Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 15 January 2002
| The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Trillick Agriculture Office
Mr Maurice Morrow has begged leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22.
I beg leave to present a petition relating to the proposal by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to close the agriculture office at Trillick in County Tyrone. The petitioners — farmers and local clergy of all denominations — are concerned at the implications of such a closure not only on the Trillick area but also on the entire west Tyrone area, north Fermanagh and parts of south Tyrone.
Local farmers who use this office extensively for advice and form-filling believe strongly that its retention is extremely important. Several farmers in County Fermanagh use the Trillick office, and its closure will further inconvenience that rural community. The petition has been signed by 216 farmers and six local clergy.
Mr Morrow moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.
I will forward the petition to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and send a copy to the Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do the rules of the Assembly not permit any support to be given to such a petition?
Standing Orders do not permit any comment with regard to the presentation of petitions. This is the first occasion on which a petition has been presented, and it has been presented in accordance with Standing Orders.
I have received notice from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that they wish to make a statement on the North/South Ministerial Council meeting in institutional format held on 17 December 2001.
The First Minister (Mr Trimble):
We wish to make the following statement on the inaugural institutional format meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, which took place in Parliament Buildings, Belfast, on 17 December 2001. The Deputy First Minister and I participated in the meeting, and the Irish Government were represented by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen. The meeting in institutional format flows from strand two of the Belfast Agreement, which provides that the Council will meet
"in an appropriate format to consider institutional or cross-sectoral matters (including in relation to the EU) and to resolve disagreement".
The first meeting in this format offered a useful opportunity to take stock of the functioning of the Council in its first two years of operation. The Council discussed a range of institutional and cross-sectoral issues. Given that this was the first meeting, many of the issues raised will require further consideration, which will be taken forward by officials who will develop proposals for consideration by the Council in due course.
With regard to arrangements in the transport sector, the Council agreed that officials from both Administrations and the joint secretariat should explore the possibility of the next sectoral meeting on transport concentrating on road safety issues. In parallel with this, the Deputy First Minister and I will want to consider how best to take forward the strategic transport issues identified in the original work programme confirmed by the Council.
The Council noted the work undertaken and the complexities that have arisen in pursuing a transfer of the existing functions of the Commissioners of Irish Lights to the Lights Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. It agreed that officials should review the matter further and offer advice to the next meeting of the Council in institutional format.
A paper setting out the existing areas of co-operation between the two Administrations that do not fall within the current North/South Ministerial Council work programme was noted and discussed in broad terms. The Council agreed that officials from both Administrations and the joint secretariat should consider areas of co-operation further to see whether it would be appropriate to bring them within the ambit of the North/South Ministerial Council and offer advice to the next meeting of the Council in institutional format.
The Deputy First Minister (Mr Durkan):
Progress to date on a range of cross-sectoral issues affecting the six North/South bodies and Tourism Ireland Ltd, which were established under the agreement, was acknowledged by the Council. These include areas such as budgetary arrangements, accountability matters including the preparation of corporate plans and annual reports, pension schemes, audit arrangements and freedom of information.
The Council recommended the budgetary provisions for 2002 for the six North/South bodies and Tourism Ireland Ltd and the contributions from the Executive and the Irish Government on which it had given an opinion at the plenary meeting on 30 November 2001. This had also included indicative projections for 2003 and 2004. The total budget for the North/South bodies in 2002 will amount to £54·37 million or S92·07 million, and the budget for Tourism Ireland Ltd will amount to £26·78 million or S45·33 million.
The Council had a preliminary and helpful exchange of views about arrangements for consideration of EU issues to reflect paragraph 17 of strand two of the agreement. The Council agreed that further work should be undertaken by a working group that would report to the next meeting of the Council in institutional format. Ministers noted the work undertaken by a working group of officials from both Administrations set up after the September 2000 plenary meeting to undertake a study to consider the establishment of an independent consultative forum as set out in paragraph 19 of strand two.
The Council agreed that such a forum should be based on a formal interaction between structures representative of civil society in Northern Ireland and in the South. The Council agreed that the working group should now consult the Northern Ireland Civic Forum and the social partners participating in the central review mechanism of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, with a view to bringing forward detailed proposals for consideration at the next meeting of the Council in plenary format in May.
