of Government Departments is developing. It is work that is being co-ordinated by the Equality Unit in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. These allocations are obviously supplementing what is already in budgets, and all Departments should increasingly be using sound TSN considerations as they are shaping and sharing out their various budgets and programmes. That is something we will continue to do.

In the allocations I am announcing and those announced by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the agenda for government, we have tried to deal with some of the pressures in the community and the voluntary sector, not least, but not only, in respect of the question of the gap in peace moneys.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

I welcome the Minister’s statement. It is in stark contrast to the fiasco we had to endure earlier. He said the decision was taken last Thursday, seemingly at the same meeting that we heard about earlier. There was no public fanfare about this. Respect was shown to the Assembly, and the detail, which we would expect, has certainly come.

I am somewhat surprised that the Department of the Environment allocation is only £530,000 for the Planning Appeals Commission. As Members will know, a number of areas in the Province, outside of Belfast, are behind in their area plans. That has curbed the natural development of those areas, their plans being out of date. My Committee, the Environment Committee, had highlighted that, and a proper allocation could have ensured that this was taken forward.

On the Department of Education he mentioned the pre-school initiative. Can the Minister now assure us that all pre-school places for children of the appropriate age will be guaranteed? I know of some children who are 4 years of age and yet are not getting any pre-school education.

Regarding the Department for Regional Development, we had a debate on this matter. There was, in the Chancellor’s statement, a direct allocation for roads. Has any of this money been syphoned off? How does that sit alongside the disquiet that we all unanimously expressed in the Chamber last week in the emergency debate on the need for expenditure on roads and railways?

Finally, on the Department for Social Development, we notice that a large part of the money is the £25 million that has been additional receipts from house sales. How does removing that amount from the Housing Executive sit with a current shortfall of £13 million? Many of the urgent adaptations for houses for the elderly, and the disabled have been put back. Money from house sales ought to have been allocated to remove the £13 million shortfall.

It would have been appropriate for the Minister to allow that money to have been covered, to allow the weak, the disabled and the disadvantaged in the community to have a proper standard of services.

12.30 pm

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for his questions. However, I am unsure whether to thank him for the earlier compliments in his contribution. I will attempt to deal with some of the questions that have been raised regarding the pressures in the Planning Service. We tried, in the overall exercise, to respond to a range of pressures present throughout the budget. In this allocation we have added further money to the Planning Appeals Commission, as a large part of the backlog relates to congestion at that end of the planning system. The Member will also be aware of remedial action we took earlier in the year in giving the Department of the Environment permission to use some of its receipts to target some of the pressures building there. That was relief and assistance received by the Department in that area.

In terms of the education issue the Member raised, the money being provided for the capital work on the pre-school initiative is to enable the Department to achieve the target of 85% of the pre-school cohort to be in pre-school education by the start of 2002. The target for next September is 75%, and that capital is being provided to help the Department meet that.

The Member also raised the issue of the £25 million of additional receipts for the Housing Executive in respect of house sales. As I said in my statement, I do not think we can accept the premise that any programme that generates additional receipts should automatically retain them. All additional receipts should be available to the Executive Committee for allocation across all Government Departments. Many Departments and programmes are under budgetary pressure, not just the housing budget. Not all Departments or services can show receipts. Many are not run in a way that would enable them to generate receipts. Remember that in the past, many other services have yielded funds for priorities in the housing programme. It would be wrong, therefore, to treat that money as simply housing money and not make it available for wider allocation.

The Member mentioned the £13·7 million shortfall that the Housing Executive has talked about. Let us remember that £6·8 million of that stated shortfall is a result of the reduction in the Chancellor’s initiative money. The Chancellor’s initiative money, offered in terms of the worst estates scheme, was £7·5 million last year. That was a one-off amount of money. The Chancellor’s initiative money is £700,000 this year. It is incorrect for people to talk about the £13·7 million shortfall. People will be aware from the two exercises we have addressed this morning — the agenda for government and this allocation exercise — that, in fact, a further £5·9 million has been given to the Housing Executive. An amount of £2 million has been earmarked for adaptations for people with disabilities, £2 million to the SPED scheme — the Social Development Committee identified a £2 million gap there — and £1·9 million will go towards the Housing Executive administration grant. An additional £5·9 million is being put into housing. We were not able to address road priority issues in this allocation round; they will have to be considered later.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

May I remind Members that the time will be up at 12.50 pm, and for that reason I ask them to keep their questions as brief and concise as possible.

Mr Close:

I thank the Minister for his statement which puts some flesh on the bones of the First and Deputy First Ministers’ statement earlier today. I do have to ask why the various figures included in the Minister’s statement were not available to the Finance and Personnel Committee when it met on 28 June — the day before the announcement was made. Some of these figures are from the March budget allocation from the end-of-year flexibility. I believe, and members of the Finance and Personnel Committee believe, that, even though we were suspended for a long time, there was adequate time for these figures to have been given further scrutiny by that Committee.

Will the Minister ensure that reference has been made to the second tranche of the agenda for government money and that those figures will be made available to the Finance and Personnel Committee in sufficient time to enable it to have an input? May I also ask for an assurance that the moneys for the autumn monitoring round will also be made available to the Committee in adequate time.

The Minister referred to drugs savings and to an allocation of £2·4 million. It strikes me that there is some contradiction here. I am a little confused as to the allocation of £2·4 million on drugs savings. Also, can the Minister give me more information on the additional moneys for the Water Service for operating costs of £3·5 million?

Finally, I would like to welcome the additional allocation of £3 million to the Down Lisburn Trust for capital purposes.

Mr Durkan:

Seamus Close is another member of the Finance and Personnel Committee who has contributed to the debate today. I repeat that I fully appreciate how frustrated members of that Committee are.

Let us also be conscious of the fact that the Department of Finance and Personnel, in carrying out these exercises, is serving and supporting the Executive Committee. So the information is to that extent in the possession of the Executive Committee. As far as this matter is concerned, I will continue to reflect the concerns and interests of members of the Finance and Personnel Committee to the Executive Committee. We will try to see what better means can be found to provide information to members of the Committee and to secure more useful and more effective input for the members of that Committee. This is something that we will continue to explore and improve on. I cannot at this stage give the categorical assurances that Mr Close is seeking, simply because they involve decisions that the Executive Committee will have to make, such as what information should be made available and when. The issues arising here involve a range of Departments.

People are concerned about almost getting into an open bidding exercise with every Department’s bid published and that in turn tending to create inflationary pressures on the bids. Everybody has to be seen to be bidding so he can cover himself, and the departmental Committees may be adding to that bidding exercise. These are the sorts of concerns that people have had and the reasons for taking a more limited approach. This does need to be sorted out and worked through.

The Member asked about the second tranche. It is intended that there will be a second tranche in the autumn. I failed to make the point earlier, in response to a question from Mr Molloy, that the next normal monitoring round will be in October, so in September we will be looking at what that monitoring round is offering us. It will be in that context that the second tranche of money from the agenda for government will be dealt with.

As for the question on drugs savings, that really relates to GP fundholders. That funding is to cover the restoration of the fundholder savings that were borrowed to help address winter pressures last year. Those savings are a statutory entitlement and can be drawn down by the fundholders over three to four years.

Mr B Hutchinson:

There have been a number of criticisms this morning of the way in which the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister handled their announcement. I have been pleased by the way the Minister of Finance and Personnel has handled his, and particularly by the amount of information he has given us.

The First Minister said that one of the reasons he could not wait until the Assembly sat was for fear of leaks. Why did the Minister of Finance and Personnel not feel the need to make his announcement at a press conference? Was it because he was confident that there would be no leaks from his Department?

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for his question. The Executive took several decisions on Thursday. The Executive decided that the decision on the agenda for government should be the subject of a press announcement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister with the rest of us in attendance. The Executive Committee also decided that I should make a statement on the remaining moneys for allocation here today. I was not going to do a press conference beforehand or separately. I believe that, as with the budget statement, matters of routine budgetary operation are appropriately presented by myself, once I am in possession of an Executive Committee decision, here before the House. That is consistent with Standing Orders and with the legislation, and that is the approach I have taken.

It was not free of leaks. At the press conference given by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister last Thursday, one journalist asked about a further £64 million for allocation. Somebody somewhere had the information. Thankfully no one was sufficiently motivated to follow that up, otherwise I would have been in difficulties before the House this morning.

Mr Leslie:

I thank the Minister for his statement. I heard his cautionary remarks on the potential size of future outcomes from in-year monitoring. However, the Deputy First Minister seems optimistic. He is clearly expecting further largesse next time round. He promised a further tranche, and we must hope that he keeps on "tranching".

The Minister referred to these reallocations being subject to Assembly approval through Supplementary Estimates in due course. This is a little misleading. Essentially the Supplementary Estimates will be a post facto confirmation of the decisions announced today. His wording did not reflect the true position. I have no particular objection to that course of action. The key point, which has been highlighted many times, is that normally we would have a longer run-up to these decisions with more opportunity for them to be discussed. I do not expect the Minister to reiterate his remarks in that regard. We are all aware that there is quite often a difference between the apparent import of a statement and the actual effect of the small print.

Will the Minister comment on the £4 million clawed back from the roads budget due to unfinished projects? Under resource budget accounting, would the same thing happen or would a capital allocation of that kind become inalienably part of the budget to which it had been allocated?

12.45 pm

Mr Durkan:

I thank the Member for his points. First, with regard to the Estimates, these must, by their nature, reflect decisions that have already been taken. It would be bizarre if I, as Minister of Finance, were to bring forward Estimates that had not been adopted or agreed by the Executive. Serious difficulties arise if Ministers appear to be acting in a somewhat semi-detached basis from the Executive Committee. I can only bring forward Estimates that are based on decisions that have been made by the Executive Committee.

In any other Chamber of this nature debates on Estimates and appropriation tend to follow decisions or clear statements of intent that have been made by the Administration. This is not always pleasing to Members, and we need to improve the current systems. These issues will be addressed by the Committee on Procedures, among others.

We cannot take it for granted that such moneys will continue to be available. Some moneys were available in the last monitoring round which came from the previous period of devolution. However, I hope this does not create habit-forming expectations of certain moneys. There are also very real pressures, such as the costs of running Departments. These costs are building up very seriously in some Departments, and members of the departmental Committees are aware of this. We will not have much latitude in these exercises.

The Member asked about the implications of monitoring exercises. He gave the example of the roads budget and the £4 million that was underspent last year. He also asked whether in future this money would fall back into the programme. We will be putting forward legislation to bring in a full resource accounting and budgeting scheme. The thinking behind this is to ensure that the budget is conducted on a more programmed basis and that there is a strong focus on output rather than the conventional emphasis on input. We will be trying to change that. The monitoring round for the resource accounting budget will still exist, although the nature of this will change. The moneys available and assumed entitlements will change, partly because the nature of budgetary commitments will change. The move to resource accounting, however, will not necessarily mean that Departments will automatically retain any underspend from the previous year.

Mr A Maginness:

I welcome the Minister’s statement and warmly welcome the allocation of £6 million towards public safety for the railways and the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company. These changes are long overdue. Secondly, I am sad that the Minister has had to allocate £2 million towards the special purchase of evacuated dwellings. In my constituency, only this morning, there was an attack on a family, who happened to be Catholic. Unfortunately that family will have to avail itself of this scheme.

Mr Durkan:

The First and the Deputy First Ministers previously announced an allocation under the agenda for government of £3 million for rail safety. My announcement supplements that with a further £6 million allocation to the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company in respect of its public service obligations. That makes a total of £9 million. Members will be aware that the indication at the time was that £18 million was still unallocated from the Chancellor’s Budget and that the Secretary of State had suggested that £8 million go to transport. The Executive has, therefore, allocated a total of £9 million in this overall exercise.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I remind the Minister that time is running out, and he should bring his remarks to a close.

Mr Durkan:

On the other point, it is a matter of regret that we are having to allocate further moneys to support the special purchase of evacuated dwellings schemes. Clearly, that is an area in which we would like to see expenditure reducing. It is a programme that all Members want to see ending in circumstances where the difficulties and untoward activities giving rise to the need for that programme have completely abated and been abandoned in society. However, we recognise the pressure that is there, and I know that the Social Development Committee had identified it. We understood that, while £1·5 million was provided in the original budget, on current unhappy trends about £3·5 million will probably be needed. That is why we have had to make the additional allocation of £2 million. It is regrettable and deplorable that the intimidation of Protestants and Catholics gives rise to the need for that budget.

Points of Order

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Mr Deputy Speaker:

Before moving on to the next item of business, I understand that Mr Leslie has a point of order.

Mr Leslie:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask you to advise the House on the timing of the issuing of ministerial statements. My understanding is that they were to be issued one hour before the statement itself. Consequently, at the end of the First and Deputy First Ministers’ statement, but before they started questions at 10.50 am, I went outside to collect the statement that we have just heard from the Minister of Finance and Personnel, which was not available at that time. I returned to the Chamber and went out again about half an hour later, by which time it was available. Fortunately for the Minister, due to events beyond his control, the start of his statement was a little later than 11.50 am, which was implied by the timing of the previous statement. It may well be that that statement got under the wire in terms of being available one hour before. However, if my understanding of the one-hour rule is correct, then, in principle, that statement should have been available at 10.50 am.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Standing Orders state

"A Member of the Executive Committee shall make statements to the Assembly on matters for which the Executive Committee is responsible. He/she shall where possible make a written copy available to Members as early as possible before delivering the statement in the Assembly. Where this has not been possible he/she should state to the Assembly the reason or reasons."

I hope that that clarifies the issue.

Mr A Maginness:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I raise an issue that occurred at the beginning of this question and answer session. Certain remarks were made that were quite audible on this side of the Chamber, but perhaps not in your hearing. They emanated from Mr Peter Robinson. The gist of those remarks, which were directed at you, Mr Deputy Speaker — and I will rely on Hansard to confirm them — was that we need somebody decent in the Chair. Those remarks, to my hearing, were clearly levelled at you. I am sure that in the difficult period that you were experiencing at that time in the Chair, because of the general unruliness of the House, you did not hear them. However, I regard those remarks, as I am sure other Colleagues who heard them do, as showing contempt for the Chair, and an attack on your personal integrity and the integrity of the Chair. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to consult with Colleagues and to check Hansard to see if, in fact, the remarks were made and, if so, to ask the Member to withdraw them.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you, Mr Maginness. I will indeed ask that Hansard be examined, and no doubt a report will be made to the House.

Waterways and Languages:
North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

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Waterways

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey): I will make the statement on waterways first and then take questions on that matter. I propose to follow that with the statement on language and then be available for questions on language. If it is in order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to proceed in that manner, rather than mix it all up.

The first meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in sectoral format for inland waterways and languages took place in Belfast on Wednesday 21 June. The inland waterways meeting was held in the morning, followed by language in the afternoon. Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Ms Bairbre de Brún and I represented the Executive Committee. The Irish Government was represented at the waterways meeting by Silé de Valera TD, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, and for the language meeting by Minister Ó Cuív, Minister of State. I am making this report on behalf of myself and Ms de Brún, who has approved the report.

