Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 18 February 2002


Assembly Business

Royal Assent

Assembly Business

Public Petition: Closure of Mosside Primary School

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

Railway Safety Bill: First Stage

Budget Bill: Second Stage

Personal Social Services (Preserved Rights) Bill: First Stage

Assembly: Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee

Oral Answers to Questions

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Attacks on Families in Coleraine

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

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Assembly Business

Mr McCarthy:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker:

Order. I first wish to make a statement on a previous point of order.

At the sitting on Tuesday 12 February, Mr Billy Hutchinson asked on a point of order why the time allocated by the Business Committee to the debate on the motion ‘Protecting Children, Supporting Parents’ (2000) was extended.

The Deputy Speaker put the question that the debate be extended on the basis that it appeared to be the clear wish of all Members present; there was no dissenting voice. In the event, almost no extra time was required for the debate.

I must make it clear that Standing Orders make no provision for such an extension. Indeed, it is clearly the role of the Business Committee alone to allocate times for categories of business; Standing Order 10(2) refers. Therefore, the question of extending the time was not in order. Where Members have tabled a motion that they would perceive as requiring a substantive debate, they should make that known to their representative on the Business Committee.

I wish to make it clear that the events that took place during the motion ‘Protecting Children, Supporting Parents’ (2000) are in no way to be construed as setting a precedent. Such a question should not be put again under current Standing Orders.


Royal Assent

Mr Speaker:

I wish to inform the House that the Game Preservation (Amendment) Bill has received Royal Assent. The Game Preservation (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2002 became law on 13 February 2002.

Assembly Business

Mr McCarthy:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 24 September 2001, the Assembly unanimously agreed a motion standing in my name

That this Assembly calls on the Executive to establish an interdepartmental working group to make recommendations on the removal —

Mr Speaker:

Order, order. I must caution the Member. I am prepared to take a point of order if that is genuinely what it is, but not if it is a question of making a speech or a political point.

Mr McCarthy:

The point is that the Assembly unanimously agreed to set up an interdepartmental working group, yet I received a reply from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to say that that was not allowed.

Mr Speaker:

That is not a point of order. If the Member wishes to draw my attention to a problem that he perceives to be of a constitutional nature between the Assembly and the Executive, he should do so with me privately in the first instance, and then we can see what appropriate action can be taken.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the ruling that you have just made reflects how matters stand, Standing Orders must be changed. No House that I know of is not master of itself. The House should be sovereign, especially when it is unanimous, so we must look at the Standing Orders.

Mr Speaker:

It is perfectly in order for the Procedures Committee to look at the Standing Orders. Several arguments can be adduced in either direction. Sometimes it is not hard to reach unanimity in the House because so few Members are present. If my attention is drawn to the absence of a quorum, the House must suspend. In such contexts, to get the leave of the House may not be too difficult.

The Member has raised a very clear argument. It is quite appropriate for that matter to be brought to the Procedures Committee, which, if it wishes, can bring the matter to the House. That is the proper order of things.

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that, although the procedure was invalid, the original decision was not invalid even though it may have been taken after the allotted time?

Mr Speaker:

The Member is correct. It is inappropriate for the Speaker to make a ruling in such post hoc circumstances that has a retrospective outcome.

Public Petition: 
Closure of Mosside Primary School

Mr Speaker:

Mr Ian Paisley Jnr has begged leave to present a public petition in accordance with Standing Order 22.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I beg leave to present a petition from residents in the village of Mosside in north Antrim. The petition refers to the proposed closure of Mosside Primary School later this year and is signed by 200 people from the village who are opposed to the closure of that small, rural primary school. The petition says that closure will damage the future of the village and remove from children a local school that has an impressive record of good results, in spite of shortfalls in departmental resources and competition from other local schools.

To remove a school from any village decimates the heart of a village and takes children from the area. The closure of the school will inconvenience the local rural community and cause great upset. The petitioners also make clear that, alongside educational and community arrangements for maintaining the school, there is a substantial question of the safety of children on the roads.

Mr Paisley Jnr moved forward and laid the petition on the Table.

Mr Speaker:

I shall convey the petition to the Minister responsible and to the Chairperson of the associated Committee.


