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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 16 January 2001 (continued)

Mr Tierney:

I support the motion and congratulate my Colleague, Mr ONeill, for moving it. I also congratulate the Minister for the additional funding of £30,000 over Christmas. Some Members have said that it will not make a dent in the problem, but the additional money is recognition that there is a problem.

My first speech to the House was on the Housing Executive's budget, and a large part of it was devoted to the homeless. I pointed out the problems that the homeless face in my area. Suggestions have been made about how to tackle the different problems that different areas clearly have.

If you present yourself as homeless to the Housing Executive in my area, a number of things happen. If you are a lone parent, for example, you will be put up in temporary accommodation, so long as it is available. In some cases accommodation is not available and people are asked to wait, sometimes for weeks. Homeless people get temporary accommodation, perhaps not immediately, but they are also told that they will be living in that accommodation for over a year, perhaps for a year and a half. People who are homeless in my area with no priority need - and this was touched on by Mr ONeill - are told that they will probably be housed in a couple of years' time.

Ms McWilliams rightly said that money is needed for new building so that people with priority get the houses they need. That would free up spaces for the homeless. A number of extra spaces have been made available in the Derry area, and I congratulate the Housing Executive and the voluntary agencies on that. However, it still has not reached the stage where somebody can present himself as homeless and be allocated temporary accommodation on the same day.

These individuals will have to wait until there is new building and people with priority needs can move out of temporary accommodation and let them move in. I heard somebody talking about figures on an annual basis, but you can produce figures on a daily basis. At least one person presents himself as homeless each day, only to find that nothing can be done for him, and that is disgraceful.

Mr ONeill touched on another valid point. An additional problem for those people who do not have priority needs is that if they are put into hostels, they slip out of the network of agencies that should be there for them. They are left to their own devices. Such people do their best to get out of hostels and into some kind of property, normally in the private sector, which they cannot afford.

Like most Members who have spoken, I agree with the proponent that a number of agencies must get involved, and if we are asking agencies to work with the homeless and solve the problem, our Ministers and Departments should be working together to try to solve it too.

I am glad that the Minister is here. He has spoken to the Committee about this problem. He is concerned about it, as we all are. Most of the contributors to the debate have recognised that this is not a problem for the Minister for Social Development alone. On the contrary, a number of Ministers and Committees should get involved, and I urge them all to do just that.

Mr S Wilson:

I am going to obey the normal ruling and not repeat the plethora of points already made, most of which I agree with. I just want to deal with two aspects of homelessness that have not yet been mentioned.

I hope that my first point will not be misinterpreted. We must be careful, as we discuss this matter, that we do not encourage the trend of people declaring themselves homeless. Many are homeless as a result of circumstances absolutely and totally beyond their control; we all sympathise with that.

I am sure every Member doing constituency work has come across the view that the easy way out of a difficult family situation is for the parents to throw the young person out, or for the young person to leave home. I have come across two such instances in the past couple of weeks. As a member of a party that emphasises the importance of families, I say that we must not devise policies that could make this seem an easy option for young people or their parents.

Ms McWilliams:

Does the Member accept that most research carried out by the Council for the Homeless shows that the number making themselves intentionally homeless is minimal while the focus seems to be on the sort of exceptional cases to which he refers? As a result, attention is diverted from the core problem.

Mr S Wilson:

I accept that the bulk of cases are as the Member says, and I emphasised that at the start of my speech. I recognise that the majority who present themselves as homeless are genuine cases and that they are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control. I stressed that I wanted to address issues that no other Member had addressed, so I said that policy should not encourage those who might believe that homelessness is an easy way out of a domestic situation that cannot be resolved.

There is an obligation on public bodies to deal with this, and public money must be spent either through support to a number of organisations - and several have been mentioned - or through the provision of housing. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the homeless are young and single, people who by nature tend to be the more mobile members of society. We must also examine the provision of housing through the private sector, which might require less capital and could be an easier route to take.

This could be done in a number of ways, one of which has already been mentioned. Some people could secure private-sector housing if they could afford a deposit. The Minister should examine this. If the only impediment to securing alternative accommodation is a deposit, that should be made available.

Another point, which is especially true in parts of Belfast where private landlords hold a large part of the housing stock, is that they, or the estate agents that look after properties for them, should have access to the homeless list, although care would need to be taken with data protection. They should be able to offer accommodation to homeless young people just as the Housing Executive and others do, and information on available housing offers should be made more accessible to them.

