Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 14 September 1998 (continued)
The First Minister (Designate):
On a point of order. When a Member gives way he has no way of knowing whether it is going to be a long or short intervention. If interventions look as though they are going to be lengthy it would be helpful if the Chair ensured that they are curtailed.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
That is a very valid point. I trust that Members will be co-operative and that I will be forgiven for intervening and maintaining a degree of order in such circumstances.
I begin by expressing my deep appreciation to the First Minister (Designate) and his Deputy, not only for the detailed work they have done since taking office but for the Interim Report which they have placed before us. Their work and the Report represent the challenge of a new beginning and the leaving behind of a terrible past.
This new beginning challenges us to put into operation new democratic institutions. These will be shared institutions allowing both sections of the community to work together on common interests, bringing government much closer to the people. People are the only wealth we have, for without them any piece of earth is only a jungle. Therefore it is right and proper that government and the decision-making process should be as close to the people as possible. It is our duty in the Assembly to do everything we can to ensure that that happens as soon as possible.
We should also be deciding as soon as possible what Government Departments we are going to have. There are six at present, but there are differences of opinion among parties about how many Departments and Ministerial portfolios there should be. Decisions also need to be taken about a civic forum and the proposals for areas of co-operation under the North/South body and the British/Irish Council. I would therefore appeal to all parties, in consultation with the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate), to reach agreement in those areas as soon as possible so that this institution can get down to the serious work of government.
If we do not get down to that work, this Assembly will become - and we can see it happening already - not just a talking shop about our past, but a "shouting shop" about our past. We want to leave that past behind us, because we all know the terrible price that all sections of our people have paid for that past.
The challenge before us now is to create the new beginning, to implement the agreement that the people have so overwhelmingly endorsed and to implement it in all its detail, which means creating the democratic institutions to allow all sections of our people to work together with respect for one another, and to build a completely new society.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
There is a great weakness in this discussion today. When my party met the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), we found that they were divided on the question of the Executive. At the first meeting of the Assembly, I said that we were perfectly clear in our minds about the position of the Deputy First Minister (Designate); he had made his position crystal clear. We are not clear about the position of the First Minister (Designate), and in our discussions it was quite clear that there was a difference between these two gentlemen.
If I understand anything about this agreement, it is that it is based on a partnership between these two gentlemen, in which they have a common purpose, a common task and a common objective. But how can they have that when they are not in agreement?
Representatives of the Official Unionist Party ask, inside and outside this House, what my party is going to do. That does not matter. They have taken the position of First Minister (Designate), and they have a responsibility now to tell the House what their attitude is to these questions. Are they prepared to sit down with IRA/Sinn Fein in a Government of Northern Ireland? What about decommissioning and what about the release of prisoners? They must make their position clear on all these matters.
What we have had today is not consultation because they have not told us what they intend to do. In any parliamentary consultation process there is a Green Paper and then a White Paper. A Green Paper sets out the alternatives, and then a White Paper indicates the mind of the Government. These two gentlemen owe it to the Assembly to set out their position clearly and in writing.
We have heard Mr Empey speculating about the number of Departments we should have, but we cannot have real consultation until the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) tell us what they propose. The first step in consultation is for them to say "These are the alternatives. We are choosing this alternative, and we want to know your attitude to it." What have they in mind in setting up this Executive?
I would like to know whether the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) believe that they can form the strand of a North/South Council when no Executive is in place? The Assembly needs to know.
I see the First Minister raising his copy of this agreement. I know what it says. It says that they can lead it, but it does not say that they can make it. Of course, he would say that he and the Deputy First Minister are going to make up the North/South Council, and then there will be a very cosy relationship with Mr Ahern and his colleagues - very cosy indeed.
However, there are some Members in this House who want to have some say about what is happening with regard to cosy relationships with the Irish Republic. I ask the First Minister (Designate) to come clean on that. We want to know what is in his mind and that of the Deputy First Minister (Designate) as to what they intend to do about this and what are they going to do about the Unionist Party's attitude to these things which is on record in the reply to the Member for East Belfast.
The all-important question is: when is this Assembly going to have a piece of paper from the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) saying "this is the way we think the Assembly should go"? We heard a suggestion from the First Minister (Designate) that he would like us to write to him and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) with proposals. But the point is that they know the views of those they have talked to about many of these things. Now they have to make up their minds and declare their intent.
There are many other matters of concern - for instance, the Civic Forum. In the House of Commons I said that it was going to be the great monster quango. I notice that the voluntary bodies do not want any elected person to have any say in it. Because they cannot get elected themselves, they feel that all elected Members should have no say. They talk about using the Senate Chamber so we will have a quasi House of Lords attached to this House. They are going to be the grand itinerants. They are going to go from county to county and from place to place.
We also had the suggestion in the House of Commons, in an amendment from the Social Democratic and Labour Party, that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) should be the people to choose the members of this body and that the Assembly should have no say whatsoever in the matter. Any body should have the imprimatur of this House upon it. We are the elected representatives; we are the people that were sent here to represent the people.
We do not need this monster quango. We do not need another tier to this Assembly. This is the place where elected representatives should have their say and should make their wishes known. If people want to lobby this body, they can lobby it. If people want to make representation to this body, they can make it. However, to have an outside body with a wider remit than the Assembly is certainly not going to lead to good government in Northern Ireland.
These are the matters I believe this House should be considering and I look forward to the day when we get the piece of paper which outlines the direction in which the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) believe we should go.