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

Mr Speaker:

I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that she wishes to make a statement on the North/South Ministerial Council, which met in the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission sector on 1 February 2002 in County Armagh. The Minister also wishes to address a more immediate matter that happened over the weekend.

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

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, before I make my statement on the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission sectoral meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, I wish to make a few remarks on the recent fishing tragedy in Kilkeel.

The entire House will join with me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the Greene family and to the entire fishing community on this unspeakable tragedy, which has taken the lives of three generations of one family, including that of an eight-year-old boy. I have visited members of the family, whose main concern is to find the boat and recover their loved ones’ bodies.

As soon as I became aware of the need for naval support to assist the search, I spoke to British Minister John Spellar and to the Irish Government. My concern was to secure the necessary back-up as quickly as possible. It became clear that the Royal Navy did not have an adequately equipped naval vessel available in local waters. I am, however, pleased to report that the Irish naval vessel LE Eithne is being mobilised and will leave its base in County Cork this afternoon. It is expected to arrive on the County Down coast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

I pay tribute to the local fishing fleet and to the other boats, including our fisheries protection vessel, the Ken Vickers. They have worked tirelessly in the past couple of days on this very sad search. We can only hope that the arrival of the LE Eithne will help to bring some solace to the Greene family.

I also express my appreciation to the British Government for their co-operation, and to the Irish Government for their speedy response to this awful human tragedy.

The seventh meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council for the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights sector took place on Friday 1 February 2002 at the Slieve Gullion Courtyard, Killeavey, south Armagh.

Following nomination by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Mr Dermot Nesbitt and I represented Northern Ireland. Mr Frank Fahey, Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, represented the Irish Government. The papers for the meeting were issued to Executive Committee members on 28 January.

The meeting opened with a report from the chairman of the board of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, Mr Peter Savage. The report detailed the board’s progress in work on shellfisheries, the interpretive centre and marine tourism. He also referred to the review of the Loughs Agency’s staffing structure, which Ministers had requested be carried out following their approval of an interim staffing structure. A draft report on the review, carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, was presented to the agency on 9 January. The draft report was forwarded to the sponsoring Departments for comment and considered by the board at a meeting during the last week of January. My Department is considering the report as a matter of priority and will respond to it as soon as possible.

Dr Pat Griffin, a member of the board of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, then gave an account of a recent visit to Holland by board members and Loughs Agency staff. Holland has one of the most efficient and sustainable mussel industries in Europe, and the agency chose that destination as it represented a useful learning opportunity.

The visit incorporated trips to licensed sites, the Fisheries Research Institute and the auction facilities. The agency was impressed by the emphasis placed on such environmental factors as the sustainability of bird populations and the treatment of predators. The agency was also impressed by the industry’s capacity to identify and move mussel seed between different plots deemed suitable for different stages of mussel growth, and with the efficiency of the electronic auction system, which can accept bids for mussel stock from around the world. It was apparent to our visiting colleagues that good management of the shellfisheries in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough has the potential to create a valuable export market to Holland.

The chief executive of the agency, Mr Derick Anderson, provided the meeting with an explanation for the delay in presenting accounts for the agency’s predecessor, the Foyle Fisheries Commission, and the knock-on delay that that has caused in presenting agency accounts. He explained that a computerised accountancy system had been introduced, on which all accounts operated accurately with the exception of the nominal ledger. The difficulties with the nominal ledger were not fully exposed for some time, as the Foyle Fisheries Commission and, latterly, the Loughs Agency were under resource pressure due to additional work as a result of an expanding remit.

To rectify the problems with the nominal ledger, the Loughs Agency employed consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and recruited and trained additional administrative staff. With that extra support, the agency was able to provide all required information to facilitate completion of the audit of outstanding accounts.

Fully audited accounts for the Foyle Fisheries Commission for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999 were due to be forwarded to the agency during the week ending 15 February. Responsibility for the audit of accounts for the Loughs Agency for the years 2000 and 2001 rests with the Northern Ireland Audit Office. It has already undertaken the bulk of the groundwork, but it requires closed 1999 accounts before it can finalise the audit of the later accounts.

12.15 pm

It is anticipated that the accounts for 2000-01 will be completed in March. The chief executive apologised for the delay in finalising the outstanding accounts and assured Ministers that appropriate mechanisms, staff and controls are now in place to ensure that the Loughs Agency does not cause such delays again.