The inland waterways meeting opened with an oral progress report from Mr John Mahony, interim chief executive. The council noted that Waterways Ireland had responsibility for the Shannon Erne waterway from 2 December 1999, and from 1 April 2000 it had responsibility for Lough Erne and the Lower Bann navigations in Northern Ireland, and the Royal Canal, the Grand Canal, the Barrow navigation and the Shannon navigation in the Republic of Ireland. Ownership of Shannon Erne Waterway Promotion Limited transferred to Waterways Ireland on 16 June 2000. Waterways Ireland will have its headquarters in Enniskillen with regional offices in Dublin, Carrick-on-Shannon and Scariff in County Clare. The council noted that temporary premises had been established at each of these locations and that options on sites for permanent premises were being pursued. To date 230 staff have been seconded to Waterways Ireland.

(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)

The council noted that ESB International and Ferguson McIlveen have been commissioned to update their earlier feasibility study on the restoration of the Ulster Canal. This will provide an updated cost estimate for the project.

The council approved Waterways Ireland’s proposed activities for the period up to December 2000, including a detailed programme of works, estimates of expenditure and targets for other work including staff recruitment, financial arrangements, equality and human rights issues, development of a promotion strategy, property acquisition, health and safety issues, liaison with user groups and proposals to commence reviews of by-laws.

The council also considered and agreed Waterways Ireland’s proposals for its organisational structure and staffing levels, the distribution of functions between headquarters and regional offices, and interim pay and grading proposals. When Waterways Ireland is fully operational it will have around 381 staff, of which 257 will be industrial and 124 professional, technical and administrative. Of the 124 non-industrial staff, 70 will be based in Enniskillen, and the majority of these will be new posts.

The council also agreed to Waterways Ireland’s outline draft equality scheme. Following public consultation the scheme will be referred back to the North/South Ministerial Council in final format before submission to the Equality Commission. That completes the statement on Waterways Ireland.

1.00 pm

Mr J Wilson:

I thank the Minister for his report, and particularly for that part which we are dealing with now, Waterways Ireland, and the waterways of the island of Ireland.

Will the Minister give us an assurance that established groups like the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the Ulster Waterways Group, who have an interest in the waterways of Ireland, will be consulted and kept informed of development plans by Waterways Ireland as they unfold? I am assuming that he will keep the House informed of such plans. Will the Minister also elaborate on how he thinks Enniskillen will benefit from having the headquarters of Waterways Ireland there?

Mr McGimpsey:

I will take the three parts in reverse order. As I indicated, Enniskillen will benefit from 70 jobs. We estimate that about 80% of those will be new posts, so around 55 to 60 new professional, technical and administrative jobs will be created.

I will certainly keep the House informed of developments on the Waterways Ireland board. As we get reports through I will make them known automatically to the House. It is very important that interested groups are kept fully up to speed about and consulted on the work of Waterways Ireland and all such similar bodies. The development of waterways will complement other public and private sector businesses who will be consulted, including the Tourist Board, local authorities and — and this is very important — other groups who have an interest in waterways.

Mr McCarthy:

I welcome the meeting by the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure and representatives from the Irish Government on the waterways strategy. It certainly makes good sense to have co-operation right across the island and at the highest level. Waterways Ireland has the potential to capitalise on a huge tourist business throughout the island and in Northern Ireland, in particular. To date the inland waterways in Northern Ireland have experienced a great many problems and continue to be at a great disadvantage to those in the Republic. The Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee is presently engaged in a full public inquiry to see what the problems associated with the angling and fishing fraternity are. Can the Minister assure the House that sooner rather than later Northern Ireland will enjoy the benefits of easy, accessible, enjoyable and affordable activities for everyone on all our waterways?

Of particular interest to some Members is the large investment in Lagan navigation. This is also of particular interest to Lisburn Borough Council. Will the Minister agree that his Department has a responsibility to promote the Lagan navigation and will he look for support, if necessary, through the North/South Ministerial Council?

Mr McGimpsey:

Yes, I agree completely that the inland waterways activities is a navigation body. The benefits will be primarily economic. There is an enormous potential out there to attract tourists. We have only got to look south of the border in the Irish Republic and in England at the sort of experience they have with their inland waterways. Also on the Continent where they see the huge potential for water-borne tourism. People like to have their holidays on water, using canals, or cabin cruisers. We have an enormous potential in this area, and that is what we are looking to capitalise on.

Currently, we have only two navigable waterways. One is the Lower Bann and the other is Lough Erne. Canals formerly in existence are now defunct. The Ulster canal is one, the Newry canal is another, and the Member is quite right about the Lagan navigation. Some work is being done on that by Laganside in the City Council boundary and also by Lisburn Borough Council. We would see that as very much part of the priorities and of the agenda to get the Lagan navigation and the Ulster canal into operation. That brings up the fact that Lough Neagh does not have a navigable process, or navigable channels. Therefore navigation will have to be looked at in Lough Neagh.

The benefits are primarily economic, and there is potential for those rural communities along the path of the canal to ease their difficulties by tapping into those benefits through the development of arts and tourist craft shops, restaurants, pubs and so on. That is the experience in other parts of Europe.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Comhairle. I would like to welcome the Minister’s statement. I am pleased that meetings on inland waterways are now being held. Inland waterways have the potential to create both tourism and jobs. May I ask the Minister whether Waterways Ireland will give some consideration to the issue of licence differential?

As he will know, the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into fisheries, fishing and the angling fraternity. One problem that surfaces frequently is licence differential and the effect that that has on the angling community and tourism. This is an important issue requiring serious attention.

May I also ask the Minister how Waterways Ireland proposes to examine the various concerns about hydroelectric schemes. The Erne Anglers Association gave evidence at the inquiry and raised serious concerns about the Ballyshannon hydroelectric scheme. However, we also have a host of these in the North, and these schemes sometimes operate illegally. It seems that the problems raised by anglers and the impact that these have on the angling fraternity have no means of being addressed.

Finally, will the Minister say how the new body will relate to the various other regions? I am thinking of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland in particular.

Mr McGimpsey:

I agree with the underlying issue raised by Mrs Nelis about licence differentials and the associated concerns and difficulties. However, the meeting on inland waterways was not concerned with fishing licences or angling. It was concerned with navigation and the Lough Erne and lower Bann navigation ways. It was also concerned with the economic benefits that can flow from developing our inland waterways.

The licence differentials are primarily the concern of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland. Previously if one wanted to fish in the Foyle Fisheries catchment area and used an FCB licence one could have it endorsed accordingly, or one could buy a licence for one area and a licence for the other, or one licence for one area and have it endorsed for the other.

That process now continues except that Carlingford Lough is out of the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland’s area and part of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission’s area. However, that cross-border body is not under my area of responsibility; it is under the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Whilst I can talk about licences from the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland, I do not have the authority to discuss licensing for Foyle.

Dr Birnie:

I welcome the report from the Minister and wish to ask him what arrangements exist between the North/South body for waterways and the Rivers Agency in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure the cost effective management of flood defence. Also what is the extent of staff transfers from the Rivers Agency to this North/South body?

Mr McGimpsey:

I will answer the last part of the question first. As regards transferring staff, the Rivers Agency is currently carrying out work for Waterways Ireland under a service level agreement that will last for two years. The Rivers Agency has 460 staff and 10 are being transferred to Waterways Ireland — it is only a very small part of the total. Waterways Ireland does not have responsibility for flood defence, that lies with the Rivers Agency. Waterways Ireland is concerned with navigation, and in Northern Ireland terms, we are talking about Lough Erne and the lower Bann. Flood defences remain a matter for the Rivers Agency.

Mr Poots:

I would like to ask the Minister to state the basis on which we are employing an extra 70 members of staff and what impact that will have on the amount of money required by the Culture, Arts and Leisure Department to pay for that.

Mr McGimpsey:

The current year funding for Waterways Ireland is £11·5 million. Northern Ireland’s contribution is £1·3 million, and that has been allowed for in the budget. The creation of 70 jobs in Enniskillen — of which we estimate 80% will be new jobs — is essentially for headquarters, administrative and technical staff. A major item of work is the feasibility study into the Ulster canal and how it can be opened. That is a major project with large sums of money attached.

Mr Dallat:

I welcome the Minister’s statement and his positive outlook for Waterways Ireland. In terms of joined-up Government, will he assure us that the very real benefits this body will bring will be exploited by the new international tourism company, jointly owned by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte with its northern headquarters to be established in Coleraine?

Mr McGimpsey:

I assure the Member that we will be making every effort to co-operate. One of the prime raisons d’être for this initiative is tourism, and one of the main features for the tourist body in selling tourism and in attracting tourists will be the potential of our waterways. In terms of canal development, we are a long way behind the Irish Republic where there is an extensive and well-developed canal system. Our canal system is not developed, and that is what we are looking to do. Major benefits will come from that, and it will be one of the selling points for a tourist body in attracting people.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat. What steps has the Department taken to stop the pollution of inland waterways, and would the Minister agree that such pollution discourages the angling aspect of tourism?

Mr McGimpsey:

I thank the Member for his question. Waterways Ireland does not have a responsibility as regards pollution. That responsibility lies with other Departments. Pollution is obviously a matter of enormous importance, and if we are trying to sell water-borne tourism by developing canals, and the water quality is poor, that will have an impact on the project’s feasibility.

The matter is one which requires joined-up Government and the ability of Departments to sympathetically work together and complement each other. I take the Member’s point and I assure the House that it is something we are trying to achieve. To be specific, water quality would be a matter for the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

1.15 pm

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the Minister’s report, especially since the Enniskillen jobs are in my constituency, and 70 new jobs in that area will be welcome.

I welcome the statement that there is going to be a feasibility study for the restoration of the Ulster canal. I hope that the study will also incorporate the Coalisland canal in that area. It is a pity this body was not up and running a few years ago, so that we could have had more control over the waterways coming into the Erne system. There has been an infestation of zebra mussels from the Shannon system, and I hope the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure will endeavour to make sure that this manifestation is contained and does not develop further.

I look forward to the Minister’s paying close attention to this environmental issue, if it is part of his remit, and to his addressing other issues, such as the craft that are coming onto our waterways from the South of Ireland. I also hope that the Department will institute a feasibility study into the size and power of the craft on inland waterways; some of them are no longer suitable for inland waterways. I look forward, with interest, to seeing how this new body works for the advantage of Northern Ireland’s waterways.

Mr McGimpsey:

Matters such as the size of craft reflect back to the question Mr Wilson asked earlier and also the ability of Waterways Ireland to take on board the views of interest groups, local authorities and other Departments. It is very important that that be done and that issues such as the size of craft and jet skiing are taken on board.

The issue of zebra mussels is not specifically the responsibility of Waterways Ireland, but it is the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in terms of the angling estate, and the reality is that there is no answer to zebra mussels. In fact, I had never heard of zebra mussels until a few months ago. Apparently they are very small mussels the size of your thumb; they are inedible and have come in from the Caspian Sea. There are no natural predators, and their population is exploding. Our concern is that they are consuming the habitat that native fish rely on. Queen’s University and other universities throughout Europe are looking at the issue, but, to date, nobody has come up with an answer of how to control them.

Mr Molloy:

Go raibh maith agat a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to re-enforce the point made earlier by Mrs Carson about the Ulster canal and the need to include in the feasibility study the Coalisland canal. There is a need to have access to the town of Coalisland from the Ulster canal up the Coalisland canal. The two are interlinked, and it is very important that they be done at the same time in order to establish that link.

Secondly, with regard to the issue of zebra mussels, there needs to be some way of controlling vessels travelling from the Shannon waterway, which is infected, right up the Blackwater and into Lough Neagh, which is not infected. If there are no controls, the fishing stock in Lough Neagh will be severely damaged. We need some way of ensuring that when boats come into Lough Neagh they are clean and safe.

I welcome the placement of the office in Enniskillen, and I seek reassurance from the Minister that those who will be employed there will be new employees and that equality will become a main part of the agenda in the recruitment of staff for that office.

Mr McGimpsey:

I will answer the questions in reverse order. The Waterways Ireland Board, under the agreement, is currently producing its equality scheme which, in common with all other Government Departments, bodies and public authorities, will be lodged with the Equality Commission in September.

Of the estimated 70 jobs for Enniskillen, 80% will be new, many of them locally recruited, depending on skills available in the area. The head office, which will be the main focus for the Waterways Ireland operation, will be in Enniskillen. If the Ulster canal were open now, there would be difficulty avoiding the transfer of the infamous zebra mussels. That would have to come as part and parcel of the planning study as the Ulster canal is developed, since we recognise the danger to Lough Neagh. There are means to ensure that boats are sanitised as they move from one waterway into the other, pending our developing a means of controlling the mussels.

The Ulster canal is a big scheme, half lying in the Irish Republic, and half in Northern Ireland. The last estimate for its renovation, in 1998, was £70 million. We are now looking at an update of that cost, and how we address it will be another matter. The Ulster canal will link with Lough Neagh, which will require work on a navigation way through it, since there is none at present.

Relating to another question, the Lagan navigation — the linkage from Belfast — will also be connected. Our future plan is that one will be able to get into a boat in Belfast and travel to Dublin using canals and waterways.

Languages

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Mr McGimpsey:

In the afternoon, the language sectoral meeting opened with a report from the chairperson of the Language Body, Maighréad Uí Mháirtín. In the absence of Lord Laird of Artigarvan, Mrs Uí Mháirtín reported on behalf of both joint chairpersons on the progress in developing the body as a whole and in taking forward its remit in regard to the Irish language and Ulster-Scots. She stressed the value of the body as a means of promoting greater respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to cultural and linguistic diversity.

The interim chief executive of the body’s Ulster-Scots Agency, Mr John Hegarty, made an oral report to the council. He indicated that initial preparations to carry out the functions of the Ulster-Scots Agency were well under way. He indicated that early meetings of the board of the agency would concentrate on devising a corporate strategy, which would in turn determine the operational business of the agency. The agency has been putting in place administrative systems and liaising with Ulster-Scots and other language and cultural organisations, officials, researchers and sociolinguists to identify both the broad issues around promoting the language and culture and local priorities. The council noted the current position and looked forward to working closely with the board of the agency.

The interim chief executive of the Irish Language Agency of the body, Micheál Ó Gruagáin, made an oral report to the council. He indicated that the transfer of functions and staff from the former Bord na Gaeilge had gone smoothly. He also reported on the good progress made in devising a corporate strategy for the agency and preparing a business plan. He briefed the council on a number of its current operational activities. The agency has continued to carry forward the work agreed for the former Bord na Gaeilge, An Gúm and An Coiste Téarmaíochta (Terminology Committee). It has also taken over responsibility for funding several Irish-language organisations named in the Irish devolution legislation and for maintaining funding for the small number of Irish-language organisations which were previously core-funded from the mainstream budget of the former Central Community Relations Unit (now the Community Relations Unit of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister). The council noted the current position and looks forward to working closely with the board of the agency.

