Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 20 March 2001 (continued)

Mr Durkan:

No. I have listened to a lot of points including those from the Member's Colleagues.

Let us also be very clear about the choices we have faced with public expenditure. For instance, in monitoring rounds one hobby-horse question has been "What can we do with the money?" In the December monitoring round we held money over because we had to address the deficits of the health and social services trusts, particularly on the acute hospital site. We held some £28 million back at that point. As it turned out we only needed £18 million to deal with the deficits so there was then £10 million available.

If I wanted to suit my own purposes entirely and if, as Members have suggested, I was running scared of the rates increase, I would have been proposing to use the spare £10 million to reduce the rates right across the board.

However, I recognised that there was a strong case for moving further and faster with the scheme to permit free travel for the elderly, and I proposed that we use £3 million of that £10 million to start the scheme this October, rather than in April 2002, and said that it would be fully funded. Members are suggesting that I should not have made this proposal and that my priority should have been to bring the rates down to keep myself right in the eyes of the Assembly and the public.

I believed that there were strong public policy grounds for prioritising the earlier commencement of the free travel scheme for the elderly rather than decreasing the regional rate. In the December monitoring round I also proposed that £2 million be used as a safety net to cover the interim funding arrangements that we want to make for the European programmes.

Again, people may think that that money might have been better spent on reducing the regional rate. It would have given me an easier time today. However, it would not necessarily have made it easier for those who are providing excellent projects and facing the difficulties created by the funding gap between our European programmes. That is why we made those decisions.

I recommended that we use the additional £5 million from the December monitoring rounds to reduce the regional rate, particularly in the non-domestic sector. Mr Sammy Wilson and Mr Dodds seem to be questioning my motive and whether I examined this issue myself. I used the £5 million to reduce the non-domestic regional rate because when looking at the figures, not least in my advanced work on the rating policy review, I recognised that arguments based on comparisons between our domestic regional rate and council taxes or water charges across the water do not apply when comparing our respective business rates. Therefore, our allocations under the Barnett formula would not be jeopardised. That was why the Executive, advisedly, went for that proposal. This point was not made in the Assembly or by anyone lobbying on the rates issue.

Further moneys will become available in future monitoring rounds, and those moneys will be used for public expenditure. There is no shortage of bids or calls for those moneys, and there is no shortage of need. Contributors to this debate seem to be suggesting that there is either a shortage of need or an excess of moneys. It has been claimed that all sorts of funding is washing through the system, that we have no good means of spending it, and that we are wasting it. I hope that I do not find myself in a situation in which the Treasury makes the same claims to me as have been made in this debate and elsewhere.

The Executive are determined to reduce the cost of administration. We are carrying out a review of public administration with a view not just to reducing cost but also to improving performance and responsiveness. This is one of the objectives of devolution.

There have been arguments that money which might be a drop in the ocean where public expenditure is concerned is not so insignificant when it comes to individuals. I accept that even a marginal increase in the rate can significantly squeeze the domestic finances of families in hard-pressed households, whether they are single occupancy households, as in the case of pensioners, or more standard family households. Let us be clear that there will be an average increase of less than 30p per week per household and that the least well-off families will be protected through the housing benefits system. We will be trying, in the wider policy review to deal with other inequities - and not least with Mr Close's point about single pensioner households.

I have written to the Finance and Personnel Committee about the rural relief scheme.

12.30 pm

That is permitted under existing legislation, but many of the other forms of relief which have been suggested are not. We are now making moves to implement that legislation, notwithstanding the imminent wider rating policy review. I did not think that it was fair to start moving on the rural rates relief scheme until we had completed the wider review. That was simply because the recommendations of the wider review will take a long time to implement. It must be remembered that that will cost us money. Some estimates suggest that the rural rates relief scheme will cost around £4 million per year. We need to recognise that we are making changes and advances in this important area.

I know that I have not covered all the points raised by Members - I will write to them individually on those I have left out. Let me underline that the Budget was about securing spending increases right across the range of services. Members ignore that fact when they just concentrate on North/South expenditure.

