Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 2 July 2001 (continued)

Mr C Wilson:

As I listened to the recriminations and counter-recriminations being fired across the Chamber, I was reminded of Shakespeare's words, " O what a tangled web we weave" - [Interruption]

Mr McCartney:

It was Sir Walter Scott.

Mr C Wilson:

Thank you. I bow to the greater knowledge of Mr McCartney. It is always good to have a QC working beside you.

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Chair is here to correct matters of order, not literature.

Mr C Wilson:

A "tangled web" was woven by Mr Trimble and the Prime Minister when they presented the Belfast Agreement to the electorate on the basis that it would offer decommissioning, peace, stability and reconciliation in the community. When we look at what is happening in the Chamber today we can see exactly where it has brought Northern Ireland in political terms.

Mr Trimble and the Prime Minister presented the Belfast Agreement for endorsement by the electorate on the basis that those who were fronting organisations inextricably linked to terrorism of any nature could not be in Government in Northern Ireland governing people they have terrorised for the last 30 years.

We watched the May 2000 deadline come and go. That was no surprise to those of us who had pointed out to the electorate at the time of the referendum that there was no requirement or commitment in the Belfast Agreement for Sinn Féin to do anything about decommissioning.

It is a sad pitch that we come to today. I listened to Mr Mallon's comments and to Peter Robinson's question of just how much store we can set by Mr Trimble's resignation. There is a riddle in Northern Ireland: when is a resignation not a resignation? When it is delivered by Mr Trimble or Mr Mallon.

Over the coming weeks, no doubt, there will be some attempt by Her Majesty's Government and the parties to the agreement to cook up another load of fudge to get around this difficult and thorny issue of decommissioning. People in Northern Ireland know that Mr Adams and his cohorts in Sinn Féin/IRA will never hand over one gun or one ounce of Semtex, because they have made it clear throughout the process that it is not their intention to do so. They have made clear their belief that they are legitimately entitled to hold those weapons.

It is rather peculiar to witness the Dublin Government's antics, its road-to-Damascus experience, and Mr Mallon's crocodile tears as they watch Mr Adams and his cohorts inflict severe damage on their political set-up. Mr Mallon and the SDLP have the most to be ashamed of. When Mr Adams and his cohorts were holed up in west Belfast, in an organisation that was staring defeat in the teeth as a result of the gallant efforts of the RUC and the Army, Mr Mallon, Mr Hume and their colleagues breathed life into them through the Hume/Adams talks that brought about this sordid mess which we now call the "peace process".

It will be no loss should the Executive collapse. In Northern Ireland we need - and Unionists need it very quickly - the ability to present people here with the chance to see proper democratic institutions replace this sorry farce. I look forward to the day when Northern Ireland has proper institutions which are not corrupted and polluted by people sitting in Government who are inextricably linked to terror.

Mr Ervine:

I appreciate the efforts made by Mr Trimble. He acted against a very difficult backdrop, and we have all been aware of those circumstances for a very long time.

He did something that was unbelievable in the context of the Northern Ireland in which I grew up. He did it against a backdrop of bitterness and anger, not from those he had to negotiate against, but from those on whose behalf he was negotiating.

We watch Macedonia, Sri Lanka and other areas of conflict on our televisions and wish - indeed pray - that they will find peace. However, we seem to luxuriate in the brutal bitterness into which generations of our children are born, and we use morality as a comfort blanket. People may well continue to espouse the theories and opinions espoused by those who ran away from the negotiation process, when Mr Trimble had - to use an Americanism - the cojones to stay.

We are now faced with choices. Whether Mr Trimble made the right or wrong decision is, from this point on, neither here nor there. We are undoubtedly in a crisis: anything dated 1 July in Northern Ireland is bound to herald a crisis. However, out of the crisis may come opportunity. Those of us who were prepared - and proud - to take a step forward and negotiate the Good Friday Agreement walked away from each other when we came out of Castle Buildings. We said goodbye to each other, but we did not have in place a process to implement the Good Friday Agreement. If any leader is in trouble, the process of peace and politics is in trouble. Rather than lean on each other like the tent poles of a wigwam, all of which will fall if one is taken away, we ran off to our respective constituencies trying to sell parameters for functioning that were mutually exclusive.