The council considered a request by the chairperson of the board of the Irish Language Agency for the provision of assistance in carrying out her duties and agreed a means by which this could be done.

The council considered and agreed a proposal by the Irish Language Agency of the body to establish a temporary office in Belfast.

The council agreed to meet again in sectoral format in September 2000.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I very much welcome the report and wish to acknowledge the very positive fact that the work of the Language Body is operationally under way and that the North/South Ministerial Council focused on this area at its meeting on 21 June.

My questions relate to budgetary details and associated matters, such as the delivery of tangible benefits to Irish language activists on the ground in local communities. How much money has been invested to date in this body, and how much have the respective Governments invested? When will the funding be released to Irish language groups so that they can make future provision for programme content to enable them to forward plan in terms of employing people to deliver these projects?

I am very conscious of the urgency regarding this matter given that the Good Friday Agreement compels statutory agencies to take resolute action to promote language and that very many so far are failing to live up to their obligations. Three examples are the courts; directional road signs and broadcasting agencies such as UTV, which does not appear to acknowledge that the Irish language even exists.

I nGaeilge agus very briefly, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an tuairisc seo agus tá mé sásta go bhfuil obair an Fhorais Teanga trasteorann faoi sheol anois. Is í an cheist atá mé a chur ná: cén uair a bhéas Gaeilgeoirí agus grúpaí atá ag obair ar son na Gaeilge abálta torthaí na hoibre seo a fheiceáil agus cá mhéad airgid a bhéas ar fáil don Fhoras seo? Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

Mr McGimpsey:

Madam Deputy Speaker, I will try to answer all of the points, and please forgive me if I miss some. No doubt Mr McElduff will come back to me if I do.

With regard to the allocations, the indicative funding for 2000-2001 will be £7,879,000. Northern Ireland will provide £2,300,000 of that. The Ulster-Scots Agency will receive £667,000 and the Irish Language Agency will receive £7·2 million. This roughly equates, for the Irish Language Agency, to level funding over a number of years when one takes into account previous funding through Northern Ireland and also through the Irish Republic and Bord na Gaeilge. There is roughly a flat funding, as I understand it.

For the Ulster-Scots Agency it represents roughly a fourfold increase in funding up to £667,000. That is the funding that is available indicatively. Because of suspension and the interregnum, work on applications was suspended so there is work to be done there. As I indicated, the board, in the report to the meeting, said it was looking forward to coming forward with its strategy. It will be the body responsible through the Irish Language Agency and the Ulster-Scots Agency for funding the various groups the Member mentioned. I imagine that that will be in common with normal funding in terms of the criteria set and also the level of demand, and, of course, that has to relate to the resources available.

I am not capable at this time of giving a definitive answer. I will have to wait until I see the strategies and corporate plans from the various bodies before we can begin to project. Indicative funding is based on experience in the past, and we will take it further on that basis.

The agreement charges us with promoting Irish and Ulster-Scots — for example, where there is appropriate demand. Mr McElduff mentioned road signs. I do not have any response to make with regard to the demand for bi-lingual road signs. We will take such matters as they arise, and every issue will be examined and determined on its own merit. The main responsibility for street names lies with local authorities, and therefore is not necessarily the responsibility of the Language Body.

Mr Shannon:

I have a number of questions for the Minister. In the report on languages, paragraph 10 refers to a "corporate strategy". Can the Minister indicate when the corporate strategy will be finalised, and when the core issues for Ulster-Scots will be addressed?

1.30 pm

In his previous answer, the Minister said that Irish language resources will be £7·2 million and that resources for Ulster-Scots will be approximately £700,000. When does the Minister hope to see parity and financial equality for both languages? Lip-service is only being paid to the Ulster-Scots language, which is completely inadequate and unfair. It does not reflect the opinion in the Province and of those who regard themselves as Ulster-Scots people.

Paragraph 12 of the report states that the council considered a request by the chairperson of the board of the Irish Language Agency. Will the Minister clarify what that request was? Was it for financial, manpower or womanpower assistance? What are the agreed means referred to in the statement?

In Paragraph 13, where will the funding to set up the temporary office in Belfast come from? Obviously, secretarial help will also be provided for the temporary office. Will the budget for Ulster-Scots be financially disadvantaged as a result? Where will the temporary office in Belfast be located, and will it become a permanent office, as sometimes happens?

I also have a question about Ulster-Scots and tourism. Has the Minister given any thought or consideration to the introduction of Ulster-Scots’ trails, or something similar, to take into account the 250,000 people who come from Scotland to Northern Ireland every year, to see what we have in Northern Ireland? What steps are being taken to take advantage of the income that would be generated and the interest that people have in the Ulster-Scots language, traditions, culture and history?

Mr McGimpsey:

I thank the Member for those questions. As with previous questions, I shall try to catch them all. On support to the chair of the Irish Language Agency, we are talking about appointing a deputy chair, as it is an unpaid, voluntary post which has been much more time consuming than was previously thought. It is not anticipated that there will be financial consequences, and it is certainly not anticipated that there will be any disadvantages for Ulster-Scots.

A corporate strategy for the Ulster-Scots Agency is currently under way, as I said in my report. The strategy and corporate plans of the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Irish Language Agency will inform the Language Body. Those two reports — on Ulster-Scots and Irish — are necessary to inform the Department, to allow us to develop our strategy. We have a duty to be as best informed as we can.

It is a matter for the Irish body to determine where its temporary office will be. I am on record as saying that it should be in a neutral venue, and the same applies to the Ulster-Scots Agency, which will also have an office in Belfast. It will also begin with a temporary office and a search by both bodies is under way. On the difficulties of parity between Ulster-Scots and Irish, I do not agree that there is unequal treatment. My policy is to provide fair treatment for everybody in the community, including those of Ulster-Scots and Irish identity. Like Mr Shannon, I am an ‘Ards man, so I am very familiar with growing up in an Ulster-Scots environment, although I was not aware of the heritage and identity that I had when I was growing up. The vernacular and the way we spoke was just something that we all did. We simply had an understanding that it was not quite English.

I have no hesitation in saying that there will be equal treatment for everyone, and also fair treatment for the languages of ethnic communities. It is wrong to use the treatment of one language as a benchmark for the treatment of the other, because one is not comparing like with like. Ulster-Scots as a language, a culture and a heritage is in its infancy compared with Irish and Gaelic. There is a great deal of work to do. Under direct rule the funding for Ulster-Scots was £118,000. Under this process funding will be £667,000 in the first year. That is a fourfold increase. There is a limit to the ability of the Ulster-Scots community to absorb resources and use them profitably in order to develop. There is a lot of work going on with the agency, the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council and the Ulster-Scots Language Society.

As Mr Shannon is aware, and this reflects an earlier point he made, one of the problems that Hansard is encountering and that the Agency has identified and is working hard on is the codifying of Ulster-Scots. It has never been codified. Work on a dictionary and the grammar is currently underway. There is also discussion about whether to rely on Scots or to go back to the seventeenth century and try to build it up from the roots. I know they are working hard to resolve that.

As far as Ulster-Scots heritage trails are concerned, I entirely agree that there is a huge tourist potential there. In Irish America, approximately 40 million Americans consider themselves Irish, and about 56% of them, at the last estimate, consider themselves Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots. They call it Scotch-Irish; we call it Ulster-Scots. There is a massive tourist resource for Northern Ireland on that side of things. The Ulster-American Folk Park is an example of how things can develop. There are exciting prospects for developing not just the language, but also the culture and heritage, and how that can be sold in terms of cultural tourism.

Dr Adamson:

I thank the Minister for his report on inland waterways and languages. I also congratulate him on his fine pronunciation of the Gaelic.

The report says that the Irish Language Agency has continued to carry forward the work of these various agencies. I am familiar with the work of the former Bord na Gaeilge and An Gúm, but I am not as familiar with the Terminology Committee. Could the Minister tell us a little about the Terminology Committee, what its functions have been and how these will be progressed in the new Irish language body?

Mr McGimpsey:

The short answer is that I am not familiar with the actual details of the body and of An Coiste Téarmaíochta, the Terminology Committee, and how that integrates. That would be a matter for the Irish language Agency, reporting to the Language Body. I imagine they are carrying on as in previous years, using that as their precedent. Again, I am not familiar with the details. I can certainly make an effort to find out, and I will write to Dr Adamson on that. Neither the agencies or the body have produced a corporate plan. It is behind time, but that is to do with the interregnum and the suspension. They are working hard on that, and the functions of the Terminology Committee should be spelt out clearly when it is published.

Mr McMenamin:

I thank the Minister and welcome his report.

Irish and Ulster-Scots, at present, are seen in Northern Ireland as foreign languages. Does the Minister believe that it is imperative to establish a cultural heritage programme to co-ordinate and focus efforts to put young people in Northern Ireland in touch with vital elements of their culture such as language? Does the Minister agree that more Irish language teachers and special language counsellors need to be appointed to assist our young people to offer Irish and Ulster-Scots as attractive choices?

Mr McGimpsey:

In terms of our cultural heritage — and it is a shared heritage — I believe strongly that mutual co-operation in the form of working and helping everyone to understand our cultural heritage will help foster greater understanding and respect among our society. I come from an Ulster-Scots background but did not understand it as I was growing up.

It is important that we understand where we are coming from. In terms of the instruction of the Irish language, if the Member is referring to its role in the classroom or as a form of Irish language medium education, that would be a matter for the Department of Education. With regard to promoting the Irish language, that is something we are already doing. We are also promoting Ulster-Scots and the languages of our ethnic communities; it is important we do not forget about them. I was at a linguistic diversity conference last week in the Indian Centre in Clifton Street. It was remarkable to discover the number of ethnic minorities who are now indigenous to Northern Ireland and who have been almost subsumed or buried underneath the Irish, the Ulster-Scots and the English heritage. This is another important area which has to be promoted. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure will specifically promote the language of ethnic minorities as well as Irish and Ulster-Scots. How they do this is a matter for the agencies and a matter for the body.

Dr Birnie:

I want to ask the Minister two questions about the Ulster-Scots Agency. First, can he elaborate on measures being put in place to promote that culture in broad terms, broader terms than simply the language, important though that might be? Secondly, can he comment on measures being put in place to promote liaison between the Ulster-Scots Agency and any relevant institutions outside of Northern Ireland, particularly and obviously in Scotland?

Mr McGimpsey:

In terms of liaison with other groups it is very important to develop the link between the Ulster-Scots agency and its work in Scotland. It is a matter for the Ulster-Scots Agency to determine how they are going to do this. We have a mechanism through the British/Irish Council, as Dr Birnie is aware, which is a very important function of the British/Irish Council, allowing us to promote Ulster-Scots through that linkage. In terms of codifying the Ulster-Scots, the Scots have already done much work on this in Scotland for Lannans and also for Doric, and I think the Ulster-Scots are hoping to learn from their experience.

There is a discussion going on about whether they should base their codification on the experience in Scotland or whether they should be looking at how the language has developed in Northern Ireland historically. In terms of promoting the Ulster-Scots culture, that, as I said, is a matter for the Ulster-Scots Agency, and it has its corporate plan to bring forward. It is currently working hard on it, and I know that the chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency and the body itself are keenly aware of the potential of promoting the Ulster-Scots heritage and culture and see enormous advantages for all of our society, and, as a by-product of that, there is the economic potential. I cannot be more specific. We must await the corporate plan and the strategy, and when we get an opportunity, we will look at it and comment on it.

1.45 pm

Mr McCarthy:

I welcome the cross-border meeting to discuss languages. I particularly welcome the statement made by the chairperson of the Language Body. She stressed the value of the body

"as a means of promoting greater respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to cultural and linguistic diversity."

Nobody could disagree with that sentiment. I could not but notice that, in the report, the names of both the chairperson of the new body and the interim chief executive of the Irish Language Agency were printed in the Irish language. I am disappointed that the interim chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency did not have his name in the Ulster-Scots language. Why?

Will the Minister confirm that, as Mr Speaker suggested this morning, there is a real difficulty in finding people to translate the Ulster-Scots language? If that is the case, is the Minister confident that we are engaged in a real and genuine desire to resurrect or promote a language or dialect that will benefit everyone, not only ourselves in Northern Ireland but all those throughout Ireland who are interested in languages?

Mr McGimpsey:

Yes, there is a genuine attempt, and it is an attempt that I am confident will see major advances in the understanding of Ulster-Scots by all of us. I see that as a fulfilling exercise for a large section of the population. It is a serious operation. The organisations involved, such as the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Heritage Council, are dedicated to promoting the Ulster-Scots language and cultural heritage.

I agree with the Member that one would have expected to see Mr John Hegarty’s name in Ulster-Scots. I assure the Member that that will be the case the next time I come before the House to make a report on Ulster-Scots. We are talking about equitable treatment. Whatever principle applies to Irish also holds for Ulster-Scots. I will ensure that that happens in the future.

Mr Dallat:

I welcome the Minister’s statement. Will the Minister assure the Assembly that the various broadcasting media in Northern Ireland will play a significant role in ensuring that they too are part of the equality agenda for the Irish language and that their performance will be monitored so that we will know how successful they are in targeting this aspect of social need?

Mr McGimpsey:

The Member will be aware that broadcasting is a reserved matter. Specific provision has been made for Irish-language broadcasting. I expect that to be actioned. If it is not, I expect to hear about it. I am not clear on the exact monitoring mechanism, but I expect that the Irish Language Agency, for example, will be able to report on what happens in that important area.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That concludes questions on the statement.

Agriculture:
North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

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Madam Deputy Speaker:

Question Time starts at 2.30 pm; that leaves 45 minutes for the statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers): I should like to report to the Assembly on the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in sectoral format in Dublin on Monday 26 June 2000. Mr Dermot Nesbitt and I attended that meeting. The Government of the Republic of Ireland was represented by Mr Joe Walsh TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. This report has been approved by Mr Nesbitt and is also made on his behalf.

This was the first meeting of the council in its agriculture sectoral format and the areas of co-operation as presented to the plenary meeting on 13 December 1999 were agreed. The broad areas of co-operation are: common agricultural policy (CAP) issues; animal and plant health research and development; and rural development. Within these areas the council reviewed the high level of existing co-operation between the two Departments and discussed a range of matters for enhanced co-operation. The council recognised the important contribution already being made to the development of agriculture by the two Departments and endorsed a proposal that officials prepare a detailed programme for joint action for consideration at the next council meeting in sectoral format.

On specific issues, the council noted the difficulties in both the North and the South in implementing new area-based schemes for less favoured area payments. In seeking to secure European Commission approval, the Agriculture Departments in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are working to minimise the risk of their new schemes producing big winners and big losers while at the same time ensuring that their schemes comply with EU regulations. Both Departments agreed to keep in touch regarding these difficulties and in their respective negotiations with the European Commission. On BSE the council noted my continuing efforts to achieve low BSE incidence status for Northern Ireland. In particular I welcomed the support of Minister Walsh and that of EU Commissioner Byrne.

