Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 7 February 2000 (continued)
Act of Union
1. Mr Davis asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans his Department has to mark the bicentennial of the Act of Union.
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):
My Department will play a full role in celebrating this important event. I intend to establish a working group to co-ordinate activities organised in connection with the bicentenary - [Interruption]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We cannot hear the Minister.
I could shout.
It sounds as though that may be what is required.
Shall I go back to the beginning?
My Department will play a full role in celebrating this important event. I intend to establish a working group to co-ordinate activities organised in connection with the bicentenary to ensure the historical accuracy of information that will be collated for the celebrations. The group will also take an overview of the relevant artefacts associated with that period in history.
Furthermore, the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland are currently involved in an Act of Union virtual library project. This is an initiative to increase public awareness and understanding of that important event in Irish history.
I thank the Minister for his response. Who sits on that project team, and why is the Ulster Museum not staging a major exhibition as it did when it commemorated the 1798 rebellion?
I will take the second part of the question first. The museum has little artefactual evidence of consequence, and that is its difficulty with staging an exhibition along the lines of the ? exhibition. However, that is one of the areas to be looked at by the working group I am establishing.
We are aware that some artefacts are available - for example, the Broighter Horde that was discovered in the River Bann in the 1890s, which is in the National Museum in Dublin. We will be looking for an opportunity to display that. Interestingly, that display is in the National Museum as a result of the intervention of Edward, Lord Carson, who persuaded the British Museum to send it back to Dublin, whence it had come. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland also holds a large collection of Lord Castlereagh's papers.
Furthermore, we are aware that a table purchased by the Northern Ireland Government in 1957, on which it is likely that the Royal Assent to the Act of Union was given by Lord Cornwallis, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is available. It is in storage and in the possession of this Administration.
Those are some of the artefacts that we have been able to discover so far. I intend to ensure that the working group explores what can be collated for display.
With regard to the virtual library project, the membership has already been established. This was completed before the current Executive and Administration took over. The membership comprises the Public Record Office, Queens University library, the Linenhall Library and the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland. They are working on the production of a virtual library project and in doing this they are receiving assistance with digitalisation from experts in Northern Ireland and the British Library. It is believed that this is a powerful way of telling the story of the Act of Union.
Does the Minister agree that a special exhibition of the magnificent artefacts originating from Northern Ireland, which is currently held in the National Museum in Dublin, could be brought North to a suitable venue? Given our historical divisions, surely this could be part of the healing process.
I concur with the Member's sentiments. I have referred to some of the things we are looking at in relation to the Act of Union, and during a recent visit to Dublin I spoke to Miss de Valéra about the possibility of migrating various exhibitions. The reason for my trip was to open an exhibition called "The Way We Wore", which, I believe, is as relevant to people in Belfast as to those in Dublin. My suggestion about migration met, I believe, with a favourable response, and there is no reason why some of the very important artefacts held in the National Museum should not also migrate for exhibition in Northern Ireland.
Odyssey Project Science Museum
2. Mr Dalton asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what provision his Department has made in its budget for the science museum in the Odyssey project.
In the financial year 2000-01 my Department has made provision for £5,040,000, which represents capital funding for the Odyssey project. Provision has also been made for £150,000 to go towards any operating deficit at the science centre should it be required.
Will the Minister join with me in welcoming this development? Does he agree that it will have great potential benefit for Northern Ireland and especially the city of Belfast? Will the Minister also provide details of the total cost of the project, explain how it will be financed and state what revenue stream is expected to be generated by the project?
I welcome this development, which will produce such a wide variety of resources for Northern Ireland. The cost of the project is £91·1 million. Private funding accounts for £16·9 million, and the balance will come from a variety of sources. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure will put in £16·9 million; the Millennium Commission will contribute £45 million; Laganside Corporation £9·25 million; and the Sports Council £2·5 million.
These are very considerable sums. In terms of development, this money will provide a covered arena for indoor events including those of a sporting nature. The arena will seat more than 10,000 people. A state-of-the-art science centre will be a high-technology venture, and it will tell a science story with an educational impact. There are also a number of entertainment provisions including cinemas and IMAX centres.
Does the Minister agree that given the difficulties, including those of a financial nature, facing the Millennium Dome in London, we should exercise extreme care to ensure that this great project for Northern Ireland does not face the same problems? How sure is the Minister that this public money is being wisely spent, and will the project be economically viable?
