Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 27 November 2000 (continued)

Mr Speaker:

What the Member is suggesting is not necessarily in order. It is not for a Department or the Executive to confer a state award. That is entirely a matter for the sovereign, who is the fount of all such awards. Of course, it is possible for anyone, including any individual, the Department, or the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, to make a recommendation. I simply want to make it clear that the decision would be one well beyond the responsibilities of the Assembly. However, I give the Minister the opportunity to respond, if she so chooses.

Ms de Brún:

The Executive decided that we needed to consider the form that a state award might take and whether it is achievable and fully acceptable to the firefighters. The Executive will consider the matter again when the work has been completed.

Ms Ramsey:

Go raibh maith agat. Fire Authority personnel are drawn from all sections of the community. As the Good Friday Agreement calls for sensitivity on flags and emblems, may I ask whether the Minister is satisfied that a corporate award is the best way to ensure that every member of the Fire Service would be happy to accept it?

Ms de Brún:

The Member will be aware of my position, which is that any award, at any stage, should be such that all who are to receive the award would be happy to accept it. It is not for me to say this morning what kind of corporate award should be made. I merely point out that the Executive have decided that a corporate award by the Assembly would be more appropriate.

Mrs E Bell:

I totally endorse the Minister's comments on the bravery and commitment of the Fire Service over the years. I withdrew my motion on the Fire Service some weeks ago, as I had been advised that the Executive would take a decision on the matter. I am sorry that the DUP, unlike ourselves, did not wait for that Executive decision but relaunched its motion for reasons that seem to have nothing to do with the wishes of most firefighters. Can the Minister assure the Assembly that the matter will be dealt with as a priority?

Ms de Brún:

The Executive will take it forward with all speed. I repeat that, although the Executive have decided that a corporate award by the Assembly would be more appropriate, it is not for the Executive to dictate to the Assembly how that is done or the timescale.

Mr Kane:

How much finance will the Department make available for the corporate award? What are the criteria for receiving such an award?

Mr Speaker:

As the Minister has repeatedly said, although the Executive may decide that an award would be appropriate, the award will not be from the Executive or the Department but from the Assembly. The decision is one for the Assembly. If the Assembly were to decide - and it might decide such a thing today -it would probably be for the Commission to take forward the practicalities.

However, the question relates to something that is not in order. If the Member would like to reframe his question, he may do so.


Mr Paisley Jnr:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If it is not in order for a Member to ask that question, why is the issue before the House today? Why has the Minister made a statement if we cannot ascertain from her what finances will be made available?

Mr Speaker:

It is entirely in order for the Minister to state the view of the Executive that the Assembly should make an award to the Fire Service. It is a ministerial statement, and it is entirely in order for the Executive's view to be expressed. It is, of course, for the Assembly to make a decision about the matter of an award, as I have explained.

I take from that point of order that Mr Kane does not wish to reframe or restate his question.

Mr Ford:

I welcome the Minister's statement, but I regret that one party in the Chamber seems determined to drag politics into this issue, whereas those of us who proposed it in the first place were trying to recognise the service and the sacrifice of firefighters, and not make cheap political points.

The Minister referred to work to be done by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister with regard to a state award. How will information about that work, which is not being done by her Department, be conveyed to the Assembly? What is the likely timescale?

Ms de Brún:

I recognise that the intention of the Members who brought forward the previous motion was to ensure that the firefighters would be given due recognition - an objective that my Executive colleagues and I share.

The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will investigate whether a state award is achievable or appropriate. It is not for me to determine at this point with whom they will consult. However, I am sure that there will be consultation with all interested parties when they have ascertained the necessary information, which they will do now with all speed. Whatever the outcome, it is important that there should be a full understanding of the position and full support for any proposal that emerges.

Mr Shannon:

Did the Minister or her Department have discussions with the Fire Brigades Union and the Fire Authority? During those discussions, did not the members and representatives of those organisations suggest that a recommendation for a state award would be the best way forward and a suitable way of recognising the work, and the courage that the Fire Service has shown over the past 35 years?

Ms de Brún:

With the agreement of the Executive, I had discussions with the Fire Brigades Union, and I brought its views to the Executive. It is not correct for the Member to suggest that it expressed the preference that he has suggested.

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the fact that the Executive have decided that the Fire Service of Northern Ireland, after working through 30 years of terrorism, needs a proper award. A civic award would be an insult, and that idea has already been rejected by both the Fire Brigades Union and the Fire Authority itself. A state award, granted by Her Majesty the Queen, to recognise professionalism, bravery and commitment, would be most appropriate. Will the Minister, with all diligence, petition Her Majesty the Queen for an appropriate award to the Northern Ireland Fire Service?