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Many other points that I wished to make have already been made, and I do not want to reiterate them. Those are two aspects that no Members had dealt with to date. I hope that they are not taken out of context, but they are pertinent to the debate and ought to be considered.

Ms Lewsley:

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Like many others, I want to look especially at the plight of the increasing number of homeless young people, for whom there is no adequate provision. Some are young, single people under 25, and some are children whose families are homeless.

Recent figures from the Housing Executive show that in 1999-2000, 824 in the 16-18 age group and 1,690 in the 19-25 age group presented themselves as homeless. These figures give cause for concern but are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many young people who do not present themselves as homeless to the Housing Executive because there is little chance of getting any type of accommodation.

We have already heard that the Simon Community's statistics show that 54% of people approaching it for emergency accommodation are aged 25 or under. Of the total number of referrals, almost 25% said that they had been sleeping rough in the two weeks prior to being referred.

There is particular concern about the increase in homelessness among 16-to-17-year olds, and the most frequent reason given is family conflict, which has already been mentioned. These people are among our most vulnerable, and there is a high incidence of poverty, unemployment, sexual and physical abuse and family breakdown. Many were in care or prison before becoming homeless.

There is no specific agency for dealing with homeless young, single people and no statutory provision for accommodating those in the 16-19 age group. Their needs are not being considered when housing policy is being formulated, and I ask the Minister to take this into account from now on.

Only a limited number of places are available through organisations such as the Simon Community, and demand far outstrips that number. Many have to resort to the private rented sector, but that housing is often overpriced and of poor quality, which has a detrimental effect on their health and development.

Support services to enable such young people to develop and live independently are limited, and they frequently find themselves homeless again, unable to cope with their situation. Often they are underachievers educationally, and their housing conditions only serve to exacerbate the situation. Child poverty is a major issue. Last July, following the comprehensive spending review, Chancellor Gordon Brown said that the Government's aim was to halve and then abolish child poverty. What, if any, initiatives does the Minister's Department intend to take to address child poverty here?

We have no mechanisms to provide decent accommodation for single young people, and one third of them and our children are living in poverty. We have the third- youngest population in the European Union, and our spending per capita on children's services is significantly lower than in England.

Many children experience family breakdown, poverty and homelessness at an early age, and there is a significant link between poverty, ill health and low educational achievement. We need a co-ordinated and concerted effort across all Departments to work alongside and utilise the skills and experience of organisations in the voluntary and community sectors and develop a strategy to deal with child poverty organisations such as like Save the Children, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Barnardos, Child Care NI and the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network.

Young people deserve access to quality accommodation and support that will enable them to live independently, and they deserve access to training and employment. I hope that the children's fund, together with more statutory provision, will help alleviate the situation in the short term and develop preventative solutions to the barriers that young people face to overcoming social disadvantage.

The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow):

I will do my best to address the points that have been made. If I fail to address them all due to time constraints or an oversight, I will deal with them in writing.

Before I deal with the provisions of the motion, some points must be made to put homelessness in context. All Members sympathise with those who do not, for whatever reason, have safe, comfortable and regular accommodation. The Christmas and new year period brings into focus the differences between the homeless and those of us who can enjoy the comfort of our homes and the company of family and friends. I pay tribute to the many organisations that worked over the festive period to help the homeless with accommodation and the other comforts that the rest of us take for granted.

Some Members, particularly Mr ONeill, rightly acknowledged the additional £30,000 that the Department of Finance and Personnel made available. That relatively small sum was welcomed by a number of organisations. I do not want to take undue credit. The money was supplied by the Department of Finance and Personnel, and my Department was happy to be the conduit for its delivery.

Homelessness can become a reality for people at any time, and I am concerned to ensure that the services provided by the statutory agencies and voluntary sector partners serve the homeless at the first point of need and on an ongoing basis. The Housing Executive has a statutory duty to ensure that accommodation is made available to those who present as homeless and meet the statutory criteria that they are homeless, in priority need and not homeless intentionally.

About 45% of such households meet the criteria, so about 4,500 households are awarded full homelessness status in the common selection scheme, and around 40%, approximately 4,500, of new tenancies are awarded to them. Not all those tenancies are of new properties, but those that are cost around £20 million a year. That represents significant resources going directly to homeless people.

The Housing Executive's performance is such that 65% of homeless households are allocated secure tenancies within 12 weeks of being accepted as homeless, so they have faster access to social housing than most other groups on the social housing waiting list.

