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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 20 February 2001 (continued)

A Member:

Will the Member give way?

5.00 pm

Mrs Nelis:


There was the additional security of the company vote. In my home city of Derry, electoral fraud was practised through the process of gerrymandering. Two thirds of the Catholic majority were herded into one ward to ensure that the control of local government remained in the hands of Unionists. The real fraud was the malpractice, discrimination and denial of the democratic right to vote for the majority of Catholics for 50 years.

Unionists should acknowledge that the culture of electoral fraud was introduced to keep them in power. The honourable tradition of voting early and voting often, as so often quoted by their political spokespersons - not to mention Reverends and Grand Masters - is gone for ever, like the missing ballot boxes, never to return.

There is little or no evidence to support the allegations of electoral fraud. There is, however, plenty of evidence available of the intimidation, the harassment and arrest of Sinn Féin voters and election agents and the murder of Sinn Féin workers. Sinn Féin has nothing to fear from the reform of the electoral system - [Interruption].

Madam Deputy Speaker:


Mrs Nelis:

Mr Hussey raised concerns about electoral fraud and, indeed, he should be concerned. After all, the honourable Unionist tradition of vote rigging might come into play in the polling stations and Orange halls - certainly not a neutral venue - and it might cost him a seat at Westminster. I support the amendment.

Mr Kennedy:

I am grateful for the opportunity that my Colleague Derek Hussey has provided to the Assembly. I am somewhat nonplussed at having to speak after the previous Member. The honourable Lady gave us a hysterical analysis, but it certainly was not historical. It was the usual Republican rant, which the House is now used to hearing from the Member. It has no basis in history at all, and the real tragedy is that she actually believes it.

Historically, electoral fraud has been rife in my constituency of Newry and Armagh. In recent years Republicans in South Armagh have been actively engaged in elections instead of ignoring them, and they have been using fraudulent methods to enhance their electoral performance. There is an argument that that is all part of the culture; that, in a misty-eyed way, voting early and voting often should be acceptable.

Electoral fraud has no place, and must have no place, in any democratic country. We have to be absolutely clear on that. These are not just isolated incidents of people dressing up, altering their appearance, or creeping round graveyards compiling lists of the recently dead. It is much more serious than that. There is systematic operation of fraud and the clear evidence continues to grow. It starts with registration and it continues on polling day.

I am aware that, even now, multiple applications are made on registration forms in Republican areas for family members who have long since left home and who are working in other parts of Ireland or the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, they are registered for electoral purposes in my constituency, and come election day an application will be filed for a postal vote or a proxy vote to enable that vote to count. That is simply unacceptable. As far as the mover of the amendment is concerned, methinks he doth protest too much.

There are many problems in registration. There is clear evidence of the misuse of medical cards. The system is open to abuse. Anomalies exist that allow an incomplete or out-of-date driving licence, including a photograph, to be rejected in favour of a medical card or an unemployment benefit book with no photograph that will be accepted without hesitation.

I have personal experience, from living and working in south Armagh, of presiding officers, poll clerks and election officials, working on election days, being clearly aware of electoral malpractice, but who could not and would not raise any objection out of fear for their personal safety. That is unacceptable, and I therefore fully support this call by my Colleague Derek Hussey.

There is a need to put uniform registration methods into place. I am concerned that there is a gap in the legislation when it comes to registering residents of nursing and old people's homes and ensuring that people who are lawfully competent get every opportunity to exercise their franchise. I join with my Colleague, and others, in calling for the introduction of an identity card, including a photograph, for electoral purposes.

Mr Shannon:

I thank Mr Hussey for raising this matter. It is opportune, and certainly an issue of great importance to many of us in this Chamber. The electoral system is the key to a democratic society. Run correctly, democracy will thrive; run incorrectly, democracy will fail - as it has failed in this Province. Electoral fraud has led to the corruption of democracy.

With the Westminster election and the local government election fast approaching, reform of the local electoral system will require debate and discussion. We can do that today, with a view to addressing the problem of electoral fraud. The legislation relating to elections must be tightened up if we are to combat electoral abuse successfully. The very existence and frequency of electoral fraud in Northern Ireland is well documented. It is accepted by the Chief Electoral Officer. William McCrea and Peter Robinson have already given some examples of it.

