Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 6 February 2001


Ground Rents Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Fisheries (Amendment) Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Civic Forum

Draft Financial Investigations Order

Carraigfoyle Paediatric Support Unit



The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes' silence.

Ground Rents Bill: Further Consideration Stage

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

This Bill has come a long way since its introduction on 5 June 2000. While it is in many respects a technical Bill, it is, as I indicated during the Second Stage debate, nonetheless an important one. It has been thoroughly debated, both in the Assembly and without, and I reiterate my thanks to the Finance and Personnel Committee for its most thorough scrutiny of the Bill. That was a long and arduous process, involving 12 separate Committee sessions, and I place on record my thanks to all the members and former members of the Committee who contributed so effectively. In particular, I thank the Chairperson of the Committee, Francie Molloy, for his very effective work in relation to the Bill and the Deputy Chairperson, James Leslie, who, as well as taking a strong personal interest in the many issues raised, spoke to the Committee's amendments in the Assembly last week.

The central aim of the Bill is to simplify the conveyancing process by facilitating the move from leasehold to freehold ownership of residential property.

Mr Speaker:

At this stage it is simply a question of dealing with the clauses formally as there are no amendments.

Mr Durkan:

Points were made last week that some Members believed were outstanding. I would be happy to address these but would be more than happy with a formal process.

Clauses 1 to 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Ground Rents Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.


Fisheries (Amendment) Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Mr Speaker:

I am not clear that there is someone present to deal with the Further Consideration Stage of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. I am advised that the relevant Minister is en route. I trust that it is not becoming a traditional route of delay.

Mr Dodds:

Is the First Minister or the Minister of Finance and Personnel, or anyone else, in a position to deal with this Bill, or are we going to be delayed until the Minister turns up?

Mr Speaker:

If the Minister is not available, and if one of her colleagues is not in a position to move, we will have to proceed to the next item of business.

Mr P Robinson:

Are there any amendments?

The Junior Minister (Office of the First and the Deputy First Minister) (Mr Haughey): In certain American state legislatures the Speaker entertains the House with a joke.

Mr Speaker:

Thank you for that kind suggestion. I am concerned to ensure that the House itself does not become a joke. That is more of an issue.

I understand that we now have the Minister.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very helpful to find supplied through the Business Committee those nice little schedules with the estimated time that each item of business will occupy. It is helpful to Ministers and others who, obviously, have other matters to attend to, that there is an indication of when they are expected to be here. On occasions like this it would be helpful to Ministers generally if the practice were for indicated timings to be adhered to.

Mr Speaker:

The First Minister is pointing up the problem. Indicative timings are given in order to be helpful. They are not actual timings. If people regard them as having substance, the problem will be that no timings can be given. On several occasions people have not been available on time.

Mr Dodds:

It needs to be emphasised, as you, Mr Speaker, have done, that the indicative timings referred to by the First Minister are simply that - indicative timings. All Members have been told that if business finishes earlier than was expected, we move to the next item. Ministers should be aware of that by now. In particular, the First Minister should know, and, if not, perhaps his Chief Whip could inform him.

There was the debacle that the Deputy First Minister referred to yesterday. He had to apologise to the House. Here we have another example of the contempt with which certain Ministers treat the Assembly.

The First Minister:

Further to my point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a pity that serious discussion was interrupted by a point of order that we all had to listen to. Handling the business of the Assembly would clearly be more difficult without indicative timings. The thrust of my point is that it would be better, from the point of view of good management, if the indicative timings had a minimum value. That is what happens at Westminster. Timings are given for the Adjournment debates in Westminster Hall. If a debate ends early they do not call the next one immediately but wait until the time that has been set for it. There would be merit in our adopting a similar procedure.

Mr Speaker:

Of course, that does not apply in the case of legislation, which is what we are now engaged upon.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):

I was in the House. My indicative time was 11.30 am. I was in my room upstairs. At 10.35 am I got a message. I regret it if the House has been inconvenienced, but I was here and ready to - [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:


Ms Rodgers:

My Bill is being taken almost an hour before the indicated time. I do not think anyone could say that I was negligent, for I was ready to be here at least 40 minutes before the time allocated.