Ms de Brún:

I refer the Member to my statement that the Executive have taken a decision that a corporate award by the Assembly would be appropriate. They have also agreed that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster should investigate whether a state award is achievable or suitable. It would not be appropriate for me to move ahead outside the Executive's decision.

Social Security and Child Support Regulations


The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow):

I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the Social Security and Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

The Regulations were laid before the Assembly on 22 June 2000. This is the first time that I have sought the approval of the Assembly for Regulations relating to social security, pensions and child support. It may be helpful if I begin with an explanation of why the confirmatory procedure - the strongest form of Assembly control over Regulations - is being used.

Parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland means not only parity of content but parity of timing. The Great Britain Regulations to which the Northern Ireland Regulations correspond will have been approved by Parliament shortly before they were made, so it is not possible for the Assembly to approve the Northern Ireland Regulations and match the operative date. The use of the confirmatory procedure, under which the Regulations are made and come into operation but must be approved by the Assembly within six months of the operative date, enables us to do this.

I do not propose to speak on every amendment made by the Social Security and Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, but I shall, of course, be happy to respond to Members' questions. The Regulations correspond to Regulations for Great Britain made by the Secretary of State for Social Security following their approval by the House of Commons on 8 June and the House of Lords on 14 June. Therefore, they are a parity measure.

Principally, these Regulations amend the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999, which I shall refer to as the decisions and appeals Regulations. They also amend Regulations on claims and payments, child support and industrial injuries. The decisions and appeals Regulations were made under powers in the Social Security (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. That Order set up a new decision making and appeals system in social security and child support. The decisions and appeals Regulations provided the detailed framework for an improved decision-making and dispute-resolution system, a simplified appeals system and the introduction of a modern, accountable appeals service. The new system was implemented in relation to child support in June 1999, and over the period from July 1999 to November 1999 with regard to social security benefits.

The amendments to the decisions and appeals Regulations are purely technical and are intended to improve the service to claimants. They are based on the experience of the live running of the decision-making and appeals system and are all beneficial.

The Regulations can be broken down into three parts. The first tier deals with decision making, appeals and other matters. The changes being made to the first tier aim to secure more effective and efficient management of the new process. There are three key changes. First, there is a clearer definition of official error. The original definition caused confusion, and, more significantly, there was the possibility that claimants would be penalised where no penalty was intended. Secondly, changes are to be made to bridge payment gaps when the Department supersedes a decision on its own initiative. Thirdly, there is to be clarification of the effective date of a decision which replaces an earlier one made by a tribunal or a commissioner on disability and incapacity benefits.

The amendments relating to appeals, which affect the composition of tribunals, striking-out, decision notices and time limits are all aimed at approving the service for appellants by streamlining the administration of appeals.

The other amendments deal with the tidying-up of the decision-making process for industrial injury scheme benefits. They are designed to ensure that the decision- making and appeals principles are adhered to and to improve the administration of claims where the entitlement is dependent on the award of another benefit. The existing provisions can lead to delays in people getting their full entitlement. In future, provided people act within a defined time, payment will be made more promptly and automatically.

The new decision-making and appeals arrangements have already had a positive impact on the way in which the agencies and the appeals service handle disputes and appeals. However, there is always room for improvement. I am confident that the Regulations will help to bring about that improvement.

The Chairperson of the Social Development Committee (Mr Cobain):

The Social Development Committee considered this Statutory Rule along with the report from the Examiner of Statutory Rules at a meeting on 14 September. The Examiner drew the Committee's attention to his concern about the Rule under Standing Order 41(4)(g). The Standing Order requires the Committee to report whether the Rule examined

"appears to have defects . or on any other ground which does not impinge on its merits or on the policy behind it."

This Statutory Rule contains some provisions that are subject to negative resolution and some that shall cease to have effect unless approved by resolution of the Assembly - that is, by confirmatory procedure. The Examiner thought that that could lead to procedural difficulties and that it should be avoided unless clearly contemplated by the enabling legislation.

In 1950, the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that it was not appropriate to have both procedures in the same instrument. The Examiner recognised that, in the context, the enabling legislation in this case intended that these Regulations should be subject to the confirmatory procedure, but exposed some doubts about its clarity.

The Social Development Committee has no objections to the content of this rule and does not wish to delay it. Therefore, it recommends that the Assembly approve it. It asks, however, Mr Speaker, that you consider the general point raised by the Examiner and make a ruling. I have forwarded a copy of the Examiner's full report to your Office, and I have placed a copy in the Library.

