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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 14 December 1999


Assembly Affairs

North/South Ministerial Council: Inaugural Meeting

Junior Ministerial Offices

Assembly Business

Assembly Members: Code of Conduct

Assembly Standing Orders

Assembly Business Committee

Assembly Standing Orders

The Assembly met at 2.30 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes' silence.

Assembly Affairs


Mr Speaker:

At the final sitting of the New Northern Ireland Assembly, on Monday 29 November 1999, Mr Peter Robinson asked whether it was appropriate to refer to another Member as a murderer where it was believed that a Member had been responsible for murder. He questioned whether this was unparliamentary language.

He is correct. Where a reference is clearly made in respect of either an individual Member or a group of Members, this would be unparliamentary language, except in the circumstance where the particular Member being referred to had been convicted of the offence by due process and through the courts. There has recently been a circumstance in respect of the analogous term to which the Member referred in another place.

I have studied references made during the last sitting, and, whilst I believe that some Members were sailing close to the wind, I do not believe that unparliamentary language was used.

I have received formal notice from the Minister of Finance and Personnel that he wishes to make a statement. The statement will be made at a convenient time after 10.30 am tomorrow.

Some Members may have received an incorrect Marshalled List of Amendments. Owing to an administrative error a line was omitted at the end of the second amendment on the Marshalled List. That was corrected, and copies of the revised Marshalled List were issued. Let me point out, in case any Member has received an incorrect copy, that under the heading "Amendment to the Motion to insert a new Standing Order after Standing Order 57" the final line should read

"The Committee shall consist of 17 members."

Members who have a Marshalled List which does not include that sentence should dispose of it and obtain a revised version from the Doorkeepers in the Lobby.

Mr Maskey:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask for a suspension of the Assembly for one hour, particularly in the light of your last comment. We have been handed a list of amendments, some of which are complicated and have far-reaching implications, and we have not been given time to consider them. That is not satisfactory. It is also unsatisfactory that this practice is starting to take root in the Assembly. Sinn Féin is very unhappy about the way this has been done. The issues involved in some of these amendments are very serious, so I ask for a suspension to enable us to consider this matter thoroughly.

Mr P Robinson:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The request for a suspension has some merit. Some Members may be confused about which sheet of paper is being dealt with and about which amendment is pertinent. A shorter period - I believe that you can suspend proceedings for less than one hour - would be enough to enable us to clarify the position before starting the debate.

Mr Speaker:

I can understand that there may be some element of uncertainty and confusion, and I apologise for that. It seems reasonable that we should suspend proceedings so that Members can consider the matter. May I have the leave of the House to suspend proceedings for 30 minutes?

Mr Kennedy:

I have a piece of additional business.

Mr Speaker:

Is it relevant to this question?

Mr Kennedy:

Not directly.

Mr Speaker:

Then it will have to be taken a little later.

May I have the leave of the House to suspend the sitting for 30 minutes to enable Members to consider these amendments? It is not because they came late - Members will know that amendments can be brought - but because there was an administrative error, and therefore an element was introduced about which Members may wish to be clear. When we return, Members may still be unclear, and we shall have to consider the matter again. I am somewhat hesitant to give a longer suspension at this point, because there is a good deal of business to be transacted today.

The Assembly was, by leave, suspended at 2.39 pm and resumed at 3.10 pm.

Mr Speaker:

Members will have had an opportunity to look at the Marshalled List of amendments. Since we are all trying to find our way, perhaps I should explain what is meant by "Marshalled List of Amendments". When all the amendments are in, we marshall them for the ease of the House by putting them in the order of the items to which they relate. On this occasion it is fairly simple as there are only two amendments. However, in the case of a Bill with perhaps many amendments it would be more valuable to have a Marshalled List.

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am reasonably content with the Marshalled List of amendments. The other problem we face relates to the Order Paper itself. On the first Order Paper that I received there was a motion, in the names of Mr Ford and myself, relating to the Committee of the Centre, seeking to bring under scrutiny other matters that were the responsibility of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. I now have two Order Papers with different font sizes. The amendment sheet says

"At line 3, delete from 'Committee of the' to the end of line 8 and insert -".

