Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 22 January 2001


Assembly: New Member

Contaminated Beef

Transport: North/South Ministerial Council
and British-Irish Council Meetings

Public Expenditure: December Monitoring

Fisheries (Amendment) Bill: Consideration Stage

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Assembly Commission

Health and Personal Social Services Bill: Consideration Stage

New Valuation List Order 2000

Assembly: Ad Hoc Committee on Life
Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Assembly: New Member


Mr Speaker:

I have been informed by the Chief Electoral Officer that Mr Tom Hamilton has been returned as a Member of the Assembly for the Strangford constituency to fill the vacancy resulting from the death of Mr Tom Benson.

Contaminated Beef


Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Has the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety or the Minister of Agriculture requested to make a statement today on the issue of contaminated beef in Newry?

Mr Speaker:

I have received no indications that a Minister wishes to make a statement, other than those that are on the annunciator. However, as the Member and the House will be aware, Ministers can make requests for statements at relatively short notice.


Transport: North/South Ministerial Council
and British-Irish Council Meetings

Mr Speaker:

I have received from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister notice that they wish to make a joint statement on the North/South Ministerial Council and British-Irish Council transport meetings that were held on 19 December 2000.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

The First Minister and I wish to make a statement to report to the Assembly on the recent transport sectoral meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, which were held in Belfast on Tuesday, 19 December 2000. The First Minister and I have taken the lead on transport in both councils. It is vital that transport issues be addressed in these two new institutions to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can reap the greatest possible benefit from sharing knowledge and experience, and from co-operation with our neighbours in the South of Ireland, in Great Britain and the other members of the British-Irish Council.

I will make the report on the North/South Ministerial Council meeting, and the First Minister will make the report on the British-Irish Council meeting. This statement has been agreed by Mr Sam Foster, who attended both sectoral meetings, and we make it on his behalf also.

Transport was one of the six areas for enhanced co-operation through existing bodies, North and South, agreed at the inaugural plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council held in Armagh in December 1999. The North/South Ministerial Council transport sectoral meeting held on 19 December 2000 was the first meeting in this sectoral format. The Irish Government were represented by Mary O’Rourke TD, Minister for Public Enterprise, and Noel Dempsey TD, Minister for the Environment and Local Government. The First Minister, Mr Foster and I represented the Executive.

The council considered three broad transport issues at the meeting — strategic transport planning, rail safety and road safety. The council noted that there is already substantial co-operation between the relevant Departments and agencies North and South, on a range of strategic transport planning and road and rail safety issues.

With regard to strategic transport planning, the council identified a number of opportunities for co-operation between North and South. These included potential benefits from the exchange of information on the transportation aspect of Northern Ireland’s ‘Shaping Our Future’ document and Ireland’s development plan and its proposed national spatial strategy. This exchange of information is important to ensure that each jurisdiction can benefit from the research and analysis that the other has carried out. The council also recognised that there was scope to develop our major cross-border road, rail and bus services through enhanced co-operation, exchange of information and experience to enable us to have the best possible transport system in place. Further possibilities for co-operation were the implementation of public and private partnership, transport and the development of sustainable transport.

The council discussed rail safety and agreed that there were opportunities for further co-operation between North and South on legislative proposals for railway safety and standards. It also acknowledged that there would be benefits from the exchange of information and experience on railway safety and on specific accidents or incidents. The council agreed that early meetings with officials would be convened to prepare detailed work programmes on strategic transport planning and rail safety for consideration and approval at a future council meeting.

The council also discussed and approved a programme for enhancing North/South co-operation on road safety. The programme will include joint road safety campaigns and consideration of the possibility of joint promotion of road safety educational initiatives. Departments, North and South, will also exchange information on road safety programmes, targets and priorities. They will explore the scope of a common approach with regard to road safety to the mutual recognition of penalty point offences between both jurisdictions. No driver should regard the border as providing the opportunity to escape his or her responsibilities. An early meeting of officials is to be convened to consider the detailed arrangements and timescales for taking this programme forward with a view to reporting back to a future meeting of the council.

