Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 12 February 2002


North/South Ministerial Council: Agriculture

Budget Bill: First Stage

Local Government (Best Value) Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Gaming (Variation of Monetary Limits) Order (Northern Ireland) 2001

Assembly: Business Committee

Report of the Committee of the Centre: Postal Ballot Papers

Golden jubilee

‘Protecting Children, Supporting Parents’ (2000)

Job Losses in East Antrim

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

North/South Ministerial Council: Agriculture

Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that she wishes to make a statement on the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its agriculture sectoral format that took place on 25 January 2002 in Enniskillen.

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

The fifth meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its agriculture sectoral format was held at the Manor House Hotel, Killadeas, in County Fermanagh on 25 January 2002. The Minister of the Environment, Mr Foster, accompanied me to that meeting, which I chaired, and he has agreed the contents of this statement. Mr Joe Walsh TD, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, represented the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

The Council noted the progress made by the various working groups on the programme of work spanning areas of animal health. It was noted that the working groups had met and produced action plans for future work. The Council received an informative presentation by a senior official from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, outlining the current position on various animal diseases in the two jurisdictions. The Council endorsed a joint paper on animal health on the island of Ireland and asked the animal health steering group and working groups to continue their work with a view to developing closer co-operation and joint strategies for the improvement of animal health on both sides of the border.

The Council noted that both Administrations were committed to conducting a review of the foot-and- mouth disease outbreaks and that restrictions on animal movements continued to be applied in both jurisdictions. Progress has been made in developing a common approach to the identification of sheep and pigs and on the introduction of common approaches to Aujeszky’s disease.

At a previous meeting of the Council it was agreed that a joint approach should be developed to pursue the eradication of scrapie among sheep. The Council expressed the hope that the joint approach would ensure the ultimate eradication of scrapie from the whole island and that, in the meantime, normal trade would continue in accordance with Community rules.

The Council reiterated that its priorities in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations should be the protection of the ability to export to Third-World countries and the retention of the WTO "blue box" exemption for direct payments to farmers.

Since the last meeting of the Council in its agriculture format, a new round of multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the WTO has been launched at the WTO ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar last November. The Council discussed the key elements of the subsequent declaration relating to agriculture and agreed to keep progress under review.

The Council noted and supported the active co-operation between the two Departments of Agriculture on the implementation of the common agricultural policy (CAP). Recent discussions between the two Departments focused on the changes to the EU Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) regulations, CAP simplification, the sheep retention period for 2002, sheep irregularity cases, reform of the sheepmeat regime and use of discretionary beef national envelope funds in 2002.

The Council also noted a progress report submitted by the steering committee on cross-border rural development and the fact that the committee will advise Ministers on appropriate follow-up action regarding the two studies commissioned by the steering committee. Those studies relate to co-operation between cross- border rural communities and cross-border rural development, education, training and research. The Council was also pleased to note that the European Commission has agreed the Ireland/Northern Ireland INTERREG III operational programme.

The Council acknowledged a positive report on the existing liaison between the two jurisdictions on plant health matters, which extends to both technical and scientific co-operation. It encouraged the relevant authorities to pursue the areas suggested for extended co-operation in plant health research and development. The secretariat tabled a paper to seek the Council’s confirmation of the appointment of a new chief executive of Foras na Gaeilge, the Irish language body, and the Council confirmed that appointment.

The next meeting in agriculture sectoral format will take place in the South. However, given the proximity of elections in the South, a date has not yet been agreed. It is hoped that a firm date for a meeting can be finalised as soon as possible. The text of a communiqué for issue following the meeting was agreed, and a copy of it has been placed in the Assembly Library.

Mr McGrady:

The Minister kindly received delegations from my constituency and therefore knows of the great concern about the proliferation of bovine tuberculosis (TB), particularly the clusters in south Down and the border regions. What further action will she take in conjunction with her partner Department in the South to co-ordinate the eradication of the disease? Will she consider the creation of a pilot scheme such as that in Monaghan, which seems to be giving positive indications of the eradication of bovine TB in that area? Can such a scheme be applied to some of the disease hot spots in south Down?

