Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 30 January 2001 (continued)

Mr J Kelly:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I will declare an interest. I was sentenced for membership of the Irish Republican Army, and I make no apologies for it. That is my declaration of interest.

4.30 pm

I have listened with interest, and I welcome the fact that Mr Kennedy has given us the opportunity to discuss this, but the motion could have been deepened and made more widespread in its context.

I listened with interest to Paddy Roche and to David Ervine, who were trying to give us a revisionist view of history and of what happened in 1969 and subsequently. I hold no brief for any Irish Government which, I believe, behaved in the most disreputable fashion in relation to the Nationalist community in the Six Counties over that time.

People talk about government, but let us go back to the 1960s, to the collusion there was then in the old Stormont Government, when Loyalist paramilitaries tried to depose and bring down Terence O'Neill, ChichesterClarke and the late Brian Faulkner. Let us remember that the bombs that were exploded throughout the Six County area at that time were blamed on the IRA, when the IRA was non-existent.

However, now we know, by word of mouth, or to use the words of Mr Kennedy's motion, that there was "suspected collusion" between Members of the then Government and Loyalist paramilitaries. There is nothing new about collusion in the history of this part of Ireland or in any other part of Ireland. It was called co-operation at one time.

A Member:

Get to the motion.

Mr J Kelly:

I am coming to the motion.

For years, the Stormont Government and Unionist politicians asked for - pleaded for - co-operation between the security forces on both sides of the border, much to the disgust of Irish Republicans, and they got that co-operation. We were scathing of it; we condemned it; we asked that it should not happen, but it continued throughout the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. However, no Member on the Unionist side is talking about the level of co-operation - or collusion, as we might call it - between the security forces and the various branches of Government throughout that period.

They are isolating one or two incidents and turning those into - in the words of the motion -

"suspected collusion between members of the Garda Síochána and the Irish Republican Army".

The only members of the Garda Síochána whom I know about in this regard are the ones who were brought before the courts, charged and put in prison. They were not suspected but arrested and put in jail.

There is a bit of a flight of fancy in all of this. People want to revise history. However, Mr Ervine cannot just write off what happened in 1969 as being the responsibility of the Catholic Church. It would be a travesty of history to write off the Catholic Church as placating those in the Republican movement who were eating the altar rails.

Mr Ervine:

The second great conflagration was a division between the IRA and the Provisional IRA. At that point the decision was made to be anti-socialist, and the Irish Government and the Catholic Church had an involvement in the creation of the Provisional IRA.

Mr J Kelly:

I was a member of the Provisional IRA, and I am still a socialist, so I do not see the relevance of that comment.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have had a confession in the House today that this man has been a member of the Provisional IRA. He should be arrested and put behind bars. That carries a sentence of seven years. If he still is a member of the Provisional IRA he should be put back behind bars this afternoon.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The Member declared an interest at the start of his presentation.

Mr J Kelly:

As I said, I am talking about the past and not about the present, and I declared my interest at the outset.

This is a serious matter, however, and the debate and the remit ought to be more widespread. It should cover all aspects of what has happened in this part and the other part of the island, perhaps not in the last 30 years, but certainly since partition.

Mr Poots:

It is interesting to speak after the previous Member. The Member often speaks for Sinn Féin/IRA. They appear to have difficulty getting Members to speak. The Member from Mid Ulster seems to be the spokesman on everything and the expert on nothing.

I support this motion. It is important that the public's attention be directed towards this matter. Many people, particularly in the Nationalist community, are living in a world where they like to believe that nothing wrong has ever been done in the Irish Republic - everything is good and above board. However, north of the border everything suddenly turns bad - for example, the police force and the Civil Service. Everything is under the terrible, corrupting influence of Protestants.

I went to a meeting once involving companies that were in competition with businesses in the Irish Republic. The businessmen said "They are better at telling lies than we are at telling the truth." With regard to this issue, the Republic of Ireland's Government and police force are better at telling lies than the Government and the police force in Northern Ireland are at telling the truth.

Along the border, there has been case after case of Protestants being murdered. Where did the perpetrators of those murders go? They went to the Irish Republic. How did they get to the Irish Republic? They went over a free border. Apparently, the Irish Government did not have the resources to man that border. However, when the BSE crisis broke out in 1996 the Republican movement in south Armagh was really upset because it cut down on their smuggling activities. They found it more difficult to smuggle oil, livestock and whatever else it was that they smuggled. The Republic can stop truckloads of cattle, but it could not stop the truckloads of gunmen who used to murder people and then cross the border to their safe haven in the Irish Republic.

