Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo


Tuesday 2 October 2007

Executive Committee Business:
Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007

Private Members’ Business:
‘Equality in Northern Ireland’ Report

Ministerial Statement:
Planning Application for Development at the Titanic Quarter, Belfast

Private Members’ Business:
Sustainable Development and Climate Change
Policing in Northern Ireland

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Dallat] in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Executive Committee Business

Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007

The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Mr Dodds): I beg to move

That the Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 (S.R. 2007/344) be approved.

I am seeking the Assembly’s approval for a set of regulations to add a new word to the list of those that require approval before being used in the name of a company or business. My Department made the regulations on 23 July 2007, and they came into operation the following day. As laid down in the parent legislation, and to ensure continuing effect, the regulations are subject to the confirmatory procedure and require approval by a resolution of the Assembly within 10 sitting days of their coming into operation.

The Department’s prior approval is required for a company seeking to use certain words or expressions as, or as part of, a company or business name. A recent application was received in Great Britain to incorporate a company that proposed to include the word “Government” in its title. At the date of the application, which was rejected on a technicality, “Government” was not on the list of words that were proscribed. However, that application generated concern to the degree that a decision was taken that the word “Government” should be added to the list of proscribed terms in order to protect the public from harm arising from a business using a name that falsely suggests an incorrect status.

Consequently, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform — formerly the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) — in Whitehall introduced regulations in Great Britain from 10 July 2007, adding the word “Government” to its proscribed list of words and combinations of words, the use of which requires the written permission of the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Since that legislation did not extend to Northern Ireland, my Department was asked to consider the introduction of similar legislation here. These regulations amend the Company and Business Names Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1984, which are the principal regulations, to add the word “Government” to the list of those words requiring the written permission of the Department before being included in the name or title of a company. The Northern Ireland regulations were brought into operation as soon as possible following the corresponding GB regulations, which came into force on 10 July 2007.

I hope that this motion, which is non-contentious, will be approved by the Assembly.

The Chairperson of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Mr Durkan): The Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has considered the Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 (S.R. 2007/344) and, as the Minister has reflected, has noted the circumstances in which the amendment has been brought forward. In a sense, this is “karaoke” legislation — following through on what the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has done in Whitehall. The Committee understands the circumstances that have necessitated the amendment and recommends that it be confirmed by the Assembly.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Company and Business Names (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 (S.R. 2007/344) be approved.

Private Members’ Business

‘Equality in Northern Ireland’ Report

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members will have five minutes.

Mr Attwood: I beg to move

That this Assembly notes with concern the report by the Committee on the Administration of Justice ‘Equality in Northern Ireland: the rhetoric and the reality’; believes that the numbers of economically inactive Catholic and Protestant households is of particular concern; and calls on the Executive to ensure that the content and conclusions of the report inform decisions and proposals.

At the outset, I apologise. As soon as I have finished my speech, I must go to the Senate Chamber where the Assembly and Executive Review Committee is taking evidence from the Lord Chief Justice and the Policing Board. However, I hope to return as soon as possible. I explained the difficulty to the Speaker’s Office, and the Speaker understands it.

It is only right to acknowledge the report, and to note that, at its launch, all the main political parties in the Assembly were represented, either by politicians or by their staff. That indicated the parties’ recognition that continued and deep attention must be paid to the issue of equality across the communities of the North.

Furthermore, I put on record that the particular contributions of many who have struggled over the years for equality must be acknowledged and applauded. Although we might disagree with some of their actions and initiatives, the work of people such as Inez McCormick, the late Bob Cooper, and the late Seán McBride have brought this community to a much better place than heretofore in that regard.

I cannot do justice to a 200-page report; I urge Members to read it themselves. Its good authority is based on the statistics and data of Departments in the North, and it should be a catalyst for the next phase of equality.

A catalyst is needed even though there have been significant achievements over the past 30-odd years in respect of equality in the North. As we embark upon the next phase of our political journey, we must be mindful of remaining inequalities — historically, particularly in respect of the Catholic community, and in areas of acute inequality that have begun to emerge in the Protestant community.

I do not want to burden the debate with statistics, but some need to be acknowledged. I will quote two or three from the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) report.

First, there is an area of employment for which the Assembly has personal and intimate responsibility, namely the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The top-line balance of employment figures in the service is 40% Catholic and 55% Protestant. It is clear that a differential persists in public-sector employment in the North. However, when we probe the headline figures, we discover that deeper differentials exist that are over and above that top-line differential. In the two standard occupational categories where 73% of civil servants are employed, the Catholic community is under-represented by 8%. At the same time, however, that statistic is offset by over-representation of the Catholic community in other categories where, based on the overall numbers in the North, the Protestant community is under-represented. Given that responsibility for the Northern Ireland Civil Service lies with the Assembly, surely we should address such under-representation.

The motion deliberately refers to economically inactive households. That problem is becoming more acute: the percentage of economically inactive households in the North is more than 25% greater than that in England, Scotland or Wales. Therefore, we can see the contradiction in that record numbers of people are in work in the North, and unemployment is at a record low, but, compared to Britain, we still have the highest — and growing — number of economically inactive households. When we examine those figures in more detail, we discover that over the past five or six years, the percentage of such households in the Catholic community — about 19% — has remained stable. That is a big problem. At the same time, the percentage of economically inactive households — meaning that no one in the household, either child or parent, is working — on the Protestant side of the community has increased from 14% to 16%.

Since the restoration of the Assembly a few months ago, housing has clearly been of great concern to Members. The figures in the CAJ report create an acute impetus for the Department of Finance and Personnel to acknowledge in the current Budget negotiations the need to increase significantly the housing budget. Waiting lists for both communities have increased significantly over the past few years — again, more acutely on the Catholic side, by 30%, but, at the same time, by 19% on the Protestant side. At the same time, people on waiting lists to be rehoused are waiting for an unacceptable length of time. Again, it is higher on the Catholic side, at around 13 months, but Protestants still have to wait for nine months.

Government policy on all of this, including anti-poverty policies such as TSN, reveals the following points. I want to read into the record what a CAJ briefing note says on this:

“Of the top 20 poorest areas in Northern Ireland, only one, Ballymacarrett, is outside North and West Belfast or Derry. Of the top 50 most deprived areas in Northern Ireland, only seven are outside North and West Belfast, or Derry … In relation to community breakdown, of the top 20 poorest areas in Northern Ireland, 13 are overwhelmingly Catholic and 7 Protestant.”

Whatever side of the community we may come from, it should be a matter of deep and common concern that those statistics reveal what they do about Protestant and Catholic disadvantage. Yes, disadvantage, for historical and other reasons, is more acute on the Catholic side of the community, and those differentials must be addressed; nonetheless, it is a common problem.

10.45 am

What should we do? The SDLP proposes that, first, the House should support the motion, at least because, in doing so, it will put on record its concern and create a benchmark for the issue of inequality in the North. Secondly, we should acknowledge that, whatever progress has been made in recent years, inequality still endures and is deeply embedded — acutely so in parts of the Catholic community but also in parts of the Protestant community. We should appreciate what the CAJ says about a stable and cohesive society’s having as its bedrock the issue of equality. We should acknowledge that the Equality Commission, which, under previous leaderships and in its predecessor form, was an engine for change, has become a body in which a management culture around equality operates, rather than a change culture.

Let us devise specific policies that address the early-years strategy, especially in those areas where people have low educational attainment. Low educational attainment is pretty acute in parts of my constituency, including on the Shankill. Let us introduce the single equality Bill, because legislation has always been an engine for change and part of the architecture for the future.

My colleagues will speak about other proposals, but I urge Members to support the motion so that we will be able say to the people of the North that, on the issue of equality, we are prepared to be judged and to judge ourselves.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I call Mr Danny Kennedy, the Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Mr Kennedy: I will not be speaking as the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Deputy Speaker. Whether that affects the pecking order in which Members are called to speak, I am not sure. I am open to your guidance, but I am happy to speak.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Go on ahead.

Mr Kennedy: The essence of the SDLP motion is the CAJ report’s contention that, despite historically high levels of employment, the community differential in economic activity in Northern Ireland should be interpreted to mean inequality between the two main communities. The SDLP obviously agrees with that assertion.

No reasonable person can deny that economic inactivity is a matter of grave economic and social concern. However, my opinion, and that of the Ulster Unionist Party, is that to view the challenge that we face simply by considering supposed inequalities that exist between the two main communities is to ignore some fundamental realities of the nature of economic activity. If we were to do that, the Executive could be distracted from addressing the real, substantive issues that contribute to economic inactivity.

It is vital to note that, although high levels of economic inactivity persist in Northern Ireland, they do so in the context of historically high levels of employment and significant levels of migration from other parts of the European Union.

Even the CAJ notes that the existing legislative framework has promoted equality of opportunity in recruitment and employment. Alongside that, labour-market demands mean that Northern Ireland has required significant levels of migration. According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, Northern Ireland has experienced — proportionately — slightly higher levels of migration from the EU accession states than has the rest of the United Kingdom.

As such, levels of economic inactivity are incredibly difficult to explain merely in inequality terms. Employment opportunities are significantly more abundant in Northern Ireland today than they were a decade ago. Fair employment practices have addressed past concerns, so it would be a huge mistake to interpret the challenge of economic inactivity by using the language and concepts of past debates.

Northern Ireland has the highest rate of economic inactivity of any of the 12 UK regions — 27·1% compared with a UK average of 21%.

However, that bald statistic is misleading. Other UK regions share similar challenges in respect of economic inactivity. Wales has an economic inactivity rate of 24·1%; the north-east of England, 25·7%. In common with Northern Ireland, those regions are well aware that their levels of economic inactivity are significantly above the UK average. The issue is also a matter of much debate and comment in those regions.

To view the challenges that Northern Ireland faces in tackling economic inactivity through a sectarian prism is to miss the point entirely. To rely exclusively on a CAJ report to influence policy on this matter is, again, to miss the point entirely. In common with other UK regions, we have unacceptably high levels of economic inactivity, which undermines our economic prosperity and our social cohesion. However, Northern Ireland is not unique in facing such challenges — there is a wider UK context.

The Executive have a responsibility to secure equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland. The securing of a strong economy and a strong society requires that all, irrespective of background, have the opportunity to contribute to economic prosperity and to the well-being of our community. There is also a responsibility on all to respond to those opportunities, to seek gainful employment, and to contribute to the common good. The debate on Northern Ireland’s levels of economic inactivity is, therefore, one that we must and should have. However, it should not be couched in the terms of the old divisions. That is the fundamental flaw in the motion, and that is why the Ulster Unionist Party will oppose it.

This debate must take place in the context of the economic and social challenges faced by many regions of the United Kingdom, and by the entire United Kingdom.

Mr Spratt: The report of the Committee on the Administration of Justice is fundamentally and terminally flawed, and it should not form the basis for decision-making on the part of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

On reading chapter 1 of the report, it becomes apparent that its authors believe that unionists have been opposed to equality for years. Unfortunately, that fallacy sets the tone for the rest of the report. The overriding theme of discrimination against Roman Catholics is totally inaccurate, and any notion that the Roman Catholic community was — and still is — downtrodden is not accepted by Members on this side of the House.

If we are to debate discrimination in this Chamber, there are some stark examples of discrimination against the Protestant community that are well worth high­lighting. It is clear that Protestants are under-represented in the Civil Service as a whole, particularly in the Child Support Agency and in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, where Protestants represent only 34% of the workforce. That is to name but a few examples.

If we are to discuss equality and discrimination, let us put all the facts on the table. Let us see what proactive measures are being implemented to attract Protestants into jobs in areas in which they are disproportionately under-represented. Let us discuss the discrimination against young Protestants who want to join, and pursue a career in, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Members must remember that the imbalance in the ranks of the police was not created by anything other than a murderous terrorist campaign against the RUC, its members, and the families of those members, and by a campaign of intimidation against young Catholics and their families in order to prevent them from joining the ranks of the RUC.

In common with the Member for West Belfast who proposed the motion, Mr Attwood, I am concerned about the number of inactive Protestant and Catholic households in Northern Ireland. However, we do not need to take the CAJ report into consideration when seeking to address that problem. As an Assembly, we have a duty to every member of Northern Ireland’s population, regardless of religion, to ensure that opportunities exist to allow those who are seeking employment to find a suitable avenue into the workforce.

The Assembly has a duty to the entire Northern Ireland population, regardless of religion, to ensure that those seeking employment can find suitable avenues back into the workforce. We have a duty to those in most need in the Province. We are well aware of what is required, so we do not need this report, with its many flaws, as a guide to tackling economic inactivity. If we are to tackle inequality, let us tackle it together, and without recourse to a biased and jaundiced report such as that from the CAJ. I oppose the motion.

Ms Anderson: Ba mhaith liom labhairt ar son an rúin seo. I support the motion. Inactivity rates are at the core of the North’s economic problems, and they encapsulate the essence of our difficulties, and their solutions. Investment to secure prosperity cannot be separated from investment to address inactivity rates and impoverishment in our communities — the two are structurally and intrinsically interlinked.

Some 272,000 economically inactive people live in the North of Ireland — 147,000 are Catholics and 126,000 are Protestants. Therefore, a huge number of people is excluded from all that we consider must constitute equality of life. People are stuck in a vicious, generational spiral of poor housing, poor health, poor education opportunities and poor social lives.

The phrase “economically inactive” means that people — indeed, whole families — are unemployed but not categorised in total unemployment figures. Many of them are students, carers, those who look after the family home, or those who are sick or disabled. We all know them.

As the CAJ report notes, some of those people would like to work — at least 40,000 of the hidden unemployed — but there are no jobs available for them. When calculated as a societal loss, were those 40,000 people who want to work to gain employment at an average of £12,000 a year — I would want them to earn more — that would represent an increase in income to society of almost £500 million. That does not take account of savings accrued in benefit payments, a conservative estimate of which would be about £300 million. The total would, therefore, be £800 million.

We all know streets in which economic changes meant that everyone had work, yet now they have none. Shipbuilding, textile and engineering industries have collapsed as a result of global changes. With that, whole industries on which local economies were built have gone, leaving behind incomprehension, despair, bitterness, anger and, ultimately, hopelessness.

In the west of the Bann, which includes the city of Derry in my constituency, only 63% of Catholics and 72% of Protestants across the region are engaged actively. There are pockets in which levels of inactivity are higher. However, even those appalling statistics disguise the real story. Derry’s resident employment rate is around 10% lower than anywhere else in the North. Only slightly more than 50% of working-age people — half of Derry’s working-age residents — are in employment. The waste is criminal.

The CAJ report reviewed some of the policies that have been in place during the past 15 years — New Deal; the action plan in the anti-poverty strategy; and the NIO’s ‘A Shared Future’ — and explained why those have utterly failed to have an impact on inactivity rates. The report also enables us to learn from those mistakes and suggests policies that will be successful.

If we want to deliver economic growth while reversing rates of inactivity, we must target specific areas of disadvantage through investment and procurement policies in which the impact is measured through equality impact assessments (EQIAs) in order to meet the social needs of the people who live there. Under equality legislation, there are legal and statutory obligations on the public sector to do just that. We must change current patterns.

We have come a long way since the Assembly of 2002, when the leading parties in the Executive did not ensure that the Programme for Government was subject to an EQIA.

They did not ensure that economic prosperity would also tackle disadvantage; they did not ensure the proper application of equality and TSN principles to funding allocations in the Budget. Fortunately, intelligent political leadership now prevails.

11.00 am

This Executive will make a difference. This Executive will consider how the equality impact of spending £16 billion on investment can change the awful reality that is experienced by too many people in places such as my own constituency of Foyle.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member please bring her remarks to a close?

Ms Anderson: I say to Members of the SDLP and the UUP that Sinn Féin will not be found wanting.

Mr McCarthy: The Alliance Party is grateful to Alex Attwood for tabling today’s motion and for drawing the CAJ report to the attention of the Assembly.

Inequality — and, indeed, the perception of inequality — leads inevitably to a sense of injustice, which, in turn, feeds anger, bitterness and, sometimes, hate. Building a peaceful society in Northern Ireland is predicated on building one that is scrupulously fair and is seen to be so.

The report’s authors do not argue against the widespread perception that direct discrimination is now at a low level, but they do argue — with some force — that structural inequalities are still a serious problem for society in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that, on virtually every indicator, Catholics are more likely to suffer disadvantage than Protestants.

It is legitimate to debate whether inequality is a historical legacy that is in the process of disappearing or is a persistent gap that will not go away without concerted action. The fact that, despite a period of record economic growth, so many of those inequalities have persisted — albeit at a reduced level — would indicate that the latter is the case. As long as inequality exists, it is the duty of any civilised society to root it out and see that it comes to an end, once and for all.

However, the report falls down badly in its assertion that the persistence of inequalities demands that we move away from objective need being the sole criterion for the allocation of public money. If we move away from objective need, that raises the spectre of people being refused help that they desperately need simply because they fail to come from the targeted background or do not live in the “correct” area. Poverty is no respecter of background, and discrimination has no place in this society.

Indeed, the report makes strong arguments — rightly — against the creation of a task force on Protestant working-class communities. The report notes that the problems faced by those communities are not different fundamentally from those faced by working-class Catholic communities. Therefore, the authors are right to argue against sectarianising poverty in this case, which makes me wonder why they want to sectarianise it in other areas.

Over time, a robust targeting of resources according to objective need must eradicate inequalities, but only if the programmes in question work. In that respect, the report is seriously flawed; for example, the authors examine New Deal and use it as an argument as to why objective need does not reduce inequality. However, New Deal has been shown to be fairly ineffective for people of all backgrounds throughout the UK — Catholic and Protestant, black and white, men and women. If social programmes are to be used to reduce inequalities, they must work in the first place.

I commend the authors’ focus on economic inactivity, which could be described as Northern Ireland’s “dirty little economic secret”. Northern Ireland’s economic in activity rates are the highest in the UK, and, as the report notes, they are not improving.

Mr B McCrea: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCarthy: No, I want to finish.

We desperately need to move away from new Labour’s failed policies and look at countries where much more active labour-market policies, aimed at the economically inactive, have borne fruit. Denmark is the obvious model. What can the Danish example teach us about tackling poverty, whether in Shantallow or Shankill?

Another flaw in the report is its rubbishing of the shared future agenda and, in particular, the failure to spot its relationship to housing inequalities. North Belfast is highlighted in the report as having particularly serious inequalities in housing allocation. The appalling waiting times faced by housing applicants from Catholic backgrounds are a direct consequence of many areas of north Belfast’s neither feeling nor being safe for Catholics to live in —

Mr Deputy Speaker: Mr McCarthy, your time is up.

Mr Shannon: Having read parts of the aforementioned report, I have to agree with Alex Attwood that there is cause for concern. However, my concern flows from the severely tainted nature of the report, which makes no pretence of being unbiased. As I worked my way through the report, I did not see a reflection of the way forward for Northern Ireland — a way to address employment issues properly, or to help those who wish to find work and jobs that they like. I did, however, see a throwback to the Northern Ireland where religion and community background were blamed for every problem. The fact that unemployment is down and Northern Ireland is more economically stable than it has been in many years has no place in this report, which seeks to blame the position of certain sectors of the community on religion, and not on the ability and desire to have work and to seek work.

It cannot be disputed that there are a large number of people in the community who have a desire to work, but who cannot find work — for example, men laid off from factories at the age of 50 and who have limited skills. Undoubtedly they have the desire to work, but they find it difficult to get anyone to hire them. DEL (Department for Employment and Learning) and DETI (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) should provide opportunities for training in new skills and confidence in the skills that exist but need to be stretched. That help should not be restricted to the sector of the community that may have had less cause for retraining in that year. It must go, rightly, to the people who need it, regardless of their creed or persuasion.

Alex Attwood referred to deprivation in north Belfast. North Belfast has not cornered the market in deprivation. In parts of the area that I represent — Newtownards and the Strangford constituency — places such as Scrabo estate, West Winds estate and parts of Portaferry, which Kieran McCarthy and I represent with a different hat, have a level of deprivation as high as that in north Belfast. We deserve the same focus. That needs to be put on the record in this Chamber.

I could stand here and read out the statistics in the report, which are undoubtedly thought-provoking. There are general ideas in the report that should be implemented. However, to say that the report should be put into practice in its entirety will not put Northern Ireland in a stronger position. It will trail us back to what we have struggled to come away from — a society where we are tied to one community or another, with an inability to assess any situation without bringing in bias or unfairness.

The DUP wants equality for all, and it has put that on record. This report does not address unemployment in Northern Ireland. It bandies about age-old excuses, and that kind of pot-stirring has no place in the Province today. We undoubtedly have higher unemployment than we would like, but is that down to the religion of those applying for jobs? Of course, if applying to the PSNI, it is down to religion. A large proportion of the people whom I represent cannot seem to get jobs in the police force, even though they have the ability, qualifications and experience.

Mr B McCrea: Would it interest the Member to know, with regard to the supposed jobs that we are looking for and this 50:50 recruitment in policing, that although 30% of people are Catholic males and 30% are Protestant males, only 13% of Catholic women apply? If they are looking for jobs, why do they not apply and try to get themselves out of this economic morass?

Mr Shannon: I thank the Member for his intervention, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. He is absolutely right. I have nothing against a person of whatever religion applying for a job — we should all have the same opportunities to get a job. We must implement a strategy that creates a way forward, not one that looks to the past and offers no real hope.

One of my boyhood heroes was Winston Churchill. He said:

“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.”

The report does not advocate that approach; it merely plays a blame game. As such, I cannot support a report that offers no real fairness to the people of Northern Ireland, either Protestant or Roman Catholic. I oppose the motion.

Mr Molloy: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the motion, and I thank Mr Attwood for securing this important and welcome debate.

The CAJ must be commended on the work that it has put into the report and for the fact that it has given recommendations on how to address the problems that we are experiencing. I encourage unionism not simply to dismiss the report but to welcome it and to play a part in the research that must be carried out into past discrimination. Unionists may not agree with everything in the report, but they should be part and parcel of a process that leads to the production of other reports so that a complete picture can be drawn. If unionists want to contest arguments in the report, that is fair enough; they should do so and challenges should be made, but they must also come up with alternatives.

However, we must accept that the report has identified some projects that the Government have put forward to alleviate the situation — although others would say “mask”. The New Deal programme is one such project. Like new Labour, it is based on a spin policy that has been designed to cover up matters and to create an impression of low unemployment, when, at the end of the day, it has created no real jobs and effected no change. Very often, much of the work and money involved has been wasted. I regret to say that a lot of the European money has likewise been wasted. With no strategy in place to ensure that European money is used to create long-term jobs and commitments, it has sometimes become a case of going round the same old houses.