The First Minister (Designate) has made a speech that has been strong in description, strong in the parliamentary diary, strong in what the Government need to do and strong in what we need to do. But we have not had one firm suggestion about the number of Departments he thinks we should have. Is he prepared to sit on an Executive with IRA/Sinn Fein? He has not answered that question, and those are matters that the Assembly needs to consider.
The sooner we come to the crux of this matter, the better for us all. Let us get it out in the open and see what the major differences are between the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy. Let us see what they are and if they are going to handle this matter in a parliamentary way, so that we will know - it will be written down - exactly what they are going to do.
A Chathaoirligh, tá mé buíoch duitse. Lá an-tábhachtach atá sa lá seo. Tá sé tábhachtach mar tá seans againne ár stair nua a chur le chéile. Bhí samhradh millteanach againn. Mar sin, tá súil agamsa agus tá súil ag Sinn Féin go rachaidh muid ar aghaidh uaidh seo amach. Ar son Sinn Féin ba mhaith liom a rá go ndéanfaidh muid ár ndícheall an stair nua a chur le chéile.
It is very important that we see today as a chance to make new history. I noted Dr Paisley, the absentee, occasionally present Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party stressing in his submission that he wants to find out what the differences are between what the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and the First Minister (Designate) are saying. We who have vested interest in the future - Dr Paisley has a great future, and it is behind him - can make this work if we work together.
Now, what do we want to make work? The Good Friday Agreement is very clear. The Assembly cannot exist without all the other inter-dependent and inter-related institutions, whether it is the Executive, the all-Ireland body, the implementation bodies, the British/Irish Council or the policy making bodies. Therefore, when I thank the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) for the report, I have to say that they do need to expedite the content of it. The Good Friday Agreement is very clear about all these matters including the timetable. It is also very - and I am sure everyone here is conversant with it - clear about the issue of executive authority.
What Sinn Fein wants to see in place are real Departments - the present Departments clearly do not work. They are confusing and in many ways incoherent. We have made written submissions to the report which we received as the precursor of this report, and we will do so again. In terms of consultation it is important that we understand that the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) cannot forever represent the Assembly. All the parties present here have an automatic right to take their places in the Executive and from there in the Council of Ministers, and so on.
I had written a speech to be made two years ago at the point when our party was excluded from the negotiations and in it I was going to say
"I believe that Ian Paisley and David Trimble, with whom I have many disagreements but who care about their people, can with the rest of us do a much better job running our economy, looking after our Health Service, our elderly, our young, and our urban and rural communities. We do not need British Ministers. The people of this island have the right and the ability to govern ourselves."
As an Irish Republican I want to see a situation in which the five million people of this island can shape our futures, combat poverty and bring about a whole system of equality and justice.
I know that Unionists and Republicans have inflicted great hurt upon each other. I hear the catcalls from the other Bench, and the gap between us is not just the space of floor which is between us. I want to make friends with Dr Paisley and with those whom he represents. But unless we have a sense of doing this together, then not only will this, as Mr Hume said, be reduced to a shouting shop, but the people who depend on us to take us all out of 30 years of division, the conflict of partition and all the other discriminations and injustices will be very sorely disappointed, and Sinn Fein does not intend to disappoint them.
Sin an méid. Beidh a lán eile le rá againn nuair a bheas an seans againn. I want to wish everyone here good luck. We have had a terrible summer. Many, many people have died. Many families have been bereaved and they and everyone else are depending on us to move the entire situation forward.
I am very pleased to be back in this Chamber today, and I want to pay tribute to all those who were responsible for its restoration and reconstruction. I remember standing almost on this very spot, almost 16 years ago at the opening day of the 1982 Assembly, and the big difference between then and now is that in 1982 the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein, for their own reasons, had decided not to participate. But today all those who were elected to the Assembly are sitting here around the table to start a new Government, a new chance for the people of Northern Ireland. And I applaud that.
They say that life depends on the survival of the fittest. That is certainly the case in political life. From those heady days in 1982 I am pleased to see here today Mr Taylor, Mr Davis, Mr McCartney, Mr Bell, Mr Peter Robinson, Dr Paisley, Rev William McCrea, the young Jim Wells and last but not least Mr Close. I am delighted that these people are still around to participate in the Assembly.
With regards to the numerical makeup of the new Shadow Executive and the development of the new Departments, Alliance is clearly committed to the establishment of 10 Departments, and I will tell you why later. But I am somewhat concerned by the motivation of some of the people who want only six or seven Departments. Is it for the effectiveness or the efficiency of the new Government in Northern Ireland, or is this another political motive aimed at reducing the numbers from other parties who get seats on the Executive? We in Alliance accept that we will not be getting a ministerial seat, but it would concern me if political agendas rather than the effective and efficient operation of the Assembly were to determine the number of Executive posts.
We see clear opportunities arising from the restructuring of Departments - for example, the Department of the Environment is much too large and there have been problems with public transport for instance. There are certainly arguments to be made in support of the suggestions contained in the annex circulated to us.
We also have the equality issue, which to me does not just mean religious equality. One of the concerns I expressed when the Equal Opportunities Commission was established, was that issues such as gender, disability or race would be overshadowed by the issue of religious equality. However, the establishment of a Department for Equality will give this Assembly the opportunity to ensure that there is true equality for all the people of Northern Ireland. I also see a role for the Community Relations Council in this.
The topic of heritage is a great personal interest of mine, and I would commend the proposals for a Department of Arts, Culture, Heritage and Sport. This could also consider the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland.
