Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 29 May 2001 (continued)
Literacy and Numeracy
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether he has any plans to utilise the creative arts to address problems in literacy and numeracy; and to make a statement.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):
My Department is leading the interdepartmental initiative to deliver the commitment in the Programme for Government to unlock the creative potential of our community. The consultation document, 'Unlocking Creativity', was published in November 2000, and the response, including that of the education sector, has been overwhelmingly positive. Since then, the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment has published 'Their Future in Our Hands', which recommends the inclusion of a creative component as one of the five core elements of the curriculum at Key Stage 4. My Department is drawing up a strategy in consultation with, amongst others, the Department of Education. A further announcement and a publication are planned for 27 June 2001.
I thank the Minister for a comprehensive and encouraging answer. Can he assure the House that a particular effort will be made to target social need? Will he liaise with other Departments, particularly the Department of Education, so that the question of literacy and numeracy emerges as a very important cross-cutting theme for the Assembly?
Targeting social need is a common thread that runs through all of the Departments and everything that we do as an Executive and a Government. I can give the Member that assurance on behalf of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and I do not doubt that other Ministers can do the same on behalf of their Departments.
With regard to literacy and numeracy, I do not want to stray into the responsibility of another Department, but we are working with the Department of Education and with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment on the 'Unlocking Creativity' initiative. That involves looking at how to embed creativity in the curriculum and how to teach creativity in the classroom. We recognise that people are the prime resource in Northern Ireland and that the future prosperity of Northern Ireland will increasingly depend on the creativity and adaptability of its people. We are moving into a revolution in ongoing social and economic activity worldwide.
Sunday On-course Betting
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to give his assessment of the impact, in sporting and leisure terms, of the delay in the introduction of Sunday on-course betting.
Betting laws are not the responsibility of my Department. Neither horse nor dog racing are recognised as sports by the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which has responsibility for the development of sport in the Province. Therefore I have not undertaken such an assessment. Horse and dog racing are matters for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I understand that betting at horse and dog tracks and in licensed bookmaking shops is prohibited in Northern Ireland on Sundays under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. However, there has been no legislative impediment to racing on Sundays since 1996.
I am certain that if I had directed a similar question to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, or the Minister of Finance and Personnel, all would have expressed similar reservations but also concern at the delay in the introduction of Sunday on-course betting. Does the Minister agree that culture and leisure activities should not be restricted to six days a week, particularly if the agriculture and tourist economies are being denied much needed finance?
I can give a broad assent to the remark that culture and leisure activities should not be restricted to only six days a week.
Horse and dog racing have been legal on a Sunday since 1996, although I understand that racing interests do not consider them financially viable because it is illegal to have betting facilities on a Sunday. That is a matter for the Minister for Social Development and his Department.
When Mr Dodds was Minister he did not go ahead with the changes that had been announced by a previous Administration, on the basis that a comprehensive review of the gambling laws was being undertaken in Great Britain and that that might have had implications for Northern Ireland. That is a matter of record and information, and I cannot help Mr Bradley any further than that.
Does the Minister consider Sunday on-course betting to be sinful in the same way that some Members of this House regard line dancing as sinful? Does he agree that both activities are entirely reasonable among consenting adults and should be facilitated?
I broadly agree, and I have never had any difficulties with line dancing. It is a perfectly healthy activity. I have no doubt that some people would like to bet on a Sunday. That is their decision, not mine.
I am disappointed at the Minister's response. We are supposed to be in an era of joined-up Government, and the Minister should put pressure on his Colleague in the Social Development Department to bring forward those proposals, especially as the industry has spent years discussing the situation. The Minister responsible for this issue before the Assembly was set up had said that he was going to legislate on the proposals. The Minister and his Executive Colleagues ought to put pressure on the Minister for Social Development to bring this to fruition, because we are losing millions of pounds on this.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Before the Minister responds, I have to say that that question should have been directed to the Minister responsible for the issue and not to this Minister.
