Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 3 July 2001


Royal Assent

Assembly: Unparliamentary Language

North/South Ministerial Council: Inland Waterways

North/South Ministerial Council: Special EU Programmes Body

Winter Service Review

Industrial Development Bill: Second Stage

Budget (No 2) Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Committee Business: Assembly Standing Orders

Public-Private Partnerships

Tourism in the North Antrim Area


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

Members observed two minutes' silence.

Royal Assent


Mr Speaker:

I wish to inform Members that Royal Assent has been signified to the Defective Premises (Landlord's Liability) Act (Northern Ireland) 2001 and to the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act (Northern Ireland) 2001. These Acts became law on 2 July 2001.


Assembly: Unparliamentary Language


Mr Speaker:

On Tuesday 26 June Dr Paisley raised a point of order regarding language used by the then First Minister during a personal statement by the Minister for Regional Development, Mr Campbell, the previous day. Dr Paisley asked for a ruling on whether the remark was unparliamentary.

I have examined Hansard and consulted with officials on the practice in other places. I believe that there was some ambiguity and that the then First Minister attempted at the time to correct his remark, but that this was not recorded correctly in the Official Report of the debate. A corrigendum was issued with the report of yesterday's proceedings.

The use of the word "coward" is regarded as unparliamentary in other places, and it seems to me that it cannot be regarded as anything different in this place. While there may be some question as to whether this is the case when it is modified by the adjective "political", I have decided that the word "coward", whether or not modified by an adjective, should be regarded as unparliamentary. However, in the absence of a previous ruling on this specific term, and in view of the fact that the First Minister attempted to qualify his remark, I do not propose to take any retrospective action. I emphasise that in future the use of the word "coward" will be regarded as unparliamentary language, whether modified by an adjective or not, and any Member using it will be asked to withdraw it.

Yet again I must take the opportunity to urge Members to reflect on the tenor and content of their remarks. It does no service to Members or their constituents if business cannot be conducted in a seemly manner. I will not hesitate to take firm action against any Member who wilfully and persistently continues to ignore these directions or any other directions from the Speaker. I trust that the matter is clear.

Mr S Wilson:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have shown remarkable leniency -

Mr Speaker:

Order. The Member has not been called and therefore will not be heard. [Interruption]. Order. The Member has not been called and will not be heard.

Mr S Wilson:

You have shown particular -

Mr Speaker:

Order. I call the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr McGimpsey.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey)

rose. -[Interruption].

Mr Speaker:

Order. It is perfectly clear that the Member wishes to be thrown out. I am therefore suspending proceedings.

The sitting was suspended at 10.36 am

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) -

10.45 am

Mr Speaker:

The Member who wished to make himself heard has received correspondence from me. I hope that he will give it due consideration.

I have received -

Mr S Wilson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Since you have -

Mr Speaker:

I am not calling the Member to make a point of order. I have corresponded with him, and I asked him -

Mr S Wilson:

You asked me to give consideration -

Mr Speaker:

Order. Due consideration requires some reflection, preferably in silence. I trust that the Member will give the letter due consideration. The Member will resume his seat.


North/South Ministerial Council: Inland Waterways

Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure that he wishes to make a statement on the North/South Ministerial Council meeting on waterways which was held on 27 June 2001.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):

The third North/South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting on inland waterways took place in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, on Wednesday 27 June 2001.

Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Dr Farren and I represented the Northern Ireland Administration. The Irish Government were represented by Síle de Valera TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. I am making this report on behalf of myself and Dr Farren, who has approved the report.

The meeting opened with a progress report from the chief executive of Waterways Ireland, Mr John Martin. The Council noted that there had been disruption to work programmes due to restricted access on account of the threat of foot-and-mouth disease but that operations are now returning to normal. Since my last report to the Assembly, three major projects on the Shannon navigation at Limerick, Ballinasloe and Boyle have been completed, opening up those venues to boats for the first time. In Northern Ireland, work has been carried out to replace the lock gates at Movanagher on the Lower Bann navigation, and two public jetties at Devenish on Lough Erne have recently been refurbished.

