Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 13 February 2001 (continued)

The Deputy Chairperson of the Culture Arts and Leisure Committee (Mrs Nelis):

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to welcome the Minister's very progressive statement. It seems that he has been making good headway on the ship on Waterways Ireland. While I have a number of questions for the Minister, I particularly want to welcome the hosting of the World Canals Conference in Dublin, Belfast and Lisburn this year. Can the Minister tell us how these venues were selected?

I also want to welcome the development of the tourist niche of boating and cruising and the co-operation between Bord Fáilte and the Tourist Board.

I welcome too Mr John Martin, the new chief executive.

Will the Minister tell the Assembly if the Sinn Féin Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is still a suitable person to attend future North/South Ministerial meetings on Waterways, or has that changed? David Trimble told his party executive that UUP Ministers will no longer participate in North/South Ministerial meetings. Can the Minister confirm if this change in position was discussed at the North/South meeting?

Mr McGimpsey:

The World Canals Conference is a very prestigious one, and we all rightly welcome the fact that it is coming and that Waterways Ireland will host it.

I am not aware of how the venues were selected, but I do know, for example, that Lisburn Borough Council spent large sums of money on its section of the Lagan navigation. Presumably Dublin and Belfast were chosen because they are the two main cities. However, I do not know exactly why those venues were selected for the conference.

I agree with the Member's comments about tourist co-operation. One of the main reasons is the huge tourist potential that exists for this type of resource when it is properly in place. Experience in other parts of Europe, not least in the Irish Republic, demonstrates that genuine tourist jobs are available when this type of resource is put in place properly.

The question of a Sinn Féin representative is a matter for the First Minister, and I believe that he has responded to it within the last few days. It is not my responsibility to nominate Ministers.

Mr J Wilson:

I welcome the Minister's report, which is informative and interesting. Considering the disaster of the two major fish kills at the trout hatchery at Florencecourt on the Erne in recent days, perhaps the Minister, like me, will think that a question about a North/South meeting of Waterways Ireland is relatively unimportant. However, my question is important to the future use of Lough Erne as a fishery and as recreational water. I hope that the Minister is in a position to elaborate on the nature and extent of progress on the refurbishment of Lough Erne's moorings.

I would like to tease out Mr ONeill's earlier question. A recent newspaper report suggested that as early as October 2001, the Minister, along with his counterpart in the Republic and Waterways Ireland, may be in a position to make optimistic sounds about the future of the Ulster Canal. How optimistic is the Minister about having positive news about the reopening of the Ulster Canal as early as October?

Mr McGimpsey:

I will take the three elements of the question and answer them in reverse order.

I do not have a great deal to add about the Ulster Canal other than to say that, as indicated to Mr ONeill, the draft report will be with the Department shortly, and we will assess it. I am not aware of any newspaper report. However, we will deal with the report and issue it as quickly as possible. I give an undertaking to Mr ONeill and to Mr J Wilson that as soon as I am able to, I will share the report with the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Mr J Wilson is right when he says that there has been another major disaster on the Erne at the Melvin Enhancement Company's hatchery. Although this falls outside the remit of Waterways Ireland, it would be wrong not to mention the incident, since Waterways Ireland, the Erne and the Melvin Enhancement Company complement each other in that they seek tourist revenue and jobs. An earlier pollution incident killed large numbers of fish, and, more recently, an act of wanton vandalism poisoned thousands. That is a tragedy for a non-profit-making facility that promotes Lough Erne's genetically pure brown trout, a natural strain of fish which is a major selling point for the future of our fisheries. It is an absolute disgrace that not only have thousands of fish been killed, but jobs have also been lost.

Capital works in the Irish Republic are the responsibility of the Government in Dublin. Capital works in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Government here. Work is ongoing through the Rivers Agency and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on public jetties on Lough Erne at Muckross, Ballinaleck, Magho and Inish Davar, and on a new floating jetty on the Lower Bann at Toome. Work will continue on the refurbishment of jetties and on the maintenance of navigation markers, et cetera, and we are also looking at plans to review existing navigations.

So if there is not a programme in place, one is certainly being built up. We are aware that our canal system is embryonic compared to the Irish Republic's, on which large sums of money have recently been spent. We have much work to do. As I have already said, there is a resource implication, yet it remains an exciting project and possibility, not just because of the recreational value to people living here, but also because of its potential for earning revenue from tourists.