We are supposed to have joined-up Government. Let us go for it.
The Member may have a point about joined-up Government. However, it is a matter specifically for Mr Maurice Morrow, the current Minister for Social Development. I have no doubt that he currently feels that he is under a great deal of pressure in other areas. If Mr McCarthy and others on the Committee wish to bring pressure to bear on the issue they may be successful.
Gaelic Athletic Association
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure whether he intends to continue grant aiding the Gaelic Athletic Association while it retains rule 21.
I deplore the retention of rule 21, and I have made this clear on many occasions in the Assembly. However, it is the responsibility of the GAA to change rule 21, and such a change can be made only on the basis of a vote taken at the association's annual congress.
It must be recognised that the GAA is one of the major sporting organisations in the Province, attracting many thousands of supporters, and, as such, it qualifies for support on the same basis as other sports. Funding for sport in Northern Ireland, both exchequer and lottery, is made available by the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which has an obligation to address all sections of the sporting community involved in recognised sports.
Is it not the case that there are thousands of young people participating in sports who are being discriminated against through lack of funding for their sports? The Taylor report's recommendations for safety in soccer stadiums, for example, have not been implemented in Northern Ireland, yet we have a sport being funded that excludes people. Other inclusive sports are being excluded. Surely there is something inherently wrong. If the GAA cannot get its act together and scrap rule 21, it should be told that it will not be given any more money until it includes everybody in its sport.
We would all like to see rule 21 go. It is outmoded and outdated, and it has no place in a modern society. It is not conducive to building an inclusive society, and I agree with the Member's sentiments. However, I am also aware that there is a strong lobby in the GAA to remove this contentious rule, and I hope that it is only a matter of time before the GAA's annual congress votes to remove it.
The Member referred to the Taylor report. It is important to note that the House voted to give approximately £5·3 million over three years to support the changes recommended in the Taylor report. The money was not made available earlier because we suffered under direct rule.
No Minister in the Northern Ireland Office bothered to chase the very substantial funding that was available, which, at that stage, would not have had to come out of the Northern Ireland block grant.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr ONeill):
The Minister recognises the valuable contribution to the sporting life in Northern Ireland made by the GAA. Does he also recognise that this is an amateur, voluntary, community association, which has provided sport at a very high level for young people and others in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland? This sport has one of the highest player participation rates in Northern Ireland and attracts the biggest crowds. Does the Minister not also agree - [Interruption].
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Does the Minister not also agree that rule 21 has more to do with late nineteenth and early twentieth century Irish history than with the sectarianism that is sometimes used to label it? Would he try to make that clear? GAA applications for funds should be judged -
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Is there a question here, Mr ONeill?
I am asking for it to be judged purely on the merit of the service provided, which is outstanding.
I am not clear that I discerned a precise question. The GAA introduced this rule in 1887 - a very long time ago. The ban remained in place until 1893 when it was lifted for 10 years. It has remained in place ever since, one of a number of ban rules that the GAA drew up at that time. I am certainly not one for decrying tradition, but if you fail to move with the times and consistently stick with tradition, you are liable to become mediocre, not just in sport but in many walks of life.
I have nothing to add other than to quote what I said to Mr Shannon on 20 March:
"I find the GAA's rule 21 offensive, as I have said before. As part of the process that we are all in, and as society develops through that process, I expect rule 21 will be dealt with to the satisfaction of everybody in this House." [Official Report, Vol 10, No 2, p63].
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail the steps he is taking from an international perspective to stimulate creative writing in Northern Ireland.
Responsibility for the development of the arts, including creative writing, rests with the Arts Council. Literature is an area of the arts in which Northern Ireland has excelled in world terms. It is the policy of the Arts Council to maintain this high standard and, where possible, to extend that excellence by promoting creative writing at home and abroad.
