Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 24 October 2000 (continued)

Mr Dodds:

I am grateful to all those who participated in the debate in a constructive way. However, to listen to Sinn Féin/IRA spokespersons talk about the bigotry and hatred of the Orange Order smacks of the utmost hypocrisy, when they have been guilty of the murder of Protestants, Unionists and members of the Orange Order, many of whom were going about their ordinary daily business and many of whom were attending their places of worship. It is nauseating to have to listen to people berating an organisation which is Christian in character and full of decent people. This organisation has been berated and denigrated by representatives of an organisation that has used murder, bombing, maiming, racketeering, and intimidation against innocent people - every foul and heinous crime in the book. The Sinn Féin/IRA contribution to this debate goes a long way towards explaining to the vast majority in the Province the reasons why they are unfit to be in the government of Northern Ireland.

They talked about the Orange Order's having no contribution to make to the Civic Forum. Of course, someone who attempted to murder an RUC officer - and only failed to do so because his gun jammed - does have something to contribute to the Civic Forum. However, the largest Protestant organisation in this country has nothing to contribute, according to Sinn Féin/IRA. As my Colleague, Mr Watson from Upper Bann noted, the Prime Minister has been in contact with representatives of the Order today, pointing out the valuable role that that organisation plays in civic society. This is a Prime Minister who is so often relied on and quoted by the pro-agreement parties represented here. However, his evaluation of the Orange Order is dismissed.

I flagged up in advance many of the points that I expected to be raised during the debate, but that did not stop Members of the Opposition from making them. However, given the way in which most of their speeches were delivered, I suspect they did not listen to a number of points that we raised, preferring, as they did, to read prepared scripts. Why let a few facts get in the way of your pre-prepared speech, written by a scriptwriter and hand-delivered to you?

In reality - [Interruption]

We always let the facts speak for themselves, and a number of facts stand out. I would be grateful for silence, and some good manners, from the hecklers in the opposite corner. I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you will be assiduous in treating equally all parties in the House. We listened with great courtesy to most of what has been said, even when Members attacked the Orange Order and the DUP on these issues.

At the outset Mr Weir said he suspected that there would be no Ulster Unionist Members speaking, apart from himself. As it turned out, Dr Birnie rose to the challenge and made a small contribution, but he was the only Member from the Ulster Unionist ranks to do so. I am disappointed that Mr Trimble, who made these appointments, along with Mr Mallon, has failed to show up in the Chamber to listen to the criticisms and some of the points that have been made. Under the legislation the nominations are made by them.

Dr Birnie talked about the coherence of the motion, and said that no action could be taken. On the contrary, the Deputy First Minister said in his speech on 25 September 2000 that if it was found that the Civic Forum did not include a wide range of opinions and views, swift action would be taken to remedy that. I ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to do something, given the outcry and the concerns that have been expressed about the non-representation of the Grand Lodge. In the light of what has been said since the nominations, I take him up on his offer and challenge him - a challenge to which the junior Ministers did not respond - to review this and review it quickly.

Mr Haughey said that the Civic Forum is not a quango. It is very much a quango - it is unelected, and it exists to duplicate what the Assembly Committees will be doing, if its members do their job correctly. I do not accept what the junior Minister said about quangos.

It has been repeated many times by Members, and by the Minister, that the Orange Order did not apply for membership of the Civic Forum. That is not the case at all. If they had listened to what was said by Mr Watson and me - and Mr Watson is in a position to know this - they would have taken that on board, instead of repeating what is clearly not the case.

The method by which nominations and appointments were to be made was set out on 16 February 1999. We voted against them at the time and anticipated some of the inevitable problems, and we have been vindicated. The Orange Order realised that and made contact with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It was advised about what it should do and it followed that advice. As Mr Watson has already explained, two members of the Grand Orange of Ireland did apply for membership of the Civic Forum.

Those applications were unsuccessful, but it remained open to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, when it came to their nominations, to appoint a representative of an organisation that had not been included, in the same way that they decided to appoint a representative of a political party that had failed to get selected on any other criterion.

3.45 pm

Ms McWilliams:

Will the Member give way?

Mr Dodds:

No. The Member has had her opportunity to speak. I am winding up and want to deal with as many points as I can.

That member of a political party was specifically appointed, according to the First Minister, to ensure that balance and inclusion did occur. In the light of the nominations that came forward through the selection process, the First Minister saw his job as ensuring that balance and inclusion occurred. He took the step of including the leader of a political party that had not been selected. What did he do to the Grand Lodge of Ireland? He chose not to include a representative of that, but to include another member of the Orange Order. That person has his own abilities and talents. I cast no aspersions on him personally, but he is not a representative of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, and the Grand Orange would not have put him forward. That is the point.

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister had the opportunity, in their nominations, to do what they said the purpose of their nominations was - to ensure that balance and inclusion did occur. They used that argument to justify the appointment of the leader of a party that had not been selected under the normal selection process. They chose not to do that when it came to a representative of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. It is clear - and there can be no excuse for this - that a deliberate decision was taken that no representative of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland would be included.

