Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 3 July 2000 (continued)

2.15 pm

That study has been put in place, and we will hopefully receive a report on how it has been going at the next meeting in October. The study will cost approximately £100,000, and Northern Ireland will contribute 25% of the cost, which will be shared equally between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Industrial Development Board. The Republic of Ireland will pay the rest. That was one clear benefit which accrued from our first meeting and which is ongoing in relation to helping the pig producers.

The Member will also be aware that help for the pig sector was put in place at the Prime Minister's summit in March. The pig scheme, which is actually being processed at the moment, is to help outgoers and those who wish to remain in the pig business. The outgoers scheme will be retrospective and will help those who have already left. Ongoers will be helped as regards interest payments. The Member will also be aware that one of the problems in the pig industry is oversupply.

In relation to the Member's point about the pig crisis, I was speaking only two hours ago to two young farmers, and they were confirming the price of pigs. About 10 days ago the price was about 89p per kilo and then it went to 93p per kilo. The price of 89p per kilo was just about the break-even point. Now the industry is barely in profit. I am not suggesting that that is in any way satisfactory - it is not at all - but it is at least some improvement on the position where they were losing all the time. I welcomed that as a sign of movement. However, it is a little chink of light on the horizon. The other matters I have referred to will also be put in place. I am keenly aware of the very difficult situation pig farmers have been in. I have pig farmers in my constituency, and I well know the problems they have been facing. I am doing all that I can to help them, within the constraints of the European regulations.

Mr Douglas:

Bearing in mind that the Departments seem to know that there is a need for their agencies to work together and collaborate regarding animal health and plant health, and also bearing in mind that this morning £8 million was transferred to pay for cattle taken off farms because of tuberculosis and brucellosis, are there any plans to seriously deal with this matter on a North/South basis? We seem to be going downhill rather than gaining. Maybe, in future, the £8 million could be better spent in other ways. There is a big problem. Will the Minister be dealing with that in the future?

Ms Rodgers:

I have had some difficulty in hearing the question. Perhaps it is the acoustics in the Chamber.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Will the Member please repeat the question more clearly for the Minister's hearing?

Mr Douglas:

Basically, the question concerns plant health and animal health. Is the Minister working on a cross-border basis to see if anything can be done to reduce the instances of tuberculosis and brucellosis?

Ms Rodgers:

I am sorry I could not hear the first time.

In Northern Ireland, policy reviews will be beginning in the autumn. We will take the Republic of Ireland's views on board. As the Member is aware from my report, there is ongoing and continuing co-operation between the scientists in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and those in the Republic. We will continue that co-operation because it is in our mutual interest, as we share the same land mass, that we should do all in our power to work together and pool our resources at various stages in order to deal with the scourge of brucellosis.

Mr Hussey:

This is really a follow-on from the last question. The Minister will be well aware that the United Kingdom Government are perhaps more stringent and timely in implementing EU policies on animal health and welfare, sometimes to the disadvantage of our farmers who can be forced into capital expenditure that others have not entered into. What efforts are being made at cross-border level to bring farming in the Republic of Ireland up to Northern Ireland standards?

Ms Rodgers:

This was not one of the areas that we discussed. It is not part of my report, so it is not something that I can answer at the moment. I am aware of the concerns of our farmers about the stringent health and welfare regulations. However, I cannot at the moment answer the question because the matter is not part of my report since it was not discussed.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

That concludes questions to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Standing Orders require that Question Time begin at 2.30 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 2.21 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) -

Assembly Affairs


2.30 pm

Mr Speaker:

I have several points to raise before moving to questions. First, during Question Time on Monday 26 June, Mr Derek Hussey asked me to review Hansard of 12 June, at pages 84-85, to determine whether the Minister had provided an answer to his question. I have read Hansard again, as well as the ruling that I gave immediately before Mr Hussey raised his point of order on 26 June. As I said then, it is very difficult for the Chair to rule on whether or not a question has been answered as clearly and as fully as possible. However, if the House is dissatisfied with a ministerial response, there is opportunity within the time allotted for supplementary questions to be pressed. On the question to which the Member referred, a number of other Members took up the cudgels on behalf of the Member's question - metaphorically - and pressed the matter further. That is the proper way for the Assembly to hold Ministers to account.

Secondly, on this morning's question from Mr Jim Shannon, further to the advice that I gave at the time, I can inform the House that, just as the Hansard sub-editors make spelling, grammatical and other changes to the speeches made in English, using standard English rules, and to those in Irish, using Ulster Irish as the standard, the same process is undertaken by the Ulster-Scots sub-editor of Hansard, using the Scots Language Society's list of spellings. I understand that there is currently no agreed Ulster-Scots list of spellings or grammar. Therefore the use by Hansard of the Scots Language Society's list seems reasonable in the current climate.

