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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 6 March 2001


Assembly Business

Programme for Government

Electronic Communications Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Budget Bill: Final Stage

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

Members observed two minutes' silence.

Assembly Business


Mr Speaker:

I wish to advise the Assembly that I am to travel tomorrow to Washington with the members of the Business Committee, who have been invited to meet with some members of the new Bush Administration, with business managers in the Congress and with others. I will therefore not be available when the Assembly sits next week.

Programme for Government

Debate resumed on amendment to motion:

That this Assembly endorses the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive. - [The First and Deputy First Ministers]

Which amendment was: Delete all after "Assembly" and add

"declines to approve the Northern Ireland Executive Programme for Government because it does not properly address the deep divisions and inequalities in this society and therefore does not deliver the new beginning envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement". - [Mr Neeson]

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

Mr Speaker, first of all, I wish the Business Committee and yourself a pleasant and constructive visit to Washington.

Yesterday the First Minister introduced the motion to endorse the Programme for Government agreed by the Executive and outlined its significance in relation to the new politics of the agreement. He also spoke about the valuable interaction between the Executive and the Assembly and its Committees in debating and scrutinising the programme. I want to join with him in thanking the Assembly for the very positive and constructive way in which it undertook this task and is continuing to do so in this debate.

I also add my thanks to the Civic Forum and to more than 150 outside bodies and individuals who provided comment during that consultation on the draft programme.

Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the talented and committed officials who have helped us to construct a Programme for Government from scratch, at the same time as we put our first Budget together. As a result, we now have a stronger programme, capable of making a real difference to all the people in Northern Ireland.

It will be a significant moment when the Assembly endorses the Programme for Government and takes co-ownership and co-responsibility for it. Here lies the importance of the public service agreements which are now annexed to the main programme for they are the means by which we will give a detailed account of ourselves, the means to allow the Assembly effective monitoring of the implementation of the programme.

The poet W B Yeats wrote

"In dreams begins responsibility".

The Programme for Government sets out the policies and objectives we have identified as our main priorities for the years ahead. It does so in a way links vision to practicality, setting out not just that of what we aspire to but the steps we need to take to get there.

Our vision is of a peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair society, firmly founded on the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust, and the protection and vindication of human rights for all. It is a vision also based on partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these islands. To achieve that vision requires a commitment to the prosaic but necessary pursuit of effectiveness, efficiency and economy in each Department.

After the long years of direct rule there is a new democratic energy in the Executive and the Assembly. We will take that energy and commitment into our work with individuals, communities and organisations across Northern Ireland and into discussions with our partners, be they in Dublin, London, Brussels or Washington.

The Programme for Government recognises as a starting point that, in working together to create a new future, we have to deal with the deep and painful divisions in our society. After decades of division and 30 years of conflict there is a high level of distrust between the two main traditions within our community. We must continue to develop a capacity for compromise and respect, seeking to resolve conflict and build trust. This is not an easy or short-term task, and in undertaking it, we have to give particular attention to developing a cross-departmental strategy to promote community relations.

We have decided that growing as a community should be our first priority and in the first chapter of the Programme for Government we have mapped out a wide-ranging approach, linking our policies on equality and human rights, victims, poverty, communities and housing, and community relations. There are no easy, or facile answers. We have created a wide vision. We have demonstrated the link between different programmes and policies. Members will have noted that this chapter has been carefully revised in the light of comments and further work. For example, it incorporates the proposal to establish a children's commissioner and introduces measures to ensure proper take-up of social security benefits. It adds new targets for the homeless and for grants to improve housing conditions and to promote conversion to more efficient heating.

I noted yesterday that the Alliance party seemed to disregard the fact that we have taken the theme of growing together as our starting point and that we have substantially strengthened this chapter. With regard to the Alliance Party's, recent amendment, I take a fairly sanguine view of it. In an Assembly we need parties to push us, to put us to the test, and as on this occasion, to give an airing to views that they may feel have been omitted.

I took careful note of Mr Neeson's remarks in the debate last night and appreciate the sincerity of his commitment to promoting better community relations. I also noted the seven priorities that he put to the Assembly. All of those are inherent in the Programme for Government.

I think you will find that those points are catered for, if not specifically, then generally throughout the Programme for Government. I will address one of the points he made about hate and racism, and he cited recent events at Windsor Park. I agree with him and I know everybody in this Assembly agrees with him. I want to go on record as saying that the type of behaviour that was directed at Neil Lennon is simply intolerable. I know that I speak for the entire Assembly.