One has to ask why that should be. Perhaps someone in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister shared Mr Ervine's views on the anti-agreement stance of the Orange Order. Other people represented on the Civic Forum of people have, in the past, espoused violence and murder as a means of achieving their ends. When there was an opportunity for Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon to practice inclusive democracy, as opposed to just talking about it, their actions fell well short of their words. All the attempts of the SDLP and others to justify it simply do not hold water. There is no balance, as Mr Watson has said, if the epitome of Protestant culture and heritage is missing. A number of Members, including Mr Hilditch, pointed out that if the First Minister is trying to break the link between his party and the Orange Order, it is no great surprise that he should be taking such a vindictive attitude towards the Grand Lodge.

There is an opportunity to right this wrong. Mr Haughey said that I had said that a majority of Civic Forum appointees were pro-agreement. If he checks the record he will find that what I said was that the Civic Forum was, with a few honourable exceptions, made up entirely of pro-agreement failed politicians and ex-terrorists. There is very little room for an anti-agreement point of view. If he checks the record and the list of appointments, he will find that that is the case. Where is the inclusive democracy there?

We then face the red herring argument that because we opposed the creation of the Civic Forum we are not entitled to talk about the composition of it. We are perfectly entitled to do that, and we said so on 16 February 1999 in this House when there was a debate on the means by which the Civic Forum would be composed and nominated. That is why we took part in that debate. We took the opportunity then; we did not come along later and criticise. We voted against it at that point, along with Colleagues who pointed out some of the problems that were going to arise, not least that no criteria were set down by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on how they would use their appointments.

I remember that some of the other parties that were in favour of the Civic Forum said in principle that this was an agreeable mission. There was no indication from Mr Trimble or Mr Mallon on how they would use those appointments. The reality, as we can now see, is that Mr Mallon used one of his appointments to select someone who does not live or work in Northern Ireland. Mr Trimble appointed someone who could not get elected and someone who he thought was a better representative for Orange issues than the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. If these principles were applied when approaching community organisations, voluntary organisations and others, and if those sectors were not allowed to appoint their own representatives, how should that be viewed?

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

Many Members have spoken eloquently and passionately about the Orange Order, about its role in civic society, about the work the Order has done over the years, about the loyalty it evokes among tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland and about the grave injustice that is being done by not having a voice from the Orange Institution - and from Grand Lodge in particular - on the Civic Forum. Today the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wrote to representatives of the Grand Lodge to praise its role in society. It is remarkable that, on the same day, representatives of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have come to the House to reinforce the snub to the Orange Order, which has already been delivered.

Mr Nesbitt said "We have done our best." That was his comment on this process. Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to tell Mr Nesbitt that the vast majority of the people whom we represent, and those in the ranks of the Orange Order, will not accept that their best is good enough. I trust that the House will support the motion.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 21; Noes 52.


Fraser Agnew, Roy Beggs, Paul Berry, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Roger Hutchinson, Maurice Morrow, Edwin Poots, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells. [Tellers: William Hay and David Hilditch]


Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Seamus Close, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Reg Empey, David Ervine, John Fee, David Ford, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Billy Hutchinson, John Kelly, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, David McClarty, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, George Savage, John Tierney, David Trimble, Jim Wilson. [Tellers: Gerry McHugh and John Tierney]

Question accordingly negatived.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association


Ms McWilliams:

I beg to move

That this Assembly agrees to apply for admission to membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, such membership to be effective immediately on approval of the application by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and to abide by the provisions of the constitution of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; that the required membership fee be paid to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; and that this motion be communicated to the secretariat of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association immediately following agreement.

This motion is timely considering that the Programme for Government outlined that one of its themes is to promote Northern Ireland and build networks on an international scale. One of my reasons for proposing the motion is because the parties in the Executive have an opportunity to meet with other parliamentarians through the British-Irish Council, the North/South Ministerial Council and the various parliamentary forums that have been established. However, it is unlikely that the smaller parties will ever have that opportunity.

One of the benefits to Northern Ireland has been that we have learned a great deal from other countries - either those that have gone through conflicts similar to ours, or those with Parliaments similar to our own. That is one reason why I am making this proposal. Ours is a new Assembly and I have often found that, rather than constantly looking inward, it is extremely important and useful for us to look outward.

At the invitation of the CPA, I attended a recent meeting involving all member countries - those that are in the Commonwealth and those that are not. Members need to know that it is possible to attend such meetings as an observer. The meeting, which was about the role of women in public life, was one of the most useful that I have ever attended. I met women Ministers from India, South Africa, Canada, Australia and many of the smaller countries.

Currently, 142 national, state, provincial and territorial Parliaments are members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Our Assembly would benefit from membership. Member states said that, against all the obstacles, they too have found innovative and imaginative ways of introducing policies, getting resources and producing legislation on issues that are culturally sensitive in their countries and that challenge and confront the old, traditional ways of doing things. That says a great deal for those who work in a country such as India. Having learned from that experience and having spent time with those working in other Parliaments, I feel that we are missing out by not being part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

It should also be noted that the CPA is a charitable organisation, and its constitution states that, should it ever be wound up, its funds would go to charity. Lest there be any misapprehension that the CPA is a mysterious organisation that has been increasingly trying to get people to join the Commonwealth by the back door, I must say that that is not the case. The association involves countries that are part of the Commonwealth, including the new nations - in particular, the provinces of South Africa and of India - as well as observers. However, I must propose that we become a full member and pay our membership accordingly.