The chief executive advised the meeting of the progress that has been made towards completing the agency’s interpretive centre. The agency is undertaking a baseline survey to establish the level of children’s knowledge of the fishery resource, and some video footage has been shot of salmon spawning in the River Finn. Plans for the interior design and decoration of the centre are under way, and the agency is on target and within budget to open it by September 2002.

Ministers were updated on the agency’s plans to host a workshop on research into seal predation of salmon and on the continuing positive impact of the salmon carcass tagging scheme, particularly the significant downturn in illegal netting and the increase in logbook returns, especially from anglers. That enhancement of the agency’s management data will make a positive contribution to its ability to manage and conserve the valuable salmon fisheries in the Foyle area.

The chief executive referred to the agency’s work with angling clubs and fishery owners on applications for EU funding for several enhancement projects. He looks forward to the positive contribution such projects have the potential to make to increasing the number of salmon in the system.

Ministers took the opportunity to thank the agency for its continuing good work, and, in particular, they urged it to do everything in its power to advance its outstanding accounts.

Ministers considered and approved the agency’s corporate plan for 2002-04 and its business plan for 2002. The corporate plan sets out its objectives for the management, protection, conservation and improvement of salmon, inland and shellfish fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas, and the development of marine tourism. It also outlines its objectives for the statutory equality obligations, the development of its staff, and health and safety at work and includes budgetary details.

The business plan sets more specific targets for 2002. It addresses issues such as aquaculture licensing, the reduction of illegal fishing, the provision of advice on a range of issues, including pollution prevention, awareness raising, and the provision and use of a variety of management information to inform and support the management of the fisheries. Printed copies will be available from the agency’s headquarters in March.

Ministers considered a paper on the progress made in establishing an advisory forum that was approved at an earlier meeting. Its purpose is to ensure that those with an interest in the use and management of the resources in the Foyle and Carlingford areas have a mechanism through which their views may be put to the agency. The selection process was undertaken on the agency’s behalf by management consultants. There were some initial difficulties in recruiting a sufficient number of people to represent all the interests, but we were pleased to note that, following a further targeted recruitment exercise, the full range of representation has been achieved. Members of the advisory forum include representatives of shellfishing, draft net fishing, drift net fishing, anglers, fishery owners, tourism, environmental groups, local businesses, councils, ports and harbours, forestry and agriculture.

The advisory forum held its first meeting at the end of January, when members were given detailed presentations on the work of the agency and its future plans. It is proposed that, when it meets again in March, individual focus groups will be set up to concentrate on advising the agency on specific areas of interest.

Ministers noted the final version of the agency’s equality scheme, which received approval from the Equality Commission on 7 November 2001, and approved its New TSN action plan. Both the equality scheme and the action plan underpin the agency’s work, and their implementation will strengthen its commitment to equality, fairness, and tackling social need and social exclusion. Copies of both documents are available from the agency on request.

Ministers considered a paper on the difficulties presented by an aquaculture site in Carlingford Lough, licensed by the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, the boundaries of which have caused problems for Northern fishermen trying to access the public mussel fishery. Minister Fahey accepted that a speedy resolution was required, and officials from both Departments, along with staff from the Loughs Agency, have been asked to resolve the issue by the next meeting.

Progress on the drafting of the Foyle and Carlingford fisheries Bill was discussed next. The Bill proposes to extend the functions of the agency in line with the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 and to update the Foyle fisheries Acts. To date, good progress has been made in resolving some intricate policy matters. As the legislation affects both parts of the island of Ireland, it was agreed that drafting of the provisions would be split between the relevant offices, North and South. Although the Office of the Legislative Counsel has produced its part of the Bill, progress has been hampered in the South by the involvement of their draftsman in drafting other Bills. However, Minister Fahey agreed to encourage the Attorney-General’s Office to give the Bill priority, with a view to producing the South’s contribution to the draft as soon as possible to facilitate introduction in the Assembly and the Dáil at the earliest opportunity.