Mr Gallagher:

The report indicates that significant progress has been made with the inland waterways body. The headquarters is located in County Fermanagh, and I would like to ask the Minister how many people are employed there, and whether his Department has employment targets for the headquarters for the next year?

I join with the Minister in condemning what appears to have been a deliberate act of putting chemicals into the water system at the hatchery. As he said, we are all concerned about possible job losses, and I have no doubt that some will result from that. We have to keep in mind that many people have worked over the years in a voluntary capacity to bring this into being. It is deplorable that so much effort has been wasted. Is the Minister in a position to say if he is satisfied, given that a poison was put into the system, that adequate measures are in place to contain it, as the system feeds into larger and wider systems important for fishing and other considerations?

Mr McGimpsey:

As I said on a previous occasion, it is anticipated that 70 people will be employed at headquarters. Mr Gallagher is quite right. Look at the size of Enniskillen and compare the number of jobs there with the number that would be created pro rata in Belfast: hundreds or thousands of jobs. Enniskillen is a small town, and 70 jobs will have a real economic impact.

I am not aware of the precise size of the workforce. I think it is currently about 18, but building rapidly. It might be more than that now. I previously reported 18, so it probably is more than that now. We expect headquarters to reach its proper complement within the year, as recruitment is ongoing.

As far as the hatchery is concerned, I agree with the Member that that has an important implication for tourist jobs on down the line. I am satisfied that the issue is being properly addressed. The RUC and the company have been active in investigating the incident, and the company is not doing anything other than what it is supposed to. I have visited the facility, and I am quite sure that it takes environmental issues very seriously. While I cannot be absolutely specific about the volume of poison released into the watercourses, I am sure that if that is what happened, it was not due to any negligence on the part of the management but rather to an act of wanton vandalism.

Mr Shannon:

The Minister has already recognised the great benefits of water-based tourism, to which the inland waterways report that he has brought to the Chamber testifies. Many in the Province, even those without canals in their area, recognise the tourism spin-off. The Minister spoke about the Ulster Canal as just one of the projects. That is one that the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee has looked at and supports. We would like to see how it would work. Has the Minister received any indications about funding? Will it come from private sources, or will some of it come from the Government? We would also like to see the economic benefit and spin-offs that will come to all the areas - bed-and-breakfast accommodation, restaurants and cafés in all the small villages and areas along the edge of canals.

12.30 pm

Lough Erne is not the only place with attractive areas for boating and water-based activities. Will other parts of the Province also benefit? What role does the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have in promoting the waterways? I hope that they make a much better job of promoting the waterways than they have with angling.

I want to take up two other issues mentioned by the Minister. First, he said that Waterways Ireland underspent its budget for the calendar year 2000 by some £2 million. Expenditure was £8·5 million, and the original budget was £10·5 million. Will that £2 million be carried over into the second year, or is it lost?

Secondly, he said that the Rivers Agency continues to undertake operational work in Northern Ireland under a service level agreement. Does the Rivers Agency have the necessary finance to carry out the work sufficiently and to the benefit of tourism? Tourism is a big thing in all of our constituencies, and I hope that we will all see the benefits. As the Minister lives in my constituency - or at least in the same district council area - I am sure that, like myself, he will want to see tourism promoted in Strangford.

Mr McGimpsey:

I am very keen to see tourism enhanced in Strangford - indeed, in all parts of Northern Ireland. I have to remind the House that Waterways Ireland is purely a navigation body, dealing with navigable waterways. Currently, there are no navigable waterways under the control of Waterways Ireland in Strangford. There is the Ulster Canal, the Lagan navigation and the Newry/Portadown Canal, although it has its own challenges. There is also a canal at Coalisland and the Lower Bann navigation. Once those are navigable, Waterways Ireland will take them over.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) takes promotion seriously, working in co-operation with Bord Fáilte on this initiative and in promoting this resource worldwide. I cannot comment, as the NITB is not answerable to my Department - it is answerable to Sir Reg Empey and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment - but I have no doubt that it takes its responsibilities seriously. I cannot comment on how it has performed in the past, but everybody has room for improvement, including ourselves.