The issue of decommissioning was created by Unionism and the British Government to try to understand the intent. Having stepped forward and shown readiness to negotiate, they legitimately asked "Are these people genuine, are they real? Can it be that our society might find a way to live with itself? If it is true, I must know in my heart that it is true." They picked the wrong subject. They were saying "Give me 100% of your guns. No? Well, give me 90% or 50% or 20% or 5%." I am convinced that if the IRA were to place 5% of its weapons here before you, Mr Speaker, those people would accept that, even though 95% of the guns could still be used. Indeed, with the help of a productivity manager, the IRA could even get more than 100% effect from them. I would have preferred it if the question had been one of appreciating whether the IRA's ideology fitted the new dispensation. There has been no public, unequivocal statement of that. That is why we are in the trouble that we are in now. Unionists worry that the Rolls Royce of terrorist machines has laid down its weapons to follow its political path but is still wedded to those weapons.

What would have been a better subject? Mr Trimble could have argued - and Mr Mallon could have assisted him - that the IRA needed to tell the world that the war was over. I have argued for that. That would have made a difference to Unionists. A curtain should have been brought down on the past, without the need for inquiries that by their very nature are one-sided. The Unionist people, among whom I live, are in serious dismay. I have watched Republicanism - even Nationalism - luxuriate in that dismay.

1.00 pm

I will return to the theory that if one leader in the peace process is in trouble, we are all in trouble. It should not be forgotten that the one group which increased the expectation that IRA weapons would be put beyond use was the IRA itself. The IRA made a statement, and it was assisted by Sinn Féin in giving an explanation of it. However, no one explained the caveat included in that statement that decommissioning would be carried out in the context of the removal of the causes of conflict. The only cause of conflict that I have ever heard expressed by the IRA has been "Brits out". Explanation and understanding is needed; either the guns are over or the war is over.

Ms McWilliams:

I also regret that on such a warm and beautiful day we have to come in here to such a cold and dismal atmosphere. I regret that the Deputy First Minister had to make today's personal statement and that our First Minister has tendered his resignation. Those two posts are interdependent, and we will not resolve this problem until we acknowledge our interdependency. It is time to stop bringing problems to the table and to start bringing solutions. It is probable that we would never have reached an agreement in the first place had we continued to bring problems to the table.

On occasions such as this, a partnership might have been more effective than a plan. We have a good plan but, as Mr Ervine said, we lost the partnerships that helped to create that plan. Over the next few weeks we need to recommit ourselves to full-time negotiations. This is not a part-time peace process; it requires full-time dedication to what should be inclusive round-table negotiations. There should be no discovery afterwards of side deals that were agreed when the rest of us were not present.

That is partly the reason for our present situation. Had the process been slightly more transparent and accountable, we might not be in this crisis. However, we have been here before, so perhaps we can again get through this process of crisis management to achieve conflict transformation and one day soon - but it does take time - conflict resolution.

Over the next few weeks it would be useful to agree a definition of normalisation, because although we all speak English, each of us needs a translation of the term. If normalisation consists of demilitarisation, it also consists of taking arms out of use and putting them beyond use. If we are to speak about a normalised society, we must all agree a definition of law and order. Not only have we not yet dealt with that problem, we have neither defined nor named it.

We have perhaps a final opportunity over the next few weeks not only to confront and challenge each other about how to resolve that problem but to support each other in finally putting back in place the plan and the partnerships.

Mr McCartney:

Some of the contributions made in response to Mr Mallon's personal statement have oscillated between utter hypocrisy and total farce. Political representatives of some of the most murderous terrorist organisations made contributions as if they were an amalgam of the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. Séamus Mallon tells us that we are enjoying a period of peace and tranquillity as never existed before, yet everyone wakes up each morning to a litany of murderous brutality - shooting, maiming and robbery.

Dr O'Hagan:

Carried out by Loyalists.

Mr McCartney:

Yes, carried out by Loyalists - and carried out in £4 million heists that have the approval of the IRA high command. I hold no brief for any of those people.

Let us talk about the fundamental principles and why these institutions are inherently unstable. They are unstable because they are undemocratic. I hear Seamus Mallon talk about respecting Sinn Féin's mandate. Does Mr Mallon understand anything about democracy? You cannot participate in the democratic process while committed to, and inextricably linked with, those wedded to violence of any kind - Orange, Green, Loyalist or Republican. That is the fundamental principle of democracy.