The effect depends on which Order Paper is used.

Mr Speaker:

You are right. These are contentious issues. I recently discovered that the Act on which this Assembly is based has certain imperfections of a similar kind, so we are not alone in this regard. The Order Paper that was issued first reads

"delete from 'Committee of the' to end of line 10 and insert -".

With the reduced font size, "line 10" became "line 8". This is a technical problem that we will have to make sure does not arise again. My apologies for the confusion.

Mr Maskey:

A Chathaoirligh, on page 2 of the Order Paper, under the words "Proposed amendment to Standing Order 53", we read

"Proposed: After Standing Order 52(4) insert a new Standing Order".

Should that not be "53(4)"?

Mr Speaker:

It should.

3.15 pm

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the First Minister proposes to make a statement beginning with the words "With permission". Does that mean that he will be speaking with the permission of the House? Will any Member be able to withhold permission.

Mr Speaker:

It is intended to be with the permission of the Speaker.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Oh, that is different.


North/South Ministerial Council: Inaugural Meeting


Mr Speaker:

I call on the First and the Deputy First Ministers to make the statement.

Rev Dr William McCrea:

Confusion seems to be the order of the day. Has the First Minister crossed the Floor permanently? Perhaps he feels more at ease with SDLP Members than with his Colleagues on the Unionist Back Benches.

Mr Speaker:

In fairness to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the House, I shall explain how we propose to deal with statements. In this case the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister or both will make the statement. Any Minister making a statement may use one of the lecterns that have been provided. Members will then be able to ask questions for up to one hour.

This will not be a debate, so there will no vote or long speeches. Questions - in this case to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister - should be short and to the point. Either may reply, and both felt that it would be sensible for them to sit together. While I will call Members to speak, I will not call Ministers to respond. They will have to sort out between them who is to reply.

The Member should not read too much into the fact that today they are sitting on a particular side. That may change from statement to statement.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Mr Speaker, you have said there will be no opportunity to vote, yet at the end of the statement you will move that it be noted. Surely if that Question is before the House, Members must have an opportunity to say "Aye" or "No".

Mr Speaker:

I have not approved that wording. In any case, as the Member knows, statements are not normally followed, in this or any other place, by a vote. Those words will not necessarily be used at the end.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to report to the Assembly on yesterday's inaugural plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council.

The following Ministers participated in the meeting: Mr David Trimble, Mr Seamus Mallon, Ms Bairbre de Brún, Mr Mark Durkan, Sir Reg Empey, Mr Sean Farren, Mr Sam Foster, Mr Michael McGimpsey, Mr Martin McGuinness and Ms Brid Rodgers.

This report has been approved by all the Ministers who attended that meeting and is made on their behalf by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

The Council agreed a Memorandum of Understanding on Procedure, which sets out procedural arrangements relating to the proceedings and operation of the Council. A copy of the memorandum has been placed in the Assembly Library.

The locations of the headquarters and the other offices of the six North/South implementation bodies were agreed. Waterways Ireland will have its headquarters in Enniskillen and three regional offices in the Republic. The Food Safety Promotion Board will be based in Cork, and the Trade and Business Development Board in Newry. The Special European Union Programmes Body will have its headquarters in Belfast and regional offices in Omagh and Monaghan. The Irish Language Agency of the North/South Language Board will have headquarters in Dublin and a regional office in Belfast, while the headquarters of the Ullans Agency will be in Belfast, with a regional office in County Donegal. The Loughs Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission will be based in Londonderry, with a regional office near Carlingford Lough. The Lights Agency will be based in the Dublin/Dun Laoghaire area. The new Tourism Company, when it is established, will have its headquarters in Dublin and a regional office in Coleraine.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):

The Council also appointed members to the boards of the Food Safety Body, the Trade and Business Development Body, the North/South Language Body and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission.

The Council agreed an outline programme of work in relation to the six areas for co-operation identified in the 15 February 1999 report to the Assembly by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister as a basis for follow-up in the appropriate sectoral formats. It also agreed that the relevant proposals in the outline programme of work should be tabled at the first meetings of the council in each appropriate sectoral format.