We must also re-examine the Irish Government's position on extradition. The British Government signed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement on the basis that there would be greater co-operation from the Irish Government on extradition. That co-operation was not forthcoming. It was farcical, and it did not act in the best interests of the community in Northern Ireland.

There was also an incident when the gardaí discovered arms in Donegal. However, instead of announcing that they had uncovered the arms, they placed them in smaller arms dumps so that they could announce a series of arms finds. They wanted the general public to think that they were more proactive in hunting down IRA terrorists than they really were.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you said at the start of the debate that Members could not name individuals. However, there are a number of cases that must be looked at. The murder of Lord Justice Gibson has to be looked at seriously, as do those of Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I made the ruling that, in the interests of caution, there should be no reference to specific cases. I rule the Member out of order.

Mr Poots:

I was referring to specific cases, as opposed to individual gardaí who were allegedly involved. Although I have names, I was not going to go down the route of naming those people.

A senior gardaí officer has been appointed to examine some of these cases. I find that strange because when a senior member of the RUC is appointed to investigate a case, that is not good enough. In the case of Rosemary Nelson, for example, others from outside the RUC were brought in. However, that still is not good enough for the SDLP. It wants a public independent inquiry. Yet when we raise a case in the Irish Republic that concerns us, it is all right for a gardaí officer to conduct the investigation. It is not necessary to bring in outsiders, because it is satisfied with what the gardaí will report. The SDLP is being hypocritical and it has double standards on this issue, though, of course, this is not the first time.

Mr A Maginness:

This has not been the Assembly's finest hour, in terms of debate. In many ways Members have not addressed the substance of Mr Kennedy's motion. I do not think that he intended the motion to be as wide-ranging as Members have made it, despite my initial criticism of his vagueness in framing it.

There has also been an element of tit for tat, particularly on the Unionist Benches, in addressing the motion and addressing the sort of arguments that I have presented, and I regret that. We have had, of course, the usual rant from Ian Paisley Jnr - we are used to that. He mistakes abuse for substantial argument in many of his contributions. However, I am not deterred by his abuse of me or of my party, for we are used to that.

I regret that we have not received the support of Sinn Féin on the amendment. Mr Maskey has told us that the amendment is of no substance. I believe that it is, because it points out to the House that an investigation is ongoing and that a report is awaited. On the basis of that report, I believe, and my party believes, that we can make a decision sometime in the future. That report should not be long in coming to fruition.

As I have said before, I hope that the report is successful in identifying people who can be prosecuted. If they can be prosecuted, that is the right way in which to deal with the matter - as it is in the Hamill, Nelson and Finucane cases. Prosecutions are more important than anything else.

With regard to Paul Berry's point, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is investigating the Hamill case, which we welcome. It is important for that case to be investigated. There is evidence in the Hamill case that - and I do not want to put it any stronger than this, activities - were going on within -

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have stated that Members should not mention specific cases.

Mr A Maginness:

All I will say is this: in relation to Hamill, there are matters that require investigation, and those matters are more than mere allegations. In this instance, the Garda Síochána is investigating allegations which to date have not produced tangible evidence. And one requires tangible evidence in order to form a prima facie case for setting up a public inquiry.

The SDLP has never asked for public inquiries in cases where there has not been some prima facie evidence of something wrong that requires to be investigated further, over and above a simple police investigation.

In the South we currently have a number of inquiries that are open, transparent and thorough. It is to the credit of the Southern political system that matters that have caused great public concern should be openly and transparently investigated in the most thorough manner possible. We should be crediting, and not ridiculing, those in the South who have brought that about. That is the type of political culture that we should have here.

If there is any substance to the allegations that have been made, and if it is merited, there will be a public inquiry in the South. However, the first point that I make is that the matter should be thoroughly investigated, and if there is evidence, there should be prosecution. If the evidence is insufficient to allow a proper prosecution, a public inquiry should be conducted.

The ebb and flow of this debate has not been an edifying experience. Allegations have been cast from one side to the other. Mr John Kelly seems to be stuck in an historical time warp.

