Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 4 December 2001
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
I have received notice from the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure that he wishes to make a statement about the North/South Ministerial Council on inland waterways meeting held on Friday 23 November 2001 in Carrick-on-Shannon. I call the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):
I wish to report to the Assembly on the fourth meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council on inland waterways, which was held in sectoral format in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, on Friday 23 November.
Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Dr Seán Farren and I represented the Administration at the meeting. In the absence, due to illness, of Minister de Valera, the Irish Government were represented by Ms Mary Coughlan TD, Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, who chaired the meeting. This statement is made on behalf of Dr Farren also and has been approved by him.
The meeting opened with a progress report from the chief executive of Waterways Ireland, Mr John Martin. The Council noted that Waterways Ireland has continued with its new works and maintenance programmes. Three major navigation projects at Limerick, Ballinasloe and Boyle have been completed and opened to boats. Other major capital projects on the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and the Lough Erne moorings are progressing, and a contract for a major road bridge on the Royal Canal was let recently.
The Council noted that work on the Erne system and the lower Bann continues to be undertaken on behalf of Waterways Ireland by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Rivers Agency under a service-level agreement which has been extended until the end of December 2001.
The Council noted that consultants had been appointed to prepare a marketing and promotions strategy. To complement this initiative, Waterways Ireland will arrange for a series of consultation seminars at various locations to encourage input on relevant user issues by interested parties. In parallel, consultants have also been appointed to develop a corporate image for Waterways Ireland.
Organisationally, Waterways Ireland has continued to establish itself, with 250 staff currently in post. A newly appointed director for finance and personnel has joined in recent weeks, and two other new directors will be taking up their posts shortly. Consultants have also been engaged to manage the recruitment process for the remaining administrative and technical posts.
The Council received a progress report on accommodation matters, which focused on the acquisition of permanent accommodation in Enniskillen, Scariff, Carrick-on-Shannon and Dublin. It is envisaged that the full process from selection of the preferred Enniskillen headquarters option to occupation of the chosen building will be completed by the end of 2003. Separate negotiations for permanent regional offices in Scariff, Carrick-on-Shannon and Dublin are also well advanced. The Council noted that the projected expenditure to the year ending 31 December 2001 is £20·24 million, representing an estimated underspend in 2001 of £3·88 million. That projected underspend was attributed to a combination of delays in staff recruitment and information technology implementation, and reduced capital works on account of planning appeals in the Republic of Ireland.
The Council noted Waterways Ireland’s first annual report covering the period 2 November 1999 to 31 December 2000. The report will be published shortly. The Council approved Waterways Ireland’s operational plan for 2002. It contains specific targets and incorporates the following main objectives: the effective management and operation of the inland navigations for which Waterways Ireland is responsible; the full establishment of the organisation; the starting of work on new headquarters and regional offices; and the implementation of the capital development programme.
The chief executive has undertaken to present the North/South Ministerial Council with a draft corporate plan at the next sectoral meeting. The chief executive provided the Council with an illustrated presentation of the existing inland waterways infrastructure. The Council received a report on the outcome of the recent competition to select a chief executive for Foras na Gaelige. The Council agreed to meet again in sectoral format in March 2002.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr ONeill):
As Committee Chairperson, I express my pleasure at the progress made on the organisational and administrative aspects, and on the project work.
One of the most exciting projects, with far-reaching implications for major tourism development on the island, is the Ulster Canal project. Can the Minister update Members on the progress of that project since the last Council meeting in June?
The Member is aware that the two Governments received an updated feasibility study report, and Waterways Ireland’s assessment of it, for detailed consideration at the previous North/South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting held on 27 June. It is a substantial report with major financial implications, and we have embarked on a comprehensive assessment process.
