Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 3 July 2000


Joey Dunlop

Assembly Sitting of 27 June 2000: Matters Arising

Statements by Ministers

Agenda for Government

Public Expenditure (2000-01): Reallocations

Points of Order

Waterways and Languages: North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting



Agriculture: North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

Assembly Affairs

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Assembly Commission

Dogs (Amendment) Bill: Second Stage

Ground Rents Bill

Dogs (Amendment) Bill

Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill

Fisheries Bill

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Joey Dunlop


Mr Speaker:

It is with regret that I advise the Assembly of the tragic death in a racing accident of the motorcycle ace Mr Joey Dunlop.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):

There can be no one in the Assembly, in Northern Ireland or further afield, or in the world of sport generally, who has not yet heard the tragic news of the death of Joey Dunlop. He reached the pinnacle of his sport of road racing. He was idolised by legions of fans throughout the world. His untimely death has left a void, both in Northern Ireland and in motorcycle racing, that will never be filled.

Only two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Joey at a reception in Ballymoney. I was immediately struck by his modesty and the high esteem in which he was held by the people of his home town. He was never too busy to help others. He found time to carry out charity work for those less well off in Romania and the Balkan countries. His huge talent on the motorcycle was matched by his generosity of spirit. We will never see his like again.

I am sure I speak for all Members and for everyone in Northern Ireland in offering my condolences to his wife Linda and to his family and friends. Northern Ireland has lost one of her finest sons: Joey Dunlop.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

I add my condolences and those of my party to those expressed by the Minister. Very few sportsmen, from whatever sport, are known by their Christian names. Joey Dunlop was never known as anything in Northern Ireland but Joey, and everybody knew immediately who was being talking about. They also knew the quality of commitment and expertise that he brought to his sport.

This is a tragedy, not just for his sport, for his family and for his community, but for those of us who value sport in our lives and who value the example of someone who really did set a remarkable example of courage down through the years. He will be sadly missed but we are the better for having had Joey as a representative of our community, both at home and abroad, for so many years.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

When I paid tribute to his last races and the victories that he won — three in a row — little did I think that I would be standing here today to lament with all of Northern Ireland and his fans throughout the world the tragic death of Joey Dunlop. It has been well said that great grief is not good at talking. The language of grief is the tear, the lump in the throat, and the feeling of a kindly pressure upon the hand. We want Linda and the family to know that this is how we feel today.

To the God of all comfort and grace, we commend the family at this time. They are passing through a very dark valley, and they need all the support and prayers that we can offer them.

We salute the memory of Joey Dunlop. He was a legend in his own right, and he can never be replaced. He remains, and will remain, the "King of the Road".

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. As a member of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee and on behalf of my party I add my voice to the messages of sympathy to Joey Dunlop’s wife Linda and their children.

We all regarded Joey Dunlop as a tremendous sporting hero and a great sporting ambassador who achieved excellence in his lifetime, in his disciplined contribution to his sport. His death is a great loss to the entire community.

Mr Neeson:

On behalf of the Alliance Party and the Women’s Coalition, I would like to express the great shock I felt when I heard the news yesterday of Joey Dunlop’s untimely death. He was undoubtedly one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ambassadors. He had support across the community, and he was a giant among sports people in the Province. He was a legend in his lifetime.

I met him on several occasions, and he was a very sincere, warm family man. Not only did he care for his own, but this modest man cared for others, particularly in the Balkans.

In the last Assembly Joey was honoured by the Speaker when a special event was organised for him in 1985. I had hoped that this Assembly would have a similar opportunity. Sadly, this is not to be. To his wife Linda, his family and the rest of his friends, we extend our deepest sympathy at this very sad hour.

Mr Boyd:

On behalf of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, I express our sympathy to the family circle on their sad and tragic loss and offer our thoughts and prayers to them at this time.

Assembly Sitting of 27 June 2000:
Matters Arising


Mr Speaker:

During the sitting of 27 June, a number of matters were drawn to the attention of the Deputy Speakers with which I will now deal.

As recorded in Hansard, page 357, Mr Gregory Campbell asked for a ruling on an alleged threat from another Member. From a reading of Hansard I can say that there is nothing unparliamentary in the language that was used. However, from viewing the videotape recording it is clear that, on all sides, tempers were beginning to rise. I would remind Members that they are all required, whether speaking or sedentary, to observe due courtesy to other Members at all times, particularly, but not only, during sittings of the Assembly.

During a later part of the same speech — Hansard, page 358 — an exchange between Mr Conor Murphy and Junior Minister Mr Dermot Nesbitt revolved around whether Members should address each other in the Chamber even when asking a direct question. Members should always speak through the Chair, and should be aware that when in a speech they say "you", they will be taken as referring to the Chair. Even when making a request that another Member give way, the request should be made through the Chair, although clearly it will be for the Member speaking to decide whether he will give way.