The council also dealt with a number of items of business relating to other North/South Ministerial Council sectors. The council appointed Mr John McKinney as the chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body. The council also appointed the members of the board of Tourism Ireland Limited, the newly established North/ South tourism company. The council agreed that the recommended candidate would be acceptable for appointment as chief executive to Waterways Ireland. The name of the candidate will be announced in due course following agreement on salary and conditions of service.

It was agreed that the next North/South Ministerial Council transport sectoral meeting would take place in March 2001. A copy of the communiqué issued after the meeting has been placed in the Assembly Library.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I would like to report on the British-Irish Council meeting. Transport was identified at the first British-Irish Council summit meeting in London in December 1999 as one of the issues for discussion among the Administrations in sectoral format, and it was agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive would take the lead in this area.

As the Deputy First Minister has said, he and I are taking this matter forward because we recognise the benefits to the people of Northern Ireland from co-operation on transport with other British-Irish Council members.

The first meeting of the British-Irish Council transport sector was held in Belfast on 19 December 2000. The Deputy First Minister, Mr Sam Foster and I represented the Northern Ireland Executive. Her Majesty’s Government was represented by Lord Macdonald, Transport Minister at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The Irish Government was represented by Mary O’Rourke, Minister for Public Enterprise, and Noel Dempsey, Minister of the Environment and Local Government. Representatives of the Administrations in Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey also attended.

We had a wide-ranging discussion covering various aspects of transport. It was recognised that transport cannot be viewed as an issue in isolation. Members of the council agreed on the need for an integrated and sustainable approach to transport issues that would take account of the relevant economic, social and environmental context.

The key issues for each of the member Administrations were identified in discussion. It was acknowledged that members placed different emphases on particular issues. For example, the smaller, remote islands are heavily dependent on their sea and air links, while for other Administrations, including ourselves, road and rail development, as well as adequate access to ports and airports, is vital.

The meeting also recognized that consideration of issues such as urban congestion would bring benefits to all and agreed the need to consider the impact of new technologies on transport. All members agreed that road safety is a key issue where the sharing of knowledge and expertise may help to make significant reductions in the unacceptable number of people killed or injured on our roads.

As a first step, the council considered a range of options with a view to identifying those where co-operation among members would be of greatest benefit. The options identified included sharing knowledge and experience in areas such as the development of public and private partnerships and other sources of funding. Co-operation on the development of sustainable transport policies and programmes to improve road and rail safety were also considered. Particular emphasis was placed on the examination of the potential for improved linkages with peripheral regions and on the difficulties in relation to air links with London, where the pressure on slots at Heathrow has limited the access to London from regional airports.

From Northern Ireland’s viewpoint, we emphasised the importance to us of improved road links, such as the Heysham to M6 route, and of the potential riverside quay on the Mersey, which would significantly reduce the turnaround time of ships in Liverpool. Development of this infrastructure will greatly assist access from Northern Ireland to Britain and to Europe.

The council agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive would convene an early meeting of senior officials to examine options and prepare detailed recommendations for work in a number of initial priority areas. These priorities will include exchanges of information and experience, particularly in relation to public and private partnerships, including the consideration of a possible mechanism to facilitate such exchanges. They will also address regional air links and the potential for co-operation on road safety and integrated transport. The recommendations will then be submitted to a further British-Irish Council meeting for approval. A copy of the communiqué issued following the meeting has been placed in the Assembly Library.

Dr Birnie:

I thank the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister for their reports providing evidence of welcome and useful work, for the general good, in transport. I will ask a question about the North/South aspect and then one in relation to the British-Irish Council.

Could the NSMC, in its future sectoral meetings, investigate why, notwithstanding the many millions of pounds of, often European-backed, funding directed to the Belfast-Dublin rail route, the speeds of the trains are still very low by European standards? Intercity speeds of over 100 mph are common, whereas the Belfast-Dublin route of 100 miles still takes over 2 hours.

10.45 am

With respect to the British-Irish Council, I welcome the evidence of work on air links. Could it investigate the frequency — [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order. Does the Member have a question? The purpose is to ask questions.

Dr Birnie:

Yes, there is a question. Could it investigate the frequency, reliability and cost of Irish Sea ferry links?