The Alliance Party is currently consulting with other parties in the Assembly to see how the tenth Department could be established. We are strongly pro-Europe, and believe there is an opportunity, if junior Ministries are to be created, to appoint a junior Minister with responsibility for European issues. That person's responsibilities might include the East/West institutions as well as the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington. I see a need for someone to deal with those issues. Clearly, we need to move this process forward urgently and reach decisions.
Dr Paisley is right to say that there must be full consultation with all the Assembly parties when the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are making their final decisions. I hope there will be a further meeting, given the shortness of the meeting we had the last time. There is certainly a need for further consultation.
It is important that the proposed Civic Forum truly reflects civil society in Northern Ireland, and not, as the Deputy First Minister (Designate) stated, just "the great and the good", whom many of us have seen posturing around on various platforms over the years.
Time is of the essence, and I hope that all the parties in the Assembly will assist the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to come to decisions quickly on these matters. Let us ensure that we meet the demands of our timetable.
There has been much talk of democracy, particularly from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). They have given voice to lofty aspirations about peace, justice and equality. All democrats would share such aspirations. However, there has been a lack of consideration about the foundations upon which the Assembly will be built.
Ostensibly, we are here to discuss the "above-ground" structures - the Executive, the portfolios, the number of Ministers. But we should start by looking at the democratic foundations upon which these structures will be built, and, in a democracy those foundations cannot conceivably include those who are in any sense wedded to the principle that violence in the pursuit of political objectives can in some circumstances be justified.
That is the defining principle upon which the Assembly should consider erecting any structures.
It was noticeable that, while the First Minister (Designate) made what some might call "a hairy-chested" assertion that there could be no question of parties sitting down in an Executive with those who were associated with or intertwined with those possessing weapons, that topic was totally absent from the address of the Deputy First Minister (Designate).
The Assembly has also heard about the importance of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) discussing with their counterparts in the Republic - as part of the North/South Ministerial Council - the sort of all-Ireland implementation bodies that are to be created. However there has been no hint of what those implementation bodies will do.
Members have, of course, been told that, on the one hand, these bodies will be relatively "Mickey Mouse" affairs, concerned with teacher training, animal husbandry, hygiene and, possibly, tourism. However, the Deputy First Minister (Designate) has more substantial powers in mind. In yesterday's 'Sunday Tribune' he stated
"the significance of the North/South Ministerial Council is not symbolic; it is practical: its role will be to deliver real benefits for both parts of the island."
So far so good.
"There can be no real argument any more about the potential benefits of a one island approach across the spectrum of economic and social issues. It must benefit the people of Northern Ireland to be able to tap-in to, and to link up with, the most successful economy in Europe this decade".
That is a totally erroneous statement, and very soon the four legs - and possibly the tail as well - may come off the "Celtic tiger". Be that as it may, that is an expression of opinion. It is clear that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) sees these bodies as being of real importance.
Once you have the economy and the social structures for delivering the social services of two countries completely intertwined and united, you have effectively a united country. That is the vision of the Deputy First Minister (Designate). It is not apparently the vision of the First Minister (Designate). These are anomalies that will have to be resolved.
But let us look at the timetable for this. I happen to share with the Leader of Sinn Fein the view that the first priority of the two Ministers, and of this Assembly, is to appoint an Executive. When that Executive is appointed - whether it comprises 10 Ministers or seven Ministers - those Ministers will have to be appointed in accordance with the d'Hondt principle.
Under the terms of this agreement, all parties that qualify under the d'Hondt principle will be entitled to take their seats, including Sinn Fein. In relation to decommissioning Sinn Fein is only required to do nothing more than use such influence as it may have with those organisations said to be associated with it and who are in possession of weapons.
It was upon that principle, among others, that I opposed the agreement. But that is the agreement, and there is much strength in the suggestion that the First Minister (Designate) is now attempting to shut the stable door after the horse has gone.
On democratic grounds Sinn Fein ought not to be entitled to take Executive positions in the Government while it remains inextricably linked with an organisation that refuses to decommission. But that is not what the agreement says. This is a fundamental issue which will have to be resolved. It suggests that the two Ministers will arrange some, if not all of the implementation bodies in the agreement.
We are not told what those implementation bodies will be decreed to do. However, the Assembly will have to give its consent to the Ministers plan, and Members will be told that unless they accept these implementation bodies, under the principle of mutuality this Assembly will fail and with it will go the blue carpet, the plush chairs, the emoluments, and the facilities. That will be the price for saying "no" to the implementation bodies proposed.
Those implementation bodies are being proposed out of chronological sequence as it appears on this document. The first item that the Ministers were charged to deal with was
"the basic structures including the agreement on the number of Ministerial posts, and the distribution of executive responsibilities between those posts".
Then there was
"the preparation for establishing the British/Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council, and associated implementation bodies".
Why are the roles being reversed? They are being reversed because the First Minister (Designate) does not believe that his party will sanction sitting down with Sinn Fein as joint members of an executive, while the IRA has not decommissioned any of its weapons. He believes that if he reverses the role, he may persuade his party to back him and give him authority to agree all-Ireland implementation bodies at the price of not losing their positions. Everyone who claims to be a democrat will have to think about his personal interest, emoluments, or facilities will be the price that will have to be paid for agreeing to do something which as a Unionist, regardless of his party, he ought not to do.
