Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 24 September 2001 (continued)
Sir Reg Empey:
We all know that our rural community is recovering from the trauma of foot-and-mouth disease. We know that that community has suffered greatly because of BSE and other health scares. It has also suffered from changes in the market structure that have brought the profitability of many units into question.
My Colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has produced proposals which will go some way towards assisting farmers. At the moment a major conference is taking place in Belfast which is addressing some of the concerns of rural communities.
The Member referred also to the Protestant community and women, and there is no doubt that there is evidence that those groups are in difficulty. North Belfast is one area where those difficulties have been focused upon. My Department has endeavoured to address the problem in west Belfast with its two distinct communities by establishing task forces which cover the whole area. There is, for example, one which is focused on the Shankill area.
The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is currently looking at the north Belfast situation to see what mechanisms can be created there. The Member will know that his Colleague is engaged in that exercise. The combination of the efforts of these Departments will provide us with the correct mechanisms for addressing the disconnection from mainstream society felt by these groups. It is our objective and consistent with the Programme for Government to address these groups.
Mr C Murphy:
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Can the Minister give a commitment that the Government's procurement policy will be one of the measures used to assist in combating poverty and social alienation?
Sir Reg Empey:
A consultation paper will be issued on behalf of my Colleague, the Minister of Finance and Personnel, on procurement policy. People will then be able to give their views on procurement issues. The practice has been that when the Government or any state organisation purchase goods or services they do so on the basis of best value. Some people argue that there are different ways of achieving that. That paper will be issued shortly to enable everyone in the House, including Committees, to put their views forward for the Executive's consideration.
Human Rights Commission
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline what recent discussions it has held with the Human Rights Commission; and to make a statement.
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
Our officials last met the Human Rights Commissioner on 24 May 2001 to discuss proposals for establishing a commissioner for children. We will be seeking further meetings to discuss the Bill of Rights and other matters of relevance to the devolved Administration.
Does the Deputy First Minister agree with me that the powers of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) fall short of what is required for the United Nations standard? The commission submitted a report to the Secretary of State as long ago as February 2001 and has yet to receive a response. There is an urgent need to strengthen the investigative power of the NIHRC. Will the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister undertake to ask the Secretary of State to respond with a view to enhancing the powers of the commission?
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has not jointly made representations to the Secretary of State about the review of the effectiveness of the NIHRC. I have, however, personally made clear to the Secretary of State the need to ensure that the powers of the NIHRC should be brought into line with those of the South of Ireland. This will help to ensure compliance with the Paris Priniciples of the United Nations.
I have also made clear my views that the NIHRC is a vital new institution deriving from the Good Friday Agreement and worthy of proper powers and support.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Following on from the Minister's statement of his dissatisfaction with the NIHRC, will he go further and take up the case for proper representation for representatives of all the community on the commission?
It seems strange that the two largest Unionist parties have no members on the commission. That is contrary to the law, which states that the commission should reflect all people in the community. Will the Minister assure us that the commission will represent us as the law says - not only in powers, but also in personnel? It comes as no surprise that my party is not represented, but I am surprised that the Ulster Unionist Party is not. The NIO knows the religion of my people, and it despises it and discriminates against it.
Order. We ought to let the Minister respond.
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
I thank the Member for his question. As he is aware, our Office has no role in making appointments to the commission. Appointments are a matter solely for the Secretary of State. I am not aware of the requirement to appoint members of any party to this, or to any other, commission. I note the Member's comments, and I believe that the Secretary of State will exercise proper judgement in ensuring the effective and dynamic operation of the commission.
Will the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster indicate that they will press the Secretary of State and the Human Rights Commission to put more effort into ensuring that the commission focuses on the biggest human rights abusers, namely the paramilitary organisations? The commission must do all that it can to ensure that the paramilitary organisations, which abuse the human rights of the children and people of Northern Ireland daily, will be subject to investigation.
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
At the heart of the Member's question is the way in which a society that abhors paramilitary activity strengthens the institutions and strengthens the Human Rights Commission as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
There is a strong case to be made for the Secretary of State and all elected representatives to ensure that they strengthen that which is good in our society. As a result, paramilitary groups' negative and destructive qualities will gradually become more ineffective, they will have less hold on our community and the positive elements will be able to lead in all sections. That is the greatest contribution that we can make.
Holy Cross Primary School
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to make a statement on the progress made on Executive action to overcome the problems arising from the demonstrations against the Holy Cross Primary school children.
