Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 13 February 2001
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):
From Tuesday 30 January to Friday 2 February 2001, Northern Ireland had more doors open to it in mainland Europe than at any time in the last decades of the twentieth century. We were warmly received, we broke new ground and our economic message reached a wide and influential audience.
Two simple themes dominated our four-day tour. The first was that Northern Ireland, through its new institutions, is steering a course to a new era of economic well-being and prosperity. The second was the straightforward and attractive business case for inward investment, strategic and trade opportunities, and what our academic institutions can contribute in the fields of research and cutting-edge technologies. Tourism also featured prominently in our presentations.
We embarked on the European marketing campaign to tell audiences in France and Germany that in this Assembly the potential exists to put conflict behind us and that together we are building a new and inclusive society for all our people. I have great pleasure in reporting to the Assembly that we achieved all three objectives. I will attempt to put some meat on the bones of each of those points.
In the first instance, the campaign was given a political focus through the active participation of our First and Deputy First Ministers. Without them, the venture would not have been as successful. History was made on the first leg of the tour in Paris when, for the first time, the leaders of the new Administration met with a European head of state, President Jacques Chirac.
They briefed President Chirac on devolution, told him how we are now managing our affairs and how our economy is performing and set out our many advantages as a business partner and business location. The First Minister described their meeting at the Elysée Palace as "a milestone", an assessment wholeheartedly endorsed by the Deputy First Minister. For his part, President Chirac was fulsome in his praise for what we are trying to achieve here. Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon found a willing ally, but without them this high-profile meeting would not have taken place.
Following the meeting with President Chirac, both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister met the European Minister in the French Government, Mr Moscovici, to brief him on the position in Northern Ireland.
Before their courtesy call on President Chirac, an audience of over 200 business people heard at first hand what the Northern Ireland of today has to offer Europe. This lunchtime event was organised by the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF), the French equivalent of the CBI, and took place in the ornate surroundings of Le Grand Hôtel.
Seven subsidiaries of French companies have a presence in Northern Ireland and, between them, employ more than 3,000 people. France is the leading European investor in the Province, and its approval and endorsement are significant. For example, the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, M Daniel Bernard, made our task all the easier when he told the gathering that "Northern Ireland is a good bet. Northern Ireland is good for business". M François Périgot, who is the Chairman of MEDEF, talked about the "remarkable economic dynamism in Northern Ireland", adding later in his speech that the region is "a safe investment".
Not too long ago, such glowing accolades would have been unthinkable. They are happening now in national capitals because we are coming out from under the cloud of violence and hopelessness — some would say more slowly than we should — into an era in which hope and confidence can flourish.
That event on its own was a resounding success. Executives from French industry and business were impressed with the presentations delivered by Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon, and many stayed behind to ask follow-up questions and establish contact with IDB personnel, who were on hand to maximise the opportunities. Later, Sir Michael Jay, the British Ambassador, and Mr Patrick O’Connor, the Irish Ambassador, hosted a dinner in the British residence.
From Paris, our European marketing campaign headed to Düsseldorf, the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. Ongoing political discussions at home meant that this leg of the tour had to be conducted without the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. At this point, my ministerial Colleague, Dr Sean Farren, joined the party. Together we paid courtesy calls on civic leaders and had a very worthwhile and productive meeting with the region’s Economy Minister, Herr Ernst Schwannhold. Our discussion was wide-ranging, taking in the desirability of establishing closer links between our academic institutions and the scope that exists for strategic alliances in the areas of biotechnology, avionics, informatics and textiles.
It was clear from this wide-ranging discussion that considerable scope exists for meaningful and very practical co-operation. Our hosts heard of the ground-breaking research being conducted here, and it seemed to us to be logical to explore the feasibility of involving institutions from Düsseldorf in the work. Both Dr Farren’s office and the IDB are undertaking follow-up work in that regard.
Our visit to Düsseldorf culminated in a very successful dinner, attended by business people and key influencers, at which a multi-media presentation was made on the Northern Ireland business opportunity. Furthermore, we were delighted to announce that the German company, M&M Software GmbH, is setting up a new software development operation in Northern Ireland. This announcement sent a strong message to other German companies that Northern Ireland is a cost-effective location with high-quality software engineers.