Mr Speaker:

I will take account of those matters and will make a ruling as soon as I have considered them fully.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Social Development Committee (Ms Gildernew):

Go raibh maith agat. I was interested to hear the Minister talking about improving the service and dealing with claims promptly and automatically. How efficient will that be, and will it get rid of the current huge backlog of cases? I have concerns that it will not improve the service in the way that we might like.

Mr Speaker:

I have no further indications of Members wishing to speak, so I call the Minister, Mr Morrow, to wind up.

Mr Morrow:

In response to the point made by the Chairman of the Social Development Committee, I want to say that I am aware of the report of the Examiner of Statutory Rules. I have considered his views on the inclusion in the same instrument of provisions subject to the confirmatory procedure and those subject to negative resolution. It is not clear from the reference in the report to the 1950 ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons whether that was the House of Commons at Stormont or at Westminster. In any event, that was 1950 - we have moved on since then.

Prior to 1990, it was the practice to include Regulations subject to the confirmatory procedure in a separate instrument from those subject to negative resolution. That was consistent with the practice in Great Britain. However, the Social Security Act 1990 amended the legislation relating to parliamentary control of subordinate legislation to allow provisions subject to affirmative and negative resolution to be included in a single instrument, subject to affirmative resolution. That was during direct rule, and the Social Security (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 allowed for Northern Ireland to make provisions subject to negative resolution that could be combined with provisions subject to affirmative resolution and for those Regulations to be subject to the confirmatory procedure. Since 1990, all primary legislation concerning social security, pensions and child support has continued that practice.

12.15 pm

The inclusion of the phrase

"whether alone or with other provisions (or regulations)"

in the provisions of an Act or Order in Council dealing with Assembly control is intended to allow for the inclusion in a single instrument of Regulations subject to the confirmatory procedure and those subject to negative resolution. Such an instrument is subject to the confirmatory procedure. That means that the reader can find the relevant provision in a single set of Regulations instead of two, and there is a financial saving. The cost of a single set of Regulations will always be less than the cost of two sets, which, added together, make the same provision.

As such Regulations in Northern Ireland are subject to the confirmatory procedure - the highest form of Assembly control for Regulations dealing with social security, pensions and child support - the Assembly's control of the Regulations is not diminished; it is strengthened. That is a proper and effective way to process Regulations, and I recommend that it be allowed to continue. The backlog of claims will be reduced.

Mr Speaker:

I note what the Minister has said about procedure, and I will examine his comments, as reported in Hansard, in my consideration of the question raised by the Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly approves the Social Security and Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

Social Security (Students Amendment) Regulations


The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow): I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the Social Security (Students Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

I shall refer to these Regulations as the students Regulations. The students Regulations make provision for Northern Ireland and correspond to those made by the Secretary of State for Social Security for Great Britain, following approval by the House of Commons on 12 July and the House of Lords on 19 July. This is a parity measure.

The Regulations amend existing housing benefit, income support and jobseeker's allowance legislation in three ways. First, they introduce new provisions for students who have recovered from illness or are former carers. In some cases, students who are ready to resume their studies may not be allowed to do so immediately by their educational establishment. Often, they have to wait until the start of the next academic year. In such circumstances those students who have recovered from an illness or who are former carers do not receive educational support and are not eligible for jobseeker's allowance or housing benefit because they have not finished their full-time courses.

The Regulations provide that, subject to the normal rules, such students will be eligible to claim jobseeker's allowance and, where appropriate, housing benefit. The period during which they will be able to claim benefit is from the date of recovery from illness, or the end of their caring duties, until the date when they are able to join their courses or the start of the next academic year, whichever is sooner. That positive support will help those individuals to help themselves.

Secondly, the Regulations tighten up the definition of full-time student for the purpose of housing benefit, income support and jobseeker's allowance - the income-related benefits. It re-emphasises the existing policy that those benefits are not normally payable to students until they finally complete, abandon or are dismissed from their course.

Thirdly, they make technical amendments to provide a better alignment of definitions across all the income- related benefits. They make positive progress in maintaining the interface between social security and education maintenance. They will enable the "recovered ill" and "former carers" to claim jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit until they are able to resume their studies.

The Chairperson of the Social Development Committee (Mr Cobain):

As with the previous Statutory Rule that we discussed, the Social Development Committee considered this rule along with a report from the Examiner of Statutory Rules at its meeting on 14 September 2000. The comments that I made on the last motion apply equally to this Statutory Rule. I do not wish to reiterate what I have already said, Mr Speaker, except to ask again that you consider the general point raised by the Examiner.

What student groups did the Minister's officials consult prior to the preparation of this Statutory Rule?