We all agree that the project is exciting. It has clear financial implications, which means that we faced the difficult challenge of determining how to provide the necessary resources to develop it. An important aspect of the project is the route of the Ulster Canal. It flows through one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged areas, not only in Northern Ireland but in the Irish Republic. There is a strong case to be made with regard to targeting social need that would outweigh any negative impact of a viability study. The project will not stand up to a scrutiny that is concerned purely with pounds and pence or with viability. However, there is a strong argument to be made in favour of the project when the wider benefits are taken into account. We are currently making a detailed assessment of the feasibility study report. We are taking it one stage at a time. I remind the House that work on the section of the Ulster Canal that runs from Lough Neagh could be undertaken reasonably cheaply. We are carefully considering that at present. We could do that work quickly and with minimal cost, and that would indicate our commitment to developing the whole canal. However, it is a major project that will take many years to implement.
Regarding new works and maintenance programmes, can the Minister assure us that all measures are in place to protect areas of special scientific interest, endangered species, protected breeding grounds and other environmental issues relating to inland waterways and increased cruising?
Those environmental considerations are, of course, important factors for waterways. Looking at the ecosystem around each waterway is vital. For example, a detailed environmental impact assessment of the Ulster Canal will be carried out before a consensus is reached. An environmental scoping operation has already been completed. That applies continuously to all the waterways for which Waterways Ireland is responsible. Waterways Ireland is responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of inland navigable waterways. The Member’s points are well made and are important for the operation of that body.
My local council, Strabane District Council, recently carried out a feasibility study on the reopening of Strabane Canal, which runs from Strabane, through Donegal, to Derry. I ask the Minister’s Department to assist my constituency in every way to reopen that historic canal and potential major tourist attraction.
I am not aware of the details of the Strabane Canal, but I will certainly enquire about it in the Department, to find out what it knows and what are its plans for the canal. Obviously, we have a long way to go with regard to inland waterways and potential navigable waters in Northern Ireland to catch up with the Irish Republic. While the focus is currently on the Ulster Canal and the Lagan navigation, the Strabane Canal undoubtedly merits a closer look.
The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Ms de Brún):
I beg to move
That the Second Stage of the Personal Social Services (Amendment) Bill [NIA1/01] be agreed.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Molaim go dtugtar a Dhara Céim don Bhille Seirbhísí Sóisialta agus Pearsanta (Leasú).
Is é is aidhm don Bhille measardha goirid seo cuidiú breise agus tacaíocht a bhfuil an-ghá leo a sholáthar do chúramóirí. Mar a fógraíodh sa Chlár do Rialtas, tá mo Roinn ag forbairt straitéise do chúramóirí i gcomhar le forais reachtúla éagsúla, eagraíochtaí deonacha agus le cúramóirí iad féin. Tá súil agam go bhfaighidh mé an tuairisc agus na moltaí roimh dheireadh na bliana. Is é is aidhm don straitéis bearta praiticúla a aimsiú a dhéanfaidh difear suntasach i saol cúramóirí. Idir an linn, ceadóidh an Bille seo go gcuirfear tacaíocht ar fáil ar dhóigh nach féidir faoin reachtaíocht reatha.
Eisíodh cáipéis chomhairliúcháin dar teideal ‘Moltaí le haghaidh Bille do Chúramóirí agus Páistí Míchumasacha’ (arbh é bunteideal an Bhille é) i Márta seo chuaigh thart do réimse leathan de pháirtithe leasmhara. Léirigh na freagraí a fuarthas ar an chomhairliúchán fáilte leathan roimh na moltaí, go háirithe ó eagraíochtaí a ionadaíonn cúramóirí.
Tá ról barrthábhachtach ag cúramóirí ag tabhairt aire dóibh siúd atá tinn, faoi mhíchumas, leochaileach nó anbhann. Meastar go bhfuil 250,000 cúramóir anseo agus go bhfuil cúramóir i 18% de theaghlaigh. Gan an cúram forleathan seo, bheadh tacaíocht ó na seirbhísí reachtúla de dhíth ar i bhfad níos mó daoine scothaosta, ar dhaoine anbhanna, tinne nó míchumasacha; agus b’fhéidir go mb’éigean dóibh dul isteach i dteach cónaithe nó altranais nó chun otharlainne.