Currently, 14,000 Members of different Parliaments throughout the world are part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Over the past 10 years more than 30 new Parliaments and other legislatures have joined. Only legislative bodies are entitled to do so. As the Assembly is a devolved legislature, it is entitled to become a full member. It is important for those of us who are concerned that military dictatorships should not be in the association to note that Pakistan is no longer a member. Following the 1999 coup that country is no longer a parliamentary democracy.

We would also benefit greatly from discussing global political issues, such as the situation in Cyprus. The association also has networks and databases. Speaking from my own interest, I would tell Members that the association has a worldwide database of women parliamentarians. As we are so few - not just in this Assembly, where we are only 14, but in other Assemblies - we would benefit greatly, in terms of both procedures and how we connect with minorities elsewhere, were we enabled to join our colleagues, in this case our sisters, from other Parliaments.

South Africa went through its conflict and emerged from it. In the initial stages of establishing the national Parliament and the provincial Assemblies, 200 South Africans - new Members of Parliament - were trained by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in parliamentary procedures. No doubt that was of great assistance to them.

South Africa's is a young Parliament; ours is a very young Assembly. Being able to connect with the new Parliament and provincial Assemblies of South Africa would allow us to examine our own procedures and see whether they fit this Assembly. We have said that we will not follow Westminster just because it has an old, established way of doing things. We can borrow good practice from elsewhere.

If you do not know about those examples of good practice, you cannot borrow them, and this network of legislatures would enable an exchange of ideas and information.

4.15 pm

Mr McClarty:

I am pleased to support the motion. Renewed membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) would add a further dimension to the growing status of the Assembly. The preamble to the constitution of the CPA establishes that it was set up by

"Commonwealth parliamentarians who, irrespective of gender, race, religion or culture, being united by community of interest, respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, and by pursuit of the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy" .

We in this Assembly should aspire to membership of an organisation that promotes such noble, pluralist ideals. Some Members among us may oppose the motion through some twisted and unshakeable anti-British and anti-Commonwealth prejudice. I challenge any Member to read that preamble and tell me how it fits in with the myth of being beaten into the clay through seven heroic centuries. The fact is that the CPA is a community of legislatures, committed to furthering democratic ideals in the modern era.

Regrettably, there are those in the Assembly who themselves do not live up to those democratic ideals. We might be right to wonder whether we are asking a lot of the CPA to accommodate an Assembly which, while itself democratically elected and committed to the delivery of accountable democracy, has within it Ministers whose commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means is, at best, questionable. However, I do not think that the rest of us, who are committed unquestionably to democracy, should have our place in the international community undermined by those who are in default on their Pledge of Office.

We may be permitted to hope that our corporate subscription to the democratic principles of the CPA will contribute to dragging those who still have difficulties with democracy into the twenty-first century. I still believe that the best way to persuade people of the benefits of democracy is to expose them to it at every opportunity. We must not miss the opportunity to rejoin the CPA.

Not for the first time we find ourselves lagging behind Scotland and Wales, where branches have already been established. For them, of course, it is first-time membership; for us, it would be re-establishment. Northern Ireland first joined the then Empire Parliamentary Association in 1924. We remained active members until our membership was set in abeyance in 1973. A brief re-establishment in 1974 was followed by our membership's again being put in abeyance in 1975. We have remained in that position ever since.

Ms McWilliams:

Will the Member remind the Assembly that the word "empire" has since been dropped and that it is no longer in the title of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Mr McClarty:

I agree.

In spite of that, Ulster Unionists have continued to play an active role in the CPA through the National parliament at Westminster. I make no apology for supporting the motion, because membership of the CPA fits my Ulster Unionist belief in pluralism, democracy and the rule of law. I commend the Women's Coalition for raising this matter. If other parties oppose this forward looking initiative, this opportunity to bring us into an organisation that accommodates far-flung legislatures in Canada, Mozambique, Jamaica and India, those parties must ask themselves where they stand in the modern world.

I look forward to this Assembly having its membership of the CPA confirmed. I hope that we will still be here in 2011 to join in the centenary celebrations of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I support the motion.

Mr Wells:

The DUP gives this motion its full support. We believe that Northern Ireland is already part of the Commonwealth by virtue of its status as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Our athletes participate in the Commonwealth Games, and we believe that it would be a tremendous benefit for the Assembly to join this association.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has a tremendous breadth of interest and experiences ranging from India - the largest democracy in the world - to many small Caribbean islands that have only recently adopted democracy. There is much that we can learn and things that others can learn from us. I believe that nothing but good can come from this. Our colleagues in Scotland and Wales have joined, and, in the interests of parity, we should follow that lead and join also.

Perhaps one thing we can teach our colleagues in other Commonwealth countries is that any form of democracy which is sold on the basis of a Prime Minister's lies and of promises made but not kept, and which enables terrorists to be allowed into government without the decommissioning of their weapons, is doomed to failure. If other small democracies, on an off day, think that they might go down the road that Northern Ireland adopted under the so-called Good Friday Agreement, perhaps we could tell them to think of the consequences and look at what happened to us. We could suggest to them that they adopt a structure that is based on genuine non-violence and real democracy.