It is noticeable from economic activity tables that there is a high level of economic inactivity west of the Bann — some 59% or 60%. It is clear from the breakdown by constituency and council area that that is where the inactivity is to be found. I commend those who have created economic activity themselves — those local entrepreneurs who have done it on their own. They created jobs because they realised that there would be no Government jobs west of the Bann, no encouragement from any agencies to create employ­ment west of the Bann, and no inward investment west of the Bann. Local unemployed people and local entrepreneurs created the jobs themselves, and, as a result, some of the best businesses in the world today are located west of the Bann — for example, Powers­creen International plc, which is owned by TEREX. Some 80% of the world’s quarrying machinery is manufactured west of the Bann. Therefore, out of that situation came initiative. At the same time, Government continually financed the big industries east of the Bann — the shipyard and so on — but those have failed to deliver. Thus, there is a clear imbalance in investment east and west of the Bann.

From a unionist perspective, it may not be nice to hear that the discrimination west of the Bann affected not just Catholics, but everyone who lived there. It just happened to be that the majority of people who lived west of the Bann were Catholics; therefore, they suffered most. Unfortunately, unionists accepted that discrimination because it was mainly Catholics who suffered and they did not raise their voices. I welcome the fact that Members such as Gregory Campbell are now discussing discrimination west of the Bann and that they accept that situation. Hopefully, we can now instigate change in order that the east/west divide will no longer be a topic for discussion.

I encourage Invest NI to examine how entrepreneurs west of the Bann have helped themselves, and how those efforts could be supported.

11.15 am

Mr Shannon accepted some of the report’s concerns, and the intent of Mr Attwood’s motion. I encourage Mr Shannon to add his concerns to those expressed in the report so that we can begin to tackle this problem collectively. There is no reason why this matter should divide us. We should unite to eradicate discrimination and inequality across the board, no matter where it is happening. We have the facilities to do that: we have the Assembly in which to debate the matter, and there is a climate of economic growth in which we can tackle the problem. Let us come together and, instead of dividing the House, say collectively that we welcome the report. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Campbell: This is an important topic, but part of the problem with the report is the nature of its authors. The Committee for the Administration of Justice is not exactly a non-partisan body, and its various reports down the years on a variety of subjects have demonstrated that. However, I shall begin by mentioning a couple of issues on which, I imagine, there is broad consensus.

Statistics indicate that unemployment in Northern Ireland is at an all-time low. There are regional variations but, overall, the country is experiencing significantly higher levels of employment, and consequently, lower levels of unemployment, than has been the case historically. That is good, and is to be welcomed.

However, we must attract the highest possible quality of employment into Northern Ireland, and I know that the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and others are concentrating on that. We have many part-time employees, particularly women, who are in jobs from which they want to move on. I imagine that there is consensus on that matter. The CAJ report does not address that matter, other than in passing.

To cut to the chase, I have noticed that one or two Members —

Mr Newton: Will the Member give way?

Mr Campbell: Yes, before I cut to the chase. [Laughter.]

Mr Newton: In a press statement about equality that was published on the Sinn Féin website, Martina Anderson makes disgraceful remarks about the work of civil servants, by stating:

“There would appear to be an army of civil servants there who are opposed to any change in the status quo. They seem to have worked damn hard over the decades to maintain inequalities and to preserve their own privileged position.”

Is that not a disgraceful attack on civil servants in general, who are unable to respond in the political arena to challenge such statements?

Mr Campbell: I thank the Member for those comments, and I will deal shortly — again — with the inaccuracies of the Member whom he mentioned.

The bulk of the CAJ report deals with the issue of employment in Northern Ireland. Almost two thirds of the Province’s workforce is employed in the public sector. We must ensure that private-sector investment creates more jobs in order to complement the number of jobs in the public sector. However, the CAJ and the SDLP, in what I might describe as a Back-Bench motion to keep the backwoodsmen happy, to use language from last week, are contending that there is an overall problem that is changing only slowly.

If the CAJ report and the SDLP motion purport to consider overall employment patterns, they exclude and ignore what is happening in 2007. Discrimination in police recruitment is happening now, and Robin Newton mentioned the situation in the Civil Service. A picture is emerging, but I have been raising these issues for decades, along with others.

Currently, there are 300 civil servants in the higher echelons of the Civil Service, where Catholic disadvantage is reducing year on year. Therefore the problem is minimal and is almost about to disappear. The Civil Service employs 30,000 in the general service grades — the largest number by any employer, anywhere in the country. Where is the disadvantage? It is among the Protestant community, and that must be addressed. That is where the problem is and no amount of waffle, statements or rhetoric will address it.

Last week, I met the Minister of Finance and Personnel in an attempt to address the matter and I am hopeful that a remedy can be found for the situation, in which large numbers in both communities — particularly the community that I and my party represent — need higher-quality employment. My community has been disadvantaged, not for six months, but for years. Those people, with all the other com­munities, need to see the problem and the issue resolved.

Unfortunately, CAJ does not appear to be capable of understanding that. Nor does the SDLP’s motion grasp that reality. Given the comments that have been attributed to Martina Anderson, I do not expect Sinn Féin to grasp it either.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Please draw your remarks to a close.

Mr Campbell: The motion does not face up to the reality of the emerging picture; therefore, the DUP opposes it.

Mr Elliott: I am disappointed that the Ulster Unionist Party amendment was not accepted. I welcome the comments made by Mr Molloy. If I heard him correctly, he indicated that there was discrimination against the Protestant population in parts of Northern Ireland. If he wishes to clarify that, I am willing to hear him.

Equality is an issue that raises its head in various arenas. On many occasions in the House I have addressed the issue of equality for agriculture and rural communities. The importance of the word “equality” in the life of everyone in Northern Ireland should not be underestimated. The report published by the Committee on the Administration of Justice — and I support Mr Campbell’s comments about that organisation — has several negatives; however, I accept that there are some positives. The report, which addresses the previous 30 years here, shows that the legislative measures adopted during that time have made some headway into the sectarian headcount that takes place in some types of employment. Furthermore, the report notes that ending political and religious discrimination at the point of recruitment has, in general, been effective. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey shows that 90% of people now prefer a mixed workplace. That is an increase of almost 10% from 2000.

The positive aspects of the report and the survey results show that, after coming out of the dark days of the Troubles, Northern Ireland is making progress in economic diversity. I am sure that a report 30 years from now will further reflect the integration of communities, as Northern Ireland becomes, hopefully, a more normal society.

I agree that the number of economically inactive people living in Northern Ireland is frightening. From March to May 2006, there were 538,000, the majority of whom were female. The main reason given for economic inactivity among both Protestants and Roman Catholics was sickness and disability and nothing to do with religion.

It is important that economic evolution is part of the process of moving forward socially and economically. Although the phrase “economic inactivity” includes adults who, for whatever reason, are not seeking work; children below the age of 16, and those who are beyond pension age, the majority of the figures quoted usually refer to the working-age population alone. We must seek to encourage those who can work to do so, and, as more jobs arrive in Northern Ireland, we must capitalise on the opportunities that will open up.

We must work with those agencies that help people to find employment and we must seek to develop opportunities for Protestant and Roman Catholic students. Too many of them are leaving home to work on mainland GB or in the Republic of Ireland and are not returning due to the lack of jobs.

Interestingly, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Bath shows that Protestant countries have higher employment rates than non-Protestant countries. The study claims that that is due to the Protestant work ethic, which makes subjects work hard, even when they do not want to work. I do not know whether that is relevant, but Dr Horst Feldmann from the University of Bath stated:

“the most likely reason for the impact of Protestantism on employment was the legacy of the commitment to work cultivated through the early Protestant church.”

He went on to say:

“In its early days, Protestantism promoted the virtue of hard and diligent work among its adherents who judged one another by conformity to this standard.”

Mr O’Loan: The Committee on the Administration of Justice’s report is an important summary of the state of equality in Northern Ireland, and I praise committee members for the important work that they have done over the years.

There are four key summary points in the report: first, that there has been real progress on equality in the labour market but that structural inequalities remain; secondly, that there is still a large group of economically inactive people and that Catholics are significantly over-represented in that group; thirdly, that there are sectors of deprivation remaining, particularly in relation to housing and deprived residential areas, and that that deprivation still affects Catholics in particular; and fourthly, that the report is critical of the policy approach in ‘A Shared Future’, and argues that it is not equality-based and is, therefore, ineffective. That is the main point.

I will not repeat the information that Alex Attwood provided on employment and on those who are economically inactive, but there are important conclusions to be taken from what he said. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 and the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 are significant legislative remedies. The SDLP was instrumental in achieving those pieces of legislation, which are based on compulsory religious monitoring and affirmative action. Those pieces of legislation have done the business, in that they have essentially eliminated discrimination from the employing process. We have achieved balance in the public and private sectors in relation to the numbers of Catholics and Protestants who are employed. However, the report states that there are structural imbalances within that overall balance. Those are important indicators that our community is still divided. We must examine that closely as part of the debate.

The report tackles three Government measures that address poverty, social exclusion and social cohesion. Those measures are: targeting social need, the task force on Protestant working-class communities, and ‘A Shared Future’. The report refers to a mythology around Protestant working-class areas — and there is some validity in the reference to mythology.

Alex Attwood cited the facts. The report contains a lot of factual information, from which it draws conclusions. I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with those conclusions — I disagree with some of them — but the facts cannot be ignored. For some Members, the less their arguments are based on facts, the louder their voices become. If those people do not attend to the facts that are included in the report, they do not deserve to be taken seriously in a debate on equality.

11.30 am

I have no objection to affirmative action in Protestant working-class areas, but it must be directed towards real need and not be politically driven. For example, there is evidence of educational underachievement in Protestant working-class areas — it is proper and necessary to address that. When referring to Protestant working-class areas, it is essential that the scourge of loyalist paramilitarism is mentioned. All Members should unite to state that threats, violence and criminality must be removed. All Members must support that, and there should be no sideswipes at the Minister for Social Development, who is working effectively to achieve that.

The debate about the concepts of equality and a shared future, and their merits, is very important. Some Members advocate equality and reject the concept of a shared future. We could attempt to create a society in which — on the surface — there is equality in each community, but no social cohesion. I am convinced that that would not work. The concepts of equality and a shared future are essential, and should both be supported by all Members. It is on that point that I disagree with the conclusions of the report.

Mr B McCrea: The motion is not only wrong in principle, but also in its approach and analysis of the facts. Declan O’Loan has just stated that he does not have a problem with people’s reaching different conclusions than those of the report. However, certain Members are being selective. The report states that there have been vast improvements on perceived discrimination in employment. However, as Gregory Campbell mentioned, there is no attempt to address such inequalities in the Health Service.

The report deals with the important issue of housing. Yesterday, Alex Attwood’s colleague the Minister for Social Development told the House that the Housing Executive was a professional organisation. The Housing Executive’s response to the CAJ report referred to issues such as the:

“lack of understanding/acknowledgment of complexities of housing markets; failure to acknowledge the political sensitivities of providing housing services in a divided community; failure to acknowledge the need for additional resources to support an adequate new build programme; failure to recognise the substantial investment in areas of high demand.”

Who are the Members on the SDLP Benches going to support: Alex Attwood or Margaret Ritchie?

Mr Attwood: I do not know whether the Member was in the House when I proposed the motion. If he was, he will recall that I stated that waiting times for the Catholic and Protestant communities are unacceptably high — although higher in the Catholic community. I also said that waiting lists have grown in recent years by 35% for the Catholic community and 19% for the Protestant community. I argued that those figures should provide an impetus, during the current Budget negotiations, for the Government to ensure that significantly more money is allocated for housing. What is the problem with that?

Mr B McCrea: I was in the House to hear the Member’s speech, as I was for all the subsequent contributions.

Mr Attwood is being selective in the information that he is using. Are Members aware of a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland’, which comments on the number of economically inactive people? It states that 7% of the adult population in Northern Ireland were injured during the Troubles, and 36% had a close friend or close relative injured or killed. The report states that those facts account for the differentials in economic inactivity with regard to sickness, mental health and disability living allowance. That is why there is economic inactivity. One may talk about legacy issues and their effect on young people, but the real problem — and we have talked about it in relation to other issues — is that 14% of young people in some areas do not pass any GCSEs. Five per cent of those young people do not get any qualifications at all, and 35% of eleven-year-olds do not even reach level 4 in Key Stage 2; that percentage is twice as high as elsewhere. The real problem does not relate to some type of pseudo-inequality but to education.

Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?

Mr B McCrea: I do not get another extra minute, Dolores, so please be quick.

Mrs D Kelly: Regardless of the reasons for economic inactivity, does the Member recognise that we are in a state of economic inactivity that must be dealt with?

Mr B McCrea: The SDLP is drawing the wrong conclusions from the wrong facts, based on a shoddy piece of academic work, and if the questions are wrong, it is unlikely that the answers will be right. That is why the Ulster Unionist Party opposes the motion. It is utter tripe to talk about inequality when the facts stack up against it. The facts do not fit the argument, so Mr Attwood changes them and carries on regardless. We have faced huge challenges, and we must now deal with improvements in educational attainment. One might ask why some people do not take up employment? Why will the 40,000 supposedly economically inactive people who would like a job not take a job? Is it because almost 40% of all female jobs are part-time positions, or is it because women are 37% more likely to earn a low wage than men? If the differentials are not right, it is difficult to encourage people out to work.

It is not our job to conduct a witch-hunt and ask what is fair, what is unfair or what is right or wrong. The Assembly must explain to people that they have to be responsible for their own actions. We must get those communities sorted out. Duncan Morrow, the chief executive of the Community Relations Council, said that once a community becomes synonymous with rioting and other bad images, it is not surprising that its people — including its skilled people — leave and that it is unable to attract inward investment. I urge the Members opposite to stop going after this red herring: start concentrating on the real issues. If those Members leave those issues aside, this side of the House will support them. The SDLP has brought up an emotive red herring, which is why the Ulster Unionist Party rejects the motion.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr M McGuinness): I thank Members who contributed to the debate. All contributions were valuable, regardless of what side of the argument Members were on.

One of the most important contributions came from Jim Shannon, who argued that deprivation and inequality exist in many housing estates and areas throughout the state. He went on to state powerfully that he and the DUP wanted equality for all. It was significant that, during the debate, not one Member argued that inequality was a good thing. That represents important common ground on which the Assembly and the Executive can, and must, build.

Equality is an important issue for the Assembly and for society. Inequalities exist, and we must strive to achieve the goal of eliminating all forms of inequality. ‘Equality in Northern Ireland: The Rhetoric and the Reality’, produced by the CAJ, is a thorough and detailed report that deals with a wide range of complex issues.

The report is already a year old, but the issues it raises still need to be considered.

The CAJ report draws heavily on officially published sources of information, and it properly points out that some progress has been achieved in all sections of society over the past 30 years. It also usefully highlights some of the persistent inequalities that affect both communities, particularly the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

In the time available today, it is not possible to deal with all the areas covered in the report. However, that is not to say that a further detailed consideration is not merited — indeed, over the coming weeks and months, the conclusions of the report will require a full examination.

Given the focus of today’s debate, I will concentrate specifically on the issues around economic inactivity among Catholic and Protestant households. Among the key questions that we should ask ourselves are: what is the level of economic activity in households here, and, more importantly perhaps, what are we doing to address that perennial issue? Although the motion focuses specifically on economic inactivity, it cannot be considered fully without also considering employment and unemployment, given that economic inactivity and economic activity are two sides of the same coin. Obviously, to reduce one, the other has to be increased. That places a mighty responsibility on the Executive proactively to change the existing patterns of social disadvantage by using increased prosperity and economic growth to tackle poverty.

As my Executive colleague the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Nigel Dodds, put it in the Chamber on 10 September, we should be raising the economy so that everyone can benefit:

“paying absolute regard to the particular challenges and disadvantages that affect particular areas, whether in the west, the north-west, the south or certain parts of Belfast.” — [Official Report, Vol 23, No 5, p223, col 1].

Economic inactivity is due to a wide range of factors. The North has a high proportion of students and people looking after the home, who are counted as being economically inactive. The Assembly needs to consider measures that will allow those with caring responsibilities that are limiting their ability to utilise education, training and quality employment to share in the growing economy.

It is important to note that education is necessary for increased economic growth and prosperity. The fact that there is a high percentage of full-time students is not in itself an unwelcome statistic. Of course, the proportion of economically inactive citizens able to take up employment could well increase if the conditions enabling them to enter the labour market were more favourable. That is the challenge for all of us today — to use information to develop new and innovative measures that will address existing patterns of socio-economic disadvantage based on tackling the objective needs of those worst affected.

One of the main official sources of information on economic inactivity is the labour force survey. The latest seasonally adjusted estimate for May to July 2007 is that there are 290,000 economically inactive people of working age in the North, representing 27·1% of the working-age population. That remains significantly higher than the current rate in England, Scotland and Wales, which is around 21·2%.

None of us can fail to acknowledge the exact scale of the challenge that lies ahead. Seasonally adjusted estimates show that there are around 760,000 people in employment, and the unemployment rate, at 4·5%, is among the lowest of all the regions, as Gregory Campbell correctly said. However, it is important to note that some observers, including the CAJ, have argued that current calculations of the unemployment rate can create a false impression by failing to take account of the hidden unemployment of those who are, for example, on various Government schemes. The latest available data for 2005 from the labour force survey religion report shows that one in three Catholics and one in four Protestants are economically inactive.

The labour force survey is a detailed, complex and objectively compiled statistical assessment that provides a factual overview of the status of the economy in the North. I remind all Members that the report has been published by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and can be accessed on the Department’s website.

11.45 am

A wide range of policy responses will be required to tackle the problem of economic disadvantage. We know that the economically inactive do not form a static group. Indeed, more people join the labour market who are classed as economically inactive than those who are classed as unemployed or those who are classed as seeking work. By the same account, the latest available conclusions about the New Deal, as outlined by the Department for Employment and Learning’s statistical bulletin for April 1998 to June 2007, demonstrate that less than one third of 18- to 24-year-olds and just 20% of over-25-year-olds moved off the scheme into unsubsidised employment during the past decade. We should draw the efficiency and effectiveness of programmes such as New Deal to the attention of the Executive.

Lessons can, of course, be learnt from public-procurement research, which indicates that Government procurement can play an active and effective role in tackling patterns of socio-economic disadvantage.

Working-age economic activity is defined as people who are either in work or on jobseeker’s allowance. By that definition, about 67% of Catholics and 76% of Protestants are economically active. The official unemployment figures show that 6% of Catholics and 3% of Protestants are unemployed. The top 20 areas of greatest deprivation straddle both the Shankill and the Falls. Those patterns of disadvantage, which affect both communities to various degrees, will require real and meaningful strategies to ensure that the Executive’s commitment to tackling poverty and addressing social need is fulfilled.

Mr McNarry: Will the Deputy First Minister give way?

The Deputy First Minister: I am not sure whether I can give way during my response.

Mr McNarry: Is he willing to give way?

The Deputy First Minister: I am.

Mr McNarry: I am grateful to the Deputy First Minister for giving way.

Will he clarify that he is speaking to the motion on behalf of both himself and the First Minister? Does he agree that it is time that all Ministers who are responding to motions give a clear indication as to where the Executive stand on the issue that is under debate? I say that with due respect to the Deputy First Minister; everything that he is saying today is interesting and reportable, and will be well read in the Hansard report. Nevertheless, we debate motions without a clear indication from the Executive as to where they stand on issues. It would be most helpful for Members if they had clarity on those matters.

The Deputy First Minister: Everyone knows and understands that when Ian Paisley or I speak to a motion such as this, we both speak for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). Therefore, I am speaking for the First Minister in this debate. I hope that my contribution to the debate will give a clear indication of how we, as an Executive, intend to move forward and deal with the vital issues that concern the whole of our community.

The problem of disadvantage is even more acute for women and people with disabilities. Typically, the economic inactivity rates for women are higher than those for men. Both Catholic and Protestant women experience the highest economic inactivity rates, at 42% and 29% respectively. We must look specifically at the barriers that face women in the area of socio-economic disadvantage, because if we do not, the gap will continue to widen to the detriment of us all.

The barriers in accessing the labour market for people with disabilities are reflected in the fact that the majority of disabled people of working age — 66% — are economically inactive. About 14% of households, or one in seven, have no working adults. Clearly, the policy responses to that type of endemic socio-economic disadvantage will require a range of factors to be carefully considered.

As we all know, the Assembly does not have tax and benefit policy levers at its disposal that could influence the labour market. However, where inward investment, anti-poverty, equality, infrastructure, childcare, transport, tourism, housing, health, education and welfare-to-work policies are concerned, we have the opportunity to make things better for those who face the greatest disadvantage. At a time when the potential for economic growth is at its greatest, it is crucial that we use the economy to tackle inequality and use prosperity to end poverty.

Alex Attwood raised several issues during the debate, one of which was housing differentials. Although there are inequalities in housing — just as there are inequalities across society generally — the key issue is whether those inequalities are a result of discrimination or other factors, and which of those other factors are in our control.

The new-build strategic guidelines, which affect the availability of social housing, are the subject of a separate equality impact assessment, which will take account of religious differentials. Targeted strategies have directed resources towards key areas of housing stress and have promoted housing in north and west Belfast, Derry and other areas.

Alex Attwood and Gregory Campbell raised the issue of community differentials in the Civil Service. Catholic representation has steadily improved at Senior Civil Service level and is close to balancing with comparable parts of the workforce. Balance should be reached by the time of the next review.

We also recognise that progress must be made to address the under-representation of Protestants at administrative and junior management grades. That is a priority, and affirmative action has, and continues, to be taken. We have, for example, commissioned research into why there have been low application rates for males and Protestants.

Danny Kennedy spoke in the debate, although not in his capacity as Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. In due course, I will welcome the views of that Committee on the important contribution from the CAJ. Danny also spoke of the need for opportunities. I agree; however, currently, those opportunities cannot be accessed by all sections of the population. We must ensure that they can. Even with net inward migration, unemployment levels continue to fall. However, significant numbers of people still face social exclusion.

Jimmy Spratt raised the subject of the CAJ report and suggested that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should not base its policies on it. In order to develop policies to tackle inequality, we must take account of as wide a range of evidence as possible, including that of the Equality Commission.