The meeting considered a paper on the transfer of the functions of the Commissioners of Irish Lights to the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. It is clear that the functions of the commissioners will remain a reserved matter, with the UK Government continuing to exercise policy and funding control as a consequence of their responsibility as trustees of the general lighthouse fund. Therefore, it appears that the Lights Agency element of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission will not comply with the definition of an implementation body, as set out in strand two of the Good Friday Agreement. Members will be aware that the matter has been referred to the North/South Ministerial Council in its institutional format. At its meeting on 17 December, it was agreed that officials from both Administrations and from the joint secretariat of the North/South Ministerial Council would consider the matter further, and offer advice and recommendations to the council. Preliminary discussions have begun with a view to submitting a report and recommendations to the next meeting of the Council in its institutional format.

The North/South Ministerial Council agreed to meet again in April 2002, and it approved a joint communiqué, a copy of which has been placed in the Assembly Library.

This statement was made on my behalf and on behalf of Mr Nesbitt.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (Rev Dr Ian Paisley):

I am sure that the House will endorse the Minister’s remarks at the beginning of her statement and will wish to express its sympathy also. It has been said that great grief is not good at talking, and how true that is. Who can express the depth of sorrow caused by the wound that has been inflicted by the loss of three generations of one family? I am sure that everyone in the Assembly understands that.

I welcome the fact that vessels will be sent to that area. I received a representation from Kilkeel yesterday. I spoke to Mr Spellar’s personal secretary and pointed out that the fishermen were worried that bad weather would mean that the vessels would not be of much use. However, the weather conditions were favourable.

Given the size of the British naval service, I am amazed that it does not have a boat with the equipment to do this job. We are grateful to the Dublin authorities for sending a vessel. However, I ask the Minister to press the British authorities further to send a fully-equipped naval vessel that has the ability to carry out the soundings necessary to search for the lost vessel. Two boats could cover a greater area than one.

Everyone knows that it is imperative to find the vessel, so that the bodies of those who have been lost can be brought back and receive a burial, and so that the family can have one sore anointed with healing balm. The other sore and its scar will remain on their lives for ever. I wish the boats well in their efforts to find the bodies.

I salute all the fishermen in that area and all those who went out in boats to help the search. I also salute the strength of the family at this time and trust that the bodies will soon be brought back to the home port.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his remarks and expression of sympathy to the family. I am deeply grateful that a vessel is being prepared to leave Haulbowline in County Cork at 2.00 pm to travel up the Irish coast. It is hoped that it will reach the Down coast by 2.00 am tomorrow morning, and I understand that it will begin the search immediately.

I recognise that the family’s grief is being added to by the fact that the bodies have not been recovered and that, as Dr Paisley has said, it would be a great ease to them if they could be recovered. I have been informed that the police diving team has offered its services to the coastguard, while the fishing fleet and the Ken Vickers are fully involved in the search. Should it become apparent that a wreckage has been found, the police divers will offer help to the coast guard or the lifeboat service, whichever may be appropriate. That is an example of the great co-operation that there has been throughout the community, North/South, east/west and within all the Government agencies to try to resolve one of the greatest tragedies that I have known in fishing history in my lifetime in this part of the world. We must also remember that a brother of Michael Greene was drowned in Kilkeel harbour 13 years ago. This has been a real tragedy for this family.

The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (Mr Savage):

On behalf of my party, I would like to express our sympathy to the family. Our thoughts are with all those involved.

I welcome the Minister’s statement and am glad that great interest was taken in the salmon fishing industry and also in the tagging scheme. What impact have the salmon that escaped from the farm fishery had on wild salmon, and have any steps been taken to ensure that such an incident does not happen again?

Ms Rodgers:

My understanding is that the salmon that escaped from the Glenarm fishery have had no significant impact.

Mr Bradley:

As an Assembly Member for South Down, I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy from the Minister and the Committee Chairperson. The tragic events of last Thursday night will be remembered in the Mournes for generations to come. I also wish to put on record my appreciation of the services that worked around the clock on the rescue mission and then the search, including the local lifeboat service, which did a tremendous job co-ordinating all those involved. I would not like this occasion to pass without paying tribute to the Minister for her efforts yesterday to expedite the search.

What plans does the Loughs Agency have to develop marine tourism in Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle, and when does the agency intend to publish those plans?


Ms Rodgers:

The Loughs Agency is currently preparing a tourism strategy that will set out the agency’s plans for the development of marine tourism in the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

The agency plans to concentrate on improving marine tourism by developing the recreation and leisure aspects of fisheries and catchments. However, it does not propose to provide direct funding. The agency also intends to commission a marine tourism audit in the Foyle and Carlingford areas to ascertain the level of facilities currently available. The agency hopes to publish its marine tourism strategy later this year.

