Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 26 February 2001


Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Political Situation: Newspaper Article

Trade and Business Development:
North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

Budget Bill: Consideration Stage

Electronic Communications Bill: Consideration Stage

Assembly: Environment Committee

Social Development Committee

Oral Answers to Questions

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment

Department for Social Development

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease


Mr Ford:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am aware that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is, quite properly, in Brussels today on essential business. Will you inform the Assembly if, in this era of joined-up government, any other Minister has given notice of an intention to make a statement on her behalf on the foot-and-mouth disease crisis?

Mr Speaker:

I was not aware of the Minister’s current whereabouts. I have not received any request for a statement to be made today on that subject.


Political Situation: Newspaper Article


Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to move to the "foot-in-mouth" disease. On Saturday the ‘News Letter’ ran what amounted to a detailed confession by one of Mr Trimble’s closest and strongest supporters. It stated that the First Minister and the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party had been consistently dishonest; misled or lied to people; duped the electorate; and had been inaccurate in their interpretation of the Belfast Agreement — among other accusations.

The normal procedure in most other legislative chambers is that people would be entitled to some form of emergency debate on a matter which, quite clearly, goes to the very heart of the way such institutions were set up and the way they are running. Can you advise us, Mr Speaker, if there is any way we could have this debate today or tomorrow? The issues are so important that I do not think they can be passed off or left to be put down in a motion for next week.

Mr Speaker:

The Standing Orders we have here are, in certain ways, somewhat different from the standing orders in other places. I have looked at this in the past, but I will certainly examine it again to see whether the Member’s request can be accommodated. However, so far as I am aware, it is not something that can be accommodated under our current Standing Orders, even in the context of leave, though I will need to check that, as any motion would not be on the Order Paper, and there are certain requirements regarding Standing Orders. I will check the matter and get back to the Member. At this moment I am not aware of any mechanism of the kind he describes.

Mr P Robinson:

I am grateful for that ruling, Mr Speaker. If a motion of no confidence were to be put down today would that attract a more expeditious procedure?

Mr Speaker:

I do not know that a motion of no confidence would be different from any other motion. However, I will check the matter and get back to the Member.

Mr Tierney:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you not ruled on newspaper reports in the past? I think you said a couple of times that you would not allow any discussion on newspaper reports. I believe that that is what has been quoted today.

Mr Speaker:

Newspaper reports are of themselves not a subject for debate, but, as I understand it, the Member is saying that the substance of the newspaper report is such as to stimulate cause for concern. I hesitate to take the view that nothing that appears in newspapers would be a proper subject for debate here. There may be some such things. I do not think I can rule out of order the concern that the Member raises. However, this is a wholly political concern, and not for me to judge upon.

Mr P Robinson:

On a further point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there not a distinction between a newspaper report, the validity of which can be questioned, and a actual article, in the first person, from a supporter of Mr Trimble who is accusing him of being dishonest and lying to the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr Speaker:

Newspaper reports may or may not be true. In my experience, the claims of individuals, whether in the first person or in another person —

Mr P Robinson:

He is a supporter.

Mr Speaker:

— may or may not necessarily be true.

The Member says that the person is a supporter. He will be familiar with the old adage that opponents are people in other parties, whereas enemies are those in one’s own. I do not think that I can make any assumptions of that kind. I can only deal with the technical question, and I will return to that matter and clarify it.

Mr Dodds:

On a further point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it right that you should be casting such aspersions on those sitting behind Mr Trimble? The person who wrote this article in the ‘News Letter’ is a paid employee of the party in question, and for him to make these allegations against Mr Trimble is astounding.

Mr Speaker:

It is not necessary to question the integrity or the standing or the views of sitting Members. We were only, as I understand it, referring to members of parties, and that is a separate matter from Members of the Assembly.

The technical question has been sufficiently aired.


Trade and Business Development:
North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting

The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):

The fourth meeting of the North/ South Ministerial Council in its trade and business development sectoral format took place in Dundalk on Friday 16 February 2001. Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Dr Seán Farren and I represented the Executive. The Irish Government was represented by Ms Mary Harney TD, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This report has been approved by Dr Farren and is also made on his behalf.

The Council received a verbal progress report from the chief executive of the Trade and Business Development Body, Mr Liam Nellis. This included briefing Ministers on the establishment of its offices in Newry and the appointment of its permanent staff. The Council noted a paper introduced by Mr Nellis, which outlined the main activities carried out by the body in its first year of operation. Ministers welcomed the considerable progress made in establishing the body and the volume of work which had been completed by its board.

