Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 30 April 2001 (continued)
Does the First Minister agree that there would be advantages in creating synergy between an IDB office in, or beside, the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington? Is he aware that the IDB office - with operational responsibility for the political centre of gravity in North America - is based in Boston? Is he also aware that the IDB's North American budget is approximately 10 times that which is being proposed for the bureau?
The First Minister:
There is a great deal in what the Member is saying. The IDB locations and budgets reflect the particular task of the Industrial Development Board and its objectives with regard to interfacing with United States industry. The Northern Ireland Bureau is preparing a strategy paper on the options available, including the specific matter of possible co-location of an IDB office and a tourist office with the bureau. The decision will, of course, be taken by Ministers here.
With regard to the work of the bureau and the promotion of the best interests of Northern Ireland, does the Minister not think that the work of that bureau in the United States is undermined by having, as part of his Administration, someone who has admitted that he was second in command of the IRA in Londonderry? Will he take steps to remove that gentleman from office?
Order. I have made it clear in the past that I do not make my judgements on the basis of newspaper reports. I draw that to Members' attention in view of the rulings on parliamentary convention, of which the Member will be aware.
Mr C Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I do not take points of order during questions to Ministers. I will take it at the end.
The First Minister:
As I have pointed out in reply to other questions, the object of the bureau is to represent the best interests of Northern Ireland. I am sure that the bureau will do so, despite the fact that it will be hampered by the rather hypocritical attitude to participation in the Executive adopted by the party the Member represents. As to - [Interruption]
The First Minister:
As to his coat-trailing comments, I refer the Member to what I said on that subject in the very first speech I made in this Assembly on 1 July 1998. He should go and read it.
Order. Members frequently remark on the limited number of questions that it is possible to get through at Question Time. It is made all the more limited if there is disorder in the Chamber.
I welcome the fact that the First Minister has recognised the important role that the Northern Ireland Bureau has played over the years. Can he indicate when the changes are going to take place? Also, can he clarify what the role of the bureau will be in the future, as that is a problem at the moment?
The First Minister:
The bureau's focus in the past tended to be on economic issues. With the new Administration here, we see the bureau as reflecting the interests of the Administration as a whole. Consequently, it is looking at its strategy and the way in which it is going to work.
As I said in reply to other questions, it hopes to relocate in the summer, but that will depend on circumstances and events there.
As to the issues that the bureau will be pursuing, I am sure that there will still be a very strong emphasis on economic matters, given the ongoing interest in doing business with the US and the very substantial US investment in Northern Ireland. However, we can work closely with the US Administration on other specific areas such as education, and we are anxious to do so.
Invitation to the President
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister if, during the recent visit to Washington DC, an invitation was extended to the President of the United States to visit Northern Ireland to join in the celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne.
The First Minister:
However attractive the Twelfth of July celebrations might be, the President will have many demands on his time during his first year in office. Consequently, no invitation has yet been extended to the President to visit Northern Ireland, although we hope that he is able to visit at some time during his term in office.
Do you agree that when our politicians arrive in America they seem quite comfortable in celebrating St Patrick's Day surrounded by everything green - green faces, green leprechauns and green flags? Is this due to the change of climate or the influence of the President?
If President Bush agreed to attend the Battle of the Boyne celebrations, do you think that his presence would have the same effect here? Could the President contribute to the achievement of civil rights and equality for all, including the right to walk home from a church service in July? Do you think that it would be good for tourism, and can you envisage the marketing of the Twelfth of July celebrations as a major tourist attraction in America?
I remind the Member that when she refers to "you", she refers to the Speaker. I shall, however, assume that the question is put to the House and to the First Minister.
I am sorry, Mr Speaker.
The First Minister:
You, Mr Speaker, would, no doubt, be able to give an enthusiastic response to the Member's question. A number of points could be made in response. The Member's points in regard to parity of esteem were very well made, and I hope that Members across the House appreciated them. It would be nice to see what is, in many respects, the largest folk festival in western Europe operate as something to be enjoyed by everyone - as a tourist attraction it could be thus enjoyed.
However, I take issue with one of the Member's initial comments. St Patrick's contribution should be seen as something that benefits all sections of the community. In that context, it was very nice to see the Democratic Unionist Party represented in the White House along with all the other parties.
Order. Members in the bottom corner should give their Colleague an opportunity to put his question.
