Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 20 November 2000 (continued)

Sir Reg Empey:

The hon Member obviously mis- understands. The Trade and Business Development Body is one of six implementation bodies set up under the Belfast Agreement. There are 12 areas of co-operation: six are being dealt with through implementation, and six through co-operation, where there is no formal structure.

This body has been in operation from the outset. Its remit has not been altered, added to, or detracted from. In the report made to the House following the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in September, reference was made to the paper presented by the Irish Government. The matter was then referred to this body for further consideration. Anyone can issue a report and put it forward for consideration and it has no bearing on who will make the final decisions on the Northern Ireland economy. That will continue to be the remit of this Assembly, acting through the Executive and the Departments, and there will be no change to that.

So far as this body is concerned, areas of co-operation in a range of activities have been ongoing for many years between the economies on both sides of the border. There are more than 150 areas of co-operation, projects, joint discussions and joint working parties. These all operated prior to devolution without input or control from anyone in Northern Ireland. They are now under the Assembly's control, and Members have the right to question what is going on. No decisions with regard to finance or other matters can be taken without the approval of the House.

Dr O'Hagan:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister go into further detail on the four areas for consideration that InterTradeIreland has undertaken? How far advanced is the work?

Sir Reg Empey:

Four areas of co-operation were set out in the agreement of 18 December 1998: a North/South equity investment fund programme; the development of graduate and other placement programmes; the carrying out of a range of testing services; and the implementation of standards development and certificate programmes on a North/South basis.

Reports were presented on those areas of co-operation. With regard to carrying out a range of testing services for industry, the report came to the conclusion that no value could be added by the body pursuing that, and the recommendation was not to pursue the matter further. That was accepted by the North/South Ministerial Council.

The implementation of standards development and certificate programmes on a North/South basis was also felt to be an area where the body reported that it could not add value. It was accepted, therefore, that that would not be pursued.

With regard to the development of a North/South equity investment fund, the IDB commissioned a study into small and medium-sized (SME) enterprise finance, which is currently under way. The body has been asked to further refine its proposals in association with the IDB because we do not want duplication or crossover. The Trade and Business Development Body will study the proposals brought forward through that research to ensure there is no overlap.

My Colleague Dr Farren is closely involved in the development of graduate and other placement programmes. He believes that considerable progress can be made, and he is taking that forward at departmental level because some placements have already been completed. That has been happening for years in the private sector, and Dr Farren believes that further progress can be made through graduate placements. It is similar to the explorers programme that the Department runs every year in which people work abroad, where they have the opportunity for exchanges and for developing networks. The intention is to do something similar between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is a solid proposal, and Dr Farren is pursuing it enthusiastically.

Mr Leslie:

I read the proposal for a North/South equity investment fund programme with some curiosity and a degree of concern. Whose equity is it? What will it be invested in? Is it a Government-backed programme? If so, will the Minister be mindful of the exceedingly mixed record of such programmes? In the past, normal private sector investment disciplines have been disregarded in pursuit of political objectives.

Sir Reg Empey:

The body was originally asked to investigate the four issues that I mentioned in my statement, one of which was North/South equity investment. That was over two years ago and the products available through equity investment have changed significantly since then. More products have come onto the market, and more people are involved, but there is still a lack of enthusiasm and a consequent lack of projects.

We are at an early stage. A report has been produced on what is available, as has a study of SME finance, commissioned simultaneously by the IDB. We will look at the two reports to see what is required. We may need a public-private partnership, if funds can be generated, but we must take into account the implications of providing state aid.

As yet, no firm proposals have been developed. We want to see that there is a gap in the market that is not filled by the private sector or by existing funds. We must also take account of the fact that the European Union has put a short-term embargo on a range of equity capital funds, including, for example, the Viridian growth fund. The Department of Trade and Industry has also found that several of its funds have been affected. The matter still has some way to go, and I have no particular proposal to put to the House at this stage.

Mr Byrne:

I welcome the Minister's statement and congratulate him on his efforts to promote North/South trade. I am glad to hear that the North/South Ministerial Council considered the paper on enhancing the comp- etitiveness of both economies, North and South. Does the Minister agree that this is an important issue, given that Northern Ireland is too dependent on the public sector for economic regeneration? Will the Minister assure the House that his Department will treat the promotion of private sector enterprise as a priority? There is much potential for the development of SMEs and indigenous local enterprise.

Sir Reg Empey:

I agree with the Member's sentiments entirely on general economic policy. However, the main vehicle for generating more private sector business start- ups will be the general economic policies pursued by this Administration and by the Government in London. Through the Trade and Business Development Body, we can promote a range of initiatives - including the supply chain initiative - aimed at generating new business. To people who express concerns about such developments I say "Do you not want to do more trade on this island or with other European Union partners?" More trade is in everybody's interest, and at present there is remarkably little.


Although our exports to the Irish Republic have been growing, the level of trade between the two economies is still remarkably small considering they share a land border. It would certainly be a lower proportion than between other economies in the European Union, such as France and Germany. We can generate more private sector investment if we can increase the total volume of trade. It is just as effective as inward investment.

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

If close neighbours can trade with one another, it is right to encourage that. In doing so, we will strengthen our economy. I acknowledge that we are still over- dependent on the public sector. That needs to be corrected if we are to have the basis to sustain the services we wish to provide for our community well into the remainder of this century.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Roadshows were mentioned in the statement. I know it might disappoint some of his groupies over here, but does the Minister agree that this all-Ireland ministerial roadshow is a disaster for Northern Ireland? Is it not about time that he, as Minister, told Dublin to get on its bike on the road out of Northern Ireland, instead of coming into Northern Ireland more and more?

The Minister mentioned the development of graduate and other placement programmes on a North/South basis. What reassurances can he give the House that these appointments will be open to members of the Protestant community and equally shared across the community in Northern Ireland?

In the penultimate paragraph of the statement, where creeping Nationalist-speak appears to have taken over, the Minister talks about "the South". I assume he means the Republic of Ireland. Will he assure us that he will refer to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by their designated titles in all future communiqués from his Department, and not allow this Nationalist-speak to creep in?

Sir Reg Empey:

First, to say that the roadshows were a disaster is rubbish. The turnout for all of them has been exceptionally good. If the Member had gone to the roadshow at the Hilton Park Hotel in Templepatrick or the meeting the following morning in Belfast City Hall, he would have seen 150 business people, all interested in whether there was any possibility of doing business with one another. It was the same in Dublin and Limerick, and I have little doubt that the roadshow in Londonderry is already oversubscribed.

I think it is good to increase business. If it is mutually beneficial, I cannot understand what the difficulty is. Companies, including some in Mr Paisley's own constituency that depend on orders from the Republic, come to me to find out how they can increase trade. That is right and proper. I do not understand what people are worrying about, because that is exactly what it is about.

Prior to devolution a huge volume of cross-border activity was being undertaken by previous direct rule Administrations. Over 150 bodies or projects were ongoing, and not one of them was subject to approval by anyone here. Most people in Northern Ireland knew nothing about it. Every six months a list of the areas of co-operation was put into the Library of the House of Commons. No one was able to stand up and ask the Minister any questions about it.

I am conscious of the point the Member makes about language, but, with the greatest respect to him, I will use my own language because I know what I am talking about and I know what I mean. If companies wish to offer graduate placements to individual employees, all those people will have that opportunity, just as everyone has the opportunity to apply for the explorers programme.

Whether a person of a particular religion is going to make himself available is a matter for him, not me, but everybody should have the opportunity to take it up. My Colleague Dr Farren is responsible for this area. I am sure of his commitment to fairness; I have no doubt that he is committed to ensuring that everybody has an equal opportunity to participate. If the Member wishes to put forward any names, I will ensure that they are passed on to the appropriate authorities.

Mr Poots:

In case the Minister would mislead the House, can I ask him to indicate which part of the Belfast Agreement envisaged the setting up of the Trade and Business Development Body? From the annex to the agreement, it is quite evident that it was not envisaged. This body was set up as a result of the Ulster Unionist Party being prepared to give further concessions to Nationalism. The Minister also failed to answer my Colleague's question about the cost of setting up the body, so perhaps I can ask him again. How much did it cost to set up the new offices in Newry, and what is the estimated cost of running the Trade and Business Development Body?

I also want to ask the Minister about the implementation of standards, development and certificate programmes on a North/South basis. Has this not already been done under the European Union? What is the relationship between this and what we currently have, the BS5750?

Sir Reg Empey:

I think the Member did not hear one of my previous answers regarding item four. I indicated that the body had investigated this and felt that no added value could be achieved by pursuing it any further. The North/South Ministerial Council agreed with that, and the matter is therefore no longer part of the agenda of this organisation.

My Colleague Mr Durkan expressly set out the cost of the North/South Trade and Business Development Body in his Budget statement. I cannot answer the question about the cost of the headquarters in Newry with precise figures, but I am happy to write to the Member accord- ingly. I do not know why he persists in trying to say that this body was not envisaged in the agreement. It is one of the six implementation bodies. If it was not set up by the agreement, why does it have a budget, and why have I have been reporting to the House regularly since it started?

North/South Ministerial Council: 


The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):

I wish to report on the first meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its tourism sectoral format held on Friday 27 October. Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Dr Seán Farren and I attended this meeting. Dr James McDaid TD, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, represented the Irish Government. This report has been approved by Dr Farren and is also made on his behalf.

As envisaged in the statement of 18 December 1998 by the then First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), the Council agreed that a publicly owned limited company should be established by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte Éireann to carry out functions aimed at increasing tourism on the island of Ireland. The Council agreed the draft memorandum and articles of association of the new company and also agreed that arrangements should be put in train to register the company as soon as possible.

The Council agreed that the board of the new company should have 12 members, including representation from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Bord Fáilte Éireann and the tourist industries in Northern Ireland and the Republic. The membership of the board will be formally approved at an early meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. The Council agreed the arrangements for jointly funding the new company; a South/North funding ratio of 2:1 for the programme costs of the company was approved. At its inaugural plenary meeting on 13 December the Council agreed that the headquarters of the company would be in Dublin, with a regional office in Coleraine.

At the meeting on 27 October 2000 it was agreed that the Coleraine office should have responsibility for printing, publishing and distribution. The Council approved a schedule for the early establishment of the company. A project team of senior officials, drawn from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte Éireann, is being established to take forward the initial set of arrangements for the company. A progress report will be submitted to the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its tourism sectoral format. The Council has approved arrangements for the recruiting of the chief executive officer of the company. The Council is satisfied that an important step has been taken towards establishing the new company. The Council believes that enhanced co-operation in the tourism sector will bring significant and tangible benefits to both Northern Ireland and the South and that the company, working closely with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte Éireann, will have a crucial role to play in that regard.

The Council will hold its next meeting in sectoral format in the South during either January or February 2001. The Council has agreed the text of a communiqué, which was issued following the meeting. A copy of the communiqué has been placed in the Assembly Library.

Mr P Doherty:

A LeasCheann Comhairle, tourism is regarded as one of the biggest growth industries in the world. It represents some 7% to 8% of the GDP in the South, yet only 2% in the North. I welcome this report. In reference to the draft memorandum and articles of association of the new company that have been agreed, arrangements must be put in place to register the company as soon as possible. Furthermore, the Council is to approve a schedule for the early establishment of the company. Can the Minister explain in more detail the draft memorandum and articles of association, and can he also inform us as to when the company will be established? The Coleraine sub-office remit has been outlined, but there has been no mention of the Dublin head office's remit.

Sir Reg Empey:

This is a company, and all companies have a memorandum and articles of association. It differs in its structure to an organisation such as the Trade and Business Development Body, which has been set up between the two Administrations. This will be a company set up by both tourist boards. Its structure is different. It is a trading entity with a profit and loss account. The memorandum and articles of association set out the objectives of the company and other procedural matters to comply with company law. One of the two offices is to be in Coleraine, and the precise functions of that office have been established. Those functions will be reviewed after three years when we see how well the company is doing.

A project team has been appointed by both tourist boards to carry out the operational establishment of the company. It is difficult to be precise, but it will happen in the next couple of months, as the project team is established and as it sets about its business. The company, as a legal entity, must comply with company law. The tourist boards are establishing teams from each side to work out the operational details.

With regard to the functions of each office, that is an operational detail. It is perfectly obvious that if you remove those functions specifically allocated to the Coleraine office from headquarters, it leaves a clear idea of what will happen at headquarters. It remains to be seen, however. We decided to have a review in three years' time to see whether any changes are needed, because it will be an operational decision to identify where particular functions are allocated.

12.15 pm

I look forward to the establishment of the company within the next few months. The project team will bring forward an operational plan and will report at our next meeting, which will most likely be in February.

Mr Neeson:

I thank the Minister for his statement. What criteria and methodology are being used to appoint the 12 members of the board? Will there be remuneration? What will happen to the existing staff of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board?

Sir Reg Empey:

The board will consist of 12 persons. The present position is that membership will be determined after consultation with, and with the involvement of, the industry, here and in the Republic. However, some elements are already emerging. We have undertaken a consultation exercise with representatives of the travel trades here. My counterpart, Dr McDaid, is doing the same in the Republic. The chairperson of the company will be nominated from Northern Ireland, and the Republic will nominate the deputy chairperson. It is intended that the chairperson, deputy chairperson and chief executive of the NITB will be members of the new board, as will their equivalents in Bord Fáilte Éireann. The balance of the membership will comprise persons who are either nominated by tourist industry interests or deemed to be effective in representing travel and tourism interests. We hope to be able to nominate board members within the next few weeks. Those nominations will come into the public domain when final consultations are concluded.

So far as the staff of the NITB is concerned, the tourist board will continue to operate. The situation is not unlike that which existed during the operation of the overseas tourism and marketing initiative (OTMI). Some people from the NITB will join the staff of the new company, but the NITB will continue its main functions in Northern Ireland, such as regional marketing, together with all the regulatory and statutory functions that it has under law. That will not be affected in any way by its involvement. The NITB and its equivalent in the Republic are establishing the new company. NITB will be a co- owner of the company, and the tourist board in Northern Ireland will continue to play a proactive role. The primary function of the new company will be to market our product worldwide.

Mr McClarty:

I welcome the Minister's statement, particularly with regard to the establishment of the regional tourism office in Coleraine, in my own constituency of East Londonderry. Can the Minister say when this office is likely to open? Has a location been decided upon? If so, where? What staffing level is envisaged?

Sir Reg Empey:

I cannot tell the Member the precise location of the office, but I know that one of the early tasks of the project team will be to identify a suitable location. The Coleraine office will be responsible for the printing, publishing and distribution requirements of the company, as agreed by the two tourist boards.

That will be quite an undertaking, as the Coleraine office will deal with all the literature, promotional material, printing requirements and distribution on a worldwide basis. It is expected that between 10 and 15 people will be employed in that office. We expect to have specific proposals at the end of January or February with regard to a site and the establishment of the office. We will review the progress of that office and its functions after three years to see if further work is required.

At this stage it is hard to assess the exact number of people to be employed in the office, which is why I said between 10 and 15. That figure could vary and it could be higher. It depends on what is deemed to be an appropriate form of marketing and whether that requires more literature to be distributed. Internet activity will have to be addressed as more and more people are looking at tourism through the Internet.

Mr McGrady:

I welcome the Minister's statement on the formation of the new company. It is a significant development which I hope will bring tangible benefits to the community in the new peace era in which we hope tourism will evolve.

I noted the answers the Minister gave to earlier questions regarding membership, and it is obvious that it is going to be a narrow board. First, I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is important that the board reflects the interests of those who provide the existing tourist facilities that we want to develop. Secondly, what relationship will the new company have, either directly or indirectly through the NITB, with the local government partnership and its involvement in tourism?

In view of the need to market our wonderful natural resources - the north coast, the lakes of Fermanagh, the Mournes and St Patrick's country - does the Minister envisage the administration of tourism becoming more geared to the areas delivering tourism? Should we perhaps have a sub-office in an area like south Down?

Sir Reg Empey:

We could deploy most of our resources to establish offices behind every whin bush that people want.

The Member represents a beautiful part of our country, one that is frequently visited by tourists. The board must reflect the concerns of the providers, but that must not be an incestuous arrangement. We want people to come forward with fresh ideas. The board must not be a closed shop for people without any other interests.

I take the Member's point about local government partnerships and the regional tourism organisations, which are active. I recently attended a meeting of the Kingdoms of Down group, and I have also been to the CORE group that operates in north Antrim. Those organisations have lobbied and put forward names, and they are very much involved. They will continue to be involved as the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will continue partly to fund them.

I see an ongoing marketing and promotional role for regional tourism organisations, irrespective of, but in addition to, the marketing done by the new company. I do not see any conflict between these organisations. The closer one gets to the main markets, the more scope there is for local marketing.

Our main markets for tourism include the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and parts of Great Britain. More than two thirds of our visitors come from those areas. It is obvious that those people have an awareness of Northern Ireland, so this should be focused on.

I draw Members' attention to the statement of 18 December 1998, where the remit of the company was set out. It said that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board would continue to have access to the services of, for example, the British Tourist Authority and that there would be clear guidance to the company that its promotional efforts should take account of the need to develop tourism in Northern Ireland against the background of the problems faced by the industry there over the past 30 years.

The company's remit - and this is not yet fully understood - will specifically have to take into account our difficulties over the past 30 years. I thought it would be worth drawing that to Members' attention, because this is a remit that was not included in the OTMI operations that preceded it. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is in at the design stage of this company. That was not the case with OTMI. Northern Ireland will have 50% membership of the board, and it will also have chairmanship of the board. When all these matters are taken into account, we are much better placed from a marketing and promotional point of view than we were previously.

The regional tourism organisations and the very significant contribution made by most local authorities will continue to play a part. However, we have to face the fact that no matter what money and effort we put into this, none of it will work as it should unless we have stability in the Province. This is necessary to bring tourism here. We are suffering from 30 years of disruption and conflict, and we still have ongoing, unresolved problems. Stability is the best way to get the maximum number of tourists here. Our tourism industry is operating at only one third of its capacity, and that is a great pity.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Before calling the next Member, I remind Members and the Minister that there is a long list of people who wish to ask questions. It would be useful if both questions and answers could be kept brief.

Mr S Wilson:

I notice that the body is to be funded on a ratio of 2:1 between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Can the Minister inform us of Northern Ireland's total contribution to the company? In the first year of the Assembly, the cost of the tourism implementation body was included under the cost of the North/South institutions. Can the Minister explain why this has been taken out of that section of this year's Budget? Is this an attempt to hide the true cost of "North/Southery" from this Assembly?

Finally, I noticed that the membership of the company has yet to be decided. Can the Minister assure us that to avoid the political cronyism which has so far been rife in these North/South bodies, where the party faithful in his own party have been rewarded with positions, the Peach requirements will be applied to all the posts in the tourist company?

Sir Reg Empey:

There are conspiracies everywhere, are there not?

The reason that no funds are included in the Estimates is that the company has not spent anything, because it does not yet exist. It has taken time to establish. If the Member wishes that we had moved more quickly to get North/South bodies established, that is a matter for him. The company has not yet been established, therefore it has not engaged any staff, nor has it any premises or establishment expenses. The reason it has not moved at the rate some people would have liked is that there were many serious matters to be agreed between the two Departments and between myself and Dr McDaid, and that all took time. We have taken our time, and I believe that the structure that is now emerging is the right one.

12.30 pm

According to the Estimates that were published by Mr Durkan, the budget is in the region of £5·4 million, which is allocated primarily for marketing.

The Member is incorrect in saying that the programme is being funded on a ratio of 2:1. The programme costs are being funded on a 2:1 basis, but staffing will initially be funded on the basis of the origin of the person who takes the post. If it is a Northern Ireland Tourist Board official, the funding will be provided by the Tourist Board, while Bord Fáilte Éireann will bear the cost if one of its officials takes up the post. Given the difference in the size of each organisation, the Republic's share would be much larger than it would be if the 2:1 basis were applied. However, this will be reviewed in the light of experience and when we see who comes forward.

The board will be made up of people with a clear interest. According to the statement, the membership will be drawn up in consultation with, and with the involvement of, the industry. The appointments are not being made in accordance with the recommendations of Sir Leonard Peach's report, but they are being dealt with through the industry. All four key elements of the industry, plus others, have been notified, and we have already received a number of nominations.

Mr McHugh:

A LeasCheann Comhairle, it is expected that 20,000 jobs will be created through increased tourism in the Six Counties as part of the development of tourism bodies, North and South. Does the Minister agree that it is a myth to compare our situation with that of the South, given the unresolved conflict at Drumcree each year? Does he also agree that politics must be working here before we can begin to meet our tourism objectives?

Sir Reg Empey:

The difficulties at Drumcree create problems but 30 years of terrorism have also caused problems. It is a combination of such factors that has conspired to keep 20,000 people out of work.

The situation has improved. Visitor numbers and the amount they spend have increased, but the percentage increase is not high enough. If we compare the increase in tourism here with that in the Republic and Scotland - our two nearest neighbours - we will see that we are running at approximately one third of the ideal rate. Tourism constitutes 1·9% of the gross domestic product, but it should account for 6% or more.

We have the potential to develop tourism even further if we concentrate on natural-resource-based tourism and other niche markets. Against the background of huge pressure on communities, particularly in rural areas where there have been agricultural difficulties, such as animal and other health scares, largely through no fault of the Northern Ireland farmer, rural development provides real potential for people to supplement their income. Some people have been doing this with success, but huge potential remains, and I hope that we get the opportunity to exploit it fully.

Dr Birnie:

In principle, I welcome this statement and the movement towards the company, but I would like assurance from the Minister on two fronts. First, I hope that this new company will not preclude independent marketing, where appropriate, by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. There is a commercial reason for this: the two tourist products are different to some degree. Historically, for example, Northern Ireland has received large numbers of tourists from Scotland, while the Republic of Ireland did not. There is, therefore, a case for differences in marketing.

Secondly, will the international marketing of the new company concentrate on areas which yield the greatest marginal returns? It could well be argued that those areas will not be in Great Britain, but in continental European Union countries.

Sir Reg Empey:

With regard to the first point, I can give the Member the assurance he seeks. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is not precluded from regional marketing where it deems it to be appropriate, because such a high percentage of our tourism comes from those areas. We will ensure that there is complementarity between the marketing done by the company and that done by the Tourist Board. This will be done by ensuring that the Tourist Board uses the company as the delivery mechanism for whatever regional tourism, advertising and promotional activity it wants to do. It has the right to do that, and it will do that.

With regard to international marketing, as the Member pointed out, we are looking as far afield as we can. There is significant difficulty at the moment with the euro zone because of the price differential, which now sits at a huge 30%. Therefore, while marketing will be an operational matter for the company and the two tourist boards, we are under enormous pressure in the euro zone because of the currency. In the short term, the effort may have to be made more in the dollar zone area or wherever, but it will not be excluded from the marketing portfolio of the new company.

Mr Dallat:

I congratulate the Minister on his report and the emphasis that he has placed on tourism since his appointment. In particular, I welcome the news of the office in Coleraine. I wish to seek assurance that this office will have the resources to tackle international marketing in a way which will give particular emphasis to specialist aspects of tourism. I am thinking in particular of angling, because of the River Bann in the area I come from. Will the Minister also assure us that he will discuss realistic improvements in the transport infrastructure with the airlines and ferry operators? If tourists do not have easy access to Northern Ireland, the efforts put into marketing could be in vain.

Sir Reg Empey:

The Member has been very resourceful in managing to get in a question which is somewhat at variance with the topic of debate. With regard to the office, I can assure the Member that there is a determination by all concerned to see that the Coleraine office is properly resourced. It will be reviewed after three years. It has the tasks of producing all the printed and written materials to do with promotional activity and ensuring their distribution, and that is a huge undertaking.

I take the point that the Member makes about his area and the need for improvements in transport, but I expect that you would prefer that to be left for another day.

Mr Shannon:

The Minister has already responded to the Member for East Belfast, Mr Sammy Wilson, on the make-up of the board, and he has referred to the tourist industry interests in the North and in the South. Can he indicate where they will come from? Will they be posted to the land mass, or will they be half-and-half? I put a specific question related to tourism to him this week, and he gave a specific response. Capital funds for the Strangford area in the last three years have amounted to -

Mr Speaker:

Could your question be more precise?

Mr Shannon:

We do not want Northern Ireland to become the poor relation in the new company. Can the Minister assure us that this will not be the case? Will he also assure us that there will be some system to monitor the promotion of tourism to ensure that Northern Ireland gets an equal share and that the east of the Province - Strangford and so on - gets a bit of special promotion? The sun does not just rise and shine in Fermanagh and south Tyrone; it rises and shines in Strangford also.

The Minister said that the Coleraine office will have responsibility for printing, publishing and distribution. This highlights one of our concerns. Can he assure us that the Coleraine office will be used to promote tourism actively in Northern Ireland? It looks as if Dublin will control everything.

Sir Reg Empey:

Over the years the tourism industry in Northern Ireland has been fragmented, with various groups representing various parts of the industry. This is a matter of concern and will have to be dealt with in the long term. These groups were invited to indicate the people whom they thought would be helpful on the company's board, and we have received responses from them.

The Member is worried about Strangford, but if I recall the figures correctly the "poor relation" in all this is East Belfast, which has less resources than any other constituency. I think the Member will find that many areas are doing worse than Strangford.

Unlike the previous OTMI arrangements, we are very well placed in this new arrangement. We have 50% of the board; we provide the chairperson; and part of the company's remit is to take account of the need to develop tourism in Northern Ireland against the background of the problems faced by the industry over the past 30 years. Its operational and corporate plans have to come before the North/South Ministerial Council for approval. We will approve the appointment of a chief executive. By approving the corporate and operational plans, we approve the promotional activity. That will give us a wonderful opportunity that we never had before to assess whether we are getting a fair share. I have already outlined the funding arrangements. All in all, I think we have a satisfactory structure.

The Coleraine office will do all the printing, publishing and distribution, and its function is to operate on a worldwide basis. This is unprecedented and should give Northern Ireland and Coleraine a unique opportunity to make a positive contribution.

Mr Taylor:

Representing, as I do, the most beautiful part of Northern Ireland - Strangford Lough and the surrounding countryside - in principle I welcome what the Minister has announced today. First, can he assure us that the company will be registered in the Companies Office in Belfast as well as in Dublin? Secondly, can he assure us that the board and staff will be non-political and that they will refer to the two jurisdictions by their correct names? Thirdly, since the Southern Irish tourist industry is five times larger than the industry in Northern Ireland, why should the ratio of financing not be 5:1 instead of 2:1? Finally, can the Minister assure the House that this new arrangement will in no way impinge on the activities of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board within the United Kingdom, namely on its co-operation with the English Tourist Board, the Welsh Tourist Board and the Scottish Tourist Board and especially on the close working relationship that it has with the British Tourist Authority to promote Northern Ireland internationally?

12.45 pm

Sir Reg Empey:

I will not rise to the challenge of the Member's first comment, lest there be more daggers in my back than there are at present. With regard to the British Tourist Authority, the statement made on 18 December indicated that

"the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will continue to have access to the services of the British Tourist Authority".

That is part of the agreement.

Since I became Minister, a formal agreement has been signed with the British Tourist Authority. Such a treaty had never existed before and it sets out specific arrangements. Bord Fáilte Éireann is negotiating with the British Tourist Authority to handle destinations in far-flung parts of the world where it would not be economical for either of us to be represented. That is very positive. Both tourist boards have staff in the British Tourist Authority- run visitor centre in London, which is, and will continue to be, our main shop window in the capital.

I will have to come back to the Member in writing about the technicalities of registration, because I am not sure whether it has been registered in both jurisdictions. With regard to the Republic's tourism industry being five times larger, I do not have those statistics at my disposal. I think it is three times larger, but perhaps we will reflect on that. The 2:1 ratio relates to marketing. The total operational costs of that ratio might be different because the relevant tourist board will pay for the staff who will be appointed. Bord Fáilte Éireann is a much larger organisation than the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. I expect, therefore, in the short term at least, a much larger proportion than 2:1 to come from the Irish Republic.

When this is examined in a few months' time the Member will find that the actual ratio is more favourable. However, we want to spend a great deal on marketing, because that is what we need to do. We have some wonderful products, but I do not necessarily agree that they are all in his constituency.

Dr McDonnell:

Does the Minister agree that we have made major advances this morning in that Sammy Wilson and Jim Shannon want to join the North/South tourist body? Will he agree to try to facilitate their enthusiasm? This is a major advance and something that we were waiting for. I brought that up in case Sammy Wilson's question had been misunderstood. I think it is clearly understood now.

I welcome the ministerial statement and I strongly welcome the formation of the new body. However, for this body to achieve its full potential - and by that I mean trebling our current turnover of tourists - we need a much more dynamic and effective Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Reports I receive from North American visitors suggest that our tourism products are somewhat unsophisticated, lacking in development and, in some cases, shoddy.

The Minister will be aware of what happened last Easter. Does he have any plans to revamp the Northern Ireland Tourist Board so that it can play its full part in ensuring that we get a substantial share of the benefits referred to?

Sir Reg Empey:

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has received criticism over the years; any public body has to take its medicine from time to time. However, we should have some sympathy for the board. In the dark days of the troubles it had a very difficult job trying to market Northern Ireland. Every time it tried to encourage people to come here, something got in its way, whether it was terrorism or whatever. It has battled through, year after year, and the fact that we are operating with increasing figures, both in numbers and revenue, is a credit to those involved.

I appreciate the effort made by the chairman and members of that board. A number of new members have been appointed in the past few months. Along with existing members, they are attempting to promote our Province in a vigorous and dynamic way. This area is being looked at in the review of the structures of the Department and its agencies. I ask the Member to wait until we are able to bring forward more definite proposals, although I have already indicated in this question-and- answer session that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will continue because it is essential. So far as the Department and businesses are concerned, I want to ensure that their places in the overall scheme of things are taken into account during that review.

Mr Clyde:

The Minister has answered the first part of my question about the number of people to be employed in Coleraine. How many are to be employed in total?

Sir Reg Empey:

There is no precise figure at present. A more substantial number will be employed in marketing operations throughout the world, and that number will be recommended to us by the project team established by the two tourist boards. That is still at an early stage. We could give approximate numbers for the Coleraine office because it will have a narrow range of easily identified functions. I will give the Member a more precise answer after the next report from the project team. I cannot take it further today.

Ms Lewsley:

I welcome the Minister's statement. Who is responsible for the transition of the current Northern Ireland Tourist Board's international offices into the proposed new company? Will the Minister outline some of the lessons learnt from previous joint marketing initiatives that should be applied to future initiatives to enhance their benefit to Northern Ireland?

Sir Reg Empey:

Responsibility for the transition of offices will be a matter for the company's board when it is established. It is envisaged that where the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte Éireann have offices in international destinations it may be advantageous to bring them together. For instance, it makes sense to co-ordinate in New York, where Bord Fáilte Éireann has a significant office and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board does not. Similarly, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has an office in Toronto, but Bord Fáilte Éireann does not have a similar operation, so it might be appropriate to link together there. That is an operational decision, and while the decision and the timing will be a matter for the two tourist boards as it involves their premises, these policies will be decided in conjunction with the company.

Regarding the second part of the Member's question, I stress that this marketing initiative is different. At the core of the agreement of 18 December 1998 was the proviso that account must be taken of the circumstances in Northern Ireland, given our recent turmoil. That is systemic in the marketing operation and promotional activities planned by the company. That must be one of its fundamental functions, and we will look at it very closely to ensure that its materials and the nature of its promotion are consistent with the remit given to it by the statement of 18 December 1998.

Mr Fee:

I thank the Minister for his statement, and I will be brief.

Will the Minister undertake an examination of the role of the regional tourism organisations (RTOs) to see if it would be appropriate for the new tourism company to take over their role in some border regions? I refer specifically to the scandalous activity of the regional tourism organisation that the Minister mentioned earlier. The RTO in Newry and Mourne took £30,000 from ratepayers in the area and subsequently, without consulting the council providers or guest providers, changed the name from South East Ulster to Kingdoms of Down, thereby disenfranchising everybody from County Armagh. Also, not one single project or bed space south of Kilkeel is currently referred to in its literature.

Where co-operation between north Down and south Armagh is not possible, would it not be more appropriate to examine regional tourism within areas such as Louth/ Monaghan, Armagh/Down and Donegal/Derry?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Members' questions should be relevant to the statement.

Sir Reg Empey:

The function of the tourist company will not be to take over the regional tourism organisations. These bodies are exactly as their name suggests, and they will remain independent. The Member refers specifically to a dispute between Newry and Mourne District Council and the Kingdoms of Down regional tourist office. It is inappropriate for me to involve myself in this, save to say that a number of local authorities co-operate in tourism within Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I support this activity. An example is the North West Passage tourism promotional activity package, while Strabane and Limavady also have various links with Donegal. I encourage this activity, but the question of the regional tourist organisations is one for another day.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time for questions is up.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. My name was listed for a question to the Minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

That is not a point of order, but if you wish to speak either to the Clerk or to myself afterwards we will attempt to sort it out.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I do not think you can sort it out then. My name was listed, and I ought to have been called. In fact, you called two SDLP Members, one after the other.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Your name is not on this list. I will enquire afterwards as to why.

Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Bill: 
First Stage


The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Ms de Brún):

A LeasCheann Comhairle. Molaim go dtugtar a Chéad Léamh don Bhille (Gnéithe IdirThíortha) Uchtaithe.

I beg leave to lay before the Assembly a Bill to make provision for giving effect to the Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption concluded at The Hague on 29 May 1993; to make further provision in relation to adoptions with an international element; and for connected purposes.

Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.

Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill: 
Further Consideration Stage


Mr Deputy Speaker:

No amendments have been tabled, and, as no Members have indicated a wish to speak, I propose, by leave of the Assembly, to group the five clauses of the Bill.

Leave granted.

Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The Bill now stands referred to the Speaker.

The sitting was suspended at 12.59 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) -

2.30 pm


Oral Answers to Questions

First Minister and Deputy First Minister


Mr Speaker:

Question 7, in the name of Mr Eddie McGrady, has been transferred to the Department of Finance and Personnel and will receive a written response from that Department.

Programme for Government
(Society Divisions)



Mr Ford

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister why there is no strategy to address divisions in Northern Ireland society within the draft Programme for Government.

(AQO 325/00)

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

Tackling divisions in society is a key priority. A range of policies aimed at promoting community relations with annual expenditure of over £9 million is already in place in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, the Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The draft Programme for Government seeks to build on that and contains a range of actions, including the development by 2003 of a cross-departmental strategy for the promotion of community relations leading to measurable improvements. The programme emphasises the need to examine the impact of key services such as housing and education and to respond positively when people wish to live and learn together.

In addition, the Diversity 21 initiative provides a very clear strategy and programme of action for tackling divisions which have their origins in our different cultural backgrounds and experiences. These represent some of the most deep-rooted divisions in our society.

Mr Ford:

I thank the First Minister for the response, but he seems to have confirmed that while there are aspirations and much rhetoric on the need for promoting community relations and a shared society, there is very little in the way of strategy. The only specific he could quote to me was the year 2003. Does the First Minister really think that the problems of division in society are so much less important than socio-economic issues, many of which get a rather earlier date for progress?

The First Minister:

I should have thought that the Member might have welcomed the fact that we do not propose, as recently advised by a journalist writing in a newspaper, to wind up the community relations programme. Instead, we are carefully examining it to bring forward new proposals. The Member might also like to reflect on the fact that this institution, through its functioning and the role that the various parties play in it, can make what is probably the most significant contribution to healing divisions in the community.

Mr McClarty:

Does the First Minister agree that by its commitment to social and economic development the draft Programme for Government itself represents a strategy to heal divisions?

The First Minister:

I agree. There is quite a range of initiatives in the draft Programme for Government on the issue. As I said in my earlier answer, however, over and above everything else, this institution is the way in which we can heal divisions in society. As we said over two years ago, we intend it to be a pluralist parliament for a pluralist people.

Mr B Hutchinson:

On the subject of community relations, does the First Minister have plans to do away with the two institutions that presently train teachers, putting them into one establishment?

The First Minister:

I am sorry to say that I did not catch the middle part of that question.

Mr Speaker:

I am not sure whether teacher training institutions are within the ambit of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Perhaps if the Member would like to repeat the question, I can clarify that in my own mind.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I am asking the First Minister if he is going to address divisions. One of our biggest divisions is that Protestant teachers are taught in a Protestant training school and Catholics in a Catholic one. Does the First Minister recognise that there is no difference in training methods, irrespective of religion, and that everybody should be trained in one place?

The First Minister:

I apologise to the Member; it was the phrase "teacher training" that I could not make out initially. I am well aware that there are many people who believe that the divided educational structure we have - the Member has taken a particular aspect of it - generally perpetuates division, even if it does not create it. That is not a view that I wholly share . I do recognise, however, that it is held by a number of people and also realise that education may play a role. At the same time we have to recognise that parents have a right to educate their children in their identity and culture. There is a difficult balance to be drawn on this. I am not in a position to make specific comments about the teacher-training colleges, but, no doubt, what the Member has said will be heard in other places.

Programme for Government
(Shared Society)



Mr Neeson

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister what steps will be taken to ensure that all policies put forward by the Executive in the Programme for Government will be appraised for their impact on the creation of a shared society in Northern Ireland.

(AQO 324/00)

The First Minister:

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires Northern Ireland Departments, in carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. The equality schemes required under schedule 9 of the Act show how Departments will assess their compliance with this duty and consult on relevant matters.

Furthermore, the draft Programme for Government seeks to address diversity and religious and political division, create greater mutual understanding and respect for diversity, and support dialogue and understanding among the communities. We hope that those consulted on the programme will comment on how effectively that programme deals with these issues, both specifically in the Growing as a Community section and in other parts of the document.

Mr Neeson:

I thank the First Minister for his response. However, will he accept that this Assembly has the opportunity to create a pluralist and integrated society by including a policy appraisal; putting the principle of sharing over the problem of separation in this community?

The First Minister:

As I said in answer to the previous question, it is my hope that this institution, through its existence and functioning, will help to resolve matters of this nature and promote co-operation. That is what we are doing, and we hope the example will be followed elsewhere in society.

Ms Lewsley:

What steps will be taken to ensure that all policies put forward by the Executive in the new Programme for Government are appraised for their impact on the equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland?

The First Minister:

I assure the Member that this matter is in our minds. Indeed, in paragraph 4(2)(b) of schedule 9 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 there is a clear requirement for any equality scheme that is drawn up in each Department to state the Department's arrangements for assessing and consulting on the likely impact of policies adopted, or proposed to be adopted, on the promotion of equality of opportunity.

In the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister there is an equality unit, and part of its job is to oversee the operation of these schemes across the Administration as a whole. We hope that we will have a proper focus in promoting equality of opportunity.

Mr Roche:

This debate is being conducted with a high level of pretty empty rhetoric. There is reference to great cultural divides in Northern Ireland. The simple fact of the matter is that in Northern Ireland there is very little cultural division. The inhabitants of this island speak a common language. Their institutions, both North and South, are shaped on the model of democracy within the United Kingdom.

Mr Speaker:

I remind the Member that this is not a debate; it is Question Time.

Mr Roche:

In trying to promote harmonious relationships in Northern Ireland in respect of our disagreements, would it not be better to simply insist - not that we should somehow smother our disagreements - that we conduct those disagreements within the rule of law? That is all we require. We can disagree as much as we like then. We still have a vibrant and intellectually exciting society, which we should conduct within the rule of law. All of this other stuff is empty rhetoric that happens to cost a vast amount of money.

The First Minister:

I am glad that the Member has put it in those terms, because that is precisely what the Belfast Agreement endeavours to do: deal with the differences in society, settle the constitutional disputes, and provide a basis on which we can build and go forward together in peace.


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