Many years ago I went to Windsor Park to see Peter McParland, who happened to be from where I live, play on the left wing for Northern Ireland. It was my first and last visit to Windsor Park. I stood on Spion Kop, and I would ask simply - what has changed? Peter McParland received exactly the same type of sectarian abuse as Neil Lennon.

Mr Boyd:

Several times yesterday the Deputy Speaker referred to the hon Member for North Antrim and said that he was going wide of the mark. Is it entirely in line with the Programme for Government to talk about Windsor Park and football?

Mr Speaker:

It is quite clear that the Member was referring to the reasoned amendment. I wonder if the Member heard that part of the debate, but it is clear that the Deputy First Minister referred to the reasoned amendment.

The Deputy First Minister:

I thank the Member for his intervention. I simply wanted to put on the record again that all of the Assembly deplores the racial abuse of anybody within our society.

Mr Neeson also called for proofing that promotes sharing over separation. I point out to him page 195 of the Programme for Government, which deals with the obligations under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. That includes not only obligations of equality of opportunity but also the requirement to have a regard for the desirability of better community relations.

On that basis I would ask the Alliance Party to look at their seven points again and to go back to the Programme for Government and measure them against what is included there. The Programme for Government makes clear our commitment to reducing the significant levels of deprivation, long-term unemployment and benefit dependency that exist here. We recognise the inequalities that exist in terms of poverty, health, housing, education and economic opportunity and we are determined to tackle them. We have listened carefully to responses to the Programme for Government and have made a number of improvements on equality matters. These include - and I specify a few - making further progress on implementing the disability rights task force report in order to ensure comprehensive civil rights for disabled people; committing ourselves to publishing a strategic response to the Promoting Social Inclusion report on travellers and in particular recognising the need to provide appropriate accommodation; working with the Equality Commission on community differentials and long-term unemployment; clarifying that the Single Equality Bill will, as far as practicable, harmonise our equality laws and reflect best practise, and ensuring that New TSN action plans and departmental Equality Schemes will be implemented by ensuring that they are incorporated as integral parts of the public service agreements.

The Programme for Government now sets out more than 250 specific actions that will help us achieve our vision. The Assembly and the public wanted to see these actions more tightly specified, and we have responded by making clear what is to be achieved and by when. We have also listened and responded to many other comments. We have set out, in considerably more detail than before, the steps we will take to tackle poverty and social disadvantage.

Throughout the programme, we have highlighted the recurrent theme of commitment to sustainable development. We have responded to calls for a stronger focus on children and have made a public commitment to introduce a comprehensive strategy to address their needs.

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We have also listened to other requests. For example, the draft Programme for Government included a commitment to tackle social security fraud, but we were reminded during the consultation that many people - especially older people - do not take up the benefits to which they are entitled. We have therefore included a commitment to carry out an assessment of the uptake of benefits, highlight potential problem areas and produce a strategy to encourage uptake. However, a strategy is not enough; we must target people who, for whatever reason, have not taken up their benefits, so that the elderly, in particular, can take advantage of what is available to them.

We have also responded to the concerns of the rural community, by making specific commitments to meet the requirements for EU recognition of our low incidence of BSE and to consider the feasibility of new entrant and retirement schemes for farmers. However, we must now give absolute priority to the difficulties facing not just farmers and the agrifood industry, but Northern Ireland as a whole, in the light of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. As Members know, the Executive have set up a special interdepartmental committee to co-ordinate the response by Departments. The Executive will hold a series of emergency meetings until such times as the situation has been brought under control. We will also take account of the foot-and-mouth threat when we examine the budgetary situation later in the month.

Above all, however, we must ensure that there is no wide gap in Northern Ireland for illicit trading in livestock. We must get to the heart of that problem in such a way that we protect the farming community, especially from the type of activity that has contributed substantially to the introduction of foot-and-mouth to Northern Ireland. We must be utterly ruthless about that; there is no option. We must ensure that all the regulations and all the primary legislation are sufficient to give that protection.

Investing in education and skills is another priority. We have responded to calls to strengthen this section and have set out further actions, including regional targets for literacy and numeracy and for examination performance. We have also made specific commitments to improve school buildings. We have responded to calls for the removal of some of the barriers that prevent young people from staying on in education and training. We will make the curriculum more relevant and enjoyable for those over 16. We will abolish further education fees for full-time students aged 19 and over on vocational courses. In addition, we will promote greater parity between all vocational, occupational and academic qualifications.