I would like to return to the question of being able to change designation. The issue was made clear by Ms Morrice when she said that her party was charged with protecting the agreement. If a majority of Unionists vote for some matter that may cause the agreement to be put at issue, the Women's Coalition Members are saying that they would become Unionists for the day in order to frustrate a true Unionist majority vote on that issue. In other words the agreement would be placed above the principles of democratic representation.
I believe that this Assembly will fail unless it is based on the solid foundation of democracy. I do not disagree with the entitlement of Mr Adams, Mr McGuinness and all the other members of Sinn Fein to forcefully, politically and democratically, advance their ideal of a united socialist Irish Republic. What I fundamentally disagree with is that they should directly or tacitly or in a hidden way, be associated with the threat of violence, if this process does not deliver progress in that direction.
My remarks are equally applicable to any other party. I specifically mention the Progressive Unionist Party which is in a similar position in relation to an armed organisation. In regard to this matter my feelings towards them are exactly the same as my feelings towards Sinn Fein. Democracy must prevail, and there must be no particle of violence or the threat of violence of any kind in the basis upon which we erect the structures and institutions of government for Northern Ireland.
Mr B Hutchinson:
When the Leader of the United Kingdom Unionist Party said that he agreed with Mr Adams, members of the press left the Gallery - I think they wanted to get to a microphone but they should have waited until I spoke. They would have been shocked to hear that I happen to agree with Mr McCartney's position that Sinn Fein has a legal right to get into the Executive without decommissioning.
What we need to concentrate on - [Interruption]
People should stop catcalling and let others speak. I did not catcall when other Members were speaking. The public are watching, and they will recognise the childish behaviour of some Members.
There has been a lot of talk about taking time to ensure that we do not make any mistakes. Before we had this Assembly, and even while we were moving to this building, I heard a lot of discussion about the Civil Service and about the amount of power that it had been given because of direct rule.
The Progressive Unionist Party believes that there need to be 10 Ministers and 10 Departments, because the agreement says that we need to represent society. If we do not have these Ministers and Departments, we will not be able to provide recognition for all the people who make up our society. We also believe that it needs to be done quickly for that very reason. We need to get rid of the status quo and show people that this is a new beginning.
We need to ensure that those Departments can deliver a service to the people. We should not sit here for the next two years, doing exactly what the Labour Government are doing now, or what the Tory Government did before them for 17 years. They made lots of mistakes, and we have an opportunity to put those mistakes right. We know the problems in this Province.
We know that only the top 20% of our young people get a decent education. Many of us represent working-class areas where education is disadvantaged, and we need to change that. Sinn Fein Members have to realise that their people do not have a monopoly on disadvantage or deprivation. When we get to the equality agenda, Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party will have to recognise that we also have problems, not only in terms of socio-economic issues, but in terms of our culture.
That is why we need to ensure that we get these Departments right. We also need to make sure that the delivery mechanisms and the programmes are right. We support Junior Ministers, because we believe that they could push these programmes.
We hope that other Members will support us in this. We need to move as quickly as possible to make any headway before Christmas. The parties have been around for a long time, and they know the issues. They should also know the Departments that are needed.
I am not sure that the economic argument is one that stands up. There are opportunities already mentioned by the First Minister (Designate), in terms of the Chancellor's money. Is the money additional or not? If it is additional, how can we use it? We should not be worried because we will have a Minister with the departmental responsibilities. Then we have to pay for civil servants. If the money is delivered to people on the ground, and the intervention is at the right level, let us do it. Let us not waste money but make sure we spend it correctly.
In terms of the Departments, who is going to be given the "poisoned chalice" of Health? We do not have that problem. We can sit back in constructive Opposition and criticise when mistakes are made. It will be interesting to see who gets it - and we hope that he gets it right. We hope he does better than those before him did.
The Progressive Unionist Party believes that in all parties in this Assembly there are people who would be quite capable of taking on the ministerial and junior ministerial roles, and while we will not be out to criticise those people we will make sure that they do their jobs and where necessary we will provide constructive criticism. We recognise that over the summer months the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First (Designate) Minister did not have the time to do the necessary amount of consultation work, but let us hope that in the next few weeks it can be done quickly.
The Progressive Unionist Party will certainly be proposing that there be 10 Ministers and 10 Departments, and we will be outlining them in great detail. I hope that the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) will pay as much attention to our paper as they will to those of the larger parties.
The Northern Ireland Women's Coalition Party welcomes this opportunity to respond to the report by the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and First Minister (Designate). We have relied on an unaccountable form of Administration for too many years, but now we have the opportunity to take accountability for our own future.
Much work is required to mould this new Government and Administration, and it needs to be done both strategically and collectively. However, we could move so fast that we do not take enough time to look at continuity and what needs to be put in place. This is the difficulty we face in building these new Departments. We have to ask ourselves what was there before, what worked and what did not work; and what must we now put in place that could possibly work.
Dr Paisley mentioned the Civic Forum, which is preceded by the word "consultative". Who could possibly see it as a disbenefit to the Assembly that we consult? There are many trade unionists, business people and members of civil society currently implementing structures in health, education and in the world of sport and the arts who would be only too glad to lend themselves to that consultation process. We have a responsibility as elected Members to consult them on how they see the way forward.
When the Deputy First Minister (Designate) talked about our rights, he was correct to also point out our responsibilities. We have a right to put these Departments in place, and we have the responsibility to ensure that they work. The people of Northern Ireland know only too well that one does not constantly demand one's rights without taking one's responsibilities just as seriously.