But apart from that I think that we can learn. We have had the privilege of welcoming many of these parliamentary groups to the Assembly. I, for some reason, seem to be picked by my party to meet many of these groups, and it has been a privilege to do so. I have met representatives from Canada, Australia, and Zimbabwe - or Rhodesia, as it used to be called - and have had useful exchange of views with these parliamentarians.

I hear that there might be Members who are thinking of opposing this motion. What is their motivation? What can they possibly lose by supporting the motion?

Mr Poots:

They are racists.

Mr Wells:

Is there an element of racism? Do they not want to be associated with people of different races, persuasions and religions from other parts of the world? Have they something to fear from meeting these people and learning from them? Or is it just that their party political dogma is that anything remotely attaching itself to the British link is to be opposed?

I am proud to support the motion, and I congratulate Ms McWilliams, Member for South Belfast, for bringing it forward. My party will throw its full weight behind it and give any help it can on the issue in the months ahead.

Mr C Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle It is interesting that Mr Wells related what he anticipated to be our attitude to this motion. His party refuses to go into the Executive with people elected to this Assembly, and it refuses to participate in any North/South business with its nearest neighbour on the other side of the border, yet Mr Wells accuses Sinn Féin of racism and anticipates that we will not engage with a wide range of people.

It will not surprise anyone in the Assembly to hear that we, as Irish Republicans, have difficulty and deep concerns about this motion. That is not from a desire to deny networking opportunities but from the fact that the legacy of the British Commonwealth has negative connotations, particularly for people of a Nationalist and Republican persuasion in Ireland.

We do not want to frustrate opportunities for networking, and we believe that many opportunities for networking among parliaments already exist. They are not limited in any shape or fashion to the four parties that make up the Executive in this Assembly. We would prefer for the Assembly to deal, in the first instance, with some of the parliamentary links that were envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement, such as an interparliamentary organisation between ourselves and the Dáil, which has yet to be fully realised. We would prefer to get these relationships in order before considering other formal relationships or joining any other parliamentary organisations.

Anybody from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association listening to the two Unionist Members might not be waiting with bated breath to see whether we enter into this. Their attitude appears to be "We will go along and join this, but we apologise for some of the people that we are bringing with us." David McClarty's attitude is very condescending. Talk about people and their democratic credentials: his party brought us one-party rule for 50 years, introduced gerrymandering to this part of Ireland for so many years and disenfranchised a large section of the population represented by this side of the Chamber. His is a condescending attitude that we reject entirely. We are here on our democratic credentials and it is time that Mr McClarty and his party recognised that.

When we establish a formal and proper relationship with our neighbouring island - and that is my aspiration as an Irish republican - we can examine the relationships we have with certain parliamentary organisations that take their existence from the British Commonwealth. Until such times as we establish proper relationships on our own island and with our neighbouring island, Sinn Féin, as Republicans, will not be supporting this motion.

Mr Ford:

It is unfortunate that a motion introduced in an attempt to be uncontentious has created such difficulties across the Chamber. I share most of the concerns expressed by most Members about what other people have said or are about to say.

I commend Monica McWilliams and Jane Morrice for bringing the motion forward. To have such a petty bicker about an issue like this shows how much this Assembly needs to broaden its contacts in the wider world. Those of us who had the pleasure of meeting members of the Quebec National Assembly benefited from learning something from their experiences. Some were of relevance to us and some not. It was an indication of how we can benefit from those wider links.

The Commonwealth is not the only link that we should be looking to. Conor Murphy referred to parts of the Good Friday Agreement that clearly specified that there should be a link between the Assembly and the Oireachtas and that there would be an encouragement to links between the elected institutions represented in the British/Irish Council. If I have a problem with this motion, it is that it has come forward at this stage without any reference to those other links that it would have been useful to explore at the same time.

We have obligations under the Agreement that, as the First Minister told me a few weeks ago, are not the Executive's business but the business of this Chamber. I will see that the Business Committee follows that up. I hope that the Executive, which is the only body currently involved in the British/Irish Council, will encourage links with other bodies, particularly the other devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales and the other institutions represented in the British/Irish Council. That is for the future. At present, we must face this motion, and I urge the House to support it in the terms in which it was proposed by Monica McWilliams, if not necessarily in the terms in which others supported it.

Mr Ervine:

I support the motion, but I am confused and imagine that when the Women's Coalition arrive home this evening to have their evening meal with their partners, they might begin to understand the close relationship between the word "commendation" and the word "condemnation". I am not sure which one they would feel to be more beneficial coming from certain parts of this Chamber.

This is a valuable contribution on the day that we launch our Programme for Government. While there may be difficulties with that, it embraces the suggestion that an outward-looking Northern Ireland will be a more prosperous country. It will be a Northern Ireland that can learn and teach, and the first thing it might learn is that if Zimbabweans came here, there had to be terrorists in their Government - unless, of course, they were Rhodesians who behaved like terrorists before the terrorists who were the Zimbabweans became the Government. You know what I mean. You might talk about Jomo Kenyatta or Archbishop Makarios.

Many other arenas of past conflict against my Government have now developed into warm, reasonable and sensible relationships, irrespective of whether they began as terrorists in government. The recognition of the need to explore and explain and the importance of networking ensure that not only are benefits gained but a two-way street can be offered. That could mean the African nations, or Malaysia, or perhaps - and I say this not in any sense of hurt or attempt to inflict hurt - the Irish Government, which may, through Dáil Éireann, believe that this is a worthy body to join.