12.30 pm

Mr McHugh:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I extend my sympathy, and that of my Colleagues, to the Greene family and the local community. Such communities have always been prepared to face the worst that the sea has often dealt to them: Nevertheless, such incidents are still an enormous tragedy for them.

I welcome the Minister’s statement, particularly her comments on the work that continues on the overall meeting. The Fisheries Bill was discussed, as was the progress made, North and South. We need the draft legislation as soon as possible to facilitate the early introduction of the Bill in the Assembly and in the Dáil. What progress has been made on that legislation, given the fact that it has been delayed?

Ms Rodgers:

Legislation is necessary to provide the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission with the power to license and develop aquaculture. The drafting of the legislation is progressing, and I intend to introduce the Bill later this year. My officials are fully committed to taking the Bill forward, but progress is subject to parallel development in both jurisdictions.

The Bill was initially delayed due to several difficulties in establishing a mechanism to enable those people aggrieved at decisions of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission on aquaculture applications to appeal. It also proved more difficult than anticipated to obtain the agreement of legal advisors in both jurisdictions on several policy matters. Most of those issues have now been resolved, but further delay has occurred because, due to competing priorities, the draftsman in the South has been unable to produce a draft of the Bill. However, we hope that that matter will now be addressed. I have spoken about the matter to Minister Fahey, who is arranging to have the issue prioritised. I hope to be able to progress the legislation soon.

Mr Wells:

The Minister will accept that one of the most painful duties that we have had in the last few days has been to visit the homes of those who were so tragically struck by this dreadful incident. Can she assure me that her Department will put the maximum pressure on the Marine Accident Investigation Board to ensure that a Royal Navy vessel, in addition to the Irish Navy vessel, is sent immediately to this area to assist? It is unfortunate that no Royal Navy vessel was available for dispatch to the area. Although we appreciate the help offered by the Irish Government, the situation flags up a concern for the future.

Does the Minister also agree that it is vital that lines of communication be clarified, so that if such a dreadful incident should happen again there would be one point of contact with the marine authorities to ensure that a vessel would be dispatched immediately? One of the great difficulties yesterday was that no one was certain of who had the final authority on the matter. That was one of the reasons for the delay.

Finally, can she assure the House that if the trawler is found, and if it is deemed necessary to raise it to the surface, there will be no delay in doing so and a Government Department will fund that work? The bodies need to be found, so as to give closure to the family affected by this terrible event.

Ms Rodgers:

I agree. I have done everything in my power to ensure that the necessary back-up support of naval vessels from either or both jurisdictions is made available, and I will continue to use my influence to ensure progress on that.

I have already reported about the progress so far. I understand from Mr Wells that there was some confusion yesterday morning in the lines of communication. I heard about the incident from the fishermen’s representative at 2.00 pm on the radio and was able to establish immediately the responsibility of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions across the water and the Ministry of Defence, which has the remit of the naval fleet. It is a reserved matter, of course, so responsibility lies with those Departments. However, as the Minister responsible for fisheries here, I felt that it was incumbent on me to do everything possible to ensure that the necessary back-up was provided. I was pleased to be able to do that and to have the L E Eithne prepared and soon to be on her way up here. Any other matters relating to the operation of the naval fleet are not my responsibility, but I take the point. It is important that back-up should be available when and if necessary.

If the trawler is located, I will do everything possible to ensure that it is raised, because that is extremely important for the families.

Mr J Wilson:

I welcome the explanation in the report, and I note the apology about the delay in finalising the Foyle Fisheries Commission’s accounts and the Loughs Agency’s accounts. I also welcome the establishment of the advisory forum and the focus groups, which will represent interest groups in the Loughs Agency’s catchment area. However, was the opportunity taken to impress on Minister Fahey that, although he is reducing the number of net licences and quotas, the Republic of Ireland still lags behind Northern Ireland and other European countries on measures to bring to an end the slaughter — and that is the only word that I can use to describe it — of the salmon off our coasts?

