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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 23 April 2001 (continued)

Ms de Brún:

I have answered the question; I am answering the question. Since then I have instructed my officials to request another meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. For example, members of my staff and those from the Department in Dublin have held meetings on accident and emergency services in Belfast and Dublin to identify areas for enhancing co-operation in cancer services, staff training, development and exchange. Those are five matters that I would like to take up.

There are reviews of renal services to exchange information. There is a North/South paper, still at the development stage, on proposals for further local inter-hospital collaborative projects. That was discussed at the meeting in Enniskillen under the auspices of co-operation and working together (CAWT). The question of the Food Safety Promotion Board also needs to be dealt with. That board's work is being held back because it has been unable to appoint permanent staff. It continues to operate with an interim chief executive and has not been able to obtain agreement on a strategic plan. The establishment of the scientific advisory committee on nutrition (SACN) awaits approval by the North/South Ministerial Council, and its formal appointment is essential to underpin the board's credibility. That is all happening at a time when the agrifood industry is at its lowest ebb and people need help and guidance.

On the issue of planning for major emergencies, as Members will know from previous questions, a working group has been asked to look at the question of an air ambulance service. In the Fire Service, papers are under review on current co-operation, fire safety education awareness and co-ordination of cross-border responses to road traffic accidents. Those will be dealt with at a meeting of the working group.

Those are all matters which, when prepared, will go in front of the North/South Ministerial Council, should such a meeting be held. I am running out of time, but there are matters that relate to the operation of high-technology equipment and hospital, and community-related, emergency planning. There are further questions about the area of health promotion, including projects we wish to take forward that were discussed at the last meeting. Some of those relate to health in the workplace; others, such as smoking, particularly by young girls in school, will be discussed in conjunction with the Minister of Education. Those and other health promotion issues are ones that we wish to deal with at the next Ministerial Council meeting. The five different areas of co-operation and the work that the Food Safety Promotion Board needs to do at this critical time will be dealt with at the next possible opportunity.

We have the question of whether co-operation to date in plenary meetings has brought to light issues on which we might wish to expand the present co-operation and put forward ideas for a further work programme for the coming year. I hope that answers the Member's question.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The Member asked for detail, and he certainly got as much if not more detail than he wanted. [Interruption].

I have been asked to take a point of order. Points of order come at the end of questions.

Mr S Wilson:

Does the Minister not find it odd that, at a time when she claims her Department is short of money and the budget is tight, she has spent money fighting political battles through the British court system, which IRA/Sinn Féin has consistently tried physically to destroy? Perhaps she will explain to the House why, given the antipathy of IRA/Sinn Féin towards the British Government and everything British, she has, by her own admission, written two begging letters to a British Secretary of State asking him to support her getting a North/South meeting called?

Ms de Brún:

The Member has, as usual, asked a question in his own inimitable style. I suggest that he look at the Hansard record, which will show that I clearly said that I was reminding the British Secretary of State of the powers available to him under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to direct the First Minister to carry out his statutory duty. I was also perfectly capable of doing that in person on the occasion that I met with the British Secretary of State.

I do not have a variety of different court systems to choose from, so I happily use the one available to me. I do so because I am the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for all of society - for those constituents that the Member represents as well as for my own constituents; for those whom he represents in political outlook as well as for those whom my political outlook represents. My ability to do my duty for all of those people is being hampered by the continued refusal of the First Minister to nominate me to meetings of the North/ South Ministerial Council.

I also refer the Member to previous answers in which I have shown that the co-operation that we have been able to achieve, specifically in relation to health promotion issues, has been cost-effective and has saved us all money.

Alcoholism: Drinks Marketing


Mr Dallat

asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to indicate what research she is undertaking to measure the influence of drinks marketing techniques on the rate of alcoholism.

(AQO 1305/00)

Ms de Brún:

Sheol mé 'Straitéis an Choiste Feidhmiúcháin leis an Dochar Alcól-Ghaolmhar a Laghdú' an fómhar seo caite. Ceanglaíonn seo de thrí chuspóir ghinearálta sinn: ar an chéad dul síos, dearcadh ciallmhar ar an ólachán a chothú; ar an dara dul síos, seirbhísí éifeachtacha cóireála a chur chun cinn; agus ar an tríú dul síos, daoine aonair agus comhphobail a chosaint ar an dochar a fhéadann mí-úsáid alcóil a dhéanamh.