Thirdly, earlier today a number of Members raised the issue of questions being put to Ministers by other Ministers. The Deputy Speaker pointed out, quite rightly, that current Standing Orders do not prohibit any Member from putting questions to Ministers. The arrangements for the Executive in this Assembly are unique. Conventions observed in another place operate in the context of collective Cabinet responsibility. To date in the Assembly, there is no evidence of Ministers putting down questions for written or oral answer, although that would not be prohibited by Standing Orders. It should be welcomed that Ministers have chosen to follow that approach, and I hope that they will continue to do so.

The issue of questions to Ministers following statements arose this morning. Once again, Standing Orders are not directive. However, it seems to me that although a Minister, as Minister, should not use the Chamber to question another Minister, he or she may do so as a private Member. Accordingly, this morning when I called Mr Dodds to put a question to the First and Deputy First Ministers, Members will have observed that I called him as Mr Dodds, and deliberately not as the Minister for Social Development. To emphasise the difference, I suggest that when Ministers wish to speak in a private Member capacity, whether in debate or during questions or statements, they should show that distinction by speaking from other than the Front Benches. I am aware that a number of Ministers already observe that convention, and I commend the practice to the House.

I also commend Mr Hussey, who, when raising his point of order, identified the Standing Order to which he was referring. That is also a practice that I commend to the House.


Oral Answers to Questions

Agriculture and Rural Development




Mr Kieran McCarthy

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to clarify the position in regard to negotiations regarding low BSE incidence status for Northern Ireland within the European Union.

(AQO 380/99)


Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what progress has been made in advancing Northern Ireland's case for low-incidence BSE status within the European Union.

(AQO 386/99)


Mr Kane

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what progress has been made in achieving low BSE incidence status within the European Union.

(AQO 382/99)

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):

Mr Speaker, may we group questions 2, 6 and 11 together as they are essentially the same question?

Mr Speaker:

Indeed they relate to the same matter, and I am quite content for the Minister to group the replies. I will, of course, take that into account when calling the supplementary questions.

Ms Rodgers:

Making the case for Northern Ireland to be accepted as a BSE low incidence region is my highest priority. One of the first things I did when I resumed my position as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was to have an early meeting with Nick Brown to make sure that he understood my desire to keep this matter moving. I also changed my Assembly business commitments on 19 June to allow me to travel to Luxembourg to meet personally with Commissioner Byrne. I have also met Joe Walsh to ensure that I could count on his support for the case when it comes to the negotiating stages in Brussels. I also raised the issue in the North/South Ministerial Council to ensure that that body was fully aware of the priority that I attach to the matter.

In relation to the current position, I had a very positive meeting with Commissioner Byrne in Luxembourg. He accepted the economic importance of the measure to the whole of the beef industry in Northern Ireland and reaffirmed his support for the case. There are still some technical details to be worked out, and my officials are working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and with the Commission officials to resolve them. I hope that as a result of these discussions it will be possible to issue a consultation document on the case within the next few weeks, perhaps even within the next number of days. The response to the consultation will be vital in helping to shape the subsequent negotiations with the Commission.

Mr McCarthy:

I thank the Minister for her reply and very much welcome the work that her Department has been doing so far. Does she believe that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London is doing everything possible to advance the case for Northern Ireland ahead of possible developments in Scotland?

Ms Rodgers:

Yes, I have to say that Nick Brown is fully behind our attempts to get low-incidence status and has been extremely supportive. I suppose you could say that Scotland is not as happy as it might be about it. In fairness to Ross Finnie, the Scottish Minister, he has been supportive of my efforts and has assured me of his support. I am quite happy that Nick Brown is fully behind me. He has been extremely helpful in every possible way.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Will the Minister consider bringing with her to Europe a delegation from the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU), farmers who originally thought up this policy of low-incidence BSE status? They would be on hand to advise her, her departmental officials and the UK representative during these important negotiations. Further to that, can she explain to the House the timetable that the Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have and are working to in order to achieve low-incidence BSE status for Northern Ireland?

Ms Rodgers:

In relation to bringing a delegation from the UFU with me to Brussels, I have to inform the Member that I am very happy with the work that is being done by my Department. Its officials are treating this with the priority that I wish them to. They are working extremely hard on all fronts with officials from the commission. I have and will continue to consult with both the UFU and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association (NIAPA), both of whom are extremely anxious - and they have made it clear to me - that this be a priority for the farming community which both those organisations represent. I have consulted with them, and I will continue to do so. Of course, I have also consulted with the rest of the industry that has an interest in this rather complex issue.

In relation to the timetable, the answer to Mr Paisley's question is that I would like low-incidence status tomorrow morning, but this is a complex issue, and it is impossible to put a timescale on it.

I had hoped that it would have been possible to achieve it by the end of the year. Because of some difficulties, I now understand that it may be a few months later. These arose due to concerns the commission had with putting the right controls in place and ensuring there would not be a back-door passage for British beef products through Northern Ireland into Europe. I am pleased to say that those have now been ironed out, and we are back on course. However, we are committed to a consultation period of 8 weeks.