Ms Rodgers:

I stated in my report that the agency’s presentation of the 2000-01 accounts was delayed because the accounts of the Foyle Fisheries Commission had not been finalised. We now hope to have full accounting in March. The corporate business plans are currently with the designers, and they should be available in March. Copies will be made available from the Loughs Agency’s headquarters in Prehen and its regional office in Carlingford. The agency’s equality scheme will be published in full in this April or May, and its New TSN action plan can be viewed on its web site.

The Loughs Agency has no plans at the moment to buy out salmon nets, but the stocks of salmon returning to the Foyle catchment area are managed effectively to ensure that spawning escapement targets are achieved each year. The effectiveness of the conservation and protection regulations introduced by the agency to help manage the fish stocks are continually kept under review using data collected from fish counters, population surveys and catch returns. As escapement targets are currently being achieved, and a stable commercial and recreational fishery exists, the agency has no plans to introduce further conservation measures at this time.

Mr Byrne:

I welcome the Minister’s statement, particularly her reference to the current state of salmon stocks in the Foyle system. I commend the good work of many angling clubs, through several projects. What measures has the Loughs Agency taken to conserve and protect salmon stocks in the Foyle?

Ms Rodgers:

In association with my Department, Queen’s University Belfast and the Irish Marine Institute in Dublin, the Loughs Agency has engaged in a two-year genetic study of salmon populations for the purpose of obtaining further management information to ensure the future sustainability of salmon stocks in the Foyle system. The agency has also introduced a salmon carcass tagging scheme, which prohibits the sale of untagged salmon. That has resulted in a substantial reduction in the levels of poaching in the Foyle and Carlingford areas, thus enabling the agency to direct more resources toward enhancement, development and reinstatement of the catchments. Therefore, ultimately, it will further improve the productivity of the catchments. The tagging scheme also requires anglers to complete logbooks detailing the number of catches made. Those logbooks will provide the agency with valuable information that will help to ensure that the fisheries of the Foyle and Carlingford areas continue to be managed effectively.

Mr M Murphy:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I too want to extend my sympathy to the Greene family on the awful tragedy, especially since I come from near that area. Can the Minister throw any further light on the apparent red tape that delayed the operational search and rescue mission travelling to the scene of the Kilkeel tragedy? Will she look at ways of liaising with her Dublin counterparts to ensure a quicker response from their naval resources in the future on operations affecting our fishing fleet?

Ms Rodgers:

I am not sure that I understood the second question. I will deal with the first, and perhaps the second can be repeated.

As I said, I responded as soon as I was made aware of the issue at 2.00 pm, when I was on my way to visit the families. I did not come across any red tape difficulties. I was able to establish immediately that the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Ministry of Defence across the water shared the responsibility — the former is responsible for the coastguard and the latter for the naval vessel. I assure the Member that between 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm, I was able to reach a resolution.

The Member may be referring to the long delay in getting the vessel up here. It takes a while, particularly on a Sunday evening, to assemble the crew — at least five or six hours, perhaps longer during a weekend. It then takes several hours to prepare the vessel for steaming and considerable time for the vessel to come from Cork to the Down coast. There was another delay while they ensured that they were able to get the divers, an important element for the recovery.

I am not sure whether I fully understood or heard the second part of the question.

Mr Speaker:

Perhaps the Member might help us by repeating the second part of his question.

Mr M Murphy:

The Dublin authorities were not contacted until yesterday. The tragedy occurred on Friday, but the Minister said that it was when she was on her way to visit the family yesterday that she became aware of the red tape that affected the operation. Will the Minister contact her Dublin counterparts to ensure that there will be an immediate response if a tragedy happens again in the lough or in that area?


Ms Rodgers:

I explained to the Member that I did not encounter any such red tape difficulties. When the tragedy happened, the Ken Vickers, which is the departmental fisheries boat, the local fishing fleet and the coastguard were all involved in the search.

12.45 pm

The official search was called off when it became clear that it was a search for bodies. At that point the naval vessel became an issue, and I immediately contacted the Dublin authorities once I was made aware of that. As I said, I am grateful for the very quick response that I received. The delay from yesterday until today was due to the logistics of getting the vessel on the sea.

Mr Gibson:

Through the Chair, I express my sympathy to the bereaved family. I ask the Minister to ensure that in such an emergency, the first contact will always be made with our own United Kingdom Government and its Royal Navy.

