Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 21 May 2001 (continued)

Mr Gibson:

I welcome this report as an interim move. I am rather disappointed that it did not start with the Taylor report of twelve years ago, which is generally regarded as the vision statement for football. It is disappointing to find that PricewaterhouseCoopers did not seem to be aware of it.

I was rather taken aback by the fact that in the executive summary, the report offers no short-term or long-term solutions, nor does it give an estimate of costs. It is hoped that a strategy will emerge from within the sport itself. That was disappointing, given that it was supposed to be an exhaustive exercise in finding out what was going on in local soccer.

I do not want to speak about professional teams in the Irish Premier League. I want to speak about rural teams that often take their names from townlands, teams such as the Dunbreen Rovers, Killen, Killymore, Derg Valley and Beragh Scorchers. These are really the people who live football. They are not paid, but they play a game weekly. Members who talk about the decline of football should be very aware that in the west of the Province the clamour is for an adequate pitch.

In Strabane or Omagh council areas, there is a queue of people each Monday morning to book football pitches, but there are never enough available. There is a great demand, which means that instead of soccer's being on the decline, it is still the most popular sport.

I am asking the Minister for some very simple help, so that rural football teams in the west of the Province can have changing rooms and shelter at a match. We are not asking for seated stadiums. We are simply asking that football, which is part of the healthy living encouraged by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and so much enjoyed by young people, be promoted.

I am certain that the seven big premier clubs can look after themselves. They can get the money to create an image and can get the sponsorship that will help them develop their talents. Their talent base depends upon the people for whom I am lobbying this afternoon - the little rural clubs. Those clubs create the pool of people to supply the larger clubs.

Why has there not been a development officer appointed to help with the form filling and with developing the clubs in the west of the Province. A school of excellence should be set up in Tyrone and Fermanagh, where there is a very good league. Two or three pages in the local papers are devoted to the activities of the local soccer team every week.

In Omagh, we used to have a very popular competition, called the Battisti Cup. On Saturday afternoons, the whole farming community stopped its work and went to Omagh showgrounds to see all the local football teams compete in the Battisti Cup. The sectarian activity of the IRA killed the Battisti Cup in the 1970s. Because those groups were threatened, the next tranche of lottery funding should be given to local football.

I have already told the Minister that, in West Tyrone, the GAA got 49% of the money, and soccer got 4%. We all know that the GAA is sectarian and exists exclusively for one community. On the other hand, soccer is cross- community, and the next tranche of money should restore the balance and allow teams such as Dunbreen Rovers, Newtownstewart Rovers, Killymore Rovers, Killen Rovers and Beragh Scorchers to have basic facilities such as changing rooms. That would enable small rural clubs to remain active and would do more to promote football than many of the major professional clubs do. The small clubs really make a contribution, and I encourage the Minister to provide the basic support needed to enable football to thrive.

Mr Agnew:

I welcome the opportunity to discuss local soccer. I am heavily involved in soccer at all stages. On Saturday mornings, I am involved in a soccer academy involving 200 primary school children and six teams, which is completely mixed, both the coaching staff and the children themselves. We take part in soccer festivals, involving teams from all over the United Kingdom and from across the border. On Saturday afternoons, I write about soccer for some of the local papers. I watch teams who play in the first and second divisions.

There is not much wrong with football in Northern Ireland. I hear uninformed discussion about the state of the local game. There are many problems in the game, and the people involved in soccer are aware of them.

1.45 pm

I do not see sectarianism as a problem in the local game. If Members want to know how to make money out of sectarianism, let them go to Glasgow and see what happens there, and they can see how money is made out of racism in soccer if they go to parts of England. Those problems do not exist in local football.

For parents who want to bring their children to a local soccer game the biggest problem is foul language. That is a bigger problem than the perceived problem of sectarianism.

I have travelled to soccer grounds all over the Province reporting on games. I have gone to Donegal Celtic, and there were no problems, even though they made sure that I knew that they knew who I was. Some weeks ago I was at Lurgan Celtic, and I faced no problems there. The club was playing Linfield Swifts in one of the cup competitions. The Linfield team had no difficulty going there, and the Lurgan Celtic people had no difficulty accepting them because they were united in one thing - football. They were all passionately involved in soccer.