Ms Rodgers:

Mr McGrady has been active in pushing me to act on the issue. The North/South Ministerial Council received a report that action plans had been agreed by the working parties. Minister Walsh and I have asked the working parties to produce concrete action plans. I hope that joint strategies will be agreed by the end of the year. I am well aware of the problems of TB and brucellosis, particularly in the hot spots that Mr McGrady referred to. The working groups have discussed all of those matters. I will have more details about the matter and an agreement on a joint strategy before the end of the year.

Mr J Wilson:

I draw the Minister’s attention to the statement in the report that the Council noted that both Administrations were committed to conducting reviews of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. Does the Minister not expect that an attempt will be made by one jurisdiction to lay blame on the other, particularly with regard to any activity that preceded the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and any activity that both jurisdictions engaged in to bring the crisis to an end?

Ms Rodgers:

I do not anticipate that either jurisdiction will lay blame on the other. Both worked extremely well together throughout the crisis to contain the spread of the disease. In the initial stages there was close co-operation between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the South. Indeed, the quick action of my Department in tracing the missing sheep, despite the difficulties, was acknowledged as having had a major impact on preventing the further spread of the disease.

The review is being carried out on both sides of the border. On this side of the border there will be an independent consultative review, which will have its own independent secretariat. It will be able to talk to whomever it likes, on either side of the border. I envisage that the review being carried out in the South will be equally independent, and I do not foresee any difficulties between the two jurisdictions on this.

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the statement from the Minister and the work that is being done by the rural development groups and the cross-border bodies on INTERREG, the work that is being done by the World Trade Organisation — though I am not sure whether I agree with the direction it is taking — and the appointment of the chief executive to Foras na Gaeilge, the Irish language body.

I have two questions for the Minister on foot-and-mouth disease and brucellosis. Can the Minister assure the House that foot-and-mouth disease cannot now reach Ireland, given that there is little change in Britain with regard to the import of meat products from susceptible countries? Is there not a threat to the disease-free status of the South from the increase in the incidence of brucellosis along the border?

Ms Rodgers:

I know that Minister Beckett across the water is looking at the threat from Third-World countries and others with a view to ensuring that it is dealt with. Our port controls in the island of Ireland remain in place. There have been complaints about the strictness of those controls, but people cannot have it both ways. I am not referring to Mr McHugh — but I have been told that I am too strict about refusing access to vehicles because they have not been properly cleansed and disinfected. I may also be criticised for not doing enough. The Department will remain cautious and keep its guard up at the ports. That is the best way of guaranteeing that the island, North or South, does not import the disease via Northern Ireland.

Can the Member repeat his question on brucellosis?

Mr McHugh:

Could the South lose its disease-free status due to the continuing presence of brucellosis in areas such as County Armagh?

Ms Rodgers:

The Department has being carrying out a review of its disease controls with a view to tightening them. Mr McHugh will be aware that it has stepped up its testing, from biennial to annual, in the areas that are most affected. The Department is doing everything possible to curb the worrying increase that has occurred in recent years and to ensure that the disease is eradicated.

10.45 am

Mr Dallat:

Perhaps the Minister will allow me the luxury of staring into agriculture’s crystal ball. Has the Minister any plans to bring any of the proposals contained in the vision group’s report before the North/South Ministerial Council?