At this stage, I will speak personally and make again the plea that the vocational element of our secondary school system be developed in such a way that the young people coming out of it - 75% of our school population - are given the vocational training that will equip them for life. There are remarkable opportunities in agriculture; many young people go straight from secondary school to run, or help run, farms. Where in our curriculum is the vocational training for them? With regard to another personal hobby horse, I would like to know where in our education system is the training that will help develop horticulture as part of our agriculture industry.

Given the potential that we have in this small area of land, it is a crying shame that 75% of our young people, many of whom come from farming communities, do not get that type of intensive vocational training, especially in horticulture, which would be of great benefit to us.

Back to the script: one of the key themes of the programme is inclusivity. Our desire to make a difference, as an Executive and an Assembly, applies universally. We want to see an improved quality of life and greater equality of opportunity for all. We know from experience that prejudice is not confined to religious sectarianism, and that ethnic and other minority groups are often victims of intolerance. That is why the Programme for Government commits us to working to reduce all forms of intolerance and to building relations within, and between, communities.

We believe that this Programme for Government demonstrates that we are a listening Executive, but we are also a prudent Executive. The Programme for Government may be visionary, but it must also be practical. All of the actions it contains have been costed. They have also been provided for in the Budget that the Assembly approved in December and in the Minister of Finance and Personnel's statement of 12 February.

We have started to work to improve our ability to assess budget priorities by reviewing the level of need and the effectiveness of current expenditure across a wide range of policies. The results of this will be fed into the framing of next year's programme and Budget. At the same time we will continue to work to improve the public service arrangements, clarifying and developing the targets, specifying performance indicators and benchmarks and strictly monitoring progress throughout the year.

I will now turn to the importance of working together. We will achieve very little if we work individually, whether as Ministers, Departments or institutions. We will achieve much more if we can work together - across parties and Departments, with other organisations and Administrations. I would take as the theme for such an approach the four words of an insurance company's advertising slogan: "Together we are strong." The reality of our political arrangements is that together we can be even stronger than we are at present. I hope that people are not afraid of that strength, which can help to develop what we are trying to do for the people we represent.

The actions in this Programme for Government are designed to help us to make progress in the priority areas that we have identified. But we will only succeed if, in each priority area, Departments work closely together to deliver results. The old silo mentality whereby Departments concentrated on their own narrow responsibilities and did not feel that they needed to co-operate with one another, or with other bodies, is unacceptable. The public will not accept it because it does not work and because that failure means poor services and wasted resources.

Let me take the example of health: 70% of the factors that influence our health lie outside the control of the Health Service. Taking action to tackle poverty, improve housing conditions, reduce unemployment, improve the quality of our air and water and raise standards in education will together have almost as great an effect on the health of our people as the combined skills of our doctors and nurses. This highlights the importance of our plans for a cross-cutting strategy to improve public health. This is a key commitment under our priority of "Working for a Healthier People."

We will therefore develop a joined-up approach to government within the Executive's own work, with Ministers working together to develop cross-cutting policies in a much more coherent way.

The new Executive programmes are a practical means of enabling us to carry out more effective cross- cutting work. We are pleased that the concept of cross-cutting funding received strong endorsement during the consultation on the draft Programme for Government. We are currently considering the first bids from Departments and expect to take decisions on the first tranche of allocations in the coming weeks. The advice again is that if you think separately as a Department you will not fully realise those funds' potential.

I would like to refer to inclusivity in relation to the Executive rather than the community. It is a shame, and I say this with great sincerity, that one of the parties to the Executive still feels it necessary for some arcane reason to work outside the Executive's collective approach.

Mr McCartney:

Does the Deputy First Minister consider it an arcane principle to refuse to work with the political representatives of terrorists determined to remain armed?

The Deputy First Minister:

The term "principle" is bandied about here. I will put it very bluntly - as bluntly in the vernacular as I possibly can. Who do people believe are making the greatest contribution to the well-being and the lives of Northern Irish people as elected representatives? Those who sit in the Executive with reservations, such as the First Minister and his Colleagues? Those who sit in the Executive representing Sinn Féin who also have reservations? Those in our party who sit in the Executive and have to put up with some of the things we have to put up with? Who is making the greatest contribution? Those people or the people who exclude themselves?

Rev Dr William McCrea:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Deputy First Minister to throw down that challenge? Surely in a matter of weeks the electorate will give him his answer.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member knows well that that is not a point of order.

The Deputy First Minister:

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for clarifying what is and what is not a point of order.

I will try again to touch consciences here. [Laughter] The guffaws would indicate that consciences are a scarce commodity in that part of the Chamber.