4.30 pm

It is a body that is not about agendas but about hope, the future and experience. It is a body where we can all learn. Many of its members have come through massive change and completely embraced the path of democracy. Some of them still struggle, as we still struggle to define our future and how it might fit with the rest of the world. I commend the Women's Coalition and their motion, irrespective of how they may feel about the sense of duplicity that apparently appears from time to time when they suggest anything.

Mr Attwood:

I have two comments on the debate so far. The contribution of Conor Murphy, despite how some might portray it, was quite thoughtful. His argument was that this is not an issue about membership of this association. It is more an issue of timing than of principle, and, while he might not concur with that characterisation of his comments, I think that it is accurate.

Mr Wells:

Does the hon Member think for one moment that if we had the links that Mr Murphy was requesting with the Irish Parliament and then proposed that we join the Commonwealth Parliament Association, he would be on his feet saying "Hear, hear. I agree with that."? Does he honestly think that that would happen?

Mr Attwood:

Mr Wells should never underestimate the ability of people to change their attitudes. Many people in this Chamber have radically transformed their attitudes, and will change them in the future - including myself and perhaps, one day, Mr Wells. There is a maturity emerging in political society, or at least in elements of political society in the North.

When the Good Friday Agreement states that there shall be equality and parity of esteem, sometimes it means accepting what other people value even if you do not value it yourself.

The SDLP is bringing that perspective to this debate. We as a community do not have any natural identification with the concept or the institutions of commonwealth, but we know that there are people in this Chamber and in our community who value that concept and that practice. We will be supporting this motion, primarily because of that principle and because we honour the Good Friday Agreement when it refers to fair treatment and equality. It is a matter of our respect for other traditions and communities and for what they say and value. In this instance, its manifestation is the Commonwealth Association. For that reason we will be accepting this motion.

We do say, however - and this has been hinted at elsewhere - that this issue and the wider relationships between this Parliament and other Parliaments should have been addressed in a wider context, including that of the relationship between the Dáil and the Assembly, as possibly envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. As Monica McWilliams pointed out, there is value and purpose in relationships with other parliamentary associations and Parliaments around the world, inside and outside the Commonwealth. That should have been the context of this debate, and in that context perhaps Sinn Féin - perhaps all of us - could have signed up to associations or relationships with other parliamentary associations, not just with that of the Commonwealth Association.

Jim Wells is quite right. People in the North have something to share with the rest of the world - not necessarily the issues of "terrorists in government", inclusive government and weapons. Where we have most to share with other societies is what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in Belfast in December two years ago: the world is most interested in the Good Friday Agreement because of its issues of rights. What they understand best are the rights provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. The greatest concern is rights, not who is in government or what happens to weapons. It is the issue of rights. Membership of the association may enable us to share with it our experience of rights and the denial and future protection of rights.

I will not deny for one minute that in our community the concept of Commonwealth has in the past had unhappy images of exploitation, empire and economic expansionism.

It is therefore difficult for our community fully to understand what the Unionists value and to identify with that. However, we want to show respect, now and in the future, for a principle that will be espoused throughout the Chamber in coming weeks. We will accept the motion.

If the Unionists Members are arguing for membership of the interparliamentary association then hopefully this weekend they will not argue for withdrawal from interjurisdictional associations in the country.

Dr Birnie:

I have learned one thing in the course of this debate. Following Mr Wells's hint that he is the acceptable face of the DUP, I would like to second my Colleague Mr David McClarty in strongly supporting the motion. We commend Ms McWilliams for bringing the motion to the House. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has a number of fine aspirations: the rule of law; individual rights and parliamentary democracy. Membership of the Association has not always resulted in perfect adherence to such principles, but over time the Commonwealth has acted as a mechanism to encourage countries to move in the right direction.

Referring back to Mr Ervine's comments, I think that given the conditions that we experience in the Assembly and in the Province, we might learn from the experience of other countries where parties and politicians have successfully made a transition from paramilitarism to non-violence.

The case for this motion is that we are talking about restoring a link that existed in the past. We had a branch membership in the old Stormont Parliament from 1924 to 1975. It is possible to meet two main objections which have been raised. First, there is no incompatibility between support for the motion and the idea that, when the time is right and circumstances allow, there should be interparliamentary links between, for example, the Assembly and the Dáil or between the various devolved and national-level Governments within the British Isles.

The second objection seems to be that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is contaminated by historical association with the rights or, as some would see it, the wrongs of the record of the British Empire. There is an answer to that. Mozambique has joined the Commonwealth and is now represented in the Parliamentary Association. Mozambique was never a member of the British empire; it was a Portuguese colony. Let me point out, for those who feel sensitive about the subject, that there is no connection with British imperialism. I reiterate that the Ulster Unionist Party fully supports this timely motion.

Question agreed to.


That this Assembly agrees to apply for admission to membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, such membership to be effective immediately on approval of the application by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and to abide by the provisions of the constitution of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; that the required membership fee be paid to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; and that this motion be communicated to the secretariat of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association immediately following agreement.