The Council visited Waterways Ireland's temporary headquarters in Enniskillen and met some of the staff there. Overall, 220 professional, technical and industrial staff have now been transferred to Waterways Ireland, while a further 28 administrative staff have been temporarily seconded to the organisation. The recruitment process for the directors' posts commenced recently.

The Council approved Waterways Ireland's plans for promotion and marketing of inland waterways. Work is progressing on the development of a three-year strategy to promote the hire boat sector on the island as a separate niche market. A working group has been set up with representation from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Bord Fáilte and the hire boat sectors on both sides of the border to take this forward. A new brochure will be published shortly. Waterways Ireland will also prepare a longer-term marketing and promotion strategy in consultation with the cross-border tourism company, Tourism Ireland Ltd and other relevant stakeholders.

A promotions advisory group will be set up with representation from community, commercial and private user groups, as well as the tourism sector. The Council approved the setting up of a new marketing and communications directorate by Waterways Ireland to deliver these important marketing and promotions functions.

The Council received a report on the updated feasibility study on the Ulster Canal, which has been carried out by ESB International and Ferguson McIlveen. A number of options for restoration were assessed, and economic appraisals were undertaken. The preferred option recommended by the consultants and endorsed by Waterways Ireland is for restoration of the canal with six-metre- wide locks along a modified route that would link into the River Blackwater at the Lough Neagh end and the River Finn at the Lough Erne end.

The updated capital cost for the construction works is £89 million at 2000 prices. The construction phase of the project is estimated to take about seven years to complete. When inflation is taken into account, the final construction costs will be significantly higher than £89 million. The economic appraisal for the preferred option indicates a net present cost of £39 million at 2000 prices, discounting the projected cash flows over the estimated life of the project using the 6% discount rate currently applicable to UK public sector projects.

The Council recognised that there are non-monetary benefits that have to be considered. The Council noted Waterways Ireland's assessment of the feasibility study report. Now the two Governments must consider the report and determine the way forward. An executive summary of the consultants' report will be released to inform and promote public debate on the issues involved.

The Council approved both the selection process for recruitment of the chief executive officer and the draft strategic development plan for Foras na Gaeilge.

The Council agreed to meet again in sectoral format in autumn 2001.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr ONeill):

I welcome the Minister's statement and would like to record the Committee's pleasure that, despite some disruption caused by foot-and- mouth disease, a number of projects have been completed on both sides of the border. We are also glad that staffing levels have improved. Can the Minister tell us when Waterways Ireland's full complement of 380 employees, which he mentioned recently, will be achieved, and when the appointment of directors will be completed?

It is also good to see that the Council visited the temporary headquarters of Waterways Ireland in Enniskillen. Can the Minister tell us what stage the arrangements for the permanent headquarters are at? I am also glad that preparations for the three-year development strategy for the hire boat sector are underway. Can the Minister tell us the timescale for the completion of these?

It is good to see the preparation that is being done on the longer-term marketing and promotions strategy in consultation with Tourism Ireland Ltd. One of the key issues emerging from the Committee's current inquiry into cultural tourism and the arts is that, to date, we have not been as effective as we could be in promoting and marketing our attractions. The Committee would like to know what priority will be accorded to this strategy as well as to the establishment of the promotions advisory group and the new marketing and communications directorate. We see this as being key to the developments in this area.

The Committee is glad to know that ESB International -

Mr Speaker:

Order. I remind the House that this is an opportunity for questions to the Minister on his statement. It is not an opportunity for a further statement from the Committee on its views on these matters.

Mr ONeill:

I have asked four questions, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

I know. It is an opportunity for Members to ask the Minister one question. The Minister is not required to answer more than one question. I must prevail on the Member to restrict himself to simply asking questions.

Mr ONeill:

Mr Speaker, I crave your indulgence. I have one more important question.

Mr Speaker:

I will permit the Member to ask the question, but I am rather struck by how teachers and former teachers seem to be coming to the end of term. Need I say more?