The dinner was followed by a musical finale, led by Belfast soprano Angela Feeney and her Laganside group of young musicians. I have to say that if Members had been present, they would have been very proud of Angela’s performance and that of the young musicians from Northern Ireland who were with her. They were absolutely superb and had the audience captivated. IDB’s Düsseldorf office is actively following up the business contacts generated by the event.
We arrived in Berlin the following day. As in Paris, there was considerable media and press interest. The First Minister and Dr Farren paid a courtesy call on the Federal Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, and briefed him on political and economic developments before returning to the British Embassy for a lunch that was jointly hosted by the British and Irish Ambassadors, Sir Paul Lever and Noel Fahey. The guest of honour was Dr Manfred Stolpe, Ministerpräsident of Brandenburg.
All of this would not have been possible without the organisational skills and contacts that have been carefully nurtured by IDB. The work done by IDB personnel and others paved the way for this historic visit, and I place on record my thanks and the thanks of my ministerial Colleagues, for the superb way IDB managed the tour.
Thanks are also due to the ambassadors and staff at the British embassies in Paris and Berlin, Sir Michael Jay and Sir Paul Lever, and to their Irish counterparts Mr Patrick O’Connor and Mr Noel Fahey. Thanks are due also to Her Majesty’s Consul General in Düsseldorf, Northern Ireland-born diplomat Boyd McCleary. Their enthusiasm to assist was matched by our own eagerness to deliver our confident and up-beat economic messages to very receptive French and German audiences.
The four-day tour was not about going to Europe to ask for help. It was not about meeting senior politicians, important although that is. It was about telling our story, our way, with honesty, conviction and some pride. It is a good story; one that gets better as each week goes by. We have the youngest and most highly talented workforce in the United Kingdom. Our manufacturing output is up 35% in the last decade. Overseas investment last year has more than doubled on that in the previous year. Eight out of every 10 new jobs promoted by IDB are with high-tech, knowledge-based companies. Tourism, which has long been in the doldrums, has bounced back with record levels of visitors. Our education system and comprehensive training programmes are the envy of many other regions.
In France, our sixth-largest export market, and in Germany, in fourth place, our mission was to explain that Northern Ireland is good for business, and has attractions few other regions can boast.
We want trade to grow, we want businesses to flourish, and collectively we will do all that we can to position Northern Ireland at the top of every political and business leader’s agenda. The initiatives are invaluable and do bear fruit. There is no instant panacea, no magic formula, just careful contact-building and meticulous follow-up. That is the job we are now undertaking, but it is made easier by having the support and endorsement of the House and the Executive.
There is now greater awareness in France and Germany of what we are creating here. In those countries there is a willingness to support our efforts to build a vibrant and successful economy. In France and Germany, there are European partners who want to see us achieve the goal of long-term peace and stability.
The IDB will continue to pursue the many business leads resulting from this visit. I have no doubt that increased business will follow, and for those industrialists seeking to expand, they will find the right partner and the right business environment in Northern Ireland. When we open our representative office in Brussels later this year I hope we will have a firm platform upon which to build our message to mainland Europe.
I commend the statement to the House.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee (Mr Neeson):
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive report and congratulate him and his Colleagues for taking this initiative. Are there any special areas of interest shown by people in France and Germany? What plans do he and his Department have as a follow-up? Looking further ahead, and bearing in mind the forthcoming enlargement of the European Union, what plans do he and his Department have to help Northern Ireland take advantage of the situation?
Sir Reg Empey:
There were special areas of interest. When in North Rhine-Westphalia I was accompanied by Dr Farren at a meeting with the Economics Minister. To put the North Rhine-Westphalia area into context, the gross domestic product of that state is equivalent to 25% of the gross domestic product of Germany.
We are therefore talking about a very significant area. There was clear evidence there of a willingness to co-operate on pursuing biotechnology issues, and Dr Farren is actively involved in trying to link our universities with the relevant counterparts in Düsseldorf. We have both issued a personal invitation to the Minister of Economics and Technology to visit Northern Ireland. We understand that he is coming to London later in the year, and we are trying to arrange a visit for him to Northern Ireland. We also met the mayor of Düsseldorf earlier in the day, and he is coming to Northern Ireland in June. Düsseldorf is a very vibrant city. The recent takeover by Vodafone Group plc of Mannesmann AG, which is one of the main employers in Düsseldorf, has put British industry very much in the centre of the scene there.