There is absolutely no doubt that Republicans especially have been involved in corrupting the electoral process - adopting a "vote early, vote often" attitude. There have been major problems with electoral fraud in the past, especially involving personation, postal votes and the use of fake medical cards. Republicans have used the Ecstasy tablet of vote rigging to increase their vote. We should perhaps put on record that if the electoral system were to be changed, the vote that IRA/ Sinn Féin has could be diminished and be put into perspective. We hope that that will be done.

It is essential that the integrity of the electoral process be maintained and that those who abuse the system be restricted from using it. Voting should always reinforce the democratic system - not distort and corrupt it. That is why the only solution is to introduce measures that will stamp out electoral fraud and therefore ensure that democracy is the winner.

At present, absent voting is one of the most abused areas of the voting system. The problem is more acute in areas of personation or the production of fraudulent identification documents. To tighten up on absent voting, legislation has been introduced to extend the period in which the Chief Electoral Officer can examine applications before the relevant forms are dispatched. That is a positive step, but no one can say that it is radical.

There has been a proposal - unfortunately, it has yet to be implemented - which suggests the establishment of dedicated investigative teams to scrutinise all applications at all stages. For example, if a name appears more than once but is registered at a different address it must be investigated.

The use of addresses of houses that are derelict or have not been lived in for some time has become common practice among those abusing the system to secure an extra vote. Some of us are aware of instances in which people have been registered to vote at addresses where the doors, the windows and even the chimneys are blocked up. There is no way in which anybody could get in or out of them; the only ones who could vote from those houses would be the mice. Whether or not they are registered, one can only guess.

I find it incredible that people have been able to abuse this system for so long. It is very important that those who have the right to vote are protected, while those who abuse the system are prevented from doing so any longer.

I want to highlight a couple of issues about appropriate identification at polling stations. What about the production of a firearms certificate? It is not a legitimate means of identification, but it could be - not the firearms, just the certificate. Some people can probably produce many firearms, though whether that is before or after decommissioning I cannot say.

A driver's licence with a photograph on it is another example, but at the moment you must have other forms as well. I would have thought it ample to present a driver's licence with the photo card. It is important that it is the individual who is registered as opposed to his home. The registration of a voter must be checked and double-checked - as it should be with any system - and it would be a way of identifying the issues and providing stronger powers for presiding officers.

Electoral staff have also suffered intimidation. For example, staff were intimidated when a polling station was petrol-bombed at Shantallow in Londonderry. One Member spoke earlier of a complaint that those who were intimidated in polling stations cannot report the personators. We want an effective and reliable electoral system that can resist deliberate abuse.

Mr S Wilson:

I want to deal with a few points that have been made during this debate, but first of all I congratulate Mr Hussey for moving the motion.

Of course, Sinn Féin wishes to run away from this debate. We have seen the Nelson-like behaviour of its Members in the Chamber today as they claim "Electoral fraud, what is electoral fraud? We have never heard of this; it does not affect our party." It was said earlier that that is akin to the response at the Bloody Sunday inquiry by one of Sinn Féin's members last week, when he made it clear that he did not know whether Martin McGuinness was ever involved in the IRA -

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The Member must keep to the motion.

Mr S Wilson:

Since we are talking about fraud, and about people turning a blind eye to it, I would have thought that I was keeping to the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker. Maybe that is the attitude of Sinn Féin: it is not a matter on which the party wishes to have any information or any opinion. Of course, that is embarrassing to its members.

Mr McNamee quoted the RUC when he said that there was no evidence of challenges. Of course there was no evidence when there was a mob outside a polling station and people inside fingering those who might dare to make challenges. On the logic that Mr McNamee has used today, there was no such thing as the Omagh bomb, since the RUC could not find any evidence against people because of intimidation; there was no such thing as the Enniskillen bomb because no evidence could be provided -

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The subject is electoral fraud.

Mr S Wilson:

I am addressing the point about no evidence. Of course there is evidence, and it has been quoted here today. Examples include the number of people who have been taken off the electoral register after challenges have been made; the multiple applications from one address; and confirmation from the Electoral Office of widespread evidence that postal votes are claimed fraudulently. Of course there is evidence. There would be far more of it if Sinn Féin/IRA was not backed up by an army of thugs to ensure that evidence could not be brought to light.

We can always rest assured that in its hour of need, Sinn Féin will be ably propped up by the PUP.

5.15 pm

We also had an example of grammatical fraud today from Mr Ervine, who talked about the "patheticism" of this motion.

A Member:

Have you looked the word up?

Mr S Wilson:

I assure the Member that there is no such word in the dictionary.