Féadann an soláthar cúraim a bheith an-strusúil; tagann oícheanta gan chodladh agus tnáitheadh fisiciúil agus mothúchánach in éineacht leis. Más maith linn go leanfaidh cúramóirí ar aghaidh ina ról cúraim caithfimid a chinntiú go bhfuil a fhios acu go bhfuil meas agus urraim orthu agus go bhfuil teacht acu ar thacaíocht ardchaighdeáin, iontaofa, fhreagartha ó na seirbhísí reachtúla agus deonacha. Tá sé ríthábhachtach go mbíonn cúramóirí ábalta roghanna eolacha a dhéanamh maidir le réimse a róil chúraim. Tá sé ríthábhachtach fosta go gcothaíonn siad a sláinte agus a ndea-bhail agus go bhfuil go leor saoirse acu caidrimh, caitheamh aimsire agus gealltanais eile taobh lena bhfreagrachtaí cúraim a chothú. Tá sé riachtanach go mothaíonn cúramóirí go bhfuil siad ar an eolas, go bhfuil siad ullmhaithe agus, más gá, go bhfuil siad oilte ar na tascanna a bhaineann le cúram. Caithfidh siad cead cainte a bheith acu ar conas a sholáthraítear cuidiú; caithfidh siad fios a bheith acu go dtugtar aitheantas dá n-oilteacht mar chúramóirí.
Is féidir le hiontaobhais sláinte agus seirbhísí sóisialta cuid mhór a dhéanamh cheana féin faoi réir na reachtaíochta cúraim phobail le cur le solúbthacht agus le roghanna cúramóirí; ach tá constaicí reachtúla ann a chuireann cosc orthu soláthar a dhéanamh a rachadh go díreach chun sochair do chúramóirí.
The aim of this relatively short Bill is to provide much-needed additional help and support for carers.
As announced in the Programme for Government, my Department is developing an overall carers’ strategy in consultation with various statutory bodies, voluntary organisations and carers. I expect to receive the report and strategy proposals by the end of the year.
The aim of the strategy is to identify practical matters that will make a real difference to the lives of carers. In the meantime, the Bill will allow support to be provided to carers in a way that is not possible under current legislation. The original title of this Bill was ‘Proposals for a Carers and Disabled Children Bill’, and a consultation document with that title was issued last March to a wide range of interested parties. Responses to the consultation indicated a broad welcome for the proposals, particularly by organisations representing carers.
Carers play a vital role in looking after those who are sick, disabled, vulnerable or frail. It is estimated that there are 250,000 carers here, and that 18% of households in Northern Ireland have a carer. Without them, many more elderly, frail, sick or disabled people would need the support of the statutory services, and might need to enter a residential or nursing home or go into hospital.
Caring can be stressful and can involve sleepless nights and physical and emotional exhaustion. If we want carers to continue in their role we must ensure that they feel valued and that they have access to high- quality, reliable and responsive support from the statutory and voluntary services. It is crucial that carers can make informed choices about the extent of their role. It is also vital that they maintain their own health and well-being and have sufficient freedom to maintain other relationships, interests and commitments alongside their caring responsibilities.
Carers need to feel informed, prepared and, where appropriate, they must be trained for the tasks involved in caring. They must have a say in the way that help is provided and have their expertise recognised. Health and social services trusts can already do much within existing community care legislation to increase flexibility and choice for carers, but legislative obstacles prevent them from making provision that could be of direct benefit to carers.
The way in which the current legislation is cast prevents carers from receiving help in their own right. For example, where a person who needs care has been offered, but has refused, a community care assessment, it is not possible for a trust to assess the carer’s needs, even if that is what the carer wants.
The Bill will give carers a statutory right to
"an assessment of their ability to provide and to continue to provide care for the person cared for."