I would remind Members that there is no such thing in parliamentary practice as a point of information. A Member may seek to intervene, and the Member speaking may choose to give way or otherwise. Members may also make points of order, which are ruled upon from the Chair.

Also, Mr Hussey — Hansard, page 363 — asked for a ruling on whether unparliamentary language had been used when a Member referred to civil servants. I have read Hansard and there is nothing unparliamentary about what was said. However, perhaps this is an opportunity to set down how such references should be made. References to officials should always be to an official position rather than to a named individual. It is in the nature of government that officials carry out a wide range of responsibilities on behalf of their Ministers. Officials given discretion in these circumstances must be accountable for their decisions in the same way as Ministers. Equally, officials should expect some degree of protection from public castigation because they cannot respond for themselves in an equally public way. However, officials who have made public statements on their own initiative cannot necessarily expect that these statements will be immune from comment in the Assembly or indeed outside it.

I remind Members that it is not in order to refer to officials of the Assembly at any time. Clerks and their staff are here to assist Members in the performance of their duties but are at all times under the direction of Members. Members themselves must bear responsibility for the actions carried out on their behalf. On occasion, this means, of course, that the Chair must take responsibility for certain matters.

Mr Shannon:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to ask a question about Hansard, page 334. This relates to the arts and culture debate last week. How come there are 11 or 12 spelling mistakes in the Ulster-Scots transcription? I would like your assurance, Mr Speaker, that whenever Ulster-Scots is used in the Assembly, it will be transcribed correctly in Hansard.

Mr Speaker:

I will attempt to review the Hansard record as requested by the Member. I would, however, draw two matters to his attention. First, a transcription is provided, not a translation. Secondly, I regret to say that in trying to provide this facility, we have had substantial difficulty in finding any agreed grammar or syntax for the language in question. I will, however, review the matter and respond to the Member.

Mr Shannon:

I gave the Hansard staff a copy of what I said, word for word. They asked for it, and I gave it to them. However, they ignored it and put their own grammar in. I took the time and made the effort to have it done correctly through the Ulster-Scots Heritage Society, so they had absolutely no reason for not transcribing it correctly.

10.45 am

Mr Speaker:

Order. I fear that the Member does not entirely understand the Hansard process. If the Member reads what is said in English in Hansard, and then views the video tape of what was said, he will find — on occasions to his pleasure — that the editorial staff have made substantial corrections to clarify what was said in English.

The Official Report is not meant to be verbatim; it is meant to be a proper report. I suggest that when Members read what they have said they will often be rather more pleased than they are sometimes justified in being. Having said all that, and being no authority at all on Ulster-Scots, I will, as I have said, review the matter that the Member has raised and be in touch with him about it.

Mr R Hutchinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you agree that it is an absolute disgrace that civil and religious liberties were denied to the Orangemen of Portadown yesterday? I call upon the House to back their right to march on the Garvaghy Road.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member knows perfectly well that this is not a point of order, and not a matter that is appropriate for him to raise at this time. He is in danger of abusing the responsibilities of the House.

Statements by Ministers


Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you intend to establish any procedures with regard to Ministers making major statements outside the House, instead of coming first to the House and giving details here?

Mr Speaker:

The Member will be very aware that that is a substantial point of contention in another place where he sits. It is no easy matter to resolve.

Agenda for Government


The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

With permission, Mr Speaker, we wish to make a statement on the agenda for Government. This is the first opportunity we have had to make a statement to the House on this issue. I am making this statement on behalf of the Executive as a whole, and individual Ministers will, in the course of this week, be making more detailed statements on aspects of the agenda.

Following last Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting the Deputy First Minister and I announced an agenda of actions to address some key concerns and help to improve and modernise services. We wanted to announce the agenda at that stage when the Executive was together — giving visible expression to our overarching theme: "Moving Forward Together". However, the Executive recognises that full and further information must be presented to the Assembly, which is why we are making this detailed statement this morning.

Devolution is about local politicians taking responsibility and decisions on local issues. People will expect the Executive and the Assembly to pursue policies and programmes which make a difference to their lives. We, for our part, need to listen to people to find out what is important to them and what changes they would like to see. In taking forward the work on the programme for Government with the Assembly and its Committees, we will be doing just that.

We will need to decide on strategies, objectives, policies and programmes which will help to improve and modernise Northern Ireland in the first few years of this new century. In doing so, we will wish to draw together the work of different Departments and agencies. Often it is only when we bring together the resources of different Departments that we can start to crack the major problems that we face. At the same time we will need to decide how to make best use of the resources available, and link the programme for Government to the budget. We are going to have to face difficult decisions on priorities. We will be seeking views on what our programme for Government should contain. Ministers are already seeking Committees’ initial views on the programme, but I can assure Members that we will be coming back on a number of occasions.