Mr ONeill:

Fortunately, there is no detention at this stage. With regard to the report of Ferguson McIlveen and the feasibility study on the Ulster Canal, on which the Committee welcomes progress, how will the Minister proceed with his consideration? How quickly does he expect to arrive at a way forward? How does he intend to address the resources issue, which the Committee considers to be important, as does the Minister?

Mr McGimpsey:

I will respond to as many of these points as possible. Staff recruitment is under way. Waterways Ireland currently employs 220 staff, has 28 seconded staff, and is rapidly moving towards the full complement of 380. There have been difficulties, not least suspension, which slowed down the rate and process of recruitment. That has prevented Waterways Ireland from reaching its full staff complement, although it is working as quickly as it can.

Although I do not have a specific date for when Waterways Ireland expects to be fully manned, the process is being taken seriously and is being dealt with as a matter of urgency. It should not spin out over one or two years. I can write to the Member to give him a better appreciation of it.

The headquarters will be in Enniskillen, with 70 full- time jobs. The selection of a site is being undertaken by Construction Services, which is acting in an advisory capacity to Waterways Ireland. There are seven proposals on five sites, from which a shortlist of three will be drawn up. Those three proposals will go to a full feasibility study, which will include planning. The decision on the final site will be made after this process.

The Member mentioned the marketing of Waterways Ireland. I cannot give a specific date for that, but I can give the Member the chronology as it has built up. Water-based tourism is one of the prime raisons d'être for reinvesting in and reinvigorating our inland waterways and canals. The potential is there, but there is no point in doing all this work if we do not promote it and go after the market.

Marketing is a matter for consideration by Waterways Ireland, which has decided to appoint a director for promotions and is currently in discussions with Bord Fáilte, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the new tourist body, Tourism Ireland Ltd. Waterways Ireland is also working with local communities and local commercial sectors - boat hire companies, for example - and is dealing with the stakeholders as they bring forward a promotional strategy for internal and international marketing.

11.00 am

An updated feasibility study on the Ulster Canal has been conducted, and the cost at 2000 prices is £89 million. Because of the lifetime of the canal, construction will take seven years by traditional methods and with traditional funding. The price, therefore, will rise. Roughly half of the canal is in Northern Ireland and the rest is in the Irish Republic, so the arrangement is for an almost fifty-fifty split in relation to finding the capital. There are, however, opportunities for attracting private finance into that investment, and it is important that we explore those avenues as we move forward. There is good business potential in the recreation of the Ulster canal system, and I have no doubt that private finance can be attracted. We must look at that in more depth.

There are hidden benefits - for example, in targeting social need. Canals go through rural areas and areas that suffer from low economic activity. The experience in the Irish Republic, on the mainland and in Europe is that this type of development in such areas greatly enhances local communities.

There are other factors to be considered, but the feasibility study is based primarily on the previous study for a six-metre-wide canal to allow use by existing boats on Lough Erne. That is the next step.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mrs Nelis):

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his statement. Can he give us some detail of the approved plan by Waterways Ireland for promotion and marketing? When will the new brochure on the hire boat sector on both sides of the border be available? Will the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee be given a preview of any promotional material? In the past, I have seen brochures produced by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board that did not live up to the standards expected of a major tourist organisation. Will the Committee have any input into the new marketing strategy?

Finally, I express my concern at the illegal exclusion of our Ministers from the cross-border Ministerial Council meetings.

Mr McGimpsey:

In my response to Mr ONeill, I dealt with the promotion and marketing of Waterways Ireland. As I said, that process is under way. The short-term and longer-term marketing and promotion are being looked at with Tourism Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Bord Fáilte and the relevant stakeholders. I have no doubt that brochures will be produced. Waterways Ireland is a stand-alone body, answering to the North/ South Ministerial Council and, therefore, to the Assembly. I have no doubt that arrangements can be made to allow Committee input into the promotions strategy.