The council also noted the activity which has taken place in the area of animal and plant health and research and development, and officials in the two Departments will now consider how continued activity might be formalised. For the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its agriculture sectoral format, officials will produce a programme of work identifying those areas with the greatest potential for enhanced co-operation, together with a timetable for further work.

The council received a progress report on the joint study of the pig meat processing capacity in Ireland commissioned by both Agriculture Departments in December 1999. The council acknowledged the very severe contraction in the pig industry, particularly in Northern Ireland and noted that the study, together with the views of the two Agriculture Departments, would be presented to the next North/South Ministerial Council meeting in its agriculture sectoral format. We also noted that there has been an improvement in the price of pigs in recent times, which is very welcome.

On the broader rural development front, the council agreed to reconstitute a steering committee on cross-border rural development. The terms of reference of this committee, together with the rules of procedure, were agreed. The committee, which was first established in 1991, comprises senior officials from both Departments. It will consider ways to promote maximum co-operation in the implementation of rural development and EU programmes. The committee will also exchange information on experience and best practice in both jurisdictions in relation to rural development. It will also continue to develop common approaches to cross-border area-based strategies and rural development research.

A detailed work programme will be drawn up, and the agreed proposals will be tabled for endorsement at the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its agriculture sectoral format. The council agreed that it will meet on a quarterly basis in this format and that the next meeting will take place in October in Northern Ireland. The council also agreed the text of a joint communiqué, which was issued following the meeting. A copy of the communiqué has been placed in the Assembly Library.

The Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (Rev Dr Ian Paisley): How much time was spent discussing the number of BSE cases in the Irish Republic? These seem to be increasing. The figures that I have before me are quite alarming. They show that in Northern Ireland there were six cases in 1998-99. I understand that so far this year there has been one case, whereas the numbers in the Irish Republic go into hundreds. Did the Minister take time with her colleague to discuss that matter? It seems strange that she is delighted that the Minister in the South is backing her case for low incidence BSE status for Northern Ireland, while at the same time there seems to be a rising tide of BSE cases in the Irish Republic.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his question. My main concern is to get low incidence BSE status for Northern Ireland. I am aware that the Northern Ireland figures are better than those in the Republic, and it is for this reason that I am actively pursuing low incidence status for Northern Ireland. I did not discuss the situation in the Republic. I am pleased to inform the Member that, in relation to low incidence BSE status for Northern Ireland, I have the full support of the Minister for Agriculture, Joe Walsh, and that will be extremely important when our case reaches the stage of going before the member states.

Mr McMenamin:

I thank the Minister for her report. Has the Minister any views on the development of a common approach to developing cross-border rural development strategies?

Ms Rodgers:

I think that developing cross-border rural development strategies is extremely important, and they have been very beneficial to areas on both sides of the border. For example, in the integrated approach involving the Clogher Valley and Ballyhaise in Cavan, farmers on both sides have co-operated in improving their situation. One of the problems for such areas in the past has been that they have, in a sense, developed in a back-to-back approach, which has had a negative impact on areas on both sides. There is now the potential, within the developing cross-border rural development strategy, to allow those areas to work in an integrated basis using EU funds. This can be of real benefit to the rural communities on both sides of the border that have suffered from a back-to-back approach in the past. They can now work together on the basis of an integrated approach.

Mr J Kelly:

Thank you, A LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement. Can the Minister have any input to the question of planning in rural areas? Is there any way of alleviating the difficulties that the farming community is experiencing presently by, for example, trying to encourage planners not to be so restrictive in relation to planning where land has become almost obsolete and is the only form of income a farmer might have at present?

Also, while the rural development programme is important in the drive towards economic and social revitalisation of deprived rural areas throughout the North of Ireland, would she give consideration to ensuring that all sections of the rural community are involved in their own rural regeneration?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his two questions. I have no formal role in planning. That particular area is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, but I hope to work closely with it because I recognise that there are problems relating to planning, particularly for diversification in rural areas. I will work closely with the Department of the Environment, but I do not have a formal role in the development of the planning strategies.

2.00 pm

The second part of the Member’s question concerned the involvement of rural communities. There has been quite a lot of welcome involvement by rural communities in the designing of their projects and in identifying their needs. Because rural communities know their needs better than anyone else, they are best placed to identify those needs. That has been going on with the help of officials. Local involvement is an integral part of the rural development programme, and I hope that the new rural development strategy continues to strengthen and encourage it.

Mr Ford:

If the Minister permits, I will ask two questions. First, I welcome the reconstitution of the steering committee on rural development, but I note that the Minister’s statement specifically says that it comprises senior officials from both jurisdictions. Is there any value in senior officials exchanging information if that information does not reach the ground where it might be of direct benefit? Can she explain how that will happen? I suspect that at times we have an information overload at senior level, yet sometimes the practical examples are not communicated to people working on the ground.

Secondly, the Minister referred earlier to the difficulties in implementing the new area-based schemes under the less favoured areas (LFA) proposals. Both jurisdictions are having difficulties getting those plans approved in Brussels. Can the Minister provide some more detail on when Northern Ireland farmers are likely to hear anything concrete on that? Unfortunately, to hear that we have problems with Brussels is not new; it would be much more beneficial if we could hear when those problems were likely to be resolved.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his two questions. I will try to oblige and be very patient. I hope that everyone is not going to ask me two questions together.

In response to the Member’s first question about people at senior level, officials take on board the views of everyone when discussing these issues. In the rural development programme people are involved at all levels, and local people are particularly involved in local action groups, the INTERREG programme and community networks. Although senior officials are clearly the people who will be steering it along, as has been the case in the past, it will be in conjunction with rural communities and the people on the ground. Their views will be taken on board.

In relation to the LFA schemes, we are, as the Member is aware, currently revising our proposals. There will be further discussions with Brussels this month and after that there will be further consultation. The reality is that Brussels sent back the scheme that we put forward for the less favoured areas, as it sent back the schemes put forward by other UK regions and the Government in the Republic of Ireland. Our scheme was aimed at minimising the numbers of losers and winners and had an environmental component based on area rather than on headage. I am afraid that, in conjunction with the less favoured area farmers, we did not quite succeed in getting what we wanted. It is difficult to say when the proposals will be ready, but I can tell the Member that we are working on them and that they will be ready as soon as possible.

Mr Poots:

It comes as no surprise that Mr Walsh TD is fully backing our case for low incidence BSE status. If I were sitting with one hundred times the cases of BSE that another country had, I would be backing its arguments for low incidence BSE status. It will help his case significantly.

Since devolution, has the Minister at any point questioned the Irish Republic’s Minister about BSE cases? Does she recognise that it will impinge upon Northern Ireland’s case because cattle imported from the Irish Republic may contaminate livestock in Northern Ireland with BSE?

Also, has she raised the problem of the higher levels of tuberculosis and brucellosis in the Irish livestock herd compared to those in Northern Ireland’s? Finally, will she outline the proposals which she has been making to Brussels regarding the area payments?

Ms Rodgers:

I cannot remember how many questions I have had on that, but I will take the last first and then work my way back. The last one was about what proposals we are making in relation to LFA. I would need to have had a secretary beside me to keep track of all those questions — was it four? I am not sure. In relation to the LFA we are looking at putting forward new proposals which we hope to finalise very soon. We are looking at various areas, for instance, the idea of capping payments, raising the minimal acreage or hectarage for eligibility and at various proposals which will help us to ensure that the redistribution does not have a negative impact which it might otherwise have on our farmers. We want the redistribution to be as fair as possible and to have the minimum number of winners and the minimum number of losers. That is what we are working on. We are also looking at the situation of phasing in the changes over three years. We have not finalised our proposals yet, but those are the kind of areas that we are looking at. My priority is to ensure that the redistribution will not have a negative impact on those who most need help in the less favoured areas.

With regard to the low-incidence status, the Northern Ireland case is separate from that of the Republic of Ireland. Its position will not affect ours. Therefore, it is not necessary for me to raise the points that the Member mentioned. What we are looking for is low-incidence status for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will, in that situation, be treated as a region of the United Kingdom with separate status from the other regions of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Our main priority is to ensure that we get that low-incidence status; that it will be based on the strong case that we know we have because of the fact that last year we had only six cases. That is my main priority. It is not necessary to raise anything relating to the Republic’s incidence.

Mr Dallat:

I am sure the Minister will agree that it is not in the interests of farmers, North or South to have fluctuations in BSE promoted by elected representatives at a time when there is a real chance of putting the problem in its true perspective, which, I understand, is that the scourge is minimal compared to other European countries. In relation to cross-border rural development, what has the steering committee achieved to date?

Ms Rodgers:

Since 1991, when the steering group was set up, it has acted as a useful forum for exchanging information, for example, on the evaluation of European Union programmes, such as LEADER II. It has also encouraged LEADER transnational co-operation and has reconciled policy and practice on both sides of the border to facilitate progress on rural development initiatives, for example, exchange of guidelines on LEADER II. Reports on progress were presented to the Intergovernmental Conference.

Mr Kane:

It would seem that the Minister is putting more emphasis on cross-border institutions, rather than taking the initiative in promoting rural development to its full potential in this Province which is her responsibility. It seems ludicrous for the Minister to be in discussions with the Minister of the Irish Republic in connection with areas of common interest at a time when no clear indication of policy on rural development has been made to the Assembly’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. When will the Minister be able to give us a clear indication of policy on rural development in this Province?

Ms Rodgers:

The Member will understand that in this report I am dealing with the North/South Ministerial Council in its sectoral meeting, which is specifically dealing with North/South issues, and for that reason the emphasis has been on North/South co-operation in rural development and other areas.

In relation to rural development in Northern Ireland, I can assure the Member that, for me, that issue is a high priority. It is an area that is close to my heart. I recognise the need to provide support and economic regeneration for deprived rural areas in Northern Ireland, which, given the changes in agriculture and world markets, are under severe pressure.

I am extremely interested and concerned that the rural development side of my portfolio should be progressed. My Department is at present working on a rural development strategy, and I am taking a keen personal interest. I hope that that strategy will be completed by the autumn of this year, and I can assure Mr Kane that as soon as it is available, I will make it available to the Committee. I will consult with the Committee and shall be interested to hear its views and have its comments. Perhaps I will take advice on where, or how, changes might be made.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s report, and especially the references to the reconstruction of the steering committee on cross-border and rural development, promoting co-operation and the implementation of rural development. Does the Minister agree that it is about time that we had an agreed agricultural policy on the island?

Ms Rodgers:

The Member will realise that as we are presently part of the United Kingdom we have to work within its framework. The United Kingdom is the member state; that is how Europe works, and we must work within the context of being a region of the United Kingdom.

That is not to say that we are not able to find common cause with the Irish Government on many areas within Europe, and a perfect example is our search for low-incidence BSE status. We have been guaranteed the full support of the Irish Government and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in the Irish Government, Joe Walsh TD, when we come to put our case to the member states. We want to co-operate strongly with them on such issues.

I recognise the Member’s point about common agricultural interest, North and South, but we have to live in the real world, and, at the moment, we are working through the United Kingdom Government as a region of the United Kingdom.

Mr Morrow:

I noted in the Minister’s statement that she acknowledges the severe contraction in the pig industry, but is she aware of just how severe it is? Something like 60% of the pig industry has now disappeared. What steps is the Minister going to take to stop this trend? If we have to wait for another long period before there is an announcement or a statement from the Minister, the pig industry will have retracted further.

At the moment pig prices are such that there is no profit in Northern Ireland pig production, and that situation cannot continue. Is the Minister aware of that crisis, and will she assure this House that she will not wait for action by her counterparts across the border, whose position is less severe, but will take all the necessary steps to rejuvenate this sector of the agriculture industry?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his question. It is not related to my report, but I will attempt to deal with it as best I can. The Member will note that that is one of the first issues that I discussed at my first informal meeting with the Minister in the Republic as soon as I became Minister. The crisis in the pig industry was the main issue of discussion, and the Member will be glad to learn that at that meeting we decided to set up a joint study of processing capacity on the island in recognition of the processing capacity problem experienced at that time, particularly in the North.

2.15 pm

That study has been put in place, and we will hopefully receive a report on how it has been going at the next meeting in October. The study will cost approximately £100,000, and Northern Ireland will contribute 25% of the cost, which will be shared equally between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Industrial Development Board. The Republic of Ireland will pay the rest. That was one clear benefit which accrued from our first meeting and which is ongoing in relation to helping the pig producers.

The Member will also be aware that help for the pig sector was put in place at the Prime Minister’s summit in March. The pig scheme, which is actually being processed at the moment, is to help outgoers and those who wish to remain in the pig business. The outgoers scheme will be retrospective and will help those who have already left. Ongoers will be helped as regards interest payments. The Member will also be aware that one of the problems in the pig industry is oversupply.

In relation to the Member’s point about the pig crisis, I was speaking only two hours ago to two young farmers, and they were confirming the price of pigs. About 10 days ago the price was about 89p per kilo and then it went to 93p per kilo. The price of 89p per kilo was just about the break-even point. Now the industry is barely in profit. I am not suggesting that that is in any way satisfactory — it is not at all — but it is at least some improvement on the position where they were losing all the time. I welcomed that as a sign of movement. However, it is a little chink of light on the horizon. The other matters I have referred to will also be put in place. I am keenly aware of the very difficult situation pig farmers have been in. I have pig farmers in my constituency, and I well know the problems they have been facing. I am doing all that I can to help them, within the constraints of the European regulations.

Mr Douglas:

Bearing in mind that the Departments seem to know that there is a need for their agencies to work together and collaborate regarding animal health and plant health, and also bearing in mind that this morning £8 million was transferred to pay for cattle taken off farms because of tuberculosis and brucellosis, are there any plans to seriously deal with this matter on a North/South basis? We seem to be going downhill rather than gaining. Maybe, in future, the £8 million could be better spent in other ways. There is a big problem. Will the Minister be dealing with that in the future?

Ms Rodgers:

I have had some difficulty in hearing the question. Perhaps it is the acoustics in the Chamber.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Will the Member please repeat the question more clearly for the Minister’s hearing?

Mr Douglas:

Basically, the question concerns plant health and animal health. Is the Minister working on a cross-border basis to see if anything can be done to reduce the instances of tuberculosis and brucellosis?

Ms Rodgers:

I am sorry I could not hear the first time.

In Northern Ireland, policy reviews will be beginning in the autumn. We will take the Republic of Ireland’s views on board. As the Member is aware from my report, there is ongoing and continuing co-operation between the scientists in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and those in the Republic. We will continue that co-operation because it is in our mutual interest, as we share the same land mass, that we should do all in our power to work together and pool our resources at various stages in order to deal with the scourge of brucellosis.