Francie Molloy highlighted the lack of investment in the north-west. Although accepting that regional economic imbalances must be addressed, Members must acknowledge that, in the past five years, 50% of all Invest NI assistance was offered to locations in areas of economic disadvantage, as designated by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Those areas take in 30% of the population. Inward investment must continue to be directed towards areas with the greatest objective need.

Declan O’Loan asked why I am pursuing the shared-future agenda at the expense of equality. OFMDFM is committed to moving society forward in order to make a real difference to the lives of ordinary people by promoting equality, human rights and good relations and by tackling social need. That is a complex and multi-faceted matter, which is affected by many factors, and which requires a wide range of departmental initiatives and responses. OFMDFM remains focused on the need to end patterns of disadvantage, wherever they exist.

The Executive’s work is informed by a wide range of internal and external sources of data, independent analysis and challenges, and we welcome the contribution that the report makes to that debate.

Mrs D Kelly: The motion states:

“That this Assembly notes with concern the report by the Committee on the Administration of Justice ‘Equality in Northern Ireland: the rhetoric and the reality’; believes that the numbers of economically inactive Catholic and Protestant households is of particular concern.”

What is wrong with that declaration as a motion, or as a fact that Members should recognise? Is the issue really that the unionist parties have difficulty with, and cannot accept, the credentials of the authors of the report rather than its findings?

A Member: That is speculation.

Mrs D Kelly: That is anything but speculation, and many Members have made that clear. Mr McCrea referred to the data and statistics that were used to compile the report. All data in the report came from the Govern­ment — from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, OFMDFM and DETI. If Members rubbish the report because of the statistics, they rubbish all those Government agencies that provided such data.

Mr B McCrea: As the Member’s colleague Mr O’Loan pointed out, the problem was not with the facts but with the conclusions. If the report states that there is no real problem with recruitment, why go on about it? The Member says that there is an issue about housing, yet the Minister for Social Development told the House yesterday that the Housing Executive is a good organisation. The proposer of the motion has a problem with both matters. Why rely on a flawed report? That is illogical.

Mrs D Kelly: Some of the Member’s conclusions are somewhat illogical, and he must have read the report through tinted glasses.

As for the housing debate, the Minister made it clear that she wants to tackle housing for all. A difficulty with equality in housing provision in the North is the failure to share common ground and space on which to build new housing. That difficulty will continue until we learn to live together. The House should show greater leadership in tackling those inequalities.

I am glad that the Deputy First Minister contributed to the debate; he made it very clear to the House that he spoke on behalf of the First Minister and welcomed the CAJ report.

I welcome some of the statistics that were mentioned by Martina Anderson and Francie Molloy. No one is disputing the fact that people who lived west of the Bann, whether Catholic or Protestant, were discriminated against. Indeed, at Westminster, a former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party recognised the discrimination that existed during 80 years of unionist rule, which affected unionist and Catholic communities.

Martina Anderson not only mentioned statistics but tried to lay some of the blame on the former Assembly. The former Assembly had little opportunity to deal with inequality because of the stop-go nature of politics, and it was held to ransom by paramilitaries — most notably by the IRA’s failure to decommission.

The report sets out clear challenges and recommends actions on the way to deal with economic inequality. For example, the latest statistics on New Deal — a direct rule scheme that is still exists — show that 18% of Protestants over the age of 25 moved into sustained, unsubsidised employment after completing the programme. The corresponding figure for Catholics is 13%. The equivalent figures for New Deal for 18- to 24-year-olds are 25% for Protestants and 21% for Catholics. Why are the Executive continuing to fund New Deal under the Programme for Government? Why do we not seek a much more effective strategy to tackle economic activity? What is wrong with that conclusion in the report?

‘Lifetime Opportunities: Government’s Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Strategy’ states:

“since the introduction in 1998 of the New Deal programme, unemployment in the main New Deal groups (i.e. 18-24 age group and 25+) has reduced. Additional provision is also available through New Deal 50+, New Deal for Lone Parents, New Deal for Disabled People, New Deal for Partners and New Deal for Musicians …

An additional package of support measures for Lone Parents will be piloted in 4 areas in NI from January 2007 with resources obtained through the Skills and Science Fund. Again, using resources from this Fund, mandatory participation for those aged 50+ in New Deal 25+ is being piloted so as to provide additional assistance for individuals in this age group to enable them to enter/re-enter the labour market.”

Why, therefore, are we even considering mandatory participation in a programme that is not delivering for those most in need? That is setting people up to fail.

Basil McCrea asked why people are not applying for jobs. If he took the opportunity to speak to some of his constituents, he would find that many women are unable to take up jobs because of the lack of affordable childcare. People also lack the skills development and self-confidence that is required to get them to interview stage.

12.00 noon

Look at the anti-poverty strategy. Another finding of the report is that that strategy aims:

“To target 75% of first time inward investment projects towards disadvantaged areas, to ensure that all areas can benefit from sustainable economic growth and high value added employment.”

If the target is 75%, what is the current level? The current level is 75%. Why are we continuing to set a target that has already been achieved? Why are we not setting much more challenging targets for economic growth through investment? The target must be set much higher, and agencies and others have to be taken out of the comfort zone.

Mr Gregory Campbell claimed that the report made no reference to public-sector differentials. Chapter 2 of the report is totally focused on that particular aspect, specifically referring to the under-representation of Protestants on Derry City Council and in the health and education sectors generally.

Mr McCarthy claimed that the CAJ report wanted to move away from objective need. In fact, the whole premise of the report is that we need to act on the basis of objective need. It is also clear that the authors of the report are saying that New Deal is failing both communities.

The report sets clear challenges for the future. Although the Deputy First Minister has clearly stated how committed both he and the First Minister are to promoting equality and a shared future, the time has come — some six months later — for decisions to be taken. Decisions have to be made, and the Executive and the Ministers must take responsibility and take the lead in embedding anti-poverty and shared future policies, and in tackling economic inactivity and delivering on social inclusion for all the people.

Mr McNarry: That is a — [Interruption.]


Mrs D Kelly:Do you think so? I have not finished with you yet. I was just checking that the Members opposite were still awake; it had gone silent for a while.

There is no reason why this report cannot be adopted by the Assembly. Some Members may not like the messengers, but that does not mean that the message is wrong. There are clear challenges, and also guidance that the Executive can follow in the coming weeks and months.

The SDLP welcomes the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister’s acceptance of the report. I look forward to hearing, at the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, how the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are going to deliver on some of their commitments in the forthcoming Programme for Government and the interim Budget.

Question put,

The Assembly divided: Ayes 40; Noes 43.


Mr Adams, Ms Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Mr D Bradley, Mrs M Bradley, Mr P J Bradley, Mr Brolly, Mr Burns, Mr Butler, Mr W Clarke, Mr Doherty, Mr Durkan, Ms Gildernew, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCartney, Dr McDonnell, Mrs McGill, Mr McGlone, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McHugh, Mr McKay, Mr Molloy, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O’Dowd, Mr O’Loan, Mrs O’Neill, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Ms Ruane, Mr B Wilson.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mrs M Bradley and Mr Burns.


Mr Beggs, Mr Bresland, Lord Browne, Mr Buchanan, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Rev Dr Robert Coulter, Mr Craig, Mr Cree, Mr Dodds, Mr Donaldson, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Irwin, Mr Kennedy, Mr McCallister, Mr McCausland, Mr McClarty, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Dr W McCrea, Mr McFarland, Mr McGimpsey, Miss McIlveen, Mr McNarry, Mr McQuillan, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr G Robinson, Mrs I Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Savage, Mr Shannon, Mr Simpson, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr S Wilson.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Elliott and Mr McQuillan.

Question accordingly negatived.

12.15 pm

Mr McNarry: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Party Whips were informed at 11.50 am that the Minister of the Environment’s statement on the Titanic Quarter, which had been scheduled for 12.30 pm, has been put back until 2.00 pm. I must express my appreciation for the advance notice. I am sure that the Minister has good reason to postpone her statement. However, to do so plays havoc with Members’ schedules, particularly on a Tuesday, when Committees are in session. Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask that you raise the matter with the Speaker on the basis of respect for the workings of the House and its Members.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I have noted the Member’s comments. He may wish to raise the matter with the Business Committee, which, as Members will be aware, has arranged to meet immediately upon the lunchtime suspension.

I, therefore, propose, by leave of the House, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm. Members should note that that is a change from the indicative timings that were issued. The sitting will resume at 2.00 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 12.18 pm.

On resuming (Mr Speaker in the Chair) —

2.00 pm

Ministerial Statement

Planning Application for Development at the Titanic Quarter, Belfast

The Minister of the Environment (Mrs Foster): I am delighted to announce that outline planning perm­ission is to be granted for phase 2 of the Titanic Quarter development.

I am particularly pleased that a major planning application was processed in such a timely and efficient manner. The application was received at the turn of the year, validated in January, and has now been approved. That was possible because extensive pre-application discussions took place between the Planning Service and the co-promoter, Titanic Quarter Ltd and Belfast Harbour Commissioners. That work ensured that a good-quality application was submitted, and that it included the necessary environmental information.

In addition, throughout the processing of the applic­ation, my planners and the developer were in continual contact to ensure that issues were dealt with as they arose. That demonstrates, once again, that when an applicant submits a high-quality proposal, and works with the Planning Service, a timely result can be produced.

I congratulate all those who were involved in both the private and public sectors and, in particular, my own planners in the Belfast divisional planning office and strategic projects unit, who all worked together to make this result possible.

The proposed development is the largest application that has ever been dealt with by the Planning Service. It will provide approximately 3 million sq ft of new floor space in the centre of Belfast. It is a mixed-use development that will provide some 2,000 residential units, including both social and affordable housing. The development will include a mix of employment, leisure and tourism uses, with the latter centred on the Titanic signature project, which will showcase Belfast’s maritime and industrial heritage. The development of the 16·5 hectare site, including the restoration of the Titanic and Olympic slipways, represents a further step in the development of the city.

A new quarter is being created close to the city centre that will not only be a source of employment, but will represent a very attractive living environment. As such, the project will be a means of drawing people back to live in the city and help to halt the decline in Belfast’s residential population. The development will provide a significant contribution to the economy and the building industry, and will deliver long-term economic benefits to the whole of Northern Ireland. Today’s announcement is a further indication that Northern Ireland really is leaving its troubled past behind and is now very much open for business.

Mr Weir: I congratulate the Minister on her statement, which is good news for Northern Ireland in general, and for Belfast, in particular. There have been worries, in the past — and accusations — that, sometimes, important planning decisions have been held up for a long time. The timely nature of the Minister’s announcement, and the relatively quick time in which the project has been turned around does credit to the Department of the Environment. Can the Minister offer assurances that other such announcements will be dealt with in a timely fashion?

Mrs Foster: I hope that today’s announcement is indicative of the way in which my Department and I, with our strategic unit, will progress. The planning application for phase 2 of the Titanic Quarter was the largest planning application ever submitted to the Planning Service. We hope to send a strong signal to potential investors in Northern Ireland that we can deal with applications of that magnitude, that we are capable and fit for purpose, and that we want to work closely with developers.

I wish to pay tribute to the developers because they engaged for a number of months with the Planning Service before submitting their application. The quality of that application meant that it could be dealt with very quickly.

Mr Ford: I add my congratulations to those of Mr Weir. This is extremely good news for people throughout Northern Ireland.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, she emphasised the timescale within which the application has been approved. However, can we be sure that, with 2012 being both an Olympics year and the centenary of the Titanic, we will maximise the tourism benefit of the scheme by that date? Secondly, in the context of the 2,000 residential units, will she work with the Minister for Social Development to ensure that the affordable and social housing is integrated, both geographically in the site and socially among the different groups in the community?

Mrs Foster: I thank the Member for his questions. In response to the latter, I am happy to work with the Minister for Social Development; indeed, she has already made approaches to me about the matter of social housing. This is an outline planning application, and therefore the reserved-matters application will follow. I am quite happy to work with the Social Development Minister in that regard.

As for the 2012 Olympics, my Department has shown that it is ready to play its part by the way in which it has turned this matter around. I hope that other Departments will follow suit. Of course, we all await the outcome of the bid for lottery funding, which we hope will be successful.

Mr Wells: Does the Minister agree that this is excellent news? The project is a classic brownfield-site development, involving the reuse of existing resources. Will she also accept that the announcement represents a remarkable achievement by strategic projects division, in that a complex application has been brought through the system at amazing speed? No doubt, announcements over the coming weeks will lead to a flood of planning applications. Will the Minister assure the House that she will continue to use that unit so that important regeneration projects of a regional scale will be brought through the system as quickly as possible to ensure that Northern Ireland remains at the forefront in attracting inward investment?

Mrs Foster: Those regional projects are precisely the type of scheme in which I want the strategic projects division to be involved. That will send out a clear signal to potential investors that Northern Ireland is ready and open for business.

I take on board the Member’s comments about the reuse of a brownfield site. The project is innovative, and I hope that Members will have a chance to look at the plans. I also have some very good graphics of what is planned for the Titanic Quarter. This is a very exiting time for that area, and for the whole of Northern Ireland.

Mr P Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, agus comhghairdeachas don Aire. I thank the Minister for her statement. I commend the work that the Planning Service has done on the development in conjunction with Titanic Quarter Ltd and Belfast Harbour Commissioners. Will the Minister assure the House that the Planning Service will act in the same manner in respect of developments in other parts of the city of Belfast, including the greater Castle Street area and other areas close to the north and west Belfast gateways, which, hopefully, will be included in the Belfast master plan?

Will the Minister also assure us that Belfast city centre is not being moved eastwards to the detriment of its current centre? We do not want to see the current city centre on the fringes of a great Titanic Quarter.

Mrs Foster: I am happy to tell the Member, who I know is also a Member of another place, that part of the good work of the planning application was the partnership approach that was adopted. Belfast City Council has been very much involved with, and supportive of, the planning application. That was most encouraging to the Planning Service and to the private-sector partners.

As for other developments in the city of Belfast, I think that I know to which one the Member refers. I ask him to take the opportunity to write to me about it. I understand, from my limited knowledge of that application, that it is a matter that cross-cuts with DSD (Department for Social Development). I am happy to look at that matter, if the Member wants to raise it with me.

Mr McKay: I welcome the fact that the application has been processed in a timely and efficient manner; it shows that the matter has been approached profession­ally. Will the Minister assure the House that the same openness, transparency and professionalism will be shown in dealing with all planning applications, particularly the one in respect of the Giant’s Causeway visitors’ centre?

Mrs Foster: I wondered how long it would take for the visitors’ centre to be mentioned — I have not been disappointed. Article 31 applications are now subject to that procedure, and I intend for all those applications to come before the House. Similarly, when I have made up my mind on the Giant’s Causeway application, I will appear before the House.

Private Members’ Business

Sustainable Development  and Climate Change

Mr Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for this debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members who speak will have five minutes.

One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes for the winding-up speech.

Mr B Wilson: I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises sustainable development, in general, and climate change, in particular, as central to its considerations in all relevant areas of government, including opportunities to use local economic and technological innovation strategies to place Northern Ireland at the forefront of the emerging green economy in Europe.

The Assembly has both a responsibility and an opportunity to introduce measures to address climate change. We must ensure that this part of the UK plays its part in meeting the challenge set out in the Stern Report, which suggested that climate change threatens to be the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.

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

Our objectives must be to facilitate Northern Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon economy and to create a region that is resilient in the face of three of the most serious global issues: the environmental challenge; the energy security challenge; and the economic challenges and opportunities that climate change, energy security and a low-carbon economy present.

The Green Party’s vision for a low-carbon economy extends across all Departments. Every sector and every citizen can understand it, embrace it and contribute to that vision. It is essential that the Executive introduce a climate change Bill in response to the UK’s draft climate change Bill, which was published in March 2007. A regional Bill would set out Northern Ireland’s plans to integrate fully energy security, climate change and sustainable development into every Department’s responsibility. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) would oversee that.

My party supports the establishment, under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Commission, of a high-level climate change and energy task force, with NGO participation, to advise OFMDFM on the contents of any regional climate change Bill and to monitor progress across sectors that include the Government estate, procurement, and staff transport schemes.

The Green Party proposes a minimum of 60% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, and that should include provision for annual targets and reports on performance and the measures taken. Moreover, we call for the introduction of a carbon-trading scheme across the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Such a scheme would ration the ability to pollute. Individual officers and sections would be forced to cap and trade permits if they wished to exceed annual allocations. That would assist the public sector in reaching its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2015.

Sustainable development does not simply involve environmental considerations. It has profound economic and social impacts and opportunities, and those must be taken into account. Northern Ireland has a growing economy that has changed from heavy industry to service industries. Energy consumption, especially of natural gas, is rising. We are at the end of a very long natural-gas pipeline, and both security of supply and cost make us vulnerable.

Northern Ireland is one of the most car-dependent regions not only in the UK but in Europe. Electricity generation is predominantly fossil fuel-based. However, Northern Ireland, together with the rest of Ireland and Scotland, has some of the best potential for renewable energy development, particularly from on- and offshore wind and wave energy.

The Executive need to show leadership in tackling climate change and ensuring energy security through the use of renewables, as the coalition Governments in the Republic and in Scotland have done; members of the Green Party and the Scottish Green Party have played a leading role.

2.15 pm

Mr S Wilson: I noticed the Member’s comments about renewable energy. Does he not accept, however, that some of the greatest opponents of wind farms are members of the Green Party? They object to such farms being set up offshore, for example, because of the effects that they have on wildlife. On the one hand, the Green Party claims to promote renewable energy, but when such projects are proposed, its members are the first to jump up and down.

Mr B Wilson: I take the Member’s point. Some members of the Green Party take that attitude, but officially, and as far as I am concerned, the more important priority is to create energy security through renewables.

Unfortunately, our planning system does not seem to be responding to the challenges and opportunities that the development of an indigenous renewable energy industry affords. Some wind-farm planning applications have been waiting for approval for up to four years. That is unacceptable, and I ask the Minister of the Environment to expedite those applications. Given the seriousness and urgency of the need to respond to climate change and to ensure energy security, the planning process needs to facilitate, rather than hinder, the development of renewable energies such as wind and biomass. Planning guidance should be drawn up to facilitate and encourage the greater deployment of renewable energy.

The Executive can help to develop the use of renewable energy in other ways. For example, research and development on renewable energy should be at the heart of both universities so that they become centres of excellence. Initiatives such as Queen’s University’s institute for a sustainable world, which has a strong focus on renewable energy, should be welcomed.

We should consider introducing an integrated all-Ireland energy policy based on renewables. The developing single market in electricity should be structured in such a way as to allow renewable energy sources to integrate fully. The 2020 vision study, which is currently being managed by Action Renewables, will review the renewable energy potential of the two electricity networks and consider how that can be developed in the coming decade.

We should also support those in Northern Ireland who carry out pioneering work in renewable energy: Thermomax in North Down provides tubes for solar heating; Copeland provides scroll compressors for most of the heat pumps that are sold in Europe; Newmills Hydro makes hydro turbines and exports them across the world; and B9 Energy Services is the third-largest wind-farm company in the world. Harland and Wolff is a leader in tidal energy and wind turbines. Those companies are under threat from competition in the Far East and will need to continue to put efforts into research and development in order to maintain their position as world leaders, and we should help them to do so.

We should also be looking at newbuilds to encourage developers and home builders to make greater use of renewable energy. New homes should be constructed to the highest energy efficiency standards, with renewable energy integrated to provide heat and power where possible. We can learn from the recent initiatives in the Republic — my party colleagues John Gormley and Eamon Ryan recently introduced legislation that requires greater energy efficiency in newbuilds. Similar green building regulations need to be implemented in Northern Ireland.

We should also ensure that Government and the Assembly take the lead on a programme of renewable energy installations on the Government estate. The Northern Ireland Executive must walk the talk on renewable energy.

The SIB (Strategic Investment Board) is spending billions of pounds on buildings such as schools and other public facilities that will be around for the next 50 to 100 years. Now is the time to ensure that the SIB’s board includes experts and champions of sustainable development and low-carbon technologies, most notably those in the building sector.

The scale of the public sector in Northern Ireland is such that change exerts a massive influence on supply chains through staff and families in the region.

Significant opportunities exist for Northern Ireland to champion the UK’s sustainable procurement prog­ramme in the public sector and to act as a location for experimentation.

The implementation plan for our local sustainable development strategy requires integration, regular monitoring, and clear targets across Government as a whole. Climate change is a key theme throughout the UK and Northern Ireland sustainable development strategies, and tackling it provides a practical way in which to make sustainable development real.

Although Government must take a lead on sustainable development and tackling climate change, they cannot do everything. The business and the community and voluntary sectors have an important role to play. For example, the Government and the voluntary sectors have a partnership role to fulfil in advising local councils and Government bodies on the implementation of sustainable development programmes.

In conclusion, the Green Party calls for the entire Executive to take ownership of the energy-security and climate-change agendas and of response mechanisms. It is a popular Green saying that we do not inherit the earth from our parents but borrow it from our children. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must move quickly if we are to provide clear leadership on sustainable development in Northern Ireland and make the transition to a low-carbon society.

Mr McGlone: I beg to move the following amend­ment: After “Europe”, insert

“; calls for the full implementation of ‘First Steps, the Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland’; and calls on the Executive to ensure that environmental commitments on sustainable development and tackling climate change are mainstreamed in the Programme for Government”.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank and pay tribute to Mr Wilson, both for tabling the motion and for his comprehensive contribution.

Climate change and the need to grow in a sustainable way are two of the most immediate global challenges that we face. The intention of the amendment, which I believe supports the motion, is to ensure that urgent action be taken to mainstream the principles of sustain­able development and the need to tackle climate change throughout Government. The best way in which to ensure that that happens is for all relevant Departments to have dedicated commitments in the Programme for Government. We should build on the good initiatives that we have in the North, such as the environment and renewable energy fund, in order to establish the North as a leader in green energy.

Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

That principle is at the core of the SDLP’s thinking and ideology. Sustainable development is a big idea that is underwritten by our biggest ambitions. It is a concept, the realisation of which will require from all people, at all levels, the most fundamental of social, economic, environmental and cultural shifts.

The challenge of sustainable development provides us with fundamental choices. We must choose between embracing the ideals of sustainable development and rejecting them; between respecting what we have, what we want and what we owe to others and refusing to meet our responsibilities; and between closing the gap between rich and poor and widening it further, which would destabilise this world and further disadvantage so many of its citizens. We must set about transforming sustainable development from being honourable in its intentions to tangible in its achievements.