Once the proposals go to the commission, which I hope will be days rather than weeks, it will then go out for simultaneous consultation with industry and the general public. That will last for eight weeks, which will bring us into September. At that stage we should be able to bring it to the member states to look at it. The Standing Veterinary Committee will have to look at it, and there will be inspections in Northern Ireland to verify that all the controls are in place and working. That is a complex process and cannot be done overnight. I share the Ulster Farmers' Union, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association and the Members' concerns that we should get low-incidence status as soon as possible.

Mr Kane:

Since we are aware that contracts state that major supermarkets and retailers must sell beef from Northern Ireland, what safeguards can the Minister put in place to protect existing trade between mainland United Kingdom and the Province?

Ms Rodgers:

That is, as I have already mentioned, one of the considerations that we have had to deal with. We did consult with the whole industry, and the meat processors would have difficulty if carcass meat could not come across from England or Scotland. We have looked at that.

My officials are working on proposals to ensure that trade will not be disrupted and that established trade links can continue with maximum economic benefit for the industry as a whole. Those are the proposals that are being worked on at the moment.

The Chairman of the Agriculture Committee (Rev Dr Ian Paisley): Does the Minister find it strange that countries with increasing incidences of BSE are sitting in condemnation of Northern Ireland's case? For instance, Portugal's BSE cases rose last year to 330, the Irish Republic's to 410, while here there were six cases last year and one this year. Surely it is unfair that countries with a rising BSE crisis are sitting on their hands and holding back when we, according to the Minister's statement in the House today, have to wait until next spring before we have an answer.

Ms Rodgers:

I share the Member's frustration, as does the farming community in Northern Ireland, at the situation in which we find ourselves. However, the reason we find ourselves in this position is that we were treated as a part of the United Kingdom, which had a high incidence of BSE, when we had a very low incidence.

In my view we should never have been in the situation we are now. The reason we are is that we were linked to the high incidence in the United Kingdom. I am responsible for Northern Ireland low-incidence status. I am doing my best. It is not my responsibility to look at other countries. I understand the frustrations, but it is in our interest to get the support of the member states in moving our case forward. I do not think it would help our case if I were to start criticising the other member states when, in fact, we will be looking for their strong support in the next part of the process.

Mr Leslie:

Will the Minister advise the House whether the £500,000 to be given to the beef industry to help promote itself under the agenda for government will be contingent on achievement of low-incidence BSE status, or whether, in her view, the spending of that money should be held back until the outcome of the application has been decided?

2.45 pm

Ms Rodgers:

The £500,000 which has been set aside will be ring-fenced to deal with the resource implications of getting low incidence BSE. This achievement of low incidence BSE will create the framework for our beef industry to commence exports on a meaningful scale. Much work has to be done with previous and potential customers by individual companies and the Livestock and Meat Commission, but additional costs will be inevitable if we are to build up exports quickly. These will include costs associated with additional testing to demonstrate our low level of BSE and the achievement of internationally recognised accreditation of our quality assurance scheme. We want the industry to suggest how the £500,000 can best be spent. The reason that I have applied for that in this round of funding is that I want us to be ready so that as soon as we get low incidence BSE the resources are there to enable us to start building up our exports immediately.

Less-Favoured Areas



Mr Neeson

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development why a specific environmental tier open to all farmers has not been included in the revised proposals for a new less-favoured area scheme in order to help to mitigate the disruptive effects of these proposals.

(AQO 381/99)

Ms Rodgers:

I am commited to consulting with all relevant parties from my Department on the proposals. When the Department consulted the industry and other interested bodies the weight of opinion was against introducing additional environmental conditions over and above those consistent with the operation of good agricultural practice. There was concern that additional conditions would create additional costs which would not be recouped by the farmers. The Department is still considering the detail of a revised less-favoured area support scheme to resubmit to the commission.

Mr Neeson:

I thank the Minister for her answer, but I find it somewhat disappointing. Will she accept that there is great concern over the protection of the natural environment in rural areas and that increasing grants to farmers for environmental purposes can help to maintain the viability of family farms, protect the environment and promote economic development through green tourism?

Ms Rodgers:

I agree with the Member that increasing funds to farmers for environmental purposes will help the farmers and will help bring resources into the farming community. I will have funds available for modulation and, I hope, environmental schemes. The LFA scheme does have an environmental aspect to it, although it is not an environmental scheme per se, but it will have environmental conditions attached. It will not be permissable to remove hedgerows without consent, and there will be penalties if they are removed, and so on. I will be looking for further funding for environmentally sensitive areas (ESA) schemes and the country management scheme.

Mr Fee:

May I ask the Minister if she is aware of the serious problems being faced by many of the organisations involved in protecting the community under the various area-based strategy and leader projects funded by European moneys? They are deeply concerned that their financial streams are due to end by the end of this year and that there has been no agreement on any funding under the next round. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that the enormous amount of good work going on in terms of job creation, farm diversification and environmental protection will continue until we get the new streams of funding in place?

Ms Rodgers:

I am very much aware of the difficulties being created by the hiatus between one tranche of funding and the next. I have similar problems in my constituency, and I am not aware that there are any resources available which I can use to ease the passage for people who are finding it difficult at the moment. I will look at this to see if there is any possibility of achieving some funding, but I cannot make any promises when I do not know whether funds are available. I do fully understand the problems, and when the next schemes come I hope that we will be able to move as quickly as possible to alleviate the situation.