Not all of the North/South expenditure is entirely new. If we were not conducting that expenditure on a North/ South basis, we would be spending it through Northern Ireland Departments, agencies and other arrangements. That was the case before the North/South bodies came into place, and it is wrong for people to misrepresent that spending in this way. I have made that point on previous occasions.

As an Executive, we will also have to come forward with Budget proposals later this year and again in future years. In presenting the indicative figures for the next two years, we indicated the type of rates increases that we were looking at. Obviously, pulling back on the rates this year will have consequences for future years. We know that we face difficult Budget rounds in the future. We will not have the same uplifts in future years as we have had from the spending review this year. Things are going to be difficult and money will quite possibly be tight after future monitoring rounds.

When we deal more fully with the full Budget cycle over the course of the year, I hope that Members will realise that the Executive have to be prudent in seeking their target rate increases. More importantly, they should realise that the Executive are being strategic in putting our total public expenditure, both from the Barnett allocation and from the rates, to the best possible use for much-needed public services. People will welcome this investment right across the region, regardless of the fact that they are again having to pay higher rates. However, people know they would probably have been asked to pay additional money on the regional rates in any case, without necessarily receiving the benefits of our new additional expenditure.

It must be remembered that we are spending in areas in which Whitehall is not. For instance, we spend on free transport for the elderly, and we are making very distinctive moves on student financial support. Contrary to what people suggest, therefore, we are not absolutely handcuffed to Whitehall. However, nor are we entirely free agents. Not all public expenditure comes entirely free.

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 54; Noes 29.


Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Esmond Birnie, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Annie Courtney, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Mark Durkan, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, John Gorman, Tom Hamilton, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Dara O'Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Ken Robinson, George Savage, John Tierney, David Trimble, Jim Wilson.


Eileen Bell, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Seamus Close, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, David Ford, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Kieran McCarthy, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Rates (Regional Rates) (No 2) Order (Northern Ireland) 2001 be approved.


Electronic Communications Bill: Final Stage

Mr Speaker:

Order. If Members are not staying for education in this complex matter, will they please leave quietly.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair).

12.45 pm

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

I beg to move

That the Electronic Communications Bill [NIA 9/00] do now pass.

I thank Members for their speedy consideration of the Bill. The Electronic Communications Bill is a vital component of the Administration's transition to the electronic age. It represents a major step towards enabling Departments to offer speedier and more comprehensive services to our citizens on a par with the kind of services that are offered to citizens in Great Britain, the Republic and other EU countries.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage ministerial colleagues to ensure that their Departments exercise the powers conferred on them by the Bill as soon as possible after it becomes law. Electronic communication is fast becoming a feature of everyday life. We owe it to our citizens and to those in business to ensure that they can take full advantage of the new developments in technology.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Electronic Communications Bill [NIA 9/00] do now pass.

The sitting was suspended at 12.47 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair) -


Oral Answers


Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

2.30 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Members may wish to note that questions 4 and 16, standing in the names of Mr Neeson and Mr Beggs respectively, have been withdrawn.

Objective 1 Status


Mr Kane

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister what steps they are taking to secure the return of Objective 1 status for Northern Ireland.

(AQO 1142/00)

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

On 1 July 1999 the European Commission, using strict economic criteria, adopted the list areas eligible for Objective 1 status for the period 2000 to 2006. As our gross domestic product (GDP) in Northern Ireland was above the agreed level of 75% of the EU average, we did not qualify for this support. With the agreement in Berlin to the new peace programme, we gained an extremely important boost to expenditure in Northern Ireland. Later this week Commissioner Barnier will be here to sign the programmes formally.

As for the future, enlargement of the European Union is likely to lead to an increasing focus of structural funds on the new member states. Only an economic reversal of the deepest nature in Northern Ireland will cause Northern Ireland to qualify again for Objective 1 status. Our focus is on continuing to build on the economic growth we have enjoyed, which is the way forward. I know that that is the approach the Member would want us to take.

Mr Kane:

I accept the catch-22 nature of Objective 1 status, where the reward for better performance from those funds is to lose the status and accompanying funds. However, can the Deputy First Minister assure the House that the Province's gross domestic product and gross national product will not be so adversely affected by circumstances in agriculture as to entitle the Province to Objective 1 status again? Does the Deputy First Minister agree that Objectives 2 and 3, although not directly targeted towards agriculture, may still contain benefits for rural development?

