Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 29 May 2001 (continued)

In protocol 1, article 1, paragraph 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the phrase "except in the public interest" is used. No one could deny that this is in the public interest. Article 8 of the Convention protects the right to respect for private and family life. Paragraph 2 of article 8 makes an exception "for the prevention of disorder or crime". Paragraph 2 of article 1 of protocol 1 provides another exception "to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties". These things are present in human rights legislation.

Human rights legislation protects the rights of human beings as a whole. It is not there to protect a guy sitting in a £200,000 house, with a BMW at his front door, his children riding about on new mountain bicycles, while he is going to claim his dole money every other Thursday. That is a total perversion of society. It is an insult to those people who are on the dole and who need that money to live.

Here we have people lording it over council estates, sending out the wrong message to the children of this country that if they become involved in crime, they do not need an education or a job, because they can live like these people by selling drugs to young people. That is not the message that I want to send to the children of this country. The message that I want sent out is that there will be no hiding place for the drug barons; there will be no hiding place for anyone involved in illegal activities such as fake CDs, Playstation games, et cetera. Those are all things which are helping to create their financial empires.

Drugs is the lethal one. As Mr David Ervine said, people are dying in this country because of drugs. We have those people sitting in their £200,000 houses like the centre of an onion, with so many skins that you cannot get near them. We need to shift the burden of proof. Those people can intimidate witnesses. They can pervert the entire criminal justice system through their intimidation, because their tentacles are so long and so far-reaching. The burden of proof must be shifted, and that is what this Bill does. If you are legit, where did you get the money? No one should have any difficulty in explaining how they came by their house or car, if it were by honourable and decent means. This Bill is aimed at those who gain by dishonest means.

I do not accept that we would hit the wrong target. If the burden of proof were shifted, then the person would be given the opportunity to say that he has gained his possessions legitimately and to show his receipts, accounts and tax returns. This problem will not go away with emergency legislation: it will change and develop, and we have to adapt accordingly.

However, I do not think that emergency legislation is necessarily the way to go about it. We are trying to move into a normal society, and we want to move away from repressive emergency legislation.

We want a multi-elemented approach to this. Sir John Gorman mentioned that the Garda Síochána has a role to play. There are revenue inspectors who can trace money through financial transactions and tax it at 24% per annum for tax that has not been paid. There are the social welfare agencies that recover money paid out in unemployment and social welfare benefits that should not have been paid, and Customs and Excise, which can recover VAT and other such duties.

Mr Leslie talked about Al Capone's being taken down for tax evasion. Perhaps what we need now in this country is a team of "Untouchables", and our very own Elliott Ness to lead them, but this is a welcome start. The only reservation I have is that there is no hearsay element to it. There are times when it may be necessary for the director of such an agency to apply before a High Court judge on the basis of intelligence in his possession to ensure that certain assets can be seized. It may be to protect certain people, or to protect operations that are ongoing against other criminals. I wanted to see that element included.

This cannot be measured in terms of money. We may be able to say that we can recover £10 million this year. However, the real benefit of this is that it sends out a message to the people of Northern Ireland that these persons are going to be taken down, that crime does not pay. Young people in particular should stay away from that path, because they will be taken down and taken down hard.

Mr Hay:

The Ad Hoc Committee has done an important piece of work. Right across Northern Ireland, there will be many law-abiding citizens who will welcome what has been brought forward to the Assembly. The Committee and the Chairperson should be congratulated. I am sure that we will all get another opportunity to discuss this further as it goes forward.

Across the community in Northern Ireland, and further afield, we have watched these people operate so well that some of them try to tell us that crime pays. There is a notion in Northern Ireland that crime pays. We see gangsters with their lavish houses, big cars and with three or four holidays a year. All of that has been done at the expense of the entire community. That is the tragedy. It is the community that pays for the crimes committed in Northern Ireland.

For this to work effectively, there has to be co-operation between agencies. There has to be co-operation across the border. There can be no one in this House who believes that criminals operating in Northern Ireland stop at the border. We all know that that is not the case. Many of these people are also operating in the South of Ireland, some of them very successfully. There is no doubt about that. I certainly welcome the co-operation of the Southern authorities in this matter, because that is very important.

There are criminals in Northern Ireland who believe that they can abscond to a different jurisdiction and still pick up the pieces and carry on their crime. There is also a belief among some criminals - a belief that will soon be gone - that if they do a few years in jail, they will always come out to their assets. Jail is not a deterrent to them, because when they get out they are free to carry on doing what they were doing before. Some of their activities go beyond anybody's idea of decency. They are into every shameful crime in Northern Ireland. They do not stop at drugs - there are even more sinister crimes across the country.