The Deputy Chairperson of the Social Development Committee (Ms Gildernew):

Go raibh maith agat. I have some concerns about the regulations. I welcome the move to assess modular students at the time of their claim, as opposed to the first day of their course, but I believe that the restrictions on claiming income support or jobseeker's allowance while registered on a part-time basis are too prohibitive. Students are not entitled to support from their education and library board as they are registered as part-time, yet they are not entitled to jobseeker's allowance as they are classed as full-time for social security purposes. That will undoubtedly create another group of students who are excluded from any kind of financial support.

I am also concerned about the Social Security Advisory Committee's recommendations. It pointed out that people in full-time education should not be deprived of the right to any guarantee of support if their studies are interrupted for valid reasons. Those reasons could be other than ill health and caring. Consideration could be given to people who have had to leave their courses because of pregnancy, bereavement or other reasons. I am also concerned about lone parents, who lose their entitlement to benefits as soon as the youngest child reaches 16. The Social Security Advisory Committee recommended that entitlement to income support for lone parents should be extended while they are in full-time education. I also believe that there was not enough consultation with student groups such as NUS-USI. To what extent has consultation taken place?

Mr Morrow:

I will clarify the position on consultation. The Social Security Advisory Committee fulfils a role for Northern Ireland similar to that for Great Britain. It invites views from Northern Ireland when conducting consultation on the equivalent Great Britain Regulations. The Committee states that corresponding Northern Ireland Regulations are to be made and takes into account views expressed by any Northern Ireland interests. I emphasise that the consultation process was carried out by the Social Security Advisory Committee, and I have no details about who was consulted. I will take a look at it again and come back to the Chairperson of the Committee about it. With regard to student requirements, the regulator's advice is to keep the student in line with other recipients of income support.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly approves the Social Security (Students Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.

The sitting was suspended at 12.25 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair) -

2.30 pm


Oral Answers to Questions


Minister / Executive Committee



Mr Paisley Jnr

asked the Minister of Education if he will detail when he will next meet the Executive Committee, and what issues concerning his Department he intends to raise at that meeting.

(AQO 371/00)

The Minister of Education (Mr M McGuinness):

I plan to attend the next meeting of the Executive Committee, which is scheduled for Thursday 30 November. Under the ministerial code, I am unable to disclose the business of the Executive, and thus I am unable to answer any questions on issues to be raised at that meeting. However, I have discussed a wide range of education issues at previous Executive Committee meetings.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Given that the Minister of Education is taking legal action against the First Minister, can we take it as read that he has absolutely no confidence in the First Minister, and does he agree that his costly actions have undermined any token of credibility contained in the Belfast Agreement?

Given his new-found fondness for legal action, will he be giving advice, encouragement and evidence to the Bloody Sunday inquiry? Also, given the fact that he had the responsibility of firing the first shots then, how will he take up his responsibilities as Minister of Education?

Mr M McGuinness:

We have discussed the difficulties caused by the First Minister's refusal to nominate me for the education sectoral meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. In the press release after the Executive Committee meeting on 9 November, we said that there had been a comprehensive exchange of views about the questions of ministerial nominations to the North/South Ministerial Council. That is where the matter sits at the moment. The issue of what is happening in the court proceedings is in the public domain. People will be familiar with the course of action that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and I have taken.

Mr J Kelly:

Will the Minister also bring to the attention of the Executive the use of inflammatory language by Assembly Members - for example, Mr McCrea - which could lead to -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I remind the Member that supplementary questions must relate to the question on the Order Paper.

Mr J Kelly:

A LeasCheann Comhairle, my question relates to the Executive and the Minister's responsibility.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am ruling it out of order.

Rural Schools



Mr S Wilson

asked the Minister of Education what steps he intends to take to ensure that he meets the Programme for Government commitment to protect schools in rural areas.

(AQO 360/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

It is very important that rural communities have access to a network of strong local schools with the necessary accommodation, equipment and range of teaching experience to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum. High priority will continue to be given to the replacement of rural schools that have seriously sub-standard accommodation.

As to school rationalisation, when development proposals are submitted to the Department for approval, I will want to be satisfied that all alternative options have been examined in consultation with parents in the community before taking a decision on any of those matters.

I also intend to publish a consultation document early in the new year that will set out proposals for a new common formula for use in the allocation of resources for all schools, including small schools. The document will include proposals for the definition of a small school for funding purposes, the value of the funding supplement that should be allocated, and the range of pupils that should be included in the pupil count.

Mr S Wilson:

Can the Minister assure us that where there are existing small schools in rural areas, or where there are demands for new schools in rural areas to maintain rural communities, the same criterion will be applied to them as he proposes to apply to Irish language schools? If there is an intake of 12, will he be prepared to fund such schools, or are we going to see a difference in the way that the Minister deals with controlled schools, as opposed to the way that he deals with Irish language schools?