Sinn Féin should not be in the Assembly or the Executive. They claim to have a mandate, but one thing is clear - you cannot have a mandate to do wrong. Hitler had a National Socialist Government on the basis of a popular mandate - a Government, not just a party. Mr Milosevic, who is now lodged in a prison at the Hague for wrongdoing, had a mandate from the Serbian people for his actions. Sinn Féin aka IRA cannot have a mandate to participate in democracy while they are wedded to violence. The party should not be in the Assembly because democracy cannot coexist with terror.

It is utterly wrong to suggest that they should not be here because of the terms of the Belfast Agreement. I share, and have always expressed, the view that the Belfast Agreement, which was signed up to by the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party, never contained any sanction imposed on Sinn Féin to deliver decommissioning by 22 May 2000. The fudge, which was agreed to by all of the so-called democratic parties, was that Sinn Féin was there on exactly the same basis as all of the other parties. They were committed under the Belfast Agreement only to use such influence as they might have to bring about decommissioning by that date.

There was a far bigger, a far stronger, and a far more fundamental reason for excluding members of Sinn Féin: they are not democrats. They are the frontmen for terrorists, and each day that they adhere to their determination not to decommission their weapons, they confirm that they are not democrats. They emphasise that they are terrorists essentially, as do the Loyalist parties that are represented here: they are absolutely no different and are equally as murderous and detestable.

The good democrats here in the form of the pro- agreement parties - the posturing whited sepulchres of the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition - hobnob with them. They work with them. They consider that they are the midwives of the agreement. They breastfeed terrorism. We must address the real question of democracy.

I have heard many plaudits for Mr Trimble and his good relationship with the Deputy First Minister. Everyone knows that the relationship has been poisonous for the last two years. That is the element of hypocrisy: Mr Ervine provides the element of farce.

Unless we begin to recognise the basic principles of democracy and until Mr Mallon is prepared to do what he said in November 1998 and put those terrorists out of business, insofar as this is a democratic process, there will be no future prospects of any value for the Assembly. Get down to basics; be honest; tell the people the truth, and stop posturing.

Mr Poots:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking clarification of the role of the Committee of the Centre, now that we do not have a First Minister or a Deputy First Minister to monitor. We are due to hold a meeting on Wednesday to arrive at our conclusions about the Single Equality Bill. Will it be in order to hold that meeting? What is the situation in relation to the junior Ministers? Are they carrying out their functions without the trappings, or are they now defunct?

Mr Speaker:

The Committee monitors the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. That office, and its officials, are still in place. It would be wrong for the Committee to default on monitoring the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I am not aware - and, in reading section 19 of the 1998 Act, can see no reason to believe - that the junior Ministers cease to hold office in these circumstances. There are other circumstances in which the junior Ministers cease to hold office, but unless someone can point out otherwise, it does not seem to me that they cease to hold office in these circumstances. There are still Ministers or Members of the Assembly continuing to carry out the functions of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister - not holding office, but exercising the functions. It would be remiss of the Committee of the Centre, or of the Assembly as a whole, not to continue to monitor that and to hold it to account.

Mr C Wilson:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Poots has raised a question that demonstrates the problem for Unionists who declare that this body is dead, but still want to play with the corpse. Mr Poots and his Colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party would be better to withdraw from all of the Committees and bring this charade -

Mr Speaker:

Order. It is clear that that is not a point of order but a political point. Let us now move on.

Mr McLaughlin:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I refer to a previous ruling, and draw your attention to the comments of Mr McCartney. Will you study his remarks as reported in Hansard and make a statement to this House at an early opportunity?

Mr Speaker:

Which particular point in Mr McCartney's speech -

Mr McLaughlin:

He pointed in the direction of my party and said "these terrorists" when he was talking about exclusion.

Mr Speaker:

In respect of rulings on parliamentary language, I have said before - and it is clear in 'Erskine May' - that where mention is made of individuals, matters become unparliamentary. When mention is made of groups of people, that is not necessarily unparliamentary. However, I shall study what was said and will make a ruling in the House if necessary. In any case, I will respond directly to the Member, even if it is not necessary to make a ruling.

Mr McLaughlin:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. In making your judgement on this issue, could you bear in mind those who listen in on these proceedings? In some cases, very dangerous people may take a particular lead from ill-advised comments. [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order. I cannot hear what the Member is saying.

Mr McLaughlin:

I am thinking particularly of the ongoing Loyalist campaign.