Mr Speaker:

It seems that there is substantial misunderstanding on the part of a number of Members, Ministers and their private offices as to indicative timings. I have instructed my office to try to assist in this matter, and a number of seminars are being held for private secretaries to explain the situation. The misunderstanding has caused disruption for Ministers and other Members. We shall try to attend to it.

Clauses 1 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.


Civic Forum


The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I beg to move the following motion:

That this Assembly agrees that the Civic Forum shall offer its views on such social, economic and cultural matters as are from time to time agreed between the Chairperson of the Forum and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

In addition, the Civic Forum shall be invited to offer its view on specific social, economic and cultural matters where the Assembly has by motion so requested.

Several months ago, when the question of this motion and of the making of arrangements to obtain the views of the Forum was first mooted by officials, my reaction was one of surprise, as I thought that this whole procedure was somewhat otiose. However, we are obliged by the agreement and the legislation to go through this process. The Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 both provide for a direct and immediate relationship between the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Civic Forum.

10.45 am

The agreement states that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will, by agreement, provide administrative support for the Forum, and - and I am coming to the main point - the Northern Ireland Act 1998, in section 56(1), says:

"The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly shall make arrangements for obtaining from the Forum its views on social, economic and cultural matters."

One might have thought that those arrangements could be fairly open and informal, but subsection (2) says

"The arrangements so made shall not take effect until after they have been approved by the Assembly."

A consequence of the legislation, therefore, is that in order to fulfil our statutory obligations, and for the Civic Forum to function in the way that was envisaged, it is necessary that proposed arrangements be formalised by way of a motion which must be brought before the House for its endorsement. Although this may appear to be a formality, it is in fact vital for the functioning of the Civic Forum that a motion which provides for arrangements to take the views of the Civic Forum on the matters that it is entitled to consider be passed by the House.

The Civic Forum is one of the institutions established by the Belfast Agreement, and it underpins the principle of inclusivity on which the agreement is based. In shaping the Civic Forum, we tried to give effect to that principle of inclusivity by arranging a broad membership from civic society. On 16 February 1999 the Assembly approved proposals set out in a report brought forward by the Deputy First Minister and me on the establishment of the Civic Forum. As proposed in that report, the Civic Forum, comprising a chairperson and 60 members drawn from 10 specified sectors, has now been established.

The Forum is a unique body, and, given the range of members which has been pointed to it, there is undoubtedly a broad spectrum of views and experience that can help to inform the way in which Northern Ireland is governed. The Civic Forum will enable the Executive and the Assembly to engage in a structured, formal dialogue with important sectors of the community in the social, economic and cultural spheres. It will provide a channel for information to flow from a broad sector of civil society and for views to be expressed on social, economic and cultural matters.

The Forum has started work; it has met twice in plenary format and has identified its early objectives and work priorities. It has endorsed its vision statement. It has already given an important response to the Programme for Government, which we are considering carefully, and it has also decided to examine issues of poverty, peace building and lifelong learning. In bringing forward the motion we were conscious of the need to fulfil our legislative requirements in a way which reflected how we want to work with the Civic Forum, and for that reason we consulted with the Forum on it. The Forum is in agreement with it. Indeed, we amended our original motion to reflect the views of the Forum. It is important that the Forum should not be unduly constrained in its work, either by the Executive or by the Assembly.

The Deputy First Minister and I have always been sensitive to the need for the Forum to be an independent body which can bring independent views to the political process. For example, apart from our personal nominations, we were anxious to avoid a situation in which we were directly involved in the nomination process. While we accepted responsibility for overseeing the nominations to the Forum to ensure that fair and open procedures were adopted, the responsibility for those nominations lay with the organisations involved. I know that some parties have reservations about the motion today and that they are anxious that the Deputy First Minister and I will try, in some way, to stifle the scope of issues which the Forum itself may wish to consider, or that we will, in some way, veto the work which the Forum decides to do.

I want to assure Members today that that is certainly not our intention. Indeed, let me state without equivocation that the Deputy First Minister and I will not try to prevent the Forum from taking forward any item that it wishes to. Members may be interested to know that an earlier draft of the motion which was put to the Deputy First Minister and me for approval was more restrictive. It said that the Forum should offer its views on such social, economic and cultural matters as were referred to the chairperson by the First and Deputy First Ministers.