I accept that Lurgan Celtic people are all Roman Catholics who live in a Roman Catholic area. That is expected in Northern Ireland. I do not go along with the talk that sectarianism is one of the big problems in local soccer.

The Irish Cup Final was a glorious occasion. There was a bigger crowd there than would be at an international football match. I wonder why. It is nonsense to say that people are staying away from international matches because of sectarianism or because they are at Windsor Park. The product on display is what is keeping the fans away. They do not see the big names. They do not see the George Bests or the Martin O'Neills playing in a Northern Ireland shirt. Those are the sort of players who attract people to a game. Perhaps if England came to Windsor Park, the crowds would go to see Manchester United players playing in an England shirt. That is what attracts people to games. Sectarianism does not keep people away from games.

At present great things are happening in the local soccer scene, particularly at junior level. There are soccer academies from one end of the Province to the other - not just the one that I am involved in. We were tied up with Coventry City for a long time, and then the Football Association in its wisdom decided that soccer academies should not exist outside a 90-mile radius of a soccer ground. Most of the premier division teams in England can get round that.

The soccer academy that I am involved in has sent several players to Coventry City. Two children that I helped coach have signed for Coventry City. They were coached from when they were seven and eight until they were 15 and 16 years old. Two of them at 17 years of age are now on Coventry City's books, and that is very satisfying. All over the Province, from the north-west to Fermanagh, clubs are heavily involved in coaching children in soccer. We can take tremendous satisfaction from that.

Some Members may be surprised that I was on Cliftonville's books. I stayed there for about a year until the late Davy Bennett told me that I was too small and too light and that Cliftonville was letting me go. I ended up playing for Brantwood for two years until it more or less told me the same thing. I ended up playing for Harland & Wolff Welders and the Civil Service in the amateur league, so I know the local game.

There are good things at all levels of the game: the soccer academies; the coaching; and the involvement of children. Linfield has a tremendous cross-community scheme with Dundalk and has formed Dunfield. It is working. Linfield is bringing children from both sides of the border to play football. Religion does not come into it. The children just want to play soccer. Those schemes are starting to pay off, and that can be seen through the tournaments and soccer academies. Skills are being developed.

I would be foolish, and it would be wrong of me were I not to acknowledge that there are some difficulties in the local game. However, I do not see those difficulties in the way that others see them. At premier division and, perhaps, first division level many of the difficulties have more to do with how the clubs are run. There is a lack of business acumen in the game. In the area that I come from, teams such as Larne, Ballyclare Comrades and Carrick Rangers all have grave financial difficulties. Those difficulties, how they have been managed and the resultant court cases have been documented, and this is not the only area with problems.

There is an argument that some clubs in east Antrim should amalgamate. However, I am not sure if those clubs will want to give up their status. Larne will always want to be Larne; Ballyclare Comrades will always want to be Ballyclare Comrades; and Carrick Rangers will always want to be Carrick Rangers, so holding on to what we have is one of the local difficulties.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge those difficulties. Player's demands have been too great, and they have been paid too much money. However, that is changing, because there is no longer money in the game, and the stadiums are not as they should be.

So much nonsense is talked about the local game. We went through a period where people wanted to see a premier division club coming to Belfast. That was pie in the sky. It was absolute nonsense. Local football associations determine where teams play. When Derry City wanted to opt out of the Irish League they had to get permission from the IFA. That also applies to teams outside the IFA's jurisdiction who wanted to play outside their own local association - they have to get permission to do so.

Bringing in a premier division team was never going to work, and there were other reasons involved. For instance, Wimbledon - who have been relegated in any case - could have been playing at home against some awful team. The following week they could be playing away. There would not have been any continuity.