With reference to the Minister’s North/South Ministerial Council meeting, have there been any investigations into freshwater mussels and their use as a potential for export markets? Has any investigation been carried out into the zebra mussel, a freshwater mussel that has become a plague in most of the Southern rivers and lakes, and is now a threat to our rivers and estuaries? What progress has the Minister made in ensuring that our waters are not polluted by this plague of freshwater mussels?

Secondly, the Minister referred to the completion of the agency’s interpretive centre. Where will this centre be, and how many staff will be employed?

Thirdly, the fishermen of Lough Foyle tell me that poaching still causes their greatest loss of revenue. Very few salmon make it into the River Mourne, through Sion Mills and up to the headwaters of the Foyle, the Strule, the Drumragh, and the Camowen. What effective action has been taken? Despite the attempt at tagging, there has not as yet been a successful effort to control illegal poaching of salmon in the Foyle estuary or the Foyle waters. I appeal to the Minister, on behalf of the people of those areas who depend on the industry for tourism, to make every effort to ensure that adequate salmon stock emerge in those headwaters.

Ms Rodgers:

I thank the Member for his numerous questions, of which I lost count.

I am disappointed at the suggestion that my first contact was not with the UK Government. I made it clear that I contacted the UK Government and then the Irish Government. It does not matter to the families in distress who comes to the rescue. I, and the whole community in Kilkeel, am aware of that.

I will write to Mr Gibson to inform him of the situation in regard to freshwater mussels, as I do not have all the details.

I did not hear the question about the interpretive centre.

Mr Speaker:

The Member asked where it is.

Ms Rodgers:

The centre is in Derry/Londonderry, Doire Chomcille. [Laughter].

I think the Member understands the answer.

Mr Speaker:

It is, after all, an interpretive centre. [Laughter].

Ms Rodgers:

It would be wiser to say that it is in Prehen, and that would avoid any problems.

Dr Birnie:

I thank the Minister for both parts of her statement. At the end of her statement, she said that the Lights Agency element of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission would not comply with the definition of an implementation body, as set out in strand two of the Good Friday Agreement.

Have the Minister and her Executive Colleagues considered the possibility that the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission could become an implementation body under the auspices of the British-Irish Council?

Ms Rodgers:

That has not been considered at this time, but I take the point.

Mr Shannon:

What happened last week in Kilkeel was a tragedy. As a Member for the Strangford constituency, I remember a similar search off the Isle of Man for the body of the crewman and boat owner Tom Hughes. At that time, the help of the Royal Navy was requested. The good work of the locals, who dived and searched, led to the retrieval of the body for the funeral.

A rapid reaction is needed. What is the Minister doing to ensure that that legislation can be changed? She said that it was a reserved matter. However, what representations can the Minister or her Department make on that?

Mr Speaker:

Order. It is wise to point out to the House that questions to a Minister must refer only to the Minister’s responsibility. It is clear that the burden of the question that the Member is asking is on a reserved matter; which is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Defence. For the Member to tread on that is to tread on the parliamentary responsibilities of his colleagues who are Members at Westminster. It may well be that he wishes to press the Minister on making representations. That would not be inappropriate. However, to ask the Minister questions about matters outwith her responsibilities would be out of order.

Mr Shannon:

What representations are the Minister and her Department making to Westminster to see what can be done to make the Royal Navy more accountable and reactive when help is needed? We require an effective and co-ordinated response. Our fishermen deserve the full support of the authorities. A clear message must be sent from the Assembly and the Minister that we are doing everything that we can to help them.

Ms Rodgers:

Since yesterday, my only priority has been to do everything in my power as a Minister, and to use all my influence, to assist the recovery of the bodies and the boat. I have bent all my energies towards that. I have not looked at any further steps that might be taken: That is for another day. My priority is to try to relieve, in some manner, the awful distress that the Greene family is going through.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

I also associate myself with the expressions of grief to the Greene family of Aughnaloopy and Ballymartin. At this tragic time, it is hard to conceive of any rainbow that could brighten such a shadow of tears for that family.

In her statement, the Minister said that an advisory forum had been established. Which management consultants were engaged by the Department to carry out that work? How were they selected, and how much did it cost the Government? Did the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have to foot the entire bill?

Ms Rodgers:

The management consultants were PriceWaterhouseCoopers, as I believe I said in my statement. I did not hear the second part of the question.


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