Mr M McGuinness:

There are over 400 rural primary schools with fewer pupils than the levels envisaged in the proposed new viability criteria for Irish-medium and integrated schools. In cases in which we are considering building new schools in rural areas, we already use a minimum enrolment of 85 pupils as our basic criterion. My proposals for Irish-medium and integrated schools will therefore merely provide them with equality of treatment for the first time.

Mr McHugh:

A LeasCheann Comhairle, will the Minister give an assurance about funding for small schools, particularly in rural areas? Lack of funding puts pressure on teacher numbers in those schools, taking into account the issue of rurality and the viability figures that he has just mentioned.

Mr M McGuinness:

Very small schools often have to rely to an unreasonable degree on the commitment and dedication of a small number of teachers. That cannot provide the same quality of educational experience for pupils as is available in larger schools. Such schools can require additional support over a sustained period to help minimise any educational disadvantages to their pupils. A consultation document will be issued early in the new year setting out proposals for a new common formula to be used in the allocation of resources to all schools, including small schools. It will give us an opportunity to deal with some of the issues raised by the Member.

I would also like to inform the Assembly that there have been attacks on small schools in the past two weeks - one in Greenlough, near Portglenone in County Antrim, and another on the Comhaltas Ghaelscoil Dhál Riada in north Antrim, which I visited this morning. It was sad to see children in their school uniform unable to attend their school because someone thought a cause - whatever that cause was - could be served by the burning of a school. It is incumbent upon everybody in the Assembly, particularly elected representatives and leading citizens in the north Antrim area, to make it clear to the people involved in such arson attacks - whether on Irish- language schools, Irish cultural establishments, Orange halls or church property - that such behaviour is absolutely unacceptable .

Education Administration



Mr K Robinson

asked the Minister of Education if he intends to review the current structure of education administration as set out in the draft Programme for Government.

(AQO 381/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

My Department intends to participate fully in the planned review of public administration which will be taken forward by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. It will be for the Executive Committee to determine the scope and nature of the review in due course.

Mr K Robinson:

Does the Minister agree that, given the ever-growing segmentation of our educational system, there is an urgent need to review the structure of boards of governors in all types of schools in the interests of transparency and equity and to ensure that all sectors of society have confidence in the structures? Does he also agree that, given the ever-increasing complexity of their task and the severe demands upon their time, school governors should in future receive an attendance allowance similar to that which local councillors formerly received?

Mr M McGuinness:

Much of that will depend on the nature of the review, the terms of reference and what the Executive agree as the best way forward.

Obviously, other Departments have a direct interest in educational issues and structures - the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has a particular interest in library services - so the Department of Education cannot act unilaterally. Undoubtedly, as we stated in the Programme for Government, there is consensus on the need for a wide-ranging review of local government. When the Executive decide on the terms of reference for that review, we will deal with the issues relating to the existing bodies in order to improve our education services.

I have not yet given any consideration to payments for school governors. If people wish to make a case, we will consider it within the context of a wide-ranging review.

The Chairperson of the Education Committee (Mr Kennedy):

Will the Minister tell us exactly when the review will take place? Will it be a wide-ranging review, and will it cover all educational partners, including bodies such as the education and library boards, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools? Given that it is in the Programme for Government and that each ministerial Department will be charged to bring forward its review proposals, can the Minister state when he will do so?

Mr M McGuinness:

It is a matter for the Executive Committee as to when the review will take place, although I believe that we will come back to the issue before Christmas. I cannot decide that on my own. The review, when it is announced, will have to be wide-ranging. We should consider all the bodies within education, and we should aim to improve our education system in order to direct services straight into the classroom.

We must also recognise that this issue will create uneasiness and difficulty for many of those involved, because change is difficult for some people. From the educational perspective, we want a wide-ranging review in order to establish how we can enhance the services that we provide.

Business and Entrepreneurship:
Teaching in Schools



Mr Neeson

asked the Minister of Education what plans he has to introduce the teaching of business and entrepreneurship in schools.

(AQO 357/


Mr M McGuinness:

The current post-primary curriculum includes the statutory cross-curricular theme of economic awareness. One of the objectives of the theme is to provide pupils with first-hand experience of commerce and industry. The CCEA has embarked on a review of curriculum provisions, with a view to meeting the educational needs of young people in the new millennium. As part of that review, it is proposed to provide a specific programme for employability as a statutory entitlement for all young people in post-primary schools. There has been widespread consultation with employers to ensure that their needs are taken into account in the revised curriculum.

Mr Neeson:

I am pleased that the review is taking place. Does the Minister recognise the importance of small businesses to the Northern Ireland economy and, hence, the importance of the development of business and entrepreneurial skills? Does he also recognise that that is even more important as we move away from the grant culture? Will he consider what steps his Department can take to get more women involved in business in Northern Ireland?