Ms Rodgers:

There are several recommendations with a North/South dimension in the vision group’s report, especially on animal health. There seems to be widespread support in the North for an all-island policy on animal and plant health. The report also includes recommendations on the potential for North/South co-operation on research and development; food branding; equine issues; and on representing the interests of the two parts of the island on the common agricultural policy, particularly in its forthcoming review. I may bring forward proposals in those areas to the North/South Ministerial Council, once I have completed my assessment of the vision group’s recommendations.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

Can the Minister tell the House how much the meeting cost and how those costs were met? Is the Minister aware that a vaccination exists for brucellosis? Has the Department costed the use of that vaccination? Does the Department have any evidence that farmers have deliberately spread the disease? Some of the material that I have seen indicates that the disease cannot be deliberately spread. Has the Minister any definite information on the alleged spread of the disease?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Paisley Jnr for his questions. I did not write them down, so I will try to remember them all — I think that there were three or four.

I do not have the cost of the North/South Ministerial Council meeting to hand, although I will certainly be able to supply it.

Allegations of deliberate infection of herds with brucellosis have been made. Mr Paisley is aware that several cases are being looked at and several compensation payments have been withheld. It would be wrong of me to comment further at this stage.


Ms Lewsley:

The Minister mentioned the common agricultural policy in a previous answer. Can she expand on the progress that is being made on developing a common approach to the reform of the policy?

Ms Rodgers:

I have discussed and agreed with Joe Walsh, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in the South, a set of common concerns about and priorities for the future development of the common agricultural policy and the related issues of EU enlargement and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations. We have agreed to continue to review developments on those matters and have agreed common priorities for our approach to the forthcoming review of the common agricultural policy.

Mr ONeill:

I welcome the Minister’s statement and thank her and her colleague, Mr Walsh, for all their hard work.

The Minister said that some work has been done on the scrapie menace. Can the Minister give a little more detail on progress on the establishment of an all-Ireland scrapie eradication programme?

Ms Rodgers:

Under the auspices of the North/South Ministerial Council, I have agreed with Minister Walsh to tackle jointly the eradication of scrapie from the island of Ireland. The nature of the disease and of the sheep population in Ireland make it sensible to have a unified approach. We have agreed that that will be pursued by genotyping and culling susceptible and affected animals.

While the approaches in each jurisdiction may differ in detail, they each involve the removal of scrapie-infected and scrapie-susceptible animals from flocks. There will be controls on restocking aimed at ensuring that there will be no subsequent reinfection from the environment. That approach will ensure that scrapie is ultimately eradicated from the island of Ireland and that, in the meantime, normal trade may continue in accordance with EU rules.

Public consultation on the proposals for the Northern Ireland scrapie plan ended on 14 January 2002, and officials are considering the responses to it. Our proposals include a voluntary scheme that involves genotyping, which is a method of breeding resistance to scrapie into the sheep population, and other focused eradication measures such as slaughtering sheep that are infected with scrapie. Those proposals are designed to take advantage of the low incidence of scrapie in Northern Ireland. The aim is to reduce incidences of scrapie and ultimately to eliminate it from the Northern Ireland flock. The all-Ireland strategy is aimed at eliminating scrapie from the whole island.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat. Was there any discussion of the spreading of slurry on the whole island on foot of the EU Directive? Mr Noel Dempsey, the Minister for Environment and Local Government in the other part of this island, has discussed the control of slurry spreading to prevent the spread of brucellosis among wildlife.

Ms Rodgers:

There was no discussion of the spreading of slurry at the North/South Ministerial Council meeting in Fermanagh.

Mr Ervine:

Is the Minister satisfied with the style and nature of our representation with the World Trade Organisation? Will she explain exactly what that representation is?

Ms Rodgers:

We do not represent a sovereign Government, and therefore we do not attend meetings of the WTO. However, we are represented at the WTO negotiations by the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The WTO negotiations will have implications for everyone, and will have an impact on the review of the common agricultural policy (CAP). As a regional Minister, together with my counterparts in Wales and Scotland, I have an input into the formulation of UK policy on all those issues. Although the regional Ministers are not present at the negotiations, our input is considered. The matter has also been discussed with my ministerial colleague in the South, and we have agreed our priorities in respect of CAP.