Then, in an attempt to deflect criticism from his friends in Sinn Féin, Mr Ervine focused on the Unionist Benches. Unionists also use this tactic, and his refrain was gladly taken up by Mrs Nelis in what some might call an historical speech - it was more of an hysterical speech, and it involved very little history.

Mrs Nelis claimed that Unionists had introduced a property qualification, but that was not the case. A property qualification had always been a stipulation, even under British electoral law until 1949. When that property qualification was abandoned in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, it did not make a button of difference to the outcome of elections. The property qualification applied to Catholics as well as to Protestants, though she chose to overlook that in her hysterical rant in which she attempted to justify her own party's position. There is no justification for the fraud that has been perpetrated, mostly on behalf of IRA/Sinn Féin. It owes the fact that it has won seats on councils, in the Northern Ireland Assembly and at Westminster to what can only be described as systematic fraud against the electorate in Northern Ireland. No amount of support from other people, who might have a common agenda with it, will ever cover this up, nor will the turning of blind eyes.

Mr McNamee:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. There has been some misunderstanding - evidence, evidence, evidence. Hansard will record that on three occasions I referred to evidence of abuse of postal and proxy voting. That evidence was supported by the RUC, the Chief Electoral Officer and those academics who were asked to contribute to the review of the electoral process here and examine the allegations of electoral fraud. I did not say that there was no evidence of electoral fraud. However, I did say that there was no evidence of Sinn Féin's electoral successes being due to electoral fraud or of Sinn Féin being the only party involved in electoral fraud. In my opinion, all of the parties referred to have been involved in electoral fraud.

Therefore, let there be no misinterpretation of what I said. I recognise the existence of electoral fraud and how it was addressed. There are, of course, many anecdotes about electoral fraud. We heard Mr P Robinson's account of six people in a one-bedroom flat. - [Interruption].

Mrs Nelis:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I cannot hear Mr McNamee because of the noise coming from a corner of the Chamber.

Madam Deputy Speaker:


Mr McNamee:

Mr Robinson did not tell us whether the six people voted or the location of the flat. Was it in East Belfast, Upper Bann or somewhere else?

Mr Dodds:

It was in west Belfast.

Mr McNamee:

The Member did not tell us whether these people had actually voted and, if so, whom they voted for. I accept that electoral fraud exists, but there is no evidence to suggest that electoral fraud is down to Sinn Féin alone. Academics working in this area, who contributed to the review, had little doubt that,

"Sinn Féin's successes have far more to do with genuine increased popularity and demographic factors than with large-scale electoral abuse."

I am quoting directly from paragraph 5.1 of a Northern Ireland Office publication 'Administering Elections in Northern Ireland - Report of the Elections Review, October 1998'. The Northern Ireland Office obviously gives some credibility to those comments as it has included them in the report. [Interruption].

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. The Member is entitled to be heard.

Mr McNamee:

The academics also suggest

"the accusations of abuse have had much to do with the disappointments experienced by other parties, in particular -


Mrs Nelis:

On a point of order, a LeasCheann Comhairle. There is tremendous noise and absolute disrespect for your position from the Benches opposite. I wish to dissociate myself from such disrespect.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I ask Members to pay attention to what the Member has said, and I ask Mr McNamee to continue.

Mr McNamee:

I will attempt to continue.

The people who contributed to the review, which was published by the Northern Ireland Office, suggested that

"the accusations of abuse had much to do with the disappointments experienced by other parties who do not wish to admit a decline in support."

They concluded that the academic world expects to see Sinn Féin improve its position still further, whatever measures are brought in to tighten up the electoral process. - [Interruption].

Madam Deputy Speaker:


Mr McNamee:

I ask Members to support the amendment. I will finish, because the volume at which I have to attempt to speak in order to overcome the noise is unacceptable.

Mr Hussey:

First, I wish to address the issues that have been raised concerning the amendment. I find the amendment unnecessary, and if Members had listened carefully to my speech on the motion, they would have noted that issues raised in the amendment had already been addressed. The entire process was mentioned. Registration issues were addressed, with a call for a more proactive approach from the Chief Electoral Officer in order to ensure full representation on the register.

The resources issue referred to by Mr McNamee was addressed, with a call for appropriate staffing, funding and equipment to enable the Chief Electoral Officer to fulfil the purpose of scrutiny in which he and his officers are engaged.

Mr McNamee referred to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report, stating that there was little evidence in it. Polling agents have a problem of duty, vis-à-vis their legal ability to apprehend someone in the course of personation. Mr McNamee forgot to consider the reasons for difficulty in presenting cases of personation, mentioned in paragraph 69 of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's report. The words, directly quoted from the document, which Mr McNamee edited in his presentation, are

"terrorist threat, intimidation in some areas".