The sustainable development strategy, ‘First Steps towards Sustainability’, was launched under direct rule in May 2006. It provides a way forward, but we have many questions to ask of it. What are the roles of the departmental sustainable development champions? How many times have they met? What achievements have there been? How close are the Government to meeting their targets? Are we educating our young people on sustainable development? How are the principles of sustainable development getting through to people on the ground? Effective implementation and leadership from Government are needed so that the principles of sustainable development can be enshrined in all aspects of Government policy-making and factored into the choices that we make daily.

The wider community must be engaged in order to ensure that local businesses, local government, the voluntary sector, and the public all play their part. Meaningful sustainable development actions and targets must be monitored and met. Cross-departmental working is required on all those issues. Government must take the lead in promoting sustainable development in all their strategies, but particularly in their transport and energy strategies. In fact, where better to mainstream sustainable development than in the Programme for Government?

As we see from media reports, evidence of man-made contributions to climate change is everywhere — the scientific evidence is overwhelming. Average worldwide temperatures have risen by more than 0·6°C in the past century. Around the North, sea levels are rising to the extent that they are now about 10 cm higher than they were in 1990.

If there is a failure to act, the consequences of climate change will be devastating locally and catastrophic globally. Sustainable development and combating climate change are not merely about meeting global commit­ments but about ensuring that a viable planet remains for future generations — a point that Mr Wilson made most articulately. Therefore, the Government must ensure that the concepts that I have outlined are deeply enshrined in policy-making, and the best way for that to be done is through the Programme for Government.

Alas, a LeasCheann Comhairle, we live way beyond our environmental means. I ask the House for its support. Moliam an leasú.

The Chairperson of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (Mr Kennedy): I am pleased to speak in a debate that provides a welcome opportunity to highlight the importance of sustainable development. In 2006, the Secretary of State published ‘A Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland: First Steps Towards Sustainability’ and ‘A Positive Step: Northern Ireland: A Sustainable Development Implementation Plan’. My Committee has an interest in the subject because, since the summer of 2006, the economic policy unit in OFMDFM has been responsible for taking the lead on the co-ordination of a cross-cutting policy on sustainable development.

To date, the Committee’s engagement with OFMDFM has focused on work to produce a set of sustainable development indicators. I will concentrate my remarks on those indicators, because the Executive will use them when they report publicly on progress towards sustainable development in Northern Ireland.

The Committee welcomes the proposal to produce a clear set of indicators that will enable actions to be monitored and information to be made widely available on how good, or not, progress is towards the targets. Many of the proposed indicators will facilitate a comparison with the indicators used to measure sustainable development in the UK. That will enable any progress to be benchmarked against that of the UK.

The wide range of indicators covers areas such as: community relations; economic well-being; the sustainability of rural communities; the amount of waste sent to landfill sites; water consumption; greenhouse gas emissions; air quality; and biodiversity. That holistic approach, which reflects the fact that sustainable development is about more than purely environmental issues and concerns, is appropriate and necessary. That is backed up by the fact that OFMDFM, rather than the Department of the Environment, now has responsibility to support the strategic oversight of the implementation of the strategy.

When the Committee examined the proposed indicators, it considered information on the Northern Ireland sustainable development position since 2001-02, and the picture is not good. Most indicators show either no improvement or a worsening of the position. Significant actions and improvement are required in order for Northern Ireland to become more sustainable. Some areas have improved: for example, the amount of municipal waste going to landfill sites has decreased by 10% since 2001; the recycling and composting of waste has more than doubled; and air quality is generally good, and it is improving.

In other areas, the picture is bleak. There has been little change in the use of different modes of transport. The Northern Ireland population’s heavy reliance on private cars for travel has clear implications for longer-term sustainability. The amount of fossil fuels being used to create energy has not changed much. Fewer rivers are of good biological quality now than in 2000. Although the population of common wild birds is increasing, many rare bird species are in decline.

Although some 35% of the population live in rural communities, rural residents — and particularly pensioners — often live in greater poverty and have to travel much further to avail of essential services such as dentists, doctors and clinics.

2.30 pm

Also of concern is the fact that although a percentage of the population is aware of the phrase “Reduce, reuse, recycle”, awareness of the concept of sustainable development and what individuals can do to make a difference is low. Although it is necessary to have in place strategies, action plans, indicators and monitoring arrangements, they are a means to an end — action is what is important.

My Committee will closely monitor OFMDFM’s performance on both the delivery of the action points for which it is responsible and its support for the overall implementation and communication of the sustainable development strategy. The other statutory Committees also have an important role to play with regard to their Departments, and we have written to them to encourage them to put monitoring arrangements in place. We broadly support the motion.

Mr Moutray: I support the motion and the amendment.

The global surface temperatures in 11 of the past 12 years have been among the warmest since the mid-1800s. Over the past 50 years, the rate of warming has been nearly twice that of the previous 100 years, and man bears a great responsibility for a proportion of that. There is far more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere nowadays. Carbon dioxide does not dissipate quickly; it remains in the atmosphere for about five decades. There is also more water. However, that is not the case everywhere. While there has been more precipitation in parts of North America, South America, northern Europe and elsewhere, places such as the Mediterranean and southern Africa have become drier.

The sea level is rising. Indeed, geological observations suggest that the rise in the sea level over the past 2,000 years was less than that occurring at present. If the sea level continues to rise at the current rate, places such as the Maldives, 99% of which is 1·5 m above sea level, will disappear. Glaciers are melting, and the Arctic is warming. More and more animal species face the threat of extinction. Those facts cannot be ignored.

The reason why man-made greenhouse effects are such a problem is that, in the long term, the earth must remove energy at the same rate that it receives energy from the sun. A thicker blanket of greenhouse gases serves to reduce the earth’s ability to do that, which results in a warming of the climate. The ramifications are stark, and among them are the long-term risk of higher temperatures and a warmer atmosphere retaining more water, resulting in heavier rain, higher winds and less drinking water. Higher temperatures will also mean that disease-carrying insects will have a much wider distribution area, as the recent bluetongue scare demonstrated.

I know that other Members will want to mention other relevant facts about this matter, so I will move on to sustainability. Sustainable development has been described as development that is designed to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Future vulner­ability depends not only on climate change, but on the type of development that is pursued. Sustainable development can reduce the world’s vulnerability. However, if we are to improve seasonal climate forecasts, food security, freshwater supplies and famine alerts, early action is necessary — not talk, resolutions and good intentions. To delay is to put us all at further risk.

Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the debate, and I thank Brian Wilson for bringing the motion to the House. I support the motion and the amendment.

Sinn Féin recognises that sustainable development represents social progress for everyone, high stable levels of economic growth and employment, effective protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources. To achieve that end, we must also be mindful of the need to conserve biological diversity, and such diversity must be fully integrated into our policy-making.

Climate change must remain at the top of the political agenda. As it is a key theme throughout the sustainable development strategy, there is a clear need for climate change targets to be broken down for Departments and public authorities in such a way that they are left in no doubt as to their roles and responsibilities. In addition, monitoring and assessment will be vital if we are to ensure that Departments and public authorities take sustainable development seriously and that the targets that have been set out are met. Sustainable development should be a cross-cutting theme in the Programme for Government.

My party believes that the Executive should develop a separate Bill that sets statutory targets informed by Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment research. The Bill should include a mechanism for reporting to the Executive and the Assembly. Furthermore, the Department of the Environment should be encouraged to explore the development of an all-Ireland approach to climate change. Sinn Féin believes in the setting of carbon-reduction targets. However, those targets should await the results of, and be informed by, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s research.

Although carbon emissions have been decreasing elsewhere, they have been increasing here. We need to understand why that has happened and how we can deal with those increases. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment must break the link between economic development and greenhouse gas emissions, and fulfil its commitment to meet that challenge.

The stated aim of the sustainable development strategy is to establish a set of overarching indicators against which socio-economic and environmental progress can be measured. If we are to make real progress in measuring sustainable development, the strategy must include indicators for employment, workless households, child poverty, pensioner poverty, education, health, inequality and social justice. It is clear, therefore, that sustainable development is not only a green issue but is much broader than that. Social development also plays a large part in assisting sustainable development.

Our current way of life is simply not sustainable, and if we do not address the problem now, the well-being and quality of life of the next generation will suffer greatly. The sooner that we wake up to that reality, the better. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

Mr Shannon: Global warming is a fact — that is our starting point. The oft-heard joke about the weather in Northern Ireland is that we could do with some global warming, but the issue affects Northern Ireland as much as it does any other place.

Mention was made across the Chamber about the rising sea level. I heard a figure of 9 cm being mentioned, but my information is that it is closer to 10 cm, and continuously rising. I am lucky in that I live on a hill at the edge of Strangford Lough. I am not building a boat, nor do I own one.

In 2005, nine days in December were hotter than any day in the preceding summer. Indeed, we witnessed more changes this summer. There are other seemingly inexplicable events that are all too easily explained. The fact that we do not have scorching weather all the time does not mean that we will not feel the effects of global warming or, more importantly, that we are not adding to the problem.

That is not new information to the Assembly. None here will be shocked by the statistics. We already have strategies in place to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to help us begin to rely on renewable energies. A mere 3% of the energy that is used in the Province comes from renewable energy sources. That must increase to 40%, and we have in place the beginnings of works to see that target realised. Northern Ireland has the strongest potential for wind power in the whole of Europe. Although we have begun to explore wind power as a source of energy, we are nowhere near where we could be with it.

Mr S Wilson: Will the Member give way?

Mr Shannon: I am loath to give way to my colleague, because I suspect that he is full of mischief.

Ther er kumpanies whau er makin tha yuis o’ tha available power an hae taking steps in makin guid cleen energy. Yin example o’ sic aa’ firm is Airtricity, whau yuis wun-terbine farms tae mak energy. I signed up the Airtricity maesel fer my constituency oafish in an effirt tae dae whut aa’ cud tae help those kumpanies whau er bein environmentally freenly in helping Norlin Airlan. An in tha en aa’ hae been tha yin tae benefit – as aa’ hae lectic licht an heet whuch is faur cheaper than tha bills aa’ paid oot afore. Followin oan helping oot no only Norlin Airlan environmentally but savin mony as weel.

Companies such as Airtricity, which uses wind-turbine farms, are currently making use of the available renewable power and taking strides in producing environmentally clean energy. I signed up to Airtricity in my constituency office in an attempt to support companies that help the environment in Northern Ireland. In the end, I have benefited, because the electricity supplied to me is cheaper than the bills that I paid before. I am helping Northern Ireland on the environmental stage and saving money, which may have something to do with the Ulster Scot in me.

Farms in Fermanagh are doing an exemplary job in service provision, and the relevant authorities should do all that they can to grant planning permission to businesses in locations that can provide energy from wind turbines. I know that that desire is shared by my colleague Arlene Foster.

Although we must increase our renewable energy output to 40%, it does not all have to be done by wind turbines. My fair constituency of Strangford is at the cutting edge of new technology, while appreciating and making the most of the beauty of Strangford Lough. I am sure that Members are aware of the fact that the world’s largest tidal-current generator is currently being tested in Strangford Lough and that it will have the capacity to generate 1·2 megawatts of energy, which will supply over 1,000 homes with sustainable energy and make the most of our natural capabilities. The test will be carried out for five years and will establish the benefit of the generators, which are submerged some 3 m under the lough and a cable will then run from the generator to a substation.

We are all trying to play our part in electricity provision and are aware of the television advertisement that encourages us to reduce, reuse and recycle. Brown and blue bins abound — over 30,000 of them were issued recently in Newtownards. Children are taught about recycling in schools and in Tesco and other major supermarkets, customers are reminded to reuse plastic bags. The message is reinforced at every turn. It is the duty of the Assembly and departmental heads to ensure that the drive is strengthened and that each Department plays its full part in turning all the plans that have been laid before us into actions.

As always, Northern Ireland has the ability to shine, and it is up to the Assembly to ensure that we shine in this age so that generations to come can enjoy the beauties of the nation in the way that we can today, untainted by global warming and destructive climate changes. I support the motion and, I suspect, the amendment.

Mr W Clarke: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I also welcome the debate, and I thank the Member for tabling the motion.

One of the main aspects of combating climate change is the creation of sustainable energy. If we are serious about tackling global warming and climate change, we must consider ways of developing renewable energy sources in Ireland. A key to that is the harnessing of clean, green energy that has the potential to provide a safe and affordable alternative to nuclear energy and inefficient coal-fired power stations. The Kyoto protocol commits the developed world to begin action to combat climate change, and industrialised countries have agreed legally binding targets to reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions.

Biofuels and wind farms can go a long way towards helping Ireland to meet its carbon dioxide reduction targets. The Executive must consider future investment into hydrogen technology. The fact that the Six Counties is currently partitioned from the South of Ireland is something that the Executive must consider seriously when attempting to address the issues of sustainable development. The situation can create difficulties and present opportunities. We must examine sustainability issues on an all-Ireland basis. We must work with our colleagues in the South’s Environmental Protection Agency to develop an all-island ecological footprint. For example, large companies are currently exempt from complying with EU regulations on carbon emissions. The introduction of legislation, such as a carbon tax, would go some way to regulating companies that pollute the atmosphere.

Government policies in the North seem to promote an increase in the use of incinerators as an alternative to landfills. That approach is neither sustainable nor eco-friendly. We must consider ways of funding the establishment of an all-Ireland waste-management strategy, including an island-wide drive to research and establish markets for reclaimed materials. In order to benefit from economies of scale, while at the same time pursuing our sustainable development objectives, we have to put in place a co-ordinated approach with our counterparts in the South of Ireland. That is particularly true of environmental protection, where issues such as river basin management, air quality, waste and biodiversity do not stop at the border. There is already a good deal of liaison and co-operation in those areas.

Departments, public bodies, district councils, business and the public must all contribute to progress through leadership, product design, exercising their purchasing power to reduce waste generation and developing sustainable markets for their products.

There is no point in taking all our recycled material across the world as it defeats the purpose and the desire of the public to reduce our carbon footprint. The develop­ment of new technologies such as gasification and pyrolosis systems, both of which have proven success rates throughout Europe, must now be seriously considered as an alternative way of harnessing our natural resources. Sustainable development is a concept which, because of its wide-ranging and cross-cutting nature, is difficult to define, and even harder to put into practice.

2.45 pm

The most widely known international definition of sustainable development is development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In principle, that involves safeguarding existing resources and using them to enhance the long-term management and investment in human, social and environmental resources in a sustainable way. I reiterate the obvious but important point that pollution does not recognise political borders. Environmental problems cannot be partitioned, so it makes no sense to partition our responses to them. One of the guiding principles of sustainable development is to ensure a strong, healthy and just society. Moving to a sustainable economy will help us to drive forward the social progress needed to reduce deprivation and inequality and to improve the quality of life for everyone while protecting the environment and its resources.

Mr Wells: This is perhaps one of the most important debates that the Assembly will have, yet the turnout is poor. As one would expect, the usual zealots are here. The Deputy First Minister is with us because he has been compelled to be here. There is the odd philistine here too, but, apart from that, who else has turned up?

It is a poor reflection on the importance that the Assembly places on such an issue. Brian Wilson has proposed a motion on sustainable development and climate change, yet few Members are willing to participate in the debate.

If everyone in the world were to use resources at the rate that we in Northern Ireland use them, we would need four planets to sustain ourselves. That is the stark reality. We are using resources in this part of the United Kingdom at a phenomenal rate. Willie Clarke can blame many things for global warming, but I do not think that he can blame partition — that is going a little too far.

Northern Ireland has a greater environmental footprint than many west African countries. We have a smaller population, but we are using energy at a phenomenal rate. Energy use and private transport use in Northern Ireland are rising rapidly. We love our cars. We do not want to drive to the shops — we want to drive into the shops. Unfortunately, the Province’s record on sustain­ability is not good: we pay lip-service to it. We are almost like the gentleman who drives to the recycling centre in his 4x4 vehicle. We like to pay lip-service to sustainability, and when difficult decisions are being made, we are not at the top of the league. We must take urgent steps to reduce our use of the world’s resources.

The Stern Report states that if we take steps now, in the long term, it will be the equivalent of reducing our GDP by 1%. That is a cost that we all could, and should, pay. I am happy to pay that cost: I am happy to reduce my living standard by 1% and I think that Members would be happy to do that. I do not think that that is much of a burden to pay.

If we are serious about sustainability, we, as an Assembly and as an Executive, must take some difficult decisions. Sustainability must be our top priority. Therefore, when difficult issues come before the Assembly and contradict that priority, we will have to bite the bullet and accept some sacrifices. It is unfort­unate that the Member for Mid Ulster Mr McGlone is absent, because I take issue with a matter that he raised. He pays lip-service to sustainability, yet he is leading the campaign to bring down PPS14.

I seldom quote from a foreign country, but it has been calculated in the Irish Republic that single dwellings in the countryside generate an additional 12 million miles of needless travel per annum. If that figure were extra­polated to Northern Ireland, about two million extra miles of travel would be generated needlessly because of the proliferation of single dwellings in the countryside. How on earth could anyone who believes in sustainable development say that the answer to our problems is to have thousands more single dwellings in the countryside, with septic-tank problems, the utilisation of resources and the additional mileage all causing increases in greenhouse-gas emission.

Similarly, over the next few years, Members will probably be demanding new super four-lane bypasses around their towns, or a road similar to the Westlink running through their cities. If the choice is between building another Westlink and having greater investment in public transport, we will have to take the unpopular decision to put those resources into public transport.

We have to put our own house in order. The carbon footprint of this Building is enormous; it is one of the most energy-inefficient buildings in the United Kingdom. What is the Assembly doing to address that? Very little. We must not play lip-service to energy efficiency; instead we must take the difficult decisions. The only way that that can be done is as a united Assembly, so that when the flak comes — as it undoubtedly will — it will be aimed at all of us. Members cannot pick and choose what aspects of the environment they want to protect and what aspects of sustainability are acceptable. I will give way to the honourable Member.

Mr S Wilson: I did not ask the Member to give way. [Laughter.]

Mr Wells: I am sorry. I was shocked that I had managed to speak for four and a half minutes — on an issue that the honourable Member for East Antrim considers absolute heresy — without his intervening. I was also looking forward to the extra minute of speaking time, which I will not now have.

Mr McCallister: It is great to see such unity in the DUP. Poor old Sammy Wilson is not on message — he did not intervene during Mr Wells’s speech. I am very fortunate — [Interruption.]

Would Mr Wilson like me to give way?

Mr S Wilson: Yes, but I will wait until the Member says something. [Laughter.]

Mr McCallister: I thought that the Member was getting in early.

I, like the previous two Members who contributed, am fortunate to represent the most beautiful part of Northern Ireland, the constituency of South Down. The reliance on the natural environment in South Down is more than a slogan — it is an economic reality. That illustrates why sustainable development cannot be a luxury, because without it our economic future will be harmed.

I take issue with Mr Clarke’s comments; he used the usual Sinn Féin rhetoric about all-Ireland solutions. The issue is much bigger than that — it is about Northern Ireland playing its role in partnership with the rest of the UK and Europe. As Mr Wells mentioned, quite rightly, it is vital that we play our part and take those tough decisions that will not always be palatable.

Sustainable development concerns, perhaps chiefly, our responsibilities and obligations. All of us have a responsibility to maintain our beautiful landscape, economic resources and diverse natural environment for future generations.

Climate change poses the defining political challenge of our generation. The decisions that the Assembly takes will have fundamental consequences for the next generation. As the Stern Review indicates, the economic consequences of continued climate change are incredibly sobering.

The Stern Review states that the economic opportunities created by an appropriate response to climate change are also significant. The business community has already indicated that it is keen to harness the power of enterprise and the market to deliver a green economy. Working in partnership with the business community to that end should form the centrepiece of the Executive’s approach to sustainable development and climate change.

Addressing the issue of climate change presents huge opportunities through agrienvironment schemes — the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute at Hillsborough is doing good work on the issue of renewable energy. Therefore, there are opportunities for the Executive and the Assembly to grasp. Mr Shannon mentioned the tidal project at Strangford Lough. Also important are wind energy and willow biomass, and we can start to use the many other biofuels that can develop and, occasionally, flourish in Northern Ireland’s climate. That will create opportunities for the agricultural sector, as well as develop science and technologies to take us forward.

Climate change is an important issue. I agree with Mr Wells that it is sad that there is such a poor turnout for a debate on one of the biggest issues that the Executive and Assembly will face.

I thank Mr Wilson for proposing the motion, which I support.

Mr Spratt: I thank the honourable Member for North Down Mr Wilson for proposing the motion. I am sure that Members agree that sustainable development and climate change are two of the biggest challenges facing the Assembly. As we seek to meet the needs of Northern Ireland in 2007, we must, at all times, remember that our actions now determine how sustainable development and climate change will be dealt with in 2070, and beyond. Critical to that is the protection and management of the environment. The environment is a vital resource, and it impacts on all aspects of life. The economy is also vital. For Northern Ireland to prosper, therefore, it is important to formulate a joined-up strategy in which the environment and the economy can be nurtured in a way that protects them to the benefit of everyone.

If I were to quote the mass of available statistics on our negative impact on the environment, I would well exceed the five-minute time limit. The effect of green­house gases, our changing climate and massive levels of waste are a few of the issues that threaten our sustainable development. However, there are many reasons to be encouraged by the progress that has been made in recent years. Businesses in Northern Ireland are increasingly implementing programmes through which they will reduce their impact on the environment and better manage their waste. Those companies find that they do not suffer financially by implementing those programmes.

More can be done, and as demand for energy increases, we must look at how our energy is produced to see whether our indigenous renewable resources are being utilised. It is pleasing that we, as representatives of Northern Ireland, can boast that Northern Ireland is at the cutting edge of developing renewable technology, and examples have been mentioned. Such initiatives as the technical advisory unit, which can assess the energy that is used and waste that is produced by businesses, are welcome, as is the green technology initiative. We must encourage the take-up of such initiatives as they can be of help to the financial well-being of those involved.

As we strive to make the Northern Ireland economy competitive on a global scale, we must ensure that, as its economy grows, it is environmentally sustainable. There will be occasions when there will be direct conflict between the environment and important economic decisions that will be vital to our economic development. Sometimes, there will be tough but necessary decisions to be made that may well put environmental issues secondary to matters relating to the competitiveness of Northern Ireland’s economy. The Assembly must acknowledge that that will be the case, and, in some instances, Members must make hard decisions.