2.45 pm

Mr M McGuinness:

Links between business and education are vitally important. In the context of the review of the curriculum, all the matters that the Member raised will be seriously addressed. We are working closely with bodies such as Young Enterprise, the Northern Ireland Science and Technology Regional Organisation, and Industry Matters. Those bodies offer a wide range of programmes linking schools with business. Such programmes are of great benefit to pupils and teachers and undoubtedly deepen their understanding of the world of business.

Business education partnerships play an important role in developing local partnerships and provide a mechanism whereby schools can make themselves aware of the range and nature of businesses in their locality. They make employers aware of their role in preparing pupils for life after school and maximise the input from employers in such work.

The number of women in business is an important issue. It is a matter for us but also for trade and industry and for the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment. People are focused on the importance of the subject. Recently, I was involved in the presentation of an 'Irish Times' award at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, at which three pupils from the North swept the board in a chemistry competition. Two of the winners were from my constituency, and all of them were female, which was an added bonus. It is important that we interest everybody, male and female, in this matter.

Mr Dallat:

I welcome the Minister's reference to Young Enterprise. Will the Minister ensure that access to that organisation is available across Northern Ireland? Furthermore, will he give special encouragement to schools to come together from different backgrounds, particularly from North and South, to discuss business enterprise?

Mr M McGuinness:

Organisations such as Young Enterprise provide an important range of programmes that link schools with business. It is important that we continue to encourage people - not just in schools, but in industry and business - to recognise the importance of business education partnerships. That battle has been won. Every school that I visit - even primary schools - shows an increasing awareness of the need to go down that route.

It is also important that we continue to build our links with other parts of this island. Schools should maintain contact with schools in other parts of the island so that they can learn from their different experiences. Everybody agrees that education played a major role in the growth of the "Celtic tiger" economy in the South. We have a lot to learn. I am convinced that we will continue to build on those relationships.

It is also important that we continue to build relationships across the community here in the North. It gives me particular pleasure to inform the Assembly that schools everywhere are recognising the need to bridge the community divide. They are doing that very successfully.

Mr S Wilson:

Given the obvious expertise that the Minister's party has on such issues, will the programme include modules on extortion, racketeering and the black economy?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

That is out of order.

Capital Developments: Economic Appraisal



Mr McGrady

asked the Minister of Education if he will outline the number of economic appraisals currently being undertaken by his Department in respect of capital developments, and those planned for the next financial year.

(AQO 351/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

The Department of Education carries out economic appraisals directly on behalf of the maintained, voluntary grammar, integrated and Irish- medium sectors. The Department is currently working on 42 appraisals in those sectors. It also considers and approves appraisals carried out by education and library boards, and there are 38 of those at present. Work on some of the appraisals will continue through to the next financial year, when further new appraisals will be added to the programme.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Minister for his reply to my question and his reply to question 2 indicating that next year there will be a new allocation formula for assessment. Will he address the problem of Moneydarragh Primary School at Annalong? He is aware that that excellent school, with an increasing roll, has been long starved of funding and has not yet received any favourable response from the Department. He is also aware that a decision must be made quickly, because of local land circumstances. At another level, his Department has already accepted the need, as a matter of some urgency, for an extension to and refurbishment of the Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch. Can that also be given some priority? Neither of those schemes can afford to wait until the review process next year, however welcome that is.

Mr M McGuinness:

The Department's appraisal work programme for the current financial year is fully committed. It will, however, consider the inclusion of the Moneydarragh Primary School project in its programme of appraisals for 2001-02, depending on other competing priorities.

I understand the case made by Mr McGrady in relation to Assumption Grammar School, but we all know that throughout the North there are many competing priorities for the schools capital building programme. We will certainly consider Assumption Grammar School in the school capital building programme next year, but that will obviously depend on the resources available.

If people have been listening to the radio and watching the television news recently, they will know that there are many demands on our finances for the school capital building programme throughout the North. When a decision is taken, it will be solely on the basis of educational need, but with a view towards fitting in as many urgent cases as we can. Since the establishment of the Executive, my views on the poor state of our school stock and the need to improve it have gone on record. People know the quantity of money that is required to do that. We can do only a certain amount in any given year, but early next year we will announce the school capital building programme, and we will attempt to facilitate as many people as possible in the light of the limited resources available to us.

Citizenship: Teaching In Schools



Mr McCarthy

asked the Minister of Education what plans he has to introduce the teaching of citizenship in schools.