Dr McCrea also referred to this problem from his own experiences.

I thank Dr Hendron for his contribution and agree with him and Mr Ervine, and others, that electoral malpractice is not new. Perhaps, in the days when there were just two major parties, each party's efforts were cancelled out by those of the other. I also agree with Dr Hendron that such electoral malpractice was not carried out on the massive organised scale that we see now and I am glad that he supports the idea of photographic identification.

Dr McCrea and others have referred to the lack of Government action; I welcome their comments.

Mr Gibson:

The Member will be aware that in the recent Assembly election there were several incidents in West Tyrone in which people who were intending to carry out voting fraud disappeared when challenged. There is no method of recording the number of people who attempted such fraud. The votes that were recorded under protest were never challenged, and the electoral office took no action. The pink forms were produced and put in envelopes, unchallenged, but after the election no action was taken in respect of persons who carried out electoral fraud.

Mr Hussey:

I thank my associate - I was going to say Colleague - from West Tyrone. I would not wish the Assembly to think that we were getting into a West Tyrone-only scenario - an accusation that has been made in the past.

Mr Neeson referred to the need for photographic identification and local checking of absent vote applications; I agree totally. I also agree with what Mr Ervine said about past electoral malpractice. To some extent, no party in the Assembly is lily white; we cannot account for all the actions of those who are willing to work and expend their best efforts for our respective causes. Mr Ervine said that he would support the amendment; I suggest that I dealt with the issues mentioned in the amendment when proposing the motion.

Mr Ervine:

I acknowledge the fact that the Member addressed the issues in his commentary. However, the motion that the Assembly will vote on does not mention registration or ballot process.

Mr Hussey:

I trust that the record of our debate will be considered by the Chief Electoral Officer.

Mr Ervine also put forward the idea of political instruction. I am sure that we would all agree that our young people should be properly instructed in the political situation in which they find themselves. I hope that I have already addressed the points that he made about the value of the vote.

Mrs Carson referred to the Sinn Féin proposal for the removal of the requirement for any means of identification, as mentioned in the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. Why does Sinn Féin favour such a move? Mr Bradley has written evidence that the Government recognise the problem; they promise remedies, but do not deliver. Other Members have referred to that problem. I sympathise with him over the "follow-the-postman scenario"; that is a frequent complaint in my constituency as well.

Mr P Robinson talked about the long-fingering of the issue under Mo Mowlam. I hope that the present Secretary of State can reinvigorate the issue and take it forward with a bit more haste.

5.30 pm

Mrs Nelis questioned my sincerity. I can assure her that I am totally sincere in bringing this to the House. I have not been afraid to admit to a knowledge of electoral malpractice in the past. The "Vote early, vote often" scenario existed in our society. It existed on both sides of a simple two-party system at that time, and I do not in any way defend that. Mrs Nelis commented on the intimidation, and indeed murder, of electoral workers. I wonder in which constituency a census enumerator was murdered in 1981. With regard to electoral fraud, I wonder whether any person in the House is aware of eight voters living in a two-bedroomed house. Mrs Nelis said that electoral fraud was perpetrated to ensure electoral supremacy. Do two wrongs make a right? Should somebody continue with such a scenario in a militaristic, organised way now?

Mr Kennedy referred to absent voters, people working and living elsewhere. I can think of one of my constituents: if you are living and working in New York it is difficult to go to the polling station in person. Perhaps that is the reason that person has a proxy vote, in spite of his being a naturalised American citizen.

Mr Shannon referred to derelict properties. I suggested that there should be some way in which derelict properties can be identified to ensure that nobody on the register can claim to live in one.

Finally, Mr Wilson, with his usual exuberance, finished off the debate in fine fettle. I will leave it at that.

The old call, as we all know, was "Vote early, vote often", but what we are trying to achieve in this debate and in the motion that I have placed before the House is the call that headlines the report of the elections review of October 1998, namely that we vote early and vote fairly.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly calls on the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland to report on his plans to counter electoral fraud.

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn. - [Madam Deputy Speaker]


East Belfast Redevelopment Areas:
Commercial Premises Valuation


Mr P Robinson:

I am delighted to see that the Finance Minister has come back to the Chamber. I hope that he has left his grumpy head behind and is not going to be tossing his head impatiently on this occasion. I hope that he will give us a fair hearing and respond to the debate.