Mr Hussey:

This is really a follow-on from the last question. The Minister will be well aware that the United Kingdom Government are perhaps more stringent and timely in implementing EU policies on animal health and welfare, sometimes to the disadvantage of our farmers who can be forced into capital expenditure that others have not entered into. What efforts are being made at cross-border level to bring farming in the Republic of Ireland up to Northern Ireland standards?

Ms Rodgers:

This was not one of the areas that we discussed. It is not part of my report, so it is not something that I can answer at the moment. I am aware of the concerns of our farmers about the stringent health and welfare regulations. However, I cannot at the moment answer the question because the matter is not part of my report since it was not discussed.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That concludes questions to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Standing Orders require that Question Time begin at 2.30 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 2.21 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) —

Assembly Affairs

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2.30 pm

Mr Speaker:

I have several points to raise before moving to questions. First, during Question Time on Monday 26 June, Mr Derek Hussey asked me to review Hansard of 12 June, at pages 84-85, to determine whether the Minister had provided an answer to his question. I have read Hansard again, as well as the ruling that I gave immediately before Mr Hussey raised his point of order on 26 June. As I said then, it is very difficult for the Chair to rule on whether or not a question has been answered as clearly and as fully as possible. However, if the House is dissatisfied with a ministerial response, there is opportunity within the time allotted for supplementary questions to be pressed. On the question to which the Member referred, a number of other Members took up the cudgels on behalf of the Member’s question — metaphorically — and pressed the matter further. That is the proper way for the Assembly to hold Ministers to account.

Secondly, on this morning’s question from Mr Jim Shannon, further to the advice that I gave at the time, I can inform the House that, just as the Hansard sub-editors make spelling, grammatical and other changes to the speeches made in English, using standard English rules, and to those in Irish, using Ulster Irish as the standard, the same process is undertaken by the Ulster-Scots sub-editor of Hansard, using the Scots Language Society’s list of spellings. I understand that there is currently no agreed Ulster-Scots list of spellings or grammar. Therefore the use by Hansard of the Scots Language Society’s list seems reasonable in the current climate.

Thirdly, earlier today a number of Members raised the issue of questions being put to Ministers by other Ministers. The Deputy Speaker pointed out, quite rightly, that current Standing Orders do not prohibit any Member from putting questions to Ministers. The arrangements for the Executive in this Assembly are unique. Conventions observed in another place operate in the context of collective Cabinet responsibility. To date in the Assembly, there is no evidence of Ministers putting down questions for written or oral answer, although that would not be prohibited by Standing Orders. It should be welcomed that Ministers have chosen to follow that approach, and I hope that they will continue to do so.

The issue of questions to Ministers following statements arose this morning. Once again, Standing Orders are not directive. However, it seems to me that although a Minister, as Minister, should not use the Chamber to question another Minister, he or she may do so as a private Member. Accordingly, this morning when I called Mr Dodds to put a question to the First and Deputy First Ministers, Members will have observed that I called him as Mr Dodds, and deliberately not as the Minister for Social Development. To emphasise the difference, I suggest that when Ministers wish to speak in a private Member capacity, whether in debate or during questions or statements, they should show that distinction by speaking from other than the Front Benches. I am aware that a number of Ministers already observe that convention, and I commend the practice to the House.

I also commend Mr Hussey, who, when raising his point of order, identified the Standing Order to which he was referring. That is also a practice that I commend to the House.

 

Oral Answers to Questions

Agriculture and Rural Development

BSE

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2.

Mr Kieran McCarthy

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to clarify the position in regard to negotiations regarding low BSE incidence status for Northern Ireland within the European Union.

(AQO 380/99)

6.

Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what progress has been made in advancing Northern Ireland’s case for low-incidence BSE status within the European Union.

(AQO 386/99)

11.

Mr Kane

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what progress has been made in achieving low BSE incidence status within the European Union.

(AQO 382/99)

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers): Mr Speaker, may we group questions 2, 6 and 11 together as they are essentially the same question?

Mr Speaker:

Indeed they relate to the same matter, and I am quite content for the Minister to group the replies. I will, of course, take that into account when calling the supplementary questions.

Ms Rodgers:

Making the case for Northern Ireland to be accepted as a BSE low incidence region is my highest priority. One of the first things I did when I resumed my position as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was to have an early meeting with Nick Brown to make sure that he understood my desire to keep this matter moving. I also changed my Assembly business commitments on 19 June to allow me to travel to Luxembourg to meet personally with Commissioner Byrne. I have also met Joe Walsh to ensure that I could count on his support for the case when it comes to the negotiating stages in Brussels. I also raised the issue in the North/South Ministerial Council to ensure that that body was fully aware of the priority that I attach to the matter.

In relation to the current position, I had a very positive meeting with Commissioner Byrne in Luxembourg. He accepted the economic importance of the measure to the whole of the beef industry in Northern Ireland and reaffirmed his support for the case. There are still some technical details to be worked out, and my officials are working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and with the Commission officials to resolve them. I hope that as a result of these discussions it will be possible to issue a consultation document on the case within the next few weeks, perhaps even within the next number of days. The response to the consultation will be vital in helping to shape the subsequent negotiations with the Commission.

Mr McCarthy:

I thank the Minister for her reply and very much welcome the work that her Department has been doing so far. Does she believe that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London is doing everything possible to advance the case for Northern Ireland ahead of possible developments in Scotland?

Ms Rodgers:

Yes, I have to say that Nick Brown is fully behind our attempts to get low-incidence status and has been extremely supportive. I suppose you could say that Scotland is not as happy as it might be about it. In fairness to Ross Finnie, the Scottish Minister, he has been supportive of my efforts and has assured me of his support. I am quite happy that Nick Brown is fully behind me. He has been extremely helpful in every possible way.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Will the Minister consider bringing with her to Europe a delegation from the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), farmers who originally thought up this policy of low-incidence BSE status? They would be on hand to advise her, her departmental officials and the UK representative during these important negotiations. Further to that, can she explain to the House the timetable that the Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have and are working to in order to achieve low-incidence BSE status for Northern Ireland?

Ms Rodgers:

In relation to bringing a delegation from the UFU with me to Brussels, I have to inform the Member that I am very happy with the work that is being done by my Department. Its officials are treating this with the priority that I wish them to. They are working extremely hard on all fronts with officials from the commission. I have and will continue to consult with both the UFU and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association (NIAPA), both of whom are extremely anxious — and they have made it clear to me — that this be a priority for the farming community which both those organisations represent. I have consulted with them, and I will continue to do so. Of course, I have also consulted with the rest of the industry that has an interest in this rather complex issue.

In relation to the timetable, the answer to Mr Paisley’s question is that I would like low-incidence status tomorrow morning, but this is a complex issue, and it is impossible to put a timescale on it.

I had hoped that it would have been possible to achieve it by the end of the year. Because of some difficulties, I now understand that it may be a few months later. These arose due to concerns the commission had with putting the right controls in place and ensuring there would not be a back-door passage for British beef products through Northern Ireland into Europe. I am pleased to say that those have now been ironed out, and we are back on course. However, we are committed to a consultation period of 8 weeks.

Once the proposals go to the commission, which I hope will be days rather than weeks, it will then go out for simultaneous consultation with industry and the general public. That will last for eight weeks, which will bring us into September. At that stage we should be able to bring it to the member states to look at it. The Standing Veterinary Committee will have to look at it, and there will be inspections in Northern Ireland to verify that all the controls are in place and working. That is a complex process and cannot be done overnight. I share the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association and the Members’ concerns that we should get low-incidence status as soon as possible.

Mr Kane:

Since we are aware that contracts state that major supermarkets and retailers must sell beef from Northern Ireland, what safeguards can the Minister put in place to protect existing trade between mainland United Kingdom and the Province?

Ms Rodgers:

That is, as I have already mentioned, one of the considerations that we have had to deal with. We did consult with the whole industry, and the meat processors would have difficulty if carcass meat could not come across from England or Scotland. We have looked at that.

My officials are working on proposals to ensure that trade will not be disrupted and that established trade links can continue with maximum economic benefit for the industry as a whole. Those are the proposals that are being worked on at the moment.

The Chairman of the Agriculture Committee (Rev Dr Ian Paisley): Does the Minister find it strange that countries with increasing incidences of BSE are sitting in condemnation of Northern Ireland’s case? For instance, Portugal’s BSE cases rose last year to 330, the Irish Republic’s to 410, while here there were six cases last year and one this year. Surely it is unfair that countries with a rising BSE crisis are sitting on their hands and holding back when we, according to the Minister’s statement in the House today, have to wait until next spring before we have an answer.

Ms Rodgers:

I share the Member’s frustration, as does the farming community in Northern Ireland, at the situation in which we find ourselves. However, the reason we find ourselves in this position is that we were treated as a part of the United Kingdom, which had a high incidence of BSE, when we had a very low incidence.

In my view we should never have been in the situation we are now. The reason we are is that we were linked to the high incidence in the United Kingdom. I am responsible for Northern Ireland low-incidence status. I am doing my best. It is not my responsibility to look at other countries. I understand the frustrations, but it is in our interest to get the support of the member states in moving our case forward. I do not think it would help our case if I were to start criticising the other member states when, in fact, we will be looking for their strong support in the next part of the process.

Mr Leslie:

Will the Minister advise the House whether the £500,000 to be given to the beef industry to help promote itself under the agenda for government will be contingent on achievement of low-incidence BSE status, or whether, in her view, the spending of that money should be held back until the outcome of the application has been decided?

2.45 pm

Ms Rodgers:

The £500,000 which has been set aside will be ring-fenced to deal with the resource implications of getting low incidence BSE. This achievement of low incidence BSE will create the framework for our beef industry to commence exports on a meaningful scale. Much work has to be done with previous and potential customers by individual companies and the Livestock and Meat Commission, but additional costs will be inevitable if we are to build up exports quickly. These will include costs associated with additional testing to demonstrate our low level of BSE and the achievement of internationally recognised accreditation of our quality assurance scheme. We want the industry to suggest how the £500,000 can best be spent. The reason that I have applied for that in this round of funding is that I want us to be ready so that as soon as we get low incidence BSE the resources are there to enable us to start building up our exports immediately.

Less-Favoured Areas

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3.

Mr Neeson

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development why a specific environmental tier open to all farmers has not been included in the revised proposals for a new less-favoured area scheme in order to help to mitigate the disruptive effects of these proposals.

(AQO 381/99)

Ms Rodgers:

I am commited to consulting with all relevant parties from my Department on the proposals. When the Department consulted the industry and other interested bodies the weight of opinion was against introducing additional environmental conditions over and above those consistent with the operation of good agricultural practice. There was concern that additional conditions would create additional costs which would not be recouped by the farmers. The Department is still considering the detail of a revised less-favoured area support scheme to resubmit to the commission.

Mr Neeson:

I thank the Minister for her answer, but I find it somewhat disappointing. Will she accept that there is great concern over the protection of the natural environment in rural areas and that increasing grants to farmers for environmental purposes can help to maintain the viability of family farms, protect the environment and promote economic development through green tourism?

Ms Rodgers:

I agree with the Member that increasing funds to farmers for environmental purposes will help the farmers and will help bring resources into the farming community. I will have funds available for modulation and, I hope, environmental schemes. The LFA scheme does have an environmental aspect to it, although it is not an environmental scheme per se, but it will have environmental conditions attached. It will not be permissable to remove hedgerows without consent, and there will be penalties if they are removed, and so on. I will be looking for further funding for environmentally sensitive areas (ESA) schemes and the country management scheme.

Mr Fee:

May I ask the Minister if she is aware of the serious problems being faced by many of the organisations involved in protecting the community under the various area-based strategy and leader projects funded by European moneys? They are deeply concerned that their financial streams are due to end by the end of this year and that there has been no agreement on any funding under the next round. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that the enormous amount of good work going on in terms of job creation, farm diversification and environmental protection will continue until we get the new streams of funding in place?

Ms Rodgers:

I am very much aware of the difficulties being created by the hiatus between one tranche of funding and the next. I have similar problems in my constituency, and I am not aware that there are any resources available which I can use to ease the passage for people who are finding it difficult at the moment. I will look at this to see if there is any possibility of achieving some funding, but I cannot make any promises when I do not know whether funds are available. I do fully understand the problems, and when the next schemes come I hope that we will be able to move as quickly as possible to alleviate the situation.

Greenmount College
of Agriculture

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4.

Mr McClelland

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to confirm the number of student entrants and graduates at Greenmount College for 1998 and 1999.

(AQO 365/99)

Ms Rodgers:

In 1998 and 1999 there were the following numbers of graduates and new entrants at Greenmount College of Agriculture and Horticulture. There were 350 graduates in June 1998. In September 1998 there were 346 new entrants. There were 318 graduates in June 1999. In September 1999 there were 428 new entrants.

Mr Kane:

Will the Minister consider financial assistance for existing and new auction marts as part of rural development, taking into account the possibility of low incidence BSE status and the subsequent export of live cattle?

Mr Speaker:

I am puzzled by the connection between that and the question. Unless the Member can clarify the link, I will have to rule him out of order and proceed to the next question. The Minister thinks it was a good try, but not quite relevant.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Does the Minister accept that there is a lack of confidence in the farming community as a result of the constant crises that have been endured by many farmers, whether they be pig farmers, beef farmers, sheep farmers or milk farmers? Do the numbers entering Greenmount College not show that there is great concern in the farming community? It is vital that we ensure that the numbers of students and graduates from that college increase. That can only happen with the impetus of financial assistance from the Minister’s Department.

Ms Rodgers:

I am aware of the concern in the farming community. Even people who are not involved in agriculture are aware of the difficulties that farmers face, although I am hoping that there will now be an upturn.

There has been an increase in enrolments in 1998-99. That was due to the introduction of new courses to meet industry demand and the addition of flexible courses. Again, that was an attempt to meet the needs of the farming community. If there is more flexibility that allows students to study at a rate that suits their requirements, clearly that will help them.

The new programme with the biggest impact on enrolments was the pilot multiskilling programme, through which young people can achieve an NVQ level 3 qualification in agriculture in parallel with an NVQ level 3 qualification in another discipline. This prepares them to seek employment at the farm at home and also on a part-time basis. We are trying to be flexible, to look at the needs of the farming community and to provide the courses which suit them in a situation where there will have to be off-farm work and diversification. We need times that suit them.

Beef: EU Labelling

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5.

Dr Birnie

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail the current position in regard to the implementation of European Union beef labelling requirements; and if she will make a statement.

(AQO 389/99)

Ms Rodgers:

Agreement on general rules on beef labelling was reached at the April meeting of the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers. From September 2000, all cuts of beef will have to be labelled with the country of slaughter, the country of cutting, the category of animal and a reference code that will allow the beef to be traced back to the animal or group of animals from which it is derived. In the case of mince, the country of processing will also have to be shown.

From 1 January 2002, additional details will have to be included covering the country of birth and the country of rearing. These general rules now have to be considered by the European Parliament. The environment committee of that Parliament is to vote on the labelling rules this week. The European Commission has also brought forward to the beef management committee draft detailed rules to give effect to the agreement reached by the Council of Ministers.