The House should unanimously endorse the motion. The economy and the environment are inextricably linked, and as we move to make our economy prosper, climate change should be in the forefront of Members’ minds to ensure sustainable development for many generations. I support the motion and the amendment.

Mr S Wilson: In the three previous debates in which I have attempted to speak — during which, unionists have been in the Chair — I have not been called. Therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must thank you for calling me. I want to break a wee bit of the cosy consensus that has arisen in the House today. I suppose that some of the greens will be seeing red by the time that I have finished.

There have been some assumptions made during the debate. For example, it has been said that the scientists who say that we are heading towards irreversible and disastrous global warming are to be believed.

There is a significant body of scientific opinion that states the opposite. That has not been mentioned.

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When I was at school, I won a prize for writing an essay on the horrors of global cooling and the impending ice age. The scientists of that time told us that the same gases that are now being blamed for heating up the earth were going to cool it, because the heat of the sun could not penetrate them. We are now being told that heat cannot escape. There has been a complete turnaround in 40 years. There is an assumption that only one set of scientists is right, even though there are others who are not in agreement with them.

The second assumption is —

Mr Ford: I presume that the Member will be able to show the House a detailed, peer-reviewed paper in a respected scientific journal that validates the point he has just made, since he is so certain.

Mr S Wilson: If I had more than 10 minutes, I would bore Members stiff with scientific evidence, but I want to get to the contradictions that I have heard in the House, which are more important.

Secondly, we are told that there is global warming, and that a catastrophe is about to happen, but the figures for the last 100 years show temperatures have risen by about 0·5°C. That is completely in keeping with the cycles that have been recorded in the past. It must not be forgotten that, 600 years ago, grapes were grown in the north of Scotland because the climate was so warm, and 200 years ago, people were able to skate on the river Thames in the winter because it was so cold.

We have been told today that people will have to totally change their lifestyles; that all kinds of taxes will have to be imposed on the public; that house building will have to change to make homes more eco-friendly, which builders reckon will add £40,000 to the price; that our whole investment pattern will have to change, as will the way in which we produce goods; and, as Mr Wells said, that world GDP will have to reduce by 1%, according to the Stern Review. On the other hand, some countries will have to be compensated, while others will have to make a much bigger contribution. Therefore, those figures are slightly misleading in respect of the impact on the developed world.

Let us quickly look at the contradictions, one of which I mentioned to Brian Wilson. On one hand, the environmentalists tell us to use more environmentally friendly ways of producing energy; on the other, it is feared that if we use wind power, seals or fish may get sucked into the turbines. When windmills are discussed, one opposition is that birds could be cut to pieces, and that, because they have to be on prominent sites, there is also a negative visual impact. As well as that, because wind power cannot be stored, it has to be backed up by expensive power stations fuelled by coal, oil, gas or nuclear power, because wind cannot be guaranteed when consumption is at its height.

Mr McGlone talked about sustainable development and how we should build houses in a way that would use the least energy for transport and infrastructure, but he supports people who want to build houses in the middle of the countryside. Not so long ago, the Assembly supported calls for affordable housing, but today a policy is being called for that will add £40,000 to the price of a house. Those are the type of contradictions that have been heard during today’s debate, and in various other debates too.

There are simple things that can be done, and of course we should seek alternative sources of energy. We should not be dependent on high-risk and politically unstable areas, so alternatives must be sought. However, if we were to discuss nuclear power as an alternative method of producing power, I imagine that the proposer of the motion would be bouncing down the aisles of the House at the very thought. Nevertheless, that is one way of having energy diversity. I wonder whether the Assembly will consider it.

Mr Savage: I support the motion and the amendment. During the past 20 years, there has been a growing realisation that the current model of development is unsustainable. We are increasing the burden on our planet through lifestyle choices. The level of stress on resources and environmental systems such as water, land and air cannot be maintained, and, therefore, a process of sustainable development is required. A widely used and accepted international definition of sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We must be mindful of the generation coming after us.

In 2006, the then Secretary of State, Peter Hain, launched ‘A Sustainable Development Strategy: First Steps Towards Sustainability’, and the need for that report is evident today. The targets set out in the strategy could be achieved by encouraging and supporting the development of new industry, and renewable and alternative sustainable energy technologies. Targets could also be achieved by supporting projects to facilitate research into renewable energy technology. The Government were expected to develop their long-term approach to renewables continually and to ensure that the technology was available to encourage confidence and promote investment and innovation in cutting-edge sustainable energy technology.

My party believes that looking after our environment requires robust initiatives and policies. Good stewardship of the rural environment needs a partnership among the Executive, the Assembly, local government, local communities, and the business and agriculture sectors — a partnership in which commitment to a clean and healthy environment contributes to our quality of life.

Northern Ireland has a responsibility to work with the rest of the United Kingdom to address the environmental challenges that face our generation. The pressing and urgent challenge of climate change does, of course, require international initiatives. However, it also needs local action. Stewardship of Northern Ireland’s environ­ment is the responsibility of us all, and protecting our environment will secure opportunity and well-being for everyone.

It has been claimed that Northern Ireland has experienced some of the effects of global warming. Evidence for such a claim includes the fact that nine of the 15 warmest years recorded since 1841 have occurred since 1990. In 2005, for instance, nine days in December were hotter than in the preceding summer. The average sea level is now about 10 cm higher than it was in 1900, and over 40,000 properties are currently at risk of river flooding.

The 2006 Stern Review outlined a number of conclusions on climate change. It claimed that if immediate action were taken there would still be time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It argued that, through analysis of the research, one simple conclusion could be reached:

“the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.”

The review estimated that the cost of ignoring the problems posed by climate change was significant; indeed, it would be the equivalent of losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and for ever. If a wider range of risks and impacts were considered, the estimates of damage could rise to more than 20% of GDP.

Sustainable development has wide-reaching effects. The time has come for the Assembly to give a lead in how we should proceed.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr M McGuinness): Thank you, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I have listened with great interest to what has been a varied debate. I assure the Member for South Down Mr Wells that I do not feel that I am a Minister compelled to be here to respond to the debate. I have a tremendous interest in this issue.

Aside from being “compelled” to come here, it was worth coming along just to hear Sammy Wilson in full voice. I have a friend from the Creggan Estate called “Knocker” Tierney. Following Sammy’s defence of nuclear power, it would be apt to name him “Nuker” Wilson.

The points raised during the debate have highlighted how sustainable development impacts on a wide range of areas relevant to Government. Brian Wilson has done us a service by tabling the motion. The content of the motion, and some of those points raised, cover areas that are within the remits of individual Ministers. The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has the lead responsibility for sustainable development, and it is for that reason that I am responding to the motion. However, I am not in a position to give detailed responses to specific points relating to areas that are the responsibility of other Ministers. Therefore, I will confine my remarks to matters of a strategic or Executive nature.

The sustainability agenda attracts greater interest, at all levels of society, on an almost daily basis. Climate change has become a global concern and features predominately in the media. People here are fortunate to live in such a magnificent and varied environment, with a wealth of species and habitats. I am sure that Members would take issue with John McCallister’s claim that south Down is more beautiful than the Sperrins, North Antrim, the lakes of Fermanagh or the walls of Derry. They are all significant assets, which help to define us and drive local economies by creating tourism and jobs. However, we cannot take all that for granted.

As in other parts of these islands, as Daithí McKay rightly said, we are losing biodiversity, which must be protected for our enjoyment and because of its importance to our way of life. That loss is one outward sign of the sometimes irreversible damage that we are causing.

The recognition that there is only one planet on which we rely for all our needs and that we are living beyond its capacity to provide for those needs is fundamental to sustainable development. However, sustainable development is about much more than the environment. The consequences and costs of living in an unsustainable fashion are interconnected and straddle the economy, society, and the environment, and this debate recognises that fact.

In this small region, we cannot solve global problems, but we can do something to help by reducing the use of traditional and polluting fossil fuels, seizing the oppor­tunity to promote renewable and cleaner sources of energy and through the development of exportable and innovative technology.

The problems with waste and the need for greater resource efficiency mean that we must consider what we are consuming. Modern lifestyles have led increasingly to ours becoming a throw-away society in which, having invested so much to create new products, almost 70% of household waste is still being sent to landfill. In the long term, individuals must change their behaviour, and people must embrace sustainable living as a way of life. Demonstrating that by our actions and through the educators and the education system has huge potential to influence young people, and we must consider how to do that to the maximum effect.

The sustainable development agenda will affect all children and young people, and the Executive recognises that the education of those people — the business and political leaders of tomorrow — will be an important way to promote it. Sustainable development has been embedded firmly in the revised school curriculum as a key theme to be developed throughout primary and post-primary levels.

Pupils will explore issues such as environmental and climate change and the need to manage the impact of humans on the environment. They will come to understand the interdependence of society, the economy and the environment; to develop respect for the needs of present and future generations, and to act towards promoting an improved environment.

The revised curriculum also places greater emphasis on preparing children better for future employment. The new topic of learning for life and work will equip them with the knowledge and skills to become the entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow. There is also a greater emphasis on developing the skills that young people will need for the workplace, such as problem solving and creativity.

Progress has already been made in specific areas such as improving waste-management, where there has been significant investment in district-council civic-amenity sites for the collection and recycling of municipal waste, with the introduction of separate wheelie bins for different waste streams and kerb-side collections, all of which has led an increase in household waste-recycling from 5% in 1999 to 19% in 2005.

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Another example is the increase in the percentage of electricity that is derived from renewable sources. Since 2001–02, that has increased by 4·3%, and it now stands at 5·8%. That is a good start, but we need to go further.

Air pollution is decreasing. There has been a long-term reduction in the average number of air-pollution days; they reached an all-time low of only three days in 2006. That decrease is largely due to a reduction of particles and sulphur dioxide in the air. However, there has also been a long-term decline in nitrogen dioxide concentrations in urban areas since the early 1990s.

Sustainable development is built on the three pillars of economic growth, social progress and environmental protection. Each pillar is integrally linked to the others, and the effective pursuit of sustainable development requires a balanced approach that integrates all three components. That approach lies at the heart of Govern­ment’s thinking on sustainable development and of their response to some of the elements of the challenging agenda.

Sustainable development is a global movement. Governments have been gradually moving the issue to centre stage for some time. The EU has set out its stall, and all member states were required to have a sustainable development strategy in place by June 2007.

Globally, the G8 group has become increasingly engaged — notably through the Kyoto protocol — with climate change, which is a major symptom of unsus­tainable living. As Jimmy Spratt argued correctly, climate change has emerged as a huge global challenge that has national and local implications, as evidenced by recent events. It is a challenge to which we must respond.

Although the Minister of the Environment has the lead responsibility for this important issue, it is clear that all Ministers must play their part. The Executive recently approved the extension of the Climate Change Bill to the North. A legislative consent motion will be brought before the Assembly to seek its consent to the Bill’s extension after it is introduced in Westminster in November. Committing to that Bill will demonstrate that the Assembly is willing to play its part in tackling this global issue.

We must be in a position to assess better the trends in our emissions if we are to introduce specific CO2 targets for here. We also need to understand more fully the relationship between the Government’s economic competitiveness objectives and how they relate to emissions reductions. To that end, two pieces of research on those matters have been commissioned. Those are expected to be available in March 2008, when we can review the position again.

Following a recommendation in the Scotland and NI Forum for Environmental Research report, the NI Climate Change Impacts Partnership has been established to widen the understanding and knowledge of the impacts of climate change and the actions that are necessary to deal with it. The partnership consists of representatives from central and local government, the business community, the voluntary sector, and professional organisations.

As Daithí McKay argued, greenhouse gas emissions are particularly concerning. The latest figures show that our greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions have decreased from 1990 levels by 6% and 4% respectively. Power stations and road transport remain the most significant emissions sources.

However, it is clear that the underlying message on emission levels varies considerably, given that last year’s publication of the figures from 1990 to 2004 showed an increase from 1990 levels. We recently commissioned research to help to inform a better understanding of emissions here, and that should be available next March.

The first sustainable development strategy was published before restoration by the Secretary of State in May 2006. Its objectives are to help to secure a thriving, sustainable economy and prosperity and quality of life for all, combined with the creation of a healthy environment that is so essential to the health and well-being of our people.

The sustainable development strategy was followed by the first implementation plan, which was published in November 2006. The plan sets out in detail the specific targets and actions that every Department must achieve by March 2008. Indeed, Patsy McGlone argued for that. The plan seeks to ensure that the principles of sustainable development underpin all Departments’ policy, operational and business processes.

The Executive recognise that they have the oppor­tunity to influence a sustainable development agenda directly through their decisions and policies. We are currently in the process of developing our first Programme for Government. In relation to Patsy McGlone’s amendment, we are fully committed to the overall principles of the sustainable development strategy.

The Executive want to ensure that the environmental commitments on sustainable development and tackling climate change are taken into account in the Programme for Government. In developing a further implementation plan to cover the period 2008-11, we will carefully review the targets in the sustainable development strategy in order to ensure that they are still appropriate.

The Executive hope to publish the Budget, the investment strategy and the Programme for Government later in the autumn. In the Programme for Government we will be setting out, for the first time, the Executive’s priorities, and the Budget will provide details of the spending allocations to those priorities. We will also be publishing our public service agreements, which will set out the high-level objectives and targets that the Executive are seeking to achieve.

The Executive are working on a draft Programme for Government. As part of that work, we will consider how best sustainable development can be incorporated and how it can underpin all our activities. It is our intention to ensure that sustainable development is taken fully into account when we develop our policies.

I mentioned earlier that the implementation plan covers the period up to the end of March 2008. As I said, we intend to bring forward a new implementation plan, which will be aligned with the Budget years and cover 2008-11. The first implementation plan concen­trated mainly on the actions of the various Departments. However, we recognise that Government alone cannot deliver the sustainable development agenda without the participation and involvement of other organisations and individuals. Therefore, it is our intention to widen the focus of the next plan to embrace other sectors.

Both the published strategy and the plan owe much to the ideas, contributions and involvement of the stakeholder group. The Executive want to continue to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of stake­holders, and we are considering how that can be best secured in the future.

The Strategic Investment Board, as a Government-owned company, has been working to embed sustainable development principles in its approach to the investment strategy and the individual projects that it contains — Brian Wilson referred to that in his contribution.

The Executive are fully committed to the principles of sustainable development, and we need to ensure that those principles underpin all our decision-making processes and become embedded in the day-to-day business of Government. We recognise that society needs to embrace sustainable living now to avoid an adverse impact on present and future generations.

The Executive are also conscious that there is a need to balance economic development with sustain­ability. We recognise the importance of achieving sustained economic growth — we will seek to do that in a balanced way, taking into account the long-term social and environmental consequences of our decision-making. We do not underestimate the challenges presented by this issue. Economic growth, social development, eradicating poverty and inequality, and reducing the environmental impact of society are not mutually exclusive policy goals.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is undertaking a project to investigate the business opportunities and challenges presented by carbon emission targets. The Department will also examine the appropriate policy response to adopt to ensure that businesses contribute to emission reductions and can fully capitalise on the opportunities presented by the emerging green economy.

A key target of the sustainable development imple­mentation plan is to reduce the productivity gap between here and the rest of these islands. One of the main areas of action relates to innovation. The research facilities in the universities also have a major role to play in supporting the innovation agenda and can address many aspects of sustainable development.

The green economy is an emerging issue, and one which the Executive do not intend to overlook. Economic activities related to the environment have the potential to contribute £573 million to the economy here and to support 32,750 full-time-equivalent jobs.

Danny Kennedy highlighted the importance of agreeing indicators so that we can measure progress towards sustainable development. The Executive plan to agree and publish, by the end of this year, a set of overarching indicators covering a range of key issues.

Willie Clarke argued for the need for an all-Ireland approach to this issue. The Executive’s approach is that, where mutually beneficial, we will sensibly work with the Irish Government on an all-island basis across a range of issues, including sustainable development.

As an Executive we need to play our part to minimise the impact of climate change —

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Minister’s time is up.

Mr A Maginness: This has been an interesting debate, from the zealot to the more bizarre contributions from the DUP Benches.

I look at Jim Shannon, not because his ideas are bizarre or because he is a zealot, but because he brings common sense to the debate. He summed up the situation most deftly in his assertion that global warming is now established as a scientific fact.

There is an old canard that says that weather is variable, has been for centuries and, indeed, since time began. However, the reality is that those variables are exacerbated by the way in which we use our environ­ment. To say that, since the weather changes, those changes would happen anyway, is incorrect. They would not.

That is why one welcomes the motion. Mr Brian Wilson’s motion highlights the need for us to commit ourselves to sustainable development. The Deputy First Minister has shown that the Executive and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are committed to that. The amendment was tabled simply to strengthen Mr Wilson’s motion. It puts the commitment to sustainable development into the mainstream of the Programme for Government. That is important, and I am glad that the Deputy First Minister is here to ensure that the message is relayed to the Executive and that action on this issue is mainstreamed. Throughout the debate, many Members have recognised and supported the need for such action to be prioritised.

The SDLP fully supports Mr Brian Wilson’s motion, and he has done the Assembly a great service by greening all our politics, even on the DUP Benches — perhaps more so on the DUP Benches than in other parties — apart from the hapless Sammy Wilson. Having heard his comments, I felt that I should invite him to join the Flat Earth Society. I am sure that it would welcome him with open arms.

Sammy Wilson argued, in futile fashion, that there is little need to do anything in the present circumstances, but anyone with a titter of wit knows that we have to build for the future. We have to preserve our environment for our children and give them an inheritance of worth.

However, all of us contradict what we try to do. We drive the wrong cars; we do the wrong things.

Mr Wells: The Member is seated beside the biggest contradiction of all — the Member with whom he proposed the amendment. I speak of the Member to his right, not to his left. Mr McGlone claims to protect the countryside and the environment, yet he leads the campaign to concrete over the countryside with tens of thousands of concrete monstrosities, in the form of bungalows.

Mr A Maginness: I take it that the Member refers to Mr McGlone, rather than to Mr Ford.

Mr McGlone’s opposition to PPS 14 is reflected in the almost universal opposition to that measure that prevails throughout the House. Members oppose it because of the way that it was introduced and the way that it ineptly tackles the problem of unrestricted development in the countryside. Mr McGlone, my colleagues and other Members do not support unrest­ricted development, but they are opposed to the inept manner in which the direct rule Minister introduced proposals that, overnight, inflated land prices and deprived young people and others of the opportunity to buy affordable homes in rural areas.

There is a need for a new policy that includes reasonable restrictions. I will not go into that matter because my time is nearly up.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member’s time is up.

Mr A Maginness: Am I allowed another minute for the intervention?

Mr Deputy Speaker: You have used it. [Laughter.]

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Mr Ford: It is difficult to respond to a debate on which there is complete unanimity in the Chamber — with the exception of the East Antrim joker. It is a pleasure to have that measure of agreement, but perhaps I will manage to introduce a bit of controversy as I continue.

In proposing the motion, Brian Wilson highlighted the three challenges with which we are faced: the environmental, economic and energy-security challenges. Those points were taken up in various ways by other Members.

Early in the debate, Stephen Moutray stated the facts about climate change, for the benefit of those who had not heard them. It was notable that Jimmy Spratt was one of the few people who took up the issue of energy security, which comprises the second half of the motion. Although Mr McAllister linked the economy to the environment, let us be clear that South Down is not the most beautiful constituency in Northern Ireland, but one of the 18 most beautiful.

Mr McCarthy: Strangford.

Mr McNarry: That is right.

Mr Donaldson: We could hold a debate on that.

Mr Ford: That response highlights the quality of the environment across the whole of Northern Ireland, which we must protect. The responsibility for that lies at various levels. The Deputy First Minister highlighted the responsibilities that lie with Europe, the sovereign Governments, the Executive, and local district councils. However, as George Savage pointed out, we must ensure that responsibility for sustainability is carried out in partnership across society, particularly among statutory bodies and the voluntary sector. Much of the expertise that we need lies with certain major NGOs. The grass-roots presence of many local community bodies who work on sustainability also contributes to improving the situation for everyone.

On one level, the problem is that people are over­whelmed by the evidence of the need for change, and feel that they can do little. However, it is clear that when the evidence for how change can be achieved is presented, and the indicators are clarified, as Danny Kennedy said, people will see that there is an opportunity to make worthwhile change.

For that reason, we need not only grand, broad-brush vision statements, but focused targets for various sectors of government and business, so that the global sustainability targets can be broken down into meaningful targets. Certain indicators that have been highlighted for energy, waste or biodiversity demonstrate the areas of responsibility in which individuals can and should take action.

Jim Wells remarked that Northern Ireland dwells in a three-planet economy; however, as an individual region, Northern Ireland is part of a four-planet economy — which shows how much needs to be done, despite the sceptical voices that have been raised.

The Deputy First Minister raised the key issue that we do not yet have full information on CO2 emissions. Much more monitoring and assessment must be done, and it is somewhat tragic that a report published by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister last year was named ‘First Steps towards Sustainability’. One would have thought that, by 2006, we would be further down than the line than taking first steps.

Having been so far behind, Northern Ireland has an enormous amount of catching up to do. A point that was made by Daithí McKay bears repeating: sustainability should be recognised as a key cross-cutting theme in every Department, as well as a primary responsibility for the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Every Department must accept and carry out its responsibilities on sustainable development, and those must feature in the Programme for Government.

The motion was put forward to give the House the opportunity to debate sustainable development and climate change; to make it clear that those issues must be dealt with urgently; and to urge the Executive to ensure that the Programme for Government takes action, rather than to pay lip-service to the issues or use a fig leaf to cover them.

The debate emphasised that there are clear potential benefits for the economy if action is taken; particularly, but not exclusively, in energy generation. I believe that that point was made by Jim Shannon during his contri­bution in English, and by Willie Clarke. Some Members believe that the Assembly must play its role as part of the United Kingdom — I notice that that applied to the Deputy First Minister when he referred to the Climate Change Bill — and others wish to see that action taken on an all-Ireland basis. At least, let the House accept that it must be done in both contexts. The Assembly has responsibility for Northern Ireland, but it can form partnerships, North and South and east and west. We should not play border politics with such issues: they affect all of us in different ways.