Having witnessed a fair degree of discrimination against the Orange Order, including the decision to exclude the institution from the Civic Forum, can the First and the Deputy First Minister indicate how they intend to celebrate the 311th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne? This is particularly relevant when one considers that the concept of civil and religious liberties was a direct result of the outcome of that battle.
On what basis did Mr Mallon, as the Deputy First Minister, decide not to meet Portadown Orangemen? Can the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister assure us that no further concessions will be made to Sinn Feín/IRA terrorist-fronted residents' groups during the forthcoming celebrations?
The First Minister:
I would be very glad if parades- related issues were the responsibility of this House and of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but at present those decisions lie with other bodies. Both myself and the Deputy First Minister have, on a number of occasions, made clear our several positions and views on the operation of that body, and I will not repeat them now. As to what one does on a public holiday, most Members will find their own way of taking advantage of this time.
Promoting Social Inclusion
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to provide details of plans for the implementation of existing promoting social inclusion reports.
The Deputy First Minister:
There are currently two reports promoting social inclusion - one on travellers and the other on teenage pregnancy. The working group report on travellers was issued to voluntary, statutory and other organisations for consultation in December.
Separate arrangements are being made for focus consultations with travellers. After consultation, all the recommendations and the views that have been expressed will be considered, and a report on the way forward will be published. The report by the working group on teenage pregnancy, entitled 'Myths and Reality', was issued for consultation on 7 November 2000. Consultation ended on 31 March, and the comments that were received are being evaluated by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
Can the Deputy First Minister tell me when the reports will be finalised? Is there a timescale? I appreciate that he has given that information for 'Myths and Reality', but is there a timescale for the report on travellers?
The Deputy First Minister:
The Member is right. The Programme for Government commits us to consult during 2001. Future priorities must be tackled by promoting the social inclusion element of New TSN. On 4 May 2001, we will initiate public consultation on future priorities. A document will be issued, and the consultation period will end in August. The Executive will use the outcome of the consultation to determine what the next priorities should be, and we will announce new cross- departmental priorities in November.
European Cohesion Forum
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister if an invitation to participate in the European Cohesion Forum has been received.
The First Minister:
An invitation has been received from the European Commission to attend the forum that will be held in Brussels in May to discuss the Second Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion in the European Union. Northern Ireland has been allocated eight places at the forum. That reflects the importance to Northern Ireland of European cohesion policies and, in particular, the contribution to the structural funds and peace programmes that have been made over the last few years. The wide range of Northern Ireland interests in the second cohesion report will be reflected by the number of Departments that will be represented at the forum. However, the level of representation is yet to be determined.
The Member will not be able to ask a supplementary question because the time is up.
Mr Speaker, I am very happy with the comprehensive answer that I received.
Mr C Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is really a supplementary point to the one raised by Mr Dodds. I think you said that it would be unwise to work on reports in a newspaper about Mr McGuinness's participation in the IRA. I just wanted to remind the First Minister that he gave us a much better assessment when he said that with the exception of -[Interruption].
Order. That was not a point of order. The Member was taking advantage. I stand by my view that you cannot believe half of the lies that you read in the newspapers but that you can believe at least half of the truth that you read in them. I do not think that there was a point of order to answer.
Safe Spectator Facilities
Question five, in the name of Mr Gibson, has been transferred to the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the progress being made to promote safe spectator facilities at major sporting venues across Northern Ireland.
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):
Excellent progress is being made, under the safe sportsground scheme, on improving the health and safety aspects of spectator facilities at our major sportsgrounds. Work is underway at 23 venues. Thirteen are soccer venues, nine are GAA venues and one is a rugby venue. Expenditure of around £2 million was made by the end of the 2000/01 financial year. Awards have been allocated for improvement work on a further 11 venues - eight soccer venues and three GAA venues. Work on those will start as soon as possible.
Can the Minister confirm that, over the 1990s, the premier facilities for each sport were identified by representatives of those sports and that work has been carried out for rugby at Ravenhill, for hockey at Blaris, for soccer at Windsor Park and for hurling at Casement Park. Will he confirm that the only major project that has yet to be started is for Gaelic football at the athletic grounds in Armagh? Will the Minister take a personal interest in that project so that major Gaelic sporting matches can return to Armagh city?
The Executive and the Assembly found the money for a safe sports ground scheme because they recognised the glaring need in football, gaelic and rugby grounds. It would have taken over £20 million to bring the various stadiums up to the standard recommended by the Taylor report. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has made a start, but there is still much to be done.