3.15 pm

Last autumn I launched the strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm, which commits us to three broad objectives. These are to encourage a sensible approach to drinking; to promote effective treatment services; and to protect individuals and communities from the damage that alcohol misuse can cause.

Within the framework established by the strategy my Department is working to develop an information and research programme. Priorities for the research programme will be set through consultation with a wide range of organisations and agencies. That will provide an opportunity to analyse and assess local drinking patterns and behaviours, including the influence of factors such as marketing techniques.

Mr Dallat:

The vast majority of people involved in the drinks trade are decent, honourable people who share my concerns. Does the Minister agree that some of the marketing techniques referred to that promote alcohol - for example, "two for the price of one", happy hours and other attractions such as prizes and awards - could be a cause of increased alcoholism for some?

Will the Minister ensure that there is very close monitoring of such promotions in the drinks trade, so that her Department is in a position to make sound judgements about possible links between questionable marketing and alcoholism? Her Department could then take appropriate measures to counteract such practices.

Ms de Brún:

I certainly share the Member's concern about such marketing techniques. The strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm highlights that as an issue that should be pursued.

We will take the opportunity, through the implementation of the strategy, to highlight again the advertising codes of the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Advertising Standards Authority. Those codes state that

"Particular care should be taken to ensure that advertisements for sales promotions requiring multiple purchases do not actively encourage excessive consumption."

We will also work with the drinks industry to address common areas of concern. We aim to have agreed joint policies for enhancing responsible trading next year, having reviewed the whole issue of responsible trading with the drinks industry, local strategy implementation groups and other interested bodies.

Mrs Carson:

Is the Minister not aware that a major part of the European Declaration on Alcohol is a commitment to ensure that young people can grow up without undue exposure to the promotion of alcohol? Will her Department give specific attention to researching the correlation between drinks marketing techniques and binge drinking among young people?

Ms de Brún:

Again, I share the Member's concerns about marketing techniques, and I refer her to the answer that I gave on the points that we will be taking forward.

The specific link between marketing and binge drinking is certainly another aspect that must be examined with regard to the implementation of that part of the strategy. We certainly know that binge drinking is a particular problem here.

We know from a health promotion survey of adult drinking patterns carried out in 1999 that males who drank 10 units or more and females who drank seven units or more in one sitting were classified as having participated in a binge drinking session. Under that criteria, even at that time, 39% of male drinkers and 28% of female drinkers had experienced a binge drinking session in the week prior to the survey.

We will be taking specific measures to look at the question of binge drinking by young people. However, as I have said, the priorities for the research programme will be set through consultation with a wide range of organisations and agencies, which will provide the opportunity to address, to assess and to analyse that as an issue that needs to be researched.

Dr O'Hagan:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Can the Minister indicate what measures are in place to target under-age drinking and to educate young people about the dangers of under-age drinking?

Ms de Brún:

Under-age drinking must be tackled seriously. It is an offence for licensees or their employees to sell alcohol to anyone under 18 years of age, and it is an offence for anyone under 18 to buy alcohol or present themselves as being over 18 for the purpose of buying alcohol. We will review the adequacy of the current controls as one element in the implementation of the alcohol strategy. As part of the school curriculum all young people receive health education to discourage them from under-age drinking. The curriculum includes education on alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. The Health Promotion Agency has also carried out research and delivered public information programmes.

Further work under the new alcohol strategy will develop a health promotion and education programme targeted at children and young people. The programme will provide training for teachers, other educators and youth workers. The target date for the development of these programmes is December 2001.

Ulster Hospital


Mrs E Bell

asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to detail the current situation in the Ulster Hospital as regards (a) waiting lists, (b) intensive care unit (ICU) staffing and (c) the general financial situation of the Ulster Community and Hospitals Health and Social Services Trust.

(AQO 1257/00)

Ms de Brún:

Is don ráithe a chríochnaíonn ar 31 Nollaig 2000 a thagraíonn an t-eolas is déanaí atá ar fáil ar liostaí feithimh. Ag an am sin, bhí 3,605 duine ag fanacht le dul isteach in Otharlann Uladh mar othair chónaitheacha.