It would be unwise to give an opinion, since this was a provision that was made long before the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure was established. It is a very considerable sum of money, and there was a great deal of debate about the provision. The Millennium Commission determined that this was the bid best suited to Northern Ireland, and I am a great believer in not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
There are possible revenue consequences for us, and the Department has budgeted for deficit funding of up to £450,000 a year for the science centre. This is based on a total visit of under 3 million for the outlets and facilities in the Odyssey project, and in respect of the science centre, we are looking at a figure of 221,000 a year. We are not clear at this stage how much of that will be concessions to school-children, and so on, and how much will be attributed to fee-paying customers. The figure of £450,000 is a guesstimate of the total liability to the Department. The others are expected to be operated as private ventures by private operators and will not represent a drain on the public purse.
I commend to questioners and respondents alike the commendably concise and brief responses of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Mr S Wilson:
Will the Minister confirm that the amount of public money which has gone into the Odyssey project is about £45 million at present? Will he also elaborate on whether the £450,000 subsidy a year, which he mentioned - I may have missed this - extends only to the public-sector parts of the project? Or is it intended that, for example, the arena will need public-sector subsidy, or, indeed, the bus service which is to bring people from all around the city to the facility, which has, I understand, inadequate car-parking?
The figure of £450,000 is our projected worst-case scenario after year five. We anticipate that the deficit will be £150,000 in year one. When it has begun to operate we will be in a better position to judge.
As regards transport, we do not anticipate having to fund public transport to and from the Odyssey project, nor is it anticipated that there would be any form of revenue consequence regarding the operation of the arena, the pavilion or the IMAX theatres. Our total revenue consequences will relate only to the science centre.
Mr B Hutchinson:
In an earlier answer the Minister said that the contribution to Laganside was £9 million. Is that public money, and from which Department does it come?
I mentioned a figure of about £45 million, which is roughly the investment to date. The total investment will be £91·1 million. That is made up of £45 million from the Millennium Commission, £9·25 million from the Laganside Corporation, £2·5 million from the Sports Council, £16·9 million from the Sheraton Group, which is a private-sector organisation that will operate the IMAX theatre, a matching £16·9 million from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and an Odyssey Trust Company deficit-fund contribution of £550,000. Of the £91·1 million, only £16·9 million will come from outside public funding. The remainder will come from a variety of public-funding sources.
Mr B Hutchinson:
The Minister misunderstood my question.
We must move on to the next question.
Mr B Hutchinson:
I was asking which Department the Laganside money is coming from.
I understand that Laganside Corporation money comes out of the budget, but from which Department it comes I am not qualified to say. Under the new arrangements it may come from the Department of Social Development. The Member would probably know the answer to that better than I.
When a Minister is not clear in a response, he or she will normally write to the Member.
3. Mr McCarthy asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure if he will introduce legislation similar to the Football (Offences) Act 1991 in a bid to combat sectarianism in football in Northern Ireland.
I will be considering proposals for the introduction of legislation on safety at sports grounds in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK. In so doing, I will take into account the provision of the Football (Offences) Act 1991. Similar legislation here would make it an offence to engage in unruly, indecent and sectarian behaviour at sporting events and would seek to deter unacceptable and disruptive behaviour among those attending sporting events.
Does the Minister believe that it is vital to make our main sports arenas neutral environments, where people from all traditions can enjoy a diverse range of sporting activity without threat of intimidation? Does he agree that sectarianism in Northern Ireland is equivalent to racism in football grounds across the water and is amenable to similar solutions?
I am not prepared to equate racism and sectarianism. However, I agree with Mr McCarthy that this is a problem which needs to be addressed. The Sports Council and the IFA are currently discussing this issue and looking for ways and means of addressing it. As I said, we will be looking at the Football (Offences) Act 1991, which is applicable in the rest of the UK. We will also be looking at another Order, which came in a few years later, making it illegal, for example, to throw any object towards the pitch or a spectator area without lawful authority or excuse - I am surprised this is not the case at present - to take part in indecent or racist chanting or to go on to the pitch without lawful authority.
Under the 1999 amendments it is also an offence for an individual to engage in racist or indecent chanting, either alone or in concert with others. It is clearly a matter for legislation and also for those who operate the grounds. There are 20 football grounds, seven Gaelic grounds and one rugby ground. There has never been a problem in the rugby ground. There can be in some of the others, but most grounds are free from such behaviour and such chanting. It is essentially a management problem in the various stadiums, but we will be looking at legislation where appropriate.