Under the Bill, health and social services trusts must take into account the results of that assessment when deciding what services need to be provided to the person being cared for and to the carer. For the first time, therefore, trusts will have the power to provide services to a carer directly, and that power will prevail even if the patient cared for has refused an assessment or actual services. The services can be wide-ranging and can include any provision that a trust considers would help the carer to provide care. That might take the form of physical help such as assistance around the house, a mobile phone or other forms of support such as training or counselling.
The Bill includes provision to enable the Department to make regulations that allow health and social services trusts to issue vouchers for short-term breaks for carers. Vouchers will enable the carer to take a break while someone else provides the services for the person cared for. To allow flexibility the regulations will include provision for the vouchers to be expressed either in money or by the delivery of a service for a certain period. That creates flexibility so that the carer can arrange for replacement care in ways and at times that are best suited to his or her needs.
The Bill will also amend the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, giving someone with parental responsibility for a disabled child the same statutory right to an assessment of his or her ability to provide and to continue to provide care for the child. A health and social services trust must take into account the results of that assessment also when deciding what services to provide under the Order. The voucher scheme will allow the carer of a disabled child to take a break also.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety introduced a direct payment scheme in 1996. Direct payments are cash payments given to persons in lieu of services that would otherwise have been arranged for them by trusts, so that they may arrange the provision of their own services. Direct payments give greater flexibility to service users, allowing them to make arrangements with providers of their choice and at times that are convenient to them. So far, the scheme has covered only those personal social services for adults provided under the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. The Bill will make the scheme available to carers also. Other service users who will be entitled to direct payments following an amendment to the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 include a person with parental responsibility for a disabled child, a disabled person with parental responsibility for a child and a disabled child aged 16 or 17.
Clauses 8, 9 and 10 contain technical and formal provisions relating to the commencement and interpretation of the Bill, and which enable the Department, through the regulations, to make any necessary or consequential provision.
I am sure that Members will have points to raise, and I will try to answer as many of them as possible in my winding-up speech. If there are any points to which I cannot respond, I will write to the Member concerned. The Bill is targeted at improving the well-being and quality of life of those receiving care and of carers, who make sacrifices to care for relatives or friends. I commend it to the Assembly.
The Chairperson of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee (Dr Hendron):
I apologise for missing the initial part of the Minister’s address. The brevity of the discussion on the statement about the North/South Ministerial Council meeting caught me out.
As Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, I welcome the introduction of the Bill, and I look forward to considering it during the Committee Stage. As with all proposals for legislation, the Committee is carrying out its own consultation exercise. Although the legislation was welcomed generally, several points were raised about its implementation. It would be inappropriate of me to mention those in great detail today, but it might be helpful to the Minister if I were to mention some of them briefly.
The Bill proposes to give boards and trusts the power to provide services for carers, but there is no requirement for them to do so. The power to supply services is meaningful only if there are sufficient resources to meet the demand. The Committee will wish to consider this matter carefully. The Department claims that the proposals are broadly cost-neutral, but significant resources may be required to undertake assessments of carers’ needs. Resources will also be needed to finance the extra services that will be required following the assessments. The administration of the direct payments scheme will also add to the cost.
The voucher scheme is to be welcomed, but the availability of sufficient high-quality respite care places is a concern. Before the voucher scheme is introduced, we must be sure that enough places are available, or expectations will be raised that cannot be met.
The general opinion of boards, trusts and interested organisations is that the proposals will not prove to be cost-neutral as the cost of administering the assessment process must be met within existing resources. Current resources do not meet the identified need, so the expectations of carers may be raised at the assessment stage but may not be fulfilled because of financial constraints. The legislation must be backed by adequate finance. Increased workloads without increased funding will lead to cuts in services elsewhere.
The complexity of general and financial accountability, which accompanies the co-ordination of direct payments, would require a change in the structures and an increase in personnel to manage the payments. Uptake for the introduction of direct payments has been low. The Bill does not make any reference to the provision of support services for clients or carers who receive direct payments. An independent living support group might be needed to support carers.