4.45 pm

Mr Ervine:

One presumes that if a Member castigates other Members for making a bad speech, he must believe that his own contribution was wonderful.

Mr A Maginness:

I do not believe so. This has not been my finest hour either.

Mr J Kelly:

A LeasCheann Comhairle, will the Member give way?

Mr A Maginness:

No. At least I addressed the issue and brought forth arguments. Unlike Mr Ervine, I did not indulge in some sort of attack on things that were not said. I do not mind being criticised for things that I say, but I do object to being criticised for things that I do not say.

Mr Ervine has a vivid political imagination, and he exhibited that today. He came up with some of the most fantastical suggestions that even a revisionist historian would refuse to support.

Mr J Kelly:

Does the Member agree that if I am in a time warp, Mr Ervine is in an ivory tower?

Mr A Maginness:

I think that the two Members have similar problems. They did not address the problem that was raised, quite properly, by Mr Kennedy. Rather, they indulged in historical debate, which was so threadbare that it was of no value to and destructive of good argument in the House.

Mr Ervine:

That is unbelievable.

Mr A Maginness:

The Member is entitled to his opinion, but he emphasised to the House insubstantial points that could not be justified by any proper historical analysis. Therefore, I rightly criticise the Member.

The amendment is a reasoned one, and the House should find it acceptable to hold its judgement until the result of the gardaí investigation is available. It will provide the basis for a prosecution or a public inquiry.

Mr Ervine:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, such a naming entitles a Member to a right of reply.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That is the case.

Mr Ervine:

My opinions are held not only by me, and the historical - or what Mr Maginness might have described as hysterical - assertions that I am supposed to have made were also made by other Members, some of whom are members of the Republican movement. If references to the Shah of Iran and Salvador Allende constitute historical nonsense, I do not know what is not historical nonsense. The suggestion that they were committed by Governments that are perceived to be decent allows me to believe that another such Government might also behave in a similar way.

Nothing that I said was directed personally towards Mr Maginness or was historical nonsense, as he has unfortunately described it. I will check Hansard - and get it rewritten before it comes out in the morning.

Mr Kennedy:

In spite of what Mr Maginness said, Members have had a reasonably informed debate. I am grateful to those Members who made contributions endorsing the motion. I wish to make a number of points about them.

Mr Maginness criticised the motion because there was no specific detail. I was conscious that, given the confines of this important debate, it would be unwise, and not permissible, to engage in naming individuals and referring to specific cases, so it was written in general terms. I do not share Alban Maginness's faith in John O'Donoghue, or in any Minister for Justice in the Irish Republic, who is clearly quite unwilling to authorise a fully impartial and independent review of these matters. The Irish Government clearly stand in the dock. Those who endorse their position stand in the dock with them, and it would appear that the SDLP wants to be there.

An internal inquiry is not an acceptable way to deal with these matters. Mr Maginness said he did not rule out an inquiry and he left it open that at some stage, perhaps the SDLP may press for an inquiry. That is at odds with his party's mandate as the defenders of human rights in Northern Ireland.

This party of defenders of liberty and of saints and scholars - and all manner of things - is clearly exposed today in that it does not, and cannot, accept that there was wrongdoing by members of the Garda Síochána or by senior members of the Irish Government over many years. I am grateful to Ian Paisley Jnr for giving the motion his active support. He brought - [Interruption]

Mr J Kelly:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This day has been disrupted continuously by mobile phones going off. I ask for a ruling that mobile phones be left outside in a pigeonhole - with the guns.

Mr Kennedy:

Mobile phones ought not to be in the Chamber. They ought to be taken out of service - "decommissioned" is another word for that - and we look forward to that and other matters too.

Ian Paisley Jnr did bear out the point - and the representations made by Nationalists here also bear it out - that they are in denial. Nationalism and the Nationalist political viewpoint are in denial of much of what took place over the last 25 to 30 years. Republicans remain silent, or at least grudgingly acknowledge their role. If there is criticism of the SDLP - and I must say this very firmly - it is that it appears to be in serious denial of the events that took place in border constituencies. It was mass murder, assisted by rogue members of the Garda Síochána, yet the SDLP will not acknowledge it.

