Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 11 December 2000 (continued)

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the extension of the statutory right of equal treatment to part-time workers. The Committee raised several issues with the Minister. One of those issues was a code of practice that would give clear guidelines to part-time workers on their rights. The Committee believes that a statutory code of practice would not only add weight to the legislation but also guarantee protection for the most vulnerable workers, especially those working in smaller firms.

As the moment, part-time workers on fixed-term contracts cannot pursue a claim to win equal rights, even if they can find a full-time worker with a similar contract to act as a comparator. The absence of comparators is a serious weakness in the legislation and means that a large number of workers in low-paid jobs such as cleaning and catering, mainly women, will have limited protection. Similar limitations mean that the rights and terms of employment of term-time workers - a subject much discussed in the Assembly - cannot be properly addressed.

The rights of casual and temporary workers, home workers, agency workers, and other non-timed piece workers cannot be addressed either.

11.30 am

However, the legislation is welcome as a step in the right direction, although it is also a missed opportunity to really put in place legislation that would impact on the huge number of part-time workers in the North - approximately 200,000. The estimate that this legislation will impact on only 7,000 of those part-time workers indicates some of the legislation's weaknesses. It is obvious that the legislation promised businesses and employers a light touch, and certainly a minimum of red tape. However, I welcome the introduction of the legislation. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Ms Morrice:

We also welcome the introduction of legislation that puts part-time workers on the same footing as full-time workers. That is important. However, we have several important concerns on which we would be grateful for further clarification from the Minister.

Obviously, the Regulations are of particular interest to the Women's Coalition, because 83·1% of part-timers are women. Some 36% of women work part-time, compared to 6% of men.

We are aware that these Regulations are the implementation of the European Commission Directive on part-time workers, brought into Great Britian legislation, and now extended to Northern Ireland. We are concerned that, in the rest of the UK, the Directive has been given the narrowest possible interpretation. However, on listening to the Minister, I have been given some assurance that several areas of concern could be alleviated - for example, the issue of the rates of pay. There is a marked incidence of low pay among part-time workers in Northern Ireland. The figures show that, in 1999, 22% of part-time employees earned less than £4 an hour, and, of those, 80% were women.

The earlier notes to the Regulations gave an example of a justified difference in hourly rates where employees are shown to have a different level of performance, measured by a fair and consistent appraisal system. I am assuming that the Minister, in his opening statement, said that there would be no difference in hourly pay between full-time and part-time workers. We welcome movement on that issue.

Our second point is on training. We are all aware that training has been much less available to part-time workers. In the Minister's opening statement, we heard that this also is to be clarified and that part-time workers will have access to training. That is vitally important, given that the majority of part-time workers are women. It is vital that they have access to training.

Dr Birnie raised the issue of comparators. Mr Carrick raised the point of the code of practice, which is important. We have a further question about situations when differential treatment is justified on objective grounds. It is important to understand what "objective grounds" means, so that we do not leave too many loopholes that could be used by unscrupulous employers to discriminate against people.

Those are the main points on which we wish to seek assurance. We support the calls from Dr Birnie and Mr Carrick for an early review of the implementation of the Regulations to ensure that they are being properly applied and that there is absolutely no discrimination against part-time workers.

Dr Farren:

I thank all the Members who have spoken on this issue. I share their objective of ensuring that part-time workers enjoy the same level of protection as full-time workers - the same guarantees in their terms and conditions of employment and, insofar as it is necessary, the enhancement of those terms and conditions to the highest possible standard.

We should not assume that all, or many, employers of part-time workers are unscrupulous in their approach or that they are intent on denying workers their rights. It has been pointed out that only a small number of part-time workers will be affected by the Regulations to be implemented under the legislation. However, many part-time workers already enjoy the same standards as their full-time counterparts, and that is the case throughout the public sector. If, as Mr Carrick suggested, there are deficiencies in the conditions of employment of part-time staff in this institution, I would be very anxious to hear about them and to be assured that all part-time workers were receiving the level of protection required by the legislation. I would be very concerned if that were not so.

Points were made on the comparators used to determine terms and conditions for workers. The Regulations require a comparator to be in a job broadly similar to that of a full-time worker,

"having regard . to qualifications, skills and experience".