Mr A Maginness:

I welcome the Minister’s statement, and congratulate her on her selection as Politician of the Year. I am sure that all Members, in the spirit of goodwill and generosity that characterises the House, will join me in congratulating her. Her selection is a recognition of her tremendous leadership of this community during the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic. That leadership continues and is exemplified in her statement today —[Interruption].

I am sorry; I did not hear that.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

She is deputy leader.

Mr A Maginness:

I congratulate the Minister on that also. What are her views on the recently published report of the policy commission on agriculture in England?

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Maginness for his kind remarks, and thank the Assembly for having honoured me with its recognition as Politician of the Year. The vote was a recognition of the way in which the Assembly, the Executive and the Agriculture Committee worked together at a difficult time to achieve a good result for the people of Northern Ireland.

For the information of Mr Paisley Jnr, Mr Maginness has warmly congratulated me on my appointment as deputy leader. Therefore, there was no need for the Member to have made that point.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I am glad to hear that; that is a real relief.

Mr Speaker:


Ms Rodgers:

Mr Maginness asked about the policy commission. It is important to remember that its remit covers only England. The commission has made recommendations on several issues that must be addressed at a UK level. The four UK Agriculture Ministers will discuss those issues as appropriate, and any subsequent action will be subject to collective decision. Yesterday I met my Scottish and Welsh colleagues in Edinburgh, and such matters were discussed.

The report is comprehensive, and I wish to study it carefully before I make any substantive comments. Many of the problems and challenges faced by farmers in Northern Ireland are similar to those faced by farmers elsewhere in the UK and beyond. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the methods proposed to tackle those issues are similar to those measures recommended in the vision report, which was geared to examining problems and proposed solutions from a Northern Ireland perspective.

Nevertheless, there may be ideas in the commission’s report that we might wish to explore to determine whether they could be of benefit to Northern Ireland farmers. However, I stress again that the policy commission’s remit covered only England; it did not relate to any of the regions.

Budget Bill: First Stage

The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Dr Farren):

I beg leave to lay before the Assembly a Bill [NIA Bill 2/01] to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of certain sums for the service of the years ending 31 March 2002 and 2003; to appropriate those sums for specified purposes; to authorise the Department of Finance and Personnel to borrow on the credit of the appropriated sums; to authorise the use for the public service of certain resources for the years ending 31 March 2002 and 2003; and to revise the limits on the use of certain accruing resources in the year ending 31 March 2002.

Bill passed First Stage and ordered to be printed.

Mr Speaker:

The Bill will be put on the list of pending business until a date for its Second Stage is determined.

I have received notification in respect of the Bill from the Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel that the requirements of Standing Order 40 have been fully met in terms of appropriate consultation. It is, therefore, in order for the Budget Bill to proceed with accelerated passage.


Local Government (Best Value) Bill:
Further Consideration Stage

Clauses 1 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Mr Speaker:

That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Local Government (Best Value) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

Gaming (Variation of Monetary Limits)
Order (Northern Ireland) 2001

The Minister for Social Development (Mr Dodds):

I beg to move

That the Gaming (Variation of Monetary Limits) Order (Northern Ireland) 2001 (SR 414/2001) be approved.

The Order will raise certain monetary limits in the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 that apply to commercial and non- commercial gaming. Those, and other limits, in the 1985 Order are minor issues that are routinely reviewed by subordinate legislation to maintain their relative value.

Articles 2, 3 and 4 refer to the monetary limits that apply to commercial bingo clubs that have been licensed by the courts. Article 2 deals with the limit placed on weekly winnings on games of "link bingo" in such clubs. "Link bingo" is the name given to bingo games that are played simultaneously in different clubs. Article 3 refers to the limit on the amount by which a bingo club proprietor may top up the stake money. The 1985 Order allows licensed bingo clubs to offer gaming for small prizes, subject to certain conditions. Article 4 of the Order deals with the limits on such gaming.