For years some people thought that they were above the law. Some of them - for instance, in my constituency of Foyle - boasted of their activities and their lifestyles and about still being able to sign on and receive benefits. They freely told people about operating in that way and wondered why everyone else seemed to work so hard for such a small living when they could live such lavish lifestyles. For many years - and some Members referred to this - it sent out all the wrong messages to young people, although not to all of them, since the vast majority of young people are decent.

A small number of young people have been lead into crime because they saw those lavish lives and how easy it was to get a few pounds. Those people never had any problem getting money. Many young people saw this and were lead into crime, and that is a tragedy.

There is no doubt that many people involved in crime were able to hide behind the 30 years of the troubles. Some of them used the troubles by, for example, saying to people that they were fighting for a cause, irrespective of which side they came from. Some of them were able to justify to their own people that what they were doing was for the cause. Now that the level of the troubles has lowered, some of these people are very exposed.

Ordinary decent people from both sides are now asking whether there ever was a cause. Where was their loyalty? Their loyalty was to themselves and to their activities. The tragedy is that they bled both communities for many years.

I hope that what the Chairperson of the Committee has said and this important piece of work will bring to an end these types of activities.

Some of those who are indirectly attached to the criminals, and who work on the sidelines, are well known. I hope, when the Assembly is debating the Proceeds of Crime Bill, that Members will ensure that the relevant agencies and authorities are given the teeth to deal with the problem - that is what it is about. Most Members feel that these criminals have operated for too long. I support the Committee's views on the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

1.30 pm

Mr A Maginness:

I thank all the Members who contributed to the debate. It has been a very good debate with some interesting contributions. The general welcome for the report that was expressed throughout the debate is reflective of the Committee and the common approach that it took in dealing with the proceeds of crime and the draft legislation.

The Committee worked harmoniously and co-operatively. All parties participated in the drawing up of the report, and it is a credit to the Assembly that that amount of work was done so quickly and so well. May I take this opportunity, as Chairperson of the Committee, to thank the Committee members, the Committee Clerk and the research staff who helped us with legal matters and research.

Some Members talked about the joined-up approach that was characteristic of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) in Dublin. I endorse that. The key to its success is that it has successfully integrated many different elements of Government into the CAB. That should be done with CARA; that is the key to success. I agree with Sir John Gorman and the other Members who emphasised that point.

In the Republic of Ireland, the CAB has contributed to a significant, substantial and noticeable decline in crime since 1996. The Republic's serious crime figures are at their lowest since the 1980s. That is directly referable to the CAB.

Mr McNamee and other Members raised the issue of human rights. The Committee was conscious of those rights, and its members carefully studied the submission from the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission believes that innovative measures are being brought forward by the Government, and it welcomes those. The Commission, of course, gave a health warning to the Assembly about the legislation.

There is no doubt that the legislation will be challenged in the courts on the grounds that it violates human rights. However, there is no human right to enjoy the proceeds of crime, and that is the basis on which any challenge to the legislation will ultimately be defeated.

Mr Leslie mentioned the provision of resources for CARA. Those resources will be made available, particularly for Northern Ireland. I am fairly confident of that. Mr Straw has said that 50% of the proceeds of crime will be ploughed back into CARA when it is up and running.

The proper thing is to defeat crime by using assets that have been recovered from criminals, and there is poetic justice in that.

Serious problems affect society, but they are probably not as serious as in the rest of the UK or as they were in the Republic. Nonetheless, they are serious, and, as Mr Ervine and Mr O'Connor have emphasised, the public, and young people in particular, are scandalised by seeing known criminals enjoying the fruit of their ill-gotten gains. Through this draft legislation we can begin to end that scandal.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee set up to consider the draft clauses of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, as set out in Command Paper 5066, be submitted to the Secretary of State as a Report of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The sitting was suspended at 1.36 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) -

2.30 pm


Oral Answers to Questions


Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

North/South Mobility
Consultation Conference


Mr Dallat

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to give an assessment of the North/South mobility consultation conferences and the mobility study.