The first meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in institutional format addressed a range of important issues. It was a constructive and useful start in taking forward matters raised in the agreement and addressing problems that have arisen in the implementation of the bodies and areas of co-operation agreed on 18 December 1998 and ratified by the Assembly on 15 February 1999.
After the Council meeting, Ministers launched the first annual report of the North/South Ministerial Council. The report contains a helpful commentary on the operation of the Council and the North/South bodies during their first year of existence. It underlines, in tangible terms, the potential mutual benefit emerging across many sectors from North/South co-operation for all of the people throughout the island. Copies of the annual report were placed in the Assembly Library prior to the institutional format meeting on 17 December.
The Council agreed that its next meeting in institutional format would be held in the South in April 2002. A copy of the communiqué issued following the meeting was placed in the Assembly Library immediately afterwards.
I welcome the report and ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to accept our congratulations on the significant first steps taken on the independent consultative forum provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. I urge them to proceed further and encourage the establishment of a joint North/South interparliamentary forum, which the agreement also asked us to consider.
The First Minister:
As Mr ONeill noted, we have taken steps towards making arrangements for a consultative arrangement, North and South. Given that the agreement referred to a consultative arrangement to bring in those with particular interests in social, economic and cultural matters, the obvious starting point in Northern Ireland seemed to be the Civic Forum. That forum has been established to be representative of those sectors, and it should be representative of civil society outside the elected bodies.
The equivalent range of bodies that have been brought together under the heading "social partners" in the Republic of Ireland is the other natural starting point. At this stage, we are encouraging discussion between the Civic Forum and the social partners in the Republic of Ireland about how they can interact to provide a consultative arrangement with regard to the North/South Ministerial Council.
The position with regard to an interparliamentary body, which is also foreshadowed in the agreement, both in North/South and east/west terms, is that the existing Anglo-Irish interparliamentary body has grabbed the initiative and run. It has almost tried to constitute itself as being the relevant body for both elements of this issue. That is not fully in accordance with what had been foreshadowed in the agreement.
We must find an opportunity to examine this in a constructive and coherent way so that the aspect that was foreshadowed in the agreement is put in place to bring the interparliamentary arrangements under the aegis of the existing structures in the British-Irish Council and the North/South Ministerial Council. The matter was touched on at the institutional format meeting, and it is something that we intend to re-examine.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome this meeting, and I also welcome Mr ONeill’s call for the establishment of a North/South forum for elected members of the Oireachtas and MLAs and MPs in the North.
In the light of Micheál Martin’s strategy document for future health delivery in the rest of Ireland over the next 10 years, was future health planning discussed at the most recent meeting? What North/South co-operation is envisaged on future health planning?
I welcome the discussion on road safety planned for the April meeting. Stark signage on the roads, detailing the number of injuries and deaths that have occurred at accident black spots, also needs to be considered in places such as County Louth.
The Member has gone into substantial detail on particular problems, but the institutional format sector deals with issues at a higher level. Perhaps the Deputy First Minister can respond on that higher level.
The Deputy First Minister:
The issues are at a higher level, but they are less interesting at times than those which Mr McElduff raised. The First Minister referred to interparliamentary arrangements between the Assembly and the Oireachtas as foreshadowed in the agreement, whereas Mr McElduff referred to matters on a different footing.
A meeting of the health sector of the North/South Ministerial Council will deal with health issues, and the matters raised by Mr McElduff are appropriate to that sector. Any institutional matters that arise with regard to limitations of the arrangements constituted would be relayed through a plenary session of the North/South Ministerial Council and, if need be, picked up at the institutional format meeting. It would not, however, have been appropriate for us to deal with the Member’s points at that meeting.
We will not take specific initiatives on road safety in the institutional format, but our discussions will recognise that one area of co-operation in which little progress has been made is transport. Therefore, the important area of road safety will be ripe for early activity.
Mrs E Bell:
I congratulate the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on the work outlined in the statement and the report, which I read in the Library. It is encouraging for cross-border co-operation.