It is more important that money is poured into existing stadiums before we think of building a new national stadium. Plenty of them need to be upgraded, and they need to be brought up to the standard set out in the Taylor report, much of which has not been implemented in Northern Ireland. This has helped to create some of the hardship, aside from the difficulties arising from the way some of the clubs have been run. Malfunctioning and maladministration have taken place.

On the other hand, Danny Kennedy mentioned Armagh City and Loughgall football clubs - two junior teams that are exceptionally well structured and well run. They have poured money into their grounds and their clubs; they have new stadiums and new dressing rooms. On Saturday I visited my old club, Brantwood, who are building a new dressing room - although they need a new team more than a new dressing room. Therefore some clubs are progressing and are looking at the idea of involving children from the surrounding areas.

When I was young and played football I was lucky if I got a warm bath. Sometimes, running water was a luxury. I had to wash in the river on many occasions. Sometimes that applied to those of us who were playing at a reasonable level. I remember when I played at Brantwood - and perhaps I should not reminisce in this fashion - we had a Nissen hut and a communal bath. The water was freezing most of the time, and 22 players were jumping into it. Unmentionable parts were turning blue with the cold - so you had to get out pretty quickly. All of that has changed, and no one would dream of going into a dressing room on a park pitch that did not have a proper warm shower.

Some questions have to be asked about the task force. Why have Martin O'Neill, Sammy McIlroy and Iain Dowey not attended a single meeting? Sammy McIlroy is the manager of the international soccer team. I believe he has resigned. Is it because he has an interest in what might happen when the task force report comes out? I am disappointed that the manager of the Northern Ireland football team did not attend a single meeting.

When David Hilditch and I attended the soccer strategy weekend in Newcastle, it was interesting to note that some of the people from the IFA were reluctant to join us. There was no sign of the international team manager, yet the former manager, Brian Hamilton, was there. He took part in the discussion and the debate. He paid his own way over and certainly went up in a lot of people's estimation. Where was the Northern Ireland team manager?

The game needs to be restructured and reorganised, and I am hoping that the task force will address some of those issues. The biggest difficulty is that the people involved in the game need to look at the game itself. Perhaps the task force report can help those people to change the game from within.

There is a lack of business acumen, and that is one of the most important aspects of the local game that needs to be addressed. Someone has come up with the daft idea that we need a 20-league structure. That is not going to happen. Things like that will not help the game.

Football will continue to flourish in Northern Ireland. Thousands of people will still play soccer on a Saturday morning or afternoon - if we are worried about attendances we may have to vary the times of the kick-offs, as my Friend Mr Billy Hutchinson suggested. I am not sure whether that would be the answer. I am quite happy to go to Windsor Park on a Saturday afternoon, as I have a season ticket there. However, more often than not I am on the terraces at Loughgall, Armagh City, Brantwood, Dundela, Carrick Rangers and Larne, covering those games for the local papers. I enjoy doing that, and it gives me an insight into the difficulties that exist in a great game.

We need more money to improve the stadiums, and we also need business astuteness in the clubs, but there is no sense pouring money into clubs if they are not going to handle their affairs correctly. Members know what I am talking about.

Mr Hussey:

Does Mr Agnew agree that in the overall restructuring, the junior intermediate clubs must be involved and that the senior clubs should be liaising more with other clubs? I would also like to take the opportunity of correcting one of Mr Gibson's statements. He talked about the lack of a development officer in the Fermanagh and Western league. I assure him that Mr Trevor Erskine, the IFA development officer in that area, works with all the clubs Mr Gibson mentioned and does an excellent job.

Mr Agnew:

Mr Erskine has also worked with women's football, and he has probably got more kick out of that than the other sort of football. He played for Glentoran and Dungannon Swifts at one time.

Restructuring is important. The Irish Football Association employs 27 people to run the international team and the Nationwide Irish Cup. The other associations such as the County Antrim FA, the North-West FA, the Mid-Ulster League and the Fermanagh and District all run their own tournaments. One of the IFA's worries in restructuring into a single body is what would happen to all those tournaments. It does not believe that it has the resources or staff to manage all of that.