Sir Reg Empey:
The Executive continue to work closely with the NIO to promote dialogue, to resolve the dispute and to tackle the broad range of overarching social, economic and community issues both now and in the longer term. We have appointed a senior official to liaise between the Executive and local community representatives. The official is based in the area to ensure accessibility to the local community.
We have also established a liaison group of senior officials, which involves the relevant Executive Departments and the NIO. As a first step, the group has been asked to identify the issues that need to be addressed and to report back to the Executive. We look forward to receiving the group's report in the near future.
Although I welcome the appointment of the official and the liaison group, I appeal for urgency. Will the Minister tell me when the Executive will receive the first report? Will he consider a similar approach for other areas that have been the target of regular pipe-bomb attacks, such as Coleraine, Larne, Ballymena and other locations?
Sir Reg Empey:
The Executive received a report at last Thursday's meeting, and they will continue to receive regular updates.
The senior liaison official is engaged in an extensive round of meetings with community and elected representatives. The senior liaison official reports back to the liaison group, which meets frequently. This work will continue as a matter of urgency, but it is important to recognise that many of the overarching problems experienced by all sections of that community are deep- seated and will require an ongoing, concerted and co- ordinated effort to resolve them. The events of the weekend are testimony to that.
There is tension and violence at a number of interface areas throughout the Province. As in north Belfast, the key resolution is dialogue at a local level. We will do all that we can to support efforts by local communities to resolve their differences. Indeed, in the joint statement that Mr Mallon and I issued with the Secretary of State, we said that our short-term objective was to establish a mechanism in that area to facilitate dialogue, which should be the model for other areas. That key area has also been addressed by the ongoing review of community relations policy, which is closely related. We look forward to accelerating the review to give us the necessary means to respond.
While recognising the difficulties in north Belfast, will the Minister agree that Portadown has suffered similar difficulties over a much longer period? In May 2001, 57 RUC officers were injured while protecting junior Orangemen from attack by Nationalists on the Garvaghy Road. Will he offer similar resources to the Portadown area to help with community tensions there?
Sir Reg Empey:
I agree with the hon Member. I am sure that all sides of the House were appalled at the vicious attacks on young boys, and on the police officers who tried to protect them, during their parade. The then First Minister exhausted a huge amount of time trying to secure a settlement to the Drumcree dispute, and I commend him for his efforts.
If there is local support for an initiative led by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, we will certainly do all that we can to reach a settlement and to improve community relations in the Portadown area. Forums have been suggested. We are prepared to do anything we can to help that community and that area.
It is no surprise that the Member asked that question because of the common issues. It is inevitable that people will look at the implications of the north Belfast situation for other areas. Indeed, we anticipated such a response when we explored the north Belfast initiative. We will be very happy to consider any proposals that are made to us.
I urge all Members and Ministers to be as concise as possible. We are making quite heavy weather of getting through the questions.
Will the Minister concur that fear and manipulation lie at the core of the difficulties of life on the interface? Will he also concur that guarantees are effectively required from each community that one will not attack the other?
Sir Reg Empey:
Fear is rampaging around all interface areas. Indeed, the Member knows that such an example exists in our own constituency. The threat is very clear. As long as people are frightened, as many communities are, their areas will experience withdrawal from community involvement and those areas will be handed over to violent people. However, those situations are being manipulated - there is no point in sweeping it under the carpet. People see an opportunity and they are shamelessly exploiting it to the severe detriment of our entire community.
Programme for Government
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail what plans there are to develop public service agreements within the revised Programme for Government.
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
Our first Programme for Government in March included for the first time public service agreements (PSAs) for each Department. That represented a good start in setting out what the Executive were seeking to achieve from the resources available, but we recognised that the PSAs needed some further work and we are committed to that. One way in which we have sought to improve PSAs has been to place greater focus on the key outputs we wish to achieve and to locate details of actions to deliver the targets in the public service delivery agreements currently being developed.
The revised PSAs will be published as part of the draft Programme for Government. Everyone will be delighted to hear that the documents will be shorter and will be focused on main targets. The PSAs demonstrate the Executive's commitment to greater openness and accountability, and they will support the delivery of the priorities and commitments set out in the draft Programme for Government.
I welcome the Deputy First Minister's assurance on the publication of the PSAs. Does he accept that there is a great need for openness and transparency and that we cannot be too careful about ensuring that it is present in the delivery of services by the Government and its agencies?