Zero Waste Strategy


4.45 pm

Mr M Murphy:

I beg to move the following motion:

This Assembly calls upon the Minister of the Environment to agree a waste management strategy which would progressively work towards zero waste targets. This Assembly believes that such a strategy is vital to the future economic, environmental and social well-being of our society. Further, this Assembly calls for such targets to be achieved within a generation - that is, by the year 2025. This Assembly further calls upon the Minister of the Environment to initiate joint actions with his southern counterpart to develop an all-island zero waste management strategy.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. This motion is very appropriate, especially given that this is Environment Week. As political leaders and activists, many in the Assembly have worked closely with local communities on environmental and planning issues. They have been lobbied on a diverse range of environmental projects, such as protecting the Black Mountain and Cavehill overlooking Belfast, the consequences of fly dumping and the raising of public awareness about the environmental impacts of gold mining in Tyrone, and lignite mining around Lough Neagh. Some of us have been asked to support campaigns against the construction of incinerators. Two main lessons have been learned. First, collective action by communities, which gained support from the general public, can achieve real and positive change and solve environmental problems. This also leads to an overall heightening of public awareness of the importance of environmental issues.

The second lesson that we have learned is that environmental problems are not only a local or national concern, they can have global implications too. Public concern is widespread about issues such as ozone depletion; the greenhouse effect; legal and illegal emissions from nuclear installations; the commercial harvesting of biogenetic engineering crops; and the destruction of the rain forest.

How do you solve these problems? Where do you start looking? A local Assembly, even one with strictly limited devolved authority, is the obvious place to seek redress on these important matters.

Simply stated, the problem is that we as a society of producers and consumers are producing too much waste. The EU Commission distinguished between different types of waste, and it defined 27 categories of waste under EU Directive 78/319/EEC. The main category is solid waste, which is domestic waste, industrial and commercial waste, and litter and waste from mining, quarries, constructions and agriculture, including sludge and semi-sludge, that cannot be discharged into water and air.

There are also definitions for toxic and dangerous waste, as well as what the EU defines as priority waste. These include used tyres; end-of-life vehicles; construction, demolition and packaging waste; and waste from electrical equipment, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and solvents. There is a landfill crisis, and we are needlessly producing waste. Many of the industries whose goods we consume and export are producing dangerous toxic waste, which is polluting the air we breathe, our rivers, our water supplies and our seas. The solutions which they use for containing waste are failing.

The most common method of dealing with waste is to dig a hole and bury it. As late as 1980 it was assumed that we could solve the problem by digging increasingly bigger holes to contain the waste. This method is better known as "landfill", and it is no longer practical or accepted.

There are two significant problems with the use of landfill sites. First, many landfill sites are sources of pollution in themselves. Pollutants from the waste stored in these sites are leached into the water system of surrounding areas, causing damage to the local environment. Current EU regulations reflect the grave danger to the atmosphere posed by methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The second pressing problem is that available sites are running out.

Throughout Ireland, local government bodies are responsible for the maintenance of landfill sites, so they are simply established in those areas where there is least public resistance. The environmental sustainability of such sites has come a very poor second to local authorities' need to find sites.

It is clear that waste is - to quote Mary Douglas - "matter in the wrong place". The next obvious question is whether a means of redirecting this matter into the right place is needed. If waste paper, glass and metal make up the bulk of most municipal waste streams, they could be recovered to take the place of primary materials, creating the environmental and financial benefits of a secondary material industry.

The island of Ireland is establishing itself as a leading player in the new economics of information and communications-led technology. Few economic sectors will be left untouched by the knowledge-led revolution. Local communities celebrate their commitments to knowledge-based industries, and political leaders rush to champion their towns and cities as the new "Silicon Valley". Unfortunately the waste management sector has proved resilient to the influence of a smart Government and new technologies.

Unless we address the gap that persists between the rapid development in smart technology and the new economics of resource efficiency, Ireland's "Silicon Valley" will inherit a waste management infrastructure which was originally designed for the nineteenth century.

Over the coming decades our society will have to adapt. Zero waste represents a new planning approach and defines the discipline required to create a more viable pattern of interactions with our natural world, including the principles of conserving resources, minimising pollution, maximising employment opportunities, and providing the greatest degree of local economic self-reliance.

The following guiding principle on zero waste must be translated into practical policies and measures: responsibility for waste management must pass from the taxpayer and local authorities to the manufacturers and producers of goods who can ensure that the design of their product and packaging includes plans for the recovery of the material. Local authority engineers and other officers must be retrained to depart progressively from landfill and incinerator approaches to waste disposal and to adopt a modernised procedure. These techniques aim to create enabling frameworks for producers and consumers to increase the resource productivity and reduce hazards through the design of products and processes.

Manufacturers could close the loop by using materials collected through recycling programmes to produce their new products and packaging. There could be initiatives to encourage households and businesses to reduce waste and to recycle and a scheme could be introduced to bring about changes in waste disposal and material recovery.

These changes would involve phasing out existing disposal methods - landfill and incinerators - and waste which produces pollution in our air, on our land and in our sea. The true long-term environmental impact and health implications of such methods of disposal should be taken into account and must eventually lead to the withdrawal of publicly funded subsidies such as the EC Non-Fossil Fuel obligation. In that context, I wish to welcome the recent comments of Steven Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He has announced that the British Government intend to exclude energy from waste facilities for such incentive schemes and instead to focus resources on genuine sources of renewable energy. This announcement should send a warning about financial uncertainties surrounding incinerator technology, uncertainties which do not feature in the consultation report from local authorities.