(AQO 356/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

I am aware of the importance of citizenship education for our young people. The Council for the Curriculum, Examination and Assessment (CCEA) is currently undertaking a review of the curriculum here, taking into account the changing needs of pupils, society and the economy in the new millennium. The council has highlighted the issue of citizenship education as part of this review and has been given approval to begin development work on a programme covering education for democracy and citizenship. It is proposed that that programme will focus on years 8 to 10, and it will cover diversity and interdependence, including community identity, conflict and reconciliation, and social and civic responsibilities. It will also deal with the issue of equality and justice, including human rights, inclusion and sustainable development, democracy and active participation.

Mr McCarthy:

As we live in an era of citizens' rights, does the Minister agree that young people should be taught at an early age that respect for law, justice and democracy - among other things - are fundamental elements of decent living? Does he agree that society as a whole would benefit from such an addition to the curriculum?

Mr M McGuinness:

I agree that our young people would benefit from a comprehensive approach to the issue of citizenship and to the effective provision of processes to enable young people to appreciate their environment. The most important thing of all is the valuable contribution that they have to make to the community. I have often said that our most valuable resource is our children. There is no doubt about that. We have a responsibility to provide the best and most wide-ranging education that we can.

As I said in response to an earlier question, our young people are tremendous. The more that I visit schools and meet young people from right across the community, the more it becomes clear that young people appreciate the transformation that our society has undergone recently. They appreciate the Good Friday Agreement and understand the challenges that it poses, not just for politicians, but for themselves. They have risen to that challenge and accepted that the new way forward is for them. The more that we encourage that in the school curriculum, the greater the benefits will be for all of us in the longer term. That is why the review of the curriculum is so important.

Ms Lewsley:

I welcome the recommendation of the CCEA to include the issue of citizenship in the new curriculum. How will that be delivered, and what type of training and funding will be put in to ensure that teachers will not be put under any more pressure than they are already?

Mr M McGuinness:

The issue of how teachers deal with the considerable change caused by new measures that may be put in place as a result of the review is important. I am conscious of the need for teachers to receive appropriate training that will assist them in preparing for the introduction of the revised curriculum. The CCEA and the curriculum advisory and support services of the education and library boards have a responsibility for the provision of in-service training and are in discussion with my Department on how to plan for and meet those training needs. It is important that we manage all such matters in a way conducive to making life as easy as possible for teachers, who are presently under great strain.

Mr Poots:

One of the rules for good citizens is the upholding of law and order. Will the Minister of Education call on school leavers to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland as part of the practice of good citizenship?

Mr M McGuinness:

No one in the House will be under any illusion as to where I stand on the matter. I do not want to go into a debate on the issue, but it is important to point out that I accept absolutely that we need a new beginning to policing in this part of Ireland. We need a policing service to which all in the community can give its allegiance. The jury has sat on that - [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Minister, those matters are outside your responsibility.

Information and Communication
Technology (Primary Schools)



Mr Ford

asked the Minister of Education if he will detail his plans on the installation of information and communication technology in primary schools.

(AQO 359/00)

Mr M McGuinness:

My Department's aim is to strengthen information and communication technology provision in all schools by procuring a managed service to meet their infrastructure, curricular and administrative needs. Priority will be given to primary schools.

Mr Ford:

Does the Minister agree that too much effort in that area tends to depend upon voluntary activities - for example, the parent/teacher associations? Is it not the responsibility of his Department to even out the playing field between schools from different backgrounds?

Mr M McGuinness:

The Assembly is aware that we live in a changing world. We must adapt and change in order to meet the needs of that world, particularly those of our young people. That poses all sorts of challenges for us. At the moment, important negotiations are taking place on Classroom 2000. We are trying to prepare for the future. It is, of course, an issue that has wide-ranging implications for young people, the educational system and teachers. We are trying to face up to all of those difficult challenges in order to provide the best possible education for our children.

3.00 pm

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time is up. We must move on.

Mr Hussey:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I noticed during answers that the Minister habitually repeats the question. Is that not a waste of time?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

That is not a point of order.

Health, Social Services
and Public Safety


Mr Deputy Speaker:

Question 11, standing in the name of Ms Monica McWilliams, has been transferred to the Department for Social Development, which will provide a written reply.

Intensive Care Beds (Greater Belfast)



Mrs E Bell

asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if she will outline her plans for the provision of intensive care beds in the Greater Belfast area; and if she will make a statement.

(AQO 367/00)

The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Ms de Brún):

Tá méadú ar an dianchúraim de réir an aithbhreithnithe a rinne an Príomh-Oifigeach Míochaine ar mo shon i bhfianaise na mbrúnna a cuireadh ar sheirbhísí ospidéal an geimhreadh seo caite. Is é an chiall atá leis seo i mBéal Feirste go mbeidh trí leaba dhianchúraim phéidiatraiceacha bhreise ann sa Ghrúpa Ríoga Ospidéal agus dhá leaba dhianchúram bhreise in Ospidéal Uladh.