Mr Maskey tried, in some way, to introduce other elements and appeal that there had been wrongdoing for everybody, and so that would have to be investigated. It is a curious irony that any member of Sinn Féin should want an investigation, given their active participation in the murder campaign. I welcome and acknowledge Mr Neeson's acceptance of the concerns raised by the motion, and Mr Roche made a very good case that collusion was ultimately inevitable because of the actions of senior politicians. I can remember the words of Jack Lynch when he said that the Irish Government would not stand idly by. Those words clearly gave a mandate to individuals and members of organisations to put into effect a campaign that resulted in murder, particularly in the border area.

I must warmly commend Mr Ervine's speech. It was a very compelling and valuable contribution, and I suggest that Nationalists and Republicans read and inwardly digest it. I am also grateful for the contribution of Mr Berry; he is aware of the issues in his Newry and Armagh constituency.

Mick Murphy's speech was astonishing. He contradicted not just me but Alex Maskey, his party Colleague, and Hans Christian Andersen would have had difficulty with some of the arguments he brought forward.

John Kelly's confession was even more astonishing. They say that confession is good for the soul. I was not gratified by the confession of his membership of the IRA; that was very regrettable indeed. It is a new departure in boasting, and it is unacceptable that a Member of the House should proclaim - with some pride, it appears - that he was a member of the Provisional IRA, given its contribution to society over the past 30 years. I just wonder whether the register of interests that all Members are required to complete will include that, because it was a very clear admission and was acknowledged by the Chair.

Mr J Kelly:

I said, in a jocose way, that I had to declare an interest - that I had been convicted of membership of the IRA. That is a matter of public record, not of any other type of record.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Hansard will show that his words indicated that he was, and is, a member of the Provisional IRA. If that is the case, the Member should reflect upon what he said to the House, and if his words are recorded inaccurately, he should withdraw them.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

We will look at Hansard to see exactly what was said.

Mr McNamee:

I was sitting quite close to the Member in question, and his words were that he was - was - a member of the Provisional IRA. I understand that Members are required to register their current interests, but that there is no requirement to register interests they had in the past.

Mr Kennedy:

I am inclined to say that the Member for Newry and Armagh has compounded the earlier boast made by Mr John Kelly by confirming what Mr Kelly said, but no doubt Hansard will bear that out.

I share Mr Poots's criticism of the gardaí. While they have found arms and ammunition on many occasions, they have apprehended few terrorists, and that has been a concern for many years. They were happy enough to find the stuff, but they did not want to find anybody who might have been in charge of it.

Mr Maginness, in his winding-up speech, said that it was not the Assembly's finest hour. I share his view. It was not his finest hour. Given the confines of the debate, we could not deal with specific cases. I look forward to observing the SDLP's continuing interest in the findings of John O'Donoghue and to seeing how active it will be in the vanguard of public appeals for an independent tribunal or review.

5.00 pm

I want to say one thing regarding Mr Alban Maginness's reference to the Hamill case. It was an unfortunate contribution given the legal position of that case. Alban Maginness wanted prima facie evidence. I can produce no greater evidence than the blatant murder, with the collusion of rogue garda officers, of RUC men, UDR men, RIR men, senior members of the Northern Ireland judiciary and private citizens from both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. That seems to be enough prima facie evidence to warrant a full independent inquiry. I believe that a compelling case has been made.

Clearly the evidence is available, and it must be seen to be dealt with in an open and impartial way. We should endorse the call for a full public inquiry, an international inquiry, headed by acknowledged experts. That should be established quickly, and it should be a priority for the new Secretary of State. In framing this motion, I am glad that I did not name the Secretary of State. That would have been unfortunate, given the run of events this week. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to address this issue seriously. Until this matter is fully exposed, it will never be possible to trust completely the security authorities in the Irish Republic.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Time is up.