Another huge responsibility for us is that of putting the community to the fore rather than our own party political needs. In response to Mr McCartney's point, may I say that my Colleague, Ms Morrice, was not just protecting the agreement in a partisan fashion; she was protecting the agreement in its totality. No matter whether she feels on any given occasion that representing a Nationalist part of the community or a Unionist part of the community, she tasks herself with the larger job of representing all of the community. That is the responsibility which we now have.
We have currently a number of Departments with high expenditure and large policy units. These need to be looked at. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) has suggested that we should look at integrated policies across all the Departments. The issues of equality, human rights and reconciliation need to be looked at with regard to integration. It is, however, such a large portfolio that it may need its own ministry. It struck me very forcefully on entering the Building today that there was a table to my right which carried the legend "Strangers". I thought "Who are they talking about? Are they talking about the Members of this House who do not know each other or about the people who are coming for one day?". I think the Department that deals with equality, human rights and reconciliation will have to consider the issue of "strangers".
There are other issues we have never had to deal with before which we will now have to tackle. What do the victims in society need? There was not time when negotiating the agreement to deal with that question. After our most painful and cruel summer we now need to look at it as a serious resource issue.
On the issue of children and young people, Government Departments were established before issues of child abuse or violence against women and children were recognised as problems. When something is named one has a responsibility to put in place policies and to ensure that they are enforced. We have named our new problems. Let us build a new Government which will take them on board.
The current departmental structures are problematic. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, has a problem when it is dealing only with the producer and not with the consumers. Is it right, for instance, that the producers of food and those responsible for food safety should sit within the same Department? That is one example. Where do we integrate and where do we separate?
One thing that we felt very strongly about when we were negotiating the agreement and which, as Mr Mallon said, will be an integral part of the new decision-making process was the Civic Forum. There are many voices which were never traditionally heard in Northern Ireland. Perhaps Dr Paisley was right when he said that they were politically homeless and that they are represented by the elected Members of this House.
I would argue that it is going to take many, many years for people to join the political parties as they are now constituted. Some people cannot, because of their jobs or occupations, be seen to be associated with political parties. That does not mean that they are not playing a huge role in society. I believe that we could have had an enormous crisis of Bosnia-type proportions if we had not had such a buoyant civic society to turn to at the height of sectarian divisions over the past 30 years. Let us build on it; let us not knock it.
There are many walls coming down. Let us build using the same bricks, the bricks of civic society, to put in place a different kind of forum. People outside are ready and we must show that we will soon be ready to put the structure in place.
My final question could perhaps be answered in the summing up. What is meant by paragraph 4.12 of the Interim Report? It says
"It is anticipated that the inaugural meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council will take place in the near future."
Who will be at that inaugural meeting? What is meant by the near future? We need answers. We have moved at enormous speed since Good Friday, and some of us might have said that it was so fast that we could not keep up with it. We went from the agreement to the referendum, out of the referendum into the elections, out of the elections and into the first meeting of the Assembly in Castle Buildings, and now into our new building. We were right to move at that momentum - when there are vacuums, there is tension, and we must not create more vacuums because tension will increase. The Executive should be set up as soon as possible. We have meetings in place to help us do that, and thereafter we will establish the North/South Council and the British/Irish Council.
Finally, I would like to thank all those in the Secretariat who were responsible for this report. They have had an enormous job during the summer, but it is good that we have the report in front of us now, tiny, and interim as it is.
The people of Northern Ireland did not send us here, as Mr Hume said, to sit around and talk or to sit around and shout at each other, but to start building. We went out in June to fight and win elections. Now we have been tasked to govern and lead.
This has been a very reasoned and level-headed debate. Indeed, this is a very good initial formal meeting of our new Assembly for Northern Ireland here in our Parliament Buildings at Stormont. I, of course, have served in many devolved institutions in this building, in the old Parliament, in the two subsequent Assemblies and in the Constitutional Convention. Each of them failed in its own way, and that is history now. We now have a chance to move forward in Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, we meet against the background of what has been a tragic summer, and I join those Members who expressed sympathy to all who suffered from the terrible terrorist incidents, to the families who were bereaved, and to those who have suffered grievously, an experience of which I have personal knowledge.
Mr Adams mentioned this Building. In time it will be a great asset for all the people of Northern Ireland. Decisions have been taken to spend £60 million or £80 million on buildings for the Parliament in Edinburgh, the Assembly in Cardiff and the City Council in London. Not only have we saved money, but we will have the best building of any devolved institution in this nation.
Devolution is not just limited to the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland also will have to proceed towards devolution soon if it is to benefit from Objective 1 allocations by the European Union.
This debate is about the report from the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy, and we all owe them a vote of thanks for the way in which they have given leadership to the people of Northern Ireland during the last, most difficult, two months. I express my personal appreciation of David Trimble and Seamus Mallon for the way in which they worked together at a time when they could have been so easily divided by the tragedies, and that would have had a divisive effect on the community in Northern Ireland.
I witnessed their working together while I was abroad on other business for the Council of Europe. I have seen it in the European media, and I have listened to foreign politicians. They are all impressed with the kind of new leadership that is emerging in Northern Ireland. In this report the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have managed to make progress on all the fronts that we would expect them to, and they have done it quickly.
There has been much to do. There has been criticism that there is no real meat in this report but in the short time over the summer - a holiday period - they have managed to bring forward this report which covers all aspects of the Northern Ireland Assembly's work. They deserve our appreciation. I know it has been a demanding time for them and their families, friends and colleagues. I thank them very much for this report which has been well received by Members.