Although the legislation gives the trusts the power to provide service for carers, it does not impose a duty to do so. Carers’ views and their ability to care form an important part of all assessments in social care. When a social service is provided it is done so in agreement with clients and carers. Some trusts feel that the proposal to give them the power to run short-term voucher schemes must be explored in more detail. Pressures in the social care market might limit carers’ and clients’ choice. It is interesting that Mencap Northern Ireland is not sure whether any real change can be achieved by imposing a duty to provide services based on carers’ assessments.
Carers should be offered an assessment of their needs, rather than their having to ask for one. Efforts should be made to ensure that carers are aware of their right to an assessment. The Carers’ National Association (Northern Ireland) says that, since the introduction of ‘Guidance on Carers’ Assessments’ in 1996, experience shows that most carers who are in touch with health and personal social services have not been informed of their right to ask for an assessment. Since the onus is on the carers to ask for an assessment, they do not have a proper opportunity to avail of the provision. This seems to be the real difficulty with the current provisions — even more than the fact that the right to an assessment is based on guidance, rather than statute. Carers and carers’ groups feel that, rather than the onus being on carers to request the assessments, trusts should be required to offer an assessment when they identify someone who is providing, or intending to provide, regular and substantial care.
The Carers’ National Association (Northern Ireland) welcomes the recognition that carers need proper support to undertake their work and continue in their roles. It also welcomes increased access to creative and responsive support services that enable carers to be confident and effective in their roles and maintain a life outside of caring. However, if most carers are to continue to fulfil this function effectively, they will need good-quality, tailor-made services to be delivered to the person being cared for. Most critically, that may include services that enable carers to take short breaks or have respite from caring. It is difficult to envisage a large range or volume of services that would support the carer.
It seems that the proposals for young carers and disabled parents are designed to support young carers as children, rather than carers. The Carers’ National Association (Northern Ireland) wholeheartedly welcomes that approach. Advocacy might be needed to ensure that support is genuinely geared towards freeing young carers up rather than tying them down. It is interesting that the Carers’ National Association (Northern Ireland) feels that it would be valuable for everyone, including the Health Committee, to hear directly from young carers and the organisations that work closely with them in Northern Ireland.
The Children’s Law Centre broadly supports the Bill, but it made several comments on the provision of services to young carers. The Bill is not resource- neutral and must be backed by adequate finance. Ring-fenced budgets are needed to meet the needs of young carers aged 16 and over who would be entitled to an assessment under the proposed Bill, and of young carers who are assessed as being children in need under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The proposal to entitle 16- and 17-year-olds to request a carer’s assessment and to receive direct payments is welcome, and I hope that it will lead to more flexibility and choice for young people. I look forward to discussing those and other matters with my Committee colleagues during the Committee Stage of the Bill.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille seo ón Aire Sláinte agus ba mhaith liom a rá ar dtús go bhfuil géar-ghá leis.
I welcome the Bill. There is a real need for such a Bill, given that successive Government policies have been aimed at reducing the number of people in residential care. One such policy was aimed at improving the quality of life of those who need care by encouraging their families to care for them at home with professional assistance. However, to date, the Government have not provided the necessary assistance to enable carers to provide that support, nor have they properly recognised the enormous commitment and dedication of carers.
We must examine briefly the role of carers, particularly of individuals who care for a family member. Although caring might not involve constant attendance, it is a 24-hour responsibility, which, for those providing long- term care, is ongoing. The state does not give sufficient recognition to their role and their contribution to the welfare of the person whom they care for, nor has it recognised the economic value of those carers to the Health Service. When a person is cared for at home as opposed to a residential institution, the state makes an enormous saving.
I welcome the Bill and its provision of support and training for carers to enable them to continue their good work. I especially welcome — and perhaps the Minister can clarify this issue — the financial assistance to enable those who provide long-term care to take a break. Carers carry a heavy burden, because caring is a 24-hour responsibility that can last for weeks, months or years.