We propose investing in a new jobs sector for waste recycling. The potential for job creation in this area is promising, especially when we factor in the opportunity for creating local enterprise.

The development of a new market for these services is a powerful response to Ireland's wasteful status quo. Markets are a function of political and cultural preference and often require regulation and incentive structures to establish the viability of desirable technology and design. An all-Ireland inland scheme of incentives for the development of this market is required to support a zero waste strategy. The economic playing field must be levelled. Sustainable development is on the lips of policy makers at all levels, but it is all too easy to adopt an abstract commitment which is somewhat removed from today's concrete decisions. Waste management and material recovery strategies will be a litmus test of the extent to which policy makers have internalised the rationale and regulations of sustainability and agreed disclosure.

I ask the House to support the motion.

Mr Ford:

I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all the words after "to" in line 1 and add

"set a target of 50% of domestic and non-domestic waste to be recycled or composted within 10 years, with further progressive reductions in line with best economic and environmental practice in other European regions.

This Assembly further calls upon the Minister of the Environment to initiate joint actions with his southern counterpart towards this end."

At first the motion seemed attractive in principle. It deals with an area which we need to take seriously and in which we have not performed very well in the recent past. However, when I read its wording I came to the conclusion, and my Colleagues agreed with me, that the detail was suffering a little from "Dallat syndrome". My political handbook for 2000-01 defines this as a motion which is fairly good in principle but whose words do not quite add up as they were meant to in practice.

This is probably the first time I have ever stood up in the Chamber and accused Sinn Féin of being too idealistic for this world, but I fear that with this motion, that is indeed the case. There is no doubt that the party has dark green credentials in one aspect of our political life, but I fear that the dark green credentials in this motion go even further than those of most of the environmental groups who lobby us on matters like this.

In September I asked the Minister of the Environment about recycling targets. The response, which I received last week, referred to the Department of the Environment's setting a target of 15% of waste to be recycled by the year 2005.

It is a measure of how poorly we were governed under direct rule that measures that went through in England, Wales and Scotland were not carried forward into legislation in Northern Ireland and Ministers made no effort to encourage such targeting.

5.00 pm

At least the new Minister has established that much, and the waste management strategy that resulted from his efforts and Mr Howarth's during the suspension of devolution means that we are, starting to move forward. There is no doubt that the current talk of 15% in five years' time is well below the targets that have been set for councils across the water, and it is inadequate for our needs. It is also significantly below the best practice that is being achieved elsewhere.

In Great Britain a number of councils are close to achieving the 50% referred to in the amendment, not in 10 years' time, but in the next year or so. I have figures showing that Eastleigh in Hampshire has already exceeded 42% and that the London borough of Sutton expects to achieve 50% recycling by the end of this financial year. Our 50% is fits in with that best practice.

Across the water the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, having gone through one set of criteria for recycling, has now removed waste composting from its targets. This comes at a time when it is acknowledged that putrescent waste going into a landfill is the major cause of methane pollution and leachate run-off.

If the Minister responds to this debate I hope he can give us an assurance that he is not going to follow the route of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and that he will set better targets for Northern Ireland. No doubt his experience as a councillor will enable him to follow through the implications of that.

One of the problems in Northern Ireland is that over the last decade or so, councils district gave every household a large wheelie bin. Nothing encourages large amounts of waste to be thrown out more than doubling the size of a bin.

Speaking as a member of one of the best local authorities in this respect (Antrim), I can say that even there we have - [Interruption] Calm yourselves. Even there a black bin containing up to 240 litres of rubbish is collected every week, and a blue bin containing up to 120 litres of paper, plastic and aluminium is collected every four weeks. We need to do something to redress the balance if we are ever to stop putting vast amounts of waste into landfill and get real recycling underway.

The authorities that have achieved most in England and Wales have introduced two equal-sized bins with alternate week collection - one week for the recyclables, and one week for the landfill. We could make significant advances in this way. One council has claimed a 30% increase in its recycling in less than three years by the introducing that scheme combined with the provision of green composting bins to reduce the amount of putrescent waste that goes into the bins, thereby getting major benefits for its landfill management.

In Northern Ireland three groups of councils have started to build on the Department's waste management strategy. Whatever the DUP may think, this is not just a Northern Ireland issue. As I understand it, Donegal County Council is part of the north-west consortium along with Strabane District Council, Derry City Council and others. We should look for the appropriate level of cross-border supervision, support and co-operation - although I would not wish to see Northern Ireland becoming the dumping ground for the entire island, which might be inferred from an all-island as opposed to a cross-border strategy.

The 50% target set out in the amendment is realistic in the sense that it is optimistic and attainable. There is no point in having a target that we could not reach, and no point in having one that is reached too easily.

The zero waste target set out in the original motion would create difficulties. The only way we could possibly achieve a zero waste target would be by incineration. Incinerators will eat the greater part of the waste stream, whether or not parts of it would be better diverted for reuse or recycling in other areas. What comes out of an incinerator has to be used in some way. A zero waste target is unrealistic given our current level of knowledge. The amendment speaks of a target of 50% with further progressive reductions, a realistic option which is in line with best practice elsewhere in Europe. I urge the Assembly to accept it.