The First Minister:

I take the Member’s point regarding the comparison of rail speeds in Europe and in the British Isles. This is a detailed technical question that comes up most clearly when comparing the speeds achieved by Eurostar trains in France to the speeds that can be achieved in England. I think that the question simply relates to technical matters with regard to the track. We can look into that and perhaps get a more detailed answer.

At the British-Irish Council, we looked at the frequency of Irish Sea ferries. It is relevant to the question of obtaining a riverside berth on the Mersey. Obtaining such a berth would result in a reduction in turnaround time of about one-and- a-half hours. That would be quite significant in terms of assisting the frequency of sailings on the Irish Sea.

I should also state that obtaining a riverside berth on the Mersey would be of particular advantage in facilitating access to the rail network that links us, through the Channel Tunnel, to all parts of Europe. This would be of significant benefit to exporters in Northern Ireland as they would not only have a higher frequency of sailings but could then, through trans-shipment onto rail, link into a network going through the tunnel and addressing any destination in Europe.

The Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee (Mr A Maginness):

I welcome the meetings that have taken place and the reports from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Last week we launched a consultation document on the regional transport strategy. A central theme in that document is the importance of quality public transport throughout Northern Ireland. In relation to the detailed transport programmes that are being drawn up between now and the next council meeting, will particular emphasis be put on public transport, in particular the improvement in public transport vis-à-vis the railway network between, for example, Derry and Dublin? Will working parties be set up in relation to those particular areas so that the Assembly can be informed, on a systematic basis, of the work at hand?

The Deputy First Minister:

That is a very relevant question, given that transport is a vital lifeline supporting the economic and social fabric of the North of Ireland. That is why the First Minister and I tried to ensure that these sectoral meetings would take place. As the Member is aware, transport affects every part of life here and therefore it is critically important that we try to ensure, as far as possible, that we develop systems that can improve the lot of everyone in Northern Ireland.

In relation to the specific elements of the questions, there was considerable discussion on how the public transport sector would provide the service required — not just in the greater urban areas but throughout the North of Ireland, especially in rural areas. General transport between North and South was also discussed. I can assure the Member that the studies approved at the two sectoral meetings will centre on those issues, not least of which will be the rail factors that he referred to.

Everybody is aware that the Executive recently agreed to the publication of a rail safety Bill, which will provide new safety-focussed legislation on the operation of railways in Northern Ireland. The authorities in the South are also engaged in producing new safety legislation. Cross-border- services legislation facilitated in both jurisdictions needs to be compatible, and we must ensure that it goes forward in parallel.


Mr P Robinson:

Can the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister tell the House — in the light of section 23(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and several articles and schedules of Statutory Rule 481 of 1999 — how they propose to give effect in Northern Ireland to any agreement reached on 19 December?

The First Minister:

The Member has raised an interesting point. Of course, we expect the Minister for Regional Development to carry out his Pledge of Office. It is regrettable that he has not done so fully heretofore, but I am sure that he recognises that he is under a duty to do so. The Member will also bear in mind that some of the issues touched on at the BIC relate to work that is done in other jurisdictions.

With regard to North/South and east-west transport links, we are at the terminus. We are particularly interested in developments in the other jurisdictions. Of course, a number of the financial matters that we dealt with fall within the responsibility of other Departments. Matters involving finance and legislation are clearly within the purview of the Executive. But what the Member really should have said was that he is going to encourage his Colleague to carry out his responsibilities and not shirk them.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the statement by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on the North/South Council meeting and British-Irish Council meeting in relation to transport. I think that it is very timely, particularly in light of the First Minister’s last comment.

Given the controversy that arose at the weekend over whether Bairbre de Brún would have been nominated by the First Minster for the forthcoming scheduled meeting of the British-Irish Council, I ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister whether that meeting was raised at the Executive meeting last Thursday. If so, was the question of Bairbre de Brún’s nomination dealt with? The reason why I am asking this, Mr Speaker — and I seek your indulgence — is that we have heard throughout this morning’s statement of how important it is to have transport, and other matters relating to the Executive and Assembly, dealt with in both of the institutions. That is even in the first paragraph of the statement. The last part of the First Minister’s response to Peter Robinson was that his own Minister should live up to his responsibilities. However, the First Minister is currently failing to do that in respect of the North/South Ministerial Council. It is important —

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member is aware that questions on statements have to relate to the statement concerned. The Member has, in the course of his question, adverted to another sectoral BIC — reputed BIC — meeting and what may have happened at the Executive Committee. If the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister wish to make a response, I am quite content to call them to do so.