I regarded that as unduly restrictive. I said then, and I repeat today, that it is difficult for me to envisage our refusing to hear views on a subject defined as "social, economic or cultural." Therefore, with the agreement of the Deputy First Minister, I suggested that that sentence be recast to remove the requirement that the First and Deputy First Ministers agree the matters which the Forum can raise. We also engaged in consultation with the chairperson and members of the Forum on how the arrangements for obtaining views might better provide for a two-way flow of proposals between them and the Deputy First Minister and me.

The Civic Forum has itself approved the arrangements contained in the motion. That proposal provides for a work agenda to be jointly agreed by the chairperson of the Forum, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It is not a mechanism for a veto. It provides for dialogue and for an agreed agenda to which the Executive, the Forum and the Assembly can work in a co-ordinated way. The chairperson of the Forum also believes that it provides the best basis not only for agreeing the Forum's priorities but also for resourcing its work. Clearly, resourcing will relate to the work programme itself.

Of course, the Assembly will also want to develop its relationship with the Forum, to avail of its experience on social, economic and cultural matters. The terms of this part of the motion explicitly reflect the views of Forum members, who were understandably concerned that the requirement to take on work from the Assembly could overstretch the Forum's resources and prevent its developing a coherent work programme. The motion therefore allows the Forum discretion about the issues remitted by the Assembly which it chooses to address.

In recognition of the views of the Forum, and at the request of its members, the Deputy First Minister and I have agreed that these arrangements will be reviewed at the end of the year alongside the already planned review of the Forum's other arrangements. The review will, of course, allow for the views of the Assembly to be taken into account, and its outcome will be the subject of a report to the Assembly. In the course of developing our relationship with the Civic Forum I trust too that Members of the Assembly will give thought to how that review should be conducted.

We have also been considering ways in which the Forum can become more involved in providing views to Ministers and Departments. One proposal is for the Forum to be advised when Departments are carrying out public consultation exercises on relevant matters. The consultation documents could then be copied to the Forum, and it would be for the Forum itself to decide to which of these to respond.

Allow me to summarise, then, the key points which I hope the Assembly will take into account when considering the motion. First, the motion has been agreed with the Forum itself. Secondly, it will preserve the independence of the Forum. Thirdly, neither the Deputy First Minister nor I has any intention of preventing the Forum from addressing any issue it wishes to address, subject of course to resource considerations. These points illustrate our determination to allow the Forum the freedom to set its agenda. The arrangements will be subject to a review at the end of the year, and I believe that they provide a sound basis on which to proceed. It is now necessary for us as an Assembly to approve the motion and allow the Forum to get to work on the social, economic and cultural matters on which its advice will be so valuable.

Mr P Robinson:

I beg to move amendment 1: In line 1 delete all after "shall" and add

"consider and offer its views only on such social, economic and cultural matters as are from time to time determined by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and approved by the Assembly, or are determined by resolution of the Assembly, or are proposed by the Civic Forum and are approved by the Assembly."

The First Minister has made reference to what he described as an earlier draft of limited scope. I assume the earlier draft had his approval.

The First Minister:


Mr P Robinson:

I am sure, even from a sedentary position, that response will be recorded in Hansard.

The earlier draft was brought to the Business Committee and put on the Order Paper. It now seems that anything that comes from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has not been cleared by the Ministers; the Business Committee, therefore, should ignore anything that has not been approved by the two Ministers.

But the First Minister is right when he says that the earlier draft was of more limited scope. The difference between the earlier draft and this one is the addendum on the Order Paper, which tilts towards the existence of the Assembly itself.

The basic question that the Assembly must consider is the nature of the body known as the Civic Forum. In this Chamber there are many opinions on what kind of body it should be. Of course, there are those of us who believe that there should not be a Civic Forum, who believe that it is a waste of time and money and who believe that the appointment of cronies of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to a body to discuss certain issues is of no real value to the Assembly. If we are to be honest with ourselves and the outside world, we should recognise that there is no shortage of advice from people who have an interest in issues that are within the purview of this Assembly.