I again state that the contribution made by people in the Ulster Unionist Party, with reservations, by Sinn Féin Members, who have reservations, and by ourselves, who have to live with everybody else's reservations - [Interruption] - will be remembered and appreciated long after the stunts of the parties making noise opposite have been forgotten.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Can you assure the House that those participating in the debate can wander as far as they wish from the subject? The learned Gentleman sitting beside the Deputy First Minister, Mr Alban Maginness, tried to limit me. It did not work, and it still sticks in his gullet.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member spoke for some 52 minutes yesterday.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I was entitled to.

Mr Speaker:


I hope that in that time he was able to cover as much ground as he wished within the confines of the debate. From what I hear, the Deputy First Minister is referring to the Government. It does not seem irrelevant to the Programme for Government, which is the purpose of the debate.

The Deputy First Minister:

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your ruling.

On the Programme for Government, let me answer Dr McCrea's point. He referred to an upcoming event - and I am talking not about the Giants' next ice hockey match in the Odyssey, which is against the wishes of the Executive and the people of the North of Ireland, but about an election. [Interruption]

The Member raised it. People will look at the Programme for Government as the manifesto of the Executive and the parties in it. They will measure it against the churlishness of those who refused to take part and they will make their decision.

11.00 am

We have listened and responded to the points made by the Assembly and others in finalising this Programme for Government. I have outlined some of the changes that we made. Other areas have been suggested, but it will take some time for us to consider and develop them before we can incorporate them into the programme.

We will also be looking at the lessons to be learned from this year's exercise and considering how best to engage the Assembly and external organisations in the process of rolling forward the Programme for Government. We recognise the need for a major communications exercise to inform the public about the Programme for Government, and what they can expect from it, in straight forward non-bureaucratic language.

With devolution we have an opportunity to make a real and positive difference to the lives of people here. By working together in the priority areas, we have identified the means whereby we can deliver the commitments set out in the Programme for Government - and we can achieve that goal. I commend this motion to the Assembly.

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the proposed Programme for Government. However, I would like to put on record that it is ridiculous that the Programme for Government was put forward yesterday in a motion by the First Minister, whose actions have undermined one of the key priorities of the Programme - that of developing North/South relationships.

Having said that, I support the Programme for Government because it is a very important document. It is not a radical document. It is not necessarily a visionary document, but it is important nevertheless. As the Deputy First Minister said, it will be a testament to the good and important work conducted by many of the parties here. The main issue of the Programme for Government is open, effective and accountable Government. One of the headlines in the introduction of this Programme was about making a difference.

I want to talk about the public service agreements (PSAs) in general. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have already talked about joined-up Government. These agreements are statements of the aims and objectives of the various parts of Government, together with a statement of the resources available and the performance targets expected of Departments. Many PSAs fall far short of delivering on what they promise. It is important to remember that they are supposedly contracts with the people but, unfortunately, they often do not contain clear and measurable targets.

I accept that a great deal of work has been done in the past year, not least by the parties in the Executive who are working together, not just in running the various Departments, but in developing the Programme for Government, the setting up of the Budget, the Targeting Social Need action plans, the equality schemes, and these PSAs. However, much more work needs to be done, otherwise many of these PSAs will be long on rhetoric but short on substance.

These agreements are a vital ingredient, not only in the delivery of the Programme for Government commitments, but also in the delivery of commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement.

In the final analysis, without those types of public service agreements, we do not have any measurable outcomes by which we can judge how effective this Executive will be in the new dispensation.

I was particularly concerned yesterday - and I think that it underlined my view on this matter - by the First Minister's response to a question from Conor Murphy on the unemployment differential between Catholics and Protestants. The First Minister replied that he hoped to deal with that by creating full employment.

We all want to work towards and achieve full employment as soon as possible, but that is not the only way to resolve the problem of differentials that has plagued our society for many years. If that is the best that Mr Trimble can offer to deal with this problem, it proves that we need public service agreements, and many other provisions, tied down very tightly.

A brief example is the Department of Finance and Personnel's public service agreement. I am a member of the Finance and Personnel Committee. That public service agreement, while it includes the broad principles contained in the "Growing from the Community" section of the Programme for Government, does not link its Department's objectives to that section of the Programme for Government, so it falls short there.

Few of the public service agreements, and this has been borne out by other commentators, actually satisfy the SMART criteria, that is those targets that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.