The Housing Executive also supports the voluntary sector's delivering accommodation and other services for the homeless. While that sector's resources come primarily from the housing benefit system, the Housing Executive has been increasing its support, with £1·2 million budgeted for the current year.

The sector is assisted to a lesser extent by health and social services boards and trusts, the Probation Board and charitable sources. Some Members mentioned the cross-cutting nature of the problem, and I assure them that the Department for Social Development is not the only Department involved in this.

Returning for a moment to the assessment process, if the Housing Executive has reason to believe that an applicant is homeless and in priority need, it is required to ensure that accommodation is made available pending enquiries. The term "priority need" includes people with families, young persons at risk of sexual or financial exploitation, single parents and other vulnerable people. Applicants assessed as meeting the statutory homelessness criteria and seeking social housing are added to the common waiting list and attract homelessness status in the common selection scheme for tenancies of Housing Executive and housing association properties. Where the Housing Executive is satisfied that an applicant became homeless intentionally but has a priority need, it is required to ensure that he is accommodated

"for such a period as it considers will give the person a reasonable opportunity of securing accommodation".

Those who do not meet the criteria are owed no duty by the Housing Executive and must make their own arrangements. The Housing Executive will continue to provide advice and direct individuals to other providers. It can accept applicants to the common waiting list, albeit with lower priority than might have been so.

The motion suggests that homelessness is increasing and will continue to do so. Since the mid-1990s there has been an increase in the numbers being accepted as meeting the statutory criteria for homelessness. More recent experience, however, shows that this number is no longer increasing. Rather it is remaining relatively constant.

Members will not be surprised that in the current financial year intimidation is a significant cause of homelessness. Ms McWilliams touched on that. This can distort trends, and the current trend will not necessarily continue. However, under the current arrangements, any increase in the numbers accepted as homeless will mean an increase in the number of social-housing tenancies awarded to the homeless with a consequent decrease in allocations to other needy groups.

The motion asks about future plans to deal with homelessness. Members will appreciate that addressing this matter needs a partnership effort from the Housing Executive, housing associations and a variety of voluntary sector organisations. The availability of accommodation in the private-rented sector will also play a key part. I can report a number of developments on each of these fronts.

Given that the Housing Executive has been addressing this problem for some 10 years, it is timely to look afresh at how it might be dealt with in future. The Housing Executive is at an advanced stage with developing a strategy for a root-and-branch review of the homelessness problem and possible solutions. The review will examine, among other things, trends, programmes, services, gaps in provision and differences between urban and rural homelessness. It is anticipated that a document will be published by the spring of the coming financial year for the widest possible consultation.

While the strategic review is under way, a number of ongoing plans and programmes deserve mention. The new-build programme delivered by housing associations addresses the permanent accommodation needs of homeless households and delivers temporary accommodation schemes identified by the Housing Executive. In addition, there are special schemes - for example, foyers, which link accommodation to the provision of training and job related services.

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The private-rented sector is also recognized as a valuable source of temporary and permanent accommodation. The Housing Executive only uses private-rented accommodation on a temporary basis and as a last resort, particularly where the number and geographical dispersal of homeless households do not justify the provision of hostels.

However, I wish to reassure Members about the standards of such properties. The Housing Executive does a rigorous assessment to ensure that specific criteria are met before letting them to the homeless.

Members may be aware that the Housing Executive supports a number of rent guarantee schemes to enable homeless people to rent permanent, private-sector accommodation without having to pay the usual deposits. Other schemes of this nature are being considered for other parts of Northern Ireland.

Lastly, the Housing Executive currently provides financial and personal support to a number of research projects being undertaken by groups such as the Simon Community to examine the underlying causes of homelessness as it affects various groups such as young people leaving care and families with young children. The results of this research will help to inform the planned strategic review. I am sure that we all commend the Housing Executive's proactive approach in this regard.

Before closing, I want to turn again to the additional funding that was made available over Christmas. On that occasion, my Department and the Housing Executive, as I said earlier, merely acted as conduits to ensure that the £30,000 allocated by the Department of Finance and Personnel reached the agencies providing services to the homeless. Undoubtedly, this gesture will have raised expectations for the future, and it would be worthwhile examining if and how those expectations can be met.

Roles, responsibilities, authority and lines of communication have to be addressed, and my officials will discuss these matters with the Department of Finance and Personnel and others as appropriate.