Cruinnítear eolas ar dhaoine atá ag fanacht lena gcéad choinne othair sheachtraigh ar bhonn iontaobhais agus chan ar bhonn otharlainne. Ag deireadh Nollag 2000, bhí 15,406 duine ag fanacht lena gcéad choinne othair sheachtraigh ag Iontaobhas Phobal agus Otharlanna Uladh.

The latest information available on waiting lists refers to the quarter ending 31 December 2000. At that time 3,605 people were waiting for inpatient admission to the Ulster Hospital. Information on people waiting for their first outpatient appointment is collected on the basis of trust rather than hospital. At the end of December 2000, 15,406 people were waiting for their first outpatient appointment at the Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust. The current staffing levels in the intensive care unit are adequate, having been increased in the past year.

A reference was made to the general financial situation of the trust. My Department has recently allocated an additional £1·35 million to enable the trust to deal with its cumulative deficit at the end of this financial year. My Department is also engaged in ensuring that the trust has an agreed recovery plan that will enable it to maintain financial stability in future years.

Mrs E Bell:

I thank the Minister for her answer, especially with regard to the financial situation. From the time that the Ulster Hospital was built, it has been promised extra money, and it is good that a local Minister is allocating that money now because it is really needed. Anyone who has been in the Ulster Hospital will be aware of that. Does the Minister accept that money is needed for the casualty unit tomorrow - in fact, it was needed yesterday - to ensure that recent incidents do not recur and that waiting lists are reduced as quickly as possible?

Ms de Brún:

Some aspects of the programme for the Ulster Hospital were implemented urgently because we understood the need for them. My Department acted quickly to address the individual deficit problems at the Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust, and other trusts, by requiring formal recovery plans from the relevant organisations. We understand the need for capital investment for the business case that the trust has been working on and has brought to us. We will give it our consideration.

Dr Adamson:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

There are many "ologies" in medicine - and I am sure that the Minister has met quite a few of them - ranging from anthropology to zoology. I am sure that she has met a bit of "codology" as well. Dermotology services are one of the Cinderellas of medicine. Can the Minister detail the present state of the dermotology services in the Ulster Hospital and how they are to be developed because of the increase of skin cancer in our area?

Ms de Brún:

As regards waiting lists, dermatology is one of the three main specialities accounting for the majority of the change in the numbers of people waiting for both inpatient and outpatient treatment. Clearly, there is a need for work in this area. The majority of the change can be accounted for by dermatology, plastic surgery and trauma, and orthopaedics. We have taken that matter on board.

However, part of the change is due to an increase in referrals and in emergency admissions to the Ulster Hospital in respect of these specialities, including dermatology. The trust also undertook a programme of work to rationalise the process by which referrals are sent by GPs, and that has led to the trust dealing with a number of referrals that, in the past, would have been referred to other trusts. That is something that we need to take on board and to look out for in the future.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

In answer to the previous question, I do not think that there is a treatment for "codology".

Dr McDonnell:

I am interested in the 3,605 waiting list patients in general. However, can the Minister tell us what percentage of operating theatre time is lost because of theatre staff non-availability - in other words, where nurses or theatre support staff are not available, yet surgeons and others are?

Ms de Brún:

I cannot give a specific percentage of operating time lost, but I certainly share the Member's concern regarding the availability of nursing specialists. That has been the case in waiting lists generally, and in some specialities more than others the availability of theatre time and staff has impacted on waiting lists. The Member will be aware that we have looked not only at the question of increasing nursing numbers - and we are increasing the number of nurses in training by 100 places each year for the next three years - but specifically at specialities within that area. That is something that will be addressed.

Lagan Valley Hospital
A&E Department


Mr Molloy

asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to explain how Lagan Valley Hospital was granted permission to build a new accident and emergency department before the acute hospitals review group has given its report on acute services.

(AQO 1298/00)

Ms de Brún:

Is é atá san obair ar an roinn taismí agus éigeandálaí ag Ospidéal Ghleann an Lagáin ná athchóiriú na n-áiseanna reatha le cinntiú go gcoinneofar na seirbhísí atá ann faoi láthair. Chuir mé in iúl go soiléir nár cheart d'obair an athbhreithnithe ar ghéarospidéil aon bhac a chur ar sholáthar leanúnach seirbhísí. Ní gá don iontaobhas cead a iarraidh ar an Roinn le tabhairt faoin obair mar nach dtéann na costais chaipitil thar £500,000.