Northern Ireland experienced a serious shortfall during direct rule. For example, we did not get any football trust money for soccer grounds, because there was no one here arguing for it. All the money went to England, Scotland and Wales - Northern Ireland got nothing. That is one of the reasons why the Executive and the Assembly have taken the matter forward.
I have been in discussion with representatives of the GAA, not specifically about Armagh, but about various grounds, and I will take on board what the Member said. I realise that there is a need at Armagh; there is also a need at Casement Park and at a number of other grounds.
In the light of the ticket fiasco in relation to the forthcoming Irish Cup final between Linfield and Glentoran, does the Minister agree that there should be an investigation into why crowd restrictions have been imposed by the Irish Football Association (IFA) when health and safety officials have stated publicly that they have not proposed such restrictions?
The Irish Cup final next Saturday is specifically a matter for the IFA. I understand that the IFA advised, and had been in discussion with, the health and safety executive of Belfast City Council. The IFA proposed a ticket limit of 10,800, evenly divided between the two teams, and Belfast City Council's health and safety department agreed with that. However, I understand that officials from Belfast City Council who visited Windsor Park on 27 April agreed that there was potential for some increase in the number of tickets available. There was also a suggestion - opposed by the clubs - that there would be an even bigger increase if the kick-off were at 11 o'clock. It is a matter for the IFA in discussions with Belfast City Council. There is to be another meeting tomorrow, and we will know more then.
On the matter of inquiries, the IFA is the responsible governing body. How it runs its business is a matter for it. I can, however, refer to the soccer strategy for Northern Ireland that I have undertaken and which is ongoing. A number of issues have come to the fore through those discussions, and I have no doubt that the issues of the IFA, Windsor Park and ticketing will be discussed.
Can the Minister tell us what funding will be available to promote safer spectator facilities at sporting venues such as first division football clubs to bring them up to an acceptable standard? Will the Minister join me in congratulating Ards Football Club on winning the first division championship and getting into the premier league? Does he recognise that the club will need some funding and assistance in relation to that?
As has been detailed on a number of occasions in the House, there is a grand total of £5·3 million available over three years: £3 million in year one - of which £2 million has been spent; £1·5 million in year two and, currently, a projected £800,000 for year three. The Department does not know how much money, if any, will be coming from the football foundation. That is the amount available, and the Sports Council for Northern Ireland is administering the expenditure in conjunction with representatives of the various sports, health and safety personnel and the RUC.
I am delighted to see that Ards Football Club has been promoted back to the premier division. As a category A club, Ards will be eligible to bid, along with all of the other clubs, for the available funding.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline what provision is being made for the additional promotion of visitor amenities.
There is no universally accepted definition of a visitor amenity, but what definitions there are show that such amenities cover some areas that are outside the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. However, the Department is currently looking at developing a workable definition of visitor amenities that will enable it to specify and plan its responsibilities in the context of a heritage policy and strategy for Northern Ireland.
I am conscious of the important contribution that visitor amenities make to the economy of Northern Ireland, and my Department's corporate strategy recognises the need to promote them.
We have committed ourselves to the key task of designing and implementing a strategy for the development of visitor amenities. I will be examining the scope for their promotion and development in the context of the recently completed local museum and heritage review which I expect to receive shortly.
I understand that a joint bid by the Minister's Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has been made for European funding under the cultural tourism initiative. How will this funding benefit the promotion of centres? Perhaps I could address the Minister's lack of definition by highlighting the St Patrick's Heritage Centre as an example of such an amenity. How can funding be directed, and how will it be applied to support the promotion of such centres as tourist attractions?
I concur that the St Patrick's Centre - which, as Mr McGrady knows, I have visited - is a very impressive recent addition to the visitor amenity estate. "Visitor amenity" is the term used to define any service or facility that is used by, or exists for the benefit of visitors. A position paper on visitor amenities was commissioned in June 2000, and a study from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, which compiled an inventory of visitor amenities attractions, was published in May 2000. There are over 400 facilities covering six categories. They are owned by a variety of Departments, local councils or private owners.
We need to develop an agreed strategy in the context of a broad partnership. When we work out what we want to do, the European funding will, it is to be hoped, allow us to implement that strategy. The Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee is also examining the possibility of cultural tourism. All those elements feed into one another and provide what I have no doubt will be a very important adjunct to our tourism potential.