Members may be aware that we have a Düsseldorf office. That office did an enormous amount of work and is actively following up a number of very significant software companies, including some young software companies, in that area.
We also discussed air links, because one of the big problems that we have as a region is the absence of direct links to mainland Europe. We have only one or two at present, and I believe that there is significant potential, if we can follow that up.
The Member made a point about enlargement. As he probably knows, my Department has the NI-CO organisation, which specialises in offering services to other countries — particularly those in eastern Europe. That organisation is actively pursuing contracts and working with the Department for International Development in London so that we can inject expertise from Northern Ireland companies, and indeed public service contracts, into companies which are currently supported by the European Union through schemes — such as Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) — or potential enlargement countries. Activity is ongoing, and the test, of course, will be whether in the long run we are able to land some of these companies. The prospects seem to be encouraging.
I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive report. I am sure that he would wish to commend those companies that already export to the French and German markets. My question focuses on the commercial links between Northern Ireland and those two countries. Exports from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland grew by 81% between 1991 and 1999, by 34% to the rest of the European Union, and by 176% to the rest of the world, outside the EU. Does the Minister agree that such figures indicate that our companies have shown commendable flexibility in facing various values of the pound sterling, and that there is a need for IDB and trade agency policy to focus on EU markets over and above the Republic of Ireland market?
Sir Reg Empey:
The export performance of Northern Ireland in recent years has been commendable. We have had a mountain to climb. With the euro sometimes over 30% ahead of us, our exporters have had a huge problem with the sterling value. Although there has been significant improvement in our exports to the Republic, there is still a significant deficit in our trade with the Republic. I am hoping that through InterTradeIreland, and other efforts and initiatives, we will gradually overcome that. It is certainly our intention to grow that trade.
However, a lot of concentration in recent times has been on the north American market, because that is where the growth has been coming from. That is where the investment has, by and large, been coming from — generated and assisted by currency stability between sterling and the dollar. That has been a pattern in recent years, and clearly it has allowed this area to develop. Having said that, it is clear that in the past couple of months there has been a gradual erosion in the differential between sterling and the euro. I hope that that trend continues. I believe that it is now an opportune time to involve ourselves with our European partners to a greater extent than has been the case.
The reason for that is very simple — our economies, I believe, are gradually converging. The expansion of the European Union is in the pipeline, and it is going to become a market of well over 400 million people. It would be foolish for such a small region as ours to ignore that market. The European Union has given us very considerable support, financially and in other ways, over recent years. Very few regions in Europe would receive the great welcome that we have had. Our Ministers can go and see a head of state and other senior Government Ministers in two of the principal European capitals. The opportunity is clear, and the door is open.
Our European partners have a significant understanding of our situation here — they were very well informed, and the press was very interested. When our representation is opened in Brussels, I hope that there will be an economic dimension to it. I intend to see that our European partners are vigorously targeted from a trade and investment point of view.
I ask Members to be reasonably concise because quite a number wish to ask questions.
It is good to see that Ministers are going out and seeking inward investment — that is what we really need. What is the state of current German investment here? The Minister announced that M & M Software was going to set up another software company here. How successful is the current drive for German investment? I know that he is expecting the arrival in June of the Mayor of Düsseldorf. However, what additional investment is he expecting as a result of his visit to Düsseldorf?
Sir Reg Empey:
A number of German companies are based in Northern Ireland. The Member will know that Arntz has been operating in her constituency for many years and is well established. Another company of which the Member may be aware is Hüco Lightronic in Limavady. I presented an award there when the expansion of the company was announced a few weeks ago, and the company was represented at our function in Düsseldorf. It has achieved very significant training awards throughout the UK, and it is doing very well.
However, the scale of the German economy and the level of investment here are not matched. In other words, we are very significantly under-represented in terms of German investment. It is our fourth-largest export market, but it is well down the list of investors here, and that is why we have a small office in Düsseldorf. Most of the potential contacts that are there at the moment tend to be involved in the software and telecoms sector. Officials tell me that they are optimistic, and we believe that a number of significant companies are on the verge of committing themselves to Northern Ireland.