Later this year we will be presenting the outcome of the work on the programme in draft form for the Assembly and its Committees to consider. The programme for Government will take effect in the next and following years. Preparatory work is proceeding. Our more immediate issue is what we should and can do in the remainder of this year to start us in the right direction.

We have identified five clear areas in the agenda covering the economy, health and education, the environment, tackling disadvantage and social exclusion and modern and accessible public services, and we have identified actions which will contribute to dealing with those areas. We wish to see a step change in the economy by which we mean increased growth and employment taking advantage fully of the opportunities that a peaceful society will bring. There is significant scope for our economy to advance. We should therefore ensure that our economic development agencies are best organised to meet the new challenges. This change was also recommended by the ‘Strategy 2010’ review.

We need to encourage and develop the information-age society. In the short term we intend to help accelerate work on the ‘Leapfrog to the Information Age’ initiative, which is intended to progress Northern Ireland towards a highly attractive, dynamic and supportive knowledge-based society.

On 19 June the Minister for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment announced the new support programme for university research to the House, which will develop the local universities’ research capacity and strengthen their research base, increasing the amount of research of the highest international standard. The support programme will be funded partly by the private sector. The work on developing the research programme is included in our agenda and it will help to contribute to the creation of the knowledge-based society.

The Executive also agrees that we need to do more for the long-suffering agriculture industry. We are working for the achievement of low BSE incidence status, and we have allocated £500,000 to enable the beef industry to avail fully of export opportunities.

We are also addressing the need of farmers to benefit from the new technology-based society. We will be enhancing the access of farmers to information technology, focusing particularly on farmers in the west, where progress in training farmers and members of farm families has been slower than in the east of Northern Ireland. Farmers will also be given electronic access to high quality, user-friendly business support information to help them run their businesses.

Better health and education are important to us all. We want to ensure that our schools have the information technology they need to improve the skills of our young people. We also want to improve the condition of schools, in particularly to upgrade sub-standard facilities in smaller primary schools. On health we need to improve the situation with waiting lists, and we have allocated £5 million for this programme.

We must also give emphasis to the importance of public health. The Health Minister is planning to launch a new public-health strategy to improve our health status, which is among the worst in Europe, and to address the significant inequalities that exist. The strategy will be wide ranging and will include accident prevention, the need to improve the health and well-being of the elderly and action on the high levels of teenage parenthood in Northern Ireland, and it will involve other Departments where relevant.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

The Executive has also agreed that we should highlight examples of actions which we wish to undertake in the coming weeks and months, areas where urgent and early action is needed. The agenda demonstrates that the Executive Committee can agree, and has agreed, a package of measures targeting specific needs. These measures are additional to the already agreed programmes and activities which Ministers and their Departments will be taking forward and developing this year.

In drawing up the agenda we have decided that it should be resourced from a modernising fund. That fund will support the projects that we are highlighting this morning, amounting to £27.6 million in total; a second tranche will be available to support additional actions later in this year. Allocations made from the fund are solely for the specific purposes identified.

The First Minister has already detailed some actions to improve the economy and to achieve better education and health. I will now cover actions which will support our aims of tackling disadvantage and social exclusion, making the environment safer and providing improved, modern and accessible services.

We must tackle disadvantage and social exclusion and the agenda includes a number of actions which are intended to do just that. We know of the concerns that there will be a gap in EU funding for certain groups and projects.

We have allocated £3.2 million to tackle that problem. We want to do more for the disabled. A number of actions in the agenda will benefit the disabled including housing adaptations, work on accessibility to cultural and sporting events and the implementation of the new disability legislation.

We have also committed ourselves to important initiatives on targeting social need (TSN) and equality legislation. On TSN we have allocated finance to enhance research so that we can ensure that the programme is fully evaluated and monitored. Work will commence on a single equality Act to extend protection to groups not already covered by anti-discrimination legislation and, where appropriate, to harmonise protection upwards. This is a key objective.

In relation to the environment, we need to address the most urgent health and safety work on the railways pending the completion of the railway task force’s work on the long-term future of the rail system. We are aware of the need to improve safety on our roads, where we continue to see an appalling loss of life and injury. The additional resources will allow us to appoint 10 new road safety education officers to enhance contacts with schools. There will also be an intensification of the road safety advertising campaign, focusing on young drivers and, especially, drink driving.

With our aim of a better, safer environment we will also target some resources on improving health and safety at sports grounds.

With regard to planning matters, we are providing additional resources to initiate work quickly on the Belfast metropolitan plan covering the six relevant district council areas. We are also taking steps to reduce the planning applications backlog.

We also plan an arts and culture programme of events to develop a better appreciation of our cultural diversity.