Mr Speaker:

I will take cognisance of the matters raised by the Member. Since he has pressed me on the issue, I must draw his attention to the fact that where comments are made which have a legal basis in terms of convictions under due process, and refer to a number of members of a group of which no particular Member is pointed out, it is extremely difficult to rule them unparliamentary. I cannot see any way that one could rule that unparliamentary. It may be that such matters do not refer to all the Members of the group - and that may be the case for the Member who raises the question, for example - but that does not necessarily render the matter inadmissible or unparliamentary. I will study the matter and respond to the Member, even if it is not appropriate for a ruling in the Chamber. [Interruption]

The Minster has been extremely patient. I will take a couple more points of order, and then we must leave it.

Mr J Kelly:

Further to what my Colleague has said - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


Mr J Kelly:

Further to what my Colleague has said, it is a matter of public concern that statements - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


Mr J Kelly:

- that statements made, and language used, in this House, at a time when Nationalists are under attack by Loyalists - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member will resume his seat.

Mr J Kelly:

- can lead to the deaths of innocent Nationalists and Catholics in this community.

1.15 pm

Mr Speaker:

Order. It is the case that Members from either side of the House may make mention of things that increase the temperature. I can rule only on questions of whether they are parliamentary, unparliamentary or in order. It is not a question of the content of speeches.

Mr J Kelly:

And the effect?

Mr Speaker:

It is not possible for me to rule on what may or may not be the effect of speeches outside. However -

Mr J Kelly:

Inside the House?

Mr Speaker:

The effect outside the House was the one to which I think the Member was referring. Of course, he is right to draw attention to the House that what is said and done here does have an effect outside, and may have an untoward effect. It is appropriate for all Members, in their words and actions inside and outside the Chamber, to keep that very much to the fore in their minds. The Member in drawing attention to that fact is of course entirely in order.

Mr McCartney:

I am acutely aware of the sensitivities that I have possibly offended - though since I spoke extemporarily, I have no recollection. If it assists, I am willing to amend what was alleged when I referred to terrorists, to the political representatives of terrorists. I would not wish any of those wicked, ill-advised people who might hear things outside to do any injury to terrorists, former terrorists, political representatives of terrorists or any other person of any description.

Mr Speaker:

Order. We cannot take any more time over this matter in the Chamber. That is a clear offer from Mr McCartney that he, and some of the other Members, may clarify between each other as to exactly what is being said. That will have to take place outside the Chamber.


North/South Ministerial Council:
Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights

Mr Speaker:

If Members wish to leave and not to hear this important statement, will they please do so quietly. I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that she wishes to make a statement on the North/South Ministerial Council for the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights sector held on 22 June 2001.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Ms Rodgers):

The fifth meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council for the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights sector took place on Friday, 22 June 2001, at the Loughs Agency's headquarters in Prehen. Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Mr Sam Foster and I represented Northern Ireland. Mr Frank Fahey, Minister for Marine and Natural Resources represented the Irish Government. The Executive Committee noted the papers for the meeting during the week commencing 18 June.

The meeting opened with updates from the chairman of the board of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, Mr Peter Savage, and the chief executive of the Loughs Agency, Mr Derick Anderson.

The chairman referred to the significant contribution that the introduction of the salmon carcass tagging scheme is making to curb illegal fishing, particularly in the Foyle area. The scheme was introduced on 14 May as a conservation and protection measure requiring the tagging and recording of all wild salmon and sea trout caught by licensed commercial fishermen and anglers.

The chief executive elaborated that the response from the fishing community to the introduction of the scheme has, by and large, been excellent. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly obvious that buyers will not accept untagged salmon. The chief executive also advised Ministers of details in relation to this season's fish runs, as evidenced by data coming from the fish counters at Sion Mills and on the River Finn. On the basis of this season's data to date, stocks are looking healthy, and therefore regulations may permit an extension of the fishing season by a week.

We also heard about coarse and shellfish fishing activity. The agency has initiated surveys of the coarse fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas, including the Newry canal, with a view to their future development as angling venues. While the mussel fishery in Foyle continues to develop well, and Carlingford had an excellent season, indications suggest that limited seed mussels are present in Carlingford, and landings are liable to drop over the next two to three years.