But, to be frank, one of the evident difficulties is that, although there is a willingness to consider Northern Ireland as a location, particularly because of our supply of software expertise, potential investors are still nervous about our situation. One of the purposes of being out in the marketplace is to make personal contacts and to make people feel more comfortable. But it is a fact of life that our job, both in tourism and in attracting inward investment, will remain at a disadvantage until things settle down here and people feel confident that the past is genuinely behind us. That is our single biggest obstacle. But, nevertheless and notwithstanding, we have been getting a small amount of investment from that area — it is far less than it should be, and that is why we are concentrating there.
I am delighted that the Minister did not advertise Northern Ireland as a low-wage economy — we have been using that selling point for far too long, and we need to put it behind us.
This Minister is aware that many areas in Northern Ireland suffer from a skills shortage. Is it not a danger that he may stimulate a demand in some of the companies he has targeted which cannot be met, given that we do not have the trained young people available to take up the jobs on offer? Is he content and certain that if results accrue from his trade mission, we will be able to deliver the workforce that is required?
Sir Reg Empey:
That is a very sensible question. We have a comparatively low-cost economy, and that is a perfectly legitimate point to market. I agree that we should not be marketing a low-wage economy; in fact that is entirely the wrong way to go. However, I have been in contact with my Colleague Dr Farren very closely on this, and our Departments are very acutely aware of the skills position. Yes, it is true that bottlenecks are beginning to emerge in the labour market. However, because of the demographic profile of our population, we have a significant flow into the labour market every year, and we have to ensure sufficient job opportunities for those people.
It is a balancing act, particularly when unemployment is at historically low levels — we are not used to that. Nevertheless, to take our foot off the accelerator at this stage would be a mistake, because as the Member will know there are ebbs and flows and cycles in an economy, and we will have bad days as well as good. Dr Farren and his Department are working very closely with mine on this. We are doing our level best to ensure that the demands of industry are met through the training and education and also through our Track Back Programme, Back to the Future, which is endeavouring to bring experienced people back to Northern Ireland. We believe that this combination will ensure that potential investors find the labour they require.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s very positive statement and congratulate him on the success of the mission. The delegation seems to have done remarkable work in its four days away.
I refer the Minister to his words, "we are building a new inclusive society for all our people". How does he feel this objective will be achieved when the First Minister continues to enforce an unlawful ban on the legitimate attendance of Sinn Feín Ministers at North/South Ministerial meetings and has threatened to extend his unlawful activities?
When his Department embarks on trade missions and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have to be replaced, why is it the norm that preference for replacement is given to Members from their own parties? How can this contribute to the principle of inclusiveness?
Sir Reg Empey:
I suspect that one or two of those points are slightly at variance with the subject matter in front of us today. Our objective in the Programme for Government is to ensure that we provide the best possible economic circumstances in which people can have an expectation of and an opportunity to obtain fulfilling careers and work. As an economic objective, that is entirely consistent with inclusiveness. I do not want to get involved in an argument with the hon Lady over these other matters; however, I will reiterate that the best way to ensure inclusion in any society is to provide general access to good jobs. What can be more inclusive than conditions in which everyone can have a stake and a wage, something to protect and the ability to deliver a standard of living to his family? I am sure the Member will agree with that.
Let me turn to the substance of what the hon Lady was saying. We can have our political arguments, but if we go back to the source of these we face difficulties and meet concerns about whether we have settled our affairs.
It is perfectly clear that these things are not entirely settled, and that is the underlying reason. Dr Farren’s appearance was entirely appropriate because his Department and my Department work closely together on training and employment matters, which are, of course, an integral part of our economic drive. If the hon Member refers to ‘Strategy 2010’, produced some two years ago, she will see that there is an inextricable link between training and employment and economic development. Our two Departments work closely together to ensure that our activities are co-ordinated and entirely consistent with economic development.
I would like to join with those Members who have congratulated the Minister on what seems to have been a remarkable visit. It is very valuable to start focusing on continental Europe.