Although the motion refers to East Belfast, it is just as relevant to many other parts of the Province, particularly other parts of the city of Belfast. It might be worthwhile to start with an explanation of how a valuation is determined for a property. The Valuation and Lands Agency (VLA) will inspect it. It will make a determination of the net annual valuation based on the size and type of property, its location and the attractiveness of the setting or, if it is a commercial property, its attractiveness in commercial terms. I should say that I have a background in estate agency, which I left to enter politics.

The valuation of a property determines what portion of the rate being levied across the Province that the property owner pays. As a consequence, it determines the amount that the holder of the property will pay towards services that are provided at a district level or at a regional level. Depending on how much the district or regional rate increases, the ratepayer will be exercised to a greater or lesser extent. Certainly, when a substantial increase in the regional rate was proposed, it set alarm bells ringing for many in the commercial sector.

The case that I bring to the attention of the Assembly does not relate to the level of increase. However, during discussions with traders after the levying of the increase, it was drawn to my attention that special problems occur in redevelopment areas.

If we assume that the VLA has made an accurate assessment of the net annual valuation of a property, that valuation can be changed by a change of circumstances in the area, or by something relating directly to the property. Something interesting happens at that stage, because if one applies for planning permission to extend the property, one can be absolutely certain of what will happen a few months later. One will receive a letter, visit or phone call from the VLA. It will say that the agency would like to carry out a new assessment of the net annual value of the property. Proactively, the VLA - spurred on, no doubt, by the Minister responsible for finance - will ensure that the new net annual valuation reflects the circumstances that then exist. Therefore, if one improves one's property by extending it, one can be sure that proactive action will be taken by the agency concerned.

If, for instance, the use classification of a property is changed, again one can be sure that a new assessment will follow, to check whether the new use to which one has put the property has a higher net annual valuation than previously. Again, the VLA will move proactively to ensure that if additional money is required from the ratepayer, it will be received.

However, if there are elements to the detriment of one's company, the valuation officer does not seem to know the address or telephone number, nor does he bother to visit.

There are many circumstances in which there will be a detriment to a property. That will arise where there is no proactivity on the part of the Valuation and Lands Agency, the Rates Collection Agency or the Department of Finance and Personnel or whoever has energised the VLA on the earlier occasions.

I draw the attention of the Assembly specifically to the issue of redevelopment. Take, for example, a street of shops that is servicing a local community. The example that I shall give is the Castlereagh Road - an incidence that came up recently.

An arterial route and several shops serve the community in that area. The Department, through its agency, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, decides that it is going to redevelop the area. No doubt, the aim is to improve the quality of life for the people who live there and to improve the housing standards that they will then enjoy.

When it happens, all the customers for those shops are removed from the area. That is not something that crept up on the VLA without notice. It is not as if it is not able to determine that there will be a massive impact on the shopkeepers there. It knows it, and it knows it through the same kind of procedures that tell it when someone is extending his shop or premises.

The VLA knows that if a planning application is approved, there will be an increase in the value of that property, so it reassesses it. It knows that if a redevelopment notice is posted there will also be an impact on a property. The VLA should, therefore, proactively follow to ensure that the rates are reduced for that individual and avoid the hardship for those who have to go to the agency and ask it to carry out that reinspection.

The experience of almost everyone that I have met in dealing with the issue is of an uphill struggle to get the VLA to accept the detriment to a property as a result of that kind of thing. The meagre reduction that has taken place, in the cases where there has been a successful outcome, has not, in any way, compensated for the reduction in income that has occurred as a result of redevelopment.

The outcome, therefore, is fairly clear. I am asking the Minister - and I do not ask or expect him to jump to any conclusions today - to consider looking at how, proactively, he can ensure that the VLA inspects and assesses the change in the net annual valuation of a property because of redevelopment. The VLA knows that it is happening. It could easily do it in the same way that it can when a planning application is made. The VLA knows that more money is available should it reinspect. Can he set a procedure in motion to ensure that that happens?

I also ask that, if he does that, he take the further step and ensure that the procedures, if the person is successful, ensure a satisfactory outcome. The Minister really must reassess whether adequate reductions are being made, even if only on a temporary basis. One must assume, if redevelopment is taking place, that the customer base will return, but those years can be crucial to the livelihoods of the shopkeepers involved.

If we are to have a thriving community when redevelopment does take place, and we are to have a group of shops after the new houses are built and the people return, it is vital that we do not leave those shops hanging out there, as they are at present.