Greenmount College
of Agriculture



Mr McClelland

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to confirm the number of student entrants and graduates at Greenmount College for 1998 and 1999.

(AQO 365/99)

Ms Rodgers:

In 1998 and 1999 there were the following numbers of graduates and new entrants at Greenmount College of Agriculture and Horticulture. There were 350 graduates in June 1998. In September 1998 there were 346 new entrants. There were 318 graduates in June 1999. In September 1999 there were 428 new entrants.

Mr Kane:

Will the Minister consider financial assistance for existing and new auction marts as part of rural development, taking into account the possibility of low incidence BSE status and the subsequent export of live cattle?

Mr Speaker:

I am puzzled by the connection between that and the question. Unless the Member can clarify the link, I will have to rule him out of order and proceed to the next question. The Minister thinks it was a good try, but not quite relevant.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Does the Minister accept that there is a lack of confidence in the farming community as a result of the constant crises that have been endured by many farmers, whether they be pig farmers, beef farmers, sheep farmers or milk farmers? Do the numbers entering Greenmount College not show that there is great concern in the farming community? It is vital that we ensure that the numbers of students and graduates from that college increase. That can only happen with the impetus of financial assistance from the Minister's Department.

Ms Rodgers:

I am aware of the concern in the farming community. Even people who are not involved in agriculture are aware of the difficulties that farmers face, although I am hoping that there will now be an upturn.

There has been an increase in enrolments in 1998-99. That was due to the introduction of new courses to meet industry demand and the addition of flexible courses. Again, that was an attempt to meet the needs of the farming community. If there is more flexibility that allows students to study at a rate that suits their requirements, clearly that will help them.

The new programme with the biggest impact on enrolments was the pilot multiskilling programme, through which young people can achieve an NVQ level 3 qualification in agriculture in parallel with an NVQ level 3 qualification in another discipline. This prepares them to seek employment at the farm at home and also on a part-time basis. We are trying to be flexible, to look at the needs of the farming community and to provide the courses which suit them in a situation where there will have to be off-farm work and diversification. We need times that suit them.

Beef: EU Labelling



Dr Birnie

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail the current position in regard to the implementation of European Union beef labelling requirements; and if she will make a statement.

(AQO 389/99)

Ms Rodgers:

Agreement on general rules on beef labelling was reached at the April meeting of the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers. From September 2000, all cuts of beef will have to be labelled with the country of slaughter, the country of cutting, the category of animal and a reference code that will allow the beef to be traced back to the animal or group of animals from which it is derived. In the case of mince, the country of processing will also have to be shown.

From 1 January 2002, additional details will have to be included covering the country of birth and the country of rearing. These general rules now have to be considered by the European Parliament. The environment committee of that Parliament is to vote on the labelling rules this week. The European Commission has also brought forward to the beef management committee draft detailed rules to give effect to the agreement reached by the Council of Ministers.

I am fully aware of the industry's concerns on this issue, particularly on the category of animal requirement. I have discussed the issue with Mr Brown and other regional agriculture ministers. We are agreed on the need to ensure that the final labelling system does not present significant practical or cost problems.

The MEPs have been briefed, and the industry's concerns have been raised in discussions with the beef management committee. I have personally raised this issue with John Hume. He is fully aware of the difficulties created by the current beef-labelling proposals, and he has assured me that he will do what he can to gain whatever easement possible through the European Parliament. Dr Ian Paisley and Mr Jim Nicholson are also aware of the difficulties and will do what they can to help in the European Parliament. I have also raised this issue with both Nick Brown and Commissioner Byrne.

Dr Birnie:

Does the Minister agree that it would be advantageous to the local beef farming industry to have a strong system of labelling for Northern Ireland produce? I appreciate that as a regional Minister in the European Union, she may be operating under certain constraints, but I stress that - if Members will pardon the pun - she should not be cowed by the heavy weight of EU regulation.

Ms Rodgers:

Accepting the pun, I have no intention of being cowed. The reality is that I have to work within the regulations agreed by the European Council. In relation to beef labelling, what I am doing, with the help of my other ministerial colleagues is trying to ensure that the implementation will provide easement in the labelling problem. Incidentally my colleague Joe Walsh in the South has had similar problems to us. I fully agree that the current situation will have cost implications for our processors and for our industry.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Does the Minister accept that there is tremendous anger and frustration in the farming community? A great deal of foreign meat is flooding into Northern Ireland, and it is not up to the welfare standard that we have in the Province. However, because of a labelling difficulty, many believe that - with a sleight of hand - this meat has been produced in Northern Ireland. We have to make the system very clear and very definite. We produce the best meat in the world.