Can the Minister go into more detail on the concrete business links that could be made and the subsequent follow-up, and can he put this in the context of the major problem we face with inward investment, namely our decision to stay outside the euro zone? Was the issue raised in meetings with the French and Germans? The Minister has said that our past is the single biggest obstacle to investment. Does he not agree that our future outside the euro zone is also a major obstacle and is he not be tempted to encourage our entry to the euro zone?
Sir Reg Empey:
The logic of the euro zone is to follow consistent economic policies across those member countries that are included. Yesterday’s meeting of Finance Ministers in Brussels saw Mr McCreevy of the Irish Republic put into quarantine because he was pursuing his own economic policies. So, the club is OK as long you are allowed to do whatever you like.
I understand the difficulties the euro has caused in terms of some of Northern Ireland’s exports, but it must be remembered that countries that can buy in the euro and sell in the dollar — and quite a number of Northern Ireland companies do that — have done quite well over the past few years. In fact, we have significantly developed our trade with North America and the rest of the world.
The problem is that the euro is undervalued, not that sterling is overvalued, and I hope the current convergence will continue. However, as we have seen with Mr McCreevy, the fact is that if you hand over control of interest rates to somebody else — which is what joining the euro means — there are consequences such as Germany’s wanting lower interest rates and Ireland’s needing higher ones. That is the current reality. This absence is slowing down growth in Germany and creating inflation in the Republic.
Economies were not properly converged when member states joined. The principle of whether a nation can keep control over its economy must be considered. I think it would be madness for the United Kingdom to join the euro, particularly at the present levels of exchange, and I do not believe that there is consensus in the United Kingdom.
There has been vigorous follow-up because the IDB was involved in selecting and inviting companies, especially so in Germany, and the MEDEF was involved in the selection of people who attended the Paris function.
To have the French Ambassador stand up to market Northern Ireland to his fellow countrymen was remarkable. It was also remarkable, in one day, to see the representatives of a small nation meet the President of the French Republic, the French Minister of European Affairs and top industrialists and to be addressed by the French Ambassador and the head of the equivalent of the CBI and be told that this is a good place in which to invest. Those things were inconceivable a few years ago, and I hope people understand their significance for our future.
May I remind the House that questions should relate to the Minister’s statement to his ministerial remit. Decisions on the euro go slightly higher up the tree than those that our devolved Assembly can take.
I congratulate and thank the Minister for his extremely positive statement. Will he confirm that an unprecedented number of contacts were made during the visit and that Northern Ireland plc received an unprecedented level of marketing? Does he also agree that much of the visit’s success was due to the fact that our institutions are up and running and that those from here who attended presented a united front?
Sir Reg Empey:
High quality contacts were made and, if I could relate to our German experience, it was a significant advantage that the Consul General in Düsseldorf, who is a very experienced diplomat, comes from Belfast. The Düsseldorf Consul General’s office is responsible for all United Kingdom economic activity in Germany. Therefore, although it is a consulate, it is in charge of all the UK’s inward investment activity. It is a powerful office, employing over 70 staff dedicated to economic development and co-operation.
There is no doubt that to mount that type of operation without the institutions in place would have been difficult. Yes, it has been done in the past, but a federal state like Germany, with its own Ministers and Government in each state, can now relate to us as a region. A similar situation exists in France. The message that our colleagues in Europe got from us, as well as information on what has been happening, was infinitely more positive than it would have been a few years ago when we were effectively seen as a war zone. Europe correctly takes some degree of pride in the fact that it has made financial and unique contributions to here. The Member for North Down, Ms Morrice, will understand from her previous position that I mean "unique" in terms of peace and reconciliation. Those are things that have never happened before — no previous examples exist. Our European colleagues are paying close attention and are impressed by the progress that has been made. They understand that we have not yet reached a conclusion, but, nevertheless, valuable contacts have been made. But for our current situation, that would not have been possible.
I want to congratulate the Minister, the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Minister of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment for what has clearly been a success story. Having worked with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and observed his activities on the other side of the Atlantic, I expect very high standards from him. However, the greatest potential for immediate benefit from Germany and France lies in tourism. Can the Minister give us any good news on that front? Does the Tourist Board plan to market tourism more in France and Germany? I see the marketing of tourism as a continuation of the efforts that the Minister made during his visit. By selling Northern Ireland, the Tourist Board should add value to that visit.