The Ministers approved the body’s operating plan for 2001, which outlined activities for the year and the associated budget. Major initiatives planned for InterTradeIreland for 2001 include: promoting increased use of equity/venture capital throughout the island; supporting science and technological innovation in companies on a cross-border basis; supporting the development of e-commerce throughout the island, including the establishment of an all-island research fund; assisting in the strengthening of the local supply chain to both major multinational and indigenous companies on the island of Ireland; and promoting the benefits of North/South trade and enhancing market awareness.

In the legislation establishing the body, InterTradeIreland was mandated to bring forward to the council proposals for establishing graduate and other placement programmes on a North/South basis. The Ministers approved the body’s proposals to introduce two programmes on a cross-border basis.

The small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) business development programme is aimed at giving SMEs access to a wider reservoir of knowledge and expertise through working with a graduate/diploma holder to transfer technology and know-how. The cross-border trade programme is aimed at developing cross-border trade and providing back-up support to SMEs by matching a business from one side of the border with a graduate from the other. Ministers asked that this activity be treated as a key priority that could make an important impact on developing and increasing trade and business links North and South.

At the North/South Ministerial Council meeting the Ministers noted and approved the proposals put forward by InterTradeIreland to enhance competitiveness. It was agreed that the proposals should be taken forward in co-operation with Departments with a view to an interim report’s being presented to the plenary meeting in March 2001. In this regard, InterTradeIreland brought forward a number of specific recommendations in respect of areas such as innovation and information and communication technology in which the body considered it could address all-island competitiveness issues. The Ministers considered and agreed that the body’s draft equality scheme should be published.

The Council agreed that its next meeting in this sectoral format would take place in Northern Ireland in June 2001.

Dr Birnie:

What progress has been made by the trade body to liberalise public procurement so that firms based on one side of the Irish border can bid fairly for Government contracts emerging from the jurisdiction on the other?

Sir Reg Empey:

The Member has correctly addressed an issue that has been of some considerable concern. As one knows, public procurement is a substantial budgetary element here, in the Republic and throughout the European Union. The Member will be familiar with public procurement policies throughout the European Union and with the fact that the whole objective of creating a free market was to give people opportunities to compete and win contracts throughout the European Union.

10.45 am

The Member will be aware that we have a particular difficulty with the currency differential. That militates against those of us who are trying to bid into the euro zone, although there has been some slight improvement there. The body is acutely aware of the necessity to encourage this aspect, and the matter has been brought to the attention of business people at its roadshows — four of which have taken place in the last few months. It is also trying to notify and identify companies that could bid for public work. We believe that this awareness procedure will be successful, and the programme will continue throughout the next 12 months.

Mr McGrady:

I thank the Minister for his statement given on behalf of himself and my Colleague Dr Seán Farren. I commend the Minister for his work, outlined in the report, on the North/South Ministerial Council. Is the Minister aware that many firms in the Republic of Ireland, particularly in the Greater Dublin area, are very interested in setting up satellite operations in the North of Ireland based primarily on the new technologies, but also in many other skills areas? Does he intend to make any special arrangements or provisions by way of organisational help or financial incentives? That would bring many of these anticipated developments to a practical conclusion. If I may be parochial, the Minister could also indicate that the best place to locate would be the constituency of South Down. However, generally speaking, anywhere in Northern Ireland would suffice.

Sir Reg Empey:

I assume that that was not an invitation to act against one constituency in favour of another. I assure the hon Member that the IDB is acutely aware of the potential benefits of attracting investment from the Republic. There have been two significant investments in the last two months — one by the Bank of Ireland, which has come to Newry in recent weeks. The IDB has reorganised its team and appointed several people to look at that particular market to see what is available. The early signs are encouraging.

In the last four months we have had three major investments. I believe that others will be secured, for we consider ourselves to have significant advantages over the Greater Dublin area in particular. These include lower rates of staff turnover and a significant supply of qualified labour in certain disciplines. This will be one of our key target areas for attracting inward investment, and I assure the Member that the IDB is fully engaged in this process.

The Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee (Mr P Doherty):

A Cheann Comhairle, I welcome the Minister’s statement. I note that InterTradeIreland has focused on promoting the benefits of North/South trade and enhancing market awareness. The Minister mentioned areas in which

"the Body considered it could address all-island competitiveness issues, for example in areas such as innovation and information and communication technology."