Ms McWilliams asked about paragraph 4.12 and wanted to know the meaning of the phrase that the North/South Council would meet "in the near future". The First Minister (Designate) made it clear in his opening speech that the timetable for the North/South Council was quite inflexible. It is laid down in the Belfast Agreement and progress has to be made. He mentioned likely dates for the Assembly to meet to approve proposals for the first North/South Council meeting.
There has been much debate about the numbers of Departments, the number of Ministers, whether there should be a Minister for each Department and whether there should be shared responsibilities. That has all to be studied in detail, and that must be done on a consultative basis by the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) along with all the parties. I hope that when they do come to it - and I am glad to see there is to be some reference to European Union matters which are much more relevant now than they were in the previous Assemblies and the previous Parliament in this building - that they will cover subjects such as sport.
Sport should be given greater priority in Northern Ireland's political life. We have had a great success today at the Commonwealth Games where we won one of the shooting competitions. [Laughter]. I am glad to see Mr Adams laughing. It was with legal firearms, but it was a great achievement for Northern Ireland to win its first gold medal. Let us hope that it will win more. The Northern Ireland cricket team did well last week in Kuala Lumpur, and we are doing well in Gaelic - oh yes, Gaelic exists in Northern Ireland, and I recognise that. Unfortunately we are not doing so well in soccer, but Eddie Irvine, whose home town is near my constituency, did well yesterday. We have a good record in sport, and we should give it greater support and emphasis.
The number of Ministers will, of course, relate to various subjects such as sport, the European Union, and all the various departments which presently exist in the Northern Ireland administration, but it will also depend on whether we are able to form an Executive. That, of course, raises the question of the decommissioning of illegal firearms and armaments, and those who have an influence on that matter will be required to address that before real progress can be made.
One of the problems in Northern Ireland life under direct rule - and we all know this, no matter what party we belong to - has been the rapid growth of quangos, of unelected people dictating what should happen in our communities throughout Northern Ireland. Of course, one of the reasons for that was that we did not have an elected forum representative of all the people of Northern Ireland. We have that now, and that means that we in this Assembly must begin to address the issue of removing many of these quangos and reducing public expenditure.
I will give Members one example. Road schemes are important, and the most important road scheme in Northern Ireland is the Comber bypass. The cost of building it is estimated to be £3 million. Some years ago, the Northern Ireland Office created health and social services councils in Northern Ireland - quangos - in order to represent public opinion to the health boards. It costs £750,000 per year to run these quangos, the members of which are not known to the public and probably not even to the politicians. Abolish these councils and in four years we will have the £3 million needed to build the Comber bypass. There is one example of how to run this country.
There are other important issues too, of course. For instance, we have far more levels of government in this country than any other region in Western Europe. That is the kind of issue that Members must address.
Of course, there is a role for the Civic Forum. It is recommended in the Belfast Agreement - I wonder how this term "Good Friday" came in. We should keep away from religious terms and stick to the proper name, which is the Belfast Agreement. The Civic Forum was one of the issues in that agreement, and we will make every effort to implement it. It must be considered in greater detail after more consultation. Numerous organisations are already taking an interest in it, which is encouraging. We must make sure that it is representative.
I am thinking purely of the business community, because although we do have organisations - and some of them now have Members elected to this body - nonetheless, some of those organisations are not totally representative of the business community in Northern Ireland. Ninety per cent of the firms in Northern Ireland that employ 10 or more people are not in the Confederation of British Industry, so how can the CBI claim to speak for business in Northern Ireland? The Institute of Directors is an excellent organisation. However, there are 27,000 directors in Northern Ireland and only 500 of them are in the institute. Let us get the Chambers of Commerce and the Chambers of Trade involved - they represent businessmen in this community as well
We have an opportunity to look not to the past - much of which I take a pride in, incidentally, but there were mistakes as well - but to look forward and together, representing Nationalists and Unionists and those who do not know what they are. Let us try to work together to build a better Northern Ireland which will be peaceful and bring greater prosperity. Between us we can make Northern Ireland one of the stars of Western Europe.
It will not surprise the Assembly to hear that I wholeheartedly welcome this interim report. I endorse what Mr Taylor said regarding the leadership and the example which was given to this community by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) by their manner in the midst of the very trying circumstances of what has been called "our wicked summer". They showed this community how we can overcome those who try to destroy us and those who try to divide us, and their very appearance together was a healing force at a time when that was most needed.
The agreement is similar to the iceberg: we just see the tip of it. All of us who have participated in the various Committees of this Assembly know well the quantitative work carried out by all the parties and the co-operation and the good will which existed in those Committees. Sometimes that imagery of hard work and co-operation has not always filtered out to the general public. Indeed, if they will forgive me for saying so, some parties would not like word to filter out that we have executive decisions to make, execute and act upon, following agreement among all the parties in respect of many matters affecting the administration of this House.
We accept the entitlement of Members to oppose the agreement and to uphold certain policies. However, I question whether it is right for parties to thwart the will of the people who have said in a referendum that they want the structures outlined in the agreement to be put in place for the governance of the Six Counties. Parties who are tempted to frustrate the will of the people must ask themselves that question.