The people of Northern Ireland deserve better and more modern services. We will set in hand over the coming months a fundamental appraisal of the structures and location of public service. We will open a representative office in Brussels to improve our links with Europe. We will progress North/South co-operation through the establishment of the tourism company by the autumn and an action plan to reduce the barriers in place for those who move from one side of the border to the other on a short-or long-term basis.

The agenda represents examples of what we will be doing. The actions indicate our determination to work together for the benefit of all. We know that we can make real improvements to people’s lives when we move forward effectively together.

Mr Speaker:

I am allowing the maximum of one hour, which is the longest time available under Standing Orders, for questions to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on their statement.

Mr B Bell:

I welcome the statement from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I was interested in the Deputy First Minister’s reference to a second tranche. Will he state how much will be in this second tranche and when a decision on it will be reached?

The First Minister:

Perhaps I can answer that question, Mr Speaker. We have endeavoured to identify resources that can be used for the agenda for Government and group them together under the heading of a modernisation fund. We intend to have a second tranche in the autumn; part of the reason for this is to allow time for further work to be done on this for consideration after the summer. We must be prudent since, by then, there may be other activities requiring extra resources that will have to be considered. We will decide on the extent of the second tranche after the summer recess.

Mr Fee:

I too welcome the statement and the level of detail that the Ministers have provided on what they can achieve over the next number of months.

11.00 am

I certainly hope that the fundamental appraisal of the structures and location of public services will ultimately lead to a decentralisation of public sector employment, because that is central to the well-being of rural and border constituencies. I also hope that it will lead to a rationalisation of the plethora of boards, trusts, councils and agencies.

My specific point though is much more parochial. I welcome the fact that there is going to be more investment in and new structures for North/South co-operation. However, it is not just in the public sector where we need some regulation and some help. Can the Ministers tell us how they can reduce the disadvantages people experience in living on one side of the border and working on the other. They suffer difficulties with currency, taxation and all of the problems associated with having banking and other services in another jurisdiction.

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the question. The issue of decentralisation will be central to the review of public services. It would be unwise to speculate on the nature or the extent of that review at this stage. However, it is a review which must be fundamental in the sense that the Member has spoken about. Like him, I am aware of the difficulties that people face in their everyday lives and in the area of North/South co-operation. Our office, which has overall responsibility for that, is becoming more and more aware of the difficulties faced by citizens moving North or South to pursue careers. Difficulties arise for such citizens especially if they are establishing residence. The problems are not dissimilar in many ways to difficulties encountered between other European states.

Therefore, we propose to consider ways in which institutions, public and private, can reduce obstacles in the range of areas that matter to each person who falls into this category. Such areas include housing, health, education, childcare, taxation, social security, pensions, vehicle registration, telephones and banking. People face a very comprehensive range of problems, and we hope to be able to bring in agreed proposals before the plenary North/South Ministerial Council meeting planned for early autumn.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

It is to be regretted that the Executive has set a precedent by going to the press before consulting the House about its statements. It would be better if the House were to hear first what it intends to do and what public moneys it intends to spend and had the first opportunity to question Ministers about these matters.

The statement says that the Executive recognises that full and further information is needed. Would the Chief Minister care to tell the House what that full and further information is that was not given at the press conference? That is the first thing that the House is entitled to know.

When it comes to the matter of money for helping our beef industry — when we do obtain low BSE incidence status — the statement says we have a sum of £500,000. However, the following paragraph talks about farmers. How much money will be made available directly to the farmers, because it is they who are facing the burden and heat of the day? I do not hear many meat plant owners or directors saying that they are going to commit suicide or that the banks are pressing them and they have to buy a smaller car. The farmers are feeling those pressures. Perhaps the First Minister will tell us the amount of money he is prepared to give to farmers to help them look after their farms as time progresses.

Page 3 of the agenda for Government states that there is a gap in EU funding for certain groups and projects. Will the Minister list the groups and projects that he has in mind? I am sure that the people concerned are anxious to know whether they are included in that list.

The statement refers to a better appreciation of our cultural diversity. Our cultural diversity would be best served if people who have been attending church services over many years were permitted to return home from them. We should face up to the sort of cultural pressure that is put on people attending their places of worship on the sabbath day — a practice that has continued for at least 150 years.

With regard to the £400,000 per annum, which the Minister of Finance and Personnel said would have to be spent, what percentage of that money will go towards the salaries of the people employed in the Brussels Office?

The First Minister:

Dr Paisley has raised a range of points. First, on his point about cultural diversity, he was of course referring to the difficulties at Drumcree. The Assembly has no responsibility for that matter, although many might wish that we had such responsibility. There are a range of views in the Assembly on that issue. The hon Member will recall that I expressed my views on that subject at some length at the weekend. I may repeat them on occasion, but this is not the time. We are discussing the agenda for Government at present.