Does the Minister agree that Carrickfergus Castle fulfils many of the criteria that he has talked about, as it is a facility which will attract visitors to Northern Ireland, and promote further visits? The castle has a long history associated with the political establishment of Northern Ireland. In fact, in the early days, Carrickfergus was the capital of Northern Ireland. Can the Minister ensure that Carrickfergus Castle will be considered for any European funding?
I have already mentioned that there are over 400 facilities, covering six categories. One of the categories will be historical buildings and monuments, and Carrickfergus Castle is a very important historic building. It represents one of the key parts of our visitor amenities estate. It is also owned and managed by the Department of the Environment's Environment and Heritage Service. That indicates the need for partnership - it is not simply for the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to determine how Carrickfergus Castle should be promoted and what extra facilities it requires. It is a question of partnership and, therefore, of cohesion among all the owners and managers, and that means creating an agreed strategy. At present we are actively working on this strategy, and it will be informed by the local museums and heritage review.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether there are concessions for the following people who wish to become involved in the sport of angling (a) the disabled; (b) pensioners; (c) the young and (d) the unemployed.
I am responsible for approving licence fees submitted by the Fisheries Conservancy Board but not those set by the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. There are no concessionary licence rates for disabled people, pensioners or the unemployed living within the Fisheries Conservancy Board's area. Young people under 18 years of age do not require a licence to fish. The Fisheries (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2001 amended the board's by-law making powers to enable the board to introduce concessionary licences for particular classes of persons, if it so wishes.
It is for the board to consider whether and when to introduce concessionary licence fees. However, as I indicated in my evidence to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee during the passage of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2001, I believe very strongly in the arguments for concessions for disabled anglers. Accordingly, I have provided additional moneys this year to help offset any loss the board may incur should it decide to introduce concessionary fees for people with disabilities.
In addition, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure issues permits to allow anglers to fish in the public angling estate. Disabled anglers benefit from concessionary permit rates, and young people under eighteen years of age can also fish for game fish in the Department's waters at a reduced rate without a coarse fishing permit. There are no permit concessions for pensioners or the unemployed.
I welcome the initiatives the Minister has mentioned. Are there any plans for future initiatives, particularly for pensioners and the unemployed? Will there be any initiatives from the Minister's Department on disabled access to some of the other fishing areas where there is currently no access?
With regard to the disabled, being able to access the waters is one of the key factors. Many of the waters in the angling estate are accessible to disabled anglers. Those are listed in the Department's 2001 angling guide. It is a matter for ongoing consideration, and we continually bid for moneys when appropriate at each round. One of the key areas that we are looking to bid for is in the provision of accessibility to waters for those suffering a disability.
As far as permits are concerned, I must make the point that they are already discounted by roughly 50%. There is a 50% discount on a standard permit. The current cost of the permit - £53 per year - is roughly half of what it takes to run the public angling estate. Much has been done, but I fear that, under the current financial conditions, I do not have the latitude to make any further reductions.
Centrally Located Public Swimming Pool
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to undertake a feasibility study with a view to providing a centrally located 50m public swimming pool in Northern Ireland.
Responsibility for leisure provision lies with district councils. Each district council has a statutory obligation under article 10 of the Recreation and Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 to secure provision of adequate facilities for recreational, social, physical and cultural activities for its area.
In addition to provision made at district council level, plans are well advanced for a Northern Ireland institute of sport at the Jordanstown campus of the University of Ulster, which is being developed as part of the network of United Kingdom sports institutes. Subject to costings and a detailed appraisal, the aspiration is to provide a 50m eight-lane competition pool with adequate spectator provision as an integral part of the sports institute at the Jordanstown site.
In my oral question, I specifically referred to the central location for a 50m pool. This is a follow-on to a request made by Newry and Mourne councillor, Pat Toner, in 1999 and taken up again recently by council. He highlighted that approximately three million people live within the Newry/Warrenpoint catchment area. Given the fact that there are a total of sixteen 50m pools in England and Scotland and that 50m pools in Loughborough, Swansea and Stirling have been successful in obtaining lottery funding, will the Minister undertake to have his Department meet with the National Lottery to seek its support for the provision of a 50m pool in Northern Ireland?
I repeat that it is planned to have a 50m pool as part of the new United Kingdom network sports institute at Jordanstown. There has been widespread consultation throughout with Swim Ireland. As I am sure you are aware, swimming is an all-Ireland sport and is organised on an all-Ireland basis. There is a 50m pool currently under construction in Limerick, and another one is planned at Abbotstown in Dublin.