I trust that my comments have served to assure Members that I take homelessness very seriously. As with most other programmes, additional resources would allow an increase in types and levels of service. However, there are other important housing priorities that must be addressed, including unfitness, the needs of the disabled, the elderly, travellers and other vulnerable groups, energy, efficiency, conservation and fuel poverty. I will seek to ensure that resources to deal with homelessness are maximized where possible, given these other competing priorities.

So that future policies, programmes and services for the homeless are as focused and effective as possible, and as a background to future funding decisions, I encourage Members to comment fully when the strategic review is launched, and I am absolutely confident that many Members will do just that.

I now wish to turn to some of the specific issues raised, and one thread seemed to run right through most of the speeches made. Mr ONeill, Mr Shannon, Mr Boyd and Ms Lewsley voiced their concerns about homelessness among the young. I would like to deal with that.

In the 16-to-25 age group, around 2,500 single people, male and female, presented themselves as homeless last year, 22% of the overall number. Current figures show that, by the end of October 2000, 1,226 young people had presented themselves as homeless, of whom 555 were accepted as such. Changes in society mean that younger people can be at greater risk of becoming homeless, and the review, which I have already mentioned, will address the needs and circumstances of younger people.

It may be out of sequence, but Mr Shannon's point follows from that. He asked about what happens to people who are not accepted as homeless by the Housing Executive. Pending its decisions on statutory homelessness, applicants are directed to a variety of temporary accommodation. The Housing Executive's homeless advice service contacts appropriate voluntary accommodation providers and arranges referrals. A number of voluntary agencies cater specifically for young people, and the Simon Community deals with those under 18 years of age.

Mr Speaker:

We normally, as a rule of thumb, give Ministers 10 minutes per hour of debate, which is about 15 minutes in the context of a 90-minute debate. I know that Members want a response from the Minister, but I must encourage him to bring his remarks to a close.

Mr Morrow:

Mr Speaker, you have been generous with my time allocation. There were many other questions that I wanted to answer, but I will finish with the point made by Mr ONeill about homeless people who have mental health problems. That is an important matter, and I would like to take one minute to deal with it.

The Housing Executive supported financially the research to which Mr ONeill referred. Subsequently, with health and social service trusts, it has been funding a support team to address mental illness among homeless people in Belfast hostels. The strategic review will consider if we need to expand that service.

Mr ONeill:

I want to thank all Members who participated for their very detailed speeches. It was good to see such tremendous support for the motion. It will not be necessary to comment on each speech, as that would only be to cover the same ground again. However, I particularly thank the Minister for what he said.

I welcome the news about the review into homelessness, and I am glad to hear that we may get a report in the spring. I look forward to that. I was making a point about the statistical side of the problem. There was a little doubt - and some Members referred to this - about the statistics and their meaning. I commented on those people who present themselves, and the Minister said that 45% of them are accepted. However, there is considerable criticism about the level of acceptance.

Many people should be described as homeless but, for whatever reason, are not so accredited by the system. The problem is much worse than the statistics show. That explains why the statistics that I was using, and the statistics that some Members referred to, which came from voluntary bodies, showed a different trend to the one that the Minister described as having become static. That is all the more reason for this review to examine how efficient we are at looking at and quantifying the problem.

I know Sammy Wilson was not saying what he might be accused of saying when he talked about being careful in case some people regarded homelessness as an easy option. Monica McWilliams dealt with that well. I assure him that it is not an easy option to be on the streets or live in a cardboard box. I am sure that he knows that. He was preaching caution, and I accept his comment in that vein.

As I said in my opening remarks, some control is needed because there has been evidence of abuse. As the Minister said, it can be a fast route to getting accommodation. Some unscrupulous people may attempt to use that and thus discredit deserving cases, but if the level of control is holding back genuine cases, that must be changed. I hope that the review, when completed, will give some hope to those people who I believe, as do many others, are missing out.

We could, as an Assembly, continue to knock on the Minister for Social Development's door, which appears to be fairly open, to try to get more movement on this. Most Members talked about the need for cross-departmental work, and I am particularly anxious about a corporate approach to the problem.

More too should be done for social care. While gathering information for today I went to Brunswick House in Belfast. It is a wet centre - perhaps the only one in Northern Ireland - that deals with very challenging people indeed, and I heard of a case that really shocked me. A handicapped woman in a wheelchair had been put out of a private nursing home. This person was not able to change her clothes or use the toilet on her own. She was on the streets of Belfast for two days and nights until people from Brunswick House discovered her and brought her to the attention of the social services. They then had tremendous trouble getting her looked after.