The Council agreed that it would meet in sectoral format to consider issues relating to the six implementation bodies and the six areas of co-operation at the earliest possible date and that the question of additional sectoral formats would be agreed by the Council meeting in institutional format. It agreed that the next meeting in plenary form would take place in Dublin in June next year.

A copy of the communiqué that was issued following the meeting, which gives details of the locations of the boards and the Tourism Company and of the board members, has been placed in the Assembly Library.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. According to the Act it is incumbent on Ministers to report to the House. It was also stated to the people of this Province that the House would be sovereign with regard to these matters. You have now told us that there will be no opportunity for us to put these matters to a vote, that there will simply be a statement.

I am well aware that a statement in the House of Commons attracts questions and answers only. Are you telling us that the reports from these bodies are going to be in the form of a statement? Having been told that all these matters will be finally decided by the Assembly, we are now being told that we cannot vote on what took place at the first meeting. No one in the Assembly other than those associated with Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon knew what was going to happen. We did not see an agenda. Now we are told that we, as representatives of the Ulster people, cannot vote on these issues.

Mr Speaker:

Order. First, let me say that an agenda was circulated to Members. As regards voting on the matter, the Member knows and has said that statements do not afford the opportunity for voting. However, there is no reason why there should not be other appropriate opportunities for voting in the House if, for example, there were a question of administrative actions being probed or motions being put down in relation to them.

We now have two Standing Orders which will give Committees the opportunity to scrutinise various aspects of the work. In that context there may well be opportunities for matters to be raised and votes to be taken. As the Member knows, a statement is not meant to be used as an opportunity for a vote, but motions may, of course, be put down by Members.

Mr P Robinson:

During the referendum campaign - indeed, even after it - the issue of accountability in relation to the decisions that would be taken on a North/South basis was much discussed. It was made quite clear by those from the Unionist tradition who supported the Belfast Agreement that there would be accountability. The distinction in this matter is vital. If, in order to make Ministers accountable for decisions that will be taken on a North/South body, there is a requirement for people to put down a motion objecting to what they have done, the onus is on those who object to get the necessary percentages of both sections of the community in order to ensure that those Ministers are stopped. If, on the other hand, the Executive is required to get the support of the Assembly for what it has done, the support must come from both sections of the community. That is the key distinction.

The First Minister:

Mr Speaker, would it not be in order for you to remind Members that the creation of these implementation bodies was debated and voted on in January and, I think, March?

Mr Speaker:

It is not for me to judge whether House procedures are satisfactory or unsatisfactory (politically they may be either); I can only rule on whether they accord with Standing Orders or 'Erskine May'. The First Minister has made the point that there has been a vote on the matters. I can rule on points of order but not on political accountability or propriety or anything like that.

Mr P Robinson:

Mr Speaker, I am sure you are aware that we took a decision - against the better interests of the Unionist community, I think - in relation to the establishment of such bodies. We are now dealing with the modus operandi of those bodies. That is a very different issue. I want it to be clearly on the record that on the basis of Mr Trimble's argument, what we have here are North/South bodies that will not be accountable to the Assembly unless Members put down motions which require the support of the Nationalist community.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

We are not dealing with the content; we are dealing with the fact that this is the first statement from the First Minister about decisions taken at a meeting. We, as well as the general public, were continually told - and this was sold from the Unionist platforms both at the election and the referendum - that this House would be sovereign. The First Minister said on the television last night that we need not worry about the minority position in this Council, and that everything would come before the Assembly eventually. The First Minister cannot take it upon himself to say "I am going to make a statement". If he does, according to your ruling, Mr Speaker, we are never going to be able to have a vote on his statement. The words "I beg to move that the statement be noted" should be put to the House, and every Member should have the right to say "Aye" or "No". We are now being muzzled; we cannot even ask the First Minister questions. A Member can ask one question, the First Minister will reply, and then he moves on to another.

3.30 pm

Those of us who are parliamentarians in other places know the uselessness of questioning a statement. This is a Government's way of dealing with policy quickly, without having a real debate. May I put down a motion on this issue today, to be debated tomorrow?