I want to comment on Alban Maginness’s winding-up speech on the amendment, and on the lone voice of scepticism from Sammy Wilson. Climate change is happening. No one denies that — not even the sceptics. Direct correlation between climate change and carbon dioxide production is a fact. There is also a clear correlation between global industrialisation and carbon dioxide production. If Sammy Wilson chooses to read the theories of a tiny minority of people who are not accepted by the reputable academic community, he should not bring such views into the Chamber and try to put them across as serious argument, rather than as cheap nonsense. He is good at doing so, and has excelled himself today.

As I said, there are huge opportunities for Northern Ireland, particularly in the renewable energy sector. The Deputy First Minister highlighted that, although progress has been made, 5% of energy must come from renewable sources. A vast amount of work must be done in order for that to be achieved. It is heartening that the Minister was able to report positive movement in several areas — work that is being done in education; improvements in waste recycling; renewable energy statistics; and reduction in air pollution — all of which are welcome.

The Deputy First Minister has given the Executive’s specific commitment to introducing a legislative motion on the Climate Change Bill and on Northern Ireland’s responsibilities in that regard. That is a key part of tackling the issues. Furthermore, he acknowledged that, for example, statistics on carbon dioxide emissions are not available. Clearly, a vast amount must still be done if people are to play their roles as citizens of the world; whether they regard themselves as citizens of the UK or of Ireland. In the context of sustainable development and climate change, everyone is a citizen of the world.

This week, a constituent of mine is doing a sponsored run around Lough Neagh for a Third-World charity. There is little point in someone taking such individual initiative to help those in greater need if our four-planet lifestyles contribute to the difficulties that those people encounter. The Assembly must ensure that action is taken on that.

I welcome the amendment standing in the names of Patsy McGlone and Alban Maginness. It amplifies and clarifies the original thrust of the motion. I trust that not only will there be wholehearted support for the motion and the amendment in the House, but that Members will accept their responsibilities as citizens, in the House and in the Committees, to ensure that the Deputy First Minister’s commitments are followed through. Members must ensure that the motion will not simply be one of many no-day-named motions that passes through the House and disappears into a hole, but that it will become a key theme for the Programme for Government and for the work that the Assembly must do in coming years.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this Assembly recognises sustainable development, in general, and climate change, in particular, as central to its consideration in all relevant areas of government, including opportunities to use local economic and technological innovation strategies to place Northern Ireland at the forefront of the emerging green economy in Europe; calls for the full implementation of ‘First Steps, the Sustainable Development Strategy for Northern Ireland’; and calls on the Executive to ensure that environmental commitments on sustainable development and tackling climate change are mainstreamed in the Programme for Government.

Policing in Northern Ireland

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow two hours for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members will have five minutes.

One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes for the winding-up speech.

Mr Donaldson: I beg to move

That this Assembly condemns the recent murder of Mr Harry Holland, and other crimes, including the assault and robbery of an elderly resident in Dromore; supports the call for a zero tolerance policy against crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets; and opposes any move by the Northern Ireland Office to cut the policing budget or reduce the number of officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity for the Assembly to debate the motion. I recognise, from the outset, that as a legislature and an Executive, we do not have the power to take decisions on policing and implement them — except for those of us who serve on the Northern Ireland Policing Board and who play a role in the oversight of policing and in holding the Chief Constable to account. I declare an interest, therefore, as a member of the Policing Board.

There is no doubt that, over the past few weeks and months, major progress has been made in Northern Ireland on support for the police and the rule of law. The Policing Board hears very positive reports from police commanders, from areas as diverse as south Armagh and west Belfast. Those police commanders say that they are enjoying unprecedented co-operation from the community in those areas, and that that co-operation is helping them in the fight against crime.

A few weeks ago, the first district policing partnership (DPP) meeting took place in Crossmaglen, south Armagh. That event was particularly poignant for me, because it was on 12 August 1970 that Northern Ireland’s Troubles first really came home to roost when my cousin, Samuel Donaldson, was murdered. He was the first RUC officer to lose his life in what became known as the Troubles. It is good to see that, today, in a place such as Crossmaglen — where Samuel and his colleague Constable Roy Millar were both done to death — that people are meeting the police, engaging with them, and tackling crime. That is important, and that is the kind of progress that we want to see as we move away from the division and violence of the past to what is, I hope, a better future.

There is an increased expectation, on the part of the public, that, where there is greater engagement with the police, that crime will decrease and clear-up rates of crime will increase. Against that backdrop came the tragic murder of greengrocer Harry Holland, in west Belfast, by youths who were engaged in a criminal act. It was a terrible murder. It was a terrible way in which to die, and our thoughts continue to be with the Holland family.

I do not seek to make any political capital out of that tragic event, save to say that we have a duty to the family of Harry Holland. We have a duty to every greengrocer, shopkeeper, and every man and woman on the streets in west Belfast, and in every area of Northern Ireland, to do all that we can to prevent that type of crime from recurring. I am sure that the Holland family would say that if their father is to leave a legacy, it is that the community, and we, as their leaders, say that enough is enough.

3.45 pm

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

There have been other crimes in recent times. In my constituency, four men wearing balaclavas broke into an 88-year-old pensioner’s home in Dromore. She is a lovely Christian lady who lives alone, and Members can imagine what a frightening experience that was for her. They ransacked her home, but stole little. Such crimes, which create considerable fear among elderly people, have been replicated in other areas. Last week, a gang of youths broke into an elderly person’s home in Lisburn.

Albeit a tiny minority, some young people feel that they can get away with committing such crimes, that they are above the law and almost infallible. Therefore, in bringing the motion before the Assembly, my colleagues and I couched it in the following terms:

“a zero tolerance policy against crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets.”

No level of crime is acceptable; nor should people tolerate such crimes. I accept and welcome the reduction in the level of some crimes, for which the Chief Constable has presented evidence. However, alongside that reduction, the clearance state of crime in Northern Ireland, at less than 20%, is not at the level it should be. From 21 April 2007 to August 2007, the overall clearance rate stood at 15·7% and, for the previous 12 months, the figure was 16·2%. Less than one in five crimes is solved, which is in contrast to other UK constabularies: for example, the Northumbria Constabulary clears 40% of reported crime.

To build public confidence that crime is being tackled on the streets, the police in Northern Ireland must attain a clearance rate considerably higher than 20% — and soon. To do so, the police must have the necessary resources to deal with crime. Recently, there was news of a shortage of detectives in the PSNI’s crime department. That is a result of the Patten process and because many of the most experienced police officers have left the Police Service. There is a direct correlation between the low clearance rate and the shortage of detectives. Therefore, additional police officers are required.

Against that backdrop, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has talked about reducing the number of police officers in Northern Ireland from 7,500 to 6,000 by 2011. A cut of some 1,500 officers is simply not acceptable. I have heard the comparisons, and it is said that Northern Ireland has more police officers per capita than other parts of the UK. However, surely Northern Ireland wants to set its own standards. I have been a Member of Parliament for 10 years, and every year that I have been in the House of Commons I have heard Government Ministers from the Home Office speak about the need to recruit additional police officers.

Indeed, it is one of the Labour Government’s boasts that they have recruited more police officers. Why on earth is there talk of reducing the number of police officers in Northern Ireland? More, not fewer, officers are needed for front-line policing. The Chief Constable’s recent decision to cut the number of full-time reserve officers from 680 to 381 recognises that the PSNI needs those additional officers to enable it to continue delivering front-line policing.

If the Chief Constable believes that he needs the help of the full-time reserve for a further period, there should be no talk of a reduction of 1,500 police officers by 2011. Similarly, under the comprehensive spending review, there may be a cut in the policing budget. Among the different figures that have been bandied about, £300 million has been mentioned as a possibility, and members of the Policing Board have been warned to prepare for such a cut. Historically, more money has been spent on policing in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK or in other comparable European countries. There were good reasons for that, such as civil unrest and the threat from terrorism.

However, this is not the time to talk about cutting the policing budget. We must tackle crime and get on top of it, and that means that the police must have available the resources necessary to deal with crime on the streets.

The zero-tolerance policy is not just some aspirational platitude, or some phraseology that we have borrowed from the police in New York; rather, it is about a real desire to see crime being tackled properly on the streets. That means proper sentencing in the courts — so that, when the police clear up a crime and get the offenders to court, the judiciary imposes sentences that are a real deterrent to people out there who are watching and listening. Sometimes, when they see the leniency of the sentences, they think “What have I got to worry about?” Tougher sentencing must play an important part in that, and a zero-tolerance policy on our streets is crucial.

In conclusion, I commend the media for the way in which they have highlighted this issue. In particular, I want to mention the BBC programme ‘The Stephen Nolan Show’, which has done a pretty good job of highlighting the issue and generating public debate on it. This debate is not just for us; it is for the public, too, and it is important that they are engaged in it. I hope that the House will today send a resounding message to the criminal element of society that we will no longer tolerate its criminality.

Dr Farry: I beg to move the following amendment: At end insert

“; and calls on the Executive to ensure that there is an appropriate policing budget and number of police officers to deal with the range of criminal activities and anti-social behaviour, in the event of the devolution of policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly”

I will support the motion, but with a degree of concern and reservation about how it has been phrased and some of its implications. First of all, I am a little uncomfortable with basing what is, in effect, a policy motion on the murder of a particular individual, as tragic as it was. That is not the appropriate approach for an Assembly to take. Furthermore, it is recognised as bad public policy to base decisions on particular cases, as sad as they are. I will not say any more on the matter at this stage. I do not want to make too much of an issue about it, given the publicity and the huge sympathy that has been expressed for the Holland family.

It is also important to recognise the huge progress that has been made on policing in Northern Ireland, particularly in recent years. All the main parties in Northern Ireland now fully support the police and the rule of law. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is internationally recognised as one of the most professional and effective police services in the world, and it goes without saying that it is also the most accountable police service in the world. We all have the opportunity to make our views known to officers, both at Policing Board level and at community level through the DPPs.

However, it is important to look at what we mean by zero tolerance of crime and antisocial behaviour. Everyone in the Chamber hears all the time from constituents about problems with crime and antisocial behaviour. They are huge issues. If by zero tolerance we mean a robust, effective and proportionate response from the police and the courts, then we will all be in favour of it. There is clearly no acceptable level of crime and antisocial behaviour. However, if we mean that a punitive approach to minor offences and disorder must be taken, then perhaps it runs contrary to the restorative techniques that are being developed, both in the current statutory system and at a community level — an approach that is finding favour with virtually every party in the Chamber.

As Mr Donaldson said, the zero-tolerance concept emerged from New York in the early 1990s. It focuses on quality of life and the “broken windows” theory, the idea being that by dealing with minor problems of antisocial behaviour on the street, a context is created in which crime is less likely to occur and major crimes are effectively dealt with. There is much that we can learn from that. However, if the call is for tougher sentences — and there is, rightly, a lot of frustration in the community about lenient sentences — we must also be aware of the consequences.

At the moment, our prison population is rising, following a dip as a result of the early-release scheme in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. There are now almost 1,500 people in prison in Northern Ireland: about 911 who have been sentenced, and 567 who are on remand. It is worth noting at this stage that the figure for remand prisoners is hugely out of proportion with what it should be, and that is an indication of the very low speed at which justice is dispensed in our courts.

Our prison system is overcrowded already, and there is a clear case for building a new facility. However, if we are talking about a crackdown on crime, with tougher sentences, we have to be honest and accept that we will have to invest in providing new detention facilities across Northern Ireland. It is worth noting that there was a dramatic increase in the prison population in Scotland in the wake of devolution there.

Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member agree that the situation in prisons is at crisis level? Recently, an accountant charged with blackmail was given a suspended sentence because there was no place in which to put her.

Dr Farry: Yes. I have also heard about a case in which a person was given a prison sentence for not paying a dog licence. The situation in HMP Maghaberry is particularly critical; and there are female prisoners alongside juveniles in the young offenders’ centre at Hydebank, which is not ideal. It is fine to call for tougher sentences, and I endorse that call because that is what people want, but there is a cost attached to building quality facilities in which to house the people whom we send to prison.

When we talk about zero tolerance, we must mean just that: we cannot cherry-pick. I will be interested to hear the DUP’s comments on zero tolerance towards paramilitary flags; abuses and offences committed around bonfires; the use of paramilitary symbols in parades; and major public order problems. In recent memory, both unionist parties have tried to rationalise what has happened and have attacked the responses of the police who tried to deal with those offences.

I note that when the police raided the Alexandra Bar in north Belfast, both unionist parties criticised them. If we are serious about zero tolerance, let us mean what we say.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Assembly, having called for action on the Northern Ireland Office budget, takes a consistent approach on resources when policing and criminal justice are devolved. We should not be calling on others to do something that we are not prepared to do ourselves if we had the power and the responsibility.

We must recognise that the Northern Ireland policing budget is large — approaching £900 million a year. Spending on policing in Northern Ireland is more than twice the average spent in Great Britain. At full complement, we have 7,500 police officers, which is larger than the average force in Great Britain. However, there are good reasons for that, and the Patten Report recognised that a complement of 7,500 officers met the required level for policing in Northern Ireland. We cannot rely on the support of other police forces as is the case for most forces in Great Britain, and there is the ongoing threat from paramilitaries and organised crime. Those are all major challenges, and they require an enhanced level of policing resources in Northern Ireland. The Alliance Party recognises that we must retain that level, but we must also accept that it creates distortions in public expenditure and leads to opportunity costs elsewhere in the system.

There will come a time — and the Alliance Party hopes that it will happen sooner rather than later — when Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Civil Service budgets will merge. At that point, and just like other democratic societies, it will fall to the Assembly to make tough choices between investing in policing and security and investing in social, economic and environmental matters. Other matters requiring funding will also fall within the remit of the criminal justice system, and this Assembly will have to make choices.

We may well decide that we want a properly resourced police service to deal robustly and effectively with all the criminal offences and antisocial behaviour that occur in Northern Ireland. As a mature Assembly, if we are calling on the Northern Ireland Office to maintain current resource levels, we should support the amend­ment, and say that in the context of devolution, we are prepared to give a commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that we will do likewise.

During the months that we have had devolution, the DUP has been very good at lecturing other parties in the Chamber about public expenditure. It is easy to make claims on others for money; Northern Ireland has been very good at that in recent years. I would like to see the DUP applying what it preaches here consistently across the spectrum of public expenditure, including that which will eventually be devolved to us.

4.00 pm

On 26 June 2007, when the Assembly discussed pension provision for the former RUC part-time Reserve, I was concerned that Mr Ian Paisley Jnr said, on behalf of the Executive, that he was happy to call on the Northern Ireland Office to fund those pensions but that if the matter had been the Assembly’s responsibility, it would have been thrown into the mix to be considered alongside all other public-expenditure priorities. To adopt such a stance is to be inconsistent. If the Assembly is calling for the Northern Ireland Office to provide for the police, we must say that we will provide for them, too. That is the basis of the amendment, and I urge the Assembly to support it.

Mr Adams: Tá mé buíoch díot, a Cheann Comhairle. Tá mé buíoch fosta de na Comhaltaí eile a labhair ar an rún tábhachtach seo.

I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, and I thank the Member for sponsoring today’s debate. Once again, I extend solidarity and condolences to Harry Holland’s wife, Pauline; to their daughters Méabh, Gráinne, Sarah and Gael; to his mother Violet; to his brothers and sisters; to Pauline’s mother, Grace; and to the Devlin family. Ba fhear uasal é Harry Holland grá don eolas, grá dá fhoireann don cheol.

Harry Holland was an active citizen. He was a friend of mine, and we lived in the same street until his death. He was also progressive in his ideas on how our community should deal with antisocial behaviour and criminality. Harry was prepared to give people, part­icularly young people, every support. That is also my position. We must face up to our responsibilities as parents. If anyone needs any lessons on that, the letter from Harry’s daughters in this week’s ‘Andersonstown News’ give some insight into how parents can imbue young people with sound, core values. I pay tribute to the Holland family for the dignified and graceful way in which they have faced up to their terrible loss. Bhí agus tá siad cróga, galánta agus mar shampla iontach dúinn go léir.

My friends, there is no tolerance in west Belfast for criminal or antisocial behaviour. However, there is also a justified, deep anger that actions such as Harry’s murder are used to smear all the people of west Belfast, particularly our young people. The vast majority of the people of west Belfast are decent, hard-working, law-abiding and respectable citizens. It is also a fact that there is a heightened fear among some sections of our people, particularly our elderly and people living alone, because of the popular view that criminals can get away with anything. That is not only a west Belfast or republican view. I agree with the Member for Lagan Valley Mr Donaldson that the delivery of good policing is a concern for people everywhere.

There is a widespread sense of scepticism throughout the Six Counties. As political leaders and representatives, we have a responsibility to change that. The PSNI and the criminal justice agencies also have a duty to deliver. Sinn Féin has been to the forefront in leading recent community initiatives to engage with the PSNI. In west Belfast, which has suffered terribly from bad policing, particularly in the upper Springfield area, hundreds of citizens are engaged in programmes to assist the PSNI to challenge thugs and criminals, many of whom are repeat offenders and well known to the PSNI and the justice agencies.

Therefore, there are legitimate questions to be asked, not only about policing budgets or numbers of police officers but about how those resources are deployed. There are big questions about how the PSNI responds to calls or to information from citizens. Questions arise about the response times and the relationship between the PSNI and the justice agencies and other bodies, particularly in dealing with offenders.

The motion is useful in focusing attention on those important issues. However, there is also a need to build confidence and community solidarity and to develop a joined-up and sustained approach.

Friends, as we speak, no joined-up approach exists between the PSNI and other justice agencies, including alternative bodies and institutions, to create a cohesive and sustained approach in partnership with local communities. We must get the criminals and the thugs off the streets, but that means delivering good civic policing as a public service so that citizens have the protection and justice that they all deserve. Ní bhfuair Harry Holland ná a chlann an seirbhís sin. Ba rud mícheart sin, rud milteanach. A chairde, tá a lán oibre le déanamh againn na rudaí seo a chur i gceart.

Mr Kennedy: I thank the proposers of the motion for bringing the matter before the House. However, the UUP regrets that the motion does not go far enough, as it fails to assert the view — widely held among the unionist community in particular — that the time is not right for the devolution of policing and justice. All Members will rightly condemn all murders, including the disgraceful and despicable murder of Harry Holland, and the UUP expresses its sympathy to the Holland family.

Mr Donaldson: I thank the Member for giving way. As Mr Kennedy will be aware, the Ulster Unionist Party tabled an amendment, but it was not selected by the Speaker. The DUP would have been happy to accept that amendment. We share the view of the Ulster Unionists that the Assembly and Executive Review Committee must be mindful of the need for sufficient public confidence to be in place before the policing and justice powers are devolved to the Assembly. The DUP believes that public confidence is not sufficient to enable that devolution to occur at this time.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Member for taking the intervention; he will be allowed an extra minute to speak.

Mr Kennedy: You are a fair man, Mr Speaker. I welcome the clarity from the honourable Member. The UUP also condemns assaults and robberies on all elderly residents, whether those attacks take place in Dromore, County Down, in Bessbrook, County Armagh, or somewhere else.

Antisocial behaviour is now a blight on our society. Most representations that Members receive are from constituents who are concerned about antisocial behaviour and levels of disorder, and they want more police officers on the ground, as well as a greater police presence. Therefore, there is great concern about potential cuts in policing budgets and cuts in the numbers of officers who are available to serve local communities. That includes members of the full-time reserve. I welcome the recent extension to contracts that the Policing Board offered. For some bizarre reason, the SDLP opposed those extensions; I did not understand the logic of that.

Everyone accepts that the public wants a zero-tolerance policy to be implemented, not just talked about. There is broad consensus that the devolution of policing and justice is desirable, but the debate really concerns when that devolution will be considered appropriate. The Alliance Party amendment does not provide any clarity on the matter; rather it introduces fudge — no change there from the Alliance Party, then. We have more fudge from the Alliance Party, because, to a certain extent, the devolution of policing and justice is a complete red herring. It will not make the people of Northern Ireland safer. Since 1997, some 3,023 new criminal justice laws have been passed, but are communities across the United Kingdom any safer? Obviously they are not.

The Policing Board and other statutory agencies already have the necessary powers to address crime — and the fear of crime — on our streets. Therefore, the big issue is not whether, but when.

The Ulster Unionist Party does not feel that there is sufficient confidence to allow the devolution of policing and justice now or in the near future. Why? Because of the lack of confidence in the new institutions and the political personalities who are involved. If clear evidence of that is needed, there is an elephant in the Chamber today. I do not want to personalise this, but responding, not on behalf of his political party but on behalf of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and the Executive, we have someone who was convicted of a very serious criminal offence: an attack on the Old Bailey in London. I am referring to Mr Kelly. It beggars belief that anyone would consider giving such a person responsibility for policing and justice.

This Assembly is new; it has not taken any major decisions or been properly tested. Some Members fear that, during the negotiations at St Andrews last year, a political deal was done, and the outworking of that deal is simply a matter of when the political climate permits.

Mr Speaker: The Member’s time is up.

Mr Attwood: I welcome the motion as an opportunity to record the sympathy of the Chamber with the Holland family and to develop the joined-up and sustained approach to crime that Gerry Adams referred to.

As we all know from our recent history, there are moments when events converge to enable a community to move to a place where it had not previously been. I sense that significant parts — but not all — of west Belfast are experiencing one of those moments. That is why a joined-up and sustained approach to crime must be developed quickly.

The Lord Chief Justice was in the Senate Chamber today speaking to the Assembly and Executive Review Committee about the devolution of justice and policing. It is time for the criminal justice institutions to develop that conversation with the wider community. That is why, over the last 10 days, the SDLP has been meeting — mostly in private — with the Public Prosecution Service, the PSNI and others to urge them to open their doors as never before, in order to have conversations with individuals and organisations in the community and hear their concerns on criminal justice issues.

The SDLP has outlined a number of proposals in those meetings. I shall mention only a few. We think that it is time to create a sentencing guidelines council — consisting of law practitioners, the judiciary and other individuals — to inform the High Court about appropriate sentences and how it should conduct itself in bail hearings. That would not interfere with the judiciary’s independence, but it would enable the community to speak to the judiciary about its concerns on the administration of justice and how things should develop.

Similarly, the SDLP proposes a panel of prosecutors, so that individuals in the PPS can engage on a rolling basis with the community, politicians and families in an effort to hear and heed their concerns on the management of prosecutions in this part of the world.