I welcome the Minister's statement on the legislation. However, does he not agree that there is much more to be done outside the legislative process in terms of education, not just in schools but in adult education as well? This could perhaps be in the form of a PR presentation to try to get the damage that sectarianism does to our society across to the community at large. Might it not also be a further argument in favour of creating a neutral national stadium in which at least the international competitions could be run without the blight of secretarianism?
Sectarianism is not simply a matter for sport. Sadly, it is an obscenity throughout areas of society. We all want to contribute to its eradication and to see it disappear. With regard to the sports grounds, I have already said that that this may be a management problem in the stadiums where it exists. The IFA, for example, takes this seriously and is currently working with the Sports Council, discussing the issue and looking at ways to address it outside the legislation which the Department might consider appropriate in due course.
I have asked for an update, and when I receive that I shall be happy to write to the Member.
Is the Minister aware that in my constituency of West Tyrone there is cause for alarm with regard to the allocation of money from the Millennium Fund by the Sports Council? Only 3% of that funding has gone to football, whereas 49% has gone to the GAA. Would he admit that that could be a cause for concern, if not dissent, among a large number of people? Will the Minister investigate that and say what redress he hopes to provide in the next tranche of funding?
I cannot address that question. I will make enquiries and write to the Member about it. In terms of local provision, from the figures and the breakdown between football, Gaelic games, rugby, cricket, and so on, I am satisfied that the grants that I have so far looked at are equitable and fair. Perhaps Mr Gibson is highlighting a West Tyrone problem that the Department and I do not know about. I will ask questions and write to the Member in due course.
I caution Members against moving well outside the terms of the original question, which is on football legislation. Supplementary questions about tranches of money take the Minister in a completely different direction, and he would be quite entitled to say that that is not pertinent. I encourage Members to stick to the subject of the question.
Mr C Murphy:
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I am sure that the Minister is aware of a debate, largely through the media, a month or two ago between officials from the FAI and IFA about the tendency for young Nationalists to opt for the FAI and to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than Northern Ireland. It was suggested that perhaps the FAI was engaged in some underhand tactics to poach young players. Does the Minister agree that a more likely explanation is the sectarian atmosphere of Windsor Park, which many people from a Nationalist background find a completely hostile venue for either playing or watching?
I am not able to fully respond to that, other than to say to Mr Murphy that the current Northern Ireland soccer team clearly does not have a problem about attracting young Nationalists to play for it. The question was about the ability of the IFA to attract young footballers from a perceived Nationalist background to play for the Northern Ireland soccer team, but it is quite clear that the IFA's capability to do that is one of its strengths. I do not agree that a sectarian element is impeding the Northern Ireland soccer team from performing to the best of its ability.
The Member mentioned a perceived chill factor in Windsor Park. I repeat that sectarianism at any sports ground - it is not just in soccer grounds, as the Member is aware - is unacceptable to us all. I repeat that the IFA and the Sports Council take this matter very seriously and are currently working together to find ways to address that problem over and above any legislation we may deem to be necessary.
Lough Erne Salmon
4. Mr J Wilson asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure if he will undertake to make representations to his Irish counterpart regarding unfair allocation of Lough Erne salmon between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
There is no allocation of adult salmon between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I assume that the Member is referring to work carried out under the EU-funded Erne salmon management programme. Of the 7 million juvenile salmon stocked into the Erne catchment area under this programme, the distribution was 33% in Northern Ireland tributaries, 40% in Republic of Ireland tributaries and 27% in tributaries which lie in both jurisdictions.
Irrespective of the jurisdiction of the placement of juvenile stock, smolts will descend to the Upper and Lower Lough Erne, and adults should return to these Northern Ireland fisheries. The objective of the Erne salmon management programme is to reintroduce a self-sustaining population of wild salmon to the Erne to support a quality salmon-rod fishery. I am aware that there is a problem with returning adults to the system, and I will address this with my counterpart in the Republic of Ireland when I see the final results of the study.