I am fully aware of the industry’s concerns on this issue, particularly on the category of animal requirement. I have discussed the issue with Mr Brown and other regional agriculture ministers. We are agreed on the need to ensure that the final labelling system does not present significant practical or cost problems.

The MEPs have been briefed, and the industry’s concerns have been raised in discussions with the beef management committee. I have personally raised this issue with John Hume. He is fully aware of the difficulties created by the current beef-labelling proposals, and he has assured me that he will do what he can to gain whatever easement possible through the European Parliament. Dr Ian Paisley and Mr Jim Nicholson are also aware of the difficulties and will do what they can to help in the European Parliament. I have also raised this issue with both Nick Brown and Commissioner Byrne.

Dr Birnie:

Does the Minister agree that it would be advantageous to the local beef farming industry to have a strong system of labelling for Northern Ireland produce? I appreciate that as a regional Minister in the European Union, she may be operating under certain constraints, but I stress that — if Members will pardon the pun — she should not be cowed by the heavy weight of EU regulation.

Ms Rodgers:

Accepting the pun, I have no intention of being cowed. The reality is that I have to work within the regulations agreed by the European Council. In relation to beef labelling, what I am doing, with the help of my other ministerial colleagues is trying to ensure that the implementation will provide easement in the labelling problem. Incidentally my colleague Joe Walsh in the South has had similar problems to us. I fully agree that the current situation will have cost implications for our processors and for our industry.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Does the Minister accept that there is tremendous anger and frustration in the farming community? A great deal of foreign meat is flooding into Northern Ireland, and it is not up to the welfare standard that we have in the Province. However, because of a labelling difficulty, many believe that — with a sleight of hand — this meat has been produced in Northern Ireland. We have to make the system very clear and very definite. We produce the best meat in the world.

Ms Rodgers:

I understand the frustrations. I fully agree that our pig meat, in particular, is ahead of pig meats in other countries, although I have to be careful about what I say. Within the European Union we cannot prevent pig meat from member countries from coming in to Northern Ireland. What we can do — and we have put £400,000 into this — is to assist our farmers in marketing Northern Ireland pig meat and hope that people will recognise the point the Member made; that our pig meat and our other meats are better. The pig farmers are assisted by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and money has also been provided through Red Meat Marketing. We are doing all we can within the regulations to assist our farmers in the marketing of their beef and meat products.

Mr Speaker:

Given the time that was taken up in responding to points of order at the beginning, we will take more time to complete a full 30 minutes on questions to the Minister.

Cereal Growers

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7.

Mrs Carson

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to assist Northern Ireland cereal growers by seeking to obtain a single United Kingdom yield region for all crops excluding maize.


(AQO 392/99)

Ms Rodgers:

Agriculture Ministers are currently reviewing these arrangements. The existing approach seems unfair to specialist cereal growers who consider that, on an individual crop basis, their yields are on a par with similar producers in England. However, due to the current method of calculating payments, they receive lower direct subsidies. Scottish producers have also felt aggrieved by the regime. Ross Finnie, the Scottish Minister, and I have both written to Nick Brown seeking his co-operation in securing change.

If our plans are successful the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh producers would receive higher payments than they do at present. This can be achieved only at the expense of producers in England. However, given that English producers would receive only a small percentage reduction, while those in Scotland and Northern Ireland would achieve a large percentage increase if the system were changed, I will continue to press the case.

It must be recognised, however, that there is nothing in this proposition for English producers, and resolution of the problem will be difficult unless, and until, farming organisations across the United Kingdom can agree a solution acceptable to them.

3.00 pm

Mrs Carson:

I thank the Minister for her reply. With the exceptionally wet weather over the past two years and the poor growing season at the beginning of this year, the current growing season has been particularly poor. Does Minister agree that cereal growing in Northern Ireland needs some form of additional revenue as a boost for the farmers?

Ms Rodgers:

I agree, but I have to work within budgetary constraints and the constraints of EU regulations. That is the reality. I realise that I am beginning to sound like a parrot. Unfortunately, when one is in politics one has to deal with the reality and not just the aspiration. I agree with the Member, I am pressing the case very hard, and I have the support of Ross Finnie. The National Farmers’ Union in England has set its face against any change in the system that would give higher payments to our cereal growers. I think that the increase would be 10% to 14%. That is the reality, and I will continue to press the case.

Mr McMenamin:

What would the effect be on payments if there were a single UK yield region for all crops, excluding maize?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his question. It would be next year before any changes to the regionalisation plan could take effect. However, if the current proposals for a change to the plan were to be agreed at both UK and EU levels then, on the assumption of the average areas claim for 1997 to 1999, and the 1999 Euro to sterling exchange rate, all UK producers growing crops other than maize would receive a payment of £236·52 per hectare. This would mean an increase of some 14% and 10% in Northern Ireland less favoured area and non-less favoured area payments respectively. English payments would be reduced by around £3 per hectare, which would represent a 1% reduction.

Mr Speaker:

Question 8, in the name of Mr McHugh, has been withdrawn.

Agri-Environment Schemes

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9.

Mrs E Bell

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what steps have been taken to increase grants to farmers under existing or new agri-environment schemes.

(AQO 374/99)

Ms Rodgers:

The agri-environment schemes will be supported from existing baselines plus funds raised from modulation. While existing budget baselines are sufficient to support the continuation of the environmentally sensitive areas schemes, meaningful development of the organic farming scheme and the countryside management scheme depends in large measure on the additional funds delivered by modulation. It is anticipated in the rural development regulation plan, submitted to Brussels on 1 February 2000, that, by 2006, the organic farming scheme will grow from its present level of 20 farmers with 1000 hectares under agreement, to 1000 farmers with 30,000 hectares.

The countryside management scheme, which will have its first entrants accepted later this year, will have 4,000 participant farmers with 150,000 hectares under agreement. I will also be seeking additional funds for the agri-environment schemes in the 2000 spending review.

Mrs E Bell:

I thank the Minister for her very encouraging answer. However, I am concerned about farmers who are in financial crisis. Does the Minister accept that a major expansion of the countryside management scheme, when it comes in, is needed to help such farmers to enhance the rural environment while improving their own financial situation? Does she also accept the need for an improvement to the organic farming scheme to help local farmers supply this growing market?

Ms Rodgers:

The Member will recognise that I outlined my views on the organic farming scheme and the countryside management scheme in my response. I will be seeking additional funds for agri-environmental schemes in the 2000 spending review. I accept the need for further resources to go into those schemes and I will be pressing for funding.

I will be depending on my Colleague Mr Durkan and on the British Treasury. I will be doing my best, and I understand the Member’s concerns.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Does the Minister not accept that there is concern that the new agri-environmental schemes may be funnelled through community groups and not actually get to the farmers? The farmers need assistance. They need to be brought fully on board, and the money must go directly into their hands.

Ms Rodgers:

The agri-environmental schemes are aimed at helping farmers to improve the environment and to improve their farm management. In that sense many of the environmental schemes do benefit farmers directly. They help the rural community. It is not helpful to try to set one section of the rural community against the other, because some in the farming communities will find that they cannot make a full-time living from farming and will go into diversification schemes. That will help farming families. The environmental schemes are designed to support those who are active farmers, full-time farmers and those who can no longer earn an adequate income from farming and want to diversify. They will also help families who find that their farm can no longer support more than one person.

Mr Speaker:

The time for these questions is up.

Culture, Arts and Leisure

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Mr Speaker:

Question 2, in the name of Mr Eddie McGrady, and Question 10, in the name of Mrs Mary Nelis, have been withdrawn.

Ulster-Scots Language

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1.

Dr Adamson

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what strategy he has to implement Part II status for the Ulster-Scots language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages; when this strategy will be implemented; and what consultation is planned.

(AQO 373/99)

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey): The strategy for implementing Part II for Ulster-Scots will be developed in the light of research and consultation and will take into account available resources. I am currently awaiting a corporate strategy and business plan which the Ulster-Scots Agency of the North/South Language Body is preparing and which the North/South Ministerial Council will consider in the autumn. The Ulster-Scots Agency’s plans should cover the general principles and objectives of promoting Ullans and will form part of the Department’s strategy for promoting Part II.

We also look forward to the findings of the research which the Department has commissioned and will be complete by April 2001. We are seeking expert advice from sociolinguists and other relevant academics, and we will listen to the views of the North/South Language Body, the Ulster-Scots Agency, Ulster-Scots activists, representative organisations and the general public.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

Dr Adamson:

Considering the recent joint statement by the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland at Hillsborough, and its commitment to produce an action plan for implementing Part III status for the Irish language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority languages, can the Minister define what is meant by the term "Irish language"? Is he aware that the term "Irish language" can be used to refer to several forms of Gaelic and that the language used by some Members of the Assembly, defined as the Munster-Connaught variety, is actually being used for nationalistic purposes?

Does he not agree that the definitive variety of Ulster Gaelic, as spoken by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, should be promoted? It is that variety of the Irish language that is of most immediate concern to the people of Northern Ireland and Donegal, having characteristics as closely affiliated to the Gaelic of the Island of Islay in the Western Isles as to that of Munster and Connaught.

Mr McGimpsey:

I am sure that Dr Adamson is better informed about this than I am. One of the things I made a point of informing myself about when I became Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure was the different Irish dialects. I am aware that the Gaelic languages were brought to the British Isles by Celtic peoples.

My understanding is that Irish is the form of the Gaelic language that has traditionally been spoken throughout the island of Ireland for several thousand years. It has gone through a series of developments and changes as you would expect.

A form of Gaelic is also found in the Isle of Man, and the language was also taken across from Ireland to Scotland. The language in Ireland was given a standardised updated format in the 1940s and the 1950s. I think that is what the Member was referring to as de Valéra Gaelic in one of his other comments. Any regional variations found in Ulster and the other Provinces relate largely to syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation.

All forms of Irish, as I understand it, are mutually intelligible. Not all forms of Gaelic are mutually intelligible. Gaelic is divided into Manx, Scots Gallic and Irish. Irish is divided into four dialects, rather than any other Celtic language, such as Welsh, Breton or Cornish. So the forms of Irish spoken and taught in Northern Ireland are usually based on the Ulster dialect. The Good Friday Agreement calls for tolerance, respect and understanding for linguistic diversity. This should extend to an appreciation of the richness of local forms of Irish and an awareness of the close links with the various forms of Gaelic spoken elsewhere.

Museums: Maritime Heritage

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3.

Mr Ford

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what steps will be taken to ensure that the development and promotion of Northern Ireland’s maritime heritage will form an important element of the future development of museums.

(AQO 376/99)

Mr McGimpsey:

The first corporate plan of the Museums and Art Galleries for Northern Ireland (MAGNI) fully recognises the importance of maritime history and heritage in Northen Ireland and identifies this as a major theme for future development. I am fully behind MAGNI’s proposal to provide a maritime museum to tell the story of our long and rich maritime history. Northern Ireland is famous worldwide for its historic role in the development of iron and steel shipbuilding technology. The mere mention of the Titanic, the world’s most famous ship, evokes strong images of the shipbuilding industry from days gone by. It would be inexcusable not to capitalise on the economic and educational potential of this country’s maritime heritage and invest in the development of cultural tourism.

Mr Ford:

I welcome that very positive and helpful response from the Minister. It was, however, somewhat unspecific. The need for a maritime museum was identified as far back as the Wilson review. While I welcome his statement in principle, I wonder if it would be possible for his Department to give us a timescale for the recognition of the maritime heritage of which he spoke. Our maritime heritage is, of course, about more than shipbuilding in Belfast. The role of Northern Ireland’s ports in Atlantic crossings to the United States and Canada is also a part of it. Can the Minister perhaps be a little more specific and give us a timescale for progress?

Mr McGimpsey:

In terms of specifics, because of the costs of a maritime museum we would also expect to incorporate aviation and industry into it. We have to remember that Belfast, in the early years of this century, was at the absolute technological cutting edge of shipbuilding and aviation. So there are two stories. In fact there is also a third story and that is of the industry that was in Belfast, and I am thinking of the Ropeworks, for example — the largest ropeworks in the world. Of the people who worked there and understand the old traditional methods very few are left. This is a story that needs to be told, and there is an urgency here. We also had a very important ceramic and glass industry around that time.

The idea is to incorporate them all together into that type of museum. Mr Ford rightly referred also to the immigrants, and it will tell that story as well. We estimate that it will cost around £30 million. I cannot be definite until I have worked out how we will address that funding need, and clearly we will have to be imaginative and creative in that. I cannot simply walk in here and say "Please may I have £30 million?" — I know what the answer will be.

We have to work out the concept and the feasibility before we can address the revenue consequences. How we will find the money is something that we are working on urgently, not least because of the important rich resources which are our industrial, shipbuilding and aviation heritage. There is added urgency because the workforces from these industries who applied the traditional methods have largely, through the fullness of time, passed away, and it is important that their experiences are incorporated in the development.

3.15 pm

Mr McFarland:

The Minister will be aware that there are outstanding maritime exhibits at the Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, Bangor Heritage Centre, and at the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat at Donaghadee. The area, together with Cork and New York, is part of the Titanic trail. Will the Minister confirm that North Down must be a serious contender for any future maritime museum?

Mr McGimpsey:

Without being flippant, I would say that I am not aware of the history of the Bangor shipyards. However, I can say that no definitive location has been agreed yet, although it seems that the obvious, logical location for a maritime museum would be the Abercorn basin in the Queens Island area of Belfast. That is where shipbuilding essentially began.

Workman and Clark, on one side of Clarendon Dock, and Harland and Wolff, began at the Abercorn basin. The Odyssey complex is next door, and one will feed off the other. As part of the Odyssey complex there will be a W5 science centre, which is coming forward and being developed at the moment. I see a symbiotic relationship developing there.

It is also a fact that we not only have simply a shipbuilding story. One of the features of Harland and Wolff’s working practices was that when the ships got bigger, they abandoned the old dry docks and slipways and built new ones. What we now have is probably the best example anywhere in the world of how graving docks, dry docks and slipways developed. So we have a big story in terms of the physical features extant there, never mind the development that we would be looking at in terms of a maritime museum.

Motorcycle Road Racing

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4.

Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what resources will be committed to the development and promotion of motorcycle road racing in each of the years 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03.

(AQO 370/99)

Mr McGimpsey:

The Sports Council for Northern Ireland has statutory responsibility for the distribution of grants including lottery grants to sports bodies in the Province. The Motorcycle Union of Ireland (MCUI) is the governing body for the sport of road and short circuit motor cycling racing. To date, the following sums have been allocated for road/short circuit racing. The MCUI has received a grant of £1,250 this year for ongoing running costs. Under the Sports Lottery "Talented Athlete Scheme" an award of £27,000 has been agreed for Adrian Coates for the period from January 2000 to December 2001. A bid of £5,000 for the Sunflower Trophy was unsuccessful on the grounds that that particular event received funding for each of the three previous years.