Mr Kennedy:

Wrongdoing by rogue garda officers should not, and must not, be covered up.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of this debate you made a ruling about sub judice matters, which set out the parameters for this debate. Are you interpreting the words "all courts" in the Standing Order as referring to courts beyond this jurisdiction, or are you saying that the sub judice rule applies to courts in the United Kingdom only? From what appears to be your interpretation of the sub judice rule, Members were not allowed to cite cases that are under discussion in another jurisdiction. By your interpretation of that Standing Order, Members were deliberately prevented from raising certain matters. Perhaps you would comment on that.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I was referring to all courts in this jurisdiction.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Perhaps you could then tell us why Members were prevented from raising cases that are not before any court in this jurisdiction. The motion does not ask for them to be brought before a court in this jurisdiction; it simply seeks to have an inquiry into issues in another jurisdiction.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That ruling was made in the interests of caution. At some stage those issues may be brought before a court in this jurisdiction.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely the ruling you have just given about what might happen in a court has nothing to do with any debate in this House or with any other debate in any other Parliament. This Parliament - or this Assembly, or whatever you want to call it - has only to take care with the sub judice rule when a matter might come to court in this jurisdiction, not anywhere else. For anybody to say that this House cannot discuss what happens in a court of law in France is absolute nonsense.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The rule refers to this jurisdiction. However, there are certain offences - for example, in border areas - which could be brought before this jurisdiction. I will make enquiries and make a ruling later today, or tomorrow if necessary.

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 36; Noes 46.


Alex Attwood, Eileen Bell, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Seamus Close, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, John Tierney.


Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, John Gorman, Tom Hamilton, William Hay, Derek Hussey, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Question accordingly negatived.

5.15 pm

Main question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 46; Noes 32.


Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, David Ervine, John Gorman, Tom Hamilton, William Hay, Derek Hussey, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.


Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, John Tierney.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That this Assembly calls on the Secretary of State to make representations to the Government of the Republic of Ireland to conduct a public inquiry into suspected collusion between members of the Garda Síochána and the Irish Republican Army in the planning and execution of acts of terrorism.


Children's Commissioner


Mrs E Bell:

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls upon the Executive to appoint a children's commissioner for Northern Ireland to highlight the interests of children in all aspects of Executive policy.

I said yesterday that my party and I were delighted to hear the ministerial statement that agreed in principle to the appointment of a children's commissioner. I hope that this debate will be looked upon as part of the consultation process that was discussed and will provide information on the need for such an appointment. It is not superfluous to have this debate today. It is necessary.

5.30 pm

The Alliance Party, and other parties, have campaigned for this appointment for some time now - as have nearly all the organisations which deal with various children's issues. Alliance first brought the subject up in 1988. We approved a motion at our party conference last year that urged the Assembly to make such an appointment, and we have asked numerous questions in the House on the topic, as have other parties.

Last year, after an initial meeting with several organisations that deal with children's issues, including Save the Children, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Children Need Fathers and the Parents Advice Centre, we became involved in the establishment of an all-party Committee on children's issues.

That Committee's first meeting was held in early January and was attended by various Assembly Members and representatives from relevant organisations. It was a useful meeting in which we agreed to draw up a plan to lobby on the many issues concerning children that have an impact on the 10 Northern Ireland Departments. We agreed that our eventual target must be a commissioner for children. We pledged to concentrate on a number of priority issues, such as funding and promoting children's basic rights. It was hoped that there would be a programme of essential topics for consideration when the commissioner was appointed. My Colleagues in the Assembly and I are delighted that after only one meeting, there is a good prospect that the commissioner will become a reality.

Why is it imperative to focus on children's rights? First, it is clear that we are failing our children, at all levels, on their quality of life.

During the years of the troubles, there were major efforts to protect children and help them a lead a violence-free life, but this was at times impossible. Nevertheless, a very effective network of children's welfare organisations developed. We can now expect these organisations to continue that commitment to ensure fair treatment for all children.

We can see the aims of the new commissioner as being: to promote the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995; to ensure that children's needs are prioritised in central, regional and local government, civil society, and to improve public attitudes to children; to influence law, policy and practice, both by responding to Governmental and other proposals and actively proposing change; to promote effective co-ordination of Government for children at all levels; to promote effective use of resources for children; to provide a channel for children and to encourage Government and the public to give proper respect to children's views; to encourage the Government to collect adequate data on the situation of children and to publish this data. The way forward must be based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

It must be remembered that the United Kingdom has an abysmal record of compliance with UN Directives on children's rights and has largely ignored the many European reports that have noted its shortcomings. Hence the need for an independent, non-political position. Legislation must include childproofing, and this must be done after child impact studies on all proposed legislation, so that priority is given to childhood needs by all Government Departments.

I am heartened by the Minister's statement that Northern Ireland children deserve no less than those in other countries, including those in the rest of the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland. It has been recognised throughout the civilised world that the safeguarding and upholding of children's rights is absolutely essential to the fabric and future of any community, and we cannot lag behind.