Wild oyster landings in the Foyle were average last season, and surveys undertaken by the cross-border aquaculture initiative team indicate similar landings for the forthcoming season though there are concerns about stocks for 2002. Japanese oyster production in Carlingford is stable at about 600 tonnes per annum, though developments on the County Down shore should increase this significantly.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)

Work is ongoing to bring forward a marine tourism strategy for the areas. While the strategy is not fully developed, the agency is working to consolidate angling guides for the areas, to develop training courses for hospitality providers and to clarify the existing complicated licensing system.

The agency has also resumed enforcement and protection duties that had been curtailed during the foot-and- mouth disease crisis, and work on pollution detection and prevention is ongoing.

I am satisfied that the Loughs Agency continues to deliver on its objectives in a committed and enthusiastic manner. It was gratifying to note the enthusiasm with which the agency's good work was received by Minister Fahey, who recognised that the agency's first-class management information is worthy of emulation by others.

The Council considered the agency's proposals for targeting social need (TSN) through the provision of educational opportunities for schools, the promotion of the agency's interpretive centre, the improvement of angling facilities and the development of marine tourism. The Council approved the agency's draft TSN action plan for public consultation.

The Council noted the agency's annual report for 2000, which will be published in due course. It also noted the agency's proposals to draw up a co-ordinated local aquaculture management system (CLAMS) for regulating and managing the shell fisheries of the loughs and welcomed the agency's proposal to commission a survey of local views, concerns and proposals in that vital area.

The Council approved the agency's proposals for arrangements to consult with fisheries and other interests in the areas. These involve setting up an advisory forum and focus groups to represent interests such as aquaculture, conservation and tourism. Recruitment for membership of these groups will be undertaken independently and will start soon.

The Council then considered and approved additional expenditure of £81,000 to allow the agency to complete work on its new headquarters.

Mr Shannon:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

No points of order are taken during or after a Minister's statement. They will be taken after questions.

Ms Rodgers:

Sufficient provision already exists in the Agriculture and Rural Development Department's budget to meet that extra need. The Department was also advised of plans to complete the interpretative centre, the shell of which has been completed within the new headquarters. The agency will bring forward detailed proposals at a later date. Ministers were also updated on progress in transferring the functions of the commissioners of Irish Lights to the body.

The Council agreed to meet again in the autumn. It approved a joint communiqué, a copy of which has been placed in the Assembly Library. I am making this statement on behalf of Mr Foster and myself.

Dr Birnie:

I thank the Minister for her statement. I refer her to the third sentence from the end of the statement which says

"Ministers were also updated on progress in transferring the functions of the commissioners of Irish Lights to the body."

Will the Minister update the House on such progress?

Ms Rodgers:

The legislation to transfer the functions to the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is the responsibility of the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions in the United Kingdom, and the Irish Government. It is not a straightforward matter and will take some time to work through. However, progress is being made. There are unique funding arrangements for the commissioners of Irish Lights through the general lighthouse fund, and it is necessary to ensure proper accountability for that funding.

The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions is concerned about the level of funding from the Irish Government, but that, as the Member will be aware, is a matter for the UK and Irish Governments.

Mr McGrady:

I welcome the Minister's detailed statement on the advances made in the Loughs Agency. I refer to the comments she made about the Council's approval of agency proposals to have consultative or advisory focus groups. The Minister will be aware that there are conflicting interests around the shores of Carlingford Lough. On the County Down side of the lough, the Carlingford Loughshore Owners' Association have rights, as do the Mourne shellfish group, Aquamarine Cultivation.

Will the Minister indicate what further action she will take to reconcile these difficulties? Can she expand on the consultation which is going to take place and tell us when the forum or focus groups will be set up?

Ms Rodgers:

I am aware of the conflict and the difficulties that arise. The Loughs Agency has proposed the establishment of an advisory forum and focus groups in which local fishery interests will be represented. The focus groups will be established for specific areas including conservation and protection, development of aquaculture, development of inland fisheries, development of marine tourism and customer service. They will input to the work of the advisory forum.

The agency has retained consultants to recruit members to the forum and the focus groups independently so as to ensure that all interests are represented. The aim is to have the groups active by the end of the summer.

Mr Shannon:

The point I was trying to make, Mr Deputy Speaker, was that there was a page missing from the copy of the Minister's statement we were given this morning. Unfortunately, as the Minister was speaking, many of us were not aware of that. The statement went from page one to page three. We cannot do anything about it now. I did take note of the Minister's -

Ms Rodgers:

Page two is on the back of page one.