There is an underspend of £2 million in the budget, which will be carried over and not lost. I am not clear on the exact mechanism, but it will be carried over to the next financial year. Normally within Government here, unspent money goes back to the centre for redistribution. I assume that that is the principle. I will write to the Member on that, giving the precise mechanism for ensuring that the money is not lost.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh ráiteas an Aire, agus is maith go dtáinig an Chomhairle i gceann a chéile coicís ó shin. Ba mhaith liom an tAire a insint domh cá bhfuil na háiteanna atá faoi chaibidil ag an Chomhairle agus í ag cinneadh ar cá háit a bhfuil an phríomhoifig bhuan le lonnú.

I welcome the Minister's statement. The meeting that he described was very welcome. What possible sites for the permanent headquarters are under discussion?

In point 7 of the statement there is a reference to the very negative impact of the last suspension of political institutions on the progress of the body and that it was particularly detrimental in the area of staff recruitment.

Will the Minister agree that the collapse of political institutions, wilfully being planned for by his own party leadership, ahead of the May election, will similarly have a disastrous impact on the progress of Waterways Ireland? Did the Minister inform the inland waterways sectoral meeting of the council of his party leader's intention to continue the illegal ban on nominating Sinn Fein Ministers to the council?

Mr McGimpsey:

Five sites are currently being considered for the permanent headquarters in Enniskillen. Two are adjacent on the Sligo road; one is on the water's edge, close to the Ardhowen theatre; one is at Derrychara, opposite the Erneside shopping centre, and the other, known as the Brooke, is in the centre of the town.

I strongly believe that there should be a waterfront development. It will be of around 25,000 square feet. In other words, it will be for customers, users and tourists and not simply an office accommodation for staff.

With regard to the other part of the question, about the collapse of political institutions - institutions that we are all striving to retain - the Member talked about the collapses "being planned for". Well, he probably knows more about that than I do. I know of nobody in my party who is planning for the collapse of the political institutions.

Regarding discussions of the "ban", as the Member put it, at the meeting in Scarriff in County Clare two weeks ago, we stuck to the agenda of Waterways Ireland. This was the North/South Ministerial Council in sectoral format; we were there to discuss Waterways Ireland and its business, and that is exactly what we did discuss.

Mr Neeson:

I welcome the Minister's statement and the fact that at long last, the potential of inland waterways in Northern Ireland has been recognised. At the end of his statement the Minister stated that Waterways Ireland had the powers for compulsory purchase on the river Shannon. Would such powers also be applied to Northern Ireland?

Secondly, what plans do he and his Department have for the development or promotion of the heritage, particularly the industrial heritage of Northern Ireland's inland waterways?

Mr McGimpsey:

As regards the development of waterways and, as Mr Shannon mentioned, funding for this, funding will obviously have to be in the form of some cocktail of public, private and European money, and that mix of funding will be able to be determined only as things are developed.

The Member is right to say that there are powers of compulsory purchase in the Republic. There will also be powers of compulsory purchase in Northern Ireland if we find it necessary, for example, to further advance the re-creation of the Ulster Canal, since large parts of it have been abandoned. It is anticipated that there is a possibility that compulsory purchase may be necessary. I hope that it is not; that is something which should be done only as a last resort.

The industrial heritage of Northern Ireland is an important issue and one that is very much in our minds as we develop the waterways. As we go forward, things like environmental assessments will have to be done - indeed, environmental proofing has already been done in respect of the Ulster Canal, and that will become more concentrated and focused as we move forward with different parts of the canal.

The environmental heritage aspects of our canals need to be safeguarded. It is important to reach a balance between preserving the heritage features of former canals, protecting natural environment and providing for modern cruising needs.

We will have the formal environmental impact assessment, but we need to see waterways developed as living assets which cater for modern usage with appropriate environmental safeguards. It cannot simply be the preservation of historic features for historic purposes.

When they were originally constructed, canals were used by narrow-gauge barges dragged by horses. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that there should be a horse-drawn canal resource in Northern Ireland - that would be the wrong way to approach the matter. As I said, we must try to safeguard them all, but we need a balance. For example, modern boats are wider than the original narrow-gauge barges. If the canal is made solely for narrow-gauge barges, it will effectively preclude, for example, all the boats currently available for hire on Lough Erne.