Mr J Wilson:
I tabled the question in the knowledge that there have been problems in the Erne for a number of years and that management operations are very unfair. The Minister gave some figures. I too have some figures. Will the Minister comment on the widely held view that it is unfair that in 1997, 1·2 million salmon ova and fry were stocked in Erne feeder streams in Northern Ireland and that in 1995-96 just over 1,000 adult salmon were recorded as having returned to the Erne system. I do not have any more up-to-date information-it is hard to come by.
Is it fair that adult salmon have difficulty moving upstream through the power station? Is it fair that great numbers of salmon are trapped in the Erne estuary and in the river and that Donegal netsmen - not Northern Ireland netsmen-have a rich harvest at the expense of the Northern angler?
Order. It is for the Ministers to give information, not for questioners to supply it.
Mr S Wilson:
Even the Ministers do not do that very often.
It is important that questions should not provide information. Questions should seek information.
Mr J Wilson:
May I finish?
I think the Minister has more than enough to answer.
I think the question concerned the stocking of the Erne catchment area with approximately 1·7 million fry. With a normal migration return of 10% one would expect there to be 170,000 coming back. The figures show there are a very small number coming back into the Erne estuary. The salmon management programme is meant to investigate why the wild salmon fishing industry has virtually collapsed in the Erne catchment area over the last 35 years.
At roughly the same time in the 1960s the Ballyshannon hydroelectric dams were introduced. While they had proper fish traps to allow the salmon to migrate, there is concern that this is why the smolts are not able to leave the system and get into the sea and why, when they make the return, they cannot get into the Erne catchment area.
The salmon management programme is under way, and I expect a report by June this year. The report should confirm the belief that there has been a dramatic reduction in migration. This is the reason for the lack of salmon in the lakes. The next stage will be to investigate the reasons. We hope this investigation will be carried out with the co-operation of the Electricity Supply Board around the area of the Ballyshannon hydro-works. This contributes roughly 1% of the electricity in the Irish Republic and appears to be contributing to the reduction in the wild salmon runs in the lough.
Local Museum and Heritage Review
5. Mr McGrady asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure when the local museum and heritage review will be completed and if he will make a statement.
The local museum and heritage review is currently in progress, and I expect to receive initial proposals from the review steering group by the end of June 2000.
It has long been recognised that the existing multiplicity of museums and heritage facilities managed by a disparate range of organisations lacks co-ordination, co-operation and strategic direction. The aim of the review is to strengthen the arrangements for the preservation, interpretation, promotion and educational use of Northern Ireland's heritage in accordance with the principles of quality, access, complementing each other and value for money.
The review will produce an inventory of heritage facilities in Northern Ireland, a policy framework and a strategy for development. The steering group appointed to oversee the review is chaired by a senior official from my Department and includes representatives from the Department of the Environment, the museum and heritage sector, local government, education, and the voluntary and community sector. Consultation will be an integral part of the review process.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Even in his short time in office he will have realised the absence of a proper museums policy in Northern Ireland. Does he intend to adopt the recommendation of some years ago that there be a category-two or regional museum in Northern Ireland? Will the Down County Museum, which preserves, receives, educates and researches - indeed, everything that a central museum does - be designated a regional museum, notwithstanding the rather bizarre answer he gave to me in writing on 12 January 2000? This contradicted the museum report of 1978, which recommended regional-museum status for museums which carry out a full range of activities, such as the Down County Museum.
A number of museums are operating regional services as defined by the Northern Ireland Museum Advisory Committee Report, and I can confirm that the Down County Museum is among them.
Order. The time is up. Perhaps the Minister will provide Mr McGrady with another letter.
Government Departments: Decentralisation
1. Mr Fee asked the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister whether, in the light of the Irish Government's intention to decentralise Government Departments, they will ensure that a review is undertaken to identify the potential benefits of a similar policy for Northern Ireland.
The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):
Responsibility for the provision of office accommodation and the policy on the dispersal of Civil Service jobs falls to the Minister of Finance and Personnel. He appreciates the contribution which public-sector jobs can make to the economic and social development of local communities. He therefore proposes that, as part of the programme of government, a Civil Service office- accommodation strategy should be developed, incorporating a review of the current policy on job dispersal.