Mr Speaker:

The Member knows that he can, with the leave of the House, put down a motion today for debate tomorrow. If he did not receive the leave of the House, the first opportunity for such a motion would be at a subsequent sitting. I note what he says about the use of questions, and so on, in other places, but we must be cautious about being unduly critical of other places and other Parliaments. That is not proper. The situation in respect of a statement is clear, and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have volunteered the statement. There may be other ways of dealing with such a matter. A Member could put a motion down or new Standing Orders could be approved.

Mr McCartney:

The real issue is the principle to which Mr Robinson and Dr Paisley have referred - the accountability of the Executive to the Assembly. I suggest that that principle was canvassed very strongly by Mr Trimble. Are he and his colleagues entitled to take Executive decisions and tell the House about them in the form of a statement without permitting any debate? In other words, can they make the Assembly subject to decisions already taken in the Executive?

The point that you are making, Mr Speaker, is that we can ex post facto have a debate on something that has already been decided upon at the North/South Ministerial Council. Such procedure would make a nonsense of the principle that the Executive is accountable to the Assembly.

Mr Speaker:

I can deal only with the procedural point. Matters of principle will have to be discussed in another way. They may be related; I do not dispute that. My role is to address points of procedure. When you say that the Executive is not accountable, that is a matter of dispute in other places. This is not unique to ourselves, and it will continue to be a matter of dispute and discussion. The question is whether I can rule that any of the proceedings are out of order. I cannot do that, for they are clearly in order.

We should proceed so that Members have an opportunity to ask questions and get replies from the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. To that end I call Mr Esmond Birnie. [Interruption]

Mr Dodds:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I to understand that issues such as agreement on the Memorandum of Understanding on Procedure, the location of the headquarters and other offices of the six North/South implementation bodies, the appointment of a host of members to boards and the outline programme of work will not be subject to any vote - in other words, that Members will be unable to vote either "Yea" or "Nay" on those proposals?

Mr Speaker:

Order. Although the issue of order has been clearly spelt out, Members are tending to make interventions in the form of points of order. The issue that the Member raises would be proper in the context of questions.

So far as the point of order is concerned, I have repeatedly given the ruling that a statement is not an opportunity for a vote. There can therefore be no vote on a statement today or any other day. That is the situation in other places, as the Member's Colleagues well know.

Dr Birnie:

Can the First and the Deputy First Ministers confirm that Ministers Robinson and Dodds were asked to attend the inaugural meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council? Can they further confirm that, in spite of the lurid remarks by the DUP about Unionists being permanently outnumbered on the North/South Ministerial Council, all decisions on that body will be by agreement?

The First Minister:

I am very glad to be able to answer a question after that litany of bogus points of order, which contained questions to which the Members making them did not want answers. The statement made by the Deputy First Minister and myself was made in fulfilment of a statutory requirement. It was not a matter on which we had a choice.

As to the point raised by Dr Birnie, I can confirm that Mr Robinson (the Minister for Regional Development) and Mr Dodds (the Minister for Social Development) were asked if they would attend the inaugural meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, but they both declined. Consequently, on that occasion, they were not nominated to represent the Executive, thus avoiding their being in breach of their pledge of office. It is an undoubted fact that they would have served themselves and their interests much better if they had participated.

With regard to decision making in the council, as the Assembly will know, under Section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act the First and the Deputy First Ministers, acting jointly, must, as required by the Belfast Agreement, nominate Ministers to achieve cross-community participation in the North/South Ministerial Council. That agreement requires that arrangements be made so that the Assembly as a whole is represented at summit level and in dealings with other institutions in order to ensure cross-community involvement. Decisions made in the Council are by agreement and within the defined authority of those attending. This ensures that there is, at each stage, consensus and that any decision taken at the North/South Ministerial Council is within the terms of the authority granted by the Executive of this Assembly. Each side of the council remains accountable to its legislature, whose approval will be required in the event of any decisions going beyond the defined authority of those attending.

Mr Dallat:

Will the First Minister enlarge on the role of the Tourism Company that is to be established in Coleraine and say what impact, if any, it will have on the international tourist market, particularly in America and Europe?