Part-time employees are allowed to compare themselves to their predecessors in their posts, and that should be particularly helpful to women returning to work. I am very aware that a significant majority of part-time workers are women. All the evidence shows that many women receive a lower level of remuneration than their male counterparts. I trust that the Regulations that are to come into force under this legislation will go a long way towards enhancing the situation of women.

On the subject of review, I am anxious to ensure that we monitor the implementation of the Regulations, and I am sure that that will happen. We shall be assisted in that by the statutory agencies involved and by the trade union movement, and I shall welcome all their comments, observations, reports and evaluations. We are at the first stage of this legislative process in Northern Ireland. It was introduced shortly after suspension. Before that, there was very limited opportunity for making detailed comment on such legislation, as Dr Birnie pointed out, but that should not prevent the Committee and others from making additional evaluations, which might be helpful to us as we move forward. I trust that I have covered most of the main issues.

The legislation is a significant advance and I commend it to the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 be approved.


Drink-Drive Offenders


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

The Minister of the Environment (Mr Foster):

I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the Courses for Drink-Drive Offenders (Experimental Period) (Extension) Order (Northern Ireland) 2000.

The Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 provides for an experiment in the use of courses as a sentencing option for convicted drink-drive offenders. On satisfactory completion of the course, the offender may receive a minimum of three months reduction and a maximum reduction of one quarter of the period of disqualification from driving.

The aim of the scheme is to prevent reoffending. The purpose of the experiment is to test the viability of the courses and to facilitate the evaluation of their effectiveness in preventing reoffending.

An Order to reduce a period of disqualification can be made where the following conditions are met: where an offender of 17 years of age or over has been convicted of a relevant drink-driving offence resulting in a driving disqualification of 12 months or more, and the court has explained in ordinary language the provisions of the Order to reduce the period of disqualification to the offender, also informing him or her of the amount of the fees for the course and of the requirement that he or she must pay them before the beginning of the course, the court must be satisfied that a place on the course specified in the order will be available for the offender. Then, with the agreement of the offender, the order may be made.

An experiment has been running in the petty sessions district of Belfast and Newtownabbey since 1 April 1998. That experiment will end on 31 December 2000 unless the Department makes an Order before that date to extend the period. The Probation Board for Northern Ireland was appointed as the sole course organiser, and the fee payable to the organiser is £100. Courses include information about alcohol and its effect on the body, on driving ability and on behaviour; an analysis of personal drinking patterns and how they relate to the driving offence; the impact that drinking and driving can have on victims and their families; alternatives to drinking and driving; and personal strategies and sources of advice to prevent repeat offending.

Each course is made up of nine weekly two-hour sessions. To complete a course successfully a participant must attend all nine sessions in full. To date, 12 courses have been completed; 113 people attended and, of those, 109 - 96% - completed all nine sessions. The remaining four participants withdrew for personal reasons.

The main criterion for judging how successful the courses have been is whether offenders who have attended a course are less likely to re-offend within three years than those who have not. From 1993 to 1999, courses for drink-drivers were run experimentally in 18 designated areas in England and Wales. The scheme will become permanent there with effect from 1 January 2001. In England and Wales it was found that offenders who had completed a course were almost three times less likely to be reconvicted of a serious drink-driving offence than those who had not.

Initial indications are that courses in Northern Ireland are effective. Participants have shown a marked increase in knowledge about alcohol and its effect on the body, as well as a better attitude to not drinking and driving. However, more time is required for fuller evaluation of the impact of courses on reoffending. The Order before the Assembly will extend the current experimental scheme for a further period of five years, to the end of 2005. The Lord Chancellor will make a separate Order designating all petty sessions districts in Northern Ireland. That will allow all relevant drink-drive offenders in Northern Ireland the opportunity to attend a course. It will also allow the collection of data on a sufficiently large sample of offenders to permit the carrying out of reconviction rate analyses.

I commend the Order to the Assembly.

