Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 22 January 2001 (continued)

The Deputy Chairperson of the Agriculture Committee (Mr Savage):

Before addressing the amendments proposed by the Minister, I would like to convey my appreciation to my Committee colleagues for completing the Committee Stage of the Bill.

The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee dealt with clauses 1, 2 and 9. Clauses 1 and 2 relate to the need to implement measures to protect the foreshore around Northern Ireland from methods of fishing likely to damage the fisheries and the local environment.

The Committee was required to meet on six occasions to complete its work. During its consideration, the Committee received written submissions from six organisations. Subsequently, it took evidence from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and the Strangford Lough Management Committee. I would like to thank all the organisations that assisted the Committee for their commitment to this work.

Finally, the Committee had three very helpful meetings with the Department's officials. I am pleased to report that they took on board all of the Committee's concerns and fully explained the technicalities of the Bill. The Department also drafted the amendments agreed with the Committee. I would like to express the Committee's appreciation for the officials' help.

The various amendments tabled by the Minister are largely technical in nature and are necessary to tighten up the Department's original wording. In considering them, my Committee was seeking to ensure that the Bill was competent and would have the effect intended by the Minister. I am pleased to say that the Department accepted points made by the Committee, which are now being implemented.

My Committee agreed that these changes are needed, and I commend them to the Assembly.

Mr Shannon:

I would like to ask the Minister a question about amendment 2, which deals with Northern Ireland's inshore waters. Some of the fisheries organisations have told me that they are not happy with the idea of inshore waters being extended six miles from the baseline.

For that reason, perhaps the Minister could indicate to the fishing organisations and myself that any suggested environmental measures will not be detrimental to the fishing organisations operating in that six-mile area. The organisations have said to me that this matter seems to involve more than the foreshore - it is going further out to sea. For some local fishermen, especially those around the edge of the Ards Peninsula in my constituency of Strangford, it could be disadvantageous. I need an assurance from the Minister that the six-mile radius will not disadvantage local fishermen, and that environmentalists will not be able to impose any measures that will adversely affect the work of the fishermen.

1.00 pm

Ms Rodgers :

I thought that I would only be answering questions at the end.

Mr Speaker:

This is the end. I have no other requests from Members to speak.

Ms Rodgers:

That is the good news.

I thank the Member for his question. The definition of Northern Ireland inshore waters closely follows the definition used in Great Britain legislation to provide for similar regulation. It is based on the commonly accepted definition of inshore waters throughout the UK. They are deemed to extend from six miles out from the coast inwards towards the land, up to the mean high-water mark of ordinary spring tides. This very broad area ensures that all parts of the coast that may be exposed by the movement of tides will be subject to regulation. There will be no detrimental effect on those fishing out at sea. The Department already has adequate powers out at sea.

Mr Speaker:

Amendment 1 - moved or not moved?

Ms Rodgers:


Amendment agreed to.

Amendment (No 2) made:

In page 2, line 2, after "offence." insert

"(5) For the purposes of this section -

(a) 'Northern Ireland inshore waters' means the area adjacent to the coast of Northern Ireland and to the landward of a limit of 6 miles from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured, up to the mean high-water mark of ordinary spring tides; and

(b) 'sea-fisheries' includes any fishery within that area." - [Ms Rodgers]

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 (Enforcement of regulatory powers in relation to sea-fisheries in or on the foreshore)

Amendment (No 3) made:

In page 2, line 13, after "on" insert "or using". - [Ms Rodgers]

Amendment (No 4) made:

In page 3, line 3, leave out subsection (5). - [Ms Rodgers]

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Disturbing spawning beds, etc.)

Mr Speaker:

We now come to amendment 5, standing in the name of the Chairperson of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee.

The Chairperson of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mr ONeill):

I beg to move amendment 5: In page 3, after line 36 add

"(2) For section 208 of the principal Act (saving for right of owner to take materials from streams) substitute -

?. Nothing in this Act other than section 48 shall prejudice the right of any owner to take materials from any stream.'."

The Bill was referred to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee for consideration on 22 September 2000. We considered clauses 3 to 8, and the Agriculture Committee considered clauses 1, 2 and 9.