I support the Programme for Government, but I want to hear commitments from the Executive and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that much more work will be done on those public service agreements. They are operational plans and the measurement by which we will determine how effective the Programme for Government is.

The Programme for Government is a modest document, and it should not therefore be too difficult to ensure that, given the modest demands and objectives that we have set ourselves, these measures are properly tied down and time bound in a much more specific way. If this does not happen, those public service agreements will remain long on rhetoric and short on substance.

Mr Roche:

I want to make some general points on the so-called Programme for Government that seem to me to be a matter of concern.

First, it is very difficult to understand how the document can contain a Programme for Government for the simple reason that, in general terms, there is no concrete analysis of the problems facing the various Departments. There is certainly no concrete assessment of the policy options that are proposed for action.

Secondly, anyone supporting this programme cannot possibly know what he or she is voting for. Let us take, for example, the crucial section on the promotion of economic growth on pages 56 and 57. Under the heading of "Actions", it refers to the achievement of annual export growth sales of manufacturing companies in Northern Ireland of 8.5% in real terms over the three-year period to 31 March 2004.

The programme also states that by March 2002 a Northern Ireland innovation strategy will be published. From 2001-02, it is proposed to stimulate an annual increase of 8% in the level of applications under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's main research and development programmes. During that same period, the programme intends to facilitate the provision, by the private sector, of venture capital.

The programme goes on in much the same way, but what is clear from those references is that the reference to strategies is not even a reference to some thinking that is already in concrete form. In other words, those are entirely empty references to strategies that are absolutely non-existent at present. Anyone voting for this so-called Programme for Government cannot possibly know what he or she is voting for.

Thirdly, the programme is full of references, and this was reinforced by the Deputy First Minister's introduction this morning, to the jargon of human rights, social inclusion, anti-discrimination, equality and social disadvantage.

Those are laudable objectives - no one wants to live in a society where there is social disadvantage and discrimination. However, the unavoidable impression that I have is that the terminology is used to package a fundamental imbalance in the report. There is imbalance between redistribution and economic growth - wealth creation. The stress is on the redistribution aspect of economics instead of wealth creation.

If the First Minister made the point yesterday that the way to deal with the problems of inequality and social disadvantage in society is through wealth creation then I agree with him. What we have here is a stress on redistribution at the expense of wealth creation. That is exactly the same stress that existed in the United Kingdom for about fifteen years from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s and it brought the UK economy to the point of ruin.

I have no doubt that the concrete effect of this programme will be to burden the business sector, especially the small business sector, with heavy administrative overheads and extensive anti-business monitoring by the Equality Commission.

There is a role for Government in economic development. The school of economics that I come from tends to suggest that the less involvement that the Government have in an economy the better.

However, there is a role for the Government in developing an economic infrastructure and political infrastructure. The key aspect of the economic infrastructure is transport. In Northern Ireland we have a combination of growing congestion on the roads - that is costing business an increasing amount of money in terms of time lost - with an enormous backlog of required investment in something such as the rail transport. I do not see a concrete engagement with those problems in this Programme for Government.

The other infrastructure relates to politics and law. On a global level, one of the things that is now holding back the economic development of countries such as Russia is the absence of a proper framework of law in which market based economic activity can take place.

On a local level, the town centre manager at Lisburn says that the development of a night economy is being held back because people who go out to enjoy themselves in the evening will not go near the town centre because of hooliganism and thuggery. The Executive may not be responsible for the overall security situation in Northern Ireland but law, and the upholding of law, should be central to any comprehensive Programme for Government.

Foot-and-mouth disease is currently spreading through Northern Ireland - I hope I that I do not digress, Mr Speaker. The spread of that disease is not, contrary to the Minister's statement yesterday, the responsibility of a few individuals. The problem was caused by an extensive network of smuggling that involves a deep-rooted element of criminality in this society that is organised by paramilitaries - in this case, by Republican paramilitaries.

An infrastructural issue was raised yesterday by the leader of the DUP that is crucial to the success of any Programme for Government, and it is not even mentioned in this programme. What we do have in this programme is the substitution of rhetoric for any real economic policies or engagement with the economic situation in Northern Ireland. The feasibility of anything that could be called a programme in this document is brought into question when rhetoric is substituted for reality.

The issue of feasibility has already surfaced because there has been a climb down on proposals to impose an 8% increase in rates on businesses in Northern Ireland over a three-year period. The proposal was so economically and politically unacceptable that it had to be withdrawn. That was the first casualty of the programme.