I understand the points that were raised about holding a press conference on Thursday, before making this statement. One has to bear in mind the consequences of the Assembly’s sitting for only two days a week. If we were to try to adopt the rule that is honoured sometimes more in the breach than in the observance across the water, we would have considerable difficulty, unless the Assembly sittings were to change. I am not suggesting that the sittings of the Assembly should be changed, as there were good reasons for choosing the pattern that we have adopted. However, there will be days when the Assembly does not sit, and following an Executive meeting, such as we had on Thursday, there will be important matters to put into the public domain. I believe that our course of action was reasonable. My statement contains further information than that contained in the press release last week. I cannot look at that press statement now and compare it with this one, but I am sure that this one contains further information. Even more information will be available during the week, as Ministers make detailed statements on the measures that I and the Deputy First Minister have outlined.

The Member raised a number of questions with regard to the funding arrangements for agriculture. Dr Paisley knows that none of this money will go directly to farmers. European state aid rules prohibit the Executive from offering direct grants to farmers, and the Assembly cannot breach those rules. It would be nice if we could, but we cannot. There is £500,000 to take advantage of the low-incidence BSE status which we hope will be achieved before long. Arrangements will have to be made, but it is too early to say precisely how that money will be spent.

We wish to offer the industry whatever support is needed. That could take the form of additional marketing support, or resources could be deployed to support meat plants taking necessary measures. All of this is, of course, subject to discussions with the industry and the European Commission.

There will be an additional £560,000 for the other measures included in the statement regarding enhanced access to information technology. The sum for helping small farmers run their businesses more competitively by using information and communication technology will be £240,000.

There is a problem with gap funding in the community and voluntary sector, since the detailed negotiations on the next round of European structural funds will not be completed until autumn. We are pursuing this matter as vigorously as possible. We are on target to meet the autumn deadline and have managed to make up some ground on the issue since resumption.

I am not, of course, in a position to list all the community projects in receipt of EU funding or to say which projects will be assisted by this gap funding. The Departments and other organisations responsible for overseeing these funds are seeking to identify projects facing a threat to which assistance could be given. Not all schemes will require such assistance, since not all of them have spent all their money. This will be taken into account when deciding whether gap funding will be supported. Not all existing schemes supported under Peace I will be supported under Peace II, a consideration one must also take into account.

The funding for the European office includes both capital and recurrent expenditure. I am not presently in a position to make a statement on how much will be spent on salaries.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas na maidne seo faoin chlár rialtais. Ba mhaith liom díriú ar chupla pointe agus cupla ceist a chur.

I welcome the statement. In essence, the Executive is trying to develop a coherent way of redistributing the available finance, particularly in the run up to the agreement on a programme for Government. I suppose suspension has prevented the various departmental Committees from having any real input into this agenda.

In specific terms, I welcome the announcement of £3.2 million towards bridging the gap in European funding. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have already addressed this matter, but I am anxious to know, if possible at this stage, how far that £3.2 million will go towards meeting the needs of these groups?

Can the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister tell us when we shall be able to measure what effect the new TSN will have on those areas most in need?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for his question. It is impossible to make a projection on the £3.2 million, since there is never enough money in any allocation, however much it might be. However, it is an indication of our intent to ensure that whatever hiatus there may be is dealt with as effectively as possible.

As the Member will realise, new TSN is a huge cross-departmental task. The Departments have made their initial responses, which are being assessed. It is very difficult to ensure that commitments under new TSN are carried out in a co-ordinated way so that essential assessment can be made of them. We have agreed ongoing assessment to monitor the effects.

Regarding the specific element, one of the important factors in new TSN is making sure that we have the statistical analyses required for the basic assumptions. No formula ever works completely, but we have to get a programme in terms of those analyses, whatever form or shape they take, so that we know we are working on the basis of proper information. If we have, and when we have, as we will have, the proper information, it will be for the entire political process to ensure that the new TSN is working as it was designed to work, to benefit those who are disadvantaged or marginalised in whatever way they are.

11.15 am

Mr Neeson:

I share the concerns expressed by Mr Robinson and Dr Paisley about the procedure.

The First Minister referred to the economic opportunities. Will he elaborate on what he means by

"We should therefore ensure that our economic development agencies are best organised to meet the new challenges".

Secondly, the Deputy First Minister did not have the opportunity to answer the question I asked last week about the new office in Brussels. How does the Executive propose to recognise the work of the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe (NICE)?

The First Minister:

The proposal is to reorganise the development agencies as suggested in ‘Strategy 2010’. We need to bring that work up-to-date, and we hope that there will be a number of options to be looked at and considered. I cannot add to that at this stage. There will be consultation with the Assembly, with industry and with other interested bodies. The object of the exercise is to ensure that we are providing an efficient and effective service in support of economic development. It is about delivery of service. The objective is to be customer-orientated, open, accountable and accessible. I know that sounds a little like "motherhood and apple pie", but the objective is to try to streamline in that direction.