At my meeting with the traders on the Castlereagh Road, they spoke, one after the other, of the hardships that they are facing as a result of redevelopment. They also spoke of the extent to which they would need to spend their own money to challenge professionally the valuation of their properties.

Whatever they are selling - sweets, cigarettes, clothes, books - their expertise is not in valuation. Their ability to argue their case is limited by the nature of their profession. Therefore, they have to buy in the expertise in order to challenge the valuation of their property - a costly endeavour for them. Such are the conundrums that they face. Their funds are reduced because their customer base has been removed. They have to use their own money to challenge the valuation of their property.

5.45 pm

Will the Minister look at the procedures, with a view to making them more user-friendly and less intimidating for people who wish to challenge the valuations? Will he also make sure that when a redevelopment occurs - wherever it is - the valuation office will reassess the valuation of the properties that will be most affected by it?

Mr Ervine:

I commend the Member for drawing the House's attention to an issue that is causing great difficulty. Many people wish that their area could be enhanced, but even after an area such as the one that I come from has been enhanced, the developers usually knock down three houses and build just one in their place. The problem does not exist only during redevelopment - when houses are vacated and the area becomes a wasteland - it continues beyond that point.

Such communities did not ask for the increase in traffic, as people drive by to the many supermarkets that have grown up, like small towns, in east Belfast. We cannot decry the shops; they bring jobs and people seem to like them. However, those who live on the ribbon development that my Colleague spoke about suffer the loss of passing trade because parking at out-of-town shops is more convenient. They also suffer because they live in areas that have a low level of home ownership. For example, a shop owner might, for his own sake, enhance the property, but he will receive no appreciation for his efforts. Mr Robinson described the position well. If someone wants to renovate their property when the area is being redeveloped, someone will appear quickly on the doorstep to do an upward revaluation. When the area is blighted - I think "blight" is the correct word - no one rushes to their aid.

The redevelopment of an area is not just about giving people nice houses to live in, although that is valuable. It is about retaining the services and the points of contact that have been part of the community. Not only are the residents sometimes scattered to the four winds, but circumstances are created in which traders and other owners of commercial property cannot compete. The point of contact for their services has gone.

Recently, we spoke about out-of-town developments and about a possible need to restrict large developments. There was relative consensus in the House that that was the wrong way to go if we were to hold communities together and retain services. Mr Robinson mentioned the Castlereagh Road, which is as good an example as any; at night, it is like a canyon. That is also true of the Newtownards Road and the Albertbridge Road; there is little activity on them. No one is being drawn to those places; people are being drawn to other places.

The community has taken a good kicking, whether from the planners or from those who can adjust the rateable values to meet the needs that undoubtedly exist, and I ask the Minister to pay specific attention. In fairness, Mr Robinson, in moving the motion, did draw attention to other places - it is not just a question of east Belfast. Many areas in Northern Ireland suffer similar problems.

Sir Reg Empey:

I want to make an observation and I hope the Member agrees with me. Although this debate is focused on valuations, a multi-agency approach is required. Planning has an objective of securing arterial routes. Knowing that there is a reduction in the number of people living in the area, you can replace the people who go to the shops if there is somewhere for them to park and shop in the area. That is how the Newtownards Road and the Cregagh Road have survived for years. It is extremely difficult to get that multi-agency approach because of the rigidities of Roads Service and Planning Service.

Mr Ervine:

The Member has made the point more succinctly than I could have, and I agree. I also have a feeling that the Member who introduced this to the House would not disagree. He is quite capable of speaking for himself, of course.

There is great deal of suffering, and until now it has been largely ignored. Now there is somewhere for the issue to be raised, and there is a receptive Minister who, one hopes, will take cognisance of all the difficulties and be prepared to ensure that those difficulties ease.

I have a final point to draw to the attention of this House. I hope you do not rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, because this expressly deals with the issue of commercial property. Recently, I have been reminded of the difficulty of homeowners in a redevelopment area who find themselves being asked to pay a Housing Executive rent. The Housing Executive will charge them a rent for a substantial time before vesting takes place. When the tenants get the value of their house, they find that they have frittered away a substantial amount paying rent for a house that they own. There are quite a number of issues in redevelopment areas that need serious consideration.

In the future we will have to take a different approach to redevelopment. We need to introduce the concepts pointed out by my Colleague, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. We need a holistic approach, cutting across departmental lines and ensuring that the people, whether traders or residents of redevelopment areas, get a better crack of the whip.


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