(AQO 1555/00)

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

I refer the Member to the written response we gave to Ms Lewsley on 30 April. Two public conferences have been organised, one in the North and one in the South. The purpose of these meetings is to give the public an opportunity to express its views on issues relating to cross-border mobility and to discuss possible solutions. The intention is that the consultants will take those views into account when preparing their final report, which will be completed next month. The steering group will report its findings to the next plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. The First Minister and I will report to the Assembly as soon as practicable thereafter.

The first of the two meetings was held in Carrickmacross on 16 May. A number of issues were discussed and views expressed, and these will now be considered by the consultants in the preparation of the final report. The second meeting will be held in Omagh.

Mr Dallat:

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his comprehensive answer. Those consultation exercises are most welcome in this important study. Can the Minister outline how this exercise will benefit people living in border areas? Will it address the problems raised by the private sector, such as mobile phone roaming call charges and bank charges, as well as those raised by the public sector?

The Deputy First Minister:

The consultation exercises provide an opportunity for the general public living in border areas, and for representative organisations, to contribute to the study by identifying obstacles to mobility and by proposing solutions. These contributions will be considered by the consultants in the preparation of their final report, which is due next month. I can confirm that issues such as mobile telephone roaming call charges and bank charges were discussed at the first of the two conferences and will be on the agenda again at the conference held tonight in Omagh. The terms of reference for this mobility study are wide-ranging and detailed. I would be happy to send the Member a copy of the study, because it does affect every part of life for people living in border areas.

Mr Beggs:

Does the Deputy First Minister see merit in examining mobility issues in the wider context of the British-Irish Council, looking at issues that cause difficulty in the movement of businesses between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom? Will the Deputy First Minister assure us that he will be examining restrictive practices that occur in public tendering procedures in the Republic of Ireland and also in teacher appointments, so that there will be true mobility within these islands?

The Deputy First Minister:

There is scope for the British-Irish Council to examine mobility issues in the wider context. On one very specific aspect of mobility - transport issues - the Council has already agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive is in the lead. There are other important mobility issues that could in future be addressed by the British-Irish Council. One example that crops up occasionally - much too often, in my view - is the problems that the elderly face when having to go into residential homes, either here or in Britian. There is a great deal of bureaucracy, and that should not apply.

There are other, more practical issues for businesses and people on the island of Ireland, North and South. Many of those issues should be looked at. The Member raised the question of teacher employment; I would like to get to a situation where any teacher on the island of Ireland could be employed in any school throughout Ireland, without restriction.

Children's Forum


Mrs E Bell

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail what conclusions were reached following the recent meeting of the Children's Forum; and to make a statement.

(AQO 1546/00)

Children's Issues


Ms Lewsley

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail what progress has been made following the recent meeting of the non-governmental organisations forum on children's issues.

(AQO 1572/00)

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall answer questions 2 and 10 together. On 3 April 2001, junior Ministers Haughey and Nesbitt announced the establishment of a forum of non-governmental organisations to provide input to the development of proposals for a children's commissioner and the development of a children's strategy.

The forum met on 4 and 11 May 2001. Some positive and useful discussions took place, focusing in particular on the involvement of children and young people in the development of the proposals. The forum has agreed to advance specific recommendations on how this would best be achieved, and to provide practical help in taking this matter forward. The forum demonstrates the value of working in partnership with children's organisations, and it will continue to provide valuable input as we proceed with these proposals.

Mrs E Bell:

When we asked a similar question in April, the First Minister said that he looked forward to working in partnership with children's organisations. That is useful. Does he agree, however, that a channel of information on this issue should also be set up with the Committee of the Centre, as we are compiling a report on the same issue?

The First Minister:

I am aware of the inquiry that is currently being undertaken by the Committee of the Centre into this matter. We look forward to the Committee's report. At the same time we are consulting, through the forum, with various non-governmental organisations which have expertise in this area. By the time we have consulted with them we hope to have received the report from the Committee of the Centre. We can use that to evolve the proposals and strategy that we hope to bring to the Assembly.

Ms Lewsley:

Can the First Minister tell us what consultation has taken place with the Irish Government, given that they are drafting a Bill to establish an ombudsman for children?

The First Minister:

Our officials have met their counterparts from the National Children's Office and the Department of Health and Children. Mr Haughey and Mr Nesbitt intend to meet the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Ms Mary Hanafin, in the near future.

We understand that the Irish Government have approved the drafting of a Bill to create an ombudsman for children. It is proposed that the office will be independent, and the ombudsman will be appointed by the President and accountable to the Oireachtas. It is also proposed that the principal functions of the ombudsman will be to promote the welfare and rights of children; to respond to individual complaints; to establish mechanisms through which there will be regular consultation with children, and to fulfil an advisory role to Government.