On the question of the European office, yes, we acknowledge the work that has been done by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe. That has been quite important, and I am sure that it will continue to be important. Discussions are ongoing between our office and NICE about the future. I am not in a position to say more than that because the discussions have not been concluded. We would like to see a co-operative relationship with NICE, but we need to know first of all what NICE’s plans are. How does it propose to carry forward its work and how can we help it?

Ms Morrice:

We welcome the statement and particularly the reference to the joined-up aspect of government which we believe will be very important in future years.

The First Minister mentioned, and we welcome it, a plan of action on the high levels of teenage parenthood in Northern Ireland. The Women’s Coalition would be particularly interested in an explanation of what type of action is envisaged.

Secondly, there was a reference to the aim of achieving a better and safer environment. While we welcome this important move with regard to road and rail safety, we would like to understand why there has been no mention, indeed, a sad lack of mention, of tackling the important issues of pollution, recycling and waste disposal. What are the intentions there?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for the questions. We have to focus on the fact that this agenda for government is not all-encompassing. It does not claim to be and, by its very nature, it is not. It is a selection of areas that should be dealt with, and I repeat that it is not totally comprehensive. It cannot be. I recognise the problems that the Member mentions, for example pollution. It is something which I feel very strongly about, but that will be dealt with by the Departments. I said Departments, because it is a matter that concerns the administration and budgets of a number of Departments.

Teenage parenthood is a cross-cutting issue and will be dealt with by the Department of Health. It is going to be central to the Minister’s approach and to her proposals. The equality aspect will also affect the Office of the Centre. The Office of the First and the Deputy First Ministers and the Minister of Health will both be dealing very closely with the matter, as will the Department of Education.

When we discuss this programme for government we see how much there is in it which is actually cross-cutting. Nothing can simply be corralled in terms of one Department, and the more we are able to equip ourselves to deal with the cross-cutting issues, the more effectively we will deal with them.

Dr Birnie:

I thank the First and the Deputy First Ministers for their report. My question relates to the reference made by the Deputy First Minister to bridging moneys for community groups, hitherto supported by "Peace I", during the gap until "Peace II" flows out. There has been recent disquieting evidence that some "Peace I" supported projects are unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. Indeed, in some cases there has been the possibility of the dubious use of money by such projects. Can either the First or the Deputy First Minister say how such bridging moneys are to be targeted to avoid the repetition of such mistakes in the future?

The First Minister:

That funding which is intended to try to cover or help with the gap that the community and voluntary sector can expect is in the region of £2 million from the Department for Social Development and £1.2 million from the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment. The intention is to try to provide some help to bridge the gap. Obviously that help will be selective. It will depend on circumstances that I mentioned earlier. Whether projects are likely to be supported under Peace II is one consideration that will have to be made.

The Member mentioned the question of whether all proposals and schemes supported under Peace I have been as well administered as they could have been. This, of course, is a perennial concern with regard to European money generally and, indeed, the peace programme in particular. When we were in Brussels, Commissioner Barnier, who is responsible for this, made it very clear that one of his key concerns is that European money is spent in an appropriate manner. He wanted to be assured that the local Administration responsible for supervising expenditures would take all the measures possible to ensure that there is not misappropriation of funding. In the United Kingdom we have a very strong framework through audit and other means to ensure that money is spent appropriately. That is reflected in reports made by the Audit Office from time to time.

The point that the hon Member made about sustainability is very appropriate. We cannot repeat too often that this is likely to be the last significant amount of money coming from Europe under the likes of the peace or regional programmes. With a change in priorities in the European Union after enlargement it is unlikely that this will come again for us. Consequently, all community programmes of this nature need to have a strategy to deal with this. They need to have it thought through so that in a number of years’ time they do not simply fall off the edge of the cliff. They need to have worked out how a project is going to be sustained or how it is going to be handed over to someone else or completed in the period concerned.

At present we are simply providing funding for a short gap until the autumn when we expect the money from the next round of structural funds to be available. The amount of funding may be modest, but I am sure that it will be welcomed by the community sector.

Ms Lewsley:

I welcome the statement this morning and, in particular, references to equality and disability. Are we talking about the budget for housing adaptations? I assume this will come out of the housing budget. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that part of the money for that should come from the health budget given that some of the services delivered in housing adaptations are delivered by occupational therapists? I welcome the addition of 10 more road safety officers and the fact that support staff are to be put in place to enable this programme to be delivered and implemented properly.