However, will consideration be given to more direct contact between the different working groups and the departmental Committees on areas of similar work and research, for example, on EU issues? The Committee of the Centre has already started to consider those matters.
The First Minister:
This was an initial meeting in institutional format, and provision for discussion of EU matters is foreshadowed in a paragraph in the agreement that clearly relates to those issues. The Council has not yet been able to make significant progress on EU matters. We will ask officials to consider how the Council can be used and how its views can be reflected more fully in the European context. The EU is based on a treaty and defines its own mode of operation. Our Administration participates in EU matters through the UK representation in Europe and the UK delegation in the Council of Ministers. The Irish Government also participate directly in the Council of Ministers. A memorandum of understanding between the devolved Administration and the UK Government details how devolved issues will be taken into account at meetings of the Council of Ministers.
With regard to the North/South Ministerial Council, what is being discussed is the way in which we can exchange information and alert each other to sensitivities and priorities that may arise in order to inform the way in which the formal arrangements within the Council of Ministers operate. We are exploring the opportunities for that, and if we develop procedures for the exchange of information, we will want to ensure that there is appropriate consultation through the Assembly Committees or other appropriate channels.
One advantage of the North/South procedure is that, through reports to the Assembly, it is as transparent as we can make it. The Assembly’s confidence in the transparency of the arrangements is reflected by the way in which so many Members are content to leave the operation of the arrangements to us.
The First Minister will be aware — and the Deputy First Minister will be more than aware — of the difficulties that exist in marrying together strategic North/South transport issues. Is there an element of safety in concentrating on road safety issues, given the particular ministerial responsibility in this Administration? The marrying together of transport issues should be brought forward via the Department for Regional Development. How do the considerations of the North/ South Ministerial Council meeting connect with those at British- Irish Council level, where we are taking the lead on transport matters?
The Deputy First Minister:
Road safety merits significant attention from the Administrations in both jurisdictions. The respective Departments have co-operated and have made efforts to raise awareness of the issue through advertising. We must work to make that more effective. The issue is being progressed on its own terms and merits.
We share the concern that more work has not been done at North/South level on transport, which is a designated area of co-operation, not least on strategic matters. Nevertheless, it has not prevented us from creating a situation where the Executive have been able to commit resources to the improvement of the Larne to Dundalk route. That will complement improvements on the Dublin to Dundalk road on the Southern side. The issues must be examined, given that they involve significant areas of infrastructure investment, which is significant and challenging for both Administrations.
The aftermath of 11 September has transport implications, especially for air links. It will affect not only our tourist industry but also business and market access. That does not concern only the North and the South; it affects other Administrations within the British- Irish Council. Transport, for which this Administration was given the lead in the British-Irish Council, touches on many issues at many levels. We are working to ensure that we make the most of our responsibilities and of the opportunities that exist through the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.
The final paragraph of the First Minister’s statement states:
"A paper setting out the existing areas of co-operation between the two Administrations that do not fall within the current North/ South Ministerial Council work programme was noted and discussed in broad terms".
Which areas were discussed?
The First Minister:
I am glad that the Member raised that question, for two reasons. First, it may be that the DUP, since the failure of its legal challenge, now recognises the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister by asking them questions. The House is glad to note that development.
Secondly, comments by DUP spokespersons after the institutional format meeting revealed that they did not understand the position with regard to co-operation in the North/South Ministerial Council. I will explain that position for those DUP Members who fail singularly to understand it. Co-operation with the Council happens in two different categories: those matters that are jointly administered — the areas of the six implementation bodies — and the matters on which there is interdepartmental co-operation. When the Council was formed, six areas of interdepartmental co-operation were identified.
Much interdepartmental co-operation falls outside the ambit of the North/South Ministerial Council. Those numerous areas of co-operation were developed before, and during, direct rule. The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister obtained a report of some 30 pages which lists the areas of interdepartmental co-operation. Officials have been asked to examine that report, to offer advice and to consider further whether it would be appropriate to bring those areas of co-operation within the ambit of the Council. That would result in considerable advantages, which the DUP would welcome: at present, those areas of interdepartmental co-operation that are outside the Council’s ambit are not subject to transparency or reportage and are not brought before the Assembly. If they are brought within the ambit of the Council, there will be accountability.