Almost every day we receive invitations from bodies who want to give us their views to attend functions in the Long Gallery or wherever in this Building. All they need is an Assembly Member to sponsor the event, or they can even arrange a venue somewhere other than in the Building. No restrictions are applied to any group that takes an interest in social and economic matters on how they may influence the Assembly and, indeed, the Executive.

There is no need for the Civic Forum. Interested parties already know how to get their message to the Assembly and its Committees. This structured body is unnecessary and wasteful.

The second question concerns the make-up of the Civic Forum. Clearly, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have appointed a sanitised group that overwhelmingly reflects their views of society. The Forum is not representative of the community as a whole. In effect, it is made up of people who nod their heads in the direction of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. If we take advice from a body that does not represent the community as a whole, what value does it have? First, it is of limited value to have any group, and even more so to have a select group, that largely takes the view of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, having been appointed for that purpose. Indeed, one of the groups that most represents Unionism was deliberately excluded by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

11.00 am

I also want to deal with the body's modus operandi. The nature of the body, if we approve the First and the Deputy First Ministers' proposal or, even worse, if we approve the Alliance Party's amendment, will be what the First Minister termed "an independent body". However, it is independent not only because it can give its opinion - though I have questioned that - but also because it has a life of its own.

It was never the Assembly's intention, I hope, to create a second Chamber. We have had experiences of that in the past in Northern Ireland. When certain individuals in the first Chamber appoint a second Chamber, it becomes merely a matter of patronage. The nature of the body we are creating is important because it will have a life of its own. That was not implicit or explicit in the agreement or in the legislation. It is fairly clear in both that it would be giving opinions on matters on which it was asked to give opinions. It was not to decide for itself what it was going to consider and then give its views on to the Assembly.

That is a critical difference because of the issue of prioritising its work. If the body decides its own programme and the First Minister gives it work, or if the Committees or the Assembly give it work, which issue should take priority becomes a problem. Even worse than that, I suspect, the Civic Forum could decide that the First Minister's or the Assembly's issues were less important than the ones it was dealing with and, consequently, offer its views on its chosen matters. We need to be very careful that the body being created does what the Assembly wants it to do and nothing else. The basis of our amendment is that the Assembly should have control over the body. The body should only consider those matters referred to it by the Assembly.

Under the First Minister's proposals a conflict is created. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, along with the Civic Forum chairperson, can decide the matters on which the Civic Forum can offer its views. The Assembly can do likewise. I imagine that many Members will have important issues - perhaps in their constituencies, or else general ones. I suspect that they will put forward suggestions about matters that are of some public interest and that the Assembly may feel it necessary to approve such suggestions. A workload will build up. The conflict is already there, with the Assembly on one hand and the First Minister on the other, both pumping in work to the Civic Forum. The Civic Forum is not excluded from making decisions about its own workload also.

Under the amendment that I have moved, the Assembly would be in control. The First Minister may have ideas. He can bring them to the Assembly, and the Assembly will determine whether they are referred to the Civic Forum. The Civic Forum may have views on what it should be discussing, but those will need Assembly approval. Likewise, any Member who has a view can also bring it to the Assembly for approval. In that way we will have some order in the proceedings, and the Assembly can prioritise the work that the Civic Forum should have. I can think of nothing worse than a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister appointing their cronies to a civic forum and then determining what those cronies discuss.

Of course, the First Minister says that attempting to direct and control this body is the last thing on his mind. The reality is that if he is going to be the one providing it with its workload, clearly he is not going to go out of his way to give it issues to deal with that might embarrass him or cause him difficulty. That is why the control of the Assembly is essential in these matters. It is not good practice to have two different masters, as proposed by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

The Alliance Party's proposal is even worse. It is saying that a Committee can produce work for the Civic Forum, as can the Assembly, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the Forum itself. The only way this can be properly ordered is for the Assembly to have overall control of the content of the items the Forum can consider and offer its views on and, indeed, of the priority those matters are given.

I hope I have raised issues that have not been decided by the Whips beforehand and that there will be some degree of open-mindedness by Members in determining how the procedures will operate in practice. What is being offered by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is open to future conflict between the Assembly and the Civic Forum, between themselves and the Assembly and, I suspect, between the Civic Forum and themselves at a later stage as well. What my amendment proposes will ensure that the Civic Forum gives its views only on matters approved by the Assembly by one of three separate routes. Each would have equal weight and validity, and give the Assembly its proper role. It should be accountable for any body set up under it.