There is no requirement for them to make a response because the matter raised by the Member is tangential to the statement that has been made. They are not prohibited from responding, of course.

Mr Maskey:

May I finish my question? It is very basic.

Mr Speaker:

Please do so as concisely as possible.

Mr Maskey:

Are the statements consistent with the First Minister’s refusal to nominate Sinn Féin Ministers to any of these institutions?

The Deputy First Minister:

Discussions at Executive level are confidential and the Member will be aware of that. Certainly, he would expect the First Minister and myself to respect that confidentiality in relation to the details of that plenary meeting of the British-Irish Council tomorrow.

The two Governments have taken a decision whereby — because of the ongoing negotiations — that plenary meeting will be postponed until a later date. The two Governments will be making an announcement to that effect this morning.

Mr Neeson:

In both statements, reference was made to public/private partnerships in the rail network. What progress has been made in developing public/private partnerships in Northern Ireland? I would remind the First Minister that Richard Branson was paraded before us prior to the vote on the referendum.

As regards the British-Irish Council, were there any discussions concerning improvements of the road from Stranraer to Carlisle?

The First Minister:

As regards the latter point, the A75 (Stranraer-Carlisle) was mentioned. In particular, we mentioned that that road now bypasses all towns, except for two small villages, which are to be bypassed at a later date. The Scottish representative was not in a position to make a statement in regard to that matter, however, over the course of the last decade, there has been quite a considerable improvement to the A75. This has considerably reduced the journey time from Stranraer to the M6 at Carlisle.

The issue of public-private partnerships was discussed as it is of considerable interest to us. If we are to tackle transport investment and investment in other matters, we must look closely at public-private partnerships. This has been referred to in the Programme for Government. We have a limited experience of operating public-private partnerships. The experience in England is much greater. The discussion at the British-Irish Council involved ourselves and the Republic of Ireland representatives asking Lord Macdonald to make experience of operating these partnerships available to us, which he has agreed to do. That will enable us to take greater advantage more rapidly of public-private partnerships.

Mr Ervine:

Why do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister consider it important to tell us who represents the Irish Government at these affairs, and not tell us who represents Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey? I am not sure if the intention is to elevate the Irish region and diminish all other regions involved in the British-Irish Council. It is important — not simply because one is elevated and one is diminished on my paper — because Members ought to know the identities of those who they may wish to contact in relation to the subject matter being discussed. If Members are told the makeup of one group, they should be told the makeup in all cases.

The Deputy First Minister:

There is no intention to elevate one administration above another. Lest there be any doubt, Lord Macdonald represented the British Government. Mr Phillip Pain, director of the Isle of Man airport, represented the Isle of Man. Jersey was represented by Mr Colin Powell, adviser of air and shipping services, whilst Guernsey was represented by Deputy Michael Torode, vice president for the State of Guernsey transport board. All those details are in the Library, as I said earlier.

11.00 am

The Deputy Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee (Mr McFarland):

There has been mention recently in the media of the difficulty of pursuing driving offences from one jurisdiction in another. Did the meeting discuss a system for the transfer of penalty points for driving offences between jurisdictions, east-west or North/South?

The Deputy First Minister rose.

The First Minister:

The matter was discussed with great interest, and from our response you can see our eagerness on the issue.

This is a very serious point. The Irish representatives pointed out that a significant percentage of traffic accidents occur in the border region. There are a number of factors in that, but part of the reason is that people, when they cross the border, think that they can take greater risks because they are not going to be liable to penalties in the same way. For that reason, there is a clear need for some correspondence with regard to penalty points imposed in one jurisdiction applying in others. We also discussed the mutual recognition of disqualifications between jurisdictions.

A penalty point scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland in October 1997, and it has to be said that the majority of points imposed are for excessive speed. The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions in London intend this year to bring forward legislative proposals for mutual recognition of penalty point offences between Northern Ireland and GB. That would extend to mutual recognition of disqualifications.