Clause 3 will amend section 48 of the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. The major rationale for the existence of section 48 is to protect young and breeding fish. That is why rights of owners are restricted and a number of defences have been added to the section 48 offence. The new subsection, through the words on the marshalled list, will provide another defence for the owner of the stream, allowing a person to take materials from the bed of any river with the consent of the FCB.

If consent has been given, no offence is committed.

In collecting evidence, we spoke to the Ulster Angling Federation (UAF), who, in their written submission to us, raised concerns about section 208 of the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, which states

"Nothing in this Act shall prejudice the right of any owner to take materials from any stream."

The UAF suggested its removal from the Act, on the basis that it weakened the effect of clause 3(5) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill.

Section 208 overrules section 48 and protects the right of the owner of a stream to remove materials. We sought legal advice on the matter and had correspondence with the Department's legal section. The advice was that section 208 is a general saving provision in the 1966 Act. It protects the right of any owner to take materials from a stream and states that nothing in the Act shall prejudice that general right. Legal advice was that we should not remove or repeal section 208, as that section affected every other provision in the Act. We were advised to consider amending section 208 to read as follows:

"Nothing in this Act, other than section 48, shall prejudice the right of any owner to take materials from any stream."

I refer Members to page 159 of the minutes of evidence from Monday 4 December 2000.

The Committee is therefore satisfied that the proposed amendment - adding the words "other than section 48" to section 208 - will ensure that that section 208 does not dilute or negate the effect of clause 3(5) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. I hope that Members will understand our position.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr M McGimpsey):

I thank Mr ONeill and the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee for their hard work during the Committee stage of such a complex and technical Bill. I welcome the amendment that has been put forward by the Committee; it deals with an outstanding problem that otherwise would have to be dealt with by a longer route.

The Committee is acting in line with advice contained in correspondence between my officials and their legal advisers, which was forwarded to it to enable it to arrive at a conclusion on the question of section 208. The Committee has arrived at a sound appreciation of the situation and has acted accordingly.

Section 208 needs to be amended to ensure that clause 3, which, inter alia, will require anyone who wishes to extract materials from a river bed to seek the permission of the FCB first, will be more effective. Section 208 is a saving provision that may or may not have some merit in relation to other parts of the 1966 Act; it has no merit in relation to clause 3 and should therefore cease to apply. That will be the effect of the proposed amendment, which has my full support.

Mr Speaker:

Amendment 5-moved or not moved?

Mr ONeill:


Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 (Short title and commencement)

Ms Rodgers:

I beg to move amendment 6: In page 4, line 31, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

Clause 9 as originally drafted provides for the Act to come into operation on such day as the Department may appoint by Order. However, the Department now wishes the Act to come into operation as soon as it is made, rather than by appointed day Order, as the latter procedure may delay the coming into operation of the Act. Amendment 6 removes the requirement for an appointed day Order and, by remaining silent on the mechanism for coming into operation, will result in the Act coming into operation as soon as it is made. I therefore ask the Assembly to approve this amendment to the Bill.

Mr Speaker:

Amendment 6-moved or not moved?

Ms Rodgers:


Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

The sitting was suspended 1.10 pm.

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

Oral Answers to Questions


Culture, Arts and Leisure

Northern Ireland National Stadium

2.30 pm


Mr Poots

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what consultation he has had on the development of a national stadium for Northern Ireland.

(AQO 568/00)

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):

My Department is currently investigating the potential for developing a viable and sustainable scheme for a national sports stadium for Northern Ireland. In 1999 a pre-feasibility study, carried out under the auspices of the Sports Council, concluded that a proposal for a stadium could succeed under certain circumstances.

Subsequently my Department appointed a consultancy firm to undertake a market-sounding exercise to examine the scope of involving the private sector in such a development. This revealed that there was potential for support from the private sector, although a number of crucial issues still remain to be resolved, not least of which is the degree of support in usage to which the key sports would be prepared to commit.

On 25 October 2000 I met with the representatives of the four main sports - soccer, gaelic, rugby and athletics - to discuss the case for a national stadium for Northern Ireland. Each sport is considering its needs and the degree to which it could commit to use such a facility. The position of the four main sports will be important in determining the way forward, but if the project is to proceed, substantial funding will be required, and location and accessibility will be key considerations.