Sir Reg Empey:
That is a very interesting question. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has appointed an agent in Paris. Last year in tourism there was an increase of 44% in the number of visitors from France. The figures went up to over 18,000. That is not a huge number, but it has an advantage in that it represents high, added-value visitors.
The people being targeted for tourism are not those who go for two weeks in the sun in Ibiza — it is not that type of a market. There is great interest in our culture, heritage, gardens, hunting, shooting and fishing — this type of holiday is popular in France. Certain small companies specialise in such holidays, and our agent has good links with them. I did an interview with a leading French tourist journal. A marketing member from the Tourist Board accompanied me and went on to make further contacts.
There is a similar situation in Germany. Germans hire a significant number of the cruisers on Lough Erne, and they have stayed loyal throughout the difficult years. It is this type of specialist, natural-resource based tourism, with a high value added, that is the type of targeted market we must address. We have had a good success with France in the last year. We need to work hard on the German market, and our representation in Brussels, when we get it up and running, will provide us with a base.
It is about targeting these specialist, high value areas, which are not so subject to price fluctuation. We do have to bear in mind that we have been walking uphill against the currency differential. However, the tourist potential in France is high and the performance last year was excellent, with a 44% increase.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, in which he says tourism is bouncing back with record levels of visitors. If this continues, do we have enough bed places to facilitate the visitors? If not, has he any plans to grant-aid farmers who want to diversify into providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation?
Sir Reg Empey:
That is a very useful contribution. If we get the level of tourists we should be getting, the answer is we would not have the capacity to cope with them. I have said before in the House that our tourism is operating at roughly one third of what it should be. If we compare ourselves with our nearest neighbours in Scotland and the Republic, tourism accounts for about 6% of their gross domestic product — here it is less than 2%.
We need to look closely at diversification by farmers. We have a scheme where if two or more units are being converted then the tourist board can contribute and help. Some people may be starting from scratch, and there are business start-up opportunities from LEDU that could be pursued. If the Member has any examples in his own constituency I would be very happy to look at them for him. We do need to refine that particular market more.
However, I have to say this — and it is not a new thing but it is something that we all need to be aware of. Because of our particular circumstances every summer we are creating a "black hole" for tourism in July and August. The best part of our season is turning into a disaster and this has been going on for years. Despite that we have been able to increase our numbers, which is miraculous. Until we get the matter resolved, we will not get tourism to a point where it should be.
It is a chicken-and-egg situation — people will not invest unless the tourists are here and tourists will not come here unless the situation settles. The major bus companies and tour operators are saying "We will come on the shoulder of the season, in April and October, but we are not bringing our people into a firefight in July". Everybody in the House has to realise the implications of what we are doing. We understand the reasons, and I will not get involved in the arguments now, but the matter has to be resolved before we can really get tourism off the ground.
I appreciate the contribution from the Member.
My question to the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment comes from a desire that the perception of Northern Ireland should be based on political reality and not on political spin. How can he say to the French and the Germans that the potential exists to put conflict behind us, when, within the terms of the Belfast Agreement, there is no requirement for the terrorists to give up their weapons and when, in the process of this current negotiation, the terrorists on both sides have not only refused to give up their weapons but have been replenishing their arsenals?
I have to say that that is thoroughly wide of the statement that the Minister has made — thoroughly wide. The Minister may respond, if he wishes, to the first few words of the question, which were relevant. It becomes rather pointless if every statement that every Minister makes on any subject ends up with the same chorus, even if the verses sometimes differ.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I am not taking a point of order at this time.
Sir Reg Empey:
Perhaps one of my mistakes was not to bring the hon Member on the tour. I understand the points he makes, and I understand only too well that things are not settled here.
However, if we go about with that type of attitude, this place will be economic scorched earth. Is that what the Member wants?