The Deputy First Minister:

This is a very relevant question. We all know that one of the difficulties with housing adaptations for the disabled is the logjam in the occupational therapist’s department and that the Housing Executive cannot move until it receives the reports from them. The resulting delays are quite staggering. I do not blame individual occupational therapists, nor do I blame them collectively. There are not enough occupational therapists to deal with the growing problem. This is one of the attempts to ease that burden. There was discussion as to whether it would be administered by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety or the Department for Social Development, and we decided upon the latter.

The £2 million will help provide much needed assistance in this important area, which demands continued growth and places pressures on other parts of the housing budget. The Housing Executive has confirmed that it will be able to spend the additional £2 million on the basis of referrals that have already been completed by occupational therapists.

In the health budget this year an extra £200,000 is being spent on the occupational therapy service. A further £400,000 has been put into the budget for disability aids and appliances. We should all be looking very carefully at how the Department is equipped to deal with these occupational therapy reports, because unless we deal with them, no matter how much money is allocated, if the blockage remains, delay will be inevitable.

Mr Dodds:

Does the First Minister agree that the information provided to the House today is substantially less detailed than that which was provided to the media on Thursday? Will he confirm that the media were provided with the detailed figures allocated to various programmes and Departments on Thursday, which were printed in some papers on Friday, and that this statement today does not contain many of these.

No reference is made anywhere to the figure of £2 million for housing adaptations for the disabled in this statement. There is not further and fuller information; there is substantially less information. That is a disgrace and a shame and it is discourteous to the House. Just because he wanted to get a press headline on Thursday, the First Minister could not wait to make an announcement to the House today. Will he not also agree that other decisions were taken at the Executive which, for reasons of confidentiality, I cannot make reference to, but which will no doubt be made public in due course? Those decisions were not released to the press in advance of a statement to the House.

11.30 am

On a second point, may I ask the First Minister, and I would be interested in the Deputy First Minister’s comments on this also — I suspect that he was in the lead on this one — if he intends to continue as part of his great theme of moving forward together, his futile action against the DUP while, at the same time, refusing to take any action against Sinn Féin/IRA Ministers for their complicity in the murder of Mr McCoy or their refusal to fly the national flag on Government buildings?

Can we now get a detailed breakdown of allocations for programmes from each Department? The First Minister may need to refer to Thursday’s press statement and, although that information was not in today’s statement, it would be of considerable help to the House if he would read it out.

A Member:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

I have already ruled that points of order will be taken after ministerial statements and questions. [Interruption]

No, the ruling is that points of order will be taken at the end.

The First Minister:

The Minister is, of course, perfectly correct. I have not repeated the information that was in Thursday’s press release because it was already available to everybody. Would Members be happy to come here and simply repeat themselves at great length? [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


The First Minister:

We felt that it would be better to issue a statement rather than just read out a list of headings with a sum against them [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


The First Minister:

As I said in that statement, individual Ministers will be making more detailed statements in the course of this week, and we will have some of those today.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

One of the statements we will have today will be from the Finance Minister on the normal monitoring round. As Members know, in the course of a year, there are a number of monitoring rounds where we consider the allocation of moneys to be made available through extra receipts or underspends and so on. That will happen in the normal way. Last Thursday we made the significant point — and I think everybody in Northern Ireland recognised this — that this Administration is determined to make a difference; it will not simply be a continuation of direct rule. It involves locally elected Members working together, identifying their priorities and pursuing them. This we wish to do. The Minister has repeatedly asked me if we will continue with various matters. We might very well ask the Minister if he is going to resign and continue to be part of this silly stunt of the DUP. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:


The First Minister:

People want to know when the DUP is going to drop this pretence. Everybody here knows that the DUP is part of this Administration, is part of this — [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:


The First Minister:

Members from the DUP have attended hundreds of meetings of Assembly Committees. They are boycotting only one Committee, which happens to be the most important of all. That says something about their priorities and their willingness to serve their electorate. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order, please.

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. I welcome the statement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister work in collaboration with the Dublin Government on economic development on a range of issues which would benefit agriculture on an all-Ireland basis to try to get the industry back into European markets?

Is the £500,000 for marketing additional money, or does it represent savings made by those in the export business, such as meat plants, from not having to spend their own money on marketing? There is a European market out there asking for people to export prime beef into it, yet we are unable to get there. That is partly because we are tied to the British Government’s policy of acting as one unit, making it difficult for us to get low-incidence BSE status. I want to see us achieving that status as soon as possible. Is that marketing money additional money? Will the Minister work to get low-incidence BSE status as soon as possible?

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for that question. I am sure he will indulge me by allowing me to reply to the previous questioner, who sought my views - [Interruption] I will give way if the Member wishes.

Mr Dodds:

I am interested in this procedure. I would be happy for the Deputy First Minister to answer my question.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

It is not normal to ask a Minister to give way when he is responding to a question.

Mr Dodds:

I did not ask him to give way. He gave way to me.