Football has an important part to play in developing and securing its own future. I fear that there are too many people in the game who are not forward thinking and who want to hold on to their own positions. I have some doubts about what the report from the task force may do. I hope it will encourage the football authorities in Northern Ireland to take the necessary steps to secure the future of local football.

There is no doubt about the future of football in general. More and more children are playing the game than have ever played it before; there are more coaching schemes, and there are more qualified coaches. There are many good things that can secure its future if we can sort out the problems in structure and organisation at the head of affairs in the local game. We need to get rid of some of the dead wood.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):

There has been a great deal of interest and passion in this motion, as I anticipated. Many points have been made, and while I noted them, it will be difficult to respond to all of them. Mr Gibson made the point - although I note that he is not present - that he was disappointed because the report came up with no long- or medium-term solutions or costings.

He was mistaken, because this is not the end of the process; it is a progress report on where we are right now. We have had a widespread consultation process with the stakeholders. We had a workshop in February; we have a report, and we are going forward with a number of issues.

2.00 pm

It is important to tell Mr Billy Hutchinson that the costs involved are not attributed to consultants, but they have been incurred in the consultation process and the conference, and they reflect the fact that we went out to meet the community at a number of venues in Northern Ireland. We consulted with grass-roots supporters, stakeholders, the IFA, the Irish Football League and representatives of schoolboy and youth soccer. We looked at areas such as women's soccer and access for those suffering from disabilities. This has been a widespread consultation. It has not been a small subject to deal with, and it has taken time.

I agree that we expected to be ready to publish our draft strategy now. We are about three months late. The reasons are the size of the subject and the number of topics that have been raised. Most of the topics that have been raised this morning are issues that we are familiar with. It is important that we do this properly.

Mr Billy Hutchinson talked about the Taylor report and the moneys that flowed from it for football in England, Scotland and Wales, amounting to some £500 million or £600 million. The point is that all that money has been spent. It is gone. That money came primarily from the football pools. When the National Lottery came in, the pools revenue went down. By the time we came into operation here about 18 months ago and started chasing the money, it had largely been dissipated.

We are now in a new situation. We have opportunities under the National Lottery, which provides a portion of funding to sport, including football. However, it is true to say that we are left to our own devices to some extent. On keeping funding moving, we are looking at presenting business cases to the Department of Finance and Personnel. We do not expect it or the Assembly to provide all the moneys, but we will be making business cases on funding in the future.

Points were made about the development of rural pitches and playing fields and the smaller and intermediate clubs. I stress - particularly to Members who are local councillors - that the Recreation and Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 requires each district council to be responsible for the development of adequate sports and recreation facilities in its own area. It would be appropriate for Members to talk to their local councillors and make those representations to their local councils. It is unfortunate that local councils often do not discharge their responsibilities, but members of those councils come in here and expect the Assembly to do it for them.

Mr ONeill made a point about the good practice of the Belfast Giants. The Belfast Giants ice hockey team has been a spectacular success, and it has exceeded all expectations. It is important to say that the Belfast Giants are the beneficiaries of a £45 million, state-of-the-art stadium. That is one of the reasons why they are doing so well. Currently almost anything that goes on in the arena does well, whether it be ice hockey or some other form of entertainment. The stadium does a lot for the game of ice hockey, but it also gives us a benchmark to measure the standards that we are aiming for. It demonstrates that families will go out to watch live sports providing the facilities are of the standard that they have come to expect.

A number of areas have been highlighted by the strategy process - for example, media coverage, community development, how to get families in and the creation of a vision for football. These have all been touched on. It was wrong for Mr Agnew to say that there was a great deal of uninformed comment. I have to point out that the members of the strategy group of the advisory panel are not uninformed.

Consultations through the IFA, IFL, schoolboy soccer, youth and intermediate soccer were very widespread. The Sports Council and education and library boards were also involved. It is wrong to say that those consulted were largely uninformed - it is quite the opposite. As a result, we have a very comprehensive agenda and set of issues to deal with.