Some Members have already indicated the enormity of the challenge before us. We have all been presented with a clean sheet - a square pad - in which we have to fill in all the details of the new Government from start to conclusion. That is an awesome task and it is allied to the urgency which is dictated to us not just by the agreement or by the legislation, but by very practical circumstances. I refer to the consequence of undue delays in the governance of Northern Ireland at the moment.
Some Departments are not acting because they are waiting for the outcome of our deliberations. Others are acting precipitously, introducing new policies and new ideas, knowing full well that we are opposed to some of those decisions. As we sit here, Ministers and civil servants are imposing policies and executing policy which is contrary to the cross-Floor support of this Assembly. This is a matter of great urgency that must drive us above anything else of a practical or political nature.
The structures that we are trying to put in place must be looked at from a radical point of view. A Member said earlier that there were many building blocks within each Department. But those building blocks do not have to stay within those Departments and they should be, and must be, moved around to give the improved delivery of service that we have promised to deliver to the people over many years of electoral campaigns. It is important that we address this issue quickly and urgently.
The agenda for equality of esteem and for equality of participation is cross-departmental and the necessity to have community relations enhanced and advanced is trans-departmental. But there are many other aspects, economic and policy-wise, of Departments that must be looked at in a very fundamental way to bring about the structures which will deliver the best possible service to the people we represent.
There are two constraints on that. There is the need to agree policy between ourselves for the administration of all those economic and social matters for which we will be responsible. That in itself is a very daunting task. Added to that, of course are the consequential financial burdens that we must carry. This Assembly must be frugal, as Mr Empey has said, and ensure that decisions do not waste money on administration which, the Social Democratic and Labour Party has always preached, should be put into services and their delivery.
This should be the urgency with which we must address these things. We must shorten the period of the vacuum which has been created and address these executive decisions which have been taken against our will. That is why the process must trundle on much more rapidly than any of us might wish.
There is a comment in paragraph 4.12 about the inaugural meeting of the North/South body. There is nothing hidden in that agenda that I can see. There is nothing that cannot and will not be addressed on the Floor of this House. We must have an inaugural meeting to discuss the broad parameters that will facilitate the process. That applies also to the British/Irish Council and to the Civic Forum - it applies to all.
What we really need is more trust between one another. Let us give one another that trust for the next couple of months and see where that gets us. All being well, we will have an effective and servicing administration that is endorsed by everyone in this Chamber.
Mr P Robinson:
It is regrettable that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have failed to carry out the first task with which the Assembly charged them. They were charged, at our meeting in July, to bring forward proposals on all of these matters. They have not done so.
As far as the Democratic Unionist Party is concerned let me make it very clear that we intend to implement our manifesto commitment. That commitment is to hold the First Minister (Designate) and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the pledges that they made during the referendum campaign, and when Members of the Assembly start talking about the great support that this agreement had from the people, they had better remember the basis upon which that agreement was reached.
It was reached because very clear commitments were given, in one case in Parliament by the Prime Minister, that substantial decommissioning had to take place before Sinn Fein would be allowed in Government, that they had to give up violence for good and they had to be committed exclusively to peaceful and democratic means. On that basis the Democratic Unionist Party believes that it is proper that it uses its energy and its talents in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland - and we will do that in or out of office.
As far as the Departments are concerned it is slightly nauseating to look at the attempt by some to carve up the Government of Northern Ireland on the basis of jobs for the boys. The only issue that the Assembly should be considering is how Northern Ireland can best be governed - how many Departments would allow for the best form of government.
Mr Hutchinson indicated that he believes that to be 10. He could be right. Few of us, if any, have sufficient experience of the workings of government to be able to make that judgement.
There is a case for looking at the status quo more closely in the initial period. I agree with the Alliance Party who drew attention to the Department of the Environment, being regarded sometimes as the "Department of Everything". It is far too large and should be split. There is a clear case for keeping the existing Departments, dividing the Department of the Environment into two and getting ourselves off the ground on that basis. Six months or a year down the line, with the experience that we have gained, we may decide whether there should be eight or more. Indeed, if we do not do that, the review will be Civil Service-led. Civil servants will walk over Members in terms of their experience of what happens in each of the Departments.
If the number of Departments is entirely politically driven at the outset and we subsequently review that number in the light of experience, does the Member agree that it would be easy to go up to the top limit of 10 but virtually impossible to come down?
Mr P Robinson:
I agree entirely. There are political difficulties in reducing rather than increasing in the future. One clear division that my colleague and I had with the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) during our meeting was when reference was made to the issue of junior Ministers. An attempt was clearly being made, on foot of an amendment by the Social Democratic and Labour Party at Westminster, to put that into the hands of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). That would be contrary both to the agreement and to the Bill which is presently before the House.
The d'Hondt principle guides not only ministerial positions but also the positions of Chairman and Deputy Chairman. Without distinction, the section that deals with Executive authority in the Belfast Agreement states
"Following the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister the posts of Ministers" -
it does not reflect whether those are senior ministerial or junior ministerial posts -
"will be allocated to parties on the basis of the d'Hondt system."
Therefore it is clear that if the First Minister (Designate) and his Deputy were to step outside the terms of the agreement and the Bill, they would face serious legal difficulties and there would be serious implications for the workings of this Assembly. I urge caution upon them in case they determine to select their friends for junior ministerial posts and impose them on us.
Under the d'Hondt system, the task of making those nominations is given to the Leaders of the political parties or their nominees. As a party, we would not want the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to choose anyone for a junior ministerial post from among our ranks - not that they are likely to do so.