A balance must be struck and found. We will attempt to do that. Another feature of a modern canal system is the use of card technology to operate the lock, rather that a lock-keeper with a wheel and a handle to turn. Therefore although it will be a modern system catering for modern usage, it will preserve and be informed by historic features. However, they will not be preserved purely for historic purposes, but also as living assets catering for modern usage.

Ms Morrice:

I too want to comment on the exciting potential of this initiative and body. My question has been partially clarified already. It relates to the tourism potential of Waterways Ireland. Will it focus simply on tourism for its revenue, or is there scope, for example, for freight and passenger transport to be used on these waterways? Is that possibility being examined?

Mr McGimpsey:

I am not aware that freight carriage has been examined. I am not sure that that would be viable, but I have no doubt that if the canals were operating, it would happen if the operators decided that it was viable. Market forces would determine that type of matter.

It is not just about tourism, of course. There is a strong element of economic regeneration, particularly in the countryside. Members may recollect that by and large, canals go through areas of countryside that are often deprived and far from urban areas. The issue of new targeting social need (TSN) is also strongly addressed through the regeneration of the canals and the economic regeneration of rural communities. When we make the case for resources, one of our arguments will be that this type of investment addresses TSN.

The issue is much wider than simply tourism, but, as I said, we focused on tourism. Obviously, this is worth doing. There are recreational aspects for the local community too, but economic regeneration can act as a generator in the countryside, and that has been the experience in the Irish Republic. I have no doubt that that will be our experience too.

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the Minister's report on the second sectoral meeting of Waterways Ireland and several points in particular which concern the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The feasibility study on the canal is especially welcome, because it would open up tourism in that area. I also welcome the creation of some jobs in the Fermanagh and Enniskillen areas, and, in particular, the refurbishment of public moorings on the Lough Erne system. Any improvement to the moorings will help the local boating, angling and, especially, tourism communities.

I ask the Minister to seek the development of more moorings and jetties for the Lough Erne system at the next sectoral meeting. The matter should be high on the agenda. We need more moorings and jetties. A large number of boats are coming into the Erne system, and there are not always sufficient places for tourists to tie up. That is particularly important, and I encourage him to put that on the agenda.

12.45 pm

I notice that boating and cruising on the system is to be promoted as a separate niche market and I welcome that. However, cruise firms on the Lough Erne system have had a particularly hard time in recent years because of the disparity between the punt and the pound and many bookings are going to the South of Ireland. The Minister said that that has nothing to do with him, but something should be done to help and encourage the hire firms in the Fermanagh area.

Mr McGimpsey:

It is not that the disparity between the punt and the pound has nothing to do with me, it is something that is out of my control and out of the control of the Assembly. However, it is a matter that focuses minds, not just in this situation, but in others also. There has been some coming together in the currencies, but there is still a very large disparity. I am not entirely clear how that matter should be addressed other than by providing a product in Fermanagh that is second to none.

With regard to Waterways Ireland, some of the ongoing work will carry through the capital programme for 2001. For example, they are refurbishing jetties on the Erne, and there is ongoing maintenance of navigation markers. There is also a review of the Bann, with a new pair of lock gates going in on the Lower Bann. There is the construction and completion of works on the Shannon navigation at Limerick City. So, the ongoing work is enhancing the entire system, and it includes the construction of the first of six road bridges on the Royal Canal to allow the canal to enter the system.

Once the system gets into operation, all parts of it will benefit. I have no doubt that Lough Erne and Fermanagh will benefit as well - as they have done to an extent already with the location of headquarters and staff in Enniskillen.

Mr Hilditch:

The agency has held meetings with various user groups, and the Minister has named two as examples. Will he further expand on this information, particularly from the Northern Ireland context, including the ports? Will he also indicate how much of the £18·8 million action plan budget for 2001 will be of direct benefit to Northern Ireland?

Mr McGimpsey:

I reported on the user groups and gave those examples because I understand that Waterways Ireland has been dealing with a number of user groups. I cannot give an exhaustive list here, because I do not have the information with me. If the Member wishes, I can provide him with that information.