Dr Adamson:

Can the First Minister assure us that this forum will not become another so-called quango or permanent body? Can he tell us how many children or young people participate in the children's forum?

The First Minister:

The forum is not a quango. It is an informal, temporary working group brought together at our request to provide input into the proposals for a commissioner and a children's strategy. The forum is made up of representatives of various non-governmental organisations. It does not involve children, but it is devising a questionnaire that will be put to a representative group of children to get some indication of their views. That consultation exercise will give children a direct input into the proposals that will come to us.

Community Relations Funding


Mr McGrady

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline what steps will be taken to ensure that there is an automatic programme for the allocation of community relations funding to district councils; and to make a statement.

(AQO 1539/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

The funding allocation to the district council community relations programme in the current financial year is £1·65 million. Under present arrangements, our Department provides a 75% grant towards agreed expenditure by district councils on projects aimed at promoting better community relations in their areas. That includes the salaries of community relations officers employed by the councils. The basis on which future community relations funding will be provided to district councils will be considered in the review of overall community relations strategy, which is due to commence shortly.

In the meantime, we have approved the extension of funding for the district council community relations programme for up to a further three years.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his comprehensive reply on this important area. I am sure that he will agree that this has been very successful in bringing people together. I appreciate the amount of money that has been set aside this year and for a three-year period.

Can the Minister expand on the three-year cycle of funding, at the end of which a stop-start situation is created? Can a rolling programme be considered to enable people to have more confidence in the community development programmes, which can have a long gestation period?

The Deputy First Minister:

The Member makes a valid point. I do not believe that there will be a stop-start element to this, in the sense that we all recognise the good work that is being done by district councils in community relations.

Whatever the arrangements after the review, I envisage a central role for district councils. However, the basis on which future community relations funding will be provided to district councils will be considered in the review of the overall strategy. It is not possible, therefore, to give a commitment about continuous funding prior to the findings of that review, but we have approved the extension for up to three years, as the Member said. That will allow for continuation of funding. The district councils will still have a central role to play, because that is where the issue of community relations has the most immediate need.

Mr Armstrong:

What safeguards exist to ensure that councils use community relations funding specifically for district community relations projects, rather than merely siphoning off funding to subsidise community service? There is a requirement to provide officers with an annual detailed return of the dispersal of such funds.

The Deputy First Minister:

The Member is right to draw attention to that. We are vigilant in ensuring that the funding goes where we have determined that it will go.

District councils submit community relations programmes for approval at the beginning of each financial year. The Community Relations Council's district council support and liaison officer regularly visits all district council community relations officers to review those programmes, and claims for payment are carefully scrutinised to ensure that they relate to the approved projects. A certificate is also obtained for each financial year from the local government auditor, certifying that the expenditure has been properly distributed.

Mr Speaker:

I do not see Dr McDonnell in his place. I call Mr Poots.

Community Relations Council


Mr Poots

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister how many members of the Community Relations Council represent church organisations other than the four main churches.

(AQO 1542/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

Although individual members of the council may also be members of church organisations, none of those serving on the Community Relations Council has been appointed as a representative of such a body. Of the 16 current members, one is a clergyman from one of the main churches.

Applications to fill vacancies on the Community Relations Council are invited through public advertisement in accordance with the procedures promulgated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Any member of the community can apply for, and be given, membership of the council.

The articles of association of the council state that it should endeavour to achieve and maintain a membership that, at all times, is generally capable of commanding respect and approval across the entire community.

Mr Poots:

Now is an opportune time to look at this, as I understand that there are eight new appointees to the Community Relations Council. There is a perception in the community that only liberals are appointed to the Community Relations Council. When will we have people who represent the diversity of opinion in Northern Ireland, rather than a group of middle-class liberals pontificating about what is good for us?

2.45 pm

The Deputy First Minister:

I note the question with interest. I am sure that the Member is not suggesting that those who sit on the Community Relations Council should be illiberal. I believe that the mix is right. I take the point that sometimes the whole question of community relations can appear rather precious and that it sometimes seems to be the preserve of the coffee-morning set in Northern Ireland. That may be at the heart of the Member's question.

The First Minister and I want to see people who are close to the problems of Northern Ireland sitting on the council. If they are close to the problems, they will also be close to the solutions. In that sense, I agree with the Member. I hope that we get that type of robustness into the organisation.