The Deputy First Minister:

The North/South Ministerial Council is to meet in sectoral format at the earliest possible date to consider the establishment of the Tourism Company. The company will be a publicly owned limited company and will be established by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The new company will subsume the existing overseas tourist marketing initiative. It will carry out overseas marketing, promote activities in which both Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board are involved, and establish offices overseas for that purpose.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

Will the first Minister tell us the content of the memorandum he received from the two DUP members of the Executive. Let him tell the Assembly what they said in their reply to the invitation to attend this meeting. It is scandalous that we have a first Minister who uses television to try to mislead people. He made it seem as though my Colleagues had sent him a lengthy presentation that was to be submitted to the North/South Ministerial Council.

The First Minister tells us that we had prior knowledge of this, but we received nothing except names. Perhaps he will now tell us how much this Food Safety Promotion Board based in Cork will cost each year. Perhaps he will also tell us how much the Trade and Business Development Body based in Newry will cost each year and how many people each will employ.

Perhaps he will tell us what complement of civil servants from both sides of the border this Special EU Programmes Body will have. How many will be based in headquarters, and how many in the regional offices in Omagh and Monaghan?

Perhaps he will also tell us about the Irish Language Agency of the North/South Language Body, which will have headquarters in Dublin and a regional office in Belfast. What is the difference between the headquarters of one of these -

Mr Speaker:

Order. I think that we must, if not share power, at least share questions. The Member has asked a substantial number of questions, and I must ask Members to try to restrict their questions to one or to a limited number at least.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I have been in the House of Commons for a long time. Many questions are asked there.

This Assembly is gagged. I am being gagged. I am not being allowed to say on behalf of my constituents that I do not like something and intend to vote against it, because you, Mr Speaker, have ruled that this is a statement and that there will be no vote.

You have also ruled that the onus will not be on the Executive to get its business through the House but, rather, that it will be for individuals to resist and prevent it from going through. I believe that I am entitled to say that we should be permitted to know the difference between the headquarters and the regional offices of every body mentioned in this paper by the First Minister. We should be entitled to know the number of staff in each office and what the cost distribution is going to be. What will each of these offices cost? What about this new Tourist -

Mr Speaker:

Order. There is little point in my trying to maintain order in the House when Members, even though they are aware of the rules, bend them, stretch them and press them to the side.

The Member has asked a number of questions. In my experience, the more questions he asks, the greater the likelihood that the First Minister will respond by saying that he will write to the Member. The Member knows this well, having sat through many Question Times.

I appeal to the Member and to other Members to restrict their questions to a reasonable number.

The First Minister:

As the Assembly knows, the details of the activities of these bodies were set out in the report which the Deputy First Minister and I presented to the House on 18 December last year, and the report was approved by the House in two votes made in the first few months of this year.

What we are seeing now is introducing nothing new in terms of substance; it merely sets out some of the administrative arrangements necessary to implement the decisions taken by the Assembly on those occasions.

With regard to costs, I regret to say that I am not currently in a position to give the detailed answers that the Member has sought. I will not on this occasion offer to write to him but will refer him to the statement to be made tomorrow, with your permission, Mr Speaker, by the Minister of Finance and Personnel. I expect that his statement will contain figures which will show the planned expenditure for each body over the course of the next financial year. The Member can then make his own assessment as to the significance of that expenditure in relation to the objectives to be achieved.

As to the distribution of work between headquarters and sub- and regional offices, all I can say at present is that headquarters will be headquarters, and a sub-office will be a sub-office. The extent to which the work is divided between one and the other will obviously vary from body to body, and no decisions have yet been taken. These are comparatively minor administrative matters which, I am sure, Members will wish to pursue through the relevant Committees.

3.45 pm

Mr Maskey:

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Last week the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister commented publicly on this matter. However, I want to raise it in the context of yesterday's meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. Last week Mr Adams drew attention to the fact that his car had been bugged by British Intelligence, or members of a similar network, at a very sensitive period in the negotiations. That was a scandalous breach of faith, given that the negotiations with the IRA were at a very critical point. I would like to ask the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister - [Interruption]

Mr Speaker:


Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

You are very good at calling down others.

Mr Speaker:

I have been remarkably patient, as Hansard will demonstrate.

Mr Maskey:

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister commented on this matter last week. Was the fact that a car used by elected representatives was bugged, particularly at a time when both those Members were involved in delicate negotiations, raised at the North/South Ministerial Council?