The work on the accident and emergency department at Lagan Valley Hospital is, in fact, the refurbishment of the current facilities to ensure the maintenance of existing services. I have made it clear that the continued delivery of services should not be impeded by the work of the acute hospitals review group. The trust does not require permission from the Department to undertake the work, as capital costs do not exceed £500,000.

Mr Molloy:

Is the Minister aware that this is a manoeuvre being pulled by the trust to ensure that it does not have to get approval and that the cost, as discussed by the trust, is more likely to be in excess of £700,000 when equipment, and so on, is in place? The Department has said that accident and emergency units, or variations of them, should not be changed until the Hayes review of acute services is delivered. The danger is that if this refurbishment takes place - or what I see as a completely new accident and emergency unit, publicly advertised as such by the trust itself - it could make the Hayes review redundant.

At the same time, in my area hospital, the South Tyrone Hospital, the accident and emergency unit has been closed for 12 months, and people are on long waiting lists in Craigavon. We need to view this not as refurbishing -

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. Will the Member please put a question to the Minister?

3.30 pm

Mr Molloy:

Does she accept that this does not constitute refurbishment and that the actual cost will be in excess of £700,000 rather than £500,000?

Ms de Brún:

I am not aware of any evidence that suggests that the work on the capital costs will exceed £500,000. If that is found to be the case, the trust will require the Department's permission, and I will have to take the matter up with that trust. However, on the basis that the acute hospitals review should not affect the continued delivery of high-quality services, I expect trusts to take the action necessary to ensure that patient services are up to standard. That includes continued refurbishment, where necessary, in hospitals.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Our time is up. I thank the Minister.

Mr Beggs:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Under Standing Order 19(5), the Speaker may from time to time consult the Business Committee on the need to provide additional time for questions. Will the Minister examine the length of some of the answers given? By ensuring that answers are brief and to the point, additional time could be created, and this would enable us to get further than question 4 on the Order Paper.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

There are two other points of order.

Mr Armstrong:

In answer to an earlier question, the Minister said that she was not able to fulfil her duties because of her party's exclusion from the North/South bodies. If that party and its associates were to decommission their weapons and explosives, they would not have a problem.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That is not a point of order. Will the Member please refer to the Standing Order to which he is referring.

Mr Armstrong:

The Minister said that she is not able to carry out her duties because of her non-attendance at North/South bodies. She could do a good deal of work here in Northern Ireland.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have ruled that this is not a point of order.

Mr Davis:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of the fact that just four oral questions have been answered this afternoon, will the Minister not consider in future, as a courtesy to the House, answering all the questions in English, as this would not take up so much time?

Ms de Brún:

We have been over this matter several times, and the time taken up by answers in Irish has no impact. Members should consider that oral questions - not written questions - comprising parts (a), (b) and (c) are allowed and that that has a clear impact on the length of answer that a Minister is expected to give.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. These points of order have been responded to by the Minister, and that has prolonged this section of Question Time. I will respond to the points of order that have been made. Five questions have been dealt with during this 30-minute period. The first question was amalgamated with question 8. It is important that points relating to the length of questions and their responses be brought to the Business Committee by the Whips. That is where these issues should be discussed.

Mr Maskey:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. With reference to the last point of order, I will take guidance from you, but, in my opinion, it was inappropriate for you to refer that question to the Minister. The Standing Order that Mr Davis was referring to is an Order of this House.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. The question which was originally introduced as a point of order was not referred by the Deputy Speaker to the Minister. The Minister sought to respond immediately on her own behalf.

Mr Poots:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not in order for you to step in when it is clear that the Minister is filibustering to avoid later questions?

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. That is not a point of order. We must move on.

Dr O'Hagan:

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. With regard to the points of order on the Irish language, if proper translation facilities were available in the House, there would be no need to hold up the debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Order. Time is up. We must move on.


Finance and Personnel

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Question number 12 in the name of John Fee has been withdrawn.

Access to Children's Fund


Mrs Courtney

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to detail when the children's fund can be accessed by organisations other than Government Departments.

(AQO 1287/00)

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

The Executive propose to consult with the voluntary and community sector on arrangements for the children's fund. An interdepartmental working group has been established to work with the voluntary and community sector with a view to putting in place the necessary arrangements so that funding can be allocated in September 2001.