I hear what you say about previous strategies not always living up to what had been anticipated. Given the history of the last 25 years, it was a difficult sell. Matters are now improving greatly. There is huge potential, and, as I said in an earlier answer, canals act as economic generators. Canals are a benefit to the community as a whole and especially to the communities situated close to them.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I encourage all Members to address the House through the Chair. One needs to remind oneself of that from time to time.

Mrs Carson:

I welcome the Minister's report, and I hope that he enjoyed his day in the centre of the universe - Enniskillen, one of the most beautiful places.

I note that three major projects have been completed on the Shannon. Are there any major projects for the Erne system in the pipeline? I am delighted that the two jetties at Devenish have been refurbished. The work was necessary on that important site, which gets a lot of traffic. Will other jetties on the lough be refurbished and extended?

The Lough Erne system is experiencing increased pressure from boat traffic coming from the Republic of Ireland. Can the Minister give details of the number of craft entering the system from the Shannon waterways? Is there a monitoring system in place? I ask because of the increased pressure on the public jetties.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I find teachers difficult to control, particularly as regards the number of questions they tend to ask. It is an occupational hazard. Could the Member restrict her questions?

Mrs Carson:

I have finished.

Mr McGimpsey:

Three major projects were completed recently at Limerick, Ballinasloe and Boyle. As regards Lough Erne, six public jetties at Muckross, Bellanaleck, Magho, Inishdavar, Devenish East and Devenish West have been completely refurbished. A new floating jetty has been placed on the Lower Bann at Toome, and the gates at Movanagher Lough were replaced recently. There is an ongoing maintenance and capital programme for waterways, and it applies to Lough Erne because Upper and Lower Lough Erne are an integral part of the system. Those matters are under way as a matter of course.

Mrs Carson asked about projects in Northern Ireland. I referred to the Ulster Canal and the upgrade feasibility study that is now with us. The executive summary will be given to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee and placed in the Library. I announced recently that we are conducting a study into the Lagan navigation system. That is another major part of the scheme. If the River Lagan navigation system were completed, with navigation through Lough Neagh, it would connect Belfast, through the Ulster Canal, to the Shannon waterways. That is an exciting prospect, offering huge potential for tourism earnings.

Mr Hilditch:

The Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, having voiced concerns about feasibility studies relating to tourism in Northern Ireland, would like to ask the Minister to indicate when the report on the Ulster Canal project will be available. We do not want to see another Navan Fort situation or the similar problems that are found at many other tourist attractions.

How many are on the working group set up to consider the promotion and marketing of inland waterways? Will the Minister give his assessment of the projects completed to date in view of the major developments that have taken place in the Republic compared with the minor works in Northern Ireland? Did all completed projects meet their budgetary targets?

Mr McGimpsey:

I have referred to the issues that Mr Hilditch raises. The executive summary of the canal report will be available to the Committee and will be placed in the Library. It reached us last week and will be a matter for discussion between the Committee and myself. It is a major project, so it is important that the Committee put forward its views.

The Member asked about completed projects. I gave a sense of what has happened. We must understand that there has been major investment in canals and inland waterways in the Irish Republic over a number of years and that they have a major system in operation now. The Republic needs to work on six road bridges in order to bring the Royal Canal back into operation. That work is beginning immediately. The Republic's system is advanced; the system here is not. As Members know, nothing was spent on canals and inland navigation in Northern Ireland during the past 25 years. We are starting from a lower base, which means that large amounts of capital must be found. That is why it is important that Waterways Ireland and the Department, in consultation with the Committee, consider the question of resources more broadly than just relying on Assembly Budgets. It will not be feasible to find the money from the Assembly Budget under the current financial restrictions.

Waterways Ireland is recruiting a director of promotions. The body has also assembled a group of stakeholders in the area - such as Lough Erne boat owners, other users and local councils - who are looking for help from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Bord Fáilte and Tourism Ireland Ltd. The group wants to promote a strategy, and anyone is welcome to contribute good ideas. As I said to Mrs Nelis, I will ensure that the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee has an opportunity to make a contribution to that process.

Mr McMenamin:

I am definitely not a teacher - I never was.