Of the £8·5 million capital expenditure for this year, Northern Ireland's contribution is £750,000. The £8·5 million will provide, for example, for the organisation as a whole, £3·45 million for capital, £4 million for maintenance and £1 million for administration, professional and technical staff. I cannot be precise as to staff numbers, but they are increasing rapidly this year from 18 to 250 as people come in from various Government bodies and agencies, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. Next year those numbers will increase again.

We are responsible for capital projects within Northern Ireland. So, for example, the funding for the Lagan navigation and our half of the Ulster Canal will have to be found within Northern Ireland. Mr Shannon made a point about funding. I anticipate a cocktail of public and private finance, with, perhaps, money also coming from Europe or other sources.

I cannot say how capital will be drawn down or how capital resources will be addressed in the future. At the moment, the main project is the new headquarters in Enniskillen. I am not sure how many millions that will cost, but it will be a substantial building on the waterfront, comprising 25,000 square feet.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is also considering the Ulster Canal and other capital projects that I mentioned, such as the refurbishment of jetties and the construction of new floating jetties. That work programme will continue to develop. I shall keep the House and the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee informed as appropriate.

Mr Molloy:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister's statement; it shows that progress has been made. It is important that Waterways Ireland make progress. It is unfortunate, however, that Fermanagh will not be a venue for the World Canals Conference. Fermanagh has been the home of Waterways Ireland for some time and has a strong connection with the subject, through the Ballyconnell Canal, one of the better recent developments. However, I am sure that that link will be developed.

A statement from the Minister's Colleague, Denis Haughey, about the Coalisland Canal has already appeared in the press. What progress has been made on linking the Coalisland Canal to the Ulster Canal, assuming that that project progresses as the Minister envisages? The reopening of the Ulster Canal is an important step in the opening of the waterways. As the Minister says, it is important that we have a working canal, not just one of historical interest.

The problems with attracting tourists could be eased by the introduction of a single currency. As one solution, the Minister could endorse an all-Ireland strategy and policy that would ensure that there was one currency throughout the island of Ireland. As an interim solution, we could use the euro. In the long term, we must focus on the all-Ireland dimension if Waterways Ireland is to attract visitors to the island of Ireland.

Mr McGimpsey:

The Member mentioned the disparity between the punt and the pound. He has a particular political view on that, and it is one that I do not share. It is also a view - if I must make a political point - that most people in Northern Ireland do not share. That is what the agreement and the projects and processes that we are working on are about. That kind of financial issue is important, but not so overwhelmingly important as to justify changing our entire political philosophy, however much the Member might desire that.

I have nothing to add about the World Canals Conference, but as I receive information I shall share it with the Committee and with Mr Molloy. The Department recognises Fermanagh's importance, which is why the headquarters is in Enniskillen. The conference will consider experience and best practice in other parts of the world and will try to benefit from those.

I have received a number of inquiries about the Coalisland Canal. It is the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, not Waterways Ireland. There are no plans for it at present, because resources are not available. However, there is no question of allowing that property - some 4 kilometres long - to disappear from the Department's control. The Department has custodial responsibility and will maintain that. I share the aspiration that the Coalisland Canal can again become the navigation that it once was.


The sitting was suspended at 12.54 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) -

Street Trading Bill: Further Consderation Stage

2.00 pm

Mr Speaker:

Members will note that there is only one amendment on the Marshalled List. Clauses 1 to 8 have had no amendments proposed to them. I therefore propose, by leave of the House, to take those clauses en bloc at this time, and similarly for the other clauses to which there is no amendment.

Clauses 1 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 (Discretionary grounds for refusing an application)

The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow): I beg to move amendment 1: In page 7, line 1, leave out subparagraph (v) and insert

"(v) the nature of the articles, things or services in which the applicant wishes to trade is such that their sale or supply, or their preparation for sale or supply, would adversely affect the general amenity of the area in which the applicant wishes to trade;".

Members will be aware that at the Consideration Stage I accepted an amendment that would allow a district council to refuse an application for a street trading licence where the sale or preparation of the goods would have an adverse effect on the amenity of the area. At that time I said that I had some concerns about the precise wording of the amendment and advised Members that I might wish to tidy it up at the Further Consideration Stage. The amendment I have tabled introduces minor revisions of the wording to maintain consistency with the other provisions in the Bill, but does not alter the effect of the sub-paragraph.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Clauses 10 to 30 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 Street Trading Bill, which now stands referred to the Speaker.