As far as the North/South structures are concerned, I was alarmed to read in the note that was presented to us from Paul Murphy that he saw the issues listed in the Belfast Agreement as a "baseline position".
The Democratic Unionist Party considers it to be beyond the limit - not as a baseline from which the Government or this Assembly may move. It goes far beyond what is acceptable to the Unionist community.
The other issue is in relation to the Civic Forum. I do not believe that the Civic Forum should meet in this Building. If it does, it will be considered as something of a Second Chamber. It is a consultative body. We have all had opinions given to us by people in the various sectors that are listed in the agreement, and I do not see a difficulty in their having expressed these views, but it is quite another issue as to how structured the presentation of those views should be.
Those are not the only sectors that should be considered. For example, Mr Taylor referred to sport, an area of significant interest in Northern Ireland and one that should be considered by the Civic Forum. Local government is clearly another important area that should be considered. The Civic Forum should not meet in Stormont and become a poor man's House of Lords for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I am also somewhat concerned at references in this document that was presented to the First Minister (Designate), the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and to the various political parties as part of the consultation. There is a clear indication that some civil servants view the new Assembly as an opportunity to change the way Northern Ireland is governed for their benefit.
To say the least, there is an implication in the agreement that the plan is not to make Northern Ireland more democratic, but to encourage something similar to the peace and reconciliation partnerships where various non-elected bodies are involved in government. The Democratic Unionist Party has common cause with the Ulster Unionist Party on quangos. We want to remove as many of those quangos as possible, as quickly as possible and make public life in Northern Ireland more democratic. However, to replace them and, indeed, replace local government with some form of even greater quango would be a retrograde step and one that I would not want the Assembly to support.
The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have failed to grasp the key issue, which is that their report should have contained recommendations on the number of Departments and other issues. There is only one factor stopping them from doing that, and that is the reluctance of the First Minister (Designate) to grasp the nettle of Sinn Fein's participation in government.
I agree with Mr McCartney: the Belfast Agreement makes it very clear that Sinn Fein is entitled to places on the Executive on the sole basis that the party uses its influence in respect of decommissioning. The First Minister (Designate) does not want to show the people of Northern Ireland that he misled them during the referendum campaign when he said that he could prevent Sinn Fein representation on the Executive. He must face up to that issue.
As soon as the Additional Standing Orders are agreed we will have a mechanism whereby Members other than the First Minister and Deputy First Minister can bring the issue of exclusion to the Assembly. If the Assembly judges that there is a party that is not committed exclusively to peaceful and democratic means, it has the power to exclude its Members from ministerial posts in the Executive. Certainly the Democratic Unionist Party will be willing to raise that issue in the Assembly and give the First Minister the opportunity, rather than sticking his chest out, to do something tangible.
The minutes of the meetings of the Ulster Unionist Party's Assembly Members make it abundantly clear that many of them are not prepared to accept Sinn Fein in government. On the radio this morning Mr Taylor berated the Democratic Unionist Party and said that since they sit down in councils with Sinn Fein they should be prepared to sit with them in government. If that is the position of the Ulster Unionist Party, then there is no bar to Sinn Fein being in government, as far as they are concerned. I would like to hear some of the Ulster Unionist Party's Members saying whether they agree with Mr Taylor on that matter.
Ms de Brún:
A Chathaoirligh, in alt 4.12 den tuairisc ón Chéad-Aire agus ón LeasChéad-Aire deirtear go mbeidh céad cruinniú na Comhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas ann roimh i bhfad ina ndéanfar plé cuimsitheach ar réimse leathan ábhar.
Aontaím go hiomlán leis an Chéad-Aire go bhfuil spriocdáta romhainn agus go gcaithfidh muid tabhairt faoin obair go práinneach. Ba chóir go mbeadh an Comhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas ag teacht le chéile go rialta agus go minic i rith an tréimhse idir an toghchán don Tionól agus an t-aistriú cumhachtaí chuig an Tionól. Deich seachtain i ndiaidh an toghcháin níor tháinig an Chomhairle Aireachta le chéile go fóill. Is ceart agus is cóir, mar sin de, go mbeadh cruinniú ann roimh i bhfad.
Ach is léir ón Chomhaontú gurb iad na hionadaithe ón Tionól don Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas an Chéad-Aire, an LeasChéad-Aire agus na hAirí iomchuí.
Is léir domh chomh maith go gcaithfidh na hionadaithe sin dul i mbun chlár oibre a chuimseoidh dhá réimse déag ábhar ar a laghad ina ndéanfar comhoibriú agus forfheidhm le go mbeadh an obair sin curtha i gcrích faoin 31ú Deireadh Fómhair.
Ní féidir leis an Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas dul i mbun an chlár oibre sin gan na hAirí iomchuí don réimse ábhar ina gcuirfear na comhlachtaí forfheidhmithe uile-oileán ar bun.
Aontaím leis na teachtaí eile ó na páirtithe eile a léirigh amhras nó a thóg ceist faoi rún an Chéad-Aire agus an LeasChéad-Aire ó thaobh na cruinnithe sin. Aontaím go hiomlán agus go háirithe leis an Ollamh McWilliams go gcaithfidh muid freagra a fháil faoi sin go luath. Ó thaobh ceist cá mhéad roinn nó cá mhéad aire a bheas ann, aontaím leis an Uasal Seán Neeson.
Mr P Robinson:
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Will you rule on whether the Member has strayed from the subject?
The Initial Presiding Officer:
I have some difficulty even with those who are speaking English.