Mr Poots:

I thank the Minister for his response and particularly for his final words: "location and accessibility will be key considerations." I assume that consideration will be given to locating a national stadium in an area outside Belfast. Can the Minister inform the House if he has had any consultation with the developers of the proposed Lagan Park, which the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society may be taking on, with a view to building a national stadium?

Mr McGimpsey:

The location will be crucial, and apart from accessibility to all sections of the community, its potential to contribute to the wider objectives of Government must also be borne in mind. We are not yet at the point where we are considering location, and it would be presumptuous of me to start to be prescriptive of where a national stadium - if we decide to go ahead with it, and if the sports organisations decide that they want it - should be.

There are certain criteria that I have tried to indicate, and there is no area that we would be looking to exclude. There are interested parties in Belfast as well as outside Belfast. It is common knowledge that there are areas in the Member's constituency of Lagan Valley and around Lisburn, and the Lagan Valley Park is also under consideration by developers. However, it would be wrong for me to say more at this time.

Mr McMenamin:

On the same theme, can the Minister assure the House that his decision will target social need and will benefit the needs of the people outside the greater Belfast area, in particular, those in the north-west?

Mr McGimpsey:

Yes, targeting social need - New TSN - is part of it. We have an action plan for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and this is referred to in another question, which I hope to answer later. It is very much part of the thinking that although TSN is not a spending programme, it is a way of evaluating proposals, policies, and so on. That would be very much part of an evaluation process in terms of location, if and when we get to that point.

Mr McClarty:

Will the Minister give me an assurance that should the proposal for a national stadium become a realistic prospect, very considerable consideration would be given to its location in order that this may be used not only to develop our sporting culture but also to help achieve economic regeneration?

Mr McGimpsey:

As I said as part of a supplementary answer, the potential to contribute to the wider objectives of Government and regeneration is a key objective of the Government. Therefore, location will be evaluated not least with regard to that objective. The type of development that the Member mentions, combined with the large number of people that would be expected to go to it, would be a major contributor to economic regeneration and development wherever it is constructed - if and when it is constructed. Therefore, the location would be a consideration for the Department and the Assembly.

Motor Racing


Mr Armstrong

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline the steps he is taking to maximise safety procedures during motor-cycle road racing events in 2001.

(AQO 591/00)


Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail (a) what progress has been made in improving road racing safety measures and (b) his plans for the development of motor sport in Northern Ireland.

(AQO 566/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

Mr Deputy Speaker, with your permission I will take questions 2 and 11 together.

Following the unfortunate sequence of events in the 2000 season, the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (MCUI) - the motor-cycle sports governing body - with the support of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, established a road racing task force in August last year to conduct a review into road racing safety.

The task force presented its findings to me on 20 December and their recommendations will make a significant contribution to road racing safety. The MCUI is currently considering the task force's findings and will debate, and hopefully ratify, the recommendations at its inter-centre conference on 27 January. It would not be appropriate for me - in advance of that - to categorically spell out the range and extent of the actions that will be taken. However, excellent progress is being made, and I will be keen to see many of the recommendations being implemented for the 2001 season.

I recently made £20,000 available to the Sports Council for Northern Ireland to engage a consultant to assess the physical condition of the Province's four existing circuits, and to examine the need, feasibility, and viability of providing a regional motor sports facility. The consultant, International Motor Sports Ltd, has been contracted to undertake the project and the terms of the contract commit them to produce a report on the four short circuits by 8 February 2001 and on the regional motor sport facility by 15 March 2001.

Mr Armstrong:

Can the Minister assure me that circuit racing will not be promoted to the disadvantage of many traditional road races like the Cookstown 100, which takes place on a very safe circuit?

Mr McGimpsey:

The Motor Cycle Union of Ireland has produced the road race task force report, which contains approximately 67 recommendations. Alongside the type of work that the MCUI undertakes on a regular basis, the task force's report will greatly contribute to increasing safety in all of the circuits.

The Cookstown 100 is the first race of the season and it has a good safety record, not least because the venue was changed from the Sherrygrim circuit - the 6·1 mile circuit - to the new 3·2 mile Oritor circuit in 1999. That will contribute to the safety of Cookstown 100. However, it would be premature of me to be prescriptive about the measures that will be taken. It will be a matter for the MCUI, at its meeting later this month, to determine whether or not it adopts the 67 recommendations of the task force. It is hoped that it will and then we will take the next step of attempting to ensure that all of the recommendations are incorporated quickly.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I welcome the Minister's statement and I look forward to seeing the proposals being debated.