Sheep Ban (Silent Valley)


Mr ONeill:

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls on those Ministers responsible to make compensation available for farmers who are suffering financially as a result of the Silent Valley sheep ban in the Mournes.

Perhaps before I begin, Mr Speaker, I could raise a point of order. As you can see from the wording of the motion I am clearly asking that Ministers - plural - be in attendance and the wording of the motion was designed to achieve that. I understand that the Minister for Regional Development is going to respond to the motion, and I thank him for that. However, both Ministers who have a direct responsibility, the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, indicated that they wanted to participate in the debate, and I phrased the motion in such a way that they could.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member may choose to phrase the motion whatever way he likes, but that does not make it in order for more than one Minister to respond to it. It is not in order to do so, save in the exceptional circumstances of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister who have a different constitutional position.

It is only in order for one Minister to respond on behalf of the Executive. It may be one Minister or another, but it can only be one Minister. If it were to be more than one Minister, it could be two, and there are other circumstances in which it could be three or more. The House could be in a dilemma if each Minister did not say precisely the same thing and the question for the House in those circumstances would be, "Which Minister spoke for the Executive?" That is not a dilemma which I wish to place before the House.

Indeed, as the Member himself will be aware, in this particular matter, and with respect to the two Ministers he is speaking of, he had the problem of two Ministers appearing to say different things and laid it upon my shoulders to seek some resolution of the matter. Not wanting to voluntarily put myself in that position again, nor place the Assembly in such a position on this or any other matter, I have made the ruling that one Minister shall be responsible for responding. On this occasion, the Minister who has come forward - and I assume it has been agreed that he will respond - is the Minister for Regional Development, who is in his place.

Mr ONeill:

Undoubtedly I will get an opportunity to include a few comments in response as I go through what I have to say on the issue.

First, I welcome the opportunity to bring this issue to the attention of the Assembly. It is one that has been affecting sheep farmers in the particular catchment area of the Silent Valley for some time now. The matter should have been before us a bit earlier because of its inherent urgency. The particular farmers involved have been faced with huge difficulties regarding the grazing of their sheep and this has lead to immense financial problems. It is time someone took responsibility for compensating those farmers.

Another matter causing me huge concern - and I mentioned it under a point of order but will include it now as part of my speech - is the fact that, although my motion calls on all Ministers responsible, there is only one Minister here to respond to the motion. If my motion was accepted as genuine for tabling before Members today then it should have included a response from all Ministers responsible. That is not a ruling I can make, but it is my view nevertheless.

Mr Speaker:

Order. It is commonplace to refer to more than one Minister in motions. In questions and in motions in other places the reference is most commonly to, in that situation, Her Majesty's Government, which consists of many Ministers.

However, only one Minister will reply on behalf of the Executive. The fact that more than one Minister is referred to in the Member's motion is entirely competent and proper. He may refer to the responsibilities of a number of Ministers, and to their actions. That is also entirely proper and in order, but it is nevertheless the case that only one Minister will respond. I trust that I have made that clear.

Mr ONeill:

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I now realise why we put such burdens on such strong shoulders.

Before I continue with the substantive part of the motion, there is another issue that has caused me serious concern outside this Chamber. There was a news report this morning about sheep grazing in the catchment area. It caused me considerable concern because, according to the report, this has been going on for some time. Why did they choose to issue that report today? It creates a big question mark in my mind. Is it an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue? Who encouraged the media to look at that issue yesterday? What was the reason behind it?

The real issue here is the 115 farmers suffering, in some cases, an estimated loss of £4,320 - that has been worked out by an agricultural expert. There are two issues that I must explain for the benefit of Members. First of all, by not having their sheep on the mountain, the farmers lose out on grants that they would otherwise be entitled to. Secondly, because the farmers have had to take their sheep off the mountain, they have had to use their lowland pastures to graze the sheep. Consequently they have not been able to obtain their winter fodder stock, and they have had to buy in food to keep their sheep going. That is where most of the farmers have incurred their biggest loss.