Ms Rodgers:

I understand the frustrations. I fully agree that our pig meat, in particular, is ahead of pig meats in other countries, although I have to be careful about what I say. Within the European Union we cannot prevent pig meat from member countries from coming in to Northern Ireland. What we can do - and we have put £400,000 into this - is to assist our farmers in marketing Northern Ireland pig meat and hope that people will recognise the point the Member made; that our pig meat and our other meats are better. The pig farmers are assisted by the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and money has also been provided through Red Meat Marketing. We are doing all we can within the regulations to assist our farmers in the marketing of their beef and meat products.

Mr Speaker:

Given the time that was taken up in responding to points of order at the beginning, we will take more time to complete a full 30 minutes on questions to the Minister.

Cereal Growers



Mrs Carson

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to assist Northern Ireland cereal growers by seeking to obtain a single United Kingdom yield region for all crops excluding maize.

(AQO 392/99)

Ms Rodgers:

Agriculture Ministers are currently reviewing these arrangements. The existing approach seems unfair to specialist cereal growers who consider that, on an individual crop basis, their yields are on a par with similar producers in England. However, due to the current method of calculating payments, they receive lower direct subsidies. Scottish producers have also felt aggrieved by the regime. Ross Finnie, the Scottish Minister, and I have both written to Nick Brown seeking his co-operation in securing change.

If our plans are successful the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh producers would receive higher payments than they do at present. This can be achieved only at the expense of producers in England. However, given that English producers would receive only a small percentage reduction, while those in Scotland and Northern Ireland would achieve a large percentage increase if the system were changed, I will continue to press the case.

It must be recognised, however, that there is nothing in this proposition for English producers, and resolution of the problem will be difficult unless, and until, farming organisations across the United Kingdom can agree a solution acceptable to them.

3.00 pm

Mrs Carson:

I thank the Minister for her reply. With the exceptionally wet weather over the past two years and the poor growing season at the beginning of this year, the current growing season has been particularly poor. Does Minister agree that cereal growing in Northern Ireland needs some form of additional revenue as a boost for the farmers?

Ms Rodgers:

I agree, but I have to work within budgetary constraints and the constraints of EU regulations. That is the reality. I realise that I am beginning to sound like a parrot. Unfortunately, when one is in politics one has to deal with the reality and not just the aspiration. I agree with the Member, I am pressing the case very hard, and I have the support of Ross Finnie. The National Farmers' Union in England has set its face against any change in the system that would give higher payments to our cereal growers. I think that the increase would be 10% to 14%. That is the reality, and I will continue to press the case.

Mr McMenamin:

What would the effect be on payments if there were a single UK yield region for all crops, excluding maize?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his question. It would be next year before any changes to the regionalisation plan could take effect. However, if the current proposals for a change to the plan were to be agreed at both UK and EU levels then, on the assumption of the average areas claim for 1997 to 1999, and the 1999 Euro to sterling exchange rate, all UK producers growing crops other than maize would receive a payment of £236·52 per hectare. This would mean an increase of some 14% and 10% in Northern Ireland less favoured area and non-less favoured area payments respectively. English payments would be reduced by around £3 per hectare, which would represent a 1% reduction.

Mr Speaker:

Question 8, in the name of Mr McHugh, has been withdrawn.

Agri-Environment Schemes



Mrs E Bell

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what steps have been taken to increase grants to farmers under existing or new agri-environment schemes.

(AQO 374/99)

Ms Rodgers:

The agri-environment schemes will be supported from existing baselines plus funds raised from modulation. While existing budget baselines are sufficient to support the continuation of the environmentally sensitive areas schemes, meaningful development of the organic farming scheme and the countryside management scheme depends in large measure on the additional funds delivered by modulation. It is anticipated in the rural development regulation plan, submitted to Brussels on 1 February 2000, that, by 2006, the organic farming scheme will grow from its present level of 20 farmers with 1000 hectares under agreement, to 1000 farmers with 30,000 hectares.

The countryside management scheme, which will have its first entrants accepted later this year, will have 4,000 participant farmers with 150,000 hectares under agreement. I will also be seeking additional funds for the agri-environment schemes in the 2000 spending review.

Mrs E Bell:

I thank the Minister for her very encouraging answer. However, I am concerned about farmers who are in financial crisis. Does the Minister accept that a major expansion of the countryside management scheme, when it comes in, is needed to help such farmers to enhance the rural environment while improving their own financial situation? Does she also accept the need for an improvement to the organic farming scheme to help local farmers supply this growing market?

Ms Rodgers:

The Member will recognise that I outlined my views on the organic farming scheme and the countryside management scheme in my response. I will be seeking additional funds for agri-environmental schemes in the 2000 spending review. I accept the need for further resources to go into those schemes and I will be pressing for funding.

I will be depending on my Colleague Mr Durkan and on the British Treasury. I will be doing my best, and I understand the Member's concerns.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Does the Minister not accept that there is concern that the new agri-environmental schemes may be funnelled through community groups and not actually get to the farmers? The farmers need assistance. They need to be brought fully on board, and the money must go directly into their hands.