Among the areas that are outside the ambit of the North/South Ministerial Council is energy, including the recent announcements regarding electricity and North/ South gas interconnections. Environmental co-operation includes the disposal of clinical waste through facilities in Dublin, Cork and Antrim. An industrial pollution and radiochemical inspectorate has been working jointly with relevant bodies in the South on emergency planning and environmental monitoring issues.
In higher education there is collaboration within the university and research sector through the funding of joint projects. In the area of health and social services there has been co-operation in nursing, dentistry and human resources, involving the exchange of information and the secondment of a senior social services official to assist in the establishment of an inspectorate in the South. On social and community issues there has been co-ordination of social security provisions, involving official-level co-operation through a liaison group that brings together the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in the Republic of Ireland and the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland. It might be appropriate to bring such co-operation under the ambit of the North/South Ministerial Council to ensure accountability. I am sure that the DUP would not wish to escape accountability on that aspect of the Department for Social Development’s responsibility.
I had intended to ask whether issues such as energy and higher education were being considered for further co-operation. However, the First Minister has already answered my question in his statement.
The Deputy First Minister:
When the original areas of co-operation between North and South were established, it was decided that any new areas would have to be agreed by the Assembly and the Oireachtas. Any adjustments or additions to those areas of co-operation must be done properly under the auspices of an institutional format. Any outcome or decision would then be brought before the Chamber and the Oireachtas respectively.
As well as considering the existing areas of agreement, it is important to look at how well they are progressing and whether any due adjustments are needed. The House has already reflected on some of the obvious issues in relation to Irish Lights. If the functions of the Commissioners of Irish Lights are not to be continued, that will raise the issues of how that area is to be dealt with and whether the functions should be transferred to another body.
It was agreed at the meeting in institutional format that officials should look at other areas of co-operation and not just the existing areas. As the First Minister outlined, several active areas of co-operation have been pursued outside the auspices of the North/South Ministerial Council. Issues emerging on cross-sectoral and interdepartmental bases may also be considered. We have made it clear in the initial meeting in the institutional format that we will ensure that we maximise returns from co-operation and the potential for sensible co-operation, which is in everyone’s interest.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the report. What are the complexities in pursuing a transfer of functions of the Commissioners of Irish Lights to the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission? Legislation in respect of the Loughs Agency is not in effect, yet it has been two years since its inception. Was the effect of that on the fishing industry in Lough Foyle discussed?
Will the strategic transport issues identified in the original work programme address the lack of progress in the roads infrastructure in the north-west? Was the question of joint finance to address the deficiencies there discussed?
The First Minister:
There is a cross-border dimension to roads in the north-west of Northern Ireland, and they will be considered through the main roads programme. As the Deputy First Minister mentioned, strategic transport matters are related more to the route from Dublin through Dundalk, Newry and Belfast to Larne, which then connects to transport across the Irish Sea to Scotland and beyond. Strategic routes will be looked at only in that way, and, as the statement said, officials will carry that work forward. We will also be looking at how strategic issues can be carried forward. It is also necessary, as was pointed out in an earlier statement, to relate that to what is done in the British-Irish Council for strategic routes that go across the Irish Sea through Great Britain to Europe. We must look at all aspects of that.
The body set up to deal with loughs and lights is organised into two agencies. One agency deals with Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle. As the Member said, legislation has been enacted and is proceeding. It was originally envisaged that there would be a separate agency within the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission that would deal with the Commissioners of Irish Lights. However, the problem as regards that body is rather complex and involves the history of the organisation. It is not a purely Irish body. It operates within a British Isles context and involves authorities in Whitehall, particularly the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Consequently there are east-west issues involved — it is not purely a North/South matter. This was an oversight at the time that the agreement was made; we did not have all the technical information on the Commissioners of Irish Lights that has subsequently become available.