This involves a balance between the showcasing of major international writing talent in Northern Ireland and promoting writers from here to a wider international audience. There is also support for tax exemption for artists across the United Kingdom, and my Department supports Northern Ireland's interest in this being registered with Her Majesty's Treasury.
Does the Minister believe that introducing legislation similar to section 35 of the Irish Republic's Finance Act 1987, now section 481 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, would be beneficial, and not only financially, to marketing creative writing throughout Northern Ireland?
I am not familiar with the tax law to which Dr Adamson has made reference, but it is true that there is incentive in the Irish Republic that exempts writers and artists from tax on income derived from their creative works. This has been enormously beneficial to the Republic, to its economy and, in particular, to its film industry, which has managed to benefit greatly. We have seen major developments there over the last 20 years, which have had a lot to do with tax concessions. They can offer better tax breaks to film producers than we can. This is one of the areas that we must look at and the reason for my having registered our interest with the Treasury.
My question is very similar to the last one. Is the Minister aware that the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee has recommended that there be tax exemption for the creative industries? He spoke of the areas that must be pursued. Will he outline what he and his Department are actively doing to pursue that line?
As Ms Morrice is aware, that is a reserved matter, to be dealt with by Her Majesty's Treasury. However, our corresponding Department on the mainland - the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - is pursuing a similar agenda. We are pursuing that through, for example, the joint bodies that we operate under, and through creativity. All that I can do is to use my influence and arguments to support the need for a relaxation in that respect because of the economic benefits, among others, that will accrue to our economy.
Museums and Heritage Review
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail when the report into the local museums and heritage review will be published for consultation; and to make a statement.
I have received the report of the local museums and heritage review steering group and have agreed with my ministerial Colleague, Mr Foster, that it will be published before the end of June. We have asked our officials to prepare a draft response to the report, and we propose to consult widely on that response as quickly as possible. It is important that we settle on an effective long-term strategy for developing the full potential of the museum and heritage sectors. I hope, therefore, that people will take the opportunity that this consultation will afford to make their views known.
The review to which the Minister referred was initiated 12 months ago. He said, in response to me last December, that the review would be published early in the new year. At least we have a new date for publication, which is the end of June. I look forward to that because it is important that the proposed direction to be taken by the museum system be articulated. I have a particular interest in ensuring that Down County Museum is given regional status. We promise to give a very urgent response to the consultation. How long will it be before the final answers are given?
I regret that the review report document did not appear more quickly. We had hoped to bring it out early in the year, and it is now due in June. The report is finished and ready for publication. I hope that members of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee will take this opportunity to make their views known. That will help us to form our view and the joint response by my Department and the Department of the Environment, which is involved on account of its interest in environment and heritage. We expect that response to be ready by the end of August. I expect a widespread consultation period to happen thereafter - in perhaps six to eight weeks, but no longer. I am conscious of the delays that have occurred in the past, and we are anxious that we get to the point where we can produce an action plan for this sector.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Is the Minister aware that the heritage of the local townlands is being eroded on account of the insistence by the authorities on using postal codes? Does the report indicate how this valuable heritage will be preserved?
I am aware that the introduction of postal codes has had an effect on such features as townland names and local district areas. A generation ago, most people would have known around 100 district areas by name. Now they know perhaps only half a dozen. We have lost so much because of the Post Office's insistence on having streets with numbers on them. I am not clear on what my responsibility is or where my area of influence lies. I strongly support the efforts made in the past to retain our townland names. They are part of our heritage, and that is worthy. I am sorry that I cannot be any more specific at this time, but I will consider the matter and then write to Mrs Nelis in due course.
While I am glad that the report of the local museums and heritage review will be published for consultation, can the Minister say when and if the minutes of the meetings of the local museums' governing bodies will be made public? I understand that they are not open to the public, and perhaps they should be.
I am not clear on the exact position of the minutes of local museums' governing bodies. It is a matter for their discretion. I will enquire about it and write to the Member in due course.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, pursuant to AQO 399/00, to provide an update on moves by the Sports Council for Northern Ireland to recognise darts as a sport.