The Deputy First Minister:

The matter was not raised by any of the Ministers present. The agenda for yesterday's meeting was itemised and was adhered to. I note the import of Mr Maskey's question. However, I repeat that the matter was not on the agenda. No Minister asked for it to be put on the agenda, nor was its absence raised by any Minister.

Mr Neeson:

Do the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister agree that if the Assembly is to fulfil its proper role it must operate on the basis of accountability? Do they also agree that accountability also relates to issues which were agreed by the North/South Ministerial Council? If so, then details of the outline programme of work with regard to the six areas for co-operation which were earlier identified should be before the House. If those details are not forthcoming now, when can we expect to have them?

The First Minister:

I refer the Member to the outlines of those additional areas of co-operation which were originally annexed to the statement that was made by myself and the Deputy First Minister on 18 December 1998. The Assembly, on that date, approved brief descriptions of the subject matter for co-operation through existing channels. Under the heading "Agriculture" it said

"Discussion of CAP issues; Animal and Plant Health Policy and Research; Rural Development."

Brief outlines were given of the areas for co-operation through existing channels at that stage. The report of 18 December 1998 has been reprinted several times.

In addition, officials have considered possible ways in which that co-operation can be carried out in practice. Those proposals will be tabled through sectoral meetings of the NSMC in the coming months. As there are six areas where there are implementation bodies and six areas where further co-operation is to be considered, it will take some time to work through those. The details of the working through of these matters will be fully available for discussion between the Ministers responsible and their Committees over the coming months.

This was done so that the Committee could, as it should, share with the Minister the development of these matters. At the moment, no decision has been taken with regard to these six areas for further co-operation beyond what was decided by this House on 18 December. We now have to start to work out in detail the practical implications of what we decided then.

Mr C Wilson:

Is the First Minister aware that by entering into the arrangements that he agreed to yesterday with the representatives of the Irish Government - the arrangements laid out by himself and the Deputy First Minister in their joint statement today - he was not acting in accordance with pledges that he had made to the electorate who put him in this Assembly? Indeed, he was not even acting for all the members of his party.

Does he agree, therefore, that in Armagh yesterday he was simply representing a minority of Unionists, that he had no mandate to enter into any such agreement with the representatives of the Government of the Irish Republic? Can the First Minister explain why in 1974 he and his Colleague Sir Reg Empey opposed the Council of Ireland under the power-sharing Executive? I remember Mr Empey stopping traffic at the top of Bradshaw's Brae. Regardless of how one felt about that arrangement - and I was totally opposed to it - at least it was not polluted by the presence of Sinn Féin/IRA.

Perhaps Mr Trimble can tell us when his Damascus Road conversion took place and how he can justify sitting down at a table with those who are still fully involved in illegal activities and still inextricably linked to terrorist organisations. The reality is, as Mr Trimble, if he were honest, would accept, that he is here claiming to represent the people on the basis of their 71% endorsement of the Belfast Agreement, even though that consent was manufactured.

Mr Speaker:

Order. Questions are clear. Elaboration changes them into something else.

The First Minister:

The Member who spoke is suffering from a misunderstanding of the nature of what was done. There was no agreement then that was in any sense analogous to the Belfast Agreement. Yesterday there was simply a working out of the detailed implementation of agreements already entered into - namely, agreements made by the Assembly when it approved the report brought forward by the Deputy First Minister and me. This report was published on 18 December last and was subject to votes in this Chamber on at least two occasions. That was the agreement that we were implementing, and, of course, that flowed directly from the Belfast Agreement - the existence of the North/South Ministerial Council and these particular areas for co-operation were, in many cases, foreshadowed in the Belfast Agreement itself.

The Member who spoke answered his own question when he pointed out that the Belfast Agreement had been endorsed by a clear and overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a referendum. It was subsequently endorsed again in the Assembly elections. It is quite clear that there is democratic validity for what is being done. On another occasion I will be very happy to take the Member through the differences between what was done in 1998 and what was proposed in 1974 in order to point out the manifold nature of those differences to him, but it would not be appropriate to take the time of the House today.


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