11.45 am

The Chairperson of the Environment Committee (Rev Dr William McCrea):

Drink-driving is a very serious issue. Nothing that has been discussed today, or the Courses for Drink-Drive Offenders (Experimental Period) (Extension) Order (Northern Ireland) 2000, should be understood as taking the issue of drink-driving with anything less than the seriousness and gravitas it deserves. Many innocent people have lost their lives through drink- driving. The Minister brings the motion to the House to try to help people who have been disqualified from driving to see the seriousness of their conviction and to stop them from reoffending. I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House on behalf of the Committee.

The Statutory Rule was brought before the Assembly's Environment Committee on 7 December 2000, and it was unanimously recommended that the Order be affirmed by the Assembly. I fully support that recommendation. However, the Committee had several questions, and officials from the Department of the Environment appeared before us. We still have some concerns that I ask the Minister to consider.

If someone is keen to drive again, surely it must look like a very attractive offer to have his or her suspension reduced if he or she satisfactorily completes a course approved by the Department. We are concerned that the actual take-up rate is very low - some 6% of all offenders. The fee to join the course is £100. To many in the House, £100 may not seem a lot of money. However, for some people who would like to take up this course, and would greatly benefit from it, the fee could be regarded as a substantial amount. Is it not possible to provide the course at a lower cost? Has the Department considered some form of support from the car insurance industry? After all, it is in its interest as much as anyone else's for the courses to be successful.

The Committee was told that the experiment is to be extended throughout Northern Ireland. However, we were also informed that there will only be four centres - in Belfast, Ballymena, Armagh and Londonderry. Surely this will disadvantage people from outside those areas. For example, how can people from Enniskillen, Larne or Newry be expected to travel to a two-hour session at night? Remember that they do not have a driving licence. Those are questions that have exercised the Committee, and I hope that the Minister will take them on board.

I assure Members that the Committee and I support the Order and urge the House to do likewise.

Mr McLaughlin:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I would like to reiterate the points made so expertly and comprehensively by our Committee Chairperson to reflect the views of the Committee.

This motion represents an enlightened approach to a significant and growing social problem. I commend the point about the vested interest, almost, of the driver who has been convicted and disqualified, and who wishes to drive again and be reinsured.

In those circumstances, the insurance companies impose a significant increase in the cost of insurance cover. It is important to encourage a greater uptake of this important form of counselling and awareness training. A 6% uptake is really a record of failure, but the concept of the course itself is worthy of strong support. We should try to redress the difficulties faced in obtaining a more appropriate level of uptake. If the Minister could address the insurance brokers directly they may be prepared to make an allowance upon successful completion of the counselling course. I understand that one broker already provides that incentive.

The statistics demonstrate that those who complete the course are three times less likely to reoffend than others with similar convictions who did not opt for the course. All the evidence points to the value and efficacy of that approach, but we must find ways and means of encouraging more and more people to avail themselves of it.

I strongly support the measure. Does the Minister agree that it would benefit us all if we could encourage more convicted drivers to take up the course? One effective means of doing that would be to provide the incentive of an insurance premium deferral or reduction upon successful completion of the course. We would all gain from that.

Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Shannon:

I support the Minister's proposals. As Dr McCrea mentioned, we also want to keep in perspective the reasons why drink-driving remains one of society's ills. The television advert launched by the Minister only a few weeks ago highlights the gravity of drink-driving and the need to curtail it.

There has been a decline in drink-driving cases, which we welcome, but much more must be done. The graphic nature of the advert hits home to everyone, but those of us who are parents can relate especially to what happens to the wee boy playing football in the security of his back garden.

At the same time, we must look at the proposal to extend the experimental period, because, in its own way, it addresses some of the important issues. The road accident figures for the past year make horrific reading. They are just up on this year, with 577 alcohol-related and drug-related accidents, 34 fatalities and 1,072 total casualties, ranging from the slightly injured to the seriously injured.

Many of us believe that we should consider zero tolerance of drink-driving. Many people would like to see that. The experimental method in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom has not been very successful. However, it has had a marked level of success. The fact that a solicitor or a barrister, pleading on behalf of an offender, can ask for his client to attend the nine-stage course as a means of rehabilitation through treatment and education is a positive way of addressing the issue. However, I wish to see more of those who have been convicted taking up the course. Perhaps that tells one a lot about the people as well; perhaps they need their jobs more and perhaps they are prepared to redress the wrongs that they have done.