The Deputy First Minister:

Mr Kane, like myself, would not suggest under any set of circumstances that the problems we face in agriculture with foot-and-mouth disease could in any way lead us to believe that the GDP would be reduced to such an extent that it would equate with our becoming eligible for Objective 1 status again. He can rest assured that the Executive will take every opportunity within the European Union to obtain support for our agriculture industry. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development will reinforce this in a statement later today.

Dr Birnie:

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that the recent increase, above 75% and up to 80%, in our GDP per capita figure is a success, not something we should be ashamed of? Does he also agree that in terms of Executive policies as a whole we should aim to increase that proportion towards 100%? Also, does he agree that the transitional funding package secured from the EU is relatively good, given that we are well above the 75% of the EU average criterion?

The Deputy First Minister:

I fully agree that we should look on the GDP growth as something to be proud of and pleased about. The Member is right when he says that it is somewhere in the region of 80% as opposed to the 75% cut-off point for Objective 1 status. We should be aiming at the 100% position. Given the type of growth and stability that we have had, growth and stability that the Assembly and the Executive have brought to the political process in the North of Ireland, I have no doubt that we will be able to maximise the advantages of the transition programme and the Peace II programme. I believe we will be able to do that in such a way that there will be maximum benefit for all sectors of the community in Northern Ireland.

Support for Victims


Mr K Robinson

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister whether the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust will have any responsibility for the administration of funding allocated by the Executive Committee for support to victims.

(AQO 1140/00)

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has allocated £420,000 in this financial year to assist victims. None of this money was passed to, or handled by, the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust. Decisions on future funding and the mechanisms for distributing that funding have not yet been taken. The distribution of Peace II money will be made through an intermediate funding body that will be appointed following an open tender competition.

Mr K Robinson:

The First Minister will be aware that, given some recent pronouncements, there is widespread concern among the victims of terrorism that there is an imbalance in funding towards ex-prisoners' groups. Will he ensure that any intermediate funding responsibility goes to bodies that have demonstrated a clear commitment to helping the victims, rather than the perpetrators of terrorism, so that confidence can be restored in this important process?

The First Minister:

It is very important that there is confidence in the process that has been adopted. Any concerns that there may be in the community with regard to the equity of treatment of groups should be properly addressed. One of the historical difficulties in this field has been that a number of victims, for a variety of reasons, did not feel that it was appropriate for them to form groups or to agitate for support. Consequently, other groups that were more aggressive in outlook were in existence and perhaps better organised in that respect. That is a situation that is changing rapidly, and I am quite sure that bodies such as the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust will want to ensure that all their activities are absolutely clear and even-handed in their approach.

Mr Gibson:

I asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister two weeks ago about its attitude to the private initiative by a victim of the Omagh bomb. Since its launch, four Secretaries of State have pledged not only financial, but personal support. Are the First Minister or Deputy First Minister prepared to make a statement on their commitment and attitude to that initiative?

The First Minister:

I am aware of the prosecution being contemplated by a number of victims of the Omagh bomb, and also of the support that is being given in a personal capacity by the previous Secretary of State. I emphasize the words "in a personal capacity". In terms of our official position, we have taken advice on the matter, and we have been advised that it would not be appropriate for our office to be engaged in what is a private prosecution. On the other hand, I must say that I fully understand the desire of the victims of the Omagh bomb to see that justice is done. We are very anxious to see that justice is done in an appropriate way.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. How many other funding bodies outside the remit of the Victims Unit will be involved in the administration of funding for victims? Will any particular funding body be responsible for the victims of state violence?

The First Minister:

The funding that is available for victims is directed towards the bereaved and injured. We deal with people without putting categories on them. As the Member knows, there is a distinction drawn between the work of our own unit and the existing programme that is done through the Victims Liaison Unit. Within the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, we have had a fairly limited programme that we hope will expand.