Mrs Courtney:

Can the Minister confirm how much remains in the children's fund following his first round of allocations? Will he ensure that those voluntary and community organisations with valuable advice and input to give in this area will be consulted on the best use of the remaining resources?

Mr Durkan:

There is £29 million in the Executive programme fund entitled the children's fund. Based on the previous announcements made in the House, we have allocated £10 million. That leaves £19 million. We have not determined the precise balances that are to be allocated to direct bids from the community and voluntary sector or to the bids from Departments. Even those areas of the fund that have been subject to bids generated by specific Departments or between Departments can have application to the community and voluntary sector. It is not the case that bids from Departments would simply be confined to Government activity. They could also fund activity in other sectors. We have an amount of money in the fund that can assist the community and voluntary sector where there are good proposals.

Mr McFarland:

Can the Minister assure me that priority in the allocation of funds to non-governmental organisations will be given to established children's charities rather than to bureaucratic intermediary bodies, thereby ensuring that children themselves benefit from this innovative programme?

Mr Durkan:

One of the things that the Executive want to achieve with Executive programme funds is maximum direct benefit to the community and to particular services. However, we also want to ensure that there is a good strategic impact. There will also be many instances, not least in the children's fund, where some of the funding will be to pilot schemes, or pilot initiatives, that could include some direct services. This might also involve some developmental work being undertaken by bodies that might be classified as intermediary bodies or bodies that are representing a wider service interest. What we would be trying not to do is to have the funds soaked up by schemes or projects that are not of themselves adding new, additional or developmental benefit. We cannot say at this stage that particular priority or preference will be given to certain organisations above others.

Peace II Money: Distribution


Mr Poots

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel if it is his intention to ring-fence Peace II money to ensure equitable distribution.

(AQO 1301/00)

Mr Durkan:

The funding to be allocated under the Peace II programme has been agreed by the Executive, and the respective financial allocations for each priority and measure are specified in the operational programme which was formally agreed with the European Commission on 22 March.

Mr Poots:

I am not sure what question the Minister was answering, but he did not address the issue of ring-fencing the Peace II money. Clearly, that was a problem with Peace I. Where money was ring-fenced, it was more equitably distributed.

Is it the Minister's intention to ensure that Peace II is ring-fenced so that the Unionist community can get a piece of the cake and not just the crumbs that it received last time?

Mr Durkan:

I did address the issue in the question. I made it quite clear that the funding is available and will be allocated on the basis of the criteria that are set down in the operational programme and will be further defined in the programme complement. The community support framework provides a set of horizontal principles that will be fully adhered to. Monitoring arrangements are in place for the next Peace programme, and I believe that they are much stronger and more effective than in the last Peace programme.

I also believe that the Member's latter point acknowledges that, notwithstanding many of the perceptions that have existed about this, progress has been made on this issue in ensuring that there has been a better spread of applications coming forward, and in turn there may be a healthier balance of allocations. Equality and balance are two of the key issues in the horizontal principles, and when we fully apply those measures in that way, people throughout the community will be satisfied with the outcome.

Mr Hussey:

Will the Minister confirm that the £6·67 million ring-fenced for victims is to be allocated specifically to the victims of terrorism? What sum has been ring-fenced to support ex-prisoners? Perhaps it would be better if such funding were allocated to ex-prisoners via non-ex-prisoner-type organisations, which would better assist the process of rehabilitation.

Mr Durkan:

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will manage the money in relation to victims. The junior Ministers have already spoken to the House about those plans. We have agreed the operational programmes. The programme complements have to be agreed, and that will include details of the precise measures and criteria. That is still to be determined.

The emphasis is that the funding will be for people who have suffered injury, bereavement or direct suffering as a result of violence in our community. Ex-prisoners' groups and interests are eligible for consideration under a number of measures in the Peace II programme.

Peace II Programme:
Community and Voluntary Sector


Mr Maskey

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to detail the role envisaged for the community and voluntary sector in respect of the Peace II programme.

(AQO 1304/00)

Mr Durkan:

The community and voluntary sector will continue to have an important role in Peace II overall, and, because the terms of reference for the new local strategy partnerships will be wider, the scope for that sector to influence strategic priorities at the local level should be increased.