Hate Crimes


Mr O'Connor

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to make a statement on hate crimes.

(AQO 1571/00)

The First Minister:

I am sure that the Assembly will join the Deputy First Minister and me in expressing sympathy to the Member and his family in respect of the recent deplorable attacks that they have suffered.

Criminal justice is a reserved matter. Ministers Nesbitt and Haughey met the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office on 14 May 2001 to discuss the scope for strengthening the legislation. The Northern Ireland Office intends to carry out public consultation in the near future. We will consider the options set out in that exercise, and we will advise the Northern Ireland Office of the views of the Executive on the best way forward.

Mr O'Connor:

I welcome the fact that the two junior Ministers have had a meeting with the Northern Ireland Office. Does the First Minister agree that crimes against individuals or their property because of their religion, their political viewpoint, their race or their colour must be treated more seriously? Will he continue to pursue the matter with the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that we get the legislation in place as soon as possible to protect people from further attacks?

The First Minister:

I understand the Member's point entirely. The issue was addressed in Great Britain by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. One of the disadvantages that we face is that criminal justice matters are not devolved, so we are unable to address such issues. As has been the case many times in the past, useful legislation put on the statute book across the water has not been extended to Northern Ireland. We hope to deal with that in the long term. We are in discussion with the Northern Ireland Office to see how we can bring into operation in Northern Ireland legislation with provisions similar to those contained in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The Northern Ireland Office will consult us in the near future, and I hope that we can make progress.

The Member's basic point is sound. Attacks that are made wholly on the basis of a person's race or creed are an alarming phenomenon for anybody, and we hope that they will be brought to an end. In many respects, the response is a matter for the police. It is important that the police be supported by all parts of the community, so that the attacks can be ended and the persons responsible made amenable.

North/South Ministerial Council (Implementation Bodies)


Mr Bradley

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to make a statement on the location of permanent accommodation for North/South Ministerial Council implementation bodies.

(AQO 1563/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

I refer the Member to the written answer to Mr Fee on 14 May 2001. Five of the six bodies have identified most of the permanent accommodation that they will use. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission has permanent offices in Derry and in Carlingford.

The language body has two agencies - the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Irish Language Agency. The Ulster-Scots Agency, Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch, has an office in Belfast and there are plans to open an office in Donegal. The Irish Language Agency, Foras na Gaeilge, has two offices in Dublin and it plans to open one in Belfast. The Special EU Programmes Body has regional offices in Omagh and Monaghan and plans to move to a new Belfast office at the gasworks site this summer. The Food Safety Promotion Board currently occupies temporary accommodation in Dublin but this month will move to its permanent offices in Cork. InterTradeIreland is temporarily housed in the old gasworks business park in Newry but plans to move this summer to permanent accommodation on the same site. Waterways Ireland has temporary headquarters in Enniskillen and is currently issuing a developer's brief for permanent headquarters, also in Enniskillen. It is also seeking planning permission to establish offices in County Clare, and will later acquire permanent offices in Dublin and Carrick-on-Shannon.

Mr Bradley:

I welcome the Minister's lengthy and detailed reply. Can he be more specific about the numbers to be accommodated, especially outside Belfast and Dublin? Can he state, for instance, the plans for InterTradeIreland in Newry, and those for the Special EU Programmes Body in Omagh?

The Deputy First Minister:

At the moment, the total number of staff in the implementation bodies is around 400, and around 90 of those posts are located in Belfast and Dublin. The balance is spread throughout areas outside the two capitals.

InterTradeIreland plans to provide 42 posts based in Newry. At present, the Special EU Programmes Body has three staff members in Omagh, who are carrying out important work in programme management, and five in Monaghan, who are working on the implementation of the INTERREG programme and other community initiatives. The remaining 21 employees are based in Belfast, and it is to be hoped that they too will soon be based in the regional areas. It is intended that the Omagh office will eventually have 15 staff members.

Between them, the implementation bodies have approximately 200 vacancies at present. Many bodies are currently recruiting staff. Most of the posts will be located outside Belfast and Dublin, and that is important.

North/South Ministerial Council (Accommodation)


Mr Fee

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to make a statement on permanent accommodation for the North/South Ministerial Council in Armagh.