When Peace II arrives, there will be significant sums available - some £6·67 million in total - to be handled through an intermediate funding body after there has been an open tender competition. We will be very anxious to ensure that any such body operates in an entirely fair and even-handed manner.



Mr Byrne

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline how it is envisaged that the Programme for Government can be used to implement a strategy to combat poverty.

(AQO 1135/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the question. The Programme for Government sets out the Executive's commitments as regards reducing poverty. There are many relevant actions throughout the programme. I will specify some of them: the New Targeting Social Need action plan to be implemented by all Departments; work to tackle the problems of unemployment, including the new task force on employability and long-term unemployment; action to improve the delivery of Social Security services to vulnerable groups and a strategy to encourage the take up of benefits; programmes to regenerate disadvantaged urban and rural areas to improve access to decent, affordable housing and to address fuel poverty; and the Executive programme funds, especially the social inclusion, community regeneration fund and the children's fund.

Mr Byrne:

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his comprehensive answer. However, can he confirm that the continued absence of the Minister for Social Development from the Executive and his failure to co-operate go against those who need to see a new campaign to combat poverty in Northern Ireland? Many poor families want to see an effective anti-poverty strategy implemented as soon as possible.

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the question. The Minister for Social Development has, like his predecessor, refused to attend meetings of the Executive Committee. Meanwhile, the Executive as a unit is pressing ahead with the challenging programme of work to tackle disadvantage and promote social inclusion. The Executive will continue to do so, despite the lack of participation by the Minister for Social Development in its meetings.

We are determined that the absence of particular Ministers will not have a detrimental effect on this very important work. Nevertheless, I want to add that the absence from the Executive of the Minister, whose Department is so totally involved in dealing with poverty, must lead to some conclusions about his commitment to its eradication.

Mr Savage:

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that combating poverty will require particular emphasis on social development? Does he accept that the contribution to radical thinking in this area in the Programme for Government is practically zero? Can he assure the Assembly that if the relevant Minister is unwilling to address issues such as fuel poverty, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will take over responsibility for this area?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the question. There is a distinct feeling in this House that the absence from Executive meetings of a Minister who is so closely involved in dealing with poverty is a disadvantage to the Minister and his Department. We have made clear in the Programme for Government that we are fully committed to tackling the problems of poverty and deprivation, which affect so many people in our community.

At ministerial level, Northern Ireland has joined with England, Scotland and Wales to develop a draft UK fuel poverty strategy, which seeks to end fuel poverty by 2010. Every Department has responsibility in this regard, and each is working hard to address the problems of poverty and exclusion, which fall within their areas of responsibility.

In particular, the Department for Social Development must be addressing the issue of fuel poverty and is doing so by introducing a new grant scheme from April 2001. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. This is the Minister's response.

The Deputy First Minister:

This, it is hoped, will leave 6,000 to 8,000 householders out of fuel poverty annually, and the aim is to have assisted at least 20,000 householders by the year 2004. In addition, four fuel poverty pilot schemes have been introduced in Belfast, Derry, Aughnacloy and the Darkley area of County Armagh. These schemes involve insulation and heating improvements for over 6,000 low-income households.

Mr S Wilson:

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his response. Perhaps he will inform the First Minister - who seems to think that the DUP is participating in the Executive - that we are not participating in the Executive.

2.45 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Is that a question, Mr Wilson? Can we have a question please?

Mr S Wilson:

It is a preface to my question.

I ask the Deputy First Minister to inform his colleague the First Minister that he has noticed the DUP's absence from the Executive, because the First Minister seems to think that the DUP is participating in it. Does the Deputy First Minister also agree that despite that non-participation, which was a commitment made in the DUP's manifesto, the Minister for Social Development has worked to combat poverty? He has done that through DEES II (Domestic Energy Efficiency Scheme) by making sure that the rate of rent increases was not above the rate of inflation - unlike those made by the Member's party - and through urban regeneration schemes aimed specifically at those parts of the community in which there is social deprivation.

The Deputy First Minister:

I tend to thank the Member for his question. I am trying to remember the first part, but I think that it went roughly like this: would I inform the First Minister that both he and I greatly miss his Colleagues at Executive meetings? Of course, the answer is that we greatly miss - deeply miss - their input and perennial charm. [Laughter].