Ms Rodgers:

The agri-environmental schemes are aimed at helping farmers to improve the environment and to improve their farm management. In that sense many of the environmental schemes do benefit farmers directly. They help the rural community. It is not helpful to try to set one section of the rural community against the other, because some in the farming communities will find that they cannot make a full-time living from farming and will go into diversification schemes. That will help farming families. The environmental schemes are designed to support those who are active farmers, full-time farmers and those who can no longer earn an adequate income from farming and want to diversify. They will also help families who find that their farm can no longer support more than one person.

Mr Speaker:

The time for these questions is up.

Culture, Arts and Leisure


Mr Speaker:

Question 2, in the name of Mr Eddie McGrady, and Question 10, in the name of Mrs Mary Nelis, have been withdrawn.

Ulster-Scots Language



Dr Adamson

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what strategy he has to implement Part II status for the Ulster-Scots language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages; when this strategy will be implemented; and what consultation is planned.

(AQO 373/99)

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey): The strategy for implementing Part II for Ulster-Scots will be developed in the light of research and consultation and will take into account available resources. I am currently awaiting a corporate strategy and business plan which the Ulster-Scots Agency of the North/South Language Body is preparing and which the North/South Ministerial Council will consider in the autumn. The Ulster-Scots Agency's plans should cover the general principles and objectives of promoting Ullans and will form part of the Department's strategy for promoting Part II.

We also look forward to the findings of the research which the Department has commissioned and will be complete by April 2001. We are seeking expert advice from sociolinguists and other relevant academics, and we will listen to the views of the North/South Language Body, the Ulster-Scots Agency, Ulster-Scots activists, representative organisations and the general public.

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

Dr Adamson:

Considering the recent joint statement by the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland at Hillsborough, and its commitment to produce an action plan for implementing Part III status for the Irish language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority languages, can the Minister define what is meant by the term "Irish language"? Is he aware that the term "Irish language" can be used to refer to several forms of Gaelic and that the language used by some Members of the Assembly, defined as the Munster-Connaught variety, is actually being used for nationalistic purposes?

Does he not agree that the definitive variety of Ulster Gaelic, as spoken by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, should be promoted? It is that variety of the Irish language that is of most immediate concern to the people of Northern Ireland and Donegal, having characteristics as closely affiliated to the Gaelic of the Island of Islay in the Western Isles as to that of Munster and Connaught.

Mr McGimpsey:

I am sure that Dr Adamson is better informed about this than I am. One of the things I made a point of informing myself about when I became Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure was the different Irish dialects. I am aware that the Gaelic languages were brought to the British Isles by Celtic peoples.

My understanding is that Irish is the form of the Gaelic language that has traditionally been spoken throughout the island of Ireland for several thousand years. It has gone through a series of developments and changes as you would expect.

A form of Gaelic is also found in the Isle of Man, and the language was also taken across from Ireland to Scotland. The language in Ireland was given a standardised updated format in the 1940s and the 1950s. I think that is what the Member was referring to as de Valéra Gaelic in one of his other comments. Any regional variations found in Ulster and the other Provinces relate largely to syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation.

All forms of Irish, as I understand it, are mutually intelligible. Not all forms of Gaelic are mutually intelligible. Gaelic is divided into Manx, Scots Gallic and Irish. Irish is divided into four dialects, rather than any other Celtic language, such as Welsh, Breton or Cornish. So the forms of Irish spoken and taught in Northern Ireland are usually based on the Ulster dialect. The Good Friday Agreement calls for tolerance, respect and understanding for linguistic diversity. This should extend to an appreciation of the richness of local forms of Irish and an awareness of the close links with the various forms of Gaelic spoken elsewhere.

Museums: Maritime Heritage



Mr Ford

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what steps will be taken to ensure that the development and promotion of Northern Ireland's maritime heritage will form an important element of the future development of museums.

(AQO 376/99)

Mr McGimpsey:

The first corporate plan of the Museums and Art Galleries for Northern Ireland (MAGNI) fully recognises the importance of maritime history and heritage in Northen Ireland and identifies this as a major theme for future development. I am fully behind MAGNI's proposal to provide a maritime museum to tell the story of our long and rich maritime history. Northern Ireland is famous worldwide for its historic role in the development of iron and steel shipbuilding technology. The mere mention of the Titanic, the world's most famous ship, evokes strong images of the shipbuilding industry from days gone by. It would be inexcusable not to capitalise on the economic and educational potential of this country's maritime heritage and invest in the development of cultural tourism.

Mr Ford:

I welcome that very positive and helpful response from the Minister. It was, however, somewhat unspecific. The need for a maritime museum was identified as far back as the Wilson review. While I welcome his statement in principle, I wonder if it would be possible for his Department to give us a timescale for the recognition of the maritime heritage of which he spoke. Our maritime heritage is, of course, about more than shipbuilding in Belfast. The role of Northern Ireland's ports in Atlantic crossings to the United States and Canada is also a part of it. Can the Minister perhaps be a little more specific and give us a timescale for progress?