As Members are beginning to talk more positively to each other, and as the community is talking more positively with the criminal justice institutions — including the PSNI — my message to the criminal justice family is that it is time for the Public Prosecution Service, the PSNI and the High Court to engage in conversation with the community through a range of mechanisms.

4.15 pm

I endorse Jeffrey Donaldson’s remarks about finance. I recently received a letter from the Department of Finance and Personnel confirming that as yet — five months before the Assembly and Executive Review Committee makes proposals about the devolution of policing and justice — there has been no conversation with the Treasury about the future policing and justice budget. Perhaps now is not the time to have that conversation, but it must happen quickly because proposals that the Policing Board is hearing about reducing police numbers may well be matched by proposals to reduce the overall criminal justice budget. The conversation between the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Treasury must take place to guarantee the funding for policing and justice not only for the next three years, but, critically, after 2010-11 when, I think, the Treasury and the NIO will try to claw funds back. That is when the comments that have been made in the Chamber about competing priorities will come home to roost.

The SDLP has some concerns, as does Stephen Farry, about a motion on zero tolerance. Organisations such as Families Bereaved Through Car Crime in west Belfast will tell you that due to the nature of crime and those who are involved in crime, one size does not fit all when dealing with offenders. We need tougher sentences and tougher courts, but sometimes toughness is not the only answer when dealing with those in the community who are already vulnerable. Toughness has its place — it may even have a greater place — but it is not the sole answer to dealing with the issues that have been identified by the tragic murder of Harry Holland.

Mr Weir: I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board — as did the proposer of the motion. I have no doubt that the motivation behind the Alliance Party’s amendment was well meaning, but the DUP believes that the amendment is wrong, because it takes the focus away from where it should be, which is in the motion, and it lets the Government off the hook.

There is no doubt about the importance of proper funding for policing. If we reach the situation in which the level of public confidence for policing to be devolved to Northern Ireland is right — and, like Mr Kennedy and Mr Donaldson, I think that we are a long way from that — it will be important that there is the proper level of funding. However, if the focus is on guaranteeing that the Executive will provide such funding, that will take pressure away from the Government to ensure that there are adequate levels of funding in the meantime.

Leaving aside the matter of public confidence, if policing and justice are devolved, it would be unaccept­able to have a service that has been denuded and that would be receiving a reduced level of resources. To take away from the duty of Government to provide adequate support for policing and protection for the community is to lose focus, and that is why the DUP does not support the amendment.

The motion comprises three elements. On behalf of the DUP, I express my sympathy to the Holland family on their recent tragic loss in such appalling circumstances and to the elderly lady in Dromore who was brutally attacked. They are not the drivers behind the desire for zero tolerance or the need for adequate police numbers. However, it is appropriate that Members express their concerns about those events.

Mr Spratt: In view of the epidemic levels of antisocial behaviour around the Province, does the Member agree that it would have been advisable to retain the 300-odd full-time Reserves until that epidemic were brought under control and strengthen the Chief Constable’s budget to allow him to deal properly with this scourge on society?

Mr Weir: I agree with my honourable friend. Any public representative who deals with policing work on the ground knows that there has been an explosion in antisocial behaviour over the past number of years. The police and public representatives are frustrated by the torture caused by a small number of youths who, daily, make life hell for people. Unfortunately, the police simply do not have enough resources to deal with the problem adequately, which is why more resources must be injected into that area of policing.

A zero-tolerance policy has not simply been plucked out of the air but has been tried and has proved successful in several jurisdictions. The focus is usually on New York, but the policy has been used in other parts of the United Kingdom. Zero tolerance does not simply concern policing but the entire judicial system. In this Building this morning, the Lord Chief Justice talked about the need for the independence of the judicial system; no one would argue with that. However, as Alex Atwood pointed out, the judiciary should take account of public concern when sentences are decided, and politicians have a role in framing that discussion and agenda. It is not a myth that sentences in Northern Ireland tend to be lower than in other parts of the United Kingdom, because we still have more generous remission for prisoners. The judiciary has an important role, because members of the public often see police intervention not being followed up with an adequate sentence at the end of the process.

We must ensure that Northern Ireland has enough police officers. Many people, especially those from a rural background, want the number of police officers to be increased rather than decreased. How often have politicians had to tell constituents that, although they are pushing the police to be more active in an area, they cannot be there all the time providing the level of service that people want? How often do we hear that vast areas are left unpoliced for long periods because a patrol car is attending an incident?

Today’s motion is a strong one, and I hope that the House will unite around the DUP’s sensible approach.

Ms Anderson: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún agus don leasú seo. I support the motion and the amendment. I also declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board.

I echo the condemnation of the brutal murder of Harry Holland and acknowledge the fact that his family members are with us in the Chamber. I also condemn the robbery in Dromore and all criminal and anti-community activity, including the scourge of drugs that blights so many of our communities.

Crime and anti-community activity are two of the major issues for the vast majority of people across the North. In Derry, in my own constituency, two families were left homeless and a community centre was gutted in a despicable arson attack at the weekend. That kind of mindless destruction has no place whatsoever in our society, and there should be no hiding place for those engaged in any such anti-community activity.

Sinn Féin has been at the forefront in tackling all those issues and will continue to confront crime in all its guises. Clearly, that requires a proactive and robust PSNI response, for which the police should be properly resourced. Policing with the community is central to that — there must be prompt and effective responses to community co-operation. That engagement with the community must also involve the vast majority of young people who are decent and active citizens, all of whom reject, and have no tolerance for, the day-to-day crime to which they, their families and their peers are subjected.

However, if we are to make serious inroads against crime, the PSNI must also become a first-class service. We are already one of the world’s most policed societies, yet the clearance rate for recorded crime — to which Jeffrey Donaldson referred — was just 16·5% last year. Despite the huge number of officers currently employed by the PSNI, they are resolving fewer than one in five crimes. Clearly, there is room for much-needed improvement.

We should focus on the quality of services and where PSNI officers are deployed. There must be a greater emphasis on efficiency, with officers on the streets where they are needed rather than trapped behind desks, filling in forms. That problem was highlighted recently by the Oversight Commissioner, and the PSNI manage­ment team has supported those concerns.

We must ensure that we create the highest standard of police service, which is efficient and effective, because the day-to-day level of crime in our communities is totally unacceptable. We must see an end to the death drivers, who are often back on the streets to terrorise our communities only hours after being arrested. We must see an end to drug dealers, who seem able to ply their deadly trade with impunity, despite their identities being well known.

The only way that we will ever deliver a truly effective approach to crime is if the PSNI and the judiciary end the rotating-door justice system that allows some of the most persistent offenders back on the streets, often without so much as a slap on the wrist. The most effective way to achieve such a joined-up approach to tackling crime is by transferring policing, the judiciary and justice powers to the Assembly, but perhaps that is a discussion for another day.

We have the ability, and we should have the confidence, to take our destiny in our own hands. We need to deliver a good, effective, fair and efficient justice system, with a human rights ethos enshrined at its core. That is no less than what the people in our community demand, and it is no less than what they deserve. Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr Buchanan: I declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board.

The heinous murder of Mr Harry Holland in west Belfast — a hard-working, highly respected husband, father and grandfather — not only caused a sense of disbelief and outrage across the Province but also portrayed an image of general lawlessness that continues to exist in Northern Ireland. Although police statistics tend to show a decrease in such violent crimes, the fact remains that seldom a day passes without news of another heinous stabbing or vicious assault in some town or village in our Province.

All too often in our communities and isolated rural areas we hear of robberies, assaults and various attacks on elderly people — the most vulnerable in our society. Those attacks often leave them with broken bones, bruises and scars. That fear remains with them for the rest of their lives. Old and young alike are being attacked on our streets, public parks, school playgrounds and even in our hospitals, with the emergency services coming under constant attack. Is it any wonder that the people of Northern Ireland feel under siege and powerless to protect themselves? Statistics do precious little to stop the thuggery and rebuild confidence in a society where even the security forces are struggling to keep crime at bay.

However, we must be mindful that all crime is an issue that must be tackled on a much wider front than simply policing. Everyone — from the police to the politicians, from the parents to the legal system — has a role to play in seeking to bring into play a zero-tolerance policy against all crime and antisocial behaviour.

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The political representatives on the opposite side of the House fail to give their full, unequivocal support to the police as they seek to uphold the rule of law and order, and tackle all criminal activity. Sinn Féin members of the Policing Board publicly condemned the PSNI and accused police of taking a heavy-handed approach for making one arrest at the weekend in Londonderry, after coming under a severe attack from the nationalist community, which resulted in injuries to police officers. That clearly spells out Sinn Féin’s hypocrisy, demon­strates its lack of leadership, and shows little commitment to taking all crime seriously. On that occasion, the mask slipped again, and there is now a challenge for Sinn Féin to condemn such activity and show its full support for the PSNI in seeking to tackle all criminal activity across Northern Ireland.

The PSNI must be properly resourced and have adequate numbers of fully trained personnel to provide an effective service in the community. Any proposals to reduce finances or personnel would eradicate the effective delivery of services to the public and create an even more dangerous and unacceptable situation. Having reduced the numbers of police personnel from 12,000, six years ago, to 7,500, and taking account of the current dissident republican threat, there is no room for any further reductions in front-line personnel.

There is much talk from Sinn Féin and, indeed, the SDLP, of the necessity to devolve policing and justice by 2008. Let me spell it out clearly — that is a fantasy. Republicans have a long way to travel before the devolution of policing and justice could be considered. Nevertheless, the motion — which calls for the condemnation of all types of criminal activity and antisocial behaviour; the establishment of a zero-tolerance policy to help stamp out such thuggery in society; the declaration of unequivocal support for the PSNI and the rule of law; and the building of confidence in our communities — is a starting point for Sinn Féin. Is it capable of showing such leadership on this issue?

Mr B McCrea: Early in the debate, a bearded man, whom I barely recognised, wandered into the Chamber and spoke to me in a language that I do not understand about some distressing matters — which all Members have condemned. It seemed that that man was not talking to Members, but to others. However, he spoke of the need for integration and working together. There is a famous phrase: “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.”

Famously, John Major retorted that he wanted to be:

“tough on hypocrisy and tough on the causes of hypocrisy.”

I should add that, if the Speaker will forgive me, I must declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board, although that is well known.

There are issues that Members should be discussing — the things that are left unsaid about whether we are really ready for the devolution of policing and justice. That is what this debate is really about. The people of Northern Ireland expect — and this was referred to on ‘The Steven Nolan Show’ on Radio Ulster —

Mr McCallister: Much has been said about sentencing. Does my honourable friend agree that the policy of 50% remission is unacceptable?

Mr B McCrea: I thank my friend for that inter­vention. It is absolutely the case that the public believes that those in authority are far too lenient and that criminals should be locked up and the key thrown away. I was surprised to hear Dr Farry from the Alliance Party, the proposer of the amendment, arguing for a policy of zero tolerance. Perhaps that is why his speech was somewhat confused and rambling. I was not sure whether the Member was supporting zero tolerance or not.

Individuals were mentioned, and some people might say that Members should not do that, because it person­alises the issue. However, it is only by personalising the matter that we can understand what it is really about.

I spoke to the 89-year-old woman and her family in Dromore the day after she was robbed. They were clearing up the mess, and it was a disgrace. The policeman who dealt with them said that the woman would never get over it. Her family, and elderly people throughout Northern Ireland, will never get over it. The most distressing part of the story was that, when the burglars took the money from her purse, she asked if she could have the purse back. They just laughed, took the purse and walked away. How heinous is that?

There are few crimes worse than the taking of a person’s life. We have offered our sincere condolences to the Holland family. However, the Assembly must take on board the most basic crimes against elderly people and vulnerable people.

Zero tolerance is not a target; it is not something on which people can be tested. It is an attitude of mind that compels people to believe in working together. It is not simply about the police, crime statistics or the judiciary; it is about the community and every Member of the Assembly. Will we really tackle the issues by working together or will we simply fence?

Sadly, the UUP amendment was not selected, but we wanted to say that the time is not right for the devolution of policing and justice. The UUP will reject Dr Farry’s amendment, because the communities need time in which to build trust. We need new and innovative ways to work with communities, and we need to find ways in which people can work together in order to sort out problems. Until and unless trust is built in the comm­unity, it will be impossible to devolve policing and justice.

I note that the junior Minister on the opposite Benches will respond to the debate. I am looking forward to that, but I wonder what message that sends out. Is there a hidden message? Are we on a conveyor belt that we cannot get off?

The point is not whether devolution of policing and justice is good or bad; it is whether it is desirable at this stage for the Assembly to tackle those matters. The institutions have only just got up and running. The proposer of the motion talked about what the public were looking for. He mentioned delivery on health and education and on areas covered by all the Departments. Perhaps we should learn to walk before we run.

I want it to be recognised that the Assembly is serious about sorting out the problems, and I want Members to work together to resolve them. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to reject Dr Farry’s amendment and to support the motion tabled by Jeffrey Donaldson.

Mrs D Kelly: I too must declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

I want to join in the expression of sympathy to the family of Harry Holland, who have suffered the great loss of a man who was a father, a grandfather and a husband.

It may be of interest to some Members to know that, less than two weeks before Mr Holland’s death, one of my constituents had his car stolen by three youths. During the insurance company’s investigation, he was asked why he did not intervene. The answer to that question is exemplified by the murder of Mr Harry Holland. It is not safe for anyone to intervene. Perhaps the insurance companies should take that message on board.

Although the debate is primarily about zero tolerance of low-level, high-impact crime, and antisocial behaviour in particular — which, as many people acknowledge, primarily involves young people — it would be remiss of the House if it did not recognise the sterling work of the majority of young people and their contributions to society. Young people are often the victims of antisocial behaviour, and Members will want to make that distinction.

The motion refers specifically to zero tolerance, of which there are many definitions, including the definition that was used in New York. That gave police a non-discretionary policy to stop and arrest people on a regular and ongoing basis. Zero-tolerance measures were also taken by the police in Strathclyde and Hartlepool; however, those measures allowed for some discretion among police officers. Nevertheless, outcomes were effective. One of the strategies involved intelligence-led policing, and improving community relations with the police in order to tackle crime.

Some Members have acknowledged that addressing antisocial behaviour is not the sole preserve and challenge of the police: it is a societal issue. It is not only in the North of Ireland that antisocial behaviour is increasing; it is commonplace throughout Britain, the island of Ireland and in many parts of Europe. That has, in part, to do with an increasing drink and drug culture.

Parents have to take responsibility. Although Members talked about bringing people before the courts, and, quite rightly, about the sentences that were handed down, it is important to realise that many offenders are well below the age at which they can appear before the courts. Therefore, if Members are serious about tackling crime, there must be a more focused approach, while making use of inter-agency resources to tackle those problems.

The Policing Board will meet during October to develop the policing plan for next year, and we will be holding the Chief Constable and his officers to account. Many people say, quite rightly, that there are higher levels of different and more serious crime. Thankfully, however, those crimes impact on only a small number of people. Our key priority is to challenge the police, whether at the Policing Board, or at the district policing partnerships, which are also drawing up their individual policing plans for each district command unit. The community and the Assembly must be shown that antisocial behaviour, and those crimes that are often defined as low-level crimes, are priorities for all of the district command units in particular, and for the Policing Board in general.

I acknowledge the work of community safety partnerships with regard to their inter-agency approaches. They are vehicles by which some of the zero-tolerance policies and the message regarding antisocial behaviour can be delivered.

Many Members made reference to the decreasing numbers of police officers. It is as a result of the Patten Report that, until at least 2011 we have 7,500 police officers. That is something that the SDLP wants to see maintained. When comparisons are made between the PSNI and UK forces, we are often told, as other Members have said, that we have a higher number of police officers.

However, the crime rates in England, Scotland and Wales are not decreasing. We hear cries from the political parties there that they need to improve and increase their numbers of officers. Therefore, it does not make sense to reduce those numbers.

Mr McKay: A Cheann Comhairle, I speak in favour of the motion as amended by the Alliance Party. Furthermore, I declare an interest as a member of the Policing Board. This is obviously an important debate. Unfortunately, hardly a week passes without the public being shocked at the types of crimes that are committed in the community, many of which seem totally senseless.

Earlier this year, the Assembly discussed the concerning rise in attacks on emergency workers. At that time, we in Sinn Féin, expressed our support for the work of the zero tolerance strategic group in tackling this issue. The attacks on emergency workers are mainly, if not entirely, down to, antisocial behaviour. That is just one example of the effect of antisocial behaviour on society.

Antisocial behaviour is a major problem in all communities. If it is not nipped in the bud, it can soon spiral out of control, and lead to assaults, robberies and murder. The PSNI needs to start tackling antisocial behaviour more effectively in rural and urban areas.

In my own constituency, I can think of at least one rural area, namely Loughiel, where there is a major problem with antisocial elements using runabouts, burning out vehicles and driving dangerously — sometimes while intoxicated.

4.45 pm

Such antisocial behaviour is also a pressing issue in some areas of our towns and cities. If it is not handled effectively, there will be more unnecessary deaths on our roads. Clearly, there are gaps in understanding between the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service, and we are seriously concerned about the delays in legal proceedings and in the failure to prosecute successfully where appropriate. Following my party’s suggestion, the Policing Board decided at a recent meeting to make resolution of that situation a priority. Sinn Féin is determined to ensure that people get the policing and justice that they so rightly deserve.

The failure of British direct rule Ministers to prevent the early release of a convicted rapist in County Tyrone has rightly outraged the public, especially since there was more than ample time to act in the wake of the tragic death of Attracta Harron. The Assembly must take responsibility for policing and justice to prevent such injustices from occurring in the future.

We must work to ensure that communities have real access to the criminal justice system in order that their concerns can be taken on board and furthered. All the criminal justice agencies must listen to and work with local communities to deliver good, impartial and effective policing.

I support the motion and the amendment. Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr Ross: During the debate, we heard reports from around the Chamber of various incidents of antisocial behaviour, attacks or murders occurring in each of our constit­uencies. That proves that nowhere is exempt from crime. I am glad that Members agree unanimously that the perpetrators of crime should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.

The horrific murder of Mr Harry Holland in West Belfast and the attack on an elderly lady in Dromore demonstrate the need for everyone to not only support policing but to assist police investigations and give evidence against those who are responsible for such gruesome acts.

Following the incident, the public outcry in West Belfast — as in other constituencies in Northern Ireland — reflected a demand for greater police presence and for a tough response to those who break the law. We have heard today that Northern Ireland is changing — for the better, I hope — as we move away from decades of terrorist attacks on our country towards a more prosperous and stable future. However, a consequence of that is a greater level of serious crime in our communities and on our streets.

We have a choice: we can say that that is to be expected, as paramilitary groups go through transition, or that it is unacceptable and that we must do something about it.

The motion calls for “zero tolerance”. As Mr Weir said, we automatically think of the achievements of zero-tolerance policing in New York under Mayor Guiliani, where major crime fell by some 39% and murder by some 49%. As my colleague Tom Buchanan said earlier, the PSNI reports that crime in Northern Ireland has fallen over the past five years. In my constituency, PSNI figures indicate that crime in Larne has fallen by some 21%, in Carrickfergus by some 22%, and in Newtownabbey by some 20%. Yet the public perceive that crime is on the increase. Public confidence in the police, particularly among the unionist community, is falling. We must do something about that.

Mrs I Robinson: I thank the Member for giving way. Will the Member join me in appealing to those students of Queen’s University who live around the Holylands and who, each weekend, make life intolerable for the citizens of that community, to behave as sensible young adults? Those young people are trying to attain high academic resolution. It is in their interests, as well as in those of everyone else, to behave sensibly.

Mr Ross: I thank the Member for her intervention. She is absolutely right: those students must act respon­sibly. However, we must not forget that several student properties have been attacked recently. We must not always blame the students in those circumstances; we must consider each incident on its individual merits.

We can blame media hysteria or anecdotal evidence for the public perception that crime is on the increase. However, that perception may also prevail because we see crime and antisocial behaviour all around us, and we see that the police are not doing anything. As my colleague Jeffrey Donaldson said in his opening remarks, the PSNI clear-up rate is not as good as it should be. The public want to see results and visible policing, and they want to see the police remove criminals from the streets and those who are involved in crime and antisocial behaviour to be arrested and prosecuted.

Any suggestion of reducing police numbers or cutting the police budget will be met with by massive resistance from the people whom I represent. We have already seen a massive reduction in police numbers in recent years, and we cannot allow any further reduction. As I have said, there is an outcry for public and visible policing.

As a public representative, my job is not to take every opportunity to slate the police. We must recognise that the police have a tough job, but it is important to highlight problems where they exist. We must ask what the role of the police should be: is it to police the streets, to make communities safer and to arrest those who break the law; or is it to act as social workers and take the idea of community policing to such an extreme that, in the eyes of the public, the police appear to become the friends of those who break the law?

I know of a family in my constituency who live opposite a youth centre and who have their cars attacked and their home pelted by stones every night. That family puts up with verbal abuse from a group of young people who attend the youth club daily. The youths are known to the police and to youth workers, but nothing happens to them. The police adopt a softly-softly approach in the belief that, somehow, they will befriend the youths, and the antisocial behaviour will end. Earlier, I heard Mr Attwood say that tough policing and tough justice are not always the answer. That is true but, in this case, the softly-softly approach is not working. I will be raising that matter during a meeting with the police in Carrickfergus tomorrow. Those youths must be arrested and charged, and a strong message must be sent out that anyone who engages in crime will face the toughest treatment for flouting the law.

Those who are involved in drug dealing, car theft, burglary, muggings and antisocial behaviour must be brought to justice. The most effective way of stopping those types of crimes is to remove the perpetrators from the streets through tough and effective policing, and tougher and more effective sentencing. I support the motion.

Mr A Maskey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the motion and the amendment. I commend Jeffrey Donaldson for proposing the motion. Unusually for me, I also commend Stephen Nolan for the contributions that he allowed the general public to make during the last number of weeks, in the wake of Harry Holland’s death. The outpouring from the general public has led to a reawakening that there is a need for a policy to which some refer as zero tolerance, although many do not like to use that term.

It is fortunate that there has been considerable agreement among the parties on a number of key issues. I am disappointed that one or two Members have introduced discordant notes to the debate, because the issue is too important for point scoring, or to make party-political broadcasts. I thank Members for their contributions so far; the vast majority have ensured that they have not used their speeches to score points, which has added value to the debate.