Mr Dodds:

You did not say that about the First Minister. [Laughter].

The Deputy First Minster:

With regard to the second part of the Member's question, I will put it this way: there is no one in the Assembly who is not concerned about social exclusion and poverty. I do not believe that anyone would deliberately try to stand in the way of dealing with those huge problems.

However, I say this to the Member who asked the question: attendance at the Executive and taking a share of the collective responsibility for dealing with matters are much more important to the people of the North of Ireland than any party political stance on the issue. I remind Mr Wilson again that poverty is not an issue with which one should play party politics.

Support for Victims


Mr B Bell

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to make a statement on the strategic approach to meeting the needs of victims.

(AQO 1136/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

We are keenly aware of the need for a strategic approach to deal with the needs of victims, and a number of important steps have been taken to achieve that. Among those is the inclusion of specific action points in the Programme for Government, the reconstitution of an interdepartmental working group and the development of a cross-departmental strategy on victims. Work is progressing on that strategy, and it will be issued for widespread consultation so that the views of victims and victims' groups can be taken into account.

Mr B Bell:

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his reply. However, has the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister had any further discussions with the Minister of State on the suggestion for a victims' commission? Does he agree that there would be more public confidence in an official commission, accountable to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and therefore to the Assembly?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for his question. We have not yet reached a firm view on the proposal to establish a victims' commission. Junior Ministers Haughey and Nesbitt will meet in the near future with their Northern Ireland Office counterpart, Mr Adam Ingram. It is an idea that merits further consideration and evaluation before any firm proposals are brought forward. In particular, we need to consider what role a commissioner or ombudsman might have and if the benefits of such an appointment would justify the diversion of resources from providing practical help and support for victims.

I do not share the Member's view on the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust. That organisation has shown a lasting commitment to victims and has done remarkably good work in that area.

Mr McMenamin:

Is the Minister satisfied that the measures put in place to assist victims of the Omagh bomb are working, and will he outline the assistance currently being provided to the victims?

The Deputy First Minister:

Of course, no amount of activity or support will ever compensate for the horrific loss of life and the suffering that took place in Omagh. However, following that atrocity a co-ordinated response to the needs of the victims was put in place by the Northern Ireland Office, which was responsible for all victims matters at that time.

The victims of the bomb in Omagh can currently avail of a wide range of help and support. This includes the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund; Northern Ireland Office initiatives and core funding; capacity building for victims organisations; the forthcoming Peace II programme, which will include a specific measure for victims; support for the trauma advisory panels; specific projects to be funded by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister; and help and advice from our Victims Unit.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I am sure that the Deputy First Minister will be glad that young people from Ballymena Academy in my constituency are watching from the Gallery today. They have been joined by those who have "crossed the Boyne" - from a school in Dundalk that they are associated with. That should make his Nationalist heart rejoice as he sits here today.

Does the Minister feel that victims, including those of the bomb in Omagh, should have to wait all this time before the necessary relief comes to them? Do they have to wait until decisions are made and to see whether there will be a Commissioner, and so on? These people are in need and their needs should be met.

Is it not strange that when the last tranche of money was put out to certain organisations that deal with victims, the Families Acting for Innocent Relatives organisation (FAIR) was discriminated against and got the lowest possible money? Is he not aware - and I am sure that he is because he comes from the region - that in that area there was terrible havoc caused by the IRA in the killings of Ulster Defence Regiment men, policemen and individuals? Does he not feel that those victims have as much right to get fair compensation as anyone else?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member his question and for advising me of the presence of the young people from Ballymena and of those who have "crossed the Boyne". I join with him in giving them a very sincere welcome to the Assembly.

In relation to the first part of his question, the hon Member knows - as all Members know - from our discussions about a commissioner for children, that it requires forward planning and perhaps even legislation. It certainly requires a substantial amount of finance - that goes without saying. The First Minister and I do not want to decide on whether that money should go on administration or go directly to victims, without properly looking at and evaluating its ultimate potential. That is something for us to assess when we have all of the necessary information.