Is the Minister aware of the public calls being made by the Dunlop family, among others, for a Northern Ireland motor sport centre of excellence? Will he facilitate the study of the cost implications, tourist potential and sporting development of such a facility in the near future?

Mr McGimpsey:

The Sports Council for Northern Ireland is responsible for promoting sport, but I am aware of the calls for a centre of excellence. It is an excellent idea, but the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland will have a major say in it, as well as the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which is the funding body for sports. I am aware that the Dunlop family has an interest in this. The suggestion of a centre of excellence is not something that anyone would dream of ruling out. I have no doubt that when the assessments on the four short circuits and the dedicated circuit are completed, the information will be added to the ongoing debate on this matter.

European City of Culture (2008)


Mr Neeson

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline what progress has been made in preparing the bid for Belfast to become the European city of culture in the year 2008.

(AQO 573/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

Belfast City Council is responsible for pursuing the bid for the "city of culture" designation. In June 2000 it established a capital of culture steering group, and by the end of this month the group will be constituted as an independent company limited by guarantee - Imagine Belfast 2008. It will have 16 directors. The appointment of a chairperson and deputy chairperson is under way and four advisory panels have been formed. The bid is to be submitted by 31 March 2002, and the announcement of a UK shortlist of applicants, which will be designated as centres of culture, will be in autumn 2002. One city from that shortlist will be selected to go forward to the European institutions as the UK's nomination to become European city of culture in 2008.

Mr Neeson:

Does the Minister agree that such a designation would not only be of enormous benefit to Belfast - consider what has been achieved in the likes of Glasgow in past years - but also be of major benefit to all the people of Northern Ireland? Therefore it is very important that this be looked upon as a national bid on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. There should be widespread support for this bid throughout Northern Ireland.

Mr McGimpsey:

I truly agree. While it is a designation for a city, and while Belfast City Council takes the lead in this promotion, we are well aware that the designation is 'a city of culture in a region of culture'. The benefits to Belfast and to all of Northern Ireland will be enormous. We only have to look at the experiences in Glasgow and Dublin to see the sort of benefits that can accrue, not least in the bidding process that will give us benefits in prestige and self-esteem. It is important for the Belfast bid to have widespread support because everybody will benefit, including the other towns and cities in the Province. If we are successful, and I sincerely hope we are, it will be very prestigious for all the people of Northern Ireland.

Mrs Courtney:

Has the Minister decided to shelve the joint city approach, which was the initial proposal?

Mr McGimpsey:

I am not aware of a specific joint city approach. This has been ongoing for at least 18 months. I am also a member of Belfast City Council, and it has always been my understanding that one city takes the lead, but the emphasis will be on "Belfast, a city of culture in a region of culture". It is something that joins everyone together. Presumably Mrs Courtney is speaking from the perspective of her own city. Derry will benefit enormously from the bid. It is not simply for the benefit of Belfast, and it would be wrong to see it purely in Belfast terms. It is 'a city of culture in a region of culture'.

We are a small country of about 1·6 or 1·7 million people - roughly the size of any normal regional city in Europe that might pick up this type of award. We will all do very well out of this. As Mr Neeson said, it is something that merits widespread support and that we can all get together on.

2.45 pm

Mr Beggs:

Has the Minister made any detailed estimate of how many additional visitors could be expected to visit Northern Ireland as a whole, instead of just Belfast, as a result of its being designated city of culture? How many additional visitors would be attracted to our many world-famous assets such as the Glens of Antrim and the Giant's Causeway, as well as to our fine museums and heritage centres? If more people stay overnight, how much additional tourist revenue would there be?

Mr McGimpsey:

We can make a comparison with the last UK city to hold the title, and that was Glasgow in 1990. They experienced a 40% increase in public attendance at theatres, halls, museums and galleries, an 81% increase in the number of tourists visiting arts, events and attractions and generated revenue of between £38 million and £42 million in 1990 terms. Substantial benefits can accrue in respect of tourist visits. Tourist visits to arts events and attractions rose 81% above the level of the last previously measured year. There was also extra employment, estimated at 5,700 man-years, as well as substantial private sector investment. Getting the award is not the only important thing; the bidding process is also valuable, and taking into account the experience of Dublin, Glasgow and other cities, you will attract a seriously increased number of visitors into the area. Being designated a city of culture for all of Europe is a major and prestigious achievement.