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The programme will hit the buffers of economic reality in Northern Ireland at a time when major sectors of our economy are facing a crisis due to the imbalance between redistribution and wealth creation and the lack of any real strategies. We have a simple verbal reference to strategies, which are at this moment non-existent.

Mr McCartney:

I noted with interest that after what proved to be a bogus point of order during the Deputy First Minister's speech you ruled that references to "Government" were relevant to the process of government. It is largely to the process of government that I wish to address my remarks.

There is little point in having a Programme for Government that can only be described as aspirational. Members from both sides of the political divide have referred to it as being long on rhetoric and short on substance.

The institutions, or vehicles of government, that will deliver the programme are totally defective, devoid of democratic substance, and will in many cases encourage the lawlessness that arises from violations of the rule of law in the interests of political expediency. The Executive that will carry out this Programme for Government is fatally flawed in democratic terms.

Everyone claiming to be a democrat would accept that the fundamental principle of any democratic Government is the electorate's power, at an election, to remove a Government from office. That principle governs devolution in Scotland and Wales, where a majority, either a single party or a coalition, has the responsibility for government. If those Governments' records are inadequate or inefficient the electorate can remove them from office in an election. That basic principle is absent from the vehicle of government here - the Executive - that proposes to deliver the Programme for Government. In that fact lies the relevance of what I have to say.

If there is an election at the end of the present term, the same parties across the Nationalist/Unionist divide will be returned. Under the d'Hondt principle, the parties will appoint the same Ministers, or perhaps Ministers from the same party, regardless of how inefficiently or undemocratically their predecessors have performed. There will be an election but the electorate will be denied the fundamental right to change the Government.

What we have here posing as a democratic Executive is a monster - a political Caliban. I am not aware of any Government that claims to be democratic but which includes the political representatives of terrorists who are determined to remain armed.

I return to a matter that was raised yesterday. The Deputy First Minister referred to it today when he talked about Sinn Féin - the laudable and democratic Sinn Féin party that is participating so well in the process of government. The Deputy First Minister contrasted that participation unfavourably with the activities of the Democratic Unionist Party. He forgot, however, that in November 1998 at his party conference he quite clearly and unequivocally stated that he would give a guarantee.

That guarantee was that if, by 22 May 2000, Sinn Féin had not succeeded in ensuring that the IRA had decommissioned, he would join with others in seeing that it was excluded from any Executive. In fairness to him, I have to say that it is true that there was a corollary to that guarantee - that he would also ensure that if Unionists continued to obstruct or block the entry of Sinn Féin into the Executive he would support that party. The truth is that one half of that guarantee has been met. The Ulster Unionists, lemming like, jumped over the cliff. They jumped first and permitted Sinn Féin to be in the Executive.

Do we find that this democratic arrangement worked? Do we find that there was any honouring of the guarantee that he gave? It was a guarantee that could not be removed from the democratic table. If it was right in November 1998 to say that the representatives of a political party fronting an armed terrorist organisation should not participate in the Government unless they disarmed, it must be valid today. But what do we find? We find that this Programme for Government before us today is based on the participation of parties in the Executive who are still advocating that violence and the democratic process are equal weapons in securing their objectives. Fundamentally, a house that is built on sand - a Programme for Government that is based upon an Executive that is inherently flawed and undemocratic - cannot stand. An Executive proposing a Programme for Government, which itself offers no prospect to the electorate of judging in a subsequent election the record and stewardship of that Executive, is not democracy.

I now turn to the next aspect of this undemocratic and unprincipled arrangement to deliver this programme. Each Minister of the 10 Departments is not appointed collectively by a First Minister. If they are inefficient or negligent, there is no question of the First Minister, or even the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, being able to dismiss them. They are not his appointees. Under the d'Hondt system they are the appointees of the party that placed them there. Their first duty is not to any sense of collective responsibility in the Executive - their first duty is to deliver the objectives of the party that placed them there and which can remove them from office or replace them with others.

Some people would say - rightly, I believe - that, far from having a Government who are subject to collective responsibility, we have 10 Departments, each governed by an independent political warlord owing no collective responsibility to the Assembly or, indeed, to the Executive. Members who spoke earlier have drawn attention to this. The Member for North Antrim, in a lengthy speech yesterday, made reference to the activities of the Minister of Education in relation to the allocation of funds. No fair-minded person looking at the apportionment of those funds among state, maintained and integrated schools could conceivably come to the conclusion that there was anything other than a heavy bias - an extraordinary bias - in favour of that section of the community which is notionally believed to be supportive of a Nationalist political philosophy or, indeed, a Republican one.


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