Táthar ag méadú soláthar cúraim ardspleáchais le cur leis na seirbhísí dianchúraim sin. Sa Ghrúpa Ríoga, áit nach bhfuil leapacha ardspleáchais faoi láthair, cuirfear cúig cinn ar fáil ar 1 Nollaig. In Ospidéal na Cathrach, áit a bhfuil dhá leaba ardspleáchais, méadófar an líon go dtí sé cinn ón 1 Nollaig fosta. Agus in Ospidéal Uladh, áit nach raibh soláthar cúraim ardspleáchais ann go dtí seo, tá trí leaba ardspleáchais ann ó 1 Samhain.

Levels of intensive care provision are being expanded in line with the review carried out for me by the Chief Medical Officer, in the light of pressures on hospital services last winter. In Belfast, that expansion means an increase of three paediatric intensive care beds at the Royal Group of Hospitals and two intensive care beds at the Ulster Hospital. To complement those intensive care services, high-dependency provision is also being increased. At the Royal Group of Hospitals, where there are no high-dependency beds at present, five will come on stream on 1 December. The Belfast City Hospital Trust's existing complement of two high-dependency beds is being increased to six, again from 1 December, and the Ulster Hospital, which had no high-dependency provision, has had three high-dependency beds since 1 November.

Mrs E Bell:

I am pleased with the answer. Knowing the situation at the Ulster Hospital, I ask the Minister whether she agrees that the crisis will not start on 1 December but it is happening now. I hope that the necessary measures will be put in place now. As well as high-dependency beds, adequate staff are required. As the Minister may know, well-trained Filipino nurses are working in the Ulster Hospital. Although we congratulate them, we would like to be in a situation where that was not necessary.

Ms de Brún:

It is clear that the situation has been building up for some time. As I have stated on more than one occasion, I addressed that issue immediately upon coming into office last year. I called for two reviews at that time, the outworking of which we see as part of the response to today's question.

I agree that it is a question not merely of availability of beds, but of staff. Boards and trusts have been working hard to ensure that additional staff, particularly nursing staff, are available. In the short term, boards have put in place a Return to Practice programme under which more than 100 additional nursing staff will be available. For the longer-term, an additional 100 nurse training places have been commissioned for each of the next three years.

The Chairperson of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee (Dr Hendron):

A number of people who were severely injured in the Omagh bomb were at Stormont last week, along with women who had had breast cancer and required breast reconstruction. My question concerns the surgeon, Mr Khalid Khan, on whom those people have depended and continue to depend so much. He has been at the Royal Victoria Hospital for the past two years, where he has been fighting a lone battle, depending to some extent on substandard equipment, but he has not had a permanent contract. Will the Minister give her total support to the Royal Hospitals Trust in giving Mr Khalid Khan, to whom I was speaking earlier today, a permanent and realistic contract so that he can continue to serve all the people of the four board areas in Northern Ireland?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I am not sure that that point was directly related to the question.

Dr Hendron:

Acute beds, acute burns.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

You are stretching it a bit.

Ms de Brún:

Since the problems with the service emerged, the Royal Hospitals Trust has been working to resolve issues relating to the supply of equipment to the unit. The trust has also been in urgent discussions with the eastern board and the ulster hospital trust to enhance links between the burns unit and other plastic services. I appreciate the vital service that Mr Khan has given, and I understand that he has been in close discussions with Dr Ian Carson, the Royal's medical director. I am cautiously hopeful that concerns about the future development of the service can be addressed.

I have asked my officials to keep in contact with Dr Carson and to keep me informed of developments. I hope that these problems can be resolved quickly so that services can be maintained and patients can continue to get the treatment that they need - [Interruption]

Mr Deputy Speaker:


Ms de Brún:

It is difficult to answer against this level of background babble, but I will attempt to do so.

I will do everything in my power as Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to ensure that that service and others are delivered to the highest possible standards.

Mr J Kelly:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Can the Minister repeat her assurance that last year's problems with the recruitment of support staff to avert the winter pressures will not recur this year?

Ms de Brún:

I refer the Member to Ms Bell's question on nursing staff. Boards and trusts are doing everything possible, and they have taken considerable measures to ensure that nursing staff, in particular, will be available this winter.

The Return to Practice programme has been developed. Representatives have gone out, on roadshows to ensure that people will take part in the Return to Practice programme, and 100 additional nursing staff have been recruited as a result of that considerable work. I previously outlined steps that my Department has taken to ensure that 100 nurse training places each year, over the next three years, will be put in place.


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