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
I agree that accessibility, accountability and responsive administration are essential. The Executive remain committed to achieving that. The PSAs will be presented to the Assembly in draft later today, together with the draft Programme for Government. They will demonstrate our commitment to greater openness and accountability. However, as an Executive, we wish to go further than that. We plan to publish, after the end of each financial year, a report on progress against the commitments in the Programme for Government and the PSAs. This approach will allow the Assembly and the public to measure our progress on the commitments we undertook to deliver. We are also in the process of developing new service delivery agreements for every Department, and those will be published. They will link the highest level targets in PSAs with actions, targets and budgets for improving service delivery. They will also include a strong focus on meeting the needs of customers.
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline the planned schedule of North/South meetings up to the end of 2001.
Sir Reg Empey:
Arrangements have been made for six North/South Ministerial Council meetings before the end of the year to cover seven of the agreed sectors. Discussions continue with the relevant Departments to schedule meetings for the remaining five sectors: transport; special EU programmes; language; and Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights. It is anticipated that meetings will be scheduled in the near future and held before the end of the year.
Discussions also continue on the arrangements for the next plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, which will take place in Armagh.
I am disappointed that regular meetings across all sectors have not been achieved. Will the Minister confirm that within strand 2 of the Good Friday Agreement there is an imperative for sectoral meetings with each side represented by the appropriate Minister? Where that cannot be achieved, an appropriate format for meetings to consider institutional or cross-sectoral issues should be found so that outstanding matters can be resolved.
Sir Reg Empey:
Whatever else can be said, there have been approximately 34 sectoral meetings, as well as plenary meetings of North/South institutions. The Member will be well aware of the background to that issue. Substantial progress has been made.
There should be no difficulty with these issues, but not all of those who are participants in the agreement have adhered to it. That has cast a shadow over it. Nevertheless, the institutions are functioning, meetings are taking place and progress is being made. I wish that as much progress was being made on the outstanding matter of disarmament as has been made on the North/ South bodies.
A LeasCheann Comhairle. Does the Minister's office intend to continue to illegally exclude Sinn Féin Ministers Bairbre de Brún and Martin McGuinness from the North/South Ministerial Council meetings? The court ruling agreed that the Ministers were upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
Sir Reg Empey:
I am always pleased to hear the Member put her faith in British justice. However, the agreement cannot be cherry-picked. It has a number of components that must be implemented, and the fact is that some people are in default of their obligations and, inevitably, a price must be paid for that.
I note the Minister's response to the last question. Can he confirm that he will not nominate Sinn Féin Ministers to attend North/South Ministerial Council meetings while that party fails to fulfil all its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement?
Sir Reg Empey:
The Belfast Agreement cannot be cherry-picked. There is a clear obligation on all parties to demonstrate their commitment to the use of exclusively peaceful and democratic means while in pursuit of their political objectives. The Belfast Agreement imposes an obligation on parties to achieve decommissioning. That is particularly true of paramilitary-related parties such as Sinn Féin. Several months ago, the then First Minister wrote to the two Sinn Féin Ministers to ask for information on what they had done, or were doing, to secure decommissioning. Mr Trimble is still awaiting that information. That does not encourage me to believe that such persons are suitable for nomination to such meetings.
Northern Ireland Executive Office in Brussels
Mr Paisley Jnr
asked the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to detail the cost of issuing invitations and associated arrangements in respect of the proposed opening of the Northern Ireland Executive office in Brussels.
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
The total identifiable cost for the official opening of the Northern Ireland Executive's office in Brussels was £214·24. In the interests of precision, the breakdown shows that the cost of printing invitations and envelopes was £197·07 and the cost of postage was £15·28 from Brussels and £1·89 from Belfast.
Unfortunately, the official opening of the office in Brussels was postponed to keep the diaries of Ministers clear at that time. It is expected that an alternative date, later in the year, for the official opening will be agreed. The office has been fully operational since the end of May.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I welcome the Deputy First Minister's answer, and the personal statement made on an earlier date by the acting First Minister. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that there must not be any party political association with the office? Does he agree that it would be best to relaunch the office as a shop window to Northern Ireland, similar to the Scotland House? It should not be a window on the Executive, which has demonstrated that it is not the best example of what is happening in Northern Ireland. Rather than handcuffing the office to the political developments in Northern Ireland, we should handcuff it to the wider socio-economic advantages that Northern Ireland offers people who come to the Province.