Mr Maskey:

Does the Minister agree that a number of organisations and representatives from the voluntary and community sector have already made their concerns known to the Department in respect of the strategy partnership? Concerns have been expressed that the community and voluntary sector might be swamped by some of the more mainstream or statutory bodies.

Mr Durkan:

I acknowledge that that concern exists and has existed for many people in the community and voluntary sector. I have some sympathy with that. I am pleased to observe that many people in that sector have been reassured by the further plans and thinking that we have been able to show, particularly as we have agreed the Peace II operational programme. In turn, we have been able to concentrate on some of the more detailed issues of the transition to new partnership models.

Many of the fears that people had have now been seen to be ill-founded, and many are looking forward positively to the sort of prospects opening up for partnership in the new Peace programme. However, they are clearly conscious that the real test will be how things work in practice. If seized properly these new proposals will allow the community and voluntary sector not just to get a significant turn for itself, and those that it serves, out of the Peace II programme, but also to make a very significant contribution to the activities of other sectors.

3.45 pm

Mr J Wilson:

Can the Minister explain why it has taken two months to deal with the appointment of the intermediary funding bodies (IFBs) for Peace II? When does he expect a final decision to be made?

Mr Durkan:

I will try to avoid any issues of anticipation in this answer as the subject of the next question is also IFBs. I can assure the Member that there has been no delay. The advertisement calling for applications was published in January, with a closing date of 2 March. A significant number of applications were received. It is a competitive process, and those applications have had to be processed and evaluated. In that sense two months is not a delay; rather it is a reasonable time for the submission and consideration of bids. We are now hoping to move forward.

Peace II Programme:
Intermediary Funding Bodies


Mr McGrady

asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel to detail what bodies will be selected as intermediary funding bodies for the delivery of funds from the Peace II Programme; and to make a statement.

(AQO 1258/00)

Mr Durkan:

As I just said, at the end of January an advertisement was placed in newspapers, North and South, asking for interested organisations to submit tender applications for apppointment as IFBs under Peace II by 2 March 2001. An independent evaluation of the tenders received has been completed by outside consultants, and the results will be considered by the selection steering group later this week. The selection process is expected to be concluded next month.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Minister for his reply and his answers to the previous supplementaries. However, considering that the Rural Development Council has already achieved a very high level of expertise and has a proven track record in delivering funds from the first Peace programme, what assurances can the Minister give that it can and will be selected as an intermediary funding body for the delivery of those programmes that pertain to the rural community?

In the interim, what will the Minister do to ensure the sustainability of ongoing programmes, which have been so important in the rural communities?

Mr Durkan:

The process for selection of IFBs for the next programme has been an open and competitive process and still has fully to run its course. The consultants will be referring their consideration on the proposals submitted to the steering group later this week. Therefore I cannot anticipate that any group, which may or may not have tendered for this, will be successful. It would clearly be inappropriate for me to enter into any speculation, never mind give any commitments in that regard. However, I am happy to recognise the very strong, important and invaluable contribution that all the intermediary funding bodies have made to the success of Peace I and that many of them make in a number of other fields through their other responsibilities and efforts as well.

As for gap funding, we are trying to ensure that we are open for applications before the summer to minimise the gap. In the meantime interim funding opportunities are available. Groups that were previously funded from intermediary funding bodies are eligible to apply. Individual projects have received information through advertisements and through responses to specific requests.

If the Member has any particular concerns about the working of these arrangements, I will be happy to look at them.

Mr Beggs:

Will the Minister indicate the criteria used to determine the effectiveness of the intermediary funding bodies under Peace I, and if success in giving, or more often than not failure to give, a fair and equitable geographical and community spread of the previous funding will be taken into consideration when appointing new intermediary funding bodies?

Mr Durkan:

I have to be careful about being drawn in too deeply in reply to the Member's question, because it asks me to speak specifically about the performance of groups as intermediary funding bodies in Peace I, and many of those groups have tendered to be such bodies in Peace II. I cannot associate myself with some of the pejorative references in the Member's remarks concerning the performance of those intermediary funding bodies, because it would be prejudicial to the selection process.

I reiterate that I am happy to acknowledge the important and valuable contribution of intermediary funding bodies in difficult territory. The issues the Member raises about the difficulty in satisfying everybody in geographical spread and community balance are not confined to intermediary funding bodies or to programmes funded by the European Union.


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