The Deputy First Minister:

It is difficult to know what level of petulance hon Members will reach. Does the Minister want to ask a question or is he denying that he wants to ask a question? I find it strange when Ministers - and, in case we forget, this is a Minister who is asking questions, humiliating himself - [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:


The Deputy First Minister:

- by coming to ask questions of the Executive Committee, of which he is a part.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. Will the Deputy First Minister please address the Chair.

Mr Dodds:

Collective responsibility in action. [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I have asked the Deputy First Minister to address the Chair.

The Deputy First Minister:

Working together and moving forward is important. It is important for this community, for this Administration and for everybody in the North of Ireland. If we had less child's play and messing about -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Please address the Chair.

The Deputy First Minister:

I will return to the question.

As the Member said, £500,000 will be spent on achieving low-incidence BSE status. A further £560,000 will be spent on enhanced access to information technology, especially for farmers in the west, and £240,000 on helping small farmers with information technology and communication technology. That adds up to a total of £1·3 million.

This is not a panacea for agriculture's ills, but it lays a basis for dealing with the question of markets when the BSE issue is resolved. It has been recognised by the agricultural community as a good step, and I commend it to the Assembly as such.

Mr Close:

I rise with trepidation after that ministerial tiff. I hope that if Ministers are treated like that, the Deputy First Minister will not launch into attacks on ordinary Members.

By and large, I welcome the allocation of moneys in this agenda for government, but I am extremely disappointed by the manner in which it was done. Do the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the other members of the Executive, not recognise that this establishment operates on a Committee system? There are scrutiny Committees. Why was the Finance and Personnel Committee, for example, not taken fully into consideration before these sums were allocated?

In this House - and certainly in this party - we do not want to be faced with what can only be referred to as a form of drip-feed of the programme for government. That must be made known in full. I fear that this is the start of the drip-feed, and I seek reassurances that I am wrong about this. Also, how was this money arrived at? How much of this money came from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's March Budget? How much of this money is end-of-year flexibility and how much has been arrived at by the monitoring round which was discussed by the Finance and Personnel Committee? Can the First and the Deputy First Ministers understand how I felt early on Thursday morning when, having attended a meeting the previous day of the Finance and Personnel Committee, I discovered that I had been denied access to these additional figures? The press rang me up to ask for a comment on the agenda for government, and I did not know what they were talking about.

I raise these points in all sincerity, not to make some cheap criticism but to enable us in this House to begin operating fully, as it was intended that we should. The Scrutiny Committees need to be able to function fully. I have concerns, as a member of the Finance and Personnel Committee, about the amount of information that is made available to us. If we are to perform a proper scrutiny role, particularly when it relates to finance, it is vital that we are equipped with the full information.

The First Minister:

I can understand the Member's annoyance at being asked for comment on figures on Thursday morning. I would have been equally annoyed had the journalists phoned me; indeed they would have got a pretty sharp response. There is a serious weakness somewhere in the system if details of policies, which at that stage were entirely confidential and had not then been considered by the Executive, were being circulated. This is a matter of great concern. We are ourselves greatly concerned about confidentiality problems with regard to Executive business. On Thursday morning nothing had been decided, and these matters were waiting to be considered by the Executive.

I appreciate the concern about making a press statement before coming to this Chamber, but if we were always to come here first, we would have problems with the sittings. If there are problems with information being leaked even before an Executive Committee meeting, consider how many more problems there would be, for example, in the interval between an Executive Committee meeting and a sitting of the Assembly in terms of a drip-feed of information coming through.

We have to consider how to do things in a structured way. The object of the agenda for government was to show that we in the Executive are, for the first time, beginning to identify some priorities ourselves. This is only a first step towards a programme for government. It is not intended to replace the work on the programme for government and there is not, as the Member suggests, going to be a drip-feed of the programme for government. The programme for government will be prepared in a coherent manner. The work is ongoing and we will come to the Assembly and the Committees in the autumn with the intention of deciding final policy towards the end of the year. It will then be considered in the Budget. This is the intention. We felt - and Members may appreciate this - that to sit between now and November without having the opportunity, as a new Administration, to indicate our priorities and what we want to achieve would be seen with considerable disappointment by the Assembly and by society as a whole.

On the specific question of the sources of the money, those programmes and actions which are receiving additional resources will be funded from unallocated resources identified at this stage of the year. That does involve some of the additional spending that came from the March Budget. There was a certain unallocated amount. That was considered together with other funds coming mainly from underspends carried forward from last year under year-end flexibility arrangements. Indeed, some other additional resources have been identified, and significant among those were the receipts from house sales.

The agenda is not simply about putting extra money into specific actions. A number of actions are being pursued within existing budgets. Rather, it is about highlighting matters which we, as an Executive, have agreed to undertake in the coming weeks and months to underline our wish to improve and modernise Northern Ireland and to identify and tackle key issues.


Next >>