Mr Séamus Mallon MP:
The objective is that the office will be of help to the Executive - as we have told the MEPs and Assembly Members - in presenting and protecting the interests of Northern Ireland in Brussels.
I have no doubt that the operation of this office will be helpful in many instances. It will alert people to what is or might be available in the European system, and it will ensure that Northern Ireland gets its full and proper share of benefits from that system. The office cannot be a drop-in centre for any political party - I am adamant about that. However, it is the type of office that should develop relationships with all elected representatives and ensure that it gives the help that is required.
Mr Armstrong, you may put your question, but you will only be able to get a written answer.
How regularly does the Brussels office meet and consult with the three Northern Irish MEPs?
I must ask the Minister to reply in writing, because the time for questions to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister is up.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what checks and balances have been put in place to ensure local councils apply their equality schemes fairly in relation to the provision of leisure facilities.
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):
Equality schemes for district councils are not within the remit of my Department and I am not aware of any checks or balances that are in place to ensure that local councils apply their equality schemes fairly in relation to the provision of leisure facilities.
Does the Minister agree that the provision of leisure facilities on a fair and equitable basis is fundamental to a new society based on equality? Would it not be prudent for him to ensure that the huge cash payments to local councils are properly monitored to ensure that they are fairly distributed in the field of leisure facilities, according to need? Will the Minister consider my concerns?
As I said, equality schemes are not within the remit of my Department. It is important to say that councils are regarded as public bodies. The public sector equality duty contained in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 requires that a public authority
"in carrying out all its functions relating to Northern Ireland have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity"
"regard to the desirability of promoting good relations".
If Mr Dallat or any Member has concerns regarding a council, they should take that up with the council concerned. If anyone has reason for complaint, the Equality Commission is the body responsible for equality schemes.
In the last round of funding, west Tyrone received 49% of available money for GAA, which is a sectarian leisure pursuit, and 4% for football, which is a cross-community pursuit. What checks and balances has the Minister put in place to ensure that that is corrected and that such blatant discrimination does not reoccur in this round of funding?
I did not know that Mr Gibson was going to ask that question, so I do not know the detail of those figures. I repeat my previous answer: all public bodies, including the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which is the funding body with responsibility for sporting activity, are required, under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to adhere to their equality statements. The Equality Commission is responsible for making sure that public bodies do that.
If Mr Gibson has examples of cases where discrimination has occurred, he must take them to the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the Equality Commission. If he wishes, he may also bring those cases to me and my Department to allow me to look into the matter further. That is a very serious accusation.
I must make the point that funding can only be given after applications have come forward, and there is often a disparity in the applications. That is not the whole answer, and it is not the simple answer. If Members have suspicions, they should write to myself and to the bodies concerned.
European Football Championship
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline any contacts he has had with the Scottish Executive to discuss the possibility of jointly hosting the European football championship in 2008.
There has been no formal contact at ministerial level, but informal contact has been taking place at official level. I understand that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) has been considering making a bid to host the European football championships in 2008. Some preliminary work has been done, which has indicated that a bid by the SFA would be feasible. However, no decision as to whether to submit a bid can be taken until the Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA) criteria for hosting the championships are published. Those criteria will determine whether the facilities needed require a joint bid, but even if that were the case, there is no expectation at this stage that Northern Ireland would be involved.
I understand that the SFA has approached the Welsh Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) regarding a joint bid. Will the Irish Football Association (IFA), in conjunction with the Minister, use this as an opportunity to promote Northern Ireland, which is better placed logistically to accommodate a joint bid with Scotland? It would give us the opportunity to develop a new stadium, which the Province badly needs.
I am unaware of approaches made to either the Welsh Football Association or the FAI. The IFA is the body concerned with football in Northern Ireland, and, therefore, that which has any possibility of making a joint bid with the SFA. Under the current criteria, UEFA require six stadia with capacities of 30,000, one of which must be able to hold 50,000. I understand that the SFA can proceed with its bid because it has the infrastructure in place and does not need help from anyone. Should the criteria change from six stadia to eight or 10, Scotland might have to look to Wales, the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland.
There is no stadium in Northern Ireland that comes close to the requirement of 30,000 seats. The biggest is Windsor Park, which, I believe, can hold 12,000. If the IFA were to go forward with Scotland, and were awarded the bid, with support from the Government and this House, there would be time to redevelop Windsor Park or to build a new stadium with 30,000 seats or more. However, that is only speculation at the minute, and I cannot react to speculation.