Canals are certainly part of our heritage, and the restoration of canals must be applauded. My local council, Strabane District Council, is carrying out a feasibility study on the restoration of the canal. I want to let the Minister know that there is life in the north-west and that we are looking for funds for the restoration of Strabane Canal.

What steps has the Minister taken to resolve the problem of the proposed development of a footbridge that will create an obstacle to navigation on the Newry Canal at Scarva? The creation of such obstacles must be avoided if we are to encourage and promote the wider use of our inland waterways.

Mr McGimpsey:

I note what Mr McMenamin said about the Strabane Canal and the north-west. To be frank, I must admit that I was not aware that there had been a canal in Strabane.

The Member referred to a footbridge at Scarva on the Newry-Portadown Canal, which was an important navigation canal in the nineteenth century. That canal is on the list for refurbishment. It was an important link to Portadown and was part of the network of canals. I had no input into the decision on the construction of the footbridge at Scarva. My Department was not asked for permission, and it is not clear to me what our interest in that was. In examining such matters, we would consider it a retrograde step to build a bridge over a canal, without allowing sufficient space underneath it to allow for the navigation of boats. Questions must be asked about that.

As I understand it, the Newry-Portadown Canal was listed by the Environment and Heritage Service, which may have been an extreme step at the time. However, that step would seem not to have worked if they have allowed the construction of a bridge over the canal that does not permit navigation, even though they knew - as everybody does - about the remit of Waterways Ireland and the interest of this House in the reinstatement of our canal network.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh ráiteas an Aire ar leibhéal amháin ach ar leibhéal eile tá mé míshásta leis. I welcome the report and the fact that the meeting took place, but, again, I want to record my dissatisfaction and protest at the continued unlawful exclusion of Sinn Féin Ministers from North/South Council meetings.

I want to concentrate on the feasibility study on the Ulster Canal and on the crucial matter of facilitating and promoting public debate on the issue. I was concerned at the comments made by the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mrs Carson) about the pressure on Lough Erne created by traffic from the Republic. I would have thought that there would be a universal welcome for visitors to Lough Erne. Fermanagh District Council has a progressive attitude towards that issue.

When will the executive summary of the consultants' report be released into the public domain? That is necessary for meaningful public debate to take place. Further to the question asked by the Committee Chairperson, Mr ONeill, can the Minister give preliminary details of how that project could be financed by the two Governments?

11.15 am

Mr McGimpsey:

We will make the executive summary available immediately to members of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, and it will be placed in the Library. That will be a step forward. We have just received the report, which is very technical and comprises several volumes, and we are still trying to assimilate it. The executive summary is the first step towards doing that, and its contents will be shared immediately.

It is important that we have a public debate on the matter, so that people can get an appreciation of the importance of the scheme, the economic benefits that will flow from the recreation of the canals network, and the potential for water-based tourism from which big earnings can be made. Other countries that have developed their canal networks have profited in that way, and that is the raison d'être of Waterways Ireland. It wants to create a network that will attract visitors, and we will all benefit from that. We want to ensure that facilities such as Lough Erne are used and that visitors are attracted to these areas. Mr McElduff may have had made another point, but I have answered most of his questions.

We have not yet addressed the issue of finance. The study states that the revenue consequences will be positive - in other words, once the canal is operational, the revenue from it will more than take care of planned maintenance, renewals and refurbishment. The capital cost is high - £89 million at last year's prices - and we should be a wee bit more imaginative rather than simply taking the traditional funding route. There are means of attracting private finance investment for such a scheme.

Mr J Wilson:

I congratulate the Minister, his Department and Lisburn Borough Council on the recent world canals conference, which was held for three days in Dublin and one day in Northern Ireland. They made an excellent contribution, and our officials and Lisburn Borough Council have much to be pleased about. It was an excellent few days. I attended the conference with the Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr ONeill.