The Republic of Ireland intends to introduce a penalty point system from the end of 2001. There was discussion at NSMC and at BIC of the desirability of mutual recognition between North and South on these matters. Following the introduction of penalty points in the Republic of Ireland, the opportunity will exist to address the practicalities and the need for legislation for mutual recognition between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In addition, of course, with the arrangement for mutual recognition between GB and Northern Ireland, there is then the prospect of having mutual recognition of points and disqualification throughout the British Isles. That is appropriate, because the whole of the British Isles is a common travel area. That is a very good reason for having a commonality in relation to road offences so as to protect the safety of other road users.

Mr McMenamin:

Are the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister aware of the widespread welcome for Tourism Ireland? Can they outline what functions Tourism Ireland will undertake and when it will assume responsibility for them?

The Deputy First Minister:

The new tourism board is actually a very important and crucial part of the arrangements in relation to North/South co-operation and in their implementation. Some time ago, the view was taken that the tourism board should be able to fulfil, on a wide scale, the type of functions that would increase the attraction of the island of Ireland and benefit tourism in the North of Ireland.

That underpinned the setting up of the new tourism board, which is now developing. I believe that it will be able to develop substantially and will deliver according to Northern Ireland’s need for a fundamental development of tourism. A new chairman has been appointed. He comes from the North of Ireland and has vast experience in the tourism business. I believe that he will have the confidence of everyone, and I look forward to his contribution.

I assure the Member that this is one of the key areas for development. It is key to the economy. It is key to the development of the industry and it will be pursued vigorously.

Mr Poots:

Can the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister explain why they failed to raise the issue of tax on people flying within the United Kingdom at the British-Irish Council meeting? If they did raise the matter it is not in the report.

Can they also indicate when the next meeting of the British-Irish Council is to take place? Is the fact that tomorrow’s meeting has been postponed not symptomatic of the crisis in that strand of the Belfast Agreement?

The First Minister:

I am sorry that the Member resorted to such phraseology at the end of his question. His premise is completely erroneous. As the Deputy First Minister stated, and as it has been trailed in some newspapers this morning, the British and Irish Governments have decided to postpone the plenary session of the British-Irish Council for a few weeks, because of ongoing political discussions. The view taken by the British and Irish Governments was that to hold a meeting would be a distraction in the context of those discussions. We hope that those discussions will result in significant progress in the implementation of the agreement. Therefore we see those developments — if they progress as we hope — as being part of the success of the agreement. I look forward to the Member being disappointed on this matter.

As regards airport tax, if his Colleague did his job properly and attended the meetings he could have raised the issue.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

I do not normally take points of order during statements. I will call the Member at the end if he has a point of order to make.

Mr J Kelly:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. In December 1999 it was agreed that transport would be one of the six areas for enhanced co-operation. At that time it was welcomed as an item for discussion because of its impact on the environment and on those involved in transport and in the road and rail infrastructure. Can the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister indicate the reason for the delay in calling a North/South Ministerial Council meeting on transport until a year later?

The Deputy First Minister:

This matter is one in which the Member is probably already well informed. There is no secret about the fact that the relevant Minister has consistently refused to participate in sectoral meetings in relation to that area agreed by the Assembly and to which the Pledge of Office applies. A decision then had to be taken on how to proceed, and it was that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister would start the process of involvement in sectoral meetings in relation to transport. In the circumstances, this was the type of approach that would find favour with all who wish to see the crucial issue of transport developed, not just within the Programme for Government but also the programme of relationships with our nearest neighbours — Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Beggs:

Will the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister advise if the importance of the trans-European network is recognised by the British-Irish Council? In that context can they advise if there were, or are, plans to discuss the importance of upgrading the east Antrim rail link to Larne or upgrading the A8 road to Larne, to improve safety and reduce congestion? Is it recognised that these routes are important not only for us but for people in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and the north of England?

The First Minister:

We recognise the importance of trans-European networks and, as the Member has mentioned, that they have implications for some road links within Northern Ireland. At the meetings of the North/South Ministerial Council and the British- Irish Council we did not deal with those specific matters. At the NSMC meeting there was a discussion with reference to rail links, although not specifically the Larne link. Of course, in the context of the British-Irish Council, we are more concerned with the links from Northern Ireland across England to Europe. We therefore did not directly address the question of the A8 or the rail link to Larne. They are extremely important — the A8 in particular — but that discussion did not come up in the context of the British-Irish Council.