Department: Equality and TSN Obligations


Mr Maskey

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline what systems he will put in place to ensure that his Department fulfils its requirements under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in respect of equality and targeting social need.

(AQO 587/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

My Department has produced an equality scheme, which is currently with the Equality Commission for approval and will, it is to be hoped, be approved in the near future. During the drafting phase it was issued widely for consultation, and it contains a schedule of equality impact assessments which must be completed over the next three years. All of our non- departmental public bodies and associated bodies have produced their own equality schemes, which will be submitted to the Equality Commission for approval.

On New TSN, we have produced an action plan, which will be published alongside all other Departments' plans in the near future. Where required, our non- departmental public bodies and North/South bodies are in the process of producing their plans, and these will be issued for consultation in the coming weeks. These plans will be monitored on an ongoing basis.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat. I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the imperative of the Good Friday Agreement and the very clear evidence that has emerged recently of the strong potential for economic development within the Irish-language movement, to give one example that falls to his Department, does the Minister intend to discuss plans with the Minister for Social Development or the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for any collaboration on economic development projects involving the Irish language?

Mr McGimpsey:

I have said that all Departments will be following the steps that I have laid out regarding equality and new equality schemes such as TSN. I do not currently have any plans for consultation with the Department for Social Development regarding the promotion of the Irish language, but I must point out that my Department has responsibility for language, and it takes that responsibility seriously. My Department has, however, had a degree of success - and I am sure that we will continue to do so - in the promotion of Irish and Ulster-Scots, as well as other languages where they are appropriate. As Members are aware, as a result of the agreement, there is a North/South body that is dedicated specifically to language, particularly Irish and Ulster- Scots. Enquiries of that type need to be directed to that body; I cannot answer on its behalf. It may be that they are having ongoing discussions with the Departments that the Member mentioned.

Dr Birnie:

Does the Minister agree that if there is to be a system for targeting social need, there needs to be, in the first place, an adequate means of measuring the need?

Mr McGimpsey:

Means of measurement, as a principle, must run throughout Government, including New TSN. We are aware that New TSN is not a spending programme but a theme that runs through existing programmes, requiring us to redirect or shift funding within those programmes to benefit the most disadvantaged people.

My Department is currently reviewing existing indicators, using information available from various functional areas, to produce targeting information. To date the Government and councils have used the Robson indices as indicators of deprivation. However, we are aware that they are not entirely adequate, and it is generally accepted that they must be superseded. The Government are currently undertaking a further exercise, which is being led by Prof Noble of Oxford University. In relation to targets and indicators, it is important to point out that in my Department's plans for New TSN, we are always looking to establish the requirements for baseline information to identify indicators of social disadvantage. That is a recurrent theme in all of the Department's objectives, and it is probably replicated throughout the Departments.

Mr S Wilson:

Does the Minister agree that the party to which the questioner belongs has little interest when it comes to the issue of equality? That is evident from the protests that emanate from that party when there is any expression of Protestant culture in Northern Ireland. Will he join me in condemning the member of Sinn Féin who sought to denigrate the excellent Diversity 21 presentation in the Odyssey centre on 13 January because of the presence of the RUC and the fact that Lambeg drums were being played?

Mr McGimpsey:

It would not be prudent, or right, for me to comment specifically, other than to say that the parties, including Sinn Féin, are signed up to the agreement. Equality, which applies to everyone, is part of the agreement. There are no exceptions in our Province and, as I have already indicated, equality covers all sections of the community. No one is excluded from this provision, because no one is exempt from inequality.

Regarding the Diversity 21 "Northern Odyssey", I agreed with Mr Sammy Wilson, when we met that night, that the event was an excellent example of what we can do as a Department, an Assembly and as a country. I thought that we put on a display that demonstrates how we can handle our culture, history and legacy. It illustrates what we would be doing if Belfast were to be European city of culture 2008. There was universal praise - not just from the media critics but from the people who went to it. I can also say that the event was recorded in its entirety, and we hope to broadcast it on television so that everyone can enjoy it, not just those who were there.