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

Mr Ford:

I beg to move amendment 2. In paragraph 2, line 2, after "Assembly" insert

"or any of its Committees"

and at end add

"The Civic Forum may also offer its view on any social, economic and cultural matters where it so resolves."

The motion from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is welcome, and it would be more welcome if it had been slightly fuller and somewhat earlier. I have no difficulty in commending the motion to the House, although I would go further and recommend the second amendment, which would considerably strengthen it. The First Minister referred to some of the issues, and perhaps we will hear more from him and his Colleagues during the course of the debate.

The amendment stands in the name of Jane Morrice and myself. For the benefit of those who do not know, Jane Morrice is a member of the Women's Coalition and not of the Alliance Party. I am sure she would wish to share the opprobrium being heaped upon the Alliance Party by Peter Robinson in proposing the first amendment. In this corner of the Chamber, at least, we believe that the Civic Forum is important and has a significant role. Our two parties have been firm supporters of that separate and independent role for the Civic Forum. We wish to see it implemented to the full, and that is why we put forward the amendment.

The arrangements being made for the Civic Forum flow from the agreement and the requirement to try to institute new arrangements which are fully inclusive across this society. As a Member of this Assembly, I make no apology for saying that a democratically elected body must have primacy. Indeed, in the case of legislation it is clear that we have the exclusive right. However, I do not believe that we are the fount of all wisdom in this society. There are other people in this community who have positive and useful ideas to put forward to us, whether informally, as has been suggested, or formally.

The formal mechanism for that is the Civic Forum. It brings civic society, in all its strengths, into the structures of government, and that will be a major benefit to us. A different perspective from those of us who are democratically elected will also be a benefit. It will enable us to view things in a wider way and look at different possibilities.

I would like to look at some of the comments that have been made over the last year or so. The Civic Forum, after its meeting of 6 December 2000, highlighted that one of its eight functions was

"to make a distinctive and challenging contributions to social, economic, cultural and environmental matters affecting Northern Ireland."

I do not believe that it can be distinctive and challenging if it has to be hidebound in the way it operates. In January 1999 the initial report by the Civic Forum study group to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, suggested that

"the Civic Forum should respond to policy issues being addressed by the Assembly but might also consider social, economic and cultural issues on its own initiative."

That was a clear follow-through from the number of submissions made to it.

The Belfast Trades Union Council stated:

"The Forum will, of its own initiative, debate and consider issues and come to its own conclusions".

On the other side of the economic divide, the CBI suggested:

"A pro-active role is needed for the Civic Forum - it should not be just consultative".

This is a clear indication of the kinds of views that are coming in, despite whatever differences those two groups may have. The opportunity they see is that the Forum could take its own initiative, and therefore be more beneficial to the structures of society.

Other comments have been made in the same way. Some of the groups which have rather smaller representation clearly see it as important. The Northern Ireland Council on Ethnic Minorities stated:

"The Forum has the ability to initiate its own investigations and reports, as well as commenting."

NICVA, representing a broad range of community activity, said:

"The understanding of voluntary and community groups is that as a consultative mechanism, the Civic Forum would be able to place issues on the agenda and to offer its reflection, experience and knowledge."

That is what we need from the Civic Forum - not something too hidebound within the Assembly structures or at the beck and call of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Indeed, they have commented on 25 September 2000. The Deputy First Minister said in this Chamber:

"The Civic Forum has to be different. It has to have its own mind and it has to bring an independent view to the political process. I hope it will."

On the same day, the First Minister said:

"There is a clear responsibility on us to make arrangements for obtaining the Forum's views on a number of matters. Those arrangements could take several forms - they do not have to be exhaustive. It does not necessarily follow that the arrangements made to enable the Assembly to take the views of the Forum are exhaustive of what the Forum does."

That is our view, and it does not seem to quite come through in the motion as proposed, although, in proposing it, the First Minister has gone some way to address our concerns, specifically in the way he highlighted the term "independence". That is something that we would see as very necessary. I hope he can amplify on that a little bit more, later in the debate.