Mr Shannon:

With great respect, Minister, it is not on the back of page one of my copy, which was one of those that were handed out earlier. We followed the Minister's comments, and we made note of them.

The statement says that it is becoming increasingly obvious that buyers will not accept untagged salmon. Can the Minister indicate what evidence there is to support that? Can she further confirm that the run of salmon has improved, and, if so, by how much? What consultation has taken place with fishing organisations to permit an extension of the fishing season for one week? Would it be appropriate to extend the season by more than one week? Page two of the statement referred to -

Mr Deputy Speaker:

By my count that was five questions, Mr Shannon.

Mr Shannon:

I think it was two, although I am a very bad mathematician.

I have a quick question if you will let me ask it, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is about the co-ordinated local agricultural management system (CLAMS). Does that include Strangford Lough, and if so, what consultation has taken place with local fishing organisations and individuals who depend on that for their livelihood?

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Minister, I will leave it to you to decide whether you wish to answer all of those questions.

Ms Rodgers:

To be honest, I had some difficulty hearing all of them. The answer to the last question is no.

As regards tagged salmon not being saleable, I cannot go into detail about that; I have to take the Lough's Agency's word for it. They informed us at the meeting that the information they were gleaning was that only tagged salmon were being accepted and that there was difficulty in selling poached salmon. So far this season the agency has seized more than 80 illegal nets, two boats and a number of salmon in the Foyle area. Recently, the agency enforcement activities have had to be curtailed, as the Member will appreciate, because of the foot-and- mouth disease situation.

The agency has recruited 11 temporary staff over the summer period to increase its protection effort. The salmon carcass tagging scheme will help reduce the level of poaching in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Evidence of a decrease in poaching is already being shown. Last year, the Loughs Agency seized 126 nets and 222 salmon in the period from 14 May to 21 June. In the previous year 103 nets and 64 salmon were seized during the same period. This indicates the success that the Loughs Agency has had in counteracting poaching.

1.30 pm

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister's statement, and in particular its reference to the focus groups and their work. The work of the cross-border bodies is important, as it involves people from both sides of the border in the future of all-Ireland fishing. The Minister mentioned Lough Foyle, Lough Erne and other inland fishing areas subject to concern about the relationship between stock levels and tourism. Will the remit of these focus groups include the ability to deliver future benefit to tourism from increased stock levels of salmon? That is a real problem in Fermanagh and for other inland lakes.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr McHugh for his question, but I must advise him that we are dealing with the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, whose remit does not extend to matters regarding Lough Erne. That is a matter for Mr McGimpsey, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. It is not within my remit to deal with Lough Erne.

Mr McFarland:

I thank the Minister for her statement. I am curious about the fish counts in Sion Mills. Is it correct that the Glenelly, Owenkillew, Strule and Mourne are still closed to fishing? If so, when might these rivers open again? I understand that they were closed due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Ms Rodgers:

Due to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak these rivers are still closed. However, these restrictions are under review. We have published guidelines explaining to anglers that where there is no contact with livestock it is all right to resume fishing, and that fishermen should do so in consultation with local farmers to reassure themselves.

Mr McMenamin:

Over the past year there have been several savage attacks on bailiffs in my constituency of West Tyrone. Everyone must condemn these attacks. The Minister has already referred to my question. What action has been taken by the Loughs Agency to counteract poaching activity in its area?

Ms Rodgers:

I agree with the Member's remarks, and I repeat that it is regrettable that people carrying out their duties have been attacked. I enquired at the last meeting of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission (FCILC) whether there had been any further attacks and was advised that none have occurred in recent times. That is good news.

Poaching activity has decreased in the area of the Loughs Agency. I have already given the figures which indicate clearly that the salmon carcass tagging scheme is up and running and is making the market unprofitable for salmon poachers.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Does the Minister agree that while Japanese oyster production in Carlingford Lough is stable, there is a need to improve our marketing of that product for export? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that the local fishermen who have invested a great deal in Carlingford Lough will not be undermined in the future negotiations involving the focus groups that she is setting up?

Ms Rodgers:

Part of the agency's strategy will be to improve the management of the stocks, and marketing the stocks will be part of that. The agency is in the business of developing the commercial asset of the loughs. I can assure the Member that the interests of locals will not be undermined. There will be full consultation through the focus groups, and local interest groups will form part of that consultation.


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