Northern Ireland is, therefore, an ideal location. Our aim is to provide, as part of the UK Sports Institute, a centre for world-class training and support services. It is felt that our talented athletes would be best served by the establishment of an institute in conjunction with the University of Ulster at Jordanstown.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Sílim go gcaithfimid bheith iontach cúramach céillí maidir le cúrsaí airgid agus áiseanna spóirt ar fud na hÉireann.
I am aware of the need to avoid unnecessary duplication of public spending on sports facilities in Ireland. I welcome the Minister's comments on developments at Limerick, Abbotstown and Jordanstown. Will the Minister enter into formal discussions with his ministerial Colleague in the rest of Ireland, Dr Jim McDaid, to try to ensure that citizens and sportsmen in the Six Counties can make full use of Stadium Ireland should it come about?
I am not aware of the current state of play in regard to that stadium. I am more concerned with proposals for a new stadium in Northern Ireland. The Sports Council for Northern Ireland has the overall responsibility for developing each sport. In conjunction with the UK Sports Institute, it has determined the way forward for such developments as the new institute for sporting excellence at Jordanstown.
Lisburn Borough Council closely considered the possibility of providing a 50m pool when it was planning its new leisure complex. I am sure that the Minister would agree that that complex is the best, not just in Northern Ireland, but throughout the UK. One of our concerns about the provision of a 50m pool was the ongoing revenue costs of such a facility.
We considered that while there are many grants available for the capital cost of the provision of the facility, it would be grossly unfair to lumber a local authority with such massive revenue costs. I suggest that the Minister, in his deliberations of this issue, closely considers the impact of the revenue costs on any local authority.
I agree with Mr Close's very important point. Grants are available for capital provision, but it is the ongoing revenue costs which often cause the difficulties. It is also a matter which, for example, Belfast City Council has considered in the past. The cost of managing and running a 50m pool was considered to be prohibitive, not just by Lisburn Borough Council but by other councils. Newry and Mourne District Council has had a long-term aspiration to provide a 50m pool, but I do not believe that it has any immediate plans. Therefore, I agree with Mr Close that revenue consequences often determine whether provision is possible. It would be difficult to cover the running costs of a 50m pool unless, for example, it were built as part of the UK Sports Institute campus at Jordanstown.
Arts Sector Cultural Quarter
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what grants are available to those who are working within the arts sector to achieve a cultural quarter as detailed in the Programme for Government.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what progress has been made in respect of the Programme for Government commitment to establish, by June 2001, a forum to co-ordinate and promote the cultural quarter concept of designated areas for locating cultural activity with a view to creating synergy and co-operation.
With the Speaker's permission, I will answer questions 6 and 10 together. There is no specific grant programme in the arts sector for the development of cultural quarters generally. However, the Laganside Corporation in Belfast is making funding available for the development of the cultural dimension of the city's Cathedral Quarter managed workspace initiative.
The Programme for Government provides for the establishment before June 2001 of a forum to co-ordinate and promote the cultural, arts and leisure dimension of the cultural quarter concept. My Department is developing this plan through a working group, chaired by my permanent secretary, which is considering local strategies for culture, arts and leisure. The working group is developing draft guidance on local strategies including the promotion of the cultural quarter concept at local levels throughout Northern Ireland. This will be presented to a forum, which has been provisionally arranged for 22 May 2001.
The Minister might be aware that at present there are advanced plans to create such a quarter in Derry - the Cathedral Quarter adjacent to St Columb's Cathedral in the Diamond. His reply will come as a disappointment to those people, but I welcome his comments on the forum which is to make a response by June 2002. I look forward to that.
The cultural quarter concept will be readily adaptable, not simply to Belfast. I am aware that Londonderry has a very strong tradition of cultural development. An important infrastructure is also developing; the Playhouse Theatre, the Nerve Centre, the Verbal Arts Centre and the new theatre are some examples. There is also a new theatre at Ebrington. A very strong case can be made for the City of Derry, and my Department will be happy to discuss any matters with the corporation that Mrs Courtney or others may wish to propose.
Will the Minister detail what grants will be made available to those who are working in the arts sector to promote exchanges with cultural quarters in other countries such as the proposed Nashville visual arts project?
I am not aware that any funding is specifically set aside for exchanges between cultural quarters. However, the Arts Council is the funding body for arts, and it can address such applications. If Dr Adamson speaks to me afterwards we can work out a way forward, but I am not clear which cultural quarters he is considering. No funding immediately springs to mind.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the steps he is taking within his Department to contain the threat of foot-and-mouth disease.