There are east/west issues there, and there are financial issues as well. There would be some serious financial consequences if the existing arrangements were to change, so we are looking at whether there is a better way of handling the lights issues. We do not want to disturb existing arrangements, which are working very effectively on the provision of lights around all of the Irish Sea coast and in regard to local interests. It may not be appropriate to explore the financial aspects at the moment.
I welcome the statement, but can the Minister assure us that the report on the obstacles to mobility will be made available to Members of the Assembly? Can he assure us that it will be published promptly? I point out that at the North/South Ministerial Council plenary meeting on 30 November it was agreed that the report should be published. It is now 15 January.
The Deputy First Minister:
The Member is correct in his observation that it was agreed at the plenary meeting to publish the report and also to conduct a full consultation on it. That is the intention. The report was carried out on the initiative of the Northern Administration, and, given the effort put into it, we want to ensure that publication does take place. The joint steering group will meet later this week to finalise arrangements for publication. We are encouraging prompt publication, so that the consultation exercise can begin and views on the worth and merits of the issues, problems and possibilities identified in the report can be expressed. We want to ensure that all the representative bodies which handle the interests of consumers, workers and users in relation to a range of issues covered in the report will be included in the consultation process. We are particularly conscious of the interest of Assembly Members, and they will be the first people on this side of the border to receive copies of the report.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I do not normally take points of order during questions to Ministers.
I fear that my question has not been answered. When I asked — [Interruption].
Order. It is not a point of order if a Minister has not answered a question to the satisfaction of a Member. Ministers are asked questions, and they may respond. Members are frequently not satisfied with the responses given by Ministers — for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes the Ministers are not satisfied with their answers either, but that is another matter. It is not a point of order.
In his half of the contribution, Mr Trimble said — and I follow on from my Colleague Oliver Gibson — that the Council agreed that officials from both Administrations and the joint secretariat should consider areas of co-operation further and see if it would be appropriate to bring them within the ambit of the North/South Ministerial Council and offer advice to the next meeting of the Council in institutional format. That will come as no comfort to the majority of Unionists, who are opposed to those quangos — the unaccountable North/South bodies — because it must be clearly understood that the House cannot amend anything done by those bodies.
It was also reported in December that a budget of £54·07 million had been approved for the North/South bodies. Is Mr Trimble telling us today that there is going to be further expenditure on, and expansion of, those unaccountable quangos? Does he not agree that the moneys spent in that area would be much better spent on Craigavon Area Hospital in his Upper Bann constituency, where patients cannot have medical care?
There is little comfort in his statement. It seems to me, and to those whom I represent, that there is no limit to the funding that will be made available to this unaccountable quango. Surely that is of great concern to him, as it is to every right-thinking Unionist in Northern Ireland.
The First Minister:
It is a shame that the Member has introduced such a farrago of nonsense in the guise of a question. The Member knows better. Having been in a ministerial post himself, he knows about the existing co-operation arrangements that have been in place for some time.
I referred to the co-operation arrangements between the Department for Social Development and the equivalent ministry in the Republic of Ireland. I could also have mentioned the week-long summer school that has been held for the past two years — first in Queen’s University Belfast and then in Trinity College Dublin — at which officials from the Department for Social Development meet officials from the Republic of Ireland to focus on issues of mutual interest, share ideas and participate in a programme together. That is what the Department for Social Development has been doing, but it has not reported that to the Assembly. It has not acted in an accountable way.
It is not any additional co-operation that has been referred to here at all. What would be additional would be the accountability arrangements that would be here. Reports would be made to the Assembly if it came under the aegis of the North/South Ministerial Council. Furthermore, there would be, through the Executive, a requirement for the Department for Social Development to report its proposals in advance to the Executive. At the moment the Department for Social Development does not do that. Therefore we have the former Minister introducing, by way of a question, many attempts to make prejudicial comments when, in fact, he is trying to continue to cover up his actions and those of his Colleagues.
Order. Time is up for questions to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
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’s sectoral meeting on language held on 7 December 2001.