Articles 5 and 6 apply to non-commercial gaming. Article 5 applies to small-scale gaming such as bridge, whist drives and bingo, organised for charitable purposes, under article 126 of the 1985 Order. Article 6 of this subordinate Order applies to the small charges that certain clubs may make for non-banker, equal-chance gaming, including bingo, under article 128 of the 1985 Order. Article 7 will revoke the previous provisions, which last raised the limits contained in the present Order and which are now redundant.

I commend the Order to the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Gaming (Variation of Monetary Limits) Order (Northern Ireland) 2001 (SR 414/2001) be approved.

Assembly: Business Committee


That Mr PJ Bradley replace Dr Alasdair McDonnell on the Business Committee. — [ Mr Tierney.]

Report of the Committee of the Centre:
Postal Ballot Papers

The Chairperson of the Committee of the Centre (Mr Poots):

I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the report of the Committee of the Centre ‘Report into the proposal to record the return of postal ballot papers’ (01/01R) and agrees that it be submitted to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as a report of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In November 2001, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions issued a consultation paper seeking views on the proposal to amend the various representation of the people regulations to provide for the official recording of the receipt of postal ballot papers. A copy of the paper was sent to the Assembly. At its meeting on 4 December 2001, the Business Committee agreed that the consultation paper should be referred to the Committee of the Centre to prepare a response on the Assembly’s behalf. The Committee considered the paper on 12 December and agreed to seek written views from several bodies on the issues raised in the document. Written submissions were received from the Information Commissioner, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, and the de Borda Institute. The Committee thanks those bodies for taking time to respond to its request for information. The proposal is to allow the receipt of postal ballot papers to be recorded officially by electoral administrators, and views were sought on the principle of the proposal and on the practicalities of its implementation.

Under present procedures, the electoral register is marked to show that a ballot paper has been issued to a postal voter. The principal purpose of the mark is to prevent a voter who subsequently goes to a polling station from double-voting. However, the marked register does not record whether the postal ballot is returned. The Committee considered in some detail the proposal and its implications. It noted that, if the proposal is adopted, those inspecting the marked register will be able to identify who has returned a postal vote. Members know that the position is the same for those voting in person, as the register is marked to show that an individual has been issued with a ballot paper at the polling station.

In his response to the Committee, the Chief Electoral Officer expressed some concern about the proposal. He was concerned about the possible perception that, in noting the return of a postal ballot paper, someone could note how a person had voted, and that this could lead to a loss of confidence in the democratic process. The Committee considered this carefully and concluded that the opportunity for noting how a person had voted would be limited and that the risk to the secrecy of the ballot would therefore be very low.

Inspection of the marked registers is provided for under legislation. The principal users are candidates and political parties who use the data to establish voting patterns and trends. In addition, some electors have expressed a wish to have a way of checking that their ballot papers have been received. There is currently no way to do this. In its submission to the Committee, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission commented that

"It is unsatisfactory that, at present, people who use postal votes have no way of finding out whether their ballot paper arrived."

The Committee agrees and considers that procedures should be put in place for the receipt of postal ballot papers to be recorded officially.

The Committee also examined the practical implications of the proposal. The consultation paper proposed that the return of an individual’s postal voting documents should be recorded when the declaration of identity is checked, and the Committee agrees that that is the most appropriate point at which to record the information. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission highlighted that that is an area where Northern Ireland legislation differs from that in Great Britain and advised the Committee that if a ballot paper is returned without an accompanying declaration in Northern Ireland it is immediately ruled out, even if a declaration that matches it arrives separately. The Committee considered that the same procedures should apply throughout the United Kingdom and recommends that the legislation in Northern Ireland regarding the matching of declarations of identity and postal ballots be brought into line with legislation in Great Britain.

The other practical issue to be considered is where such information should be recorded. The consultation paper sets out two options. The first is to record the information on the marked electoral register that is used in each polling station, which would result in one consolidated list. That would mean that the process of marking the register with returned postal votes would have to be completed once the registers are returned from the polling stations — that is, after the count.