Will the Minister ensure that financial assistance, training and support will be available to all carers and that the system of assessment will be clear and easily understood? When undergoing assessment, carers should not feel that they are being scrutinised, examined, or questioned about their ability. They should be encouraged to avail of the help being provided. Go raibh maith agat.
I apologise for not being in the Chamber at the start of the debate. I welcome the Bill. It is taken for granted that carers play a vital role looking after those who are sick, disabled, vulnerable or frail. As the Minister has stated, there are over 250,000 carers in Northern Ireland, and 18% of households here contain a carer.
The Bill’s objective is to give a statutory right to a carer’s assessment, and that will enable them to receive adequate payment for caring. This is a change. Many families never got that type of support and depended on the younger members in the family to look after a parent or relative who was disabled or incapable of looking after themselves. Often, children had to look after a person and make sure their needs were attended to before they went to school or could even think about their own needs. That is why it is important that the Bill is passed.
Trusts will have a statutory obligation to carry out assessments, and there will be an onus on them to provide the necessary help for carers. That is why we should support the Bill.
We must recognise that the finances are not something that we can run away from — they must be provided. Training for the carers must also be provided. We must be careful that carers who are in a vulnerable position, especially 16- and 17-year-olds and parents with disabled children, have sufficient training and financial support to enable them to do what they are trying to do.
The short-term voucher scheme will be welcome, but the problem is that there are not enough respite care spaces available. It is all very well to give the carer a break, but if there is nobody to provide cover, or there are no respite care spaces available, it becomes extremely difficult to provide that break. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction. I ask the Minister to take on board the fact that there must be some kind of financial compensation given to trusts to enable them to carry out assessments accurately, and with the knowledge that the carer will get the help required. If it is necessary to bring someone in to care for a person on a short-term basis, that is what should happen.
If we get these things into place, and if the Minister and the Committee take responsibility for ensuring that finance and training are available, I welcome the Bill. It will make a big difference to people’s lives. We all are aware of family members who have cared for people without any recompense. Their task has been made much more difficult by what seems to them to be an uncaring health board that was unwilling either to give an assessment or to go along with the terms of an assessment that was given. I am happy to support the Bill, and I look forward to its introduction.
Sir John Gorman:
With the death of George Harrison last week I will quote the words of one of the songs he was responsible for
"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?".
For somebody who is 79 that seems a long time away. However, many of my constituents fall into that category, and the number is increasing. As the years go by, there will be a higher proportion of people in their seventies, eighties and nineties, provided that we have people who need them and feed them. Those people are nearly always family members, and the Bill recognises their sacrifices. It would be churlish and lacking in understanding were we not to support the Bill and its motivation.
Many people in my constituency worry about having to sell their homes in order to provide funding for commercial care. That is an enormous problem. I understand why people who struggle to pay their mortgages and support their families resent that owners of a valuable asset, in the form of a home, do not necessarily fund their own care. It is politically impossible to accept that funding should be given under those circumstances, but perhaps a compromise could be reached, one that represents good value and the wishes of elderly people and their families and allows them to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. The provision of assistance could prove advantageous for the families, the old people and, indeed, society.
I do not have a magic answer as to how that could be achieved, however, perhaps an understanding of its concept, which is demonstrated so well in the Bill, could be developed to the greatest degree possible. Thank you.
Ms de Brún:
I thank the Members for the interest shown in the debate. I was delighted to hear that the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety will discuss at Committee Stage the important points that were raised by Dr Hendron. In the past, I have been grateful to the Committee for its assistance in bringing forward legislation.
The Department will publicise widely the right to a carer’s assessment and will make carers aware of their rights. That is important.
Sir John Gorman raised the issue of nursing care. I shall introduce legislation in the future regarding nursing care, so I shall answer his question then. Following the Budget announcement, free nursing care will be available once the legislation is in place.
Mr McNamee raised the issue of recognition of the role that carers perform. The Bill goes some way towards recognising that role. I was happy to make that point this morning; it is important that such a point be made. We specifically sought to give recognition to the important role of carers by enshrining their right to an assessment in law.