Is the Minister aware of the generally held view that those employed in the Lough Erne boat hire businesses are losing out in the tourism market, principally because of the exchange rate? For the most part, tourists are hiring their boats in the South before immediately travelling north to Upper and Lower Lough Erne. Is he aware - this has been referred to already - of the shortage of public jetties and private moorings in Lough Erne? That is another handicap for the tourist industry north of the border.

Will the Minister address the matter of ownership of the foreshore? The foreshore is the portion of land surrounding both lakes that was exposed when, some years ago, the water level of the lake decreased considerably. I understand that only 9% of the foreshore is owned by adjacent landowners. I can only assume that the other 91% is owned by the Crown, and that raises questions with regard to Waterways Ireland.

Will the Minister also examine the matter of ownership of the bedrock and soil of the lake -the portion beyond the foreshore? I draw that to the Minister's attention because the handicaps created by foot-and-mouth disease and the exchange rate have this year created additional problems for those involved in the boat-hire business in Northern Ireland, on top of their existing problems. When those who work in the boat-hire industry attempt to develop their own businesses, they are being asked to hand over large sums of money for foreshore land. Indeed, if we were to go further and try to put a breakwater into the lake, the owner of the bedrock would be looking for thousands of pounds. Is the Minister aware that Northern Ireland boat-hirers are considerably handicapped because of that? If not, will he raise the matters with Waterways Ireland?

Mr McGimpsey:

There is a cost difference between hiring boats in the Irish Republic and hiring them in Northern Ireland. It is primarily to do with the exchange rate and the disparity between the punt and the pound. There are advantages in hiring boats in the Irish Republic. However, set against that is that fact that anyone who wants to tour that area must drive the boat up to Lough Erne. It is a case of swings and roundabouts.

I am not clear about how I could alleviate the problem. The exchange rate and the differential between the pound and the punt are beyond the responsibility of my Department - and, indeed, of the House. It is important that we consider what else can be done to compensate other areas. First, we must get a sense of the scope of the problem. There is always anecdotal evidence of the problem, but Waterways Ireland could usefully undertake to establish its size and scope.

There has been a lack of investment over a number of years in jetties on Lough Erne. Waterways Ireland is looking at the issue and seeking to make investment. To date, six public jetties on Lough Erne have been completely refurbished. There is ongoing capital investment in our waterways.

I understand that the issue regarding the ownership of the foreshore of Lower Lough Erne came about because the depth of the water in the lough was lowered some time ago, leaving a portion of land between the old and new waterlines. My understanding is that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development owns the bulk of the foreshore, although it has sold off some of the foreshore, which is now in private ownership. I will ask further questions on the matter and get details about the actual ownership of the foreshore. I am not clear about who owns the bedrock and the soil beneath the water. I will find out and write to the Member.

Mr Shannon:

The Minister said that the construction costs for restoration of the Ulster Canal would rise above £89 million. Considering that the economic appraisal for the preferred option is based on a figure of £39 million, how will the Minister ensure that costs are kept down, and how will he ensure that the project does not go over budget, inevitably creating a drain on the public purse?

What involvement has Waterways Ireland had with local businesses to develop tourism? Has sufficient discussion taken place with local people, and have the needs of disabled been considered?

Mr McGimpsey:

As far as Waterways Ireland is concerned, the promotion strategy will take stakeholders - specifically the responsible tourist promotion bodies - into account. Local businesses are important stakeholders, and their views will be taken into account. Disability access to waterways is important, and over the past 12 months my Department has invested in construction work and will continue to do so. There has been underinvestment in that area for many years, but the issue now takes priority. The cost is £89 million at 2000 prices, but that cost will rise when inflation is taken into account.

Against that, because Governments do what Governments do, and the Civil Service does what the Civil Service does, we must also consider the estimated life of the canal, which is 56 years. There is a discount rate for the total cost, and we end up with a net present cost. If allowance is made for that, for income generated during the construction period and for maintenance costs, the net present cost is about £39 million, which makes the Ulster Canal unviable. However, that does not mean that it should not go ahead. We have considered private finance and private investment for the Ulster Canal. Economic activity along the canal network, as enjoyed in other countries, will be attractive to business and private investment. I am convinced that we will not need to meet the full amount of capital cost.