The second option considered in the paper is to record the information on the list of postal voters maintained by the electoral registration officer. That would result in a separate record — a marked postal voters list. That information could be recorded as and when the postal votes are opened. It would then be up to anyone wishing to inspect the records to obtain both sets of data.

The Committee is aware that recording the information on the marked electoral register that is used in each polling station to produce one consolidated list might cause some additional administrative work for staff in the Electoral Office. However, according to the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, the Electoral Office would be able to cope with the requirement once its new computer system, with suitable enhancements, is installed. The Committee concluded that there are advantages in having one consolidated list and recommends that the information should be recorded on the marked electoral register.

The Committee considered two related issues during its deliberations. In its submission to the Committee, the Human Rights Commission expressed reservations about the use of the electoral register for purposes not connected with elections, such as its sale for commercial use, and suggested that the regulations should restrict access to those who can show an election-related need for the information. The Committee considered this and agreed that individuals should be able to choose whether personal information held on the electoral register can be used for commercial purposes. The Committee considers that, in general, the electoral register should be used only for the purposes of public or court administration, and access should be limited to those who can show an election-related need for the information. The Committee has made reference to this in its report.

Finally, the Committee was advised that, in Northern Ireland, postal ballot papers can be returned by post or handed in to electoral offices. However, there is no provision for postal ballot papers to be handed in to polling stations, as is the case in Great Britain. The Committee gave some consideration to this anomaly and recommends in its report that provision should be made for postal ballot papers to be handed in to polling stations in Northern Ireland.

I commend the report to the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly approves the report of the Committee of the Centre ‘Report into the proposal to record the return of postal ballot papers’ (01/01R) and agrees that it be submitted to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as a report of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


Golden jubilee

Mr Morrow:

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Education in this, Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee year, to ensure provision is made for each primary school pupil in Northern Ireland to be provided with a suitable souvenir to mark this important and historic occasion.

In any circumstances, whether individually or collectively, celebrating 50 years of service is a special and, indeed, a unique occasion — and for no one more so than Her Majesty The Queen, who has served this nation with dignity and responsibility during the past 50 years. Our constitutional monarchy has brought stability to our United Kingdom, and Her Majesty has provided much wise counsel to the many Prime Ministers who have served her during her reign. Today we want to act with dignity and mark this special occasion in the manner that I feel it deserves.

This motion is not intended to be either divisive or offensive to anyone. It is intended to recognise the service given to the United Kingdom by Her Majesty, and it calls for this special year in our history to be marked in a way that is simple, yet reflective. Our children should be given the opportunity to receive a souvenir to commemorate the 50 years that Her Majesty has spent as head of state, just as children were given a souvenir at the time of the Queen’s coronation. I suspect that many in the Assembly can recall that time and can look back to when they were at school and were given a memento to mark the Queen’s coronation. They may not have placed much emphasis on it at the time. Indeed, they may not have seen it as important. However, having spoken to many who can recall that occasion — [Interruption].

Mr ONeill:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you explain to the House the use of a Dispatch Box for Members? Is it available for all Members to use, or are we setting a new precedent this morning?

Mr Speaker:

Properly speaking, the use of Lecterns, in lieu of Dispatch Boxes, is for Ministers when speaking as Ministers, if they choose — and not all Ministers choose to use one — or Chairpersons of Committees, if they choose, when presenting on behalf of their Committees. I see that the matter is no longer an issue.

Mr Morrow:

Mr Speaker, I humbly apologise to the House for taking advantage. The Box was there, and I thought it would not offend anyone if I used it. I want it recorded that I humbly apologise.

Mr Speaker:

Had the Member had 50 years service in the House, no doubt he would have been accorded it.

Mr Morrow:

That demonstrates that I can be humble.