In relation to the latter part of the question, I am aware of the organisation of which he spoke. I share with him my concern about those in my constituency who lost their lives through violence from many sources. Victims and "victimhood" should transcend the source of the violence and should not be judged by it. I am aware, as the Member also is, that there were administrative difficulties in that organisation. I hope that it has resolved those so that matters can be looked at and progressed by the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, which makes these allocations of money.

Community Capacity Building Imbalance


Mr Carrick

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail what specific plans are in place to address the imbalance of community capacity building, particularly amongst Protestant communities in urban and rural areas.

(AQO 1121/00)

The First Minister:

The Programme for Government commits the Executive to take action to develop the necessary community infrastructure in the most disadvantaged areas and where it is weakest. It sets the target of April 2001 for the introduction of a programme of action and support to strengthen areas of weakest community infrastructure with the objective of redressing social and economic disadvantage.

As a result of that work a draft measure on tackling weak community infrastructure has been prepared for the Peace II programme. With regard to the rural development programme, the strategy for the 2001-06 phase includes equality and inclusion as a guiding principle. All sections of the rural community will be encouraged to become involved. One of the aims of the capacity building element of the programme will be to develop diverse and representative community-based organisations in rural areas.

Mr Carrick:

I thank the First Minister for his response. Does he agree that in light of the poor uptake of financial assistance by Protestant groups for community capacity building - particularly those in the rural and provincial areas - part of the new round of Peace II funding should be ring-fenced for that purpose to correct the imbalance and to bring about funding equity.

The First Minister:

That is an important point. Pages 24 and 25 of the Programme for Government set out a number of actions that we, as an Administration, hope to implement in order to achieve that objective. It is recognised that there has been an imbalance in take up mainly due to an imbalance of applications and projects coming forward. That issue should not only be tackled by the administration but also by a range of other bodies.

Mr Carrick is a member of Craigavon Borough Council. He will be aware of the studies that have been done in the Craigavon area and of the considerable amount of work that is being done to try and tackle those issues by that council and other groups such as Portadown Local Action for Community Engagement. I am sure he agrees that there is a need for that work to be promoted and for it to proceed as far as possible on a non-partisan basis. It should not be turned into a party political issue. I am reflecting on the imbalance and the difficulties in the Portadown district and if those community issues in that area are going to be satisfactorily resolved there needs to be progress on the Drumcree issue.

Mr Hussey:

Perhaps the First Minister can give a small geography lesson to the Deputy First Minister as to the location of the Boyne.

The First Minister answered Mr Carrick's question to a degree. The First Minister will be aware that in the past the Deputy First Minister has admitted that there has been an imbalance of uptake. At that time, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister was asked to be proactive in encouraging the Protestant community to seek assistance for community capacity building. What proactive actions have been engaged in to encourage that?

The First Minister:

The imbalance in uptake of funding was established through a study undertaken by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency and is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance and Personnel. Action has been taken to examine the problem and its extent, and, as I mentioned, the Programme for Government contains measures that the Executives hopes to develop within the community support programme. The measures will be taken in connection with local authorities but will involve voluntary action by people in the community. People will have to get beyond the stage of complaining about a problem and be prepared to tackle it.

There will be support from official sources - from local Government and the Assembly - for people who are tackling that issue but it depends on a willingness in the community for people to become involved. I encourage that and I am sure that the Member would also encourage people to be involved in that way.

Mr Douglas:

It has been brought to my attention by a local community group that the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action has made appointments to the Limavady partnership board of at least 85% Roman Catholics to represent the voluntary community sector in an area which is fifty-fifty.

Given the fact that there is an imbalance in the area of community capacity building, does the First Minister agree that bodies who vet applicants for local boards which manage funds allocated to local groups should take account of the religious make-up in these areas when making such determinations?

3.00 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time for Questions to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is up. I ask the Ministers to respond in writing to the remaining questions.

Mr B Bell:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Deputy First Minister, in his very helpful answer to my supplementary question, said that he disagreed with me on the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust (NIVT), but at no time did I refer to the NIVT. I want to put that on record.


<< Prev / Next >>