The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Ms de Brún):
Is mian liom tuairisc a thabhairt don Tionól faoin eolas atá faighte agam maidir leis an mhéid orgáin daoine atá á gcoinneáil in ospidéil i ndiaidh scrúduithe iarbháis. Beidh mé ag fógairt fosta réimse beart a bhéas mé a dhéanamh le tuilleadh imscrúdaithe a dhéanamh ar an chleachtas a bhí ann san am a chuaigh thart, le tacaíocht a thabhairt do na teaghlaigh a mbaineann an t-ábhar seo leo agus lena chinntiú go mbeidh an cleachtas sa todhchaí bunaithe go daingean ar an phrionsabal gur gá toiliú eolasach a bheith ann.
Nuair a tháinig an t-ábhar seo chun solais a chéaduair an mhí seo caite, d’éiligh mé go ndéanfaí imscrúdú láithreach le scála na faidhbe agus líon na n-orgán a coinníodh a aimsiú. Mar chuid de seo, scríobh mo Phríomh-Oifigeach Míochaine chuig gach iontaobhas SSS le heolas a fháil faoi na cleachtais atá acu maidir le scrúduithe iarbháis agus orgáin a choinneáil.
Thig liom a thuairisciú anois go ndearnadh 50,000 scrúdú iarbháis in ospidéil ón bhliain 1970. Rinne paiteolaithe stáit formhór acu siúd faoin Coroners Act.
Tuairiscíodh gur coinníodh 376 orgán páistí san iomlán sular tugadh na treoirlínte reatha isteach, agus go bhfuil siad á gcoinneáil gan toiliú eolasach tuismitheoirí: go bhfuil 361 díobh in Ospidéal Ríoga Victoria agus 15 eile díobh in Ospidéal Alt na nGealbhan. Tá orgán eile páiste amháin á choinneáil, le toiliú iomlán tuismitheoirí, in Ospidéal Cheantar Craigavon.
Bhain an t-imscrúdú fosta le horgáin aosach a coinníodh i ndiaidh scrúduithe iarbháis. Taobh amuigh d’Ospidéal Ríoga Victoria, coinníodh 60 orgán aosach san iomlán, gan toiliú eolasach i mbunús na gcásanna: coinníodh 45 cinn díobh in Ospidéal Alt na nGealbhan; trí cinn in Ospidéal Uladh; agus 12 cheann (haoi gcinn díobh le toiliú iomlán gaolta) in Ospidéal Cheantar Craigavon.
Coinníodh 677 n-inchinn mar aon le cordaí dromlaigh sa Ghrúpa Ríoga Ospidéal. Tá fardal mionchruinn á dhéanamh ar gach sampla d’fhíochán aosaigh san ospidéal le seiceáil an bhfuil orgáin eile ina mheasc. Tá an scrúdú fisciúil sin á dhéanamh faoi dhúdheifre agus táthar ag dréim le freagra cinntitheach i dtaca le líon agus le cineál orgán ar bith a coinníodh faoi dheireadh mhí Feabhra.
Tuigim go ndearnadh gach ceann de na horgáin a aimsíodh a choinneáil i ndiaidh scrúdú iarbháis ospidéil nó scrúdú iarbháis cróinéara.
Is léir fosta, i gcuid mhór cásanna, gur coinníodh orgáin ar feadh tamaill mar chuid d’imscrúdú iarbháis agus gur créamadh ina dhiaidh sin iad. Go dtí le deireannas, ba ghnáthchleachtas é sin ar fud na n-oileán seo. Ach is léir nach bhfuil sé inghlactha go dtarlódh a leithéid gan toiliú eolasach.
Dearbhaíodh san imscrúdú nach ar an scála chéanna a bhí orgáin á gcoinneáil anseo agus i Sasana. Níor thángthas ar fhianaise ar bith gur coinníodh orgáin go córasach coitianta, mar a tharla in Ospidéal Alder Hey.
Ach ba mhaith liom a rá go soiléir nár cheart, ar chor ar bith, go gcoinneodh an Seirbhís Sláinte aon orgán gan toiliú eolasach sainráite ó theaghlach an té a fuair bás. Tá sin fíor-riachtanach.
I wish to report to the Assembly my findings on the scale of human organ retention in hospitals following post mortem examinations. I will also announce a package of measures that I am taking to further investigate past practice, to support the families affected and to ensure that future practice is built on the principle of informed consent — [Interruption]