I have said, on the record, that I appreciate the Water Service's attempt to prevent cryptosporidium from reaching the drinking water of my constituents and those of my Colleagues. However, in an effort to distance itself from the obvious evidence that the Silent Valley was not adequately protected against such infection, and that the conduit running from the reservoir for some 35 miles was leaking, the Department has ensured that the sheep farmers have shouldered all the blame.

Why was this reservoir not adequately protected against infection, when every other reservoir in the area is? Why was the conduit allowed to fall into such disrepair? And why, when officials have admitted that there is no evidence to link these animals to the infection, are farmers now paying the price for the inadequacies of others?

All the evidence strongly suggests that the conduit was to blame for the infection. I would like to explain. The old conduit from the Silent Valley, which brings the mains supply into areas of South Belfast, Lisburn and north Down, is gravity-fed. That means that if a crack or a break occurs in the line, it will suck in material from outside as it passes. The new conduit, which is currently being installed, has a pressurised component that ensures that if a crack occurs, it will force the water out, thus not allowing outside contamination to enter.

2.15 pm

On page one of the Eastern Health and Social Services report published in November 2000, it states clearly

"The highest notification rates among children were in the area from Saintfield northwards which is suggestive that the cause of outbreak was ingress in the middle section of the conduit."

This was far away from the Silent Valley. Indeed, the middle, older section of the pipe was the first to be replaced, indicating an urgency to get rid of the damaged section. If it were all the fault of the sheep, why would the Water Service go to such lengths? The report confirms that

"outbreaks of water-related cryptosporidiosis do not just happen. There appears to be a strong correlation between outbreaks and situations where an inadequacy was identified in the treatment provided, or in the operation of the treatment process."

The difficulty for the public in all of this is to fully realise that, even today, the actual source of that original outbreak is not traceable and remains presently untraceable, which must be a cause for major public concern. I have a letter from the Water Service dated 13 September 2000, which states

"The link between the grazing of sheep and the risk of cryptosporidium in the water supplies is well established."

There is no further explanation. This infers that the link was firmly established, although this report says that it was not. In a meeting with Health and Social Services officials in November to discuss the report published by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board, Dr Liz Mitchell informed me that, in the Silent Valley case, there was absolutely no evidence to link the faeces of the sheep with the cryptosporidium outbreak.

Surprisingly, not one of the sheep that traditionally graze on the mountains was ever tested. One would have thought that to find out whether these animals were the cause, the simple and honest thing to do would be to test them. Not one of them has been tested. Why? Surely the Department wants to pinpoint the culprit. Perhaps the reason for this - and this is an interesting sign that all of the things that go on in Departments are not necessarily the Ministers' responsibility - is to be seen in Mr Campbell's admission that the Department was under pressure from the media and had to come up with an answer immediately. Mr Campbell stated in a letter to you, Mr Speaker, in response to the very issues that you were raising to me with those broad shoulders earlier, on 12 January 2001 that

"the decision to extend the ban had, in fact, emerged more quickly than intended, due to questioning of officials in the media on 4 September."

Who is running the Department of Regional Development? Is it the Minister or the 'Belfast Telegraph'? Mr Campbell made this statement in an attempt to explain what appeared to me to be his misleading the House. Now you have decided, Mr Speaker, that he did not deliberately mislead the House. Mr Campbell admits that he did not consult with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development before he made the decision to extend the ban. He maintains that both he and his officials did liaise with that Department's officials. He stated in this Chamber on 11 September 2000 that they had liaised and were continuing to liaise with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I do not know what kind of liaisons he referred to, but they are certainly not to the benefit of our farmers. To liaise means to communicate and co-operate. To consult means to seek advice. I do not think there is a huge difference. Mr Campbell and his officials did not consult the Department of Agriculture. Had they done so -

Mr Wells:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The motion before us calls on the Ministers to provide financial compensation to the farmers affected. I have prepared my contribution on that basis. The Member for South Down has had some time, but it all seems to be an attack on the Minister for Regional Development and his handling of this case. As far as I can see, the Member has not as yet dealt with the motion. How much more time will he be given before he comes to the subject of the debate?

Mr Speaker:

The Chair frequently has to be patient if it is to see things coming to their point and conclusion. I am sure that the proposer of the motion has heard what the Member has said.


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