Those of us who travel throughout the island will notice that when using mobile phones to make calls either North to South or South to North — even if only two miles up the road — we can be charged at international rates. When in the North, you may find that you are on the Eircell system, and occasionally when you are in the South you are still on the Vodafone network. Could the body take up the issue of creating an island market and cut out the high tariffs associated with international calls, given that many of these companies are buying each other out and amalgamating?

Sir Reg Empey:

The points the Member makes about mobile phones make it obvious that he is not a shareholder in Orange. We have all noticed them, and we all complain bitterly about the call charges. However, telecoms issues are a reserved matter. We do, however, point out to Whitehall a number of the issues that we believe to be significant. For instance, in the Programme for Government our objective is to roll out broadband issues to ensure that, from the point of view of targeting social need, all areas of the Province have the opportunity to access proper services at a competitive rate.

There are huge issues here, and this one is international in the broadest sense of the word. The European Union is looking very closely at telecoms provision and how the market can be open to competition. This Assembly does not have the power to determine. However, any issues which relate to competitiveness — and they do not all fall within devolution — are the subject of an ongoing study. A report is due to be published in September or October 2001, and issues which are a barrier to competitiveness will be identified, whether or not they are in our own remit. I hope that when the final report is presented we will be able to take matters up in this House.

Mr Wells:

Does the Minister accept that Northern Ireland is still in competition with the Irish Republic for inward investment? What steps has he taken to ensure that information which may be of use to our competitors in the Irish Republic does not leak from the trade and business development body or the North/South Ministerial Council? For example, if information on an inward investment proposal for Northern Ireland were tabled at a meeting of one of these bodies, our competitors in the South might say "We quite fancy having that inward investment in the Irish Republic" and use the information to their advantage.

What steps has the Minister taken to settle the redundancy package for the staff of the new body, given that after the May election they will all be out on their ear?

Sir Reg Empey:

The Member obviously does not appreciate that the North/South trade and business development body is not an inward investment body. It therefore does not have that information and consequently will not deal with that matter. That is the function of the Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland or the Industrial Development Agency in the Republic. The North/South trade and business development body deals with trade and the promotion of a wide variety of issues, but inward investment is not one of its functions.

Mr Hussey:

I thank the Minister for his statement. Overall, I accept and welcome the improved employment figures. However, does the Minister agree that comparative figures along the border counties remain a major concern? They are particularly aggravated by infrastructural deficit, to which the Minister has referred — broadband technology and its expansion, and so on. Are benefits perhaps emerging at the North/South cores and missing the respective peripherals? Has the issue of comparative higher unemployment along the border counties been addressed at the North/ South Ministerial Council? If not, will it be addressed?

Sir Reg Empey:

I am aware of the Member’s points, but the North/South Ministerial Council is a focus body. It does not deal with a broad range of social and economic issues. Even within its remit, it can deal with only certain parts of that remit at a time. The Programme for Government recognises the difficulties in several areas, including the Member’s constituency, and is attempting to address them.

I am also conscious that in the Irish Republic there are many people who regard the Celtic tiger economy as, perhaps, having run out of steam by the time it gets to the north-west of Northern Ireland.

It has been put to me on a number of occasions that that is the case. The matters the hon Member mentioned are currently not designated to this body for attention. The remit of the Trade and Business Development Body is primarily to increase trade and awareness. We are trying to promote recognition of companies which are close to each other but which currently do not conduct any business. I am sure the Member will agree with me that it is entirely advantageous to our economy to ensure that situation does not exist.

With regard to employment differentials, peripheral matters, and the issues surrounding telecommunications and broadband technology, there is a specific commitment in the Programme for Government to ensure that no area is disadvantaged. That may mean that significant decisions will have to be made. I have asked for a meeting with the Whitehall Small Business and e-Commerce Minister, Ms Patricia Hewitt. I hope to see her soon to ensure that there is a coherent approach throughout the United Kingdom to these matters. That will be of direct benefit to the Member’s constituency.

Mr Byrne:

I welcome the Minister’s statement. I ask the Minister to bring to the attention of the North/South Ministerial Council and the InterTradeIreland body the fact that we need to see strong evidence of a meaningful graduate exchange programme. In particular, those graduates who are interested in the information technology sector should be encouraged and helped by venture capital, which is vital allowing these young graduates, who have good ideas, to develop small businesses. This would bring great benefit to an area such as my own in Omagh.