Legislation must be clear and transparent in this respect and should allow Government as a whole the flexibility to oversee individual Departments and their performance. The commissioner must be able to respond to individual complaints and be ready and able to deal with the many varied issues that will emerge from those consultations - child poverty, child abuse, children's health, education, housing conditions, and so on.

The new regime must include the role of an ombudsman for dealing with complaints and comments from children and young people, as well as their parents. In short, any legislation drawn up must be effective, caring and comprehensive. Children must be prime players in informing the commissioner's work and agenda, so that our aim of joined-up government can work in their favour.

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 represents significant legislative change, and is one of the most important pieces of children's law in Northern Ireland. It brought together, for the first time, the law relating to the care, protection and raising of children and addressed a wide range of issues from protection from sexual and physical abuse to providing support to keep families together in particularly difficult times. The Order is primarily concerned with the welfare of children and the help that state intervention can bring. Any new legislation should be drafted to complement this Order.

Unfortunately, Westminster has been slow in taking action, but has made some lofty comments. It said that the Government agree that it is desirable to have mechanisms that will keep issues of children's rights and safeguards clearly and firmly on the collective agenda, and that they will ensure that this important dimension continues to be emphasised in the policies of local authorities and all other agencies with responsibility for children, particularly when they are living away from home. In spite of those wonderful words, they went on to say that it would not be desirable to create a separate mechanism for children. Dare I say it again - Tony Blair and his Government are all mouth and trousers.

A Private Member's Bill for a children's rights commissioner has been introduced twice in Westminster, and I hope that that will be successful. The Scottish Parliament is considering a commissioner, and we are hopeful of that outcome, and similarly with the Welsh Assembly. In the Republic, the Dáil has drawn up a national strategy for children which calls for an independent commissioner and ombudsman.

Funding is important with any legislation. It is essential that the commissioner should have sufficient resources to carry out the many tasks within his or her remit. Up to now children's services have been short-changed. Moneys were not ring-fenced and were used to fund other schemes.

The children's fund has been mentioned, but it is hoped that specific funds will be allocated in line with the remit of the commissioner and the policies and actions that will have to be agreed. A comprehensive and relevant national agenda should be drawn up and the policies of that agenda should allow for the input of children. A formula for drawing up recommendations to the Executive should also form part of the commissioner's responsibilities, and the development of policies and practices for children should be clearly outlined.

I appreciate the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister's statement yesterday. It was significant, and it is hoped that the consultative process will be in line with proposals outlined in their statement and not take too long. It is also hoped that the consultative process will include the all-party Committee's comments on children's issues, as I detailed earlier. That would be a good way to start the consultative process.

We must ensure that children and young people form part of our vision for the future government and that their rights and needs are included in all Government Departments' programmes. I am sure that the Assembly will press and influence, as the statement said, the direction that the Executive take on this issue, and today's debate is the first part of that exercise.

The Alliance Party has always considered that children are citizens from the moment they are born. It is hoped that the Assembly and the Executive will also hold that belief and ensure that the legislation is enacted as soon as is practically possible.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Members are aware that there is an amendment in the name of Mrs Bell.

Amendment proposed: Delete all after "Assembly" and add

"welcomes the intention of the Executive to bring forward legislation and to establish an independent commissioner for children for Northern Ireland, and believes that the responsibilities of such a commissioner should include responding to individual complaints, the formulation of policy to promote the welfare of children and carrying out child impact studies on all proposed legislation." - [Mrs E Bell]

The Junior Minister (Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister) (Mr Haughey):

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short statement, and I am also grateful to my Colleague Patricia Lewsley for allowing me to speak in her turn.

It is not out of any disrespect to Mrs Bell or other Members who have a strong commitment to children's issues that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is not represented in the Chamber. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are out of the country visiting three countries in Europe, and that is why they are not here.

My Colleague Dermot Nesbitt and myself were not informed that this debate would go ahead. We understood that the motion would be withdrawn, and that is why we filled our diaries. We were unable to alter our commitments, and unfortunately I am unable to stay for the debate. However, I assure my Colleague Eileen Bell and other Members who have contributions to make that I will read Hansard very carefully. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has put a great deal of work into devising a children's strategy, and that work will continue. We are committed to it.


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