I thank the Deputy First Minister for his answer. He will be aware that the Irish Government's policy on decentralisation may place up to 10,000 public-sector jobs in rural constituencies and border areas, where their impact on the local economy will undoubtedly be massive. Can he assure us that the review in Northern Ireland will seek to spread similar benefits to rural and border constituencies? Can he confirm that the number of public-sector jobs in Belfast in particular is wholly disproportionate and has been to the extreme disadvantage of district towns such as Newry, Armagh and others in the constituency we share? Can he also confirm that on the Civil Service register of applicants for transfer, Newry is the most popular destination sought by public-sector employees?
The Deputy First Minister:
I am indeed aware of the intentions evident from the Irish Government's recent announcement about relocating up to 10,000 public-service jobs out of Dublin to the western, midland and border counties. This will come on top of the 4,000 which have been relocated since 1986. I am sure that this will have a very positive economic impact on those regions.
The Member asked specifically about the Northern Ireland staffing levels in Belfast, Newry and Armagh. Staffing levels, as he knows, are given by district council area. Belfast City Council has 14,715 Northern Ireland Civil Service staff in its area, constituting 62%. Armagh has 247, which is 1%, and the Newry and Mourne area has 336, which represents 1.4%.
The Member's knowledge of working population statistics for those areas mentioned will enable him to identify the disparities properly. He will also be aware that the North/South Ministerial Council recently announced that the headquarters of the Trade and Business Development Body would be in Newry. This will lead to approximately 40 jobs. The North/South Ministerial Secretariat is already established in Armagh, and the number of civil servants to be located there is under the consideration of the respective Ministers of Finance.
Finally, I am aware of the attractions of Newry, Armagh and all the other rural towns throughout the North of Ireland.
Can the Minister confirm that some towns, including Londonderry and Omagh, already have a share of Civil Service jobs?
The Deputy First Minister:
I can confirm that. The Member mentions Derry specifically. The figure for Derry is 1,142 or 4·8%. Omagh has 545, which is 2·3%. Four hundred of the jobs that have gone to Derry have gone there recently. The lesson that we should all learn from this is that we must look at it in its totality and in terms of what should be considered when deciding the location of government functions. We need to try to ensure that decentralisation is managed equitably.
Does the Minister agree that as a matter of priority the Assembly must recognise how neglected West Tyrone has been in the past and put it on an even footing with more advantaged parts of the North? Is he aware of how important the positive economic impact of relocating Civil Service jobs will be for border areas such as Strabane, the town that I represent?
The Deputy First Minister:
I do. As I have already said, responsibility for the location of offices within the Northern Ireland Civil Service is a matter for the Minister of Finance and Personnel. The Member, like others, will also be aware that equality and the new TSN are factors to be taken into account in future accommodation planning, as are such factors as the regional planning strategy, service delivery and cost. I fully appreciate that the Strabane District Council area, with 105 Civil Service jobs - less than 0·5% - feels that it has a case to make. Many other towns - not only border towns - also have cases to make, and I look forward to hearing them. The decision to locate the North/South Implementation Bodies' headquarters in Enniskillen, Newry, Derry and Omagh indicates recognition of this.
Mr K Robinson:
Does the Minister agree that considerable caution needs to be applied in any relocation of government offices to avoid dislocation of the families of civil servants who may be affected? Does he agree that there is under-representation of Government offices in Newtownabbey, which is the fourth-largest borough in Northern Ireland?
The Deputy First Minister:
Newtownabbey has 163. That is 0·7% of the population - not quite the lowest, but verging on it.
I appreciate the Member's point that there should not be relocation at the expense of families or people. This has been one of the factors that have been applied in the Republic of Ireland. Those moves have been made on a voluntary basis with no compulsion on staff, and that must happen here. The implication of the Member's question is that there are many places in the North of Ireland that have to be looked at, including Newtownabbey. When potential members of staff and members of the Civil Service look at the attraction of all of those areas, they may look upon any relocation very favourably.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Given the commitment to equality in the Good Friday Agreement, will the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister guarantee that many more Government jobs will be decentralised, allowing the people of Armagh, Derry and especially Fermanagh and Tyrone to access them properly in order to help redress the discriminatory employment practices of the past?
The Deputy First Minister:
Equality and new targeting social need are factors to be taken into account in future accommodation planning, as are other factors, such as the regional planning strategy, service delivery and cost. The Department of Finance and Personnel new draft targeting social need action plan includes proposals to enhance statistical information on Civil Service location and possible host areas for job relocation. We have to translate that statistical information into the concrete reality that the North of Ireland and its administration are for all of its people, wherever they live within Northern Ireland.