Whatever her personal problems are - and I am sure that they are difficult - what kind of society do we have in which something like that, an indictment of our system, can happen? That was proof to me that we are not doing nearly enough, and I hope that today marks the beginning of a new determination to tackle the problem. I would like to thank you, Mr Speaker, and all Members for their comments.


That this Assembly calls on the Minister for Social Development to make greater provision for people presenting themselves as homeless during this time of the year and to outline his plans to deal with the increasing numbers of homeless people throughout the year.

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn. - [Mr Speaker]


Community Sector Job Losses (West Belfast)


Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. Given the lateness of the hour, I will try to be brief.

We have had numerous debates about unemployment in a number of constituencies. However, I am trying to draw out the distinctive and unique effect that possible job losses that have been identified in West Belfast are likely to have on the constituency, more so perhaps than a similar or equivalent number of job losses would have in any other area. This was obvious recently in Fermanagh, the shipyard and other areas where impending job losses were quite rightly brought to the public's attention, and people lobbied and campaigned to try to save them.

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The uniqueness of the community sector, in West Belfast in particular, can have a double-whammy effect. There are around 900 jobs there, and that may make it the area's most important employer. It is a double whammy because irrespective of how many of those 900 jobs are lost as a result of European Urban Regeneration gap funding or the new criteria stipulated for the peace money, for example, the Peace II initiative, almost all are in organising crèches, training or other employment initiatives. Most of those jobs themselves provide services.

Over the years many have talked about the good infrastructure in West Belfast. The area is renowned for its effective, vibrant and strong community sector. I pay tribute to those who have worked there and the people from the statutory bodies and other agencies who have worked with them trying to develop the cocktails of funding and create sustainable jobs.

Nevertheless, one of the successes of that infrastructure has been that it has, by default, masked the real difficulties of unemployment. West Belfast, like many other areas, has suffered infrastructure difficulties for years with employment, and I will not go into the legacy of discrimination. It is well documented that there has been no inward investment and few real jobs created in the area for years.

I thank Sir Reg Empey, who has been working with the local MP, among others, on establishing a taskforce to examine unemployment and how employment might be achieved. That is a worthwhile enterprise that he and other Ministers will be dealing with, and I look forward to a positive result from their work. However, this will not deal with the job losses that we expect soon or, specifically, with the fact that many of the jobs that will be lost help to provide much-needed services.

I hope to explore this issue with the Department for Social Development and, indeed, any other Department. I also hope to get a report commissioned on the impact of these job losses. They do not just affect individuals; they affect the local economy and the important services that they provide.

The Good Friday Agreement promised new economic and urban redevelopment strategies. The Programme for Government detailed how the Departments will develop such strategies, particularly urban regeneration strategies. I will continue to monitor progress on this and seek the extra budgets that will make those promises realisable. The West Belfast area will face a difficult period soon, particularly with European Union gap funding whose new criteria will bring about the loss of many jobs.

I appeal to the Minister for Social Development and his Colleagues to consider a report into the impact of these job losses on the West Belfast area. I am concerned about the number of individual jobs and the services they provide. Important infrastructure has been established over the years on which any future Government strategy could build. An impact assessment of this loss must be carried out.

I want to pay tribute to agencies working with the local people, and I refer not just to those in paid employment who provide a much-needed community service but to the many people, about 3,000, who, we are told, work on a voluntary basis. Most of the paid workers are on short-term contracts and low pay, and very often the posts are part-time. Most of the jobs are subject to renewal or are constantly under threat. Many of the organisations that employ these people spend much time trying to garner a cocktail of funding to keep their own projects alive.

I want to put on record my appeal to the Minister for Social Development and his Colleagues for an impact assessment to be carried out. This is not only a loss of jobs themselves, it is also the loss of a whole array of much-needed services the West Belfast constituency.

I thank Members who are here to take part in the debate and pay tribute to the workers in the west of the city who are highlighting the plight of their jobs and the plight of the valuable services they provide.

Mr Attwood:

I acknowledge Alex Maskey's tabling of this subject for debate on the Adjournment. It is timely to consider job losses in the community sector in West Belfast and to comment on that sector's development in the past, at present and in the future. It is also important - and I am sure that all parties will agree on this - to acknowledge that all communities have been immensely resilient and resourceful over the past 30 years. While they do differ, we must acknowledge that that resilience and resourcefulness are shared and that they, not least in West Belfast, have been essential in ensuring that our civil conflict did not give rise to even more deeply damaging civil disorder. It is a reflection on the communities of which we speak that they have maintained those values in very adverse circumstances.