(AQO 1562/00)

The First Minister:

The Member will recall the written answer given to him on 14 May, which also touched on this issue. The joint North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) secretariat is currently assessing the accommodation requirements. An investment appraisal will be prepared in respect of permanent headquarters buildings for the NSMC secretariat. Although the possibility of using the former Armagh jail is likely to be one of the main options in the appraisal process, full consideration will also be given to other viable options, including new build. When a preferred option is identified, proposals will be submitted in the first instance to the two Administrations separately to identify whether funding is available. If so, the proposals will ultimately be submitted to NSMC for approval.

Mr Fee:

I am delighted that Armagh jail is being considered as a location for the Ministerial Council. Can the Minister indicate how many staff are likely to be needed? How many are likely to come from each jurisdiction?

The First Minister:

At present, around 29 staff members are being accommodated in Armagh. Of those, 15 are from Northern Ireland, 12 are from the Republic of Ireland, and there are two vacancies to be filled from the Republic. I appreciate the Member's comments with regard to the Armagh jail; the people in Armagh are to be congratulated on its renovation. We will look in an entirely neutral and thorough fashion at whether it would be an appropriate place for the NSMC.

Mr Kennedy:

North/South activity seems to have stopped over the last couple of months. Does the Minister share my concern that meetings of the British- Irish Council have also stopped and, indeed, that those meetings are lagging considerably behind North/South Ministerial Council activity? Will the Minister assure the Assembly that he will seek to redress the balance and ensure that British-Irish Council activity reaches parity with North/South Ministerial Council activity?

The First Minister:

I am not sure that the Member is entirely accurate in saying that activity has stopped. There has certainly been a degree of slowdown in the activity of the North/South Ministerial Council. Indeed, if I dare to say so, Mr Speaker, judging by the large swathes of blue space that can be seen on the Benches, something else may be distracting Members from their attention to business here. I dare say that the same factor has had an effect on the Administration in general, although I would not want to say that the Administration has been deleteriously affected by other distractions.

The Member made a serious point about the British-Irish Council, where there has been a disappointing level of activity. There are possibly a number of reasons for that, but it would, perhaps, be inappropriate for me to go into them here. I am anxious that we look into the matter, because as an earlier question from the Member's Colleague indicated, many issues that are being looked at in the context of the North/South Ministerial Council are also highly relevant in a British-Irish Council context. As we move towards the full implementation of the agreement in June, the target that was clearly set, we are also anxious to see the full implementation of the British-Irish Council.

North/South Co-operation


Mr ONeill

asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline developments on the North/South areas of co-operation.

(AQO 1564/00)

The Deputy First Minister:

Six areas of co-operation covering matters relating to agriculture, the environment, health, education, transport and tourism were agreed at the inaugural plenary sitting of the North/South Ministerial Council in December 1999. To date a total of 13 North/ South Ministerial Council meetings have been held in these sectoral formats. Some of the main developments have taken place in tourism, with the creation of Tourism Ireland Limited, in agriculture, with the agreement of measures to control foot-and-mouth disease, in environmental issues, with the creation of a database of environmental research, in education, with the establishment of a North/South special education co-ordination committee, in health, with the development of a shared work programme for cancer research, and in transport, with the preparation of work programmes for transport planning and road safety.

Ministers have reported to the Assembly after each North/South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting, and copies of the joint communiqués that were issued after each meeting are held in the Assembly Library.

Mr ONeill:

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is heartening to see such good, constructive, positive work taking place.

Does the Minister accept that the years of co-operation offer a reassuring framework to allow things to progress, and would he recommend that areas in which all-Ireland co-operation is already occurring, such as energy and further education, could also be brought within that framework?

The Deputy First Minister:

In negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, one of the key principles underlying all aspects of North/South co-operation was that in these areas Ministers would be directly accountable to the Assembly in taking forward the all-important action and co-operation that is so necessary. On that basis, I see merit in broadening the framework to include other areas such as those that the Member mentioned where co-operation is actually proceeding. There will be further discussions about that, and I hope that it will be raised at the next suitable opportunity in the North/South Ministerial Council.

Mr Shannon:

Is there any intention to increase the areas of co-operation on North/South issues? If not, is that an indication of the failure of co-operation in the present areas?

3.00 pm

The Deputy First Minister:

Contrary to what the Member suggests, I see the situation as an indication that we have an intent to deal with all matters that affect people in Ireland, North and South. For example, energy is a crucially important issue for people living in the North and South of Ireland, and it makes sense that that would be given consideration. I pay tribute to the two Administrations for the way in which they have co-operated on that matter so far. There will be further discussions, and I have no doubt that more positive decisions will be made.


<< Prev / Next >>