I am not aware of other funding bids for the MCUI for the years in question. The Sports Council is currently developing a new challenge-based development plan scheme. From 2001, each governing body will be competing with each other for funding in line with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland priorities. Therefore it is not possible to confirm resource commitment for motorcycling for the period 2001 to 2003 at this stage.

Motorcycle racing is one of the most exciting and popular sports in Northern Ireland with a worldwide reputation. It is somewhat poignant that we are talking about this particular topic today of all days. I would encourage the MCUI to avail of every opportunity to secure funding for its sport.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Given the tragic loss to motorcycle sport, and indeed to the world of motorcycle racing at the weekend, I am sure the Minister will agree that road racing in Northern Ireland will possibly never be the same again. Can he confirm that road racing brings thousands of tourists and indeed millions of pounds of revenue to Northern Ireland? Those millions of pounds are largely lost in the promotion of the sport and in enhancing the safety of the sport. Can he tell us what he is going to do, or what his Department will be able to do, in order to rectify that balance? Would he be prepared to seriously consider the development of an international motorcycle circuit, or indeed, a formula one Grand Prix racing circuit, which would bring more tourists and more revenue to Northern Ireland. That would enable people to perform these exhilerating yet dangerous sports under safe conditions and in a way in which Government revenue could be used directly for the promotion of these exciting sports?

Mr McGimpsey:

The question of a national racing circuit for the Province is one that has been under consideration for the last 18 months, and it is Ballymena District Council’s original motion for the establishment of a company or trust to undertake a feasibility study into the development of a national racing circuit. I know that that was circulated among Members of the Assembly as well as other local councils, and many Members, including myself, have signed in support of the concept of the motion.

Any proposal for the development of the sport rests with the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland, the governing body, and the matter would then be considered by the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which has the statutory responsibility for the development of sport in the Province, including assistance to bodies involved in providing facilities. To date no development proposals have been placed before the sports council or my Department. I am not aware of where the proposal sits with the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland or how far it has taken the concept articulated by Ballymena District Council. I concur with Mr Paisley Jnr in saying that we share the concerns over the fatalities that occur in road racing, and, given the nature of the sport, there is always the underlying risk of serious injury. Whilst I cannot pre-empt what the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland is going to say or propose, I will certainly be listening to its views and proposals very sympathetically, and I know that any applications that it takes forward to the sports council will be similarly viewed. It is a fact that there are fewer fatalities in short-circuit racing. Motorcycle road racing is an extremely dangerous sport. It is also a completely different type of motorcycle racing, and that is where the argument and the debate has been — how closely allied they are, and would road-racers be prepared to go on the short circuits. That, again, is a matter for the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland.

Mr McClarty:

Does the Minister agree that the one sporting event which takes place in Northern Ireland every year that attracts the largest number of spectators is the North-West 200? On the day of the race over 100,000 people from all over, not only the United Kingdom but much further afield, attend. Does the Minister agree that the sport is very much underfunded and dependent on a large body of volunteer workers to make it possible?

Mr McGimpsey:

I agree with Mr McClarty. Having gone to the North-West 200 for a number of years, I know from personal experience that it is truly an amazing spectacle. The excitement and the skill employed, not least, of course, by Joey Dunlop is something that everyone should see, at least once. The North-West 200 is seriously underfunded and relies almost entirely on volunteers to make it work, and if it were not for their working free of charge, it would not work. I would encourage the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland to take applications forward to the sports council. The sports council can provide funding under a development scheme, under a talented athlete scheme and under a major home-events funding. Up until now £1,250 a year was made available which was recurrent funding, paid automatically without application, but the situation is changing, and in future, applications will have to be made under a development scheme. That would be a good discipline for all the organisations. The talented athlete lottery funding is also available, and I have referred to funding for Adrian Coates. There is also the major home-events funding, and the North-West 200 is as major a home event as you can get. I am not aware, certainly in the recent past, of any applications that have come from the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland. I am not saying that these things will be automatic, but I would have thought that the North-West 200 meets a number of criteria.

We must remember that it is a road race. An effort must be made to make the circuit safer, something which to a large extent can be done at no great cost — changing upright kerbs to drop kerbs, moving concrete lamp standards away from the circuit, taking away walls and fences or changing them so that when a rider comes off a bike and slides, he does not impact into an object and get severely hurt. That is the way forward for the North-West 200, which, if it can be made safe, will be the greatest motorcycling race anyone will see in Europe.

Football: Sectarianism

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5.

Mr McCarthy

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans there are to introduce legislation to combat sectarianism in association football.

(AQO 375/99)

Mr McGimpsey:

As I informed the Assembly in February in response to a similar question from the Member, proposals for the introduction of legislation bringing safety at sports grounds in Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain are under consideration. Such legislation would include the creation of offences relating to unruly, indecent or sectarian behaviour and would seek to deter unacceptable and disruptive behaviour among those attending sporting events. I am aware that the introduction of legislation will take some time. I have therefore arranged to meet the Sports Council and the Irish Football Association (IFA) on 7 July 2000 to take stock of measures which might be taken in advance of any legislation. Discussions have been ongoing since February, and I shall be happy to write to the Member regarding the outcome of that meeting.

Mr McCarthy:

I thank the Minister for his response. The question was indeed raised earlier in the year, but the efforts already being made by many football clubs in Northern Ireland and officials to combat sectarianism and racism in all their forms must be welcomed. I was delighted to hear a radio programme this morning where a Member of the Scottish Parliament paid tribute to the good behaviour of both Irish and Scottish soccer fans. That is the good image and reputation about which we wish to hear. Does the Minister agree that the plight in which probably all our football clubs find themselves regarding viability stems from a long period of sectarian chanting and an unwelcome atmosphere in grounds which kept genuine fans from supporting their clubs? The sooner the legislation is in place, the better for both clubs and supporters.

Mr McGimpsey:

The Member’s comment and question were wide-ranging. The Department and I recognise the plight soccer is in and that most of Northern Ireland’s stadia have seen no investment for decades, with the result that they lack basic health-and-safety measures. That was why, in January, I announced an initial scheme drawing on £800,000 from the Football Trust, plus a further £300,000 per annum from the Sports Council for two, or, it is to be hoped, three years. Last week we were able to announce a further increase of £2 million to that interim scheme. The £2 million will go forward and, whilst football will be a beneficiary, I should emphasise that Gaelic games and rugby will also be entitled to apply and benefit.

The moneys will go forward divided into roughly £750,000 for major works, £1 million for urgent first-aid work and £250,000 for safety management, which includes stewarding and training for those involved in crowd control.

As a condition for the grant under the interim scheme, clubs will be required to put in place a child protection policy approved by the Sports Council and formulate an equity statement. The equity statement will highlight practical measures to address family, disability and sectarian issues. As I have said, part of the moneys will be available for stewarding and training and for safety management, and this will also help address sectarian behaviour among spectators.

3.30 pm

The Taylor Report, which came in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, initiated these measures. Taylor said that, if people were treated like animals, they would behave like animals. Football crowds are fenced in behind cages, and some of the grounds look like a throwback to Bellevue zoo before it was redeveloped. Work needs to be done on the development of football generally, not just senior football, but junior and schoolboy soccer. It must all come together as a package. I shall be aiming at a holistic view in the future. When the money on football grounds was spent in England, Scotland and Wales there was a 60% to 70% increase at the gate, and an increase of 26% in the number of women attending football matches. If there were such a response in Northern Ireland, it would be wonderful, not only for the game, but for all of us.

Mr B Hutchinson:

First, will the Minister say how many times the RUC has been involved in taking football hooligans out of Irish league grounds this season in reaction to sectarian violence?. I do not know of any, but perhaps the Minister can answer that question. Secondly, is the Minister aware that, clubs such as Linfield and Glentoran have introduced schemes to try to deal with the problem? Linfield Football Club has introduced a scheme, based at Dundalk, aimed at tackling the issue. Does the Minister also agree that all the media attention on sectarianism is not at Irish league matches but at international matches played at Windsor Park? One of the problems is that the media objects to people singing ‘God Save the Queen’. During Euro 2000, we heard it more than once from England fans, and no one in the media said then that it was sectarian.

Mr McGimpsey:

My response to the problem is a scheme to highlight family, disability and sectarian issues. That is for all sports — not just for football or local sports, but for international events as well. I am aware that there are schemes run by football clubs such as Glentoran and Linfield. I understand that Crusaders Football Club is attempting to address the issue as well.

I do not know how many people have been thrown out of football grounds by the RUC because of sectarian issues. Indeed, I do not know how many people have been thrown out of football grounds for any reason, but judging from the size of the gate of some clubs, it would surprise me if the number was large. Football is not drawing large numbers. That is the problem that it must address. Whether it is a real problem or one of perception, it must be addressed for the health of the game. As for singing ‘God Save the Queen’, at international games, Mr Hutchinson will be aware that there is more than ‘God Save the Queen’ sung at Windsor Park. The Irish Football Association (IFA) and the Sports Council are considering that issue seriously, and I shall know more about their views when I meet them on 7 July. We want football grounds where everyone feels comfortable.

Mr Hussey:

I was rather concerned at the wording of the original question, which refers to sectarianism in association with football. The matter needs to be clarified, as Mr Hutchinson has tried to do. Clubs are working very hard on this issue, and we may be talking about something that is perhaps peripheral. Will the Minister say whether legislation could be introduced to cover the sport of Gaelic association football? It is guilty of sectarianism with its exclusion clause, disallowing certain people from participating in the sport.

Mr McElduff:

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is not relevant to the subject that we are discussing.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am sorry, Mr McElduff. You cannot have a point of order during Question Time.

Mr McGimpsey:

On Mr Hussey’s question, I shall take the first part referring to measures to be taken. I repeat that the matter is not simply about association football. Legislation currently operates in the rest of the kingdom which creates three offences of disorderly behaviour: throwing an object either at the pitch or a spectator without lawful authority; taking part in indecent or racist chanting; and going on to the pitch without lawful authority. There is a recognition here that it is much more than just singing. Also it amends it so that taking part in racist or indecent chanting, whether alone or in concert with others, is an offence. That is the type of legislation in the rest of the kingdom, and the type of legislation that the IFA and the Sports Council are considering.

Rule 21 in Gaelic bans members of the security forces from the GAA. It dates back to 1887 and, apart from a 10-year lapse from 1893 to 1902, has been there ever since. I would welcome the ending of Rule 21 — it is wrong that it exists. Again that is not a matter for me; it is for the Gaelic authorities. Their position has been softening in recent times, and they are reviewing the ban. Certainly the general belief is that Rule 21 will go sooner rather than later, and I would welcome that.

Mr McMenamin:

I have been a supporter of Derry City Football Club for the last 30 to 40 years. The RUC do not patrol within the football ground. The club’s own stewards do it. Both sets of supporters mix together, and there is no segregation at any time, regardless of who is playing. That may be the way forward.

My question is in relation to the Minister’s recent announcement of £2 million for upgrading sports grounds. Will this grant apply to smaller grounds? If so, when will the grant become available?

Mr McGimpsey:

We would expect the £2 million to be released and spent over the next 12 months. I am very anxious that spectators will see an appreciative difference sooner rather than later. And it is not just a promise; they will be able to see it in the grounds quickly. With regard to targeting of football clubs, 10 premier and 10 first division clubs will be targeted as well as six county and six designated secondary Gaelic grounds, rugby clubs and Derry City. It is in Northern Ireland and is entitled to apply. It will be treated the same as everybody else.

On the matter of crowd control and behaviour, stewarding and safety measures to control crowds will be under consideration as part of this scheme. Mr McMenamin mentioned that the RUC are never in Brandywell for Derry City matches because there is no need. They are needed in other grounds. The reality is that no club in Northern Ireland, as I understand it, pays the RUC for that level of support. However, in England clubs have to pay, and it is inevitable that clubs here will have that bill to face. Therefore it is better that they look after it themselves and do it properly, rather than having to bring in and pay the RUC. Clubs have enough financial difficulties without having that as an extra burden.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time is up.

Assembly Commission

Assembly:
Gift/Souvenir Shop

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1.

Mr Ford

asked the Assembly Commission what is the current position in regard to plans for a new gift/souvenir shop in Parliament Buildings.


(AQO 387/99)

Mr Campbell (Assembly Commission):

On 29 March 1999 the Commission received a report from the Gift Shop Committee, chaired by Mrs Iris Robinson, which recommended the establishment of an Assembly gift shop in the South Division Lobby and, as an interim arrangement, the expansion of the product range in the basement shop and the establishment of the display facility in the Senate Rotunda. The Commission endorsed the Gift Shop Committee’s recommendations but decided not to press ahead immediately with the proposal to establish a gift shop beside the Senate Chamber until there was a better understanding of the requirement to use the Senate Chamber for Committee meetings.

Members will know that there is significant pressure on accommodation in Parliament Buildings and that the Senate Chamber is in regular use. This would require the gift shop, if operating from the Division Lobby, to relocate to the Senate Rotunda area during Committee meetings.

Subsequently, the Catering and Functions Committee, chaired by Sir John Gorman, commissioned a study on the future delivery of catering in Parliament Buildings. The Committee will bring the study’s findings to the Commission in the near future. I believe that one of the recommendations is to relocate the basement shop to the post office. That may offer another way of implementing the Committee’s recommendation.

In summary, the Commission will consider, at the earliest opportunity, the establishment of an Assembly gift shop to replace the interim arrangements which currently operate from the basement shop.

Mr Ford:

I thank Mr Campbell for the Commission’s reply, but I note that he mentioned a report dated 29 March 1999. Does the Commission accept that there have been serious problems since then, especially for school parties seeking to buy souvenirs in this building? Is not it time that the Commission expedited the report from the Catering and Functions Committee to ensure that something better is done before the school tourist season starts again in September? Purchases could then be made from a more convenient place than the existing basement shop with all its inadequacies.

Mr Campbell:

The Commission accepts the inadequacy of the present arrangements and will be considering alternative measures in the immediate future.

Mr Weir:

Will the Member assure us that there will still be the opportunity to buy Assembly fudge and humbug?

Mr Campbell:

I know that reference has been made to fudge and humbug, and I am sure that both Members and public alike will be able to avail themselves of the nice things in the shop.

Dogs (Amendment) Bill: Second Stage

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The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers): I beg to move

That the Second Stage of the Dogs (Amendment) Bill [NIA 7/99] be agreed.

This is a short Bill to amend the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 by providing limited discretionary powers to courts and resident magistrates when dealing with a dog that has attacked a person or which has worried livestock. Under existing legislation, courts and resident magistrates have no discretion in this matter and must order the destruction of a dog that has attacked a person or worried livestock, no matter what the circumstances.

The term "attack", as used in the existing legislation, is very wide and relates not only to physical assault. It includes situations when a person is terrified by a dog, even if he or she is not actually bitten. Although there are relatively few cases each year of destruction orders being made, it is appropriate that there should be a measure of discretion for courts and resident magistrates in determining the fate of a dog.