In my answer to AQO 399/00 in December 2000, I said that the recognition of darts was kept under constant review and was likely to be considered again in the spring. I can now say that the next meeting of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland's officers recognition panel is due to take place in June, when the matter will again be considered.
I thought that June was considered to be the summer, not the spring. Therefore there has been a little slippage.
Is the Minister aware of the number of sportsmen and women who participate in the sport of darts and who feel that they are discriminated against, financially and otherwise, by the irrational view that darts is not a sport? Can the Minister take the initiative on behalf of countless people in Northern Ireland and recognise darts as a sport? That would, I hope, put pressure on the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, and other bodies, to have darts recognised more widely.
The slippage was not within my control - the home country sports councils make those decisions. They are made on a UK-wide basis. This will be considered again in June. Mr Close will be aware that darts was not considered a sport in the past because there was insufficient physical activity involved. Large numbers of people in Northern Ireland play darts, and they regard it as a sport. Darts would have access to lottery and Exchequer funding if it were recognised as a sport, and benefits would accrue to those who play darts. However, it is a UK-wide matter and a matter for the home country sports councils, and I am awaiting their decision in June.
Mrs E Bell
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail his plans to develop public libraries.
The public library service is a vital element of the vision set out in our corporate strategy and also in delivering priorities identified in the Programme for Government. Our aspiration is to create a library service that promotes and encourages an environment of creativity, a culture of reading and learning and electronic access to the wider world of information.
I have commissioned a review of library services to assess the extent to which the service is currently fulfilling its aims, and to create an agreed vision for the future. A steering group, chaired by my Department and comprising representatives of those organisations with statutory responsibility, has been established to provide overall strategic direction for the review. A working group, with representatives from the Department and the Library Service, has also been set up.
Mrs E Bell:
The Minister has answered my supplementary question. I know his commitment to the provision of proper library services. I was going to ask whether there was a programme of takeover and transition between his Department and the education and library boards. There obviously is. I take it that that is what the Minister means.
We will conduct a review of the Library Service. That is an area of responsibility that we have inherited. It is important to scope and audit it, to look at where it stands now and where it is going in the future. The handover from the Department of Education is not going smoothly, particularly in terms of the resources that came with the libraries.
We are all aware how seriously under-resourced libraries are. Last year, I managed to secure only an additional £500,000 for library capital development, which, nonetheless, allowed me to announce new libraries for Strabane, Castlederg, and, last week, for Ballymena. In addition, we have purchased a site for the relocation of Irvinestown library. The need for funding will be considered in the review, because the transfer of responsibilities for libraries from the Department of Education did not bring with it the resources that were required to discharge those responsibilities.
I note the Minister's response to the Member for North Down. Are there any plans for purpose-built library facilities in my constituency?
A new library is due to open in Magherafelt in October this year. The Southern Education and Library Board and East Tyrone College of Further and Higher Education are working in partnership to provide a new library and college facility at the Burn Road site in Cookstown. In addition to that, there are a further five branch libraries in Mid Ulster.
In his reply to Mrs Bell, the Minister referred to electronic services. Can he give us an update on the electronic libraries project? I know that there have been some problems.
The electronic libraries project, as Ms Lewsley is aware, will allow for the connection of all libraries to the National Grid for Learning and, through that, to the University for Industry. It will be an important tool for Northern Ireland, as we move to an international information-based economy.
We hope that a contract will be signed in October for the electronic libraries project, with an implementation period of about 18 months. It is an expensive project, but we cannot afford not to move forward with it. To do so would be to let down not just this generation, but future generations.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
There are no further questions to this Minister.
The sitting was suspended at 3.28 pm.