The carers strategy, which is being developed in full consultation with carers and their representative organisations, will seek to make a practical difference to their lives by putting in place some of the support structures that they need. In the context of that developing strategy and the proposals that I hope to have brought forward to me by the end of the year, we will look at many of the other resource questions raised by the Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Dr Hendron, and Mrs Courtney.
On the issue of young carers, it is important that young people are not faced with such responsibility for the provision of care that their own welfare is prejudiced. Trusts need to ensure that the person cared for is receiving sufficient services so that no one aged under 18 is undertaking a regular and substantial caring role that adversely affects his general welfare. Services should be provided to parents to enhance their ability to fulfil their parental responsibilities. Existing departmental guidance on the assessment of need under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 draws attention to the needs of young carers. Guidance that will be prepared under this legislation will reinforce this important point.
Mrs Courtney also raised the question of respite care spaces. Before the voucher scheme is introduced, we will consult further on the type of respite care needed. Not all of this will be residential, because carers also need access to short-term and emergency respite care. This will be addressed. People will be made aware that this is happening before the vouchers are brought forward. It is important that people know what is available.
In relation to the imposing of duties on trusts, the resources will always be finite, and they must be prioritised toward those whose needs are greatest. It is important to know that if there is no similar duty on trusts for other services, it would be difficult to bring that forward here in this respect.
I hope that that covers the variety of the points that Members raised today. If I have missed any points, I will write to the Member afterwards.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Second Stage of the Personal Social Services (Amendment) Bill (NIA 1/01) be agreed.
As Members are aware, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Sir Reg Empey, is currently in China on ministerial business. He has written to advise me that in his absence the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr Michael McGimpsey, has agreed to represent him during the Further Consideration Stage of the Bill.
No amendments have been tabled to the Bill. However, two Members have indicated a wish to speak to schedule 1. I therefore propose, by leave of the Assembly, to group the eight clauses, followed by schedule 1, then schedules 2 to 4 and finally the long title.
Clauses 1 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 1(Invest Northern Ireland)
Question proposed, That schedule 1 be agreed.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I am concerned about appointments to Invest Northern Ireland, the agency that is being set up under the Bill. Last week it was reported in ‘The Irish Times’ that the posts of director of business international and director of corporate services for Invest Northern Ireland would not be publicly advertised. Equality Commission guidelines state that all new posts should be advertised as widely as possible and should be subject to open competition. This is a matter of serious concern and disappointment.
The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 (TUPE Regulations), which cover the protection of contracts with transferred employees, has been cited by the Department as justification for not advertising these posts. Although we all support workers’ rights, TUPE Regulations should not be used to sidestep equality obligations. No doubt the Department has checked out the legal position and will be able to say that the law has not been broken. However, we must move away from a minimalist position and attitude, and remember that we are leaders in society. The Assembly and Government Departments need to set and maintain the highest standards. Is this the new beginning that we were all promised? What message is being sent out? Fair employment and equality issues have been at the centre of politics, and indeed at the centre of the political conflict in the North of Ireland, for a long time. Those issues have been central to the make-up, activities and policies of the development agencies, particularly the IDB and LEDU. What does the Department do? It simply continues on in the same old failed ways of the past. That is not good enough.
Invest Northern Ireland will play a central role in industrial development in the future, and it is crucial that we start with a clean slate and get the structures right from the beginning. Equality obligations and the need for openness and accountability have been the subject of numerous discussions with the Minister and with departmental officials. They are all well aware of the concerns of Members on this issue. It appears that those concerns have once again been ignored, and instead we are being given empty promises and empty rhetoric on the issues of equality, fairness, openness and accountability.
I urge the Minister and the Department to rethink the matter and to open up these two posts to open competition as obliged by the Equality Commission guidelines and section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Go raibh maith agat.
Mr Speaker, it amuses me that every time you call for Ayes and Noes, you seem to look over here for the Noes. I do not know why that is. Almost subconsciously, you look over at these Benches.
It is a matter of habit.