Unfortunately, since my previous reply to Mr Ford on this matter on 20 March 2001, the foot-and-mouth situation has worsened. My Department continues to be represented on the interdepartmental co- ordinating group under Ms Rodger's chairmanship. That group has met 15 times since the beginning of March and continues to play a key role in ensuring a consistent and cross-departmental approach to the problem. My first response to the crisis was to close the public angling estate and to call for the postponement or cancellation of sporting and other events that might risk spreading the virus. Before Easter, the Executive agreed revised guidelines which focused attention on the fortress-farm approach but allowed other pursuits and events to return to near-normality. I have been impressed and grateful that so many organisers have acted responsibly in abiding by those guidelines.
I join the Minister in recognising the responsible attitude shown by many people in the way that they have conducted normal business - or amended normal business - because of this outbreak of foot- and-mouth disease. Current guidelines from his Colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, suggest that complacency is still the greatest threat. What is the Minister doing to ensure that anglers and others are not becoming complacent three weeks after the last outbreaks while the threat still exists?
I am conscious that I do not want to stray into the responsibilities of my Colleague, Ms Rodgers. The Executive and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have driven awareness forward, emphasising the importance of fortress farming and stressing that this is not simply a matter that affects farmers. It affects everyone. We should ensure that complacency is not creeping in. That is why we took measures in relation to the public angling estate. We closed it initially, but there has now been a limited re-opening. We are constantly keeping those areas under review. The interdepartmental group has met on 15 occasions, and a number of special Executive Committee meetings have also been held to monitor the situation and to reinforce the fact that we are all involved in fortress farming. The important thing to do is to eradicate the disease.
Northern Ireland Football Teams
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to make representation to the Irish Football Association (IFA) to establish an official co-ordinated network of Northern Ireland football team supporters clubs.
The IFA already recognises the need to have an official, co-ordinated approach to Northern Ireland football team supporters. The IFA regards the amalgamation of official Northern Ireland supporters clubs as the potential umbrella for genuine national team supporters clubs. The IFA and the amalgamation of official Northern Ireland supporters clubs are continuing to work in partnership to affiliate clubs that are not currently represented by this group.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)
I welcome the Minister's response. I am sure he agrees that such a move, when it comes to fruition, will greatly help to curtail the problems that the IFA has had, on occasion, at international matches. In conclusion and to avail myself of the same leeway as that allowed to Mr Shannon, I invite the Minister, if he wishes, to attend the Irish Junior Cup Final between Dergview and Irvinestown, to be played in Ballinamallard.
I thank Mr Hussey for his invitation to the Junior Cup Final in Ballinamallard. I am not aware if I have an official invitation yet, but I look forward to receiving one. If the diary is free, I will certainly look forward to seeing him there.
The amalgamation of the Northern Ireland football supporters' clubs will give a very important focus for supporters of the Northern Ireland team. It will ensure that constantly and continually we have growing and thriving support as well as a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere at internationals at home and abroad.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline his Department's role in ensuring rivers are free from debris.
My Department's statutory responsibilities are essentially limited to a duty of care on its properties - we must take reasonable measures to prevent danger to the public or damage to property. For inland waterways this applies to those sections of the abandoned Lagan navigation, Coalisland canal and Upper Bann navigation, which remain in Government ownership.
Specifically, in relation to the Lagan towpath between Belfast and Lisburn, which is owned and maintained by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, my Department makes an annual financial contribution to Lagan Valley Regional Park costs for wardens to provide a litter clearance service. In general, my Department takes every available opportunity to liaise with other statutory authorities to encourage debris-free rivers, particularly where angling tourism is involved.
Does the Minister accept that rivers full of polythene bags and other household debris are not acceptable to either tourists or anglers? Will he endeavour, along with the other statutory agencies, to ensure that mechanisms are put in place so that rivers are cleaned on a regular basis, not on a very occasional basis?
Initially, I must point out that responsibility for removing debris from watercourses lies with the landowner concerned. The Department is involved only where it is the landowner - for example, through the Lagan Valley Regional Park, on the towpath alone. The Rivers Agency has powers to remove debris from designated watercourses, but not for visual reasons - only for flow streams. It is primarily for the Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment to take action against river pollution. One must always look to the landowner. He is responsible for the river that runs through his land. He is responsibile for the removal of debris.