Mr McGimpsey:

In terms of specifics, because of the costs of a maritime museum we would also expect to incorporate aviation and industry into it. We have to remember that Belfast, in the early years of this century, was at the absolute technological cutting edge of shipbuilding and aviation. So there are two stories. In fact there is also a third story and that is of the industry that was in Belfast, and I am thinking of the Ropeworks, for example - the largest ropeworks in the world. Of the people who worked there and understand the old traditional methods very few are left. This is a story that needs to be told, and there is an urgency here. We also had a very important ceramic and glass industry around that time.

The idea is to incorporate them all together into that type of museum. Mr Ford rightly referred also to the immigrants, and it will tell that story as well. We estimate that it will cost around £30 million. I cannot be definite until I have worked out how we will address that funding need, and clearly we will have to be imaginative and creative in that. I cannot simply walk in here and say "Please may I have £30 million?" - I know what the answer will be.

We have to work out the concept and the feasibility before we can address the revenue consequences. How we will find the money is something that we are working on urgently, not least because of the important rich resources which are our industrial, shipbuilding and aviation heritage. There is added urgency because the workforces from these industries who applied the traditional methods have largely, through the fullness of time, passed away, and it is important that their experiences are incorporated in the development.

3.15 pm

Mr McFarland:

The Minister will be aware that there are outstanding maritime exhibits at the Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, Bangor Heritage Centre, and at the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat at Donaghadee. The area, together with Cork and New York, is part of the Titanic trail. Will the Minister confirm that North Down must be a serious contender for any future maritime museum?

Mr McGimpsey:

Without being flippant, I would say that I am not aware of the history of the Bangor shipyards. However, I can say that no definitive location has been agreed yet, although it seems that the obvious, logical location for a maritime museum would be the Abercorn basin in the Queens Island area of Belfast. That is where shipbuilding essentially began.

Workman and Clark, on one side of Clarendon Dock, and Harland and Wolff, began at the Abercorn basin. The Odyssey complex is next door, and one will feed off the other. As part of the Odyssey complex there will be a W5 science centre, which is coming forward and being developed at the moment. I see a symbiotic relationship developing there.

It is also a fact that we not only have simply a shipbuilding story. One of the features of Harland and Wolff's working practices was that when the ships got bigger, they abandoned the old dry docks and slipways and built new ones. What we now have is probably the best example anywhere in the world of how graving docks, dry docks and slipways developed. So we have a big story in terms of the physical features extant there, never mind the development that we would be looking at in terms of a maritime museum.

Motorcycle Road Racing



Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what resources will be committed to the development and promotion of motorcycle road racing in each of the years 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03.

(AQO 370/99)

Mr McGimpsey:

The Sports Council for Northern Ireland has statutory responsibility for the distribution of grants including lottery grants to sports bodies in the Province. The Motorcycle Union of Ireland (MCUI) is the governing body for the sport of road and short circuit motor cycling racing. To date, the following sums have been allocated for road/short circuit racing. The MCUI has received a grant of £1,250 this year for ongoing running costs. Under the Sports Lottery "Talented Athlete Scheme" an award of £27,000 has been agreed for Adrian Coates for the period from January 2000 to December 2001. A bid of £5,000 for the Sunflower Trophy was unsuccessful on the grounds that that particular event received funding for each of the three previous years.

I am not aware of other funding bids for the MCUI for the years in question. The Sports Council is currently developing a new challenge-based development plan scheme. From 2001, each governing body will be competing with each other for funding in line with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland priorities. Therefore it is not possible to confirm resource commitment for motorcycling for the period 2001 to 2003 at this stage.

Motorcycle racing is one of the most exciting and popular sports in Northern Ireland with a worldwide reputation. It is somewhat poignant that we are talking about this particular topic today of all days. I would encourage the MCUI to avail of every opportunity to secure funding for its sport.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Given the tragic loss to motorcycle sport, and indeed to the world of motorcycle racing at the weekend, I am sure the Minister will agree that road racing in Northern Ireland will possibly never be the same again. Can he confirm that road racing brings thousands of tourists and indeed millions of pounds of revenue to Northern Ireland? Those millions of pounds are largely lost in the promotion of the sport and in enhancing the safety of the sport. Can he tell us what he is going to do, or what his Department will be able to do, in order to rectify that balance? Would he be prepared to seriously consider the development of an international motorcycle circuit, or indeed, a formula one Grand Prix racing circuit, which would bring more tourists and more revenue to Northern Ireland. That would enable people to perform these exhilerating yet dangerous sports under safe conditions and in a way in which Government revenue could be used directly for the promotion of these exciting sports?

Mr McGimpsey:

The question of a national racing circuit for the Province is one that has been under consideration for the last 18 months, and it is Ballymena District Council's original motion for the establishment of a company or trust to undertake a feasibility study into the development of a national racing circuit. I know that that was circulated among Members of the Assembly as well as other local councils, and many Members, including myself, have signed in support of the concept of the motion.