We must be imaginative and look to the market. There are ways and means of doing that. An estimate of inflation can be incorporated into the cost, although I cannot govern the future. Completing the project on time and on cost is a construction management problem, and a proper investigation should be conducted to ensure that the work includes everything that is required.

Mr Dallat:

As a teacher, I promise to be brief. My limited knowledge of local history informs me that there has been no serious dredging on the Lower Bann since the 1930s. I accept the Minister's suggestion that there will be enormous benefits for people on that side of Lough Neagh if the proposals go ahead. Can he ensure that the Lower Bann will be shipshape for the visitors who will undoubtedly travel further north than they have in the past?

Mr McGimpsey:

The Lower Bann is a navigable waterway and falls within the remit of Waterways Ireland. It will be treated in the same way as other waterways, in that capital will be invested as and when it is required or becomes available. Work and investment are ongoing, and Waterways Ireland will make cases for various areas, including the Lower Bann.

Mr Gibson:

Can the Minister tell us how many miles of the Ulster Canal are in Northern Ireland and how many miles are in the Irish Republic? Have the 220 people who have been relocated to Enniskillen been subject to fair employment legislation, as required by section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which is used by every agency that employs people in Northern Ireland? What is the religious balance among those 220 people, and how many are likely to be employed, bearing in mind that an all-Ireland body is being planted in Enniskillen? Given the historic nature of Enniskillen people may have some response to make to the idea of an all-Ireland body being planted there.

11.30 am

Mr McGimpsey:

Fair employment practices will be followed at all times in recruitment, and equality statements have been produced by Waterways Ireland and will be adopted as equality schemes. I do not know what stage the schemes are at; they may already have been adopted.

The 28 staff who were seconded to Waterways Ireland came from other Government bodies and have been subject to standard Government recruitment practices. The 70 staff in Enniskillen will also be subject to standard recruitment practices, including fair employment practices. Everything that should be done under the terms of the agreement and of section 75 will be done.

I do not know the length of the canal in miles, but I will ask, and I will forward the information. Roughly half the length of the Ulster Canal lies in Northern Ireland, and roughly half lies in the Irish Republic. The arrangement, as far as Waterways Ireland is concerned, is that we bear the capital costs in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic's Government bear the capital cost in the Irish Republic. Running costs are based on a percentage. Last year, our running costs were 9% of the total budget. That percentage will vary as more staff are taken on from, for example, the Rivers Agency to take on the work of managing the navigations in Northern Ireland. Next year, Northern Ireland's share of the budget will rise to 12%.


North/South Ministerial Council: Special EU Programmes Body

Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel that he wishes to make a statement on the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council for the special EU programmes sector held on 20 June 2001.

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):

Mr Dermot Nesbitt and I attended the sectoral meeting on 20 June 2001. The Irish Government were represented by Mr Charlie McCreevy TD, Minister for Finance. This report has been approved by Mr Nesbitt and is made on his behalf.

This was the fourth meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in this format. Although the North/ South Ministerial Council in the special EU programmes sector met just over two months ago, on 9 April, this meeting was needed to endorse the Peace II programme complement that was agreed by the monitoring committee on 15 June and had to be sent to the European Commission by 22 June. We also needed to set out a clear programme of work for the body over the summer months for the implementation of the Peace II programme. The delivery of the programme depends on putting in place the final arrangements for its implementation. It is vital that that should happen quickly. The other substantive item on the agenda was a review of progress on implementing the common chapter. We also needed to set out a clear programme of work for the summer in that area.

The chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) reported on progress made by the body since the meeting on 9 April. The report covered a range of topics, including progress to date on the selection of intermediary funding bodies, the development of local strategy partnerships, the current position on gap funding in Northern Ireland and accommodation issues. The chief executive advised that four local strategy partnerships had been established to date and that work was continuing to establish local strategy partnerships in the remaining district council areas. The Council noted the progress made by the body on those matters.


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