Mr Byrne:

I welcome the statement particularly in relation to developing stronger North/South co-operation on roads development along the border from Newry to Derry. Can the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster confirm that the Minister for Regional Development did not take part in the North/South Ministerial Council? Can they inform the House in what way the same Minister has been involved in the Programme for Government, particularly in relation to infrastructure and roads development? The Minister said before Christmas that he would be willing to meet the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in the Republic on the question of transport.

Finally, I welcome the appointment of John McKinney as chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body. When will the Omagh office be up and running?

The Deputy First Minister:

The answer to the Member’s first question is self-explanatory — no, the relevant Minister did not take part in either the North/South Ministerial Council meeting or the British- Irish Council meeting. In relation to his second question, an office of the Special EU Programmes Body was opened in Omagh on 4 September 2000 in temporary premises in the Omagh District Council office. It will relocate to permanent premises shortly. The Omagh office will have overall responsibility for monitoring and promoting the implementation of the common chapter and will also be responsible for managing the cross-border priority of Peace II, including responsibility for grant making. It is a matter for each of the bodies concerned to decide on the premises to occupy, when to occupy them and how to administer them.

Mr R Hutchinson:

Was there anything agreed on 19 December 2000 at the North/South Ministerial Council which could not have been agreed by way of normal relations between two countries outside the politically inspired institution?

The First Minister:

The Member makes the valid point that, prior to the existence of the North/South Ministerial Council, there were frequent bilateral meetings between Belfast and Dublin, and, indeed, formal agreements on joint operations. I recall, in particular, the joint agreement in relation to the operation of the rail link where, from 1953 for a number of years, a North/South group of civil servants ran the railways. Nobody got worried about North/South institutions and bodies, even though they were exercising executive functions in that context. What we have now in the North/South Ministerial Council is an opportunity to regularise those links and put them on a coherent basis. The Member is right to say that it could have been done on a bilateral basis, but we think that it is better done on a coherent basis. By asking that question, the Member is drawing attention to the absolute hypocrisy of the Minister who is prepared to engage in North/South activity on a bilateral basis but will not do so on a structured basis. There is no coherence in that position at all.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas agus is maith an rud gur tharla an dá chruinniú thábhachtacha seo roimh an Nollaig. I welcome the fact that meetings happened before Christmas, and I am particularly pleased to note a number of positive developments towards harmonisation nationally. Was the subject of free transport provision for senior citizens in the Six Counties discussed? Has any progress been made on this matter so that senior citizens can begin to benefit from the free transport from which senior citizens in the rest of Ireland have benefited for many years? Was there any specific recognition of the scope to develop the A5-N2 Derry-Dublin road through Strabane, Omagh, Aughnacloy and Monaghan - one of our key transportation corridors?

11.15 am

The Deputy First Minister:

I have a more than passing interest in the provision of transport for senior citizens. The issue is included in the Programme for Government, and therefore it is a matter for the Executive and the Assembly. I firmly believe that it should be proceeded with very quickly because its absence is putting people, particularly those living in rural areas, at a disadvantage. Passing reference was made to the matter, but it should be regarded as a matter for the Assembly and the Executive as part of the strategic element of transport development.

On the subject of the Derry to Dublin road, there was a long discussion about two key elements in road development - major trunk roads and smaller roads, which are essential to people's everyday lives. Members will agree, however, that it would be wrong for Executive representatives at these sectoral meetings to focus on specific road links. There have been questions about the Larne link and the Derry to Dublin link. It is essential that all key trunk roads are dealt with efficiently and quickly, and that the lesser roads service is improved to the standard which people in border areas are entitled to expect.

Ms Hanna:

I too welcome the statement on transport, planning and safety. Will the Deputy First Minister comment on the success, or otherwise, of the very hard- hitting Christmas and new-year drink/driving campaign? Can he comment on the co-operation and co-ordination between the two jurisdictions on this campaign? Can he also indicate what other measures they can take to reduce the awful death toll on our roads, North and South?


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