It is also important to acknowledge that we talk about different levels of community development in different areas of West Belfast. Historically, the communities that Alex Maskey, Joe Hendron and I represent have had a higher level of development, perhaps because of church organisations, sports organisations and the need to organise to meet demands that the state did not meet. Conversely, the Unionist communities of West Belfast have, historically and to a degree, had a different level of development. Put rather simplistically, rightly or wrongly, the communities of the Shankill Road, the Woodvale Road and the Unionist areas of West Belfast believed that the state answered their needs. Partly as a consequence, they did not develop as communities in the way that Nationalist communities of West Belfast developed since partition, and particularly over the past 30 years.

It is unfortunate that Ian Paisley Jnr is not here. On the weekend after the 1994 IRA ceasefire, he and the political parties on the Shankill Road organised "Shankill ?". This gave expression to the fact that while there had not been such a high level of community development as on the Falls Road, the Shankill communities were organising themselves to make demands of the state about economic, social and cultural regeneration. That is developing on the Shankill Road in a healthy and creative way.

As the community sector has developed in West Belfast there has been a loss in one respect, and that is the loss of volunteerism. Volunteerism has existed in Ireland for decades and generations and has to some degree been lost as a more professional community sector has developed. While that has brought about many gains, there have also been losses. It would be helpful and creative for communities if the tradition of volunteerism could be revived.

I want to put the motion in a broader context. One cannot talk about job losses in West Belfast without identifying the level of job opportunities or lack thereof. As it is, over 10% of unemployed people in Northern Ireland live in the constituency of West Belfast, and 17·5% live in North and West Belfast. Male unemployment in West Belfast is three times the average in Northern Ireland, and that is without touching upon the differential between Catholic and Protestant unemployment there.

While the most recent evidence shows some decline in unemployment in the Nationalist wards, it is in the Shankill wards that unemployment is beginning to increase. While Mr Maskey is right to say that there is a large concentration of community jobs in West Belfast, other jobs are needed to bring about regeneration and address the human trauma and tragedy that lie behind the figures I have given. With over 900 people, the community sector in West Belfast is one of the largest employers and should be judged and developed against demanding criteria.

The first criterion that Mr Maskey mentioned is that valid projects are beginning to suffer from a lack of European peace money. Before Christmas the Minister of Finance and Personnel outlined proposals to deal with what he called "gap funding" - the period between the end of one phase of European funding and the commencement of another. That must be addressed immediately because valid projects throughout West Belfast need to be sustained quickly. I have been in correspondence with Sean Farren, not the Minister, Maurice Morrow, about some of them. I am sure that the Minister and his civil servants are scribbling mightily in order to rebut that point. The added value of those projects to education and training means that they need to be sustained as soon as possible.

Secondly, we need a strategy in West Belfast that is not saturation. There has been a danger in recent years of a saturation of community organisation that is not necessarily consistent with the best strategy for regenerating the area. That is in no way to demean or diminish the individual contributions of community groups, activists and leaders. However, rather than have a saturation of organisations, we need to have strategies to ensure that that large employer in West Belfast makes the maximum impact. We also need a strategy that is not self-serving. If we are calling for open, transparent and accountable Government, the standards we demand of the Government should be no less than those we demand of other agencies, including community sector employers. There is a sense, to a greater or lesser extent, that the community sector is not as open, transparent and accountable as it could be. Cases have given rise to a growing belief that the community sector should uphold the standards that are demanded of Members here and the Government. There should be open, transparent and accountable procedures to ensure that people are satisfied with what community organisations are doing.

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Thirdly, we need a strategy that sets the same standards for all communities, not least those in West Belfast. There is a sense that they look after the needs of their own rather than try to understand that the problems on either side of the peace walls in West Belfast are common problems, such as not having police officers living there, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, unemployment and bad housing.

The liberation of West Belfast will come when a strategy is developed that transcends the peace walls and applies to all communities the standards that we expect for our own. Any strategy to target social need must target all social need. No one community, community representative or community sector should be heard above another. They must all be heard in the same way.

Finally, the community sector is alive and well and bustling in parts of West Belfast and growing throughout West Belfast. It is vibrant and dynamic. It has a critical role in resources, leadership and its impact on the organisation and future development of a community. However, that work must be done in the context of the wider economic and social regeneration that Minister Empey is beginning to address. In that context, the issues raised by the motion will be fully and finally settled.


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