Sir Reg Empey:

I support the Member’s points, and, as he will have heard in the statement, we received a report with regard to the graduate placement programme. To put this into context, it is a not dissimilar scheme to the one run by my Department, on a worldwide basis, called the Explorers 2000 Programme. What this particular programme focuses on is matching companies on each side of the border with potential graduates or diploma holders. The small businesses that we are aiming at are those which currently may not have the resources to employ people with particular skills, whether in accountancy, in marketing or in communications technology skills. Those people will be supported with assistance from the body, and the company would be making a contribution. We are currently trying to match those people so that the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will receive a capability that they do not currently have. That is consistent with the objective of improving business and with the Explorers 2000 Programme, which operates on an international basis.

At the council meeting on 16 February we decided to step up the work being done in this field, and we also decided that we needed to be aggressive and to put the resources into this area to ensure that the work is successful. We will be looking closely in the next few months to see, as the programme rolls out, how successful it is. If it is successful we will be prepared to redirect resources, within the existing budget, to support the programme. I believe that it has enormous potential.

Mr Gibson:

In view of the fact that most of the SMEs in West Tyrone are agriculturally based and are derived from and often dependent upon the agricultural community, why was there no protection for that community since the threat of the dreaded foot-and-mouth disease? Why were there no protection mats on the northern side of the border to protect the industry along the boundary with the South of Ireland?

Mr Speaker:

I commend the Member for the creativity of his question, but he and the House will be aware that this matter is not a responsibility of the Minister. It would be inappropriate for the Minister to respond, despite the point of order raised earlier by Mr Ford.

Dr O’Hagan:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his report. It is a shame that the full potential of the North/South Ministerial Council is not being realised, owing to the restrictions imposed on it by the First Minister and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

11.00 am

The Minister refers to the initiatives being planned by InterTradeIreland. One of them is assisting in the strengthening of the local supply chain to both major multinational and indigenous companies on the island of Ireland. Can the Minister give more details about that to the House? Will he also detail in relation to both indigenous companies and multinationals the current level of co-operation between the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and the IDB, and Enterprise Ireland and LEDU? Go raibh maith agat.

Sir Reg Empey:

With regard to the first point, the hon Member will be aware that in order to achieve the full potential of these institutions, a whole range of people have to take action, including those in the hon Member’s own party.

With regard to supply chains and the level of co-operation between companies, InterTradeIreland has already held four roadshows, which were designed to raise awareness throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is recognised that the level of trade between the Republic and Northern Ireland is not that which could be anticipated for two jurisdictions sharing a common border, and another interesting point is that it is proving extremely difficult to get an accurate measurement of what the level of trade is. Work is currently being undertaken to confirm this, as there is quite a significant discrepancy.

Mention was made of multinational companies. Many of them are now in control of vast areas of trade, whether in food products or otherwise. The intention of the trade and business development body is to identify areas where there is potential to bring together people whom we believe can actually do business. It aims to introduce companies to one another and to hold networking sessions so that there is an opportunity for suppliers and customers to meet and to try to encourage them to do business. The comparatively low level of co-operation has struck the organisation since it has been operating. As a direct result, the IDB and IDA held their first meeting in May last year in the north-west. Flowing from that, they are trying to agree how they can jointly promote the area.

As was hinted at in a previous question, we are indeed competitors for inward investment. Although promoting inward investment is not a function of this organisation, the point is taken.

The objective of improving the supply chains is very simple: to bring together companies that could trade with each other but currently do not, and to suggest to companies that do not even attempt to export to or from the Republic that they can. I have seen this work quite well at supplier events, even at local authority level.

The IDA and IDB have met once. They have undertaken a programme of work. I know that there is co-operation between LEDU and Enterprise Ireland. However, it is outwith the functions of this particular body.

Mr Beggs:

I would like to return to the issue of all-island competitiveness, especially in the area of public procurement in the Republic of Ireland. Before coming to the Assembly, I worked as a production manager. That involved tendering for work in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland for a company which had ISO 9002 and used internationally recognised products. Despite that, expensive tests were required to be duplicated for inclusion in tenders for public procurement in the Republic of Ireland. Can the Minister give an assurance that he and InterTradeIreland will consult with local industry and trade groups to ensure that the public procurement procedures in the Republic of Ireland allow free and unhindered access to Northern Ireland companies?