Each Member could mention anecdotally — or give first-hand evidence about — events in their constit­uencies. Although Peter Weir talked of an explosion in antisocial behaviour, I am sure that he is aware that the problem has existed for many years.

One of the heartbreaking facts that emerged after the death of Harry Holland was that a close family friend, who was on the scene shortly after the event, around midnight, had recently had the misfortune of burying his son, who was run down and killed by death drivers in Belfast. The problem of antisocial behaviour has existed for a long time, and it affects many areas and communities, so every Member has a vested interest in supporting the motion and the amendment.

I welcome the fact that most Members have courteously addressed the motion and the amendment. By giving their support to the motion, they support the general community. There has been a considerable amount of agreement among the parties. We may have different viewpoints on the deployment of resources, on a zero-tolerance policy, or on the various solutions that should be employed to tackle problems, but I remind Members that Harry Holland himself was a strong advocate of supporting young people. There are many solutions, but the single message from all parties is that we have — and will have — no toleration for the type of behaviour that resulted in the untimely and tragic death of Harry Holland. The same applies for other examples that were mentioned during the debate, including the serious assault on a lady in Dromore.

Members have stated that there should be no tolerance of that type of activity and that there is a need to ensure that resources, including those of the police, are adequately funded and appropriately deployed. It is recognised that a variety of solutions must be sought. Proper and appropriate prevention models must be devised. Members have referred to clearance rates. However, when clearance needs to be dealt with, the problem has already been created. Therefore, much more time, energy and creativity must be spent devising prevention models in order to ensure that such activity does not happen in the first instance.

In conclusion, it must be ensured that the wider criminal justice system is responsive to people’s needs. I commend ‘The Stephen Nolan Show’ for offering people the opportunity to air publicly their opinions. Although I do not necessarily agree with all the opinions that were expressed, it is useful that people have been able to state their views. The fact that the debate has taken place demonstrates how the programme and the public outcry have given leadership to the issue. The Assembly must now take the baton of leadership and run with it.

Society has stated that it will not tolerate antisocial behaviour. It expects rightly that the wider criminal justice family — not only the police, but the courts, the Probation Board, the Youth Justice Agency and other agencies — will row in behind communities, listen to and respond to them, and deliver a joined-up service. The Assembly has a responsibility to ensure that that happens.

Mr Beggs: I declare an interest in policing as the chairman of Carrickfergus District Policing Partnership. I also offer my sympathy to the family of the late Harry Holland for the horrendous tragedy that they have endured. It is deeply regrettable that young people who are involved in antisocial activity have become so out of control that, ultimately, someone has been murdered.

I support the motion and oppose the amendment that stands in the name of Dr Farry of the Alliance Party. I listened with interest to the discussion on ‘The Stephen Nolan Show’ on zero tolerance. It is healthy that his excellent idea to have a period of zero tolerance has resulted in a debate. I hope that such a policy and other subsequent changes will mean that society might experience a zero-tolerance approach, if only for an experimental period. In some communities, policing has reached the stage at which new policies must be tried in the hope that they will bring about improvement.

Antisocial behaviour and criminal damage cause particular problems because it is difficult to trace and identify the culprits. Community involvement, inform­ation and assistance are needed in order to solve those problems.

In June 2007, I was fortunate enough to shadow the police during a weekend shift and to witness some of the problems that they face. During the early part of the night, I was surprised when they came across some drunk and disorderly behaviour for which I would have expected arrests to have been made, but were not. Instead, the police generally talked through the situation, allowed the people to go home and, in some instances, assisted them to get home, even though they were being unruly and disrupting the peace. I did not understand why that was the case, but I was told to wait and see what would happen later.

There are limited numbers of police officers on the streets. Given that, it was explained to me that if someone is arrested, police officers could be involved in paperwork for that arrest for two or three hours before the culprit is taken to a custody suite. That means that there are fewer officers on duty in some communities, particularly during the peak times of Friday and Saturday nights.

5.00 pm

Later that evening, a more serious incident occurred, which resulted in some people being taken in for questioning. Subsequently, I listened to a discussion about where they were going. There is a limited number of cells — there are none in Carrick. Cells were unavailable in Belfast or Antrim. I even heard talk of occasions when police had driven from Carrick to Banbridge to take culprits to cells. Therefore, a practical issue must be solved before we begin to think about a zero-tolerance policy. Capacity will have to be increased, as will the speed of processing those involved in criminality. Otherwise, the system will become clogged up and will result in a lack of cells in which to incarcerate criminals. Police officers will be taken off the streets to fill in paperwork, and no one will be available to deal with serious incidents of crime.

The wording of the Alliance Party’s amendment to the motion causes me particular concern. It does not call on individual Assembly Members to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the policing budget. Instead, it calls for the “Executive to ensure” that there is adequate funding, and so on, and consequently makes those issues the responsibility of the Executive. Further on, the amendment states:

“in the event of devolution of policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly”.

That wording is loaded. I am concerned that it implies the acceptance of the devolution of policing and justice, something for which the unionist community is not ready. It does not have the confidence that the republican community has moved on.

On recent weekends, there have been mixed messages, resulting from the activity in Londonderry. If republicans are asked whether they should inform police about guns that are available in other republican communities, they give out mixed messages in reply. The time is not right, for the unionist community, for the devolution of policing and justice powers. I hope that, at some point in the future, policing and justice can be devolved. However, there is not a sufficient level of confidence at present, and it could have a serious, disruptive effect on the workings of the Assembly, let alone trying to work with policing and justice.

Mr G Robinson: I am a member of the DPP. I speak, with pleasure, in support of the motion. It is imperative that the condemnation of all vicious and cowardly crime against our citizens is total and unequivocal. It is also imperative that the victims of such heinous crimes, and their families, are aware that the Assembly fully recognises the reality of crime in Northern Ireland and is seeking ways to address it.

I have absolutely no qualms in calling for a zero-tolerance policy on crime and the increasing problem of antisocial behaviour. Those problems are not limited to specific pockets in Northern Ireland but, sadly, it is a Province-wide phenomenon. Therefore, schemes are being put in place to address such problems. Just recently, a new scheme, costing £2 million, began to extend the CCTV coverage in our towns. The new CCTV cameras will, I hope, help to reduce crime and the fear of crime. They can also play a vital role in tackling antisocial behaviour by identifying those engaged in it. At the launch in Newtownards, the Policing and Justice Minister Paul Goggins, stated that:

“The Government is committed to working with local people and to make our communities safer and has committed £2 million pounds to this project.”

He went on to state that:

“This valuable tool will act as a deterrent, but it will also help to secure vital evidence to support investigations.”

Still later, he said that:

“there is no room in our society for those engaged in crime and anti-social behaviour and the launch of the CCTV cameras across Northern Ireland will help ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

Undoubtedly, there is a case for CCTV, which I support. I also support the benefits that it has for people’s perception of safety and the increased likelihood of prosecution for antisocial behaviour and other crimes. However, it cannot, and should not, replace the one thing that inspires confidence in all of us — a policeman on the streets. Would the rioting in Londonderry’s streets, at the weekend, have been so prolonged if more PSNI officers had been present, along with CCTV cameras? It was announced, recently, that the PSNI reserve is being reduced by 50%, amounting to a loss of 300 officers. Who, or what, can suitably replace them? I do not, and will not, believe that anything can replace those officers.

It is a crime to reduce the number of police officers by 300, thereby heightening the fear of crime in the community and decreasing the likelihood of arrests and convictions for antisocial behaviour, never mind for serious crime. The Assembly should speak with one loud voice and make it clear that a reduction in the number of PSNI officers or any attempt to cut the policing budget is totally unacceptable.

In a recent interview with Wendy Austin, the Chief Constable stated that Northern Ireland is not in a normalised policing situation. Given that view, the reduction in the number of officers, as well as any attempt to reduce the budget, represents a backward step in the effort to create a society in which people do not fear crime and are confident of the arrests and convictions of the perpetrators.

Since the Patten Report and the politically engineered demise of the RUC, the number of police officers on the streets has declined. People are already concerned that the number of officers has been reduced by too much and too quickly. Only more police officers on the beat, with the financial resources at their disposal to continue to do their jobs properly, effectively and for the whole community, can rectify the situation. CCTV alone cannot do so. I thank my colleague Jeffrey Donaldson for bringing the motion to the House.

Mr Shannon: Will the Member give way?

Mr G Robinson: I support the motion. [Laughter.]

The Junior Minister (Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister) (Mr G Kelly): Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and amendment on behalf of the Executive. I join with other Members in expressing my shock and deep sadness at the tragic and senseless murder of Harry Holland. I know that everyone in the Chamber, the local community and the towns and cities shares my outrage.

Rinne an Feidhmeannas seo comhbhrón le teaghlach Harry Holland agus iad ag fulaingt go dian ag an am seo. Tá súil agam go rachaidh said i láidreacht mar gheall ar an tacaíocht a fuair said sa bhaile agus níos faide anonn.

The Executive have already extended their condolences to Harry Holland’s family at this difficult time, and we hope that the family will draw strength from the overwhelming outpouring of support from so many people in the community and further afield. From all parties, every Member who has spoken in the debate has referred to the killing of Harry Holland as a turning point in the determination to stand against the criminality that is perpetrated by a small number of people who set themselves against their communities and society as a whole.

The recent attack on Winnifred Irvine in Dromore must also be condemned. That deplorable act is particularly upsetting because she is a frail 88-year-old woman who lost possessions of great sentimental value that she had collected over a lifetime. If we are to build a peaceful, just and prosperous society in which everyone is respected, no place exists for the attitudes and behaviour that lead to such attacks. Above all, the right of individuals to live their lives free from intimidation, threat or harm must be respected.

Yesterday morning, I was delighted to launch the UN international day for older people, and Members will know that it is also age awareness week. Therefore, it is both timely and appropriate that the Assembly voices its support today for the welfare and safety of older people. OFMDFM’s strategy document for older people, ‘Ageing in an inclusive Society’, recognises the need to tackle crime against older people. It includes the strategic objective:

“To ensure that older people have a decent and secure life in their home and community”.

OFMDFM will work closely with older people’s representatives and with colleagues from other Depart­ments to ensure that that objective is met.

The 2005 crime survey found that older people worry more about crime. The impact of the fear of crime on their quality of life is higher than for other age groups. Indeed, Basil McCrea referred to the long-term effect that the attack will have on Winnifred Irvine for years to come.

It is important that we quantify the debilitating effect that the fear of crime can have on older people. That fear can often compound the sense of isolation that many older people experience. Our society should not tolerate criminal behaviour, such as robberies and assaults, against any section of the community. Those attacks are wrong, and anyone with information about them should bring it to the police.

Tackling antisocial behaviour is a key issue. I understand that the NIO’s community safety unit has, along with several partners, directly funded a number of projects to reduce such behaviour. We also have our part to play. For example, the Department of Education is committed to providing a range of programmes designed to help combat antisocial behaviour by helping young people to develop their social and personal skills and learn to respect others. It is vital that we tackle all the causes of that disruptive behaviour.

It is important that we focus equally on preventative measures, which have the most desirable outcome of any intervention in that they can prevent the crime from occurring in the first place, prevent someone from becoming a victim of crime and prevent young people from ever entering the criminal justice system. In the middle of this debate, it is worth remembering, as Gerry Adams pointed out, that the vast majority of people in our community are good, decent, law-abiding citizens. That is a strength that we must use against the small minority who are involved in criminality.

I recognise the concerns raised by Members about whether sentences received by offenders are appropriate to their crimes. That is clearly a difficult area, and a number of conflicting issues need to be considered. I will ensure that the NIO is made aware of the House’s views.

A number of Members mentioned the level of resources that has been committed to policing. I under­stand that the NIO has indicated its commitment to ensuring that the PSNI has sufficient funds to maintain a fully effective and responsive police service, and I welcome that. It is important that we continue to ensure that resources are commensurate with the needs of the community, particularly the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. We must further ensure that that need is continually reviewed in order that the PSNI can respond promptly and appropriately. The NIO has further indicated that the PSNI baseline budget has not been reduced and that discussions are ongoing about the level of funding that will be available up to 2011. I will ensure that the NIO is aware of the views of this House on that matter also.

As a number of Members mentioned, the Assembly and Executive Review Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the devolution of policing and justice. I am sure that the Executive will consider carefully the appropriate level of funding when the devolution of policing and justice takes place.

The Executive have already recognised the importance of creating a new society, free from attacks of this nature. As I have said before in the House, the Executive are totally committed to moving society forward and to making a real difference to the lives of all our people. I acknowledge the concerns that Members have raised today, especially about attacks on the most vulnerable in our society and the level of resources provided to the PSNI. I will ensure that a copy of today’s Hansard report is sent to the Secretary of State for his information.

At the start of the debate, Jeffrey Donaldson, who, along with others, brought this motion to the Assembly, said that the Assembly must send out a resounding message that crime is not acceptable and that the community is fighting back. That is very true. I also welcome Stephen Farry’s comments on zero tolerance. There are many different interpretations of the meaning of zero tolerance, but he described it as the “broken windows” theory: dealing with the small issues prevents other, bigger issues from occurring at a later date. That is a very important interpretation of the expression, because it is sometimes used completely out of context.

There is no acceptable level of violence, and another Member — forgive me, I can not remember who — said that the Assembly must show leadership. Despite some of the political point-scoring, the message from right across this Assembly is that we are at a turning point, and we are showing leadership in that matter. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

5.15 pm

Dr Farry: My amendment is not a Trojan horse that locks Members into a particular timetable for the devolution of policing and justice or tries to force the pace. Essentially, the amendment is about the funding that the Assembly will be putting in place if and when — I hope it is a question of when — policing and criminal justice powers are devolved.

All parties here are supporters of the St Andrews Agreement, which envisaged the devolution of policing and justice. From the Alliance Party’s point of view, it is right that policing and justice should be devolved to the Assembly as soon as possible.

Mr B McCrea: Will the Member give way?

Dr Farry: I am sorry, no.

Important advantages would accrue in the event of the devolution of policing and criminal justice, such as cross-community ownership of policing, improved accountability, and the ability of the Assembly to allocate resources to address the needs and wishes of society as a whole.

Mr Donaldson: Will the Member take it from me that there will be absolutely no question on this side of the House about our Ministers ensuring that resources will be made available to ensure effective front-line policing when devolution takes place? That is not the issue. The problem with the amendment is that it detracts from the central message that we want to send out, which is about zero tolerance of crime and antisocial behaviour. Would it not be better to avoid dividing the House on the issue so that we can all speak with one clear voice?

Dr Farry: I take on board what the Member has said, and I take some reassurance that the parties in the Executive are serious about ensuring that resources will be put in place. I also think that there are advantages in the Assembly’s sending out a clear message today that it will not be asking the Northern Ireland Office to provide a level of funding that it is not prepared to match, if and when policing and justice powers are devolved.

The Alliance Party believes that the timescale for the devolution of policing and justice should be determined largely by the conditions being in place rather than the demands of an arbitrary timetable. However, we differ from both unionist parties in our belief that devolution can be achieved in a relatively short time frame and that, in fact, the Assembly should be building confidence towards realising that aim. Devolution of powers may not happen by May 2008, but we should attempt to achieve it as soon as possible.

For my party, community confidence is not about the bona fides of those in the Assembly who may take responsibility for policing and justice. Those issues were addressed in advance of the restoration of the Assembly. The key consideration is whether the Assembly can operate in a coherent manner, and, in particular, whether the Executive can co-operate on the basis of collective responsibility. We have not seen much sign of that, not least on the evidence of Assembly debates in which Executive parties have been unable to give common support to motions. The delay in appointing a victims’ commissioner, for example, does not inspire confidence that the Assembly is capable of taking responsible decisions.

Indeed, the Ulster Unionists referred to the fact that Gerry Kelly is here as the Executive’s representative. Their comments are rather bizarre, given that the nature of the Government that we have here is a product of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which they supported. Sinn Féin was part and parcel of that process and participated in the previous Administration in which the then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was First Minister. Therefore, we need to know from the Ulster Unionists: are they part of this Government or are they not? They cannot have it both ways. The people put Sinn Féin into office.

Mr Kennedy: Well, we are and you are not.

Dr Farry: We are here as an opposition party. The Ulster Unionist Party needs to make its mind up as to whether it is in opposition or in Government: it cannot have it both ways.

Mr Speaker: Order. The Member has the Floor.

Dr Farry: The fundamental issue is resources: that is what the amendment is about. It is not about letting the Northern Ireland Office off the hook and sending out a signal that it can pass the buck to the Assembly. The amendment is about recognising that we are serious about tackling crime and antisocial behaviour in Northern Ireland and sending out a strong message that we are serious about putting adequate resources in place.

There are pressures on policing across the United Kingdom, and all forces are demanding additional resources. Any British Government will carefully consider how they allocate those resources. Rather than being weakened, the Assembly’s case is strengthened by stating what it would do in the event of the devolution of justice and policing. Indeed, next week will bring the results of the UK-wide comprehensive spending review, which may be an indication of what to expect in the short term.

Several Members have said that the issue of zero tolerance is a complex one that must be given proper consideration. Members have said that there are multiple ways of dealing with this issue. It is not just a matter of being punitive, because that requires resources. We must ensure that a range of agencies take responsibility for dealing with what is a complex and difficult issue. Society as a whole must be reassured that people are safe from crime and antisocial behaviour, and that there will be a robust, effective and proportionate response from the authorities when crime and antisocial behaviour occurs.

I request that the amendment be put to a vote because we must send out a message of consistency.

Mr Simpson: I also declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. During the debate, we have heard that policing is an issue that goes right across the political divide. Antisocial behaviour is a major issue for the whole community.

The motion can be broken down into three parts. Each of those matters, taken separately, ought to enjoy the unanimous, unreserved and wholehearted support of every Member. Taken together, they demand the support of every Member, and lay serious questions at the door of anyone who fails to do so.

The first part of the motion addresses the murder of Mr Holland and the attack on an elderly resident in Dromore. That highlights a growing concern for many people. I add my condolences to the family of Mr Holland, who I understand are attending this debate. Our sympathy is with them for the tragic way in which their family member died. To victims, their neighbours and their families, it does not matter one iota how low the chances are of being subjected to such a crime. The fact that such attacks occur demands that political representatives of each and every shade of opinion must stand up with one voice and cry against them.

All Members can point in our constituencies to antisocial behaviour, rapes or attacks on children. I have met many of my own constituents who have been victims of violent crime, and I know that other Members have done likewise. We have a duty to send out the message that all the people in all our constituencies have the support of all the Members of the Assembly.

Mr Shannon: Will the Member express his concern, along with me and many other Members, at the announcement that 54 full-time Reserve officers are to go from C division between now and April 2008? Full-time officers are an integral part of police strategy for C division and the Ards area. Does he further agree that they are needed to deliver the level of policing that is demanded and expected by the community and the populace?

Mr Simpson: Yes, I agree with those sentiments and I will deal with that later in my speech.

We must be crystal clear on the issue of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance must include support for crime-prevention measures, victim support in the aftermath of crime, support for the police as they go about their invest­igations, and demands for proper and proportionate sentences when people are apprehended.

Mrs Kelly said that not all young people are guilty of antisocial behaviour, and I accept that. I have been involved in youth work for over 20 years, and there are many good young people out there. Antisocial behaviour is carried out by a small percentage of people who are bent on creating havoc among the community. I accept Mrs Kelly’s sentiments on that matter.

Gerry Adams said that the majority of people in west Belfast are hard-working, and I accept that. However, it is important for his party to come out and fully support the PSNI, without any preconditions. Recently, members of the Policing Board agreed to send out letters of congratulations to PSNI officers who received honours in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, but Sinn Féin members said that they were taking nothing to do with it, which sent out negative vibes to the unionist community. That was a simple issue, but it sent out negative vibes to the unionist members of the Policing Board.

Mr A Maskey: I thank the Member for giving way. Does he agree that Sinn Féin members of the Policing Board, along with him and his party colleagues, have been extremely productive and constructive in recent months? I expect the Member to acknowledge that Sinn Féin members have demonstrated that commitment, and that it has been acknowledged by all of the PSNI senior management team. I look forward to working constructively with the Member in the future.

Mr Simpson: There has been a certain amount of work in relation to moving forward on the issue of policing, but my point is that when such a statement is made by members of the Policing Board, it sends out negative vibes to the unionist community. We have a long way to go on the policing issue, but I hope that things will work out and that we can send out a message to the unionist community that we are here to deliver policing. I have to wonder where the corporate respons­ibility lies when it comes to policing. That needs to be addressed.

The recent release of Eamon Foley, who was convicted for the rape of 91-year-old Mary-Anne McLaughlin, is nothing short of a national disgrace — a disaster, an absolute disgrace. On the issue of 50% remission for sex offenders, Minister Goggins gave a commitment to me in the Northern Ireland Grand Committee on 24 July. He stated that:

“The simple fact is that in Northern Ireland, too many victims of sexual crime and domestic violence do not have the confidence to come forward, and they need such confidence. They need the help of the police service, the prosecution service, voluntary organisations and others to sustain successful prosecutions and bring perpetrators to justice, and I shall join him in ensuring that we do better on that issue.”

Dr Farry said that there was insufficient public confid­ence to devolve policing and justice powers. In a recent MORI poll carried out for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’, only 19% of the community said that there was confid­ence to move forward, so we have a long way to go.

If the Assembly believes that it must get policing right, Members must send a signal to the public that we are determined to do so and to advance with a zero-tolerance policy. Mr Weir referred to New York: when a zero-tolerance policy was introduced there, crime plummeted. If a similar policy were adopted in Northern Ireland, it would send out a signal to those who harass our senior citizens and commit vicious crimes and murders across the entire community. If every Member supports the motion, a positive signal would be sent across the political divide that the Assembly is determined to resolve policing when there is sufficient public confidence.

5.30 pm

Mr McNarry: During another emotional debate not so long ago, the president of Sinn Féin asked unionists whether they were listening. He then told us that he was listening. Does my honourable friend agree that the president of Sinn Féin now has the opportunity to express those same sentiments in response to what is being asked?

Mr Speaker: Unfortunately, the Member’s time is up.

Mr Simpson: I will say yes.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly condemns the recent murder of Mr Harry Holland, and other crimes, including the assault and robbery of an elderly resident in Dromore; supports the call for a zero tolerance policy against crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets; and opposes any move by the Northern Ireland Office to cut the policing budget or reduce the number of officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Adjourned at 5.32 pm.

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