Many types of souvenirs will be created during this special year, and I do not wish to be prescriptive about the type or design of souvenir. I believe that every primary schoolchild should have an opportunity to mark the jubilee tangibly, and if the Department of Education wants some ideas on what should be used, I am prepared to give it some. I suspect that it does not need that.

During the course of this debate there will be those who will say that Her Majesty is the British head of state and, as such, is not acceptable, or that many children could not participate. That is a poor argument. At the outset, I want to say that this should not be forced on every school. The option should be there, and it should be available to those schools and children who wish to avail of it. The Queen is the head of state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so she is the head of state to everyone who lives in Northern Ireland, regardless of political opinion, religious belief, ethnic origin or anything else that people may feel distinguishes them. We all are her subjects by virtue of where we live — the United Kingdom.

11.15 am

There is no basis for the claim that the majority of primary schoolchildren have no interest in receiving a souvenir in recognition of the Golden Jubilee. I suspect that many schools in the Province would welcome the opportunity to give their pupils a suitable gift. Perhaps some Members are opposed to the motion because to provide such an opportunity would expose the inaccuracy of their claims that children have no interest. I suggest that caution be taken. The Department of Education should not fall into the trap of restricting history and distorting reality. Why should schools not be given the choice of whether or not to present their pupils with a souvenir? Those who vote against the motion will deny every school in the Province that choice. If the Assembly were to reject the motion, it would deny the up-and-coming generation the unique opportunity to have a memento of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee for years to come.

Some said, during the run-up to the debate, that the motion involves an element of flag-waving or an attempt to get one over on someone. That is not in my thoughts. It is an opportunity to recognise 50 years in which the Queen has served the United Kingdom with distinction and honour.

We are supposed to be living in an era of parity of esteem in which everybody’s view is of equal status. I hope that the House will seize the opportunity to demonstrate tangibly to the Minister of Education that schools should have a choice and that the Department of Education should place at schools’ disposal a suitable souvenir to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. We ask for no more, and I trust that Members will support the motion.


Mr Speaker:

I have received one amendment to the motion, which is published on the Marshalled List of amendments in the name of Mrs E Bell.

Mrs E Bell:

I beg to move the following amendment: In line 2, after "ensure" insert:

"where the board of governors deems it appropriate, that".

One of my earliest childhood memories is of being in a small parlour house in the Falls Road area, watching the Queen's coronation together with many other families. I do not remember much about the ceremony, but I remember how the young Queen was serious and controlled. She realised that she had a demanding life in front of her. That was the general feeling in the room, and nothing but tribute was paid to her. As time has passed, those thoughts have, in many ways, been proved correct. I hope that this jubilee year will be another resounding memory for all of us and, of course, for the Queen. The death of the Queen's sister was tragic, but it is to be hoped that she will still be able to take pride in her Golden Jubilee year.

I remember the Queen's Silver Jubilee. I lived in Windsor, where we held an enjoyable street party. The participating families were of different backgrounds, colours and creeds, but were united in their good wishes for the young Queen. Again I recall thinking that it would have been great if we could have had similar scenes throughout Northern Ireland in celebration of a life lived in duty and loyalty towards all citizens.

This year should be celebrated in Northern Ireland as much or as little as people wish. Ample opportunity should be given to note, or to not note, the historic occasion. Therefore, I hope that Members will view my amendment without prejudice, if that is possible in Northern Ireland. My reason for tabling the amendment is that I have several misgivings about the motion as it stands, not least on monetary grounds.

If the Department of Education is to ensure that a memento will be provided, it must be clear that schools will not bear the cost themselves. The Department must refer schools to the jubilee fund, which would allay budgetary pressures. In addition, district councils could be asked to become involved with local schools, because they too have had budget specifications for commemorative celebrations this year.

The decision for each school should be made by its board of governors, which is responsible to that school's pupils and staff. That board would know the feelings and circumstances of the school, its pupils, staff and parents. That would not be discriminatory, nor would it contravene equality Directives. It would simply be an understanding that each school will be different in its observance.