Sir Reg Empey:

I can assure the Member that that certainly is the objective. The question of testing was one of the issues given to this body in its initial remit. The situation having been examined, it was decided that InterTradeIreland, pursuing the matter itself, would bring no added value. However, the testing authorities in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole have been brought together — as that is how most of this is organised. Those organisations are currently meeting and working together. InterTradeIreland has moved back from that, allowing those organisations to take matters forward and come up with their own solutions. That is being actively pursued, but it was felt that this body was not the right vehicle to take the matter forward. The authorities have now met and are working on a paper to improve their procedures. There is no doubt that the type of matters referred to by the Member are fundamentally anti- competitive. One of the measurements of the success of the body will be whether such barriers to trade are removed.

Mr McMenamin:

Representing the border constituency of West Tyrone, I welcome the Minister’s announcement. Does he agree that a priority of the new body should be to ensure that there is an effective exchange of information between businesses and support agencies in both parts of Ireland? If so, how will InterTradeIreland address the issue?

Sir Reg Empey:

Yes, undoubtedly. The effective exchange of information and the raising of awareness, which flows from that, are vital. The body will be hosting its own web site, and public or private bodies which wish to put information on the site will be able to do so. That, of course, will be entirely their decision. Nevertheless, a focal point will exist, where people who want to do trade and make contacts will have a specific site to visit. They will be able to exchange ideas and views there.

In addition, the body has set aside a budget for identifying where it can hold localised meetings in both jurisdictions to bring people together to achieve exactly the same thing. As I mentioned earlier, the comparatively low level of meeting, co-operation and information flowing in this area has surprised the body itself — the directors and staff — and all of us. I am sure that the Member will agree that anything to improve that information flow is bound to be beneficial.

Mr Shannon:

The Minister referred to the supply chain to major multinational and indigenous companies in Ireland. We are all very aware, especially here in the Province, of the producer, processor, retailer and, ultimately, the consumer supply chain. How will this be promoted and encouraged, and will targets be set to achieve the goal?

Secondly, in relation to North/South trade and enhancing market awareness, can the Minister indicate if there has been an increase in trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Who is responsible for promoting Northern Ireland industry and its market awareness in that, and how will its success be measured?

Sir Reg Empey:

At present, no specific targets have been set with regard to the supply chains, but it has been agreed that this clearly must be one of the top priorities. Indeed, that was set out in the statement that accompanied the meeting. I am sure that the Member will have experienced a situation at local council level where people from the district are invited to meet the council to see whether business can be done between the council and those who might supply it. It is a simple, tried and tested method, but it is one that has not yet been done in this context. InterTradeIreland is going to set about developing those supply chains by bringing together people who could do business with each other. I referred to the value of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic in relation to an earlier question. There is considerable doubt as to what the actual level of that trade is.

Statistics are managed on two different bases in the North and in the South. In the United Kingdom, Customs and Excise has its own measuring system, which covers only companies with a turnover of over £250,000. Figures in the Irish Republic are measured by different criteria, so there is some doubt about the true level of trade. The only way to benchmark whether a body is achieving anything is to see if there is a significant increase, so it is important to have a baseline benchmark at the outset. It is vital to have some such mechanism, because many of the companies are small and many are in the agriculture sector, which we intend to encourage. Much of the trade is not in goods but in service provision, so there is no physical movement of goods over the border, but there could be telephonic communication. Whitehall and its counterparts in the Republic are actively working on this.

The significant differences between each jurisdiction’s trade estimates have only recently come to light. The Department also carries out its own client testing, so there is back-up. As the Member rightly points out, much work remains to be done, because this is the only way in which we can measure success or failure. I assure him that this is a matter of urgency and that we hope to have it resolved by September.

Mr Molloy:

Go raibh maith agat. I welcome the Minister’s statement and his positive attitude. May I draw his attention to the setting up of the body’s office in Newry and the promotion of e-commerce? The Minister referred to the Bank of Ireland project which is locating in Newry. Can he give the House an assurance that the Newry office will ensure that business is distributed throughout the North and is not just focused in the Newry area? I mention this because the Bank of Ireland had been looking at my council area of Dungannon before the IDB’s involvement. When the IDB and, possibly, this body became involved, the project was relocated to Newry. Was any ministerial influence brought to bear on the location of the Bank of Ireland’s project in Newry?