It is fair and just that a successfully rehabilitated offender should be allowed back on the road after a series of courses that will treat and educate him. Many have made mistakes; many are genuinely sorry and wish it had never happened. None the less, it did happen, and they make amends for it.

Can the Minister provide figures broken down into separate categories for driving offences involving drugs and those involving alcohol? Is the Minister considering adding to the existing categories, perhaps creating one specifically for accidents caused by excessive speed? Excessive speed is the biggest killer on the roads and also causes the greatest number of casualties. Dr McCrea mentioned assistance for those travelling to take part in courses. Will such assistance be made available? The four locations are not accessible to everyone in the Province, and the Minister should consider that.

The extension of the experimental scheme for another five years keeps Northern Ireland in line with the position on the United Kingdom mainland. It builds on the limited success of the scheme and gives offenders the chance to address their mistakes and learn from them. I hope that that will allow offenders to contribute to society more fully than previously.

Mr Foster:

Article 36(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 states that a court can reduce the period of disqualification imposed on a drink-drive offender, provided that the offender satisfactorily completes a rehabilitation course. By providing for the continuation of that power until the end of 2005, the Order will facilitate a comprehensive evaluation of the experimental scheme. Such an evaluation is necessary if we are to assess the scheme's ability to deter those who participate from reoffending within three years of the relevant conviction. The scheme is a significant road safety measure and will contribute to a reduction in road casualty figures. I hope that, in due course, it will become permanent, but in the meantime I look forward to its continuation and to the evaluation of its effectiveness.

I shall answer the questions asked by Members. I take on board the points that Members have made about the course. These days, when there is terrible carnage on the roads, it is important that we do all that we can to ensure that the number of accidents is reduced. Indeed, it has been suggested that we should have a policy of zero tolerance.

I was asked why the courses could not be provided free or at a reduced fee. It is reasonable that the participants finance the courses, although the cost of the course must not be a disincentive for potential participants. The Probation Board has set the fee with that in mind. The cost of running one course has been estimated at £1,000, which means that 10 participants are necessary for a course to break even. Thus far, the average number of course participants has been just under 10. I assure Members that fee levels will be considered when we make a decision on the scheme's permanency. I am sure that Members appreciate the difficulties.

Dr McCrea referred to the locations in which the courses will be available. Under the extended experiment, courses will be available in Belfast, Ballymena, Londonderry and Armagh, and the offender will choose the location. The provision of courses in other places will be considered, if experience suggests that that is necessary. One of the first points that I made was about the situation for people from isolated areas, such as Enniskillen, my home town, Newry and other areas. My staff will examine that point.

Insurance companies in Northern Ireland do not normally offer reduced premiums to those who have completed a course, although one broker claims to offer such a reduction. Offenders are advised that there is a possibility of obtaining reduced premiums from an insurance broker, but it is up to them to trawl the market. My officials will pursue the matter with insurance brokers and companies in Northern Ireland. However, we cannot make promises, as it is a matter for the individual and the insurance company.

How will the Department increase uptake from the current level of 6%? For the extended experiment, the name of the course will be changed from 'Rehabilitation Courses for Drink Drive Offenders' to 'Courses for Drink Drive Offenders'. That should, to some degree, address the perception that courses are for people with an alcohol problem.


From August 2000, all offenders referred have received a letter and information leaflet from the course organiser, explaining the purpose of the course and outlining its content. Leaflets are to be redesigned to present information in a simpler and more attractive way. The Department will issue a press release early in 2001 to highlight the extended scheme and what it offers. Solicitors will receive direct mailing, and magistrates will be informed of the extended experiment.

Mr Shannon asked whether courses were available for persons convicted of drug-related road traffic offences and whether they could be extended. He asked for the present breakdown of drink-related and drug-related offences. Alcohol-related offences are the main offences taken into consideration at present. Although drug-related offences are rarer, we shall consider them too.

This presentation on behalf of the community in general is most important as far as road safety is concerned. I trust that I have addressed Members' questions to their satisfaction. My officials will identify any questions or points made that I have overlooked, and I shall write to those concerned. I thank Members for their interest in the debate and for their commendation. I am glad that everyone is in favour of the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly approves the Courses for Drink-Drive Offenders (Experimental Period) (Extension) Order (Northern Ireland) 2000.