As regards different agendas, I suspect that the motion might produce attitudes that have more to do with the identity of the Minister of Education than with an acknowledgement of the Queen's work and commitment - I am aware that that does not apply to the proposer. I appeal to all shades of opinion in the Chamber not to use the Golden Jubilee as an opportunity for another instance of intolerance or backward thinking. Rather, they should view it as a fitting tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on reaching her Golden Jubilee.

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

I inform the House, Mr Morrow and others that it is not the Department of Education, but the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure that is taking the lead in the Golden Jubilee celebrations - I am, however, sure that most people are aware of that. That was agreed by the Executive some time ago. I have a budget line, which the Department has been working on for many months. There has been an enormous response from across the Province.

By your leave, Mr Speaker, I intend to make a statement next week to fully inform Members of the position in respect of the Golden Jubilee celebrations, outlining the many applications that the Department has received and the types of celebrations planned. I have not done so this week by agreement with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - the lead Department in London - and other devolved Administrations throughout the United Kingdom, as a mark of respect following the death of Princess Margaret last Saturday. None of my colleagues in the devolved Administrations or the Government in London will be making announcements on the Golden Jubilee this week.

I regret that this motion is being debated this week. It is unseemly that we should discuss it at this time. It would be unseemly to become involved in divisive political debate on the issue. The motion could have been debated next week or in previous weeks. It would have been better had Mr Morrow and his party followed the lead of the devolved Administrations and the Government in London by not getting involved in the issue as a mark of respect. For that reason, my party will not be taking part in the debate today.

Mr Gallagher:

I strongly oppose the motion as a Member of the Assembly and as someone with a background in education. It is ridiculous that such a motion should come before the Assembly today, given that we all know that a variety of identities and allegiances exists in this community. I presume that the motion refers to one of the two main identities. However, many others do not want to receive the souvenir to which the motion refers. It is proposed in the motion that that souvenir should be imposed on those who do not want to receive it. We should all oppose that.

The SDLP is committed, as it has always been, to the creation of a just, tolerant and pluralist society. We should all know the dangers and drawbacks of imposing things on others, especially on those from different backgrounds.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClelland] in the Chair)

If I understood Mr Morrow correctly, I heard him refer to a pack that was provided for children by the education system in the coronation year. That was 50 years ago and, fortunately for all of us, things have moved on both politically and educationally. At that time, the education system discouraged the teaching of Irish history. In hindsight, we all know that that was a mistake, and one that we do not wish to repeat.

Speaking as an educationalist, I know that many subjects, such as mathematics, economics and languages, have a place in the education system. However, education in its truest sense goes further than that. Education is about the fundamental worth of each individual and the common good. It is about imparting the values to which I referred earlier - justice, tolerance and pluralism. Since education should be about the common good, that includes the common good of people of whatever identity, whatever their allegiance or political background. That is how we should manage education, and we should all aspire to that.

The motion threatens that notion, so I oppose it. If we want to have an education system that provides a safe haven for all, regardless of religious or political persuasion, we should reject the motion.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I wish to inform the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure - and he should be careful about what he says - that the motion was tabled weeks ago. It was not tabled following Princess Margaret's death. His party did not approach Mr Morrow and ask him to withdraw the motion this week, yet Mr McGimpsey castigates the DUP for moving the motion, and is lauded by people from the opposite side of the House for doing so. That shows the spirit of both the UUP and the SDLP. If they do not get their way, they think that they can gag Members of the Assembly. This is an elected Assembly, and it is the only part of the Assembly that has any degree of democracy. I resent what the Minister said. If he is concerned about a motion being tabled, and he feels that he has to wait until the following week to tell people what he is going to do, that is his business. However, he has no right to castigate the Democratic Unionist Party for moving the motion.

I find Mr Gallagher's attitude amazing. He talked about a "safe haven" in the schools, yet people of his religion boycott the state education system.


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