Any proposal for the development of the sport rests with the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland, the governing body, and the matter would then be considered by the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, which has the statutory responsibility for the development of sport in the Province, including assistance to bodies involved in providing facilities. To date no development proposals have been placed before the sports council or my Department. I am not aware of where the proposal sits with the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland or how far it has taken the concept articulated by Ballymena District Council. I concur with Mr Paisley Jnr in saying that we share the concerns over the fatalities that occur in road racing, and, given the nature of the sport, there is always the underlying risk of serious injury. Whilst I cannot pre-empt what the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland is going to say or propose, I will certainly be listening to its views and proposals very sympathetically, and I know that any applications that it takes forward to the sports council will be similarly viewed. It is a fact that there are fewer fatalities in short-circuit racing. Motorcycle road racing is an extremely dangerous sport. It is also a completely different type of motorcycle racing, and that is where the argument and the debate has been - how closely allied they are, and would road-racers be prepared to go on the short circuits. That, again, is a matter for the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland.

Mr McClarty:

Does the Minister agree that the one sporting event which takes place in Northern Ireland every year that attracts the largest number of spectators is the North-West 200? On the day of the race over 100,000 people from all over, not only the United Kingdom but much further afield, attend. Does the Minister agree that the sport is very much underfunded and dependent on a large body of volunteer workers to make it possible?

Mr McGimpsey:

I agree with Mr McClarty. Having gone to the North-West 200 for a number of years, I know from personal experience that it is truly an amazing spectacle. The excitement and the skill employed, not least, of course, by Joey Dunlop is something that everyone should see, at least once. The North-West 200 is seriously underfunded and relies almost entirely on volunteers to make it work, and if it were not for their working free of charge, it would not work. I would encourage the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland to take applications forward to the sports council. The sports council can provide funding under a development scheme, under a talented athlete scheme and under a major home-events funding. Up until now £1,250 a year was made available which was recurrent funding, paid automatically without application, but the situation is changing, and in future, applications will have to be made under a development scheme. That would be a good discipline for all the organisations. The talented athlete lottery funding is also available, and I have referred to funding for Adrian Coates. There is also the major home-events funding, and the North-West 200 is as major a home event as you can get. I am not aware, certainly in the recent past, of any applications that have come from the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland. I am not saying that these things will be automatic, but I would have thought that the North-West 200 meets a number of criteria.

We must remember that it is a road race. An effort must be made to make the circuit safer, something which to a large extent can be done at no great cost - changing upright kerbs to drop kerbs, moving concrete lamp standards away from the circuit, taking away walls and fences or changing them so that when a rider comes off a bike and slides, he does not impact into an object and get severely hurt. That is the way forward for the North-West 200, which, if it can be made safe, will be the greatest motorcycling race anyone will see in Europe.

Football: Sectarianism



Mr McCarthy

asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans there are to introduce legislation to combat sectarianism in association football.

(AQO 375/99)

Mr McGimpsey:

As I informed the Assembly in February in response to a similar question from the Member, proposals for the introduction of legislation bringing safety at sports grounds in Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain are under consideration. Such legislation would include the creation of offences relating to unruly, indecent or sectarian behaviour and would seek to deter unacceptable and disruptive behaviour among those attending sporting events. I am aware that the introduction of legislation will take some time. I have therefore arranged to meet the Sports Council and the Irish Football Association (IFA) on 7 July 2000 to take stock of measures which might be taken in advance of any legislation. Discussions have been ongoing since February, and I shall be happy to write to the Member regarding the outcome of that meeting.

Mr McCarthy:

I thank the Minister for his response. The question was indeed raised earlier in the year, but the efforts already being made by many football clubs in Northern Ireland and officials to combat sectarianism and racism in all their forms must be welcomed. I was delighted to hear a radio programme this morning where a Member of the Scottish Parliament paid tribute to the good behaviour of both Irish and Scottish soccer fans. That is the good image and reputation about which we wish to hear. Does the Minister agree that the plight in which probably all our football clubs find themselves regarding viability stems from a long period of sectarian chanting and an unwelcome atmosphere in grounds which kept genuine fans from supporting their clubs? The sooner the legislation is in place, the better for both clubs and supporters.

Mr McGimpsey:

The Member's comment and question were wide-ranging. The Department and I recognise the plight soccer is in and that most of Northern Ireland's stadia have seen no investment for decades, with the result that they lack basic health-and-safety measures. That was why, in January, I announced an initial scheme drawing on £800,000 from the Football Trust, plus a further £300,000 per annum from the Sports Council for two, or, it is to be hoped, three years. Last week we were able to announce a further increase of £2 million to that interim scheme. The £2 million will go forward and, whilst football will be a beneficiary, I should emphasise that Gaelic games and rugby will also be entitled to apply and benefit.

The moneys will go forward divided into roughly £750,000 for major works, £1 million for urgent first-aid work and £250,000 for safety management, which includes stewarding and training for those involved in crowd control.

As a condition for the grant under the interim scheme, clubs will be required to put in place a child protection policy approved by the Sports Council and formulate an equity statement. The equity statement will highlight practical measures to address family, disability and sectarian issues. As I have said, part of the moneys will be available for stewarding and training and for safety management, and this will also help address sectarian behaviour among spectators.


<< Prev / Next >>