Does the Minister agree that for Northern Ireland to be considered - and I fully support that sentiment - our existing national soccer stadium, Windsor Park, and all other Irish League grounds require funding for essential repairs and improvements?
I refer Mr Boyd to the previous answer regarding facilities. We should not assume that Northern Ireland is a joint bidder with the SFA. The SFA is waiting to find out if the criteria change, and, if they do, how it addresses that is its own matter. I agree that there is a need to upgrade a stadium here in order to meet international standards. Windsor Park currently does not meet them.
Mr B Hutchinson:
The Minister has answered my question.
Would that all Members were prepared to act in that way when Ministers have answered their questions.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what developments have been made in the recognition and promotion of sign language.
Officials in my Department have met with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) and the British Deaf Association to identify priority issues for British and Irish sign language users. Interpreting services emerged as a key concern. My officials have been in contact with officials in the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Education, the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and the Department for Education and Employment.
They have also met with colleagues in the Disablement Advisory Service of the Department for Education and Employment and have raised the matter with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. My Department will convene a working party of interested individuals and organisations to explore further issues of importance to sign language users.
Can the Minister tell us how many times the working group, which the Programme for Government was supposed to set up, has met? Will it meet its December deadline to deliver the policy that it was set up to deliver?
The working party has yet to meet. That meeting will take place this year, sometime in the near future. The prospective membership will include the British Deaf Association, the RNID and other bodies that I mentioned earlier. The working party is provided for in the Programme for Government. We anticipate being able to fulfil our obligations under the programme. I cannot add anything, other than to repeat the background to the current situation, and to mention again the research strategy that we have undertaken over the past 18 months.
Mr Paisley Jnr
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to outline progress on the development of a purpose built motor sport centre for Northern Ireland.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to provide an update on the report 'Motor Sports in Northern Ireland - the Future'.
I shall take questions 4 and 7 together.
On my behalf, the Sports Council for Northern Ireland commissioned International Motorsports Ltd to undertake a study to review the current state of the Province's existing short circuits, and to determine the demand, viability and feasibility of establishing a regional motor sport facility. Following the report's publication in August, the Sports Council has engaged in a consultation process to gauge the reponse of the key partners to the report. An initial consultation with governing bodies of the related sports revealed that there was an overriding need to consider the principal recommendations in the context of a newly developed strategic plan for all motor sport activities - namely cars, on- and off-road motorcycling and karts.
In response, the Sports Council has agreed to facilitate a strategic planning process for two- and four-wheeled sports. A working group is currently being established to advance the strategic plan. The group will comprise representatives of all motor sport governing bodies, local authority recreation departments and Government Departments, and will draw upon expert advisors. In the course of the planning process, it is anticipated that the strategic plan will be completed by the start of 2002. The Sports Council will then advise me on how best to deal with the issue.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Although I welcome that the Minister has had the initiative to commission a report, not everyone will agree with its conclusions, as many gaps have been identified.
What is the Minister's view on the Aghadowey short circuit, which was mentioned in the report? He knows that Bishopscourt and Kirkistown have been identified as potentially good training beds for short circuit riders. However, the other courses in Northern Ireland would then face becoming run down, or even possible closure. Given that Bishopscourt is for sale - it faces many planning problems, and is far away from major roads and a major hospital - and given that Aghadowey is located close to those facilities, will the Minister look at the possibility of developing a training ground short circuit for Northern Ireland at Aghadowey? Is he prepared to assist that club - and, indeed, any club that seeks his support - in making an application to the Foundation for Sports and the Arts or to the lottery fund to help it realise its goal of providing better motor sport facilities for the Province?
Mr Paisley is aware of how this process evolved - and it has been an evolving process. It began with work for the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland on the eight road circuits for motorbikes, and how we made those circuits safer.
As an adjunct, we looked at the four existing short circuits. Following on from that, we looked at the possibility of a new, purpose-built motorsport facility for the region. Those are the three steps, and each one is still very much in play. Recommendations have been made. For example, the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland task force report has resulted in the allocation by my Department of resources and support for safety work on various circuits. Money has been spent on Dundrod and the North West 200, and funding has been earmarked for Carrowdore and Tandragee. Cookstown has also benefited.
We looked at the four short circuits, one of which is Aghadowey. Around £2·3 million was needed to upgrade the circuits to an acceptable standard. The regional motorsport facility would cost between £20 million to £30 million. This is purely a report, and it is now a matter for the various motorsport organisations to determine what part of the report - all of it, some of it, or none of it - they wish to go forward with.