Mrs Carson:

I shall oppose the motion and the amendment. I am not against the goal of waste reduction with a sustainable development focus. Nor am I against North/South co-operation on the issue of waste reduction, which is encouraged by EC directives. East/West co-operation within the United Kingdom is also needed to ensure that we achieve parity with UK legislation.

The motion calling on the Minister of the Environment to agree a waste-management strategy to achieve a zero level of waste within a generation sets a target which is unachievable under present conditions, unless we re-educate society. The amendment merely compounds the problem without seriously addressing the question of re-education of the public.

The aspiration of zero waste is admirable, but if zero waste management is pursued as suggested in the motion, the process will contradict the four main principles in 'A Better Quality of Life: A Strategy for Waste Management in the United Kingdom', published in May 1999 by the United Kingdom Government. The four principles are: all-encompassing social needs; effective protection of the environment; prudent use of natural resources; and the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

The cost of implementing zero waste management would be monumental and would not allow for sustainable development. Waste reduction involves not only the destruction of rubbish, but also transport, sustainable development, industry, agriculture, energy and so on. We, the publicly elected representatives are very concerned that something be done to tackle the growing problem of waste.

The present waste-management strategy for Northern Ireland is based on three sound principles - reduce, reuse and recycle. We should reduce our output of rubbish and think carefully about what we use. We should reuse what we can, for example, refilling bottles instead of throwing them away. We should recycle as much as possible, using the "banks" available for bottles, clothes and paper. Recovery is also an issue - gaining something of value by composting organic materials, and the recovery of energy by incineration or biogas plants. We can easily dispose of clinker and ash from incinerators by using them for roads and road building. All such actions are commendable, but the key lies with the first objective - to reduce the production of waste.

We live in a throwaway society where shiny new plastic objects are the norm and everything old is thrown in the bin or dumped outside, usually in a ditch or bog - a nice wet place thought to have no environmental value. Northern Ireland needs a re-education policy. There must be an immediate culture change to encourage people to use items that are meant to last and items that can be repaired and valued.

Expensive household appliances such as washing machines are now only required to last a few years. When a machine is two or three years old, a maintenance engineer will say that it is not worth fixing, it would be cheaper to buy a new one. I look forward to the return of the cobbler's shop, to the kiosk where a lady would darn socks and mend ladders, to woven shopping baskets and to glass milk bottles. I am sure Assembly Members can think of other such examples.

At the Rio summit in 1992 it was put forward in Agenda 21 that environmentally sound waste management must go beyond this mere safe disposal or recovery of wastes that are generated and seek to redress the root cause of the problem by attempting to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. That was eight years ago, and nothing has changed.

In one way this motion is most worthwhile, at this time, especially when the IRA seems to be having a problem in zero waste management with regard to the disposing of its weapons. May I suggest that the two Gentlemen who put forward this motion help their associates commence their own zero waste strategy so that they may lead by example. An excellent way would be to recycle their armaments for peaceful ends. In the words of the Bible, they should

" beat their swords into plowshares".

I cannot support this unrealistic motion or the amendment.

Mr Poots:

I am mystified by this motion's being put down in the first place. We have in this Assembly a structure of Departments and Committees. The Environment Committee deals with this, and both proposers of the motion sit on that Committee. That Committee looked at and gave its unanimous support to a waste management strategy proposed by the Department. That policy was proposed on 20 March 2000 and work has now started on its implementation.

The targets set by the Alliance Party in its amendment would largely be met by the proposals in the waste management strategy. Under the strategy, which we are already implementing, it is hoped to recover 40% of household waste by 2010 and 25% by 2005. It is also hoped to reduce the industrial and commercial waste landfill to 85% of 1998 levels by 2005, 75% of 1995 baseline levels for biodegradable municipal waste by 2010, 50% by 2013, and 35% by 2000. The proposals in the motion and the amendment are already in place. We have already supported the recycling of materials legislation, which enforces business to become responsible for the waste it produces and forces it to recycle 50% of its own waste.

The Environment Committee has been working with the Department on this issue to ensure that waste is reduced. This is not something that has just come out, something that the Department has not been working on. And whether it wanted to work on it or not is irrelevant. EU directives have enforced the Department to react, and it has started work on that with the support of the Committee and, subsequently, the support of this Assembly.

There are a number of key principles set out in the waste management strategy. The first is the waste management hierarchy, which indicates the relevant priority of different methods of managing waste. The hierarchy adopted for this strategy is reduction, re-use, recycling, energy recovery and disposal. The strategy then looks at finding the best practicable environmental option, by a systematic and balanced assessment of a range of different development options. It looks at the best available technology, not entailing excessive costs. That is the method used to select a technology that is best at preventing pollution and is reasonable to implement in financial terms. We have the "polluter pays" principle. Waste generators should pay the full costs of providing services to manage waste. We have the proximity principle, which is the need to treat or dispose of waste in reasonable proximity to the point of generation. Finally, we have self-sufficiency, and perhaps this impinges on both the motion and the amendment as it requires EC members to be self-sufficient in waste management practices.


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