The Taylor report, as quoted by Mr Hutchinson, said that a vision for soccer was needed. This is about where we want football to be in 5, 10 or 20 years' time. What are the issues, and how do we tackle them? What are the problems, and how do we solve them? That is what the process is about, not least because football is something of value.

As I said earlier, the IFA is the fourth oldest football organisation in the world. England formed the first association, followed by Scotland, Wales and then here. Football is part of our culture and heritage. It also goes beyond Northern Ireland and is of international value.

I believe strongly that sport does a great deal for our image and self-esteem at home and abroad, and how we conduct ourselves in sport is very important. That is one of the reasons why the advisory panel is looking at best practice in other countries.

The panel went to France to look at their football academies. They are the present European champions and world champions. The panel is seeking to replicate that type of success here. A UK sports institute, which is part of the UK-wide network of institutes of sporting excellence, is planned in Jordanstown, where football will be one of the key sports.

I cannot answer all of the points, because there were so many. However, it is heartening to see such a widespread interest in the House. Indeed, only Sinn Féin failed to make a response. All other parties see football as important and as something that is part of the whole community, regardless of an individual's background.

Mr Alban Maginness and Mr McCarthy mentioned sectarianism in sport. The reason why football may suffer is that the two communities come together in football. They do not come together in Gaelic, because that largely involves one community only. In Gaelic sport, passions are roused, and there are, perhaps, instances of unsportsmanlike behaviour, but you do not get the same level of passion that you do in soccer, because soccer is an interface sport. We all feel strongly about soccer, and that is why it has played such an important role over the past 30 years and has such an important role to play in the future. It is something that gives us all a common purpose.

Other members, such as Danny Kennedy, talked about the future of Windsor Park and of a national stadium. An international sports stadium is one of the nine areas in the cocktail and is a matter for discussion. Such a facility would be greatly helped by the inclusion of rugby, Gaelic and athletics. However, it may not be possible to include those sports.

Gaelic sports may want to develop their own grounds - they have yet to give us a formal response. Rugby wants to leave Ravenhill but needs to determine its future yet. It is difficult to see how athletics could be merged into an international stadium while retaining the atmosphere required by international football.

We all feel passionately about this, and it has excited great interest among the general public. You only have to look at the attendances and responses we received when we took the travelling roadshow around Northern Ireland, and members of the public discussed the subject with the advisory panel. We hope to have that process completed by September. We will then compile a draft strategy, which will go for consultation to provide us with the action plan. We must get consensus.

Billy Hutchinson said that we should tell the IFA and the IFL what is going to happen and how things are going to be - but that is not the way forward. We have to come to a consensus on this. The football family has a common purpose, which is to make the sport thrive; to reinforce it, sustain it, and improve it. It is not for me or for the House to tell the IFA or the IFL how to improve their sport. Our task is to facilitate discussion and to help and support them in their endeavours to reinforce their sport. - [Interruption]. I am sorry I did not pick up the comment that was made from a sedentary position. I do not know what was said.

It is important that we go for consensus and not prescription. Generally speaking, prescription is counterproductive.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I said that if we wait for the IFA and the IFL to have some sort of consensus, we will still be discussing this issue in 20 years time. We need to be prescriptive.

Mr McGimpsey:

Although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating - and we have to see this strategy evolve towards the end of the year - it is fair to say that the IFA and the IFL have played a very important part in our discussions so far. I am very optimistic about getting something out of this approach that will provide us with consensus. I do not believe that it will take 20 years for the IFA and the IFL to reach agreement. I have been very heartened by the number of areas that they agree on and by the ideas that they have suggested. Although they have a conservative image I have been heartened by their inventiveness, creativity and approach. It is often a matter of bringing ideas and people together, and that is what we are about. In September we expect to be in a position to bring forward a draft action plan for discussion. I look forward to listening again to the views of Members.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly notes the publication of the report 'Creating a Soccer Strategy for Northern Ireland - views of the stakeholders' and notes the progress made on the development of the strategy.