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr McGimpsey):
I wish to report on the third meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in language sectoral format on Friday 7 December 2001 in the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle. Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Ms Bairbre de Brún and I attended the meeting. Ms Máire Ní Chochláin TD, Minister of State, represented the Irish Government. This report has been approved by Ms de Brún and is also made on her behalf.
The meeting opened with a progress report on the activities of the body by the joint chairperson of the language body, Maighréad Uí Mhairtín, the acting chief executive of Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch (the Ulster-Scots Agency), Mr Stan Mallon, and the acting chief executive of Foras na Gaeilge (the Irish Language Agency), Mr Michael de Hál.
The Council considered the draft equality scheme for the body and approved the submission of the scheme to an eight-week public consultation process. The Council approved the draft targeting social need action plans for the two agencies and their submission to a public consultation process.
As it has been 40 years since the last official review of Irish grammar and spelling, the Council agreed that it was now timely to consider a review of the requirements of the language. The Council, therefore, invited Foras na Gaeilge, whose statutory functions include responsibility for the development of dictionaries and terminology, to take a lead role in the consultative process with a view to bringing proposals to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure on the steps necessary for a review of the official standard of written Irish. As part of that process, Foras na Gaeilge will consult appropriate individuals, groups and organisations.
The Council approved codes of conduct for the board members of Foras na Gaeilge and Tha Boord o Ulster- Scotch. A code of conduct for the staff of Foras na Gaeilge was also approved. A code of conduct for the staff of Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch will be submitted when the agency recruits its full staff complement. Integrated codes of conduct for the members of the Language Body and another for staff will be submitted to a future meeting of the Council.
The Council also approved the selection process for the recruitment of a chief executive for Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch. It noted the resignation of Ms Lyn Franks from the board of Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch and appointed Mr Éamon Ó Domhnaill as her replacement.
(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for the report, despite its being scant on detail. What was the expenditure for Foras na Gaeilge for the past year? Was there any discussion about an increase in its budget?
Funding for the North/South Language Body is on the record. The funding for Irish is as follows: £10·12 million for this financial year; and £10·55 million for the next one.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Sometimes we must have mundane administrative meetings such as this. A great deal of administrative work was done. Can the Minister tell us more about the review of the official standard of written Irish? That will be largely welcomed. Will it add to the accessibility problems? How long will the review take, and what details are available?
What resource allocations are proposed for both agencies for the financial year starting in April? Can the Minister outline the key objectives and programmes that the allocations will deliver?
The funding is on the record. Funding for the North/South Language Body for 2001 amounted to £11·41 million. In 2002 it will be £11·97 million. Northern Ireland’s contribution for 2002 will be £3·71 million, which is a rise of just over £200,000. The Irish language will receive £10·55 million, and Ulster Scots will receive £1·42 million. The funding relates to corporate plans. The Ulster-Scots Agency produced a three-year corporate plan last year and is now reviewing that in the light of its experience — it is a new body, working in this area.
Foras na Gaeilge was already functioning as a section of the Governments on both sides of the border. There has been an amalgamation and an increase in activity. The old Bord na Gaeilge has gone — Foras na Gaeilge has taken its place and is functioning well. However, it has had to change its chief executive. The previous chief executive retired, and Foras na Gaeilge is going through the process of recruiting someone for that key post. The process will be completed soon, and a number of things will flow from there — for instance, Foras na Gaeilge will fill its staff complement.
It has been 40 years since a review of Irish was carried out, and it is appropriate that a review should be done now. Language evolves, and it is important that the body keep up to date on text and grammar, and so on. Its focus is on keeping the language relevant, and the work that it is about to undertake is important. It is interesting to note that that is also the focus of Tha Boord o Ulster- Scotch, and it too is beginning that process.
I believe that Gaelic is an integral part of the heritage of Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister assure us that Ulster Gaelic will be given its rightful place in the deliberations of Foras na Gaeilge — particularly the Gaelic of Donegal, west Tyrone and Rathlin Island? As with Ullans in Ulster Scots, there would be little use for a written official standard of Irish if the living streams of Gaelic were allowed to dry up. I commend the work of Barry McElduff in his brave attempts to preserve the authentic Ulster Gaelic of west Tyrone. Go raibh maith agat.