The First Minister:

I just wish to repeat to the Member what I said in proposing the motion. I said that I found it very difficult to envisage circumstances in which we would not want to hear the Forum's views on any matter coming within its remit on social, economic and cultural matters.

The motion is in its present form because of the need to have a degree of co-ordination and a programme. The programme itself will have resource implications, and we have to be concerned about that.

I want to make the point that the motion, in its current form, after consultation with the Forum, and with the agreement of the Forum, is the motion that the Forum wants. We brought forward the motion that it wants. I suggest to the Member that this Assembly perhaps should be cautious before imposing upon the Forum a motion that it does not want.

Mr Ford:

I take the First Minister's comments with some interest. I am not sure whether the Civic Forum was actually consulted as to whether it wanted wider powers or whether it merely wished to be offered something narrower, which it had accepted gratefully. Perhaps - and it seems on this occasion we do at least have the presence of the First Minister - when he makes his winding-up speech he will be able to tell us whether he accepts that the thrust of our amendment is actually contained in the remarks that he made at the beginning, has made just now and, it is to be hoped, will make again later.

Is he going to tell the House clearly and simply that, although not explicit in the motion, the wide-ranging powers of the Forum to take its own initiative are what he and the Deputy First Minister envisage for it? That is something that would make a considerable difference to the way we view the motion as it currently stands.

I will speak briefly on the other amendment. Superficially, there are some similarities between the amendments. However, anyone hearing Mr Peter Robinson's speech will be aware that there is little agreement. They have approached it from a different direction than us. We have major concerns with any suggestions that the Civic Forum must be bound by the Assembly. The whole point of having an independent Civic Forum is that it has a degree of independence. It is slightly ironic that, while the First Minister hints about independence, the other amendment seeks to constrain the Civic Forum to what the Assembly agrees it should do.

11.15 am

There seems to be some concern in Mr Robinson's proposal about the business of the Civic Forum and what might be thrown at it. To some extent, our Committees are similar - a variety of responsibilities are thrown at them. They have clear legislative responsibilities, which they cannot divert from. They can initiate inquiries on their own account and are lobbied by a number of groups from different directions. However, most of the Assembly's Committees are managing and ordering their business fairly well. The Civic Forum will probably be as capable in ordering its business as the Assembly Committees. Given the way we ran business in the House this morning, I am unsure if we are well placed to advise others on how to run theirs.

We seek maximum independence for the Civic Forum in co-operation with the Assembly and the Executive. Our amendment will make some difference to that, although the First Minister's comments may go some way to address those concerns. However, we do not accept the thrust of amendment 1. At this stage, we are still in favour of amendment 2.

Ms Hanna:

I welcome the motion from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I welcome the fact that it was agreed with the Civic Forum. There are signs that we are slowly moving away from the fixation on constitutional matters and towards an engagement with the economic, social and cultural issues that affect everyone in the community.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

The Member says that the motion was agreed by the Civic Forum. When did the Civic Forum meet to agree the motion?

Ms Hanna:

I am afraid that I do not have that date. However, the First Minister indicated in his statement that there was agreement.

Given that these issues have been somewhat neglected for several years, there should be a sufficiently large agenda for the Forum to work through for many years to come. Indeed, I believe that the Forum - in response to the mood of the public - should inject some urgency into its deliberations. In order to capture the public's imagination it should assemble and lay out its work programme. The Assembly and the wider community should not be comfortable with everything the Forum may say, and I hope its views will be challenging and innovative, for those are precisely the characteristics needed to find solutions to our problems.

In order to widen the scope of the Forum, I make a special plea that it should consider the role that Government structures and civic society here could play in fostering the concept of international development. I am aware that this is a reserved matter, but, as chairperson of the cross-party committee on international development, I would like to see some engagement with Third-World issues ultimately. I want them to be interwoven through all Government Departments in the same way as targeting social need.

We saw the recent devastation caused by the Indian earthquake, and many individuals have responded generously. However, I would like to see a response from the community as a whole. I ask the Civic Forum to take the issue on board. I will frame an appropriate motion to that end in due course. We have hard-won expertise in dealing with disasters. We have built up expertise in long-term development that could be transferred to developing countries in a mutually beneficially way.

I wish the Forum well. It is important that we hear and learn from diverse opinions.


Next >>