With regard to Aghadowey, the recommendation was to apply to two circuits as an economic imperative. However, if you spend £20 million to £30 million on a brand new motorsport facility can you then justify having four short circuits upgraded at a cost of £2·3 million each, which will take business away from it? The Member has pointed to competition and the difficulties at Bishopscourt.
I am willing to progress all initiatives and give what support I can, as regards applications for lottery and Sports Council funding. However, the process is still underway and the strategic review of the various motorsports will determine what they see as their priorities. My job, through the Sports Council, will be to support them rather than dictate what they should be doing for their sport.
Is the Minister aware of a proposal to develop a major multi-faceted motorsport facility at Kilroot in the Carrickfergus area? Does he agree that that is probably one of the best strategically placed proposals before his Department at present? In what way would his Department be prepared to assist such a project?
I am well aware of the Kilroot proposal - indeed, Mr Neeson brought it to my attention some time ago. I must point out that there are proposals in other areas as well. I am prepared to give support, but I must first hear the plan for the future from the motorsports organisations. That is where the strategic plan, which they are currently working on, comes in. They should report by the end of this year or early next year, and then we will know better.
I do not know whether they will express an option on this proposal, and I cannot predict exactly what they are going to say. As I said in response to the previous question, it is a matter for the motorsport organisations to strategise the way forward for their sport. It will then be a matter for the Sports Council to give them support, and for me to give the Sports Council the support that it requires. In this way, we will all see the sport develop in the way that we want.
Has the Minister read the International Motor Sport Ltd (IMS) report on motorsports in Northern Ireland and does he agree with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's expressed opinion of total support for road racing in Northern Ireland? A purpose built motorsport centre for Northern Ireland cannot cater for road racing.
It is self-evident that road racing is different from short circuit racing. I have said in the past that road racing is a sport that, for whatever reason, people from this country appear to be very good at - we excel at it. It is also a highly dangerous sport. That is one reason why my Department has managed to obtain resources to devote to road racing circuits. We have been successful in providing support to Cookstown, mid- Antrim, the North West 200, and giving a money commitment to Tandragee and Carrowdore.
That is the situation at present. The sport has to determine how it will go forward. Members are aware - for example, Mr Shannon has written to me about the Carrowdore race - of the requirement under the safety scheme that roads be closed for practice the previous day. That causes conflict with residents who are prepared to accept closed roads for one day, but not for two. Those are issues for the clubs and the local communities to consider, because the clubs can only sustain their events with the support of the local communities.
asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to detail what resources are being allocated to support the role of district councils as developers and providers of regional museums, particularly in Newry and Armagh.
Support is provided on a number of fronts. I am, as the Member will know, looking at the question of support for the local museums sector in the context of the local museums and heritage review. At present, the Northern Ireland Museums Council is the main channel for central Government support to regional and local museums, including those in Newry and Armagh, through its grants programme and its role in providing training and guidance on improving standards, both in visitor services and the management of collections.
Recognising the importance of close working relationships with local government, my Department has established a cultural forum to bring together district councils and a range of other relevant public bodies. The forum has provided direct assistance to district councils in preparing cultural strategies in the context of local integrated plans.
I understand, in the context of the review, that district councils are to have an enhanced role in the provision and development of regional museums. However, does the Minister agree that that is difficult when resources are so splintered? The Northern Ireland Museums Council is a very small source of funding for many of the museums, and the Heritage Lottery Fund, Co-operation Ireland, the Millennium Fund and various other sources have helped to develop the network. Is it not time to have a more coherent funding policy, not just for local regional museums but for other such institutions in Northern Ireland?
I do not disagree with Mr Fee's sentiments. However, there are approximately 400 local museums and heritage centres in Northern Ireland, and we cannot fund them all. In addition, the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland, which runs the main museum campuses - Cultra, Omagh, Stranmillis and Armagh - has a funding stream of over £10 million. We are bidding constantly to have that uplifted, because it is running at a deficit.
It is a matter of determining resources and priorities. One way forward is through the cultural forum, which aims to encourage local authorities to develop local strategies that promote the cultural well-being of an area and its people to enable the sharing of good practice and to monitor and evaluate local strategies. The Northern Ireland Museums Council provides a small element of grant support, but, more importantly, it provides expertise and help with the preservation, assembly, presentation and marketing of small, though often important, exhibits.