On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)
Kilkeel Harbour: Redevelopment
asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail when funding will be made available for the redevelopment of the harbour at Kilkeel, County Down.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):
The estimated cost of redeveloping Kilkeel harbour is £30 million. This is a significant project and as such will need to be subject to a detailed economic appraisal. No formal request for funding has as yet been made by the harbour authority, and, when received, it will have to compete with other bids for support. It is too early to indicate now if and when funding will be made available.
The Minister will acknowledge that the fishermen, the Fish Producers' Organisation and the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority all concur that Kilkeel harbour urgently requires redevelopment to make it a safe entry and haven. An application for structural funds for a development plan has been made, and I am very surprised and disappointed to hear from the Minister that the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority has made no such formal bid.
At this stage it is not possible to say if and when funding will be available for the redevelopment of Kilkeel harbour. My Department has recently had responses from the authority to questions raised on a study intended to clarify the scope and direction of a full investment appraisal. Until this full economic appraisal has been carried out and assessed, the authority will not be in a position to submit a bid for funding. I must repeat that given the anticipated size of the project, any application will have to be judged against other competing bids.
I hope to announce details of funding from a fisheries measure under the EU structural funds to assist the authority with other infrastructure projects in the three harbours by the end of June.
asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to give her assessment of compensation for farmers and rural businesses affected by foot-and-mouth disease.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development pays compensation to owners of animals affected by the disease or for those which have been in contact with affected animals or been exposed to the infection. It can also pay for a limited range of other material such as carcasses, fodder or feeding stuffs, which have been directly implicated as a disease risk. The Department has so far paid out in excess of £2·4 million, and we estimate that as much again still has to be paid. All the straightforward claims should be paid in the next few weeks.
In relation to the wider economic impact of the foot-and- mouth crisis, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister were able to announce last week a support package for those businesses worst affected by the crisis. This included measures such as the deferment of rates and the launch of a £1 million tourism recovery strategy by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
I thank the Minister for her contribution over this terrible period, but many businesses continue to have real financial problems as a result of the foot-and- mouth crisis. Has the help for business scheme, which was set up recently, attracted many applications, and does the Minister agree that people other than the farmers who are affected - for example, those involved in tourism, open farms, horse racing and motorcycle racing - are looking for more than just rate relief in compensation?
The Member's question is not a matter for me but one for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, because it is about compensation outside the jurisdiction of my Department.
Mr A Doherty
asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail how much money will be available for rural communities through the new Peace II programme.
Under the Peace II programme, some 45 million euros have been allocated to agriculture and rural development. When that sum is supplemented by Government co-financing, it equates to over £40 million for direct assistance to rural communities across Northern Ireland.
Mr A Doherty:
Can the Minister say what form the assistance will take and where it will be targeted?
Around £16 million will be provided for a natural resource rural tourism initiative. The aim of that is to create a quality tourism product in rural areas with tourism potential, thus increasing the contribution that tourism makes to the local economy.
A rural intermediary funding body is likely to administer measures valued at over £4 million, which relate to the diversification of agricultural activities, renovation and development of villages, encouraging tourism and craft activities. Around £20 million of funding will be allocated as part of measures designed to provide training for farmers, investment in agricultural holdings and diversification of agriculture activities. That will be implemented by the Department's agri-food development service.
The natural resource rural tourism target areas chosen will be disadvantaged locations which are designated as environmentally sensitive areas and/or areas of outstanding natural beauty. Likely target areas are the Antrim coast and glens, the Mournes, the Sperrins, Fermanagh and south Armagh.
The rural intermediary funding body will deliver a number of measures under Peace II: diversification of agriculture activities; renovation and development of villages; encouragement for tourism; and provision of basic services for the rural economy and population. The agri-food development service measures will be targeted at farmers and farm families through training, which will involve the creation of local farms as model units, and peer mentoring. There will also be assistance for groups of farmers working to improve farm produce quality, and for those who wish to diversify into non-farming activities by helping to develop the necessary skills to obtain off-farm employment.