Sitting was suspended at 2.13 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman]
in the Chair) -

2.30 pm

Oral Answers to Questions



Moneydarragh Primary School


Mr McGrady

asked the Minister of Education to outline when capital funding will be made available for the provision of a new build facility at Moneydarragh Primary School, Annalong, County Down.

(AQO 1506/00)

The Minister of Education (Mr M McGuinness): Subject to resources, capital funding can be made available for projects when economic appraisals and sufficient planning have been completed. Moneydarragh Primary School is one of a number of primary schools awaiting completion of an economic appraisal to determine how the school's future accomodation needs can be met. My Department has identified a programme of economic appraisals for maintained schools in the business year 2001-02. I am pleased to say that Moneydarragh is included in the list of projects.

Mr McGrady:

I am sure that the Minister is aware from his departmental records that the number of pupils at Moneydarragh has increased quite substantially since 1999. I did not quite catch what he said about the extent to which the appraisal has been carried out. What progress has been made, for instance, in the last three months, and can the Minister give a firm assurance that Moneydarragh will be included in next year's new starts programme for capital expenditure?

Mr M McGuinness:

It is vital that we go through the economic appraisal. When we do, planning for the project will proceed so as to ensure that the scheme can be considered for inclusion in any new starts announcement. There are procedures to be followed, and it is vital that the economic appraisal is carried out as quickly as possible so that whatever planning difficulties exist can be overcome. Once we do that, Moneydarragh Primary School will be included for consideration along with the others, and the Member will understand that there are many competing demands.

Mr S Wilson:

Has the commander noted the number of times that capital spending has been raised at Question Time and the widespread dissatisfaction there is over his handling of money for that purpose? Does he understand the disquiet, especially in the Unionist community - although I note that a number of Nationalist representatives have also raised the issue - over the discrepancies in the way that he has allocated capital building funds? When you compare last year's allocations to Protestant schools with those to Catholic schools, you find that the ratio was three to one. This year the ratio was twice that, and the Executive programme funds show that the funding was 10 times greater for schools that cater mostly for the Catholic community. Is the difference in the state of the buildings so great that he can justify those anouncements that he makes year after year? Perhaps he can also tell us why half the money spent this year went to areas where four seats are being targeted by Sinn Fein in the election in the west of the Province?

Mr M McGuinness:

When the Member refers to me by my proper title I will give him an answer.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I call Mr Armstrong.

Mr S Wilson:

The Minister has been asked a question. The Minister has also admitted that he was a commander. Therefore, whether it is Minister or commander, IRA/ Sinn Féin, I would have thought, makes little difference.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr Wilson, you are out of order. You have behaved improperly in the manner in which you addressed the Minister. I am not surprised that he has used his position and authority not to answer.

I call Mr Armstrong.

Mr S Wilson:

I would have thought -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

You are out of order.

I call Mr Armstrong.

Mr S Wilson:

It is most unreasonable of you to defend the Minister against -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Please sit down, Mr Wilson. You are out of order.

Mr S Wilson:

You, as Deputy Speaker and as a Unionist, find it more in keeping to defend a member of IRA/Sinn Féin, who has admitted that he is a commander, rather than have him answer the question that many people in the Unionist community want answered.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Thank you.

I call Mr Armstrong.

Mr Armstrong:

Will the Minister tell us how he intends to redress the financial difficulties facing rural schools, particularly those with small numbers of pupils?

Mr M McGuinness:

I am not sure that this relates to the question posed by Mr McGrady. We are continually reviewing our approach to all of these matters. The issue of small rural schools is something in which I have a keen interest. In fact, I have been looking at this since I took up this position. Many rural schools have problems and difficulties, and I appreciate the huge contribution that rural schools make. I also know and understand that there are difficulties in those schools in relation to levels of funding. In conjunction with CCMS and the education and library boards, we are continuously looking at how we can alleviate whatever difficulties exist.

The other point is that the small schools support factor in the local management of schools (LMS) formula targets resources at small schools. We have a paper out for consultation at present, and I have no doubt that this is an issue that will be addressed in the course of that. It is vital that as many people as possible contribute, as this consultation is going to make a very important contribution towards ensuring that there is fairness and equality in school funding.