I understand that there was a criticism along the lines that there was no hint of the Gaelic language. That is incorrect. The White Rose, an opening anthem sung by the Celtic Divas, was specifically written for the show and performed in Gaelic. There were also pieces of work conducted in Ulster-Scots. The criticism may have resulted from a misunderstanding. I am perhaps charitable enough to say that the RUC band was an important part of the proceedings. It was there with the Garda Síochána band, and I know that we all enjoyed the performance.

On the reference to the Lambeg drums, one of the most important pieces of work undertaken is that by Roy Arbuckle and his Different Drums ensemble. I find the sounds made with the different drums, and his use of the Lambeg drums, exhilarating and exciting, and I think that the 5,000 people who were there that night would agree.

Football Task Force


Mr McCarthy

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure when he expects to receive the report from the Football task force.

(AQO 571/00)


Mr Hilditch

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the progress made to date by the Football task force.

(AQO 565/00)

Mr McGimpsey:

With permission, I will answer questions 5 and 10 together.

It will be helpful if I give an update on the progress of the soccer strategy for Northern Ireland since it was announced last October.

Initially, I established an advisory panel to help guide my Department as it takes this initiative forward. In addition, consultants have been appointed to confer with the whole range of interested groups and individuals on the issues facing the game. These include administrators, managers, coaches, players and the media. So far, more than 2,500 people have been consulted.

In addition to this exercise, the Department organised a series of open meetings last week at different venues throughout the Province. These attracted a significant level of interest from football fans, with several hundred people turning out to make their views known. The consultants will be presenting me with a report of their findings in the near future.

The next and vital stage in the process is a conference workshop organised by my Department. It will bring together, for the first time, representatives of all the key interest groups to debate the issues facing soccer and to develop ideas and recommendations for the future. I anticipate that further work will be required after the conference workshop to develop these ideas, but I expect to be in a position to produce a draft stategy document for consultation by the summer.

Mr McCarthy:

In view of the gradual demise of Irish league football, does the Minister agree that time is of the essence? Will the recommendations of the task force, if reasonable, be implemented as soon as possible so as to turn around the fortunes of the footballers and their supporters?

Mr McGimpsey:

I agree that one of the major problems for football, and one of the challenges it faces, is the relative demise of senior clubs in the Irish league. I will not rehearse all of the difficulties faced by football, because they are well documented. It is timely that the task force has come about and that, as a result of devolution, my Department and the Assembly are able to address the needs of soccer in Northern Ireland.

Time is of the essence, and much depends on what the draft strategy recommends. I cannot pre-empt that - it is not for me to say what will be in it. But when we get that out for consultation and agreement, the next stage will be to investigate how to implement the proposals. We have managed to find funding for a health and safety programme, which affects soccer as well as other sports. Those are the sort of steps that the House can take, if we have the will to take them.

Mr Hilditch:

Does the Minister agree that, since the Taylor Report of the early 1990s, many clubs have been compelled to spend hard-earned money on areas relating to health and safety, therefore depriving the game of resources which could have been used, for instance, on youth development? I appreciate the recent announcements about future improvements to stadiums, but will the Minister consider areas of the game, such as youth development, which have been deprived of much-needed resources?

Mr McGimpsey:

While I do not disagree with Mr Hilditch, this issue will be discussed extensively as part of the soccer strategy and at February's conference. Lots of ideas have evolved. We have had a consultation process to examine the issues and problems and to attempt to set the agenda for the conference. Those who have been involved in this will come up with a series of ideas and proposals, in the form of a draft strategy, which will go out for wider consultation. Among the issues to be examined are youth and junior soccer, the treatment of fans, women's soccer and soccer for the disabled. It is not simply about the Irish league, although the league does play an important part.

The Chairperson of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mr ONeill):

I thank the Minister for his initiative in setting up the task force. The Committee recognises that the consultative arrangements are thorough, but it is concerned that, geographically speaking, the consultation may not be wide enough. Will the Minister look more favourably at ensuring that there are no points of view in any geographical pockets that are ignored in the consultation process? This is an important and valuable exercise, and we want to be as comprehensive about it as possible.


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