Draft Financial Investigations Order:
Assembly Ad Hoc Committee



That this Assembly appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the draft Financial Investigations (Northern Ireland) Order laid by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 85(4)(b) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and to submit a report to the Assembly by 5 February 2001.

Composition: UUP 2
SF 2
Other parties 3

Quorum: The quorum shall be five.

Procedure: The procedures of the Committee shall be
such as the Committee shall determine. -
[Mr B Hutchinson.]

The sitting was suspended at 12.03 pm.

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

Oral Answers to Questions



Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Tourism Advertising:
North/South Co-Operation

2.30 pm


Mr Armstrong

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to make a statement on co-operation in advertising between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte.

(AQO 472/00)

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

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte have co-operated on joint advertising since 1987. Following the creation of the overseas tourism marketing initiative in 1995 and Brand Ireland in 1996, annual joint expenditure of approximately £10 million has generated approximately 400,000 annual enquiries. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board's initial contribution of £500,000 was followed by annual contributions of £300,000.

Mr Armstrong:

Whatever the merits of joint advertising and marketing between Northern Ireland and the Republic, it is important that Northern Ireland's product be clearly identified for potential visitors. Will the Minister assure the Assembly that Northern Ireland will be represented properly in the joint promotion logo?

Sir Reg Empey:

The answer is "Yes." We have to understand that the objective is to increase the number of visitors to Northern Ireland. People coming from abroad see Europe as a unit and these islands as a unit; they do not see particular regions within those units.

It is clear, under the terms of the arrangements that have been entered into, that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, in conjunction with Bord Fáilte, will be establishing this company. It is the creature of the two tourist boards. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board will retain the responsibility and requirements to continue with regional marketing. It was specifically written into the arrangements setting up the company that it treat, be aware of and take into account in its campaigns the particular circumstances that pertained here over the past 30 years. I am confident that that will be achieved.

Mr Shannon:

I thank the Minister for his comments on the figures. With regard to the amount of money allocated and spent from Northern and Southern Ireland, can he indicate, for each region, the number of people who have made Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland their tourist destination? Is the joint advertising campaign providing value for money to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board? Also, when will the new chief executive be appointed?

Sir Reg Empey:

With regard to value for money issues, advertising of any kind, as the Member will know, is extremely difficult to measure. At the same time, if it is not undertaken people will complain. We can only point to the fact that in the last few years there have been steady increases in the number of tourists and in the amount of their spend. Also, 400,000 enquiries per year have been generated as a result of the advertising. There is evidence on the web sites, and surveys are carried out to ask people where and how they heard about Northern Ireland. That gives some indication.

The Member will know that in any walk of life or in any commercial activity it is difficult to measure precisely how much activity comes through any particular type of advertising promotion - there is a variety of types. I am satisfied that the position with regard to advertising and promoting tourism is essential. Here in Northern Ireland, we are operating at one third of the capacity that I believe our industry has, if you compare us with our nearest neighbours in Scotland and the Republic.

With regard to the last point, proposals are under way for such an appointment. As the Member will understand, the current appointment is temporary, and I hope the situation will be clarified within the next few months.

Department Agencies


Mr Kennedy

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when he intends to report on the reorganisation of agencies responsible to his Department.

(AQO 471/00)


Mr Close

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment what progress has been made on creating a single development agency for Northern Ireland.

(AQO 457/00)

Sir Reg Empey:

I will answer questions 2 and 12 together.

On 26 October 2000 I issued a consultation paper to ministerial colleagues, the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, the business representative bodies and other social partners of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and to the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance.

The consultation has ended, and I have received many helpful comments and representations. I plan to make a statement to this House before the Christmas recess.

Mr Kennedy:

I welcome the Minister's response. He is undoubtedly aware that local authorities in Northern Ireland play an important role in economic regeneration. In his review, will he undertake to give positive consideration to increasing that role?

Sir Reg Empey:

The Member knows my views on the role that local government can play in economic development, since I have experience of it, and was involved with it at the start of the 1990s. The answer to his question is "Yes". However, I have to add the caveat - which we have announced in the Programme for Government - that we will be carrying out a review of public administration generally, and that will include local government.