New Targeting Social Need


Ms Lewsley

asked the Minister of Education to outline how he intends to skew resources to those most in need under new targeting social need in the next six months.

(AQO 1516/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

My Department's actions in relation to targeting social need are already set out in the recently published 'Making it Work, the New TSN Annual Report'. The action plan covers all of my Department's business areas and demonstrates that the education service already targets social need in a range of ways.

Among these initiatives is the TSN element of LMS. Targeting social need is an important element in school funding and is directed at need wherever it arises. In determining the level of resources to the school sector, 5% of the budget is presently top-sliced and distributed on the basis of levels of free school meals entitlement. In the year 2001-02 the total amount distributed in this way will be £40 million. I have also provided an additional £1 million for TSN from the £20·36 million budget addition for schools announced in February.

The consultation document on a common funding formula, launched last month, proposes an increase in the amount reserved for New TSN and greater emphasis on indicators of educational need in tandem with free school meals entitlement as a measure of social deprivation. No decisions - and it is very important that I stress this - have yet been taken in relation to this, and I look forward to the responses to the consultation document.

Ms Lewsley:

Does the Minister agree that the new TSN money is really old money dressed up as new, and does he accept that raising this from 5% to 5·5% is totally insufficient to have any real impact on the problem?

Mr M McGuinness:

I do not agree that it is old money dressed up as new. At present 5% of the total schools' recurrent budget is top-sliced to target social need, and I intend to increase that amount. It is also important to stress that people should understand that this is 5% on to the LMS formula is only one element among a wide range of TSN programmes supported by my Department, including the schools support programme, the group one schools initiative, the special educational needs code of practice, education outside schools, support for travellers, pupils for whom English is an additional language and the pre-school education expansion programme. With school budgets under continuous pressure, the additional £4 million put into TSN, which represents a 10% increase, is significant, and I am committed to allocating more resources to targeting social need if that is necessary or if the Executive make additional resources available. I have not made a final decision about that or any of the other matters dealt with in the consultation document. I will listen very carefully to any proposal on any of those matters.

Mr McClarty:

Can the Minister confirm that targeting social need is a priority within his Department and outline the personnel and resources dedicated to taking this forward?

Mr M McGuinness:

It is certainly a priority within my Department. I cannot give specific details of the numbers of personnel involved, but I will gladly write to the Member with the information.

Ms Gildernew:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Is the Minister prepared to consider a substantial increase in TSN funding if the consultation proves that this is necessary?

Mr M McGuinness:

Yes, I would certainly be prepared to do that, and I think it is vital that this House understands that no final decisions have been taken in relation to TSN. It is important that everyone who has a contribution to make does so, as there is a real opportunity for people to influence the outcome of the consultation process.

Executive Committee


Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Education to detail (a) when he will next meet with the Executive Committee and (b) what issues he intends to bring to the attention of that Committee.

(AQO 1497/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

I plan to attend the next meeting of the Executive Committee, which is scheduled for 14 June. As for the business items I intend to bring to the Committee, I refer the Member to my answer to AQO 371/00.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Since the Minister's confession that he is a commander in the Provisional IRA, can he inform the House whether he intends to inform the Executive when they next meet - [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Would the Member keep to the subject under debate and omit questions such as that.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Does he intend to inform the Executive when they next meet whether he is still a commander in the Provisional IRA or whether he has relinquished that position? If he has not relinquished that position -[Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

This is not relevant.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

It is incompatible to be part of the Government and to be a member and commander of the Provisional IRA.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Will you kindly sit down while I am standing.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

It is incompatible for him to remain in the Government for as long as he is a commander in the Provisional IRA.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

You have opportunities to speak on such matters on other occasions but not when you are asking a question of the Minister.

Mr Paisley Jnr

The question allows that that be asked. The Minister has left himself open, given his answer to my first question and the fact that he is a commander in the Provisional IRA. I believe people are entitled to know whether he intends to give up that position or remain as a Minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Kindly sit down, Mr Paisley.


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