Sir Reg Empey:

That is a matter for the IDB and not for this body. It is the IDB’s responsibility to attract inward investment. The Bank of Ireland looked at the Dungannon area but, as an incoming investor itself chose the Newry site. I can assure the Member that InterTradeIreland had no role to play. I can also assure him that there was no ministerial involvement that attempted to steer the Bank of Ireland from one location to another. The Department and its agencies were unashamedly involved in trying to win investment for Northern Ireland, and local political representatives from Dungannon and Newry were actively involved in lobbying the bank.

Mr Kennedy:

I am glad to hear the Minister respond to any criticism of Newry. Was consideration given at the trade meeting to the continuing crisis in the fuel industry and the ongoing problem of illegal transportation of petrol and diesel from the Irish Republic? Can the Minister update the Assembly on what progress, if any, has been made with Her Majesty’s Treasury on this issue?

Sir Reg Empey:

The fuel issue was not on the agenda of the meeting on 16 February 2001. In the past 12 months the Member has written to me and has sent delegations to me, so I know how deeply he and his constituents feel.

11.15 am

The Minister of Finance and Personnel, who has now joined us, will be aware that significant efforts have been made, and are continually made, to draw to the attention of the Chancellor the particular difficulties Northern Ireland is experiencing with this. However, it was not dealt with at InterTradeIreland’s meeting on 16 February.

Mr O’Connor:

I also welcome the Minister’s statement. However, to follow on from a point made by my Colleague Mr McGrady about companies setting up satellite sites in Northern Ireland, may I say that I hope that the Minister will keep East Antrim foremost in his thoughts. Will he assure us that he is committed to bringing economic prosperity to people right across Northern Ireland? Can he also assure us that Northern Ireland will not become a cheap labour option for firms expanding in the South, which want to come north because our minimum wage is somewhat less than that in the Irish Republic? If companies relocate to the North, will employees here enjoy the socio-economic benefits enjoyed by employees of those same companies in the South? Moreover, what effect does the Minister believe the euro will have on all of this, and may a special case need to be made for Northern Ireland?

Mr Speaker:

Members really do press well beyond the borders of ministerial responsibilities. I must advise, as I have done before, that the euro is well beyond the remit even of our Minister of Finance and Personnel. However, on the other questions the Member raised, I call the Minister to respond.

Sir Reg Empey:

Yes, there is no doubt that a coefficient of creativity is operating in the House this morning, from foot-and-mouth disease to everything that we have in here.

On the question of satellite companies, the Irish Republic is a target market for inward investment — of that there is no doubt. We have achieved, as I said in response to a previous question, a significant and increasing degree of success. We do market the facts about Northern Ireland. If you compare parts of Northern Ireland with the Greater Dublin area, you can see that there is a lower cost base. That does not necessarily mean cheap wages; it can take account of other factors. The supply of labour and the correct type of labour are, generally speaking, the most important ingredients when choosing Northern Ireland as a location. Because there is pressure in the labour market, companies in the Dublin area are looking at Northern Ireland as an alternative. We are encouraging that, and quite rightly so.

However, there is no question of Northern Ireland’s being sold or marketed as a cheap labour area. We do not need to do that because having the people is the priority for this sort of company. If the wages are next to nothing and there are no people, it does not make any difference. Therefore we are focusing on that. In order to improve — and I will try to be creative myself and make my answer relevant — we are trying to develop the capacity of companies to trade with each other and to invest in each other’s jurisdictions. That is one of the reasons for the graduate placement scheme that we have introduced. I hope you will mark me out of 10 for that, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

Nine out of 10 for honesty, I guess.

Mr Clyde:

The Minister has approved the body’s operation plans for 2001, which outline activities for the year and the associated budget. Can the Minister tell us what the budget amounts to?

Sir Reg Empey:

The budget for 2001-02 is approximately £8·63 million, of which our contribution is £2·88 million. In my statement I said that we approved the operating plan for the year, which set out the tasks to be achieved and matched them to the budget. I can assure the Member that the operating plan was strictly within the budget limits. We will be monitoring that, and it is the responsibility of Ministers to ensure that budgets are adhered to. I believe that they must be signed off by the Minister of Finance and Personnel, who will ensure that that is the case. I cannot see him giving his approval to any budget that is not within the agreed limits.


Budget Bill: Consideration Stage

Mr Speaker:

I propose, by leave of the Assembly, to group the five clauses, followed by the three schedules and the long title.

Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.


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