The Bill will provide the courts and resident magistrates with limited discretion. A number of changes are proposed. First, as well as being able to order the destruction of a dog, the court can instead opt not to have the dog destroyed, but to make an order requiring certain specific measures to be taken to prevent the dog from being a danger to the public or livestock. These measures may include fitting a muzzle, keeping the dog confined in such a way that it cannot escape, excluding it from places specified in the order or having it neutered if it is a male dog.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)

Secondly, the Bill will change the law when a person has been convicted of an offence relating to a dangerous dog. At present, the court has no discretion other than to make an order for the destruction of a dangerous dog. Under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order1983, as amended by the Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, these include pitbull terriers and Japanese tosas. Under the provisions of the Bill the court will have discretion to decide not to order the destruction of a dog if it is satisfied that the dog will not be a danger to the public. The Bill proposes the same limited discretion in the matter of the destruction of any other dangerous dog that the Department may prescribe. It has not prescribed any other type of dog so far.

The third change relates to the powers of resident magistrates in connection with the seizure of dogs. Under the present law, when a district council seizes a dangerous dog, a resident magistrate must order its destruction. The Bill proposes that the resident magistrate must still order the destruction of the dog, but it will allow a person to apply for a certificate of exemption from the requirement to have the dog destroyed, the conditions of which must be complied with within two months of the date of the order.

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In relation to all other seized dogs, the Bill now proposes that the resident magistrate would have discretion not to order the destruction of such a dog where he is satisfied that it is not a danger to the public.

Finally, the Bill would also allow cases where a court or resident magistrate has ordered the destruction of a dog under the existing legislation but the dog has not yet been destroyed to be reconsidered by a court or resident magistrate. The destruction of dogs is an emotive issue for pet owners and pet lovers, one that is highlighted in the press from time to time with heart-rending stories. I believe that it would be appropriate for a court or a resident magistrate to have a degree of discretion in this matter so that, where circumstances dictate, a lesser penalty than destruction could be imposed. I hope that Members will agree with me that the measures I have proposed, which are supported by animal welfare interests and district councils, are sensible and should be carried through. I ask the Assembly to approve this Second Stage of the Bill and to support the motion that will allow the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Committee to take the Committee Stage.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Most Members would generally welcome a Bill that gives the magistrate a discretionary power to make decisions in areas that are sometimes grey, as opposed to black and white, and this Bill does exactly that. However, it requires some clarification, and I hope that the Minister can give that.

This Bill gives discretion to the magistrate. Most people, especially farmers, would be worried about having their animals disturbed by dangerous animals, or animals that are not properly under the control of their master. They would be concerned that the discretionary power, instead of being a discretionary power that allows the magistrate to rule that a dog should not be destroyed if it damages or causes concern to flocks of sheep, becomes the norm.

It would be a sad reflection if this House were to pass a Bill that, instead of acknowledging that from time to time there are grey areas, makes more of them. I hope that the discretion posed in the Bill does not become the norm but is used for those few select cases where an animal should not be put down. The judge should have the opportunity to take a different course of action and show some leniency. I hope that the Bill does lead towards sensible acts. Of course, if passed, it will largely be in the hands of the magistrate and not in the hands of the Minister. This House should at least make that point of view known to the magistrate.

One other point concerns me about the drawing up of this Bill. It has been largely non-controversial. However, I noticed in the explanatory and financial memorandum that accompanied the Bill that there was no consultation — or should I say that it had not been subject to public consultation. People have asked me why has that been the case, and the Department should provide us with answers on that point. If this Bill is largely noncontroversial, there should have been wide consultation, providing us with a great deal of opinion across the board, and we could then have gone forward today in the full knowledge that we had widespread support. Most people want to see this Bill, if it becomes an Act, administered fairly. They do not want to see dogs put down because they might scare a passer-by.

I noticed recently that one particular passer-by in Ballymena got a little bit of a fright from a dog — a police dog named Sky from Ballymena RUC station. One would hate to think of a dog that was doing its duty being put down for growling at the Secretary of State. A lot of people in Ballymena would like that dog to get a medal.

A Member:

The George Cross.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Yes, the George Cross.

Most people want to see this Bill, and the discretion that will come as a result of it, administered fairly. I also noticed from a written answer to Mr Ivan Davis that there are some areas where legislation appears to be administered more forcefully. I am referring, in particular, to his question (AQW 686/99) on dog fouling prosecutions. If you take your dog to Ballymena you are more likely to be prosecuted if it fouls in a street than you are if you take it to Antrim, Belfast, Ards or, indeed, North Down. The lesson there is: "Do not let your dog crap in Ballymena, or else".

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the clarification that we seek so that we can push it through the House as quickly as possible. Let us make sure that our legislation has wide support, in the understanding that discretion is not the norm but is for the special circumstances that arise from time to time where a magistrate should have the choice not to put down a dog.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Minister will deal with your questions when she winds up.

Mr McMenamin:

I am a dog lover and the owner of two dogs, Jack and Buster. What will happen to owners whose dogs are already on death row?

Mr Molloy:

A LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Bill. It is important to have legislation to clearly define the roles of district councils and dog wardens. There is a need for legislation and for some means of having discretion over whether dogs are put down or not. If this is a means of doing that, it is welcome. The main thing is to protect the public. There are a number of owners who train dogs in a vicious way, which means that when the dogs wander the public streets they are dangerous. I noted in the discussion this morning that there may be some means of controlling that other than putting them down. It is worthwhile for the court to have discretion, so that it is not automatic —

Mr Maskey:

The Member was talking about discretion. Does he agree that there is a need for discretion, since some of the more infamous Rottweilers have turned out to be more like pet poodles?

Mr Molloy:

I thank the Member for that. It certainly flags up the issue that a dog cannot be judged by its looks alone, or even by some of its statements. It is important to flag up the cases where court orders are not adhered to. If dog owners are given leeway, we need to monitor that and ensure that the dogs are then kept under control and are not a danger to the public. That is the main thing. We also need legislation to deal with the number of dogs on housing estates and in built-up areas that are under no control. There is a great danger to children and to others there. I hope that this legislation will be a first step in legislating, monitoring and controlling the whole issue of dogs running about estates.

Mr Ford:

I too welcome the general provisions of the Bill. I have a few questions which, unfortunately, as a member of the appropriate Committee, I am going to end up having to discuss in detail at the later stages of this Bill. The Minister herself highlighted the fact that, while the present legislation refers to dogs "attacking", the Bill refers to "worrying". I worry that we do not have a firm enough definition of "worrying" to ensure that this Bill can go through in the way that the main provisions are intended.

Clearly there are problems with mandatory sentences. I should be cautious in case I say too much about mandatory sentences with regard to other crimes. Clearly there is a need for the discretion which is missing at the moment and which has been highlighted in the few cases — only a few, but enough to reach the press — that have created difficulties. There will always be cases where discretion is needed. Discretion should be introduced into the primary legislation to ensure it goes through.

I am concerned about some of the implications, particularly for district councils. The statement accompanying the Bill says that there are no financial implications for the exchequer. That is indeed a happy position for the exchequer to be in. However, there are likely to be significant financial considerations for district councils. One of the reasons so few cases are prosecuted at the moment is that there is a natural reluctance to prosecute where a dog has had perhaps one bite, and people feel that if it is kept under control there will be no further problems, and they do not wish to proceed with an action that could lead to a destruction order.

If people see a careless owner being fined, or an order to keep a dog under control, then there may be greater incentive to proceed down the legislative route. That route may result in significant costs for district councils — and I say that as someone whose council took the first test case under the dangerous dogs legislation some years ago. The decision to take a test case on behalf of the Department and every other council in Northern Ireland resulted in an increase of 0·5p to the ratepayers of the borough of Antrim.

There are clear issues for us all if we do not deal with the problem of dangerous dogs; of pit bull terriers that put children at risk. I think Antrim Borough Council took the correct decision. Unlike the Members on my left, we were not fools. We did our duty by the people of Northern Ireland, but, unfortunately, our ratepayers paid for it. I hope that those events do not happen in Lisburn or North Down or Mr Poots and Mr Weir will not be smiling in the future. Mr Weir is still smiling.

We need to look at the financial effects of prosecution and the issue about the conditions that may be applied. The Bill is a little unclear about how we will ensure those conditions are to be applied. I suspect that the issue of having a dog neutered would be easily assessed on a one-off basis. However, I am not sure that preventing dogs going into particular public places, having them confined in yards or houses, or having them muzzled will be assessable on a one-off basis. If it means district council dog wardens having to ensure that the conditions are complied with then there will be greater difficulties, and the suggestion that there are no financial implications will be a little unfair. Perhaps the Minister could address some of those matters in her response.

Mr Shannon:

I have a few concerns about the Bill. As councillors, we have been consulted about the Bill — and I know that Ards councillors have commented on it. Some of the changes are those we would wish to see. The present legislation, as we all know — some to our cost — exists to address the issue of the destruction of dogs. However, it lacks flexibility, and that is why we need the proposed changes.

We have got to look at the matter from the perspective of the dog and the dog owner. Under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, a dog that has attacked a person or livestock shall be subject to a destruction order, and there is no reprieve or second chance. If a dog falls into that category, it is finished, and the courts have absolutely no power or discretion. That clearly illustrates where the problems lie. There is no room for movement or discussion on the circumstances of any particular reported attack. There are no provisions for extenuating circumstances.

In some cases there were extenuating circumstances in which we believed the dog should not have been put down. As a result of the nature and implementation of this legislation there exists the real possibility that animals could be destroyed without good reason, as did happen, and there is no opportunity for action to be taken by the owner to ensure that such attacks would not be repeated.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I ask you to keep your head up, Mr Shannon. I am finding it rather difficult to hear you.

Mr Shannon:

In relation to the whole subject, I am saying that there have been occasions when dogs have been destroyed when they did not draw blood. That is an issue which should be looked at. That is also why this amendment is very important. Nobody would agree, or accept, that any dog that has injured or viciously attacked a child or livestock should live. If a dog has done that, it should be put down, and we are in no doubt about that. However, we have to look at cases in which that has not happened, and the Bill makes provision for the cases that fall into that category. Every incident will be dealt with on its own merit. One such incident occurred in my constituency not long ago when it was alleged that a dog had attacked a young child. It turned out that the dog had not drawn blood.

4.00 pm

It was a playful and amiable dog, with no history of aggressive behaviour. That is an example of why this legislation is being brought in. Under the old law, it would have had no chance of a reprieve. The existing legislation, prior to this amendment, would have meant that that dog’s fate would have been sealed. That would have been unfair to the owner, who had a love for his dog, and for the dog, which had no reported past cases or history of harming anyone.

There must be differentiation to take account of minor attacks by dogs that are not classed as dangerous and where violent and aggressive behaviour is not a genetic characteristic. In these cases, measures could be taken like fitting a muzzle, ensuring that the dog is securely confined, excluding it from places specified in an Order, or having it neutered. As stated in the explanatory and financial memorandum, there are no exchequer costs or staffing implications related to this Bill and, in the name of fairness for both dogs and owners, it should be supported.

There is another well-known example in the sad tale of a dog called Kaiser — a dog who lived in Ballygowan some years ago. Kaiser was unfortunately involved in a violent act of unprovoked terror on an individual in the district. He was apprehended and charged accordingly. Just one day before his execution, however, Kaiser went missing. Kaiser has been on the run since that time. Some say that he lives in a number of safe kennels in South Armagh, while others say that he got a boat to the United States. Sightings have also been reported elsewhere. Kaiser has been in contact, dare I say it, with the President of the USA, with the FBI, and with the British Prime Minister. We are being a bit facetious —

Mr Weir:

Will the Member comment on rumours that Kaiser went back to his old kennels in Londonderry and talked about his days on the run?

Mr Shannon:

I thank the Member for his interjection. It obviously fits into the category of this story. The point we are trying to make is that Kaiser had not done any irreparable damage or hurt to the person. The dog had no record of causing injury to any person. Had the law been in at that time, Kaiser would be a "free dog", and he could return from wherever he may be. I am not sure where he is, but we want to illustrate the case, and the case is quite simple. If a dog attacks and injures someone very seriously, or attacks livestock, or does something that is wrong, then it deserves to be put down. However, if a dog is playful and has not injured anyone, but just knocks someone over and does not draw blood, then there must be a differentiation in the policy to reflect that.

Under the Dogs (Amendment) Bill we have that opportunity. I say to the Minister that what we need, and what we now have, is that opportunity. That will be welcomed by people whose dogs have perhaps done something but deserve to live on as the incidents were not too bad.

Ms Rodgers:

I welcome Members’ comments, which have been both helpful and balanced. In response to Mr Paisley Jnr, the discretionary power is limited, and it will apply only in a small number of cases. The Member is no longer here, but I will reply to his points anyway. I would like to think he was interested in hearing my views.

The points he made seemed to imply that the courts might not be able to deal with this issue. I take the view that the courts will be able to deal with the issue in a sensible and balanced way. It will only apply in a small number of cases. I appreciate that the Bill has not gone out to public consultation, but, given its nature, it was felt that it should be put to the Assembly as quickly as possible. On the whole it is uncontroversial.

In relation to Mr McMenamin’s question, dogs already on death row may, under this Bill, have their cases reconsidered. That is the good news.

With regard to Mr Molloy’s remarks, I am looking at the wider aspects of dog control and am currently taking the views of district councils who will be responsible for enforcing any changes in the legislation. I know that there are many issues surrounding dog control which might be slightly more controversial than what is in the present Bill.

Mr Ford’s initial remarks about the interpretation of words would be better dealt with in detail at Committee stage. In relation to district councils, the position will not change significantly — only a very small number of dogs will be affected, and it will be up to the council as to the numbers and types of cases taken to court. For instance, in the last year approximately 50 dogs were destroyed throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. It will not have any major implications for district councils.

I am pleased to say that I can agree with everything that Mr Shannon said, and the Bill clearly deals with the concerns he expressed. He has taken a balanced view which takes account of the need to protect the public from dangerous and vicious dogs and the need to provide flexibility in situations where perhaps the dog is provoked and then subsequently put down. This Bill allows for flexibility. A court will be able to decide that a dog should not be put down if it can assure itself that the dog is not a danger to the public through the use of means such as muzzling or whatever is considered necessary. I thank all the Members for their comments, and I believe I have dealt with everything that was raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That the Second Stage of the Dogs (Amendment) Bill [NIA 7/99] be agreed.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

Ground Rents Bill

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Resolved:

That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Ground Rents Bill [NIA 6/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. — [The Minister of Finance and Personnel]

Dogs (Amendment) Bill

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Resolved:

That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Dogs (Amendment) Bill [NIA 7/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. — [The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development]

Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill

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Resolved:

That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill [NIA 8/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. — [The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment]

Fisheries Bill

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Resolved:

That this Assembly grants leave to carry forth the Fisheries Bill [NIA 9/99] to allow its passage to continue in the next session. — [The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development]

The sitting was suspended at 4.10 pm

 

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27 June 2000 / Menu / 04 July 2000

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