That reform proposal, when carried out - which I hope will be sooner rather than later - will result in the capacity of local government being increased in order to deal with many of the social and economic issues that local authorities face.

However, there already is, and will continue to be under any new proposal that I will be bringing forward to this House, a meaningful role for local authorities in such things as the Business Start Programme and in other partnership models, where I believe local authorities can bring not only resources and expertise, but local knowledge, which is absolutely critical to ensure that agencies of the Department are fully informed and aware of local needs and local sensitivities.

Mr McMenamin:

Does the Minister agree that the proliferation of quangos in Northern Ireland was the result of the many defects of direct rule, that it led to unaccountable government and that it was wasteful of public money? Can the Minister assure the Assembly that he will move speedily to dismantle these quangos and introduce accountable government to the people of Northern Ireland?

Sir Reg Empey:

I entirely agree with the remarks of the hon Member. I believe that quangos were a substitute for, and a visible expression of, the absence of genuine accountable democracy. As the Member knows, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has a limited number of agencies. We are currently examining those. I hope that, in time, he will see my determination to ensure that the number of such organisations is fewer rather than greater. However, we have to understand that there are a considerable number of quangos. There are scores of organisations; some are very large and some deliver significant services. I believe that in the review of public administration that the Executive has indicated it will be undertaking, these are exactly the issues that will be considered. I hope that all Assembly Members will have input into that review. I entirely endorse the Member's sentiments.

Mr McCarthy:

In view of the many difficulties experienced by local entrepreneurs in trying to progress their business at a much quicker pace, does the Minister agree that effort should be made to cut out all unnecessary red tape? Perhaps a single agency, properly resourced, would contribute to that.

Sir Reg Empey:

I take the point. I have answered previous questions about regulation and red tape. I have carried out a review of my Department, and, indeed, later this week I shall meet my officials again to examine whether particular regulations are absolutely necessary. Section by section, my Department will examine every piece of paper that has been generated to see whether it is essential.

The need for quicker responses is growing all the time, because of the changing nature of the businesses that we are being asked to support. The Assembly is committed to assisting the knowledge-based economy, and companies require quick responses - the old way is no longer the right way. I fully understand the Member's sentiments.

Brussels Office for Northern Ireland
(Department Representation)


Mr Ford

asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment if he plans to have a presence in the Office to be established in Brussels by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

(AQO 456/00)

Sir Reg Empey:

I certainly expect to make use of the facilities provided by the Executive's office in Brussels. The IDB is examining the feasibility of a permanent presence in the office.

Mr Ford:

I am disappointed to hear that the Minister is only considering an IDB presence. He has already referred to Northern Ireland's untapped tourism potential - a matter that is within his Department's remit. There are moves to promote inward investment, which is a necessary part of local economic development, so the Minister should say definitely that there will be a Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment presence in the Brussels office - not that he is just considering it.

Sir Reg Empey:

Responsibility for establishing the office lies with the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I have made representations on this subject, but it is for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to decide the shape and nature of the Brussels office.

When I was a director of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe I encouraged moves to establish the office. I was also involved in designating the site that has now been obtained; it is an excellent location directly beside the European Parliament building. The former Northern Ireland Centre in Europe had some IDB support to enable it to hold functions and bring people in, and the centre was used for that purpose on a number of occasions. I hope and expect that the same will apply in this case, but it requires the agreement of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. We have some representation in Germany, and we have organised a campaign to raise our profile in mainland Europe for early next year.

I hope to give a positive response to the Member's question in due course. I hope that that will be the outcome.

Mrs Carson:

The Minister told us that he was thinking about an IDB presence in Brussels. Does he agree that co-ordination would be enhanced greatly if the IDB office were to be located in the Executive Committee's office?

Sir Reg Empey:

I agree. It would make sense for IDB to be in that office, rather than in a separate one, and I have made representations on that basis. I also hope that it will be possible to reach whatever accommodation is required with the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe. Any Executive business on the European mainland should be carried out there, thus creating economies of scale. Anyone working in the office would have a status within the European system that would give them certain advantages. I am sure that you will appreciate that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. Anyone operating separately from and independently of